I remember, back when I was still going to college, I had a friend who really was in love with love. He wanted the “real thing.” Who doesn’t, after all?
He’d put his AOL status message up and talk about how “love is sacrifice.” He was a martyr to love and expected love to hurt him. I watched as he marched through freshman and sophomore years, going through heartbreak after heartbreak, unable to recognize the signs of true love.
More often than not, he’d chase after girls our clique had warned him about, claiming he could “fix them with love.” He’d explain to me that love isn’t real unless it’s painful and that there was no better way to show how much you cared about a person than to suffer for them.
For a very long time, I actually believed him. And then, reality hit me in the form of an abusive relationship.
I’m not going to go into too much detail, but it got to the point where I was sacrificing everything. If I had it, I’d give it to him. I’d let him scream because that’s what love was about, right? If he felt like letting other people bully me so he could feel superior to me, then that’s what I’d let him do.
It’s worth it, I reasoned, because then we would get married, and that would be the epitome of love.
Until, of course, I read a book that I had picked up in the library. The book’s author basically laid out the truth about relationships at a marriage level: they are financial transactions. The author, Liz Renay, then explained how important it is to make sure you knew what you were getting out of it.
So, what was I getting out of my “loving” relationship? He yelled at me. Additionally, he told me that another man would never love me. He also said that I was an “impure whore who needed to repent.” I received a whole lot of isolation because his family couldn’t stand my friends or loved ones. Occasionally, he threatened me or told my beliefs were wrong.
Really, everything him inflicting pain onto me. So, what was my then-boyfriend getting out of it?
I thought back. Well, he got sex and encouragement from me. I gave him hugs and kisses. He had me paying for fancy nights out. He got me never really doing anything to hurt him emotionally. I was a girl who had forgiven him for things that really aren’t forgivable.
It was then that it hit me. He had me — all of me. He took, and took, and took. And he never gave anything back.
He enjoyed hurting me; it was clear he enjoyed the abuse and savored in every tear I shed while trying to be perfect for him. He was getting a full package deal, complete with excuses for his awful behavior.
If he had loved me half as much as I loved him — or if he had respected me half as much as I respected him — he never would have acted that way.
It was then that the truth dawned on me: love is never supposed to equal pain. If your partner’s definition of “love” hurts more than it heals, it’s not love. It’s abuse. If your relationship is mostly pain, it’s not love. It’s codependency, desperation, and fear of being alone.
Real love is not, and never will be, martyrdom. The real thing is is not full of pain.
And so, I chose to love myself. And I left, realizing I’d be kinder to myself than he’d ever been.