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I Spent 18 Years Chasing After Love That Didn't Serve Me

I told guys I loved them when I didn't.

Her Voice

I was 14 when I told my first boyfriend I loved him. It was moments after losing my virginity and he was already getting pretty bored of me. I wasn't exciting, I wasn't confrontational, nor was I glamourous. I was a quiet bookworm afraid of my own shadow. I had been abused as a kid, and taught that codependent behaviors were normal.

I didn't realize that codependency wasn't a problem or a real thing up until I was 29.

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I went to therapy, I journaled, I read books. I even joined a support group to which I quit a month later because I didn't believe codependency was a disease, just a shitty learned behavior. And even though most of my codependent behaviors I have unlearned, there is one I hadn't wanted to reveal to my therapist because it felt too embarrassing.

I told guys I loved them when I didn't. Growing up in an abusive household, I gravitated towards boys and men who mistreated me. I did it without giving it a second thought. I would bend over backwards, smile when I wanted to cry, laughed when they would put me down, and stayed in those relationships far longer than I should have because I felt fortunate to be seen even if it wasn't in a healthy way. I'd tell these guys I loved them because I had never gotten any love from home and I wanted to make my own family. I told them this because I thought if I did so, they would want to stay with me forever.

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I take responsibility for my own pain. I take responsibility for the fact that in the back of my mind, I knew I did not love them. And I take responsibility for the can of worms I had opened once I told them this and the abuse I allowed to happen because those three words meant I was malleable.

They'd get money, clothes, food, a babysitter, and, one time, an unpaid personal care assistant for their elderly mother. "You said you loved me, right?" I heard that question all too often when I would reluctantly agree to do something for them that often came to my detriment.

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It has been 18 years of me doing this.

A pattern that was just made clear after scratching my head from my pursuit of the latest jerk. "Why did he not answer my phone calls, texts, and emails?" "Why would he tell me he was interested in me and act the opposite of it?"

I realized then that I dated the same type of men; got hurt nearly the same way; and even though I felt myself be more confident than I have ever been and more self-aware due to three years of therapy, I still found myself saying "I love you" when things felt uncertain between me and whatever jerk I was with at the time. This is the familiar. Date a guy, like the guy, the guy's true awful colors show, I tell him I love him, and am with him far longer than I should be.

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Lather, rinse, repeat.

I knew their lines for their neglect or disinterest like the back of my hand. I knew when they moved onto someone else. I'd blame their mistreatment of me on the belief that I wasn't pretty enough and felt they were dragging the relationship on to see what else they could get out of me. Even though it has been years since a man has gotten a gift, a babysitter, a personal care assistant, whatever the hell else they wanted, know that ended with me in tears, with me feeling worthless, and me giving up on love to find myself with the same type of jerk in different men years later.

I know this now to be an unhealthy ass pattern that I feel it's time for me to unlearn.

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I started thinking about what I know is familiar and what I know isn't. I never heard a man tell me they loved me and meant it. I never had a boyfriend who doted over me or gushed about me to his family and friends. I never had a man treat me as if I was a true treat to his eyes, I never had a man who encouraged me to pursue my goals for myself and not for him. I never had a man who didn't shame me for being more intelligent than him. I never had a man who didn't shame me for accomplishing more. I've never had a man who just accepted me the way that I was.

Maybe I overlooked the men who liked me in the healthy way because I was so focused on having the unhealthy. Maybe Mr. Right was there in front of me and I had missed my chance and maybe I had not.

I know that I have never felt more empty and alone than when I with these guys. I know I never cried more than I did when I was with these guys. And even though I had learned long ago that it was better to be alone than to be unhappy, I still found myself retreating to the familiar.

And now that I am aware, I am ready to embrace the unfamiliar with open arms, slight hesitation, and lots of therapy.

xoNecole is always looking for new voices and empowering stories to add to our platform. If you have an interesting story or personal essay that you'd love to share, we'd love to hear from you. Contact us at submissions@xonecole.com.

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