I didn’t have any relationship experience until I turned 22. By this point, I had spent many, many years desperately wishing for a boyfriend. Note — not a happy relationship or fulfilment, just someone I could call my boyfriend. All of my friends had had boyfriends in some form or another, and I wondered what was wrong with me.
Aged 22, I moved to China to teach English in an international school. There I met Ryan, a teacher at another school. He was from the US and was unlike any man I’d ever met before. How? Because he actually flirted openly with me — told me I was hot, that he liked my cute British accent, that he wanted to go for a drink with me. In just one night, I was totally hooked.
We started sleeping with each other after nights out. Sometimes he would come back to my place and then leave again after we’d had sex. After each night, I would wait hopefully by my phone for a message, but none arrived. A week or so would pass. We would bump into each other again on another night out, hook up, repeat. Sometimes I would be bold and send him a message, hoping, hinting towards some sort of date, but he never took the bait.
After four months of this, things slowly started to change. He started staying the whole night instead of leaving right away. We started having breakfast together in the morning. Occasionally, we’d hang out for a whole Saturday, if he didn’t have anything else to do. Even though I was desperate for us to be “official”, I didn’t say anything — I didn’t want to scare him off.
A few months later we were on another night out and I saw him flirting with my housemate of all people. They were both pretty wasted, me too, but I was so angry. I confronted him and told him that if he was going to be spending so much time in my bed, I wanted us to be exclusive. He thought I was making a big deal out of nothing — claimed he’d only been talking to my housemate, but reluctantly, he agreed to be exclusive.
So we were a bit more official. We started spending whole weekends together, holding hands, calling each other boyfriend and girlfriend. I should have been over the moon, right? But I wasn’t. On the outside everything was great. I could finally tell my friends and family back home that I was normal after all, I’d just needed an American to prove it. Yet the relationship was far from happy.
For a start, the sex had become tedious. Ryan had a belief that the longer he postponed ejaculation, the more of a man he was. So his only goal was to not come for as long as possible. I found this boring whilst simultaneously making noises to sound like I was having the time of my life.
Secondly, Ryan was a very talkative person and he preferred the sound of his voice over anyone else’s. So that meant that I was subjected to a lot of long monologues that I would nod along to, feigning interest. Playing the attentive girlfriend.
Another issue was that I didn’t fully trust him. He’d only reluctantly agreed to be exclusive and he still went out on a lot of boys’ nights and I had no idea what he did on them. One day I met a friend of his at a party, who, when I introduced myself as Ryan’s girlfriend, actually winced. “Really?” he asked me. “I didn’t know Ryan had a girlfriend.” When I asked him to elaborate he thought it was better if I talked to Ryan about it. I never did. I can only assume that he’d seen Ryan with other women.
I spent almost two years in this relationship. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t that I didn’t get anything from it — I did. I got the right to say I had a boyfriend, I got some companionship in a moment where I was pretty lonely. We did have some good times together. But the whole way through, I never got what I really wanted. To be loved. To be valued. To be with someone with whom I felt an equal, whom I admired.
So why did I stick around for so long? Because I didn’t think I deserved anything better. Because I thought that being in a shitty relationship was better than still being single. Because I didn’t know how to ask for what I wanted.
Luckily that relationship took place over ten years ago and I’ve grown as a person since then. I know that I deserve to be happy, and to be loved. And more than anything, I’ve learned that there’s no loneliness so profound as the loneliness that can be experienced inside a toxic relationship. Nowadays, I’d happily be single rather than put myself through that again.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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