Anticipation What People Don't Know About Love After a Toxic Relationship The Reflection Issue
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What People Don't Know About Love After a Toxic Relationship


This is about one author's personal, anecdotal experience and should not substitute medical advice. If you're having health concerns of any kind, we urge you to speak to a healthcare professional.

After weeks of texting, video chatting, and playing virtual board games, Maxton knocked on my apartment door. It was April of 2020, and Chicago—and the rest of the country—was in full lockdown. Maybe it was irresponsible of us to meet in person; maybe we should have been content with our daily phone calls. But they say when you know, you know, and I was already certain Maxton was meant to be in my life.

We stayed outside, determined to be as Covid-compliant as possible. But by the end of the block, we were already kissing. Passing cars honked, either delighted or disgusted by our PDA. The sun was shining, the birds singing, and, for the first time, I was in the arms of the person I knew I’d be with forever.

And I felt… confused.

people in grass

Unsplash / Design by Tiana Crispino

The Bad

My last relationship was hell. After nearly a year of dating, I emerged from the breakup emotionally battered, bruised, and broken. In retrospect, it was doomed from the start. We didn’t want the same things. We had totally different expectations for the relationship—and for each other. We complained, cried, and capitulated instead of communicating, and nothing was ever resolved. Things were toxic with a capital T. We both needed to get out.

Still, when it was over, all the bad aspects of our relationship dissolved into smoke in my memory. For weeks and months after, I struggled to remember what exactly had been so bad. I doubted everything. Had I really cried that often? Had I really been that miserable? Had we really been that poorly matched? Worse still, I began to wonder if all our problems had one common denominator: me.

I went to therapy. Eventually, I went to the hospital, and even spent a month in residential mental health treatment. I was already prone to depression and anxiety, and the crumbling of my toxic relationship pushed me over the edge. My thoughts turned into obsession. Every second of every day was dedicated to ruminating about what had gone wrong, what I had done wrong, how I could have fixed things if just given the chance.

I did a lot of hard, painful work in therapy. When I got out of residential treatment, I began to lead something close to a normal life again. I hung out with people, went on dates, and began to rebuild my confidence and sense of self.

When I swiped right on Maxton, two full years had passed since the end of my toxic relationship. I was finally ready for a partnership that was loving, supportive, and peaceful.

So now that I had one, why did it feel so weird?

people kissing

Unplash / Design by Tiana Crispino

The Good

My new partner wasn’t the issue. I knew that much right away. Maxton was everything I wanted: kind, funny, smart, handsome, empathetic, nerdy, and talented. We had similar interests, from the popular (like good food and scary movies) to the more esoteric (obscure musicals and Dungeons & Dragons). I enjoyed talking to him, and, as I more or less quarantined in his apartment, I loved spending time together. I knew we were in it for the long haul.

However, for the first month of our relationship, I was outwardly blissful—but panicked on the inside. I couldn’t even name the problem, because there wasn’t a problem. Still, I couldn’t shake a persistent sense of anxiety.

But why? Maxton and I didn’t fight. We didn’t argue. When something came up, we talked about it and came to a conclusion or compromise. We both wanted the same things, both short-term and long-term, and looked forward to pursuing them together. We made each other laugh instead of cry. We were supportive of each other, excited for each other, and truly acted as partners.

After a lot of soul-searching, I came to a surprising conclusion: Everything was great, and, because of the trauma of my last relationship, that felt wrong.

I wasn’t used to this. If this relationship was smooth sailing, my last one had been a turbulent storm. All I had known was drama, panic, tears, and confusion.

And, for some reason, part of me still craved the chaos.

But Why?

Thanks to a lot of therapy, I began to untangle the web of my discomfort. Part of the issue was that I was confusing drama for passion. For all its flaws, my last relationship had burned hot and heavy. The bad times were awful, but the good times—few as they were—were really good. When we inevitably fell into a rough patch, I convinced myself that the trauma and drama was just us caring passionately about each other. Sure, we fought all the time, and sure, we made each other cry, but only people who really loved each other could reach such extremes, right?

Because Maxton and I had such a peaceful relationship, I worried that we didn’t have “passion.” What I didn’t realize was that passion doesn’t equal chaos. The adrenaline spikes from arguing may feel intense, but the only fire they fuel is drama, not love. The passion I was really looking for comes from trust, affection, and attraction—all things Maxton and I already had.

people kissing

Unsplash / Design by Tiana Crispino

I also began to realize that my last relationship had confirmed deep-seated fears about myself. I’ve always struggled with my self-esteem. When our relationship began to crumble, it felt like a reflection on my worth as a person. Because my opinion of myself was already low, I felt validated by my partner pulling away from me. No wonder they didn’t like me, I thought--I didn’t even like myself. Even though these thoughts were so negative, it felt weirdly comforting to be "proven right." My low self-esteem led to low standards, or comparison levels, and, after a while, my toxic relationship felt like exactly what I deserved.

Maxton made me feel different: cherished, valued, and, before long, truly loved. But my low self-esteem still whispered that maybe I didn’t deserve something this good. While I was truly happy with Maxton, I still had one foot in the past. Maybe this was too good. Maybe I needed to run.

The Happy Ending

But I didn’t.

It would have been so easy to slip back into old patterns. My ex wasn’t going to take me back, but I could have found another drama-filled relationship. I could have given up on happiness and gone back to what I knew, what felt comfortable, what I felt like I deserved. I could have surrendered.

Instead, with the help of my family, friends, doctors, and, of course, Maxton, I fought back. This was the best relationship I had ever had, and I wasn’t just going to let it go. I told myself that what I really deserved—what everyone deserves—is happiness, love, and peace. I told myself that I had innate worth. I knew, in the very core of my heart, that I wanted a drama-free, chaos-free, tension-free relationship. I wanted to be with Maxton.

So we moved across the country together, adopted a cat, and got engaged. A few days ago, we were married in a small, intimate, breathtakingly perfect ceremony. In front of our parents, and with his sister officiating, we declared that we would love each other forever. I didn’t feel anxious or confused, or questioned my decision at all. All I felt was happiness.

And I will never, ever doubt that this true, peaceful love is what everyone deserves to find.

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