On Leaving a Toxic Relationship

The unwelcome return of empty space

Anna Mercury


Photo by Sid Balachandran on Unsplash

It gets cold in the desert at night. The sun warms you into a false sense of security. When it’s gone, there’s not a lot alive here to lean on, nothing to store up that warmth for later. All you’ve got is whatever you brought with you and your ability to stomach the silence.

Do you like to gamble? I do. I’ve never been to a casino but I like to try my luck. I bet lives, typically mine, not my physical survival but the life I built around me to call home. The friends, the jobs, the hobbies, the towns, the identities and dreams and desires. I roll the dice and bet them all, bet that this time, I’ve found a risk worth taking.

I think and think until I believe it: This must be him. This must be home. I must have finally found it.

The thing about love and gambling is, the house always wins. However much you risk is how much you’ll end up losing. The loving can be just as addictive as a card game. The longer you play, the higher you bet. The more convinced you make yourself that this time, this hand, you’ll win it all and every risk will render itself worth it.

The more you bet, the less you’re willing to notice if you’ve got a losing hand. You double down, double down, double down. Hold the sunk costs under until they drown. You sacrifice more and more of yourself, tearing more bits of your life off and throwing them on the pile. One more hand and you’ll win, and the sacrifice will have proved a good investment.

You’d think I’d have learned by now. I should know you can’t save people. You can’t change them. You can’t change what you need either. What you both walk in with is either good enough to last or it isn’t, and if it isn’t, no amount of fixing will ever do the trick.

It’s not just the shame of admitting how much you bet on a losing hand that keeps you at the table. It’s something more than that.

It’s the way every relationship builds itself into a little world. It develops its own customs and laws, its own culture and myths, its main characters and story arc. It grows its own gravity. The weight of this shared little world keeps pulling you back in. You become fluent in its language and start forgetting your own. You shell off so…