We began dating in my last year of college, when I was 19. Our relationship was full of typical college dating clichés, and I’m not sure why we ever thought it was a good idea. The first time we broke up was 7 months in, when I declared that what we had was just casual and we didn’t work on so many levels. We were from different religious backgrounds, had different social interests, and were on different intellectual planes. But he was really nice, and a few days later I felt crummy for hurting him, and next thing I knew we were back together and more serious than ever.
After our first breakup, the fights and subsequent breakups became a more frequent occurrence. At one point it seemed like we were breaking up and getting back together every other weekend. Some of our fights had teeth to them; we argued about real issues that needed to be addressed. Unfortunately, the fighting was so passionate and fiery that by the time we came back down it was all about kissing and making up, never working through anything. Often the fights were petty and mean, bringing out the worst in both of us.
It would be easy to say that we were young and immature and THAT’S why we stayed in such a poisonous relationship for over 3 years. As a happily married adult I can also look back and say that of all the factors that kept me tangled up in that mess of a relationship, age was the least salient. We had lots of wonderful, fun, sincere moments between the nastiness. That’s the first step on a slippery slope to staying. But the truth is we stayed together because we were addicted to the drama, and real breakups are scary.
I’ve been around mental illness my whole life; I was diagnosed with depression at age 7. Nothing ever made me feel so insanely out of control as being in an unhealthy relationship. The highs were these glorious, shining moments, while the lows devastated me. As awful as I felt when we fought, as miserable as it was to see how cruel I could be, I couldn’t walk away. Friends stopped showing an interest in our relationship. What was the point in siding with me or comforting me when they knew I’d be right back in the same relationship next week? Even acquaintances joked that they couldn’t keep up with whether we were together or not. I pretended that those comments symbolized our stick-to-itiveness, that we were making it work and “haha how funny that people tease because look, we always end up back together”! Mostly it sucked and was exhausting. Until the next shiny moment, of course.
Our longest separation came at the end of my first year of graduate school and lasted 4 months. When we got back together for the last time I knew exactly why I was doing it. Not because I was happy or in love. The highs had long ceased to bring much joy, and even the lows were leveling out to subtle misery instead of aching, dramatic despair. We got back together because facing the reality of a breakup while also completing my last graduate credits and writing and defending my thesis was just too crappy to face. I didn’t even bother lying to myself or my friends anymore. I was miserable but a breakup was just too much to bear. When we actually ended things I felt relief and strength. I learned a lot from being in a terrible relationship, and I can better appreciate the amazing one I’m in now. But I totally get why people do it. The justifications are all there: good times are great, breakups suck, drama is exciting.
Guest post by SRS, a perennial over-sharer, happy wife, and proud mama to an adopted daughter 7 years her senior.