At first, this 'charming' boyfriend made our writer feel extra-special, but things soon took a dark turn and the accusations started. Here our writer describes a toxic relationship that left her needing therapy...
I first met Ethan* at university in Manchester, where we had both just started studying for a Masters degree. I was 22 and wasn’t looking to meet anyone, having recently left a long-term relationship. But I got chatting to Ethan, then 21, who flirted from the start. I was completely drawn in by his cheeky charm and dark eyes.
Although we ended up hooking up a few times during the first term, I never quite knew where I stood. We weren’t official and he made it clear other girls were interested in him.
At one point, he even revealed he had been secretly meeting up with a long-term ex for sex, without telling anyone they were still seeing each other. When he laughed at my surprise, I was hurt but felt I had no right to complain because we weren’t actually together.
I was completely drawn in by his cheeky charm and dark eyes.
I was really into Ethan, but I felt messed around and it was emotionally draining. So when he ghosted me for a month over the Christmas break, I decided to cut my losses and ended up kissing someone else.
When Ethan found out about the kiss a few weeks later, he immediately declared his love for me, insisting we made our relationship official. He told me he’d liked me all along but had been too insecure to say. He bought me gifts and made a big show of me being his girlfriend – especially in front of other men.
At the time he made me feel so special, but I later realised this was a type of controlling behaviour called 'love bombing'.
Red flags ignored
From the very start of our relationship, Ethan used the kiss I’d had at Christmas against me, saying it showed I couldn’t be trusted to be faithful. He repeatedly made me describe all my previous sexual encounters in excruciating detail, claiming he needed to understand "what I was like". He’d accuse me of having something to hide if I refused.
He also acted hurt whenever I went out or saw friends he considered 'bad influences', so I gradually stopped socialising. Looking back, I can’t believe I didn’t see the warning signs – these should have been red flags that the relationship was abusive.
He acted hurt whenever I went out or saw friends he considered 'bad influences', so I gradually stopped socialising.
But Ethan would switch between bullying behaviour and being incredibly loving. He would shower me with compliments, make me special playlists, give me massages and make me believe he was the only person who really understood me. We moved in together after we graduated and talked about getting married and having children. A lot of the time, he was fun, caring and charming, so I thought he would make a great dad.
But there was a dark, toxic side to our relationship. Ethan constantly accused me of lying to him over the smallest things – like not telling him immediately if a post by a male friend popped up in a social media feed. He said I "couldn’t be trusted"because of my past.
He insisted on knowing where I was at all times and would angrily push me over or kick me out of bed, blaming me for provoking him with my "lies".
I felt humiliated he’d told our friend how disgusted he was by my sexual history.
Yet whenever I challenged his behaviour, such as when he messaged other women or stayed over at female friend’s houses, he angrily questioned why I wouldn’t trust him. I was gaslit into thinking that if only I was a better girlfriend and could prove I was faithful and honest, we’d be happy.
A devastating phone call
Then when I was 26 and we’d been living together for nearly three years, he called me at work to say he’d met up with our mutual friend Lucy* and told her he could never marry me.
He only wanted a marriage with someone "pure" – not with a woman who had kissed someone else since he first met them. It was a gut punch. I realised we had no future but I also felt humiliated he’d told our friend how disgusted he was by my sexual history.
Ethan acted devastated when I said it was over – but within a few weeks it became clear he was dating Lucy. I immediately blocked her on social media and never spoke to her again.
Since then, I’ve realised that Ethan had been cheating on me with different women for years. I had therapy which helped me to understand the relationship was abusive and my ex was the problem, not me.
I had therapy which helped me to understand the relationship was abusive and my ex was the problem, not me.
Three years after splitting with Ethan, I married my now-husband. He couldn’t be more different from my ex. He’s kind and considerate, encourages me to spend time with friends and couldn’t care less who I’ve kissed in the past – in fact, we’ve chatted and joked many times about our previous relationships.
I wish I hadn’t wasted so much of my 20s with a man who treated me so badly. If I could go back in time, I’d tell my younger self that no one has the right to punish you for your past. Real love is about accepting someone for who they are.
*Names have been changed to protect identities.