I Missed These Red Flags in the Beginning of my First Relationship

Navigating love, mental health, and your personal well-being

Source: Nick on Unsplash.

Confusing love with attachment.

At least, it was what I thought was love. A day of speaking turned to a week turned to a month turned into going to college together. Eventually, we lived together — Four years had passed before it was over.

It wasn’t love. And I would say that’s unfortunate, but I was very fortunate that it wasn’t. Much of the relationship was misery, rooted and coated in familiarity.

The end of a relationship is a normal occurrence. Sometimes, those occurrences are reflected in our mind as an unacceptable failure. We will pair a failure of a relationship with a personal failure, even when the two are fundamentally different.

We allow the idea of failure to consume us, disallowing us to accept something that is healthy for the long-run. It’s the mismatch of a prospective future cost and a sunk cost. We believe the latter to be the former, so we attempt to preserve and salvage in the hopes of future recovered value. We confuse attachment for love because we believe the person hurting us might one day stop. Those decisions and situations and the incurred pains are irrelevant to the outcome of the future, however. There is no management of a structured payout that will be better over time — it was never love to begin with.

The function of a person causing you pain is independent of the time. They will do it today, tomorrow, and the next week. The thing gluing you to these situations is the hope that one day it might get better. But that’s just the sunken cost fallacy, rephrased. Those things need to exist before the relationship commences.

Emotional immaturity and the overlap.

You don’t need to tell someone you want to be appreciated. This one likely hit me the most, and I’m sure it has to do with things in the past I haven’t dealt with the best. I connected appreciation with self-worth, thinking that the validation somehow fueled a purpose in my life. That purpose was built up in my head, and it was based out of trauma and neglect in my childhood.

I wasn’t emotionally immature, but there was a small part of my mind that was emotionally stunted. Instead of attempting to understand that, I stood in a relationship that didn’t credit me as a partner worthy of respect, appreciation, and love.

It wasn’t a matter of accepting less, too. It was a matter of accepting that I was receiving nothing and being okay with it. Instead of basing my expectation on reality, I based it on the hope of a reality in the future. Four years into that failed relationship, it didn’t arrive, and I was finally exhausted.

Your purpose in life isn’t to fulfill someone else.

Someone else’s happiness is not sourced in your existence. You could be the icing — you could even be a lot of the cake, too. But the foundation of someone’s happiness is not rooted in you, it’s rooted in themselves. Perspective can’t be forced, it’s a part of the self. It couldn’t be taught in my relationship because my partner was unwilling. If that is the case, it becomes an impossibility to have those conversations to begin with.

A relationship starts with two people and a common choice. If you don’t start from a place of health, then what comes out from the roots will eventually wilt.

Perspective and compatibility.

Coming from similar thought-backgrounds or life-backgrounds is important. Knowing what is and isn’t value is also important. If you don’t have a fundamental shared set of ideas by which you live your lives, then the evolution of that relationship leads to conflict and trouble.

This is what we are talking about when we talk about compatibility.

Source: Retha on Pexels.

Love is a private community shared by two people. By that standard, the health of the relationship is based on an oasis of shared values and togetherness. When people talk about opposites attracting, they’re either speaking about fairy-tales or personal traits that are irrelevant to the healthy function of two people choosing to be with one another romantically. The backbone of successful relationships is invisible. It’s usually the invisible stuff that’s most essential.

This doesn’t mean that a person from a poor background and a rich background are doomed from the start, but the numbers don’t back the odds. In fact, a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that “assortive mating” had increased since 1960. Economists define that term as “the tendency of people with similar characteristics to marry”.

Source: National Bureau of Economic Research, Marry Your Like.

The paper indicates that this mating has only become more concentrated over the last 50 years. This is causing a widening in inequality between couples who have an education versus those who don’t, translating into a higher tendency for higher-educated couples to marry.

But that inequality runs much deeper. It starts with the teachings at the home, where your development starts. A lot of that financial control is out of someone’s control when growing up. Childhood experiences are mostly dependent on parents.

Those perspectives that later develop, and the choice to achieve higher education, is largely based on what was taught at an early age and whether socio-economic viability existed.

It’s not cheating, I decided to leave and have sex, then come back.

Whatever analogy you want to have, it won’t matter. It’s cheating. Or it’s manipulation. It’s something other than a good thing. If you want to leave, you should leave.

My girlfriend and I would sleep in the same room, but every night before bed she would be on her phone, smiling and texting away. I learned years later that those moments were her texting a recruiter for some job. She later told me that he was going to give her work in exchange for sex.

I don’t think anything ever happened, but there were a few instances similar to this over the years. While I don’t remember the aftermath, I do remember how low I felt. This isn’t a reflection on how awful a person she was, but that I had an immediate, obvious, and blatant case in front of me. It’s a reflection on my inaction when faced with an undeniable set of red flags.

I don’t need to tell you everything I’m doing.

This is a strange one, but I have had it occur in a few cases over relationships. Omitting and hiding and lying go under the same category. They’re a contortion of one another, and they’re either close cousins or siblings or identical, depending on what is being misconstrued. One is derivative of another.

It makes no sense because it requires no effort. Letting someone know you’re busy with something specific is as easy as a text over 2 seconds in time. Checking in takes zero moments away from your life, especially in an age where we find ourselves endlessly scrolling away on screens for hours watching memes.

I found myself competing with people and entities I had no business competing with. My girlfriend’s location was a mystery to me, and I was never allowed to know what was going on. Sometimes, I would be chastised for wanting to know any detail at all. It all needed to be secret, and the result of that secrecy was a mistrust I never wanted to have.

If you have to have a narrative about why having a narrative is necessary, you’re speaking at a stone wall hoping to find its mouth. If that fundamental understanding isn’t there, it’s either because that misunderstanding is intentional or because that growth doesn’t exist yet.

In any case, communication isn’t supposed to be hard. Life already has its caveats and wrenches and twists. The last thing you need is one in the safety of your home and personal space. Your mental health should never be compromised to substitute for the lack of someone else’s.

Written by

UC Berkeley, mathematics. Los Angeles. Long-time runner. Top writer on Quora, 100M+ total content views. New to Medium. Inquiries: Moumj@berkeley.edu

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