Love has often been compared to a drug, due to the neurotransmitters and hormones that are released when a person begins falling in love. It can take you on an emotionally unstable ride in which you behave like an addict and ignore red flags.
Therapists reveal that although fantasising about future relationships is normal, women often disregard problematic signs with the expectation for the man to change.
“When women over-idealise men and relationships, they set themselves up for pain and discomfort. This can lead to fear of future relationships and emotional baggage,” says Kolkata-based psychotherapist Mansi Poddar.
Failure to recognise red flags
When Delhi-based sex-educator Pallavi Barnwal fell in love a year back, she did not expect it to spiral out of control, lead to heartbreak, and her having to see a therapist. She had romanticised a future with the man, and she did so by ignoring all the red flags in the relationship.
Barwal, in hindsight, feels she should have analysed her self-sabotaging situation, instead of over-romanticising her relationship for months. When she finally decided to move on, she had to attend therapy sessions to understand why she had been attracting emotionally unavailable men.
Sunaina, now 28, entered a six-year-long relationship when she was 22. Having been fed the ‘conventional’ ideas of how a man in a relationship usually behaves, she continued to ignore his ‘casual sexism’. Her relationship appeared ‘normal’ since most of her female friends were struggling with infidelity and physical abuse.
“It was when I left my hometown that I realised how harmful it is to be surrounded by people who set such low standards for male partners,” Sunaina says.
“Give yourself time to know your partner, as sometimes you get a modified version instead of the real person,” suggests Narendra Kinger, clinical psychologist and marriage counsellor from Mumbai.
Accepting toxicity as a part of love
While many assume that love is an ‘elusive thing’ that has to be chased, others become so obsessed with ‘finding love’ that they treat people as possessions. As a result, when young people ‘find love’, they become neurotically attached to their partners and try to possess them to the point where relationships become co-dependent.
“Ideas like ‘true love lasts forever’ despite disappointments, or how parents and society teach us to accept toxicity in order to make a relationship work, have lasting impact on young minds,” Kinger says.
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“Over-romanticising a toxic relationship is common and is due to a variety of reasons. In my case, I ignored my own sense of emptiness and tried to fill that void with another person’s love for me. I lugged the relationship all on my own, and was happy with the breadcrumbs I was offered,” Barnwal says.
Lack of boundaries in the relationship
Now 33 and a mentor at a private college, Hafeeza looks back at her school romance with sadness and blames her naivety for being in an abusive relationship.
“As a shy teenager I found it incredulous when a classmate showed interest in me. I didn’t consider myself worthy of his attention and accepted his toxicity as a part of his masculinity. After all, that’s what society teaches young girls to accept,” she says.
Hafeeza’s classmate manipulated her and made her work on his projects. However, he never missed an opportunity to humiliate her in front of others. He called her sensitive and trivialised all her concerns.
“When a relationship feels this thankless, it’s important to implement healthy boundaries,” Poddar says.
Without any knowledge of such boundaries, Hafeeza stayed in her ‘miserable relationship’ for three years. With all her friends in relationships, it felt better to be with someone, than to be alone. This left her mentally broken and with extreme anxiety, as a result of which her future
relationships suffered. “I became cynical, failed to appreciate sweet gestures, and imagined they were done to manipulate me,” she adds.
Barnwal’s advice for women who’ve experienced ‘emotional abuse’ is to become prudent, but not wallow in bitterness.
Not knowing when to call it quits
Chandni, a 36-year-old single mother, wanted to start dating, and in her efforts to please a man she liked, she ignored major red flags.
He seemed charming, but every time she asked him about his personal life, he evaded her questions. She would wait for him to text or call her back, which he would do only at his convenience. “Once he stood me up on a date but refused to tell me the reason! I don’t know why I felt the need to sympathise with him,” she says.
For Chandni, the final blow came when she requested the man to wish her daughter on her birthday. He became upset and refused to speak to the child on the phone. “Did he assume I would abandon my child for him? Or did he think I would continue the relationship in secrecy? I realised the relationship was beyond saving,” she says.
In a society that puts a lot of pressure on women to be married, single women often overlook red flags in order to continue a relationship. “We need to normalise being alone. Taking care of yourself in an intimate relationship is not an act of selfishness,” Kinger says.
Move on, you deserve better
While working in London, Amita found love and companionship in a friend, who happened to be British. The cross-culture romance was exciting but soon left the 25-year-old confused. She was unable to assess what he expected out of the relationship and felt too shy to ask.
When Amita left for India and dragged the long-distance relationship for another year, all she wanted was clarity, without which she became irritable and experienced panic attacks.
In such situations, Poddar insists on paying heed to how people make us feel, both physically and emotionally. “Befriend your body and notice the signals it sends. How does your body respond to a man’s words or actions? If they cause anxiety, take a step back and analyse the relationship,” she says.
But, despite her meltdowns, Amita continued to harbour the illusion that the relationship would get better. As their phone calls turned into bitter fights, she realised how much he affected her, while he remained aloof. “I was home and employed, yet I couldn’t enjoy any of it. I was living in a world of fantasy, which was causing me pain. I had to burst my bubble to survive,” she says.
An emotionally unavailable male partner can have a long-lasting impact on a woman’s mental health. “Hence, it is important to be aware of what one wants out of the relationship and operate from a stable ground. Speak to a therapist if you are confused, but don’t ignore deal breakers,” Poddar says.
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Debarati Chakraborty is an independent journalist, who writes on wellness, relationships and sexuality.