One of the most toxic men I know is, sadly, my father.
He’s never around. He has done many seriously wrong things to my mother and us children. He even said to my face once that a woman’s duty is to give birth.
The worst thing about it all?
Despite being practically separated from my father, my mother still doesn’t want me to think or speak badly of him, which I believe is because she can’t seem to overcome the patriarchal mindset — I can’t blame her though.
Imagine what kind of messages women like my mother and me internalised growing up in a sexist society about men and relationships with men. Inevitably, these beliefs caused me to make many horrible decisions in my early twenties.
I let myself get attached to toxic men, including a man who called himself a psychopath (Luckily, I came out alive, but not without serious traumas that required therapy.)
How did I get there? 5 ways I was brainwashed into choosing and loving these men:
1. Putting a man’s love on a pedestal
I went a long time thinking I wasn’t good enough for a man’s love as if it was this scarce thing that I had to fight for.
I blame this on my father’s absence and the media’s portrayals of men in love: When you’re his “dream girl”, he’ll do anything for you; if he treats you like shit, it’s just because you ain’t that girl. Basically, you’re the problem, and his love is the ultimate prize.
Well, that’s bullshit.
You don’t need a man’s love.
A man’s interest in you is not your responsibility or a testament to your self-worth— it’s his choice.
You’re worthy of love, and love should be given freely, not chased after.
Men benefit from committed relationships just as much as women. If anything, he should pursue you, not you after him.
2. Attributing value to traits that are really just toxic masculinity
My father puts his work before anyone else and rarely shows his emotions — I used to think this is how a man should be. And, as long as he provides for the family, he’s doing enough.
This belief led me to date men who never had time for me and treated me like a second-class citizen. The fucked up thing was I thought it was normal. I ignored my needs to accommodate their emotional unavailability and shitty life values.
You need a partner who is emotionally available and present — it’s the minimum.
It doesn’t matter how desirable someone seems, if they don’t add real value to you and your life, they’re not the right match for you. Remember to assess your partner in relation to you and your life.
You deserve to be your partner’s first priority. Your partner should put you before his job or anything else.
3. Believing the BS that “men love in their own way”
If you ask me how I know my father actually loves me, I really can’t answer you because there’s no factual evidence, except for my mother’s endless reassurance (or you can say gaslighting) that he cared about us very much.
The same BS later surfaced in my love life. I was told left right and centre that if a man never tells you he loves you and gives no shit about you on special occasions, it’s okay because his love language is probably physical touch. Come on!
To my father and all these men, I’ll say this plain and simple: If you really love in that way, your own damn way, it’s not enough. Do better!
You deserve to be loved in a way you can understand and appreciate.
There are plenty of people out there; don’t settle for one that makes the beautiful and simple thing called love feel like rocket science.
If someone’s love feels really hard to recognise, it’s not enough.
4. Looking at myself through the male gaze
From adolescence to my early twenties, I found myself acting and dressing, not for myself, but for male attention. I wanted to lose weight to have a body that would be sexually attractive to a man. I was constantly seeking their validation, without knowing why.
But it wasn’t just my appearance. I tried to morph myself into the infamous “cool girl” or “dream girl” which caused me to objectify myself and obsess about what others thought of me. I ended up constantly feeling insecure and anxious like a shell of myself.
It was like my life was a stage and the audience was all male.
Male attention isn’t a prize — it has no real value.
Ask yourself: “Am I doing this for me or for anyone?” Live your life on your terms!
If a man gives you unsolicited comments on your hair, your outfit, or your body, make it clear to him that nobody asks him.
Your opinions of you should matter to you the most.
5. Looking at relationships with men as the default
In the past, I let men who were emotionally stunted shame me for my emotional nature. I then tried to be cool and chill because I thought that’s what men prefer.
The outcome? My needs were never met, and I developed severe dating anxiety. Those men also didn’t respect me because, apparently, I had no preferences of my own and couldn’t stand up for myself.
I felt like a stranger in my own relationship and was left wondering what went wrong.
Your relationship is yours — it should work for you.
Acknowledge and honour your feelings and needs — they’re all valid.
Your needs are important. If a man can’t meet your needs, it’s NOT a sign to change yourself to fit in with his version of a relationship; it’s time to cut your losses.
Do not try to prove to a man that you’re the right woman for him. Assess him over time whether he’s the right man for you. YOU!
It took me a long time to wake myself up, but I’m glad my eyes are open.
I’m really happy to see more women getting educated and financially independent so they don’t have to depend on a man literally for their livelihood and can make choices that benefit them.
Though, I know there are still many women who are stuck in shitty relationships with abusive or mediocre men who add little value to their life, getting “scammed” for their emotional labour, and think it is how things should be.
It is not.
As a woman, you’re powerful and you deserve a life that brings you peace and happiness. So keep working on yourself and spreading the words.