Reflections on Past Relationships, Gender Dynamics, and How Toxic Cultural Norms and Ideas Contribute

Comments: Photo courtesy of Alexander Krivitskiy, from

Part of the purpose of my blogging is to use it as a place for reflection. Some might say this portion is like a digital journal, but I feel with journals, you are allowed to go free-form to where you do not need to consider wording. I do not have that luxury with a blog, because I still have some notions of time, place, and form. Someone in a former community I frequented once said, “You can say something everyone agrees with, and still make them want to kick you in the face.” I have taken this advice to heart with public mediums, especially recently. One of my things (of many) I am trying to work on with myself is to be a little more okay with vulnerability, to minimize the pretense that I somehow have it all together and perfect; our society has a way of making people feel less for not aiming for it. While doing this, I want to still make sure I wear my vulnerability and insecurities on my sleeve with class.

To this end, I am going to divulge some information about myself I do not generally share on a public forum. I will spare most of the nitty-gritty details to avoid over-sharing. It is on the topic of my previous and current views on feminism, the role of women and men in relationship dynamics (whether friend, intimate, et cetera), and how it all ties into unhealthy patterns. Further on this, I will illuminate the importance of healthy boundaries, women being more assertive, and owning responsibility for our lives. All the while, I will still emphasize how it is the institutions that perpetuate these toxic relationship patterns that still ultimately need changed, along with our individual selves.

At a time, I used to be one of those women who refused being called feminist, someone who was trying so hard to be “unlike other girls” and in the end, was seen as just another girl. One psychologically damaging partner emphasized just how evil women were, and how other women were his main sources of reference. My self-esteem already destroyed, I internalized this idea, despite how much I hated being equated to evil for being bon the way I was. These words and similar phrases, I took to heart for a long time. I eventually felt like I could not have men friends, for I had negative reactions for having them.

Any expression of wanting or needing affection was dismissed as unreasonable, and I was considered more so irrational or incessant when the person talked about how their friends were trying to hook him up with girls, and I was upset. I developed abandonment issues after this relationship and it affected my ability to have healthy relationships with others. There were some times I was unsure if I needed to reach out more or distance myself further. Sometimes, I felt more ‘needy’ because of my over-worrying about not being “enough.” In this situation, I was never “enough.”

In all of these instances, I was trying to measure myself to an unrealistic ideal while I cared little for myself, becoming co-dependent. Due to my inability to assert myself, I let resentment for others build up to passive-aggressive, and now I work on breaking these patterns. I had not healthily asserted myself. When I tried to work on reducing passive-aggressive moments, I became too terse at times. None of these things – codependent, resentful, passive-aggressive, and all else – none of them were how I was meant to be, so I often was my worse in the process.

Knowing what I do now, I now know how to set better boundaries and not let myself be taken for granted. Anyone who makes me feel codependent, I learned to distance myself from them. For years, I blamed myself for how all of my relationships ended, thinking I was crazy. Only in 2011, after years of therapy, did I realize I was not ‘crazy’ and that there were certain red flags and types that will bring the worst out of people. I learned how to protect myself from repeating these same mistakes, to avoid putting myself in situations that made me feel my worst.

There were other long-term consequences of my gaining of insight and learning how to break the toxic relationship patterns. I learned to understand why many women learn to hate other women, how patriarchy reinforced the dynamic and gave a false notion of power for women who helped maintain the system. Eventually, I was okay with calling myself a feminist, especially after Emma Watson made her speech at the HeForShe event sponsored by the United Nations.

If the past five years have taught me anything, it is that we had, and still normalize unhealthy, and often abusive relationship patterns. This is inexorably related to how we teach and perpetuate gender norms, often unconscious and not in ways we are aware. We put gender on a superior/inferior binary the way we put logic versus emotions, objective versus subjective (this juxtaposition has issues I may address in future posts), and more. Our value is clearly on one side over the other, which leads to self-esteem issues for anyone on the less valued part of the spectrum. Men who find themselves steering from the ideal of macho culture are often hypercriticized even more, since they have something else expected of them.

Other women paid the price for how I was in my younger years because I was pit against other women, and I cannot express just how sorry I am for that. As the assigned ‘gateways’ to relationships, I realized how much responsibility we were given for them, whether the relationship ‘succeeded’ or ‘failed.’  We ultimately end up blaming women more for relationship failings than reasonable. Yet women are discouraged from being independent in ways we do not consciously realize. Families generally ask women about whether they will be married or have children more than encourage them to develop their own ambitions or career, pushing for dependency on another. It is harder for women to assert themselves without negative consequences compared to men (often enough, it is worse to be considered a “b***” than anything else). Women setting boundaries or holding positions of leadership are often scrutinized more, and the standards for them are far more unforgiving.

Not just women suffer from these expectations of gender norms. Men do, as well. Men are strongly discouraged from showing emotions other than aggression, for emotions are seen as irrational, “feminine,” and not valuable (or at least less valuable). These among many unhealthy social dynamics contribute to abusive relationship patterns, whether between family, lovers, or even friends. Misunderstandings happen more often, people are not as comfortable in their skin as ideal for a healthy, meaningful relationship. Toxic views on emotions, mental health, and identity proliferate the issues. As a result, there are higher suicide rates for men than women; some have called this “toxic masculinity.” If I could remember off the top of my head who coined this term, I would certainly cite them now. While our societal norms regarding gender is not the only factor in unhealthy relation dynamics, it certainly is a significant one.

I want to do my part to break the cycle. Unfortunately, it will be a hard road until we change our collective views on these various topics, and start practicing healthier behaviors as a result. Still, I want to try doing my part, as imperfectly as I am able. It is definitely a stretch to say I was proud of my worst moments in my past. Despite having the understanding I do, I feel torn between being thankful the internet had yet to memorialize my time before 2011, and still feeling guilt for how I was. For anyone who I have hurt, I try to do my part to make amends unless I genuinely believe the other person had committed a wrong (I still feel no less guilt for hurting others, instinctively). There are even small misgivings I am certain I will need to reconcile with in the recent years, ones I hope I can bring closure to as I continuously work on improving myself mentally, physically, and relationally.


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