Dating a good guy after a toxic relationship

What it’s like re-learning love

I just started dating someone amazing after two years with someone toxic. The transition between the two has been eye-opening.

Old habits die hard.

“I’m sorry if I emasculated you by asking Sarah for restaurant recommendations.”

This is what I said to the new guy I’m dating after meeting his friends for the first time. One of them is a self-proclaimed foodie and I’m new to the area, so I asked her about her favorite restaurants — right in front of him.

Walking to the car later that night, I apologized for potentially upsetting him. And he sort of glanced at me and then said, lightly, “you didn’t.” And then added, “do you want to go to any of them?” Just like that.

I know it seems obvious that he wouldn’t be upset.

A few years ago, I would have read that story and thought “what a weak, feeble woman.” But I’m not. Truth is, toxic shit can happen to anyone. It’s easy to judge it differently when we’re not in it —so easy, in fact, that I even judge myself looking back.

My ex was a codependent, s0 his issues were largely cloaked in big words like “love.” He was insecure about (and preoccupied with) making me happy, and demanded that I “resolve” his bottomless pit of self-doubt with continuous compliments and reassurance.

These became learned lines I’m still finding scattered around my life.

I still thank the new guy for everything (“thanks for letting me finish.”) And I catch myself repeating it, like a tick, to be sure it’s heard. I give him compliments for things he doesn’t need reassurance on (“wow, you’re so great at opening bottles!”), which makes him laugh.

I look up from my phone at home and ask, “does it bother you that I’m texting my mom right now?” I thank him for being patient when I call my dad on Father’s Day.

I invite him to play expert/provider by helping me choose fancy cheese — to which he says, “sure? Though I know nothing about it.” And I’m like “oh yeah, I forgot your ego doesn’t hinge on pretending.”

The first time I got a little feisty while drinking, sullen over something stupid, I was shocked that he didn’t retaliate. He didn’t come at me for getting upset, didn’t get even more upset himself, and when he gently asked me “what happened?” the next morning and I apologized, he just let me. And that was that.

He apologizes, straight up, when he does something wrong. Just says “I’m sorry” — without getting defensive and tacking on “but…”

Periodically I’ll still ask him, albeit with growing trust: “are you okay?”

And he always is. But it’s still amazing.

“Holy shit, I can breathe.”

There’s a moment — or many — where you are suddenly acutely aware of breathing. You suddenly just feel relaxed and splayed, your energy gently spread out and sweet-heavy in a pool around you.

“I’m not sure what to do with my hands”

The thing with toxic relationships is that they creep in on you — mine, over years. Your partner is kind at first and kind periodically throughout — they have to be, after all, or else you’d bail — and over time, you lose touch with what’s okay and what’s not.

This drifting feeling lingers even after you see the toxicity for what it is, because you still don’t remember how to act instead.

You’re not sure how to navigate relationships. You’re not certain of your judgment, and not entirely sure how to go about trusting people (after all, you trusted your ex and look where that got you), including yourself (because it was you who trusted him.)

You cut out everything you’re confident is toxic but still have to go on silencing whatever rushes into that void, because most of it isn’t right, either.

What’s a normal amount to say “thank you;” what’s a sane compliment to give? Is his teasing negging? Is mine? How much of my mindset should be redone?

How much is enough, and how much is too much, to give?

I still reassure him that he makes me happy, and that seems to be working for starters.

“Feel is: good.”

Ironic, right? When you don’t have someone harping on you for happiness, and instead just letting you live your life, good feels just sort of cozy up in the warm hollows.

I am continuously amazed at this guy, and still spend a lot of time marveling at him — and the way it feels.

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