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If I’ve learnt one thing from being in a toxic relationship, it’s that you should always trust your instinct. The second you sense that something doesn’t feel right, you have to trust your gut. Don’t try to rationalise your feelings the way I did with Tim*.

Things got so bad between us that we called it quits several times. Still, we kept getting back together because I wanted to believe that things could change, and that Tim could change. Even though I knew we’d be better off apart, I convinced myself that I should stay committed and stick it out. After all, I was already in my mid-20s – it was time to settle down and accept my partner for who he was, warts and all. Nobody’s perfect, right?

This stubbornness blinded me to a lot of red flags. I guess I also convinced myself that there was no legitimate reason to break up with Tim when he hadn’t physically abused me or cheated on me.

Turns out, I was wrong.

When I first met Tim at a work event, I was completely won over. He was a successful businessman, and everyone who met him described him as good-looking, charming and well-read. The attraction was mutual, and soon we were hanging out frequently. I realised I liked him. A lot. Within a month, we were seeing each other exclusively. But under that charismatic veneer, the man I knew in private was very different.


He manipulated me to get what he wanted


Tim had a way with words, and he knew how to use them to his advantage. Whenever we had an argument, he would twist my words so that it always ended up with me feeling like I had overreacted. Often, he would say: ‘The only reason why I’m saying this is because I care about you.’ He would say this so convincingly that I always ended up believing him.

For instance, although he was possessive, he was never obvious about it – so it was difficult for me to accuse him of being unreasonable. I noticed that whenever I was invited to a social event, or made plans to see my friends, he would deliberately pick a fight with me the night before, or on the day of the event – knowing it would spoil my mood and make me less inclined to go out. This happened even when he was invited as my plus-one.

He also didn’t like it if my attention was diverted from him in any way – even if it was because of my own father. Tim would become irritable if I spent more time with my dad. What disturbed me was that he would never explicitly link his displeasure to my spending time with my dad or my friends. The fights were always about inconsequential things – so small that I can’t even call them to mind now.


He used a stuffed toy to project his negative feelings

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Tim had a small stuffed toy he kept on his bed, which he even had a name for. I thought it strange that a man in his 30s should be so attached to a toy, but I felt bad judging him for it, so I said nothing.

But a couple of months into the relationship, I noticed a strange pattern emerging. After an argument, Tim would use the toy to articulate his feelings. He would pick the toy up and say things in a babyish voice. The first time it happened, he turned the toy in my direction, and told me the toy thought I was mean. I dismissed it as a quirk – I thought he assumed that I was one of those women who found such behaviour cute. I figured that if I ignored it and didn’t indulge him, he would get the hint that I wasn’t into it.

But the toy kept making appearances during pillow talk – almost weekly, in fact. Eventually, it hit me – Tim was using it to tell me how he truly felt, especially when he was upset. He would say things through the toy like ‘I’m still angry at you’ or ‘I’m sorry for what I said’ – something Tim would normally never confess. Even after realising this, I still refused to engage with it. After all, I was his girlfriend, not his therapist, and I didn’t want to enable this behaviour. I wanted Tim to communicate with me properly, and not through the toy. But he didn’t seem to be able to. It was frustrating.


He had a Jekyll and Hyde personality


One reason why I stuck it out with Tim for so long was that when he was in a good mood, we had a great time together. We had edifying conversations about books, politics and world affairs. Tim was also a big foodie, and through him, I grew to be more adventurous with food.

But when he was in a bad mood, he would morph into Mr Hyde. Whenever I ignored his texts, he would spam me – by that, I mean 300 messages in two hours. He was also extremely unreasonable. Once, he logged into my e-mail account without me knowing, and read all the messages. There was a draft e-mail I had written to an ex-boyfriend after we split, and never sent. Furious, Tim called me in the middle of the night and accused me of wanting to get back with my ex. Never mind that the e-mail was written way before Tim and I started going out, and had a time stamp to prove it. His behaviour was irrational and ridiculous. I remember trying to reassure and placate him, just so he would stop badgering me. This became a recurring theme in our relationship. Each time he was upset, he would pin the blame on me, and I would end up saying what he wanted to hear just to placate him.

While Tim was never physically abusive, there were times when he definitely crossed the line – and it scared me. Once, when we were on holiday with my family, Tim and I had an argument in our hotel room. I wanted to leave, but he got up and blocked the door. He never said outright that I couldn’t leave, but each time I tried to get past him, he would adjust his body so there was no way I could get out. I called my parents, who came to my rescue, demanding that Tim release me from the room. Later, when I called him out on his behaviour, he replied: ‘But you could have left at any time, I was just standing there.’ He refused to admit that what he had done was scary and inappropriate. The same thing happened a few months later – this time, in my home. Again, my family had to insist that Tim let me out.

Though my parents were concerned, they didn’t ask me to leave him. I guess they didn’t know the extent of the problems I was facing with him – as many of the incidents took place via text or behind closed doors, and I didn’t let them in on it.


He acted like he was above the rules


Tim had a bizarre approach when it came to money. He refused to pay his bills, and would brush them off as if they didn’t matter. Sometimes, he would only pay the minimum sum – which meant the amount of interest would snowball. He would also park illegally, become irate when he got fined, and then refuse to pay the fines. It got so bad that he was summoned to court. Even then, he insisted that it wasn’t his fault.

This blase attitude to money only started to affect me when he began asking me to pay for things. We would be out shopping or on holiday, and when the bill came he would ask me to cover it, promising to pay me back. Only when the relationship ended did I realise that I had spent at least $10,000 on stuff he wanted.

Half of this debt came from his phone bills. Tim wanted a new iPhone, and because my service provider offered a better deal, he asked if the phone could be registered to me, and he would pay me back for the monthly bills. I agreed, and for a year, the arrangement worked well. But in the last six months of the relationship, he stopped paying his bills – which amounted to $5,000. I was so stressed and miserable about the situation (he kept saying he would pay the bills but he didn’t) that I couldn’t eat. I lost weight. During that period, I only weighed 42kg.


He told me he wanted me dead


Things eventually came to a head. In the final year of our relationship, we had been seeing a counsellor in the hope of sorting out our issues.

During a raging argument, we decided to ask our counsellor to help resolve the fight. Seeing how angry we both were, she asked to speak with me privately. Tim agreed and left the room. But as I was recounting what happened, Tim (who had clearly been eavesdropping) burst into the room and yelled: ‘You’re a liar! I hope you die under a bus!’ He looked crazed. It was the first time he had lost control in such a manner.

While I was shocked, my first thought was: Now someone else can finally see how crazy this man is! I was relieved that his terrible behaviour, usually reserved for me in private, was finally out in the open. It was the last straw for me, and I finally ended things between us.


He led a double life

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Six months later, I received a text from a woman I had never met. I don’t know how she got my number, but she confessed she had been seeing Tim for the past two years while we were together – and that she had no idea he was spoken for. What she told me didn’t hurt me as I was already over Tim, but I couldn’t believe he had also treated her badly and borrowed large sums of money from her. I was sympathetic, because I knew exactly how she felt. I, too, had spent years ignoring my instincts that this man was a monster, and I understood that she wanted affirmation that she wasn’t alone. But it was draining, and eventually my good friend texted her on my behalf, telling her that I had moved on, and perhaps she should, too.

And after that, this chapter with Tim finally concluded. As for that stuffed toy, I don’t know what happened to it, but I can’t say I care.


*Names have been changed.

This article was first published in the March 2018 issue of Her World.