In a world filled with scary names to veil bad dating behaviors like gaslighting, zombie-ing and ghosting, sometimes it can be hard to find a voice among the monsters. Standing up for yourself in the face of these monsters can be even harder. These past few months, both abroad and before, I have been able to find my voice and stand up for the way I’ve been treated in the past.
Last semester I was “broken up” with by the guy I was casually seeing, him citing his feelings for someone else. I took it in stride considering it wasn’t unfair — I would be leaving for abroad and he would be staying in Boston. What followed was a Thanksgiving weekend filled with rock ‘n’ roll, friends from home meeting friends from school and home cooking that I had gone too long without. I had taken my time to move on, however slowly, but move on nonetheless. That weekend back at school, he texted me saying that he wanted to see me.
The reality was that nothing had changed as he confessed to me days later, reaching out to me was a moment of weakness coming at the end of a bad week. We talked through it, and I mainly spared him the “Grey’s Anatomy”-esque monologues that I had stockpiled in the back of my head. With the help of one of my friends, I told him I deserved to be treated better. The last thing I said to him was that unless he meant it, he wasn’t allowed to play with my emotions like that.
It was a moment that seemed uncharacteristic for me. I try to stand up for my friends and family, even to the point of getting suspended for a day in elementary school (a story for a different time). In a heartbeat, I would run to the aid of those I care about but I’ve never included myself in that group. Unsure whether to name it complacency or passivity I usually find that I care very little about the things that happened to me, about how I was being treated. I almost came to rely on my friends to remind me, usually repeating sentiments of “he’s garbage” or “remember when he ghosted you and then called you ‘attached’ after you tried to talk to him?” The examples could go on and I’m sure they do in my diary, but the sentiment remains. I have a history of both selective memory and allowing myself to be treated a certain way. Only now have I decided to do something about it. Only now have I, as my mom has begged me to, started to stand up for myself.
A month later I found myself face-to-face with a different guy, the one who said I am “too attached” for him. Inspired by the recent events, I asked him why he first gaslit, then ghosted me and then in true monster form, returned via zombie-ing. He cited having a bad month, but I cited that as a bad excuse. His ego bruised, we could have a raw conversation about the way things dissipated between us. I said what he did was wrong and he said he was sorry. With my new kick of confidence, I was sure that I could stand up for myself. I was going to start to care about the things that happen to me.
It almost seems ironic coming from someone who usually gets crushed on the Tube by other people’s bags or always gets stepped on during nights out. Standing up for myself comes naturally when it’s a matter of my New Yorker credibility or during any argument I’ve had with friends. That confidence is absent when it comes to my relationships with guys. In the past few months, I have been able to change that. If there was one thing I’d have to attribute to my time spent abroad, it would be the importance of self. I have been able to grow, both emotionally and mentally. I have found my voice in the most cliché and wonderful way. Of course, being away from any situation means that you can you reflect upon it, but reflection is good when inspecting past behaviors. This is not to say that every guy I’ve seen has been one with a bad habit of treating me poorly. Many, included the two cited, are good people with even better hearts. It just means that I have been able to find my voice within those relationships and have been able to argue with behaviors that hurt me.
I have often preached that the relationship we have with ourselves is the most important one that we have. In addition to being kinder to ourselves and forgiving ourselves for things we haven’t be able to work through yet, we must stand up for ourselves. We should care about what happens to ourselves. We have to care about how we’re treated by other people. Be unapologetic in your demands for respect. It comes in practice and it comes by taking things in stride. Deciding that you are no longer going to allow yourself to be gaslit, zombied or ghosted is important. Finding your voice and using it is a powerful thing.