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I pitched face-first into a serious relationship at the tender age of 15; Jon (though this was not his name) was two years older than me in body, but while we aged together I feel that he stayed 17 years old in his head and heart. That was just one of the problems we faced.
I had no series of bad boyfriends to teach me hard lessons; I had Jon, and I had a Church of Scotland rigidity about my view on relationships. They were serious, they were not always rosy, and they deserved no less than every effort you could make in their aid.
I still believe this today, but I now know that there are some things and some behaviours which remove someone from entitlement to this loyalty. Sadly, I didn't learn this until after my relationship with Jon took my teenage years, my confidence, my happiness, and my body confidence. During the 8 1/2 years that we were together, I took four kinds of anti-depressants, cut, bruised, and battered my body, gained and lost so much weight that my skin stretched and, at times, broke.
And then he set me free of all my illusions by cheating, and by telling me in no uncertain terms that I was not enough for him, despite having given him everything. Despite having given up everything up including a year of my studies and my plans to take a gap year.
For so long, I asked myself what did I do wrong? What did I do to deserve this?
The answer, in more ways than one, is nothing.
I allowed him to drag me down, make me miserable, hold me back, and treat me poorly. I didn't grow a spine until it was already too late, and then the assertive defences of my own body, mind, and life smashed apart what was already damaged.
After I realised this I was single for a while; I dated, I spent time with men that I liked, but I never allowed myself to be tied down. Then I realised what I needed to do.
How I Levelled Up My Love Life:
I set standards and stuck to them. When I went on dates I knew what I expected of the men I was to meet:
- Their attention
When they were late, or rude, or when they spent the full evening on their phones, I removed myself from the situation with an explanation. I told them I was leaving because they had barely spoken to me in an hour, or because they were being disrespectful (one man actually clicked his fingers at the waitress), or because they were speaking to me in a way that was unacceptable.
If they were worth their salt, they apologised and tried to make amends; the chaff faded away in search of easier prey.
Better yet, when I did get into a relationship, as tentative and short-lived as it was, I ensured that I was never treated like that again. When he flew off the handle, with or without reason, I uttered the following sentence:
"If you can't talk to me with respect, don't speak."
Or told him,
"I'm going out. When I come back, be calm or be gone."
When he acted badly in public, I warned him just once:
"If you're not going to act like a grown man I have better things to do."
And if he continued to sulk, embarrass me, or act unpleasantly, I did just that.
Above and beyond all else, I never apologised for things that weren't my fault, not even for his chafed feelings. I replaced "I'm sorry" with the phrases:
"I don't like to fight with you."
"I like you, but not the way you behaved."
"My reaction might have felt like too much to you, but it reflects the way you made me feel."
Likewise, I never expected him to apologise for things that were not his fault. All of this meant that when we did part, it was amicable and it was for reasons almost independent to us. When we broke up there was no fault, only consensus, and that was the most freeing feeling of all.