I remember, back when I was still going to college, I had a friend who really was in love with love. 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 had gotten to the point where I was sacrificing everything. If I had it, I’d give it to him. If he felt like screaming at me, 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 was worth it, I reasoned, because then we’d 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? I was getting yelled at. I was getting told that no man would ever love me. I was getting told that I was an “impure whore who needed to repent.” I was also getting a whole lot of isolation because his family couldn’t stand my friends or family members. I was occasionally also getting threatened or told my beliefs were wrong.
Really, I wasn’t getting much of anything that didn’t involve me being hurt. So, what was my then-boyfriend getting out of it?
I thought back. Well, he got sex and encouragement from me. He got hugs. He got kisses. He got me paying for fancy nights out. He got me never really doing anything to hurt him emotionally. He had gotten 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. 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.
And so, I chose to love myself. And I left, realizing I’d be kinder to myself than he’d ever be.