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He was a toxic partner, but so was I

Sara Dobie Bauer is a writer, model and mental health advocate with a creative writing degree from Ohio University. Her short story "Don't Ball the Boss" (inspired by her shameless crush on Benedict Cumberbatch) was nominated for the Pus...

It takes two to be in a toxic relationship

Ah, high school. I was the independent honors student more focused on my education than on boys, especially since I was star of all the high school musicals and story editor for the newspaper.

Then I met Tom, and Tom was adorable. We smoked the same cigarettes. We liked the same books. When he would do something so simple as touch my hand, it was electric. We were friends for a little while, but then in true high school style, we agreed to be "boyfriend and girlfriend" over the phone one night.

Things started out fine — great, in fact. I was crazy about Tom, and he was insane over me. Maybe our infatuation with each other should have been a red flag, but I didn’t see it. I didn’t see anything.

It was almost a year into our relationship when something suddenly changed. It started when Tom bought me a diamond necklace, which was thrilling, because how many 17-year-olds had a diamond necklace?

He'd be pissed when I didn't wear it. He got jealous of the guys in musicals with me, obsessed with the idea I was cheating on him. Every big occasion I celebrated, from birthdays to graduation, Tom would ruin by starting a fight right before the big day. I wanted to blame him for my unhappiness, but I wasn't an idiot.

More: You might be missing these signs you're a toxic partner

When I looked in the mirror, I realized Tom was getting all the blame from my friends and my parents… but what about me? What about the time I called him a name so foul I can't repeat it? What about the time I smacked the hell out of him in public? What about the time I went off to college without him, danced with other boys and wouldn't call Tom for days?

It was a strange realization to wake up one day and know I was a horrible girlfriend. If Tom was toxic, so was I, and in the end, I was the one who shattered his heart by breaking up with him over the phone at my dorm. He pleaded and begged, and I was a cold bitch.

I think it's so easy in relationships to blame the other person when things aren't going well. It was so easy to pick and pick until Tom was nothing but bare bones. Yes, he did the same to me. We destroyed each other, no matter how many times we said, "I love you" and "I'm sorry." Our toxicity mixed into an emotional poison.

Do I regret the two years I spent with Tom? No. I believe every relationship we live through gives us the gift of experience. After Tom, if I started dating a boy who got a little jealous, I backed off immediately. I was paranoid of being controlled again. I was scared, too, of becoming bad me because the intelligent, talented woman Tom loved in high school was a monster deep down.

More: 7 subtle signs your partner is just plain toxic

On the outside, everyone thought Tom was the jerk. My dad once physically threw Tom from my childhood home. However, what most people didn't see was how passive-aggressive and conniving I could be. How many times did I threaten to break up with Tom until he was practically reduced to tears? How many times did I call him terrible names?

Toxic relationships go both ways. There might be an instigator, but it's a team effort. I know love isn't always hearts and rainbows, but if your relationship makes you more unhappy than happy, it's time to get the hell out before you become a version of yourself you hate.

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