Pain has a way of changing your outlook on life.
Gabe (name has been changed) and I shared an intense connection since we were kids. He saw me in a way no one else did, and his unfiltered honesty could peel back pretenses that left me both exposed and exhilarated.
Dating should’ve been a no-brainer as we got older, but whenever we tried, something always got in the way: timing, maturity, egos. The intensity that drew us together had an equal propensity for repelling us apart; either I’d panic and run, or he’d push me away.
No matter who I was dating, Gabe was the person I thought of each night. I remained convinced he was my soulmate, that he and I were inevitable.
Everything came to a head during college when Gabe finally pushed me too far, and I made the impossible choice to disappear from his life. No one called it ghosting back then — it was simply survival.
Heartbroken, I told myself leaving Gabe behind was for my own good, though it felt like a vital part of me had died. I soon entered a frightening new period where I felt utterly alone for the first time. That’s when everything changed.
By ghosting the love of my life, I kicked off a painful adjustment phase that taught me valuable life lessons I might never have learned had I kept clinging to the story I’d been telling myself since I was a teen.
Here’s what ghosting in a relationship that’s toxic can teach you about life and future romance.
1. You can exist as a separate person outside a relationship.
I didn’t know it, but so much of my identity was wrapped around what I thought Gabe thought of me. I tried like hell to be a good person, but if he didn’t like something about me, that part of me was as good as garbage. I valued his opinions over my own.
After he was gone, there was no one to obsessively bounce my perceptions off. No one to impress. I slowly learned to quit looking over my shoulder for approval and instead turn inward. Life got so much easier once I realized I was free to be comfortable in my own skin.
2. You teach people how to treat you.
The fact that I worshipped the ground Gabe walked on made it hard to stay angry, even when he got mad and spread rumors or sent insulting messages to me or about me to mutual friends. My solution was always the same: ignore him until the worst blew over, and then the cycle would start again.
We taught each other it was okay to be a jerk. There were no long-term consequences; we always took each other back. I didn’t see how destructive this was or how miserable it made me until I was no longer stuck in the loop.
Post-Gabe, I vowed to tackle relationship problems head-on and exit any situation where honesty and mutual respect were lacking. Because I made it a goal, my commitment to communication has fostered more peaceful and meaningful relationships.
3. Embrace the parts of yourself your partner didn’t like.
The very quality I admired most about Gabe (his unabashed honesty) was also what I feared most. He had a knack for exposing my biggest insecurities. Every bad thing I thought about myself seemed to get confirmed by him at one point or another. Sometimes I could shrug it off, other times it was devastating.
I continued to beat myself up for years after, still trying to change those “undesirable” aspects of me. In time, however, I was able to find my place among people who either didn’t see and/or accepted my so-called flaws. I realized it’s okay to work on improving myself, just as long as I’m doing it for me.
No one should make me feel ashamed about who I am, especially not the person I want to share my life with.
4. Never accept second-best.
When you’re convinced someone is your soulmate, you never really put forth the full effort with anyone else you’re dating. You give the bare minimum and treat people like placeholders, which is a sh*tty way to operate.
Once I was on my own, I had a lot of regret over how I acted toward short-term boyfriends because the second Gabe came back around, I tossed them aside. I had to examine my own actions and decide what was truly important to me for relationships going forward.
I took some time away from dating to figure it out and became more selective about who I saw once I got back in the game. If it became apparent things wouldn’t work out with someone, I immediately let them know and moved on.
My new direct approach caused some to lash out in anger, and all the while I’d think, “Phew, dodged a bullet there!” I was done giving and accepting second-best.
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