“Head stuck in a cycle, I look off and I stare
It’s like that I’ve stopped breathing, but completely aware
‘Cause you’re giving me a million reasons
Give me a million reasons
Givin’ me a million reasons
About a million reasons”
Between August 2017 and April 2018, I had yet again trapped myself in a toxic relationship. I say “trapped myself” because I could have gotten out at any point, but I chose not to.
I had confided in some friends about this relationship, but for the most part, I kept it on the DL. Why? Because the guy told me to keep it a secret. That was a red flag that was blowing so hard in my face I was getting whiplash, but I chose to burn it down and bury the ashes. There were many red flags and I had ignored all of them. My friends were hitting me over the head with the flag poles, and I had continued to run from them.
Let’s start from the beginning. Who was this guy? He was a friend who lived in the same compound as me in Kabul and we met in September 2016. As a friend, he was easy to talk to, fun, charming, hilarious, and very reliable. He was the type of friend you can call on no matter the time of day to help get you out of a bind. At the same time, he was very private. He made it clear that he was single and intended to stay that way (1st red flag). We started hooking up because I thought it was safe, knew it couldn’t lead to anything serious–it was all for fun and it was temporary. He was a self-proclaimed confirmed bachelor after all. As the days went on and we spent more time together, something shifted and I started to worry that I was getting too attached. One evening, without any prompts, he told me he had feelings for me.
I was surprised to hear him admit that since he was so guarded (2nd red flag). He told me he was still carrying emotional baggage from his previous relationship (3rd red flag). So where do we go from there? When I suggested we take a trip together to get out of the compound, to see what we were like outside of a confined living situation, he was hesitant and didn’t give me a straight answer (4th flag).
Shortly after that, my job ended and I left Kabul. Being away from him was painful. I felt like someone was chiseling off pieces of my heart with each mile that passed between us. At times, it was hard to breathe. In hindsight, I felt that way because I didn’t know if I would ever see him again. Before I left, he didn’t show any intentions of making plans for us to see each other in the near future (5th flag).
After I arrived home, I was going through a lot of transitions: my separation and pending divorce, looking for a new apartment, moving into the new apartment, job search, reconnecting with friends and family… Through all of that, I received very little emotional support from this guy (6th flag). I heard from him intermittently; communication was inconsistent (7th flag). When things were good, he would give me the play-by-play of his day without me asking and he would show interest in my life. I would hear from him almost on a daily basis, whether it was a text or call (sometimes a combination of both). Other times, weeks would go by of complete silence unless I reached out. Whenever I confronted him about his disappearing acts, he always had an excuse ready (8th flag): work was busy, he thought I was visiting family, he wanted to give me space to focus on my job search, etc. He was never apologetic and he never took responsibility for his odd behavior (9th flag).
When we did text or talk on the phone, he would sometimes say the sweetest things that demonstrated how much he missed me. And then sometimes he would make jokes about joining a dating app, hitting on girls, having sex with other women, etc. (10th flag). He loved retelling stories about his past paramours; sometimes I felt like I knew these women in person because he was so detailed in his descriptions about them. I analyzed this with a friend: Was he making these jokes and telling these stories to mask his real feelings about me? Was this his way of telling me that we’re not that serious and he’s still free to do as he pleases? Were these signs of his insecurity? Was he trying to get a reaction out of me? In hindsight, it didn’t matter what those reasons were; the clear fact is that he was completely disregarding my feelings and being extremely disrespectful (11th flag). When it was obvious that I was getting tired of these “jokes,” he would dismiss my feelings by saying “It was just a joke” or “I was just kidding.”
He would flirt with other women in front of me (12th flag). When confronted, he would deny it and call me jealous. The gaslighting was strong with this one (13th flag). I started wondering if, in fact, I was being insecure, possessive, and jealous.
In addition to keeping the relationship a secret from his coworkers , he didn’t want his friends and families to know about me either (14th flag). He flat out told me not to post photos of us together on social media. When we were in NY, he had the opportunity to introduce me to his mom and sister, but he was very careful about keeping us apart instead. He lied to his sister about his whereabouts and who he was with when we were together. In fact, he lied a lot (15th flag)–not just to me, but also his coworkers, friends, and family. He lied without batting an eye. Granted, even if there was no malicious intent, his behavior mad me question his integrity and honesty.
Whenever I asked where this was going, he said we were in a “long-distance relationship” and “we’re together,” but he refused to put any labels on it (16th flag). He told me he had commitment issues (17th flag), that he wanted to move slowly, to do this relationship differently from his previous ones. My friends theorized that he was probably married, hiding other girls behind my back, or hoping to get a green card (he’s not American). This demonstrated how opaque he was about his intentions and feelings towards me. The few friends who knew about him did not like him (18th flag). The consensus was: There’s something off about him, but we can’t put our fingers on it.
As I caught him in more lies and I grew absolutely exhausted with his push-and-pull communications, I woke up more and more. He had warned me early on that he had “issues” (19th flag), but I wonder if he is even aware of the extent of these issues. He had a problem with saying no to people; he wanted to please everyone so he over-extended himself professionally and personally. He was burned out at work, but he chose to overwork himself and to stay in Kabul so that he won’t have to confront the real problems in his life. He was literally reinforcing his own emotional walls with cement walls. Did he mislead me into thinking that he can change for me? Or did I allow myself to believe I would be the one to change him?
The entire relationship was the source of constant anxiety, panic attacks, and depressive episodes. From September to February, I contributed the emotional turmoil to all the changes in my life, and that was partly accurate. However, after all those events in my life were done and dusted, it became clear what the real source of my anxiety was. Through his actions and his silence, he told me exactly who he was. I tolerated the behaviors and maltreatment for as long as I did because 1) we had started off as friends and “a friend wouldn’t treat me this way” and 2) the “relationship” was a surprise to both of us. I was ready to commit to him and follow him to the ends of the earth if he asked me to, but he didn’t treat me as a priority. He told me he can’t change overnight, but he will prove me wrong. He asked for more time which I gave him. He asked me to trust him which I did. In return, I only asked for two things–communication and honesty, both of which he failed at. He also failed at proving me wrong.
The entire relationship was about control. He didn’t like it when I started drawing boundaries (20th flag). The relationship would stop and go as he called it, not me. It was not an equal partnership. In fact, it was not a partnership at all.
The nail on the coffin showed up last night in the form of a Facebook post; he had posted a photo of himself in Nepal. This was a trip that would have required 4-8 weeks of planning, including approval for the leave time. Throughout March and even on our last phone conversation on April 6th, he told me he was saving up all of his vacation time for June. We had even discussed the possibility of traveling to Nepal together in September. That means he was actively lying to me through March about his travel plans, across multiple conversations. I feel like I just walked away from a horrific car accident–I’m dazed, shaken up, in complete and utter shock… But I’m alive.