What I learned after my five year toxic relationship

red flags

red flags

I was in a five-year relationship with a boy who was a walking red flag and I chose to stay color blind. He was my first real relationship. 

Sometimes I beat my younger self up for wasting so much of my time with someone who was so obviously wrong for me, thinking, “You should have known,” “Why couldn’t you just leave when the first flag showed?” “Now there’s no going back” “You wasted so much time.” While valid, that’s not fair. I was young and I honestly didn’t know any better. 

A study conducted in 2017 by the Philippine Statistics Authority shows that one in four Filipino women aged 15-49 years old have experienced physical, emotional and or sexual abuse by their husband or partner. It could happen to anyone, at any point in their life.

I met him when I was 15. I know, I know—just like that Taylor Swift song. But he was crushable, tall, and was everything that made me believe he was a total catch. So when we became “MU” (mutual understanding, very high school), my low self-esteem and his tendency to subtly put himself on a pedestal convinced me that I was the lucky one and that I wasn’t going to get anyone better than him. That was the first red flag. 

I began asking myself several questions—I think, if you’re like me, you’ve asked yourself the same. During my time with him, I wasn’t really allowed to have male friends. He used to call me his ice cream; every time I talked to a boy was a lick and he didn’t like it when someone else that wasn’t him “licked” me. Only he could do that. He used to comment about my outside appearances too and how I should try to upgrade my “shell” to help him manage his temptations for other people better. And every single time he said these things, I would ask myself if I was the problem, if this was what love was really like, or if things will smoothen out and he’ll change the longer we were together.

Cut to five years later, and he never did. 

The red flags kept growing in number and started to present themselves in different shades. Sometimes they were subtle shades of blush when he didn’t want me to wear shorts because my skin was strictly for him, or a striking scarlet when he told me to stop crying because I sounded pathetic. And even though the colors were bright enough to be like storm warnings, I chose to ignore them and see them all in greyscale. But it wasn’t just because of love. 

It was a cocktail of insecurity, fear, and doubt that fed into my mind, and eventually, my heart convinced me to see his flags in black and white so I wouldn’t see the red. I was stuck in a cycle of desperately wanting love and searching for validation from a person whom I perceived to be on a pedestal. And the longer I stayed, the more often I told myself that I needed this validation from him. It was in this cycle where I forgot one of the most important things in any relationship: me

I think when we decide to ignore too many red flags, we compromise our own worth and what we deserve. We tell ourselves we can look past them and that time will change everything—but that’s not always true. This is not something to shame yourself for, however, sis. It happens to the best of us. 

In an article by Time, they quote psychologist Dr. Malkin on the vicious cycle of why women stay in abusive relationships. He likened this cycle to gambling. “There’s a psychological effect like gambling: the moments of tenderness and intimacy are unpredictable, but they are so intense and fulfilling that the victim winds up staying in the hopes that a moment like that will happen again,” he said. But no more. Over the time of my relationship, I had to learn when to put my cards down to cut all of my losses before they cut me. This is so much easier said than done, but I promise you, you are never stuck there and you are never alone. You are much stronger than you think. 

As much as I wish that I had left sooner than I did, I’m still proud of myself for taking that stand to leave at all because that in itself is already a win (good job, young Alexa). And even though it’s only been a year since those raging red times, I’m finally learning to love myself right and finding what it means to be genuinely happy without the cost of seeing things in monochrome. 


Art by Tricia Guevarra

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