Twelve years ago, I was a 19-year-old, third grade student of English linguistics and literature. One of the novels we studied during that year was Emile Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, a novel of a timeless value and a work that is deemed so precious by literature lovers throughout the ages. Ever since the novel was written until now, readers have always cried with Catherine, sympathizing with her tormented soul, and forgiven her for abandoning Heathcliff who was to her “more myself than I am.” Readers have also sympathized with a savage Heathcliff who decides to avenge himself on those whom he holds accountable for his separation from Catherine, crushing every soul whose ill fortune has put on his way, be it guilty or innocent, to quench his thirst for revenge. Readers have felt the salty taste of the tears running down their cheeks when Heathcliff visits Catherine, who has decided to marry the richer Linton instead of Heathcliff, the love of her life, in order not to be disgraced by the fact that he was once a homeless kid her father picked from the slums. Heathcliff’s words “I love my murderer, but yours, how can I?” have always tore out the readers’ hearts, and his final reunion with Cathy, even though in a world other than ours, has always brought tears of joy to their eyes. As a 19-year-old, third grade student, I used to be one of those readers.

Today I’m a more mature person, being in my early thirties and having been forced to leave my cocoon and be exposed to the real world, the world of work, problems and obligatory social relations. As years went by, I was able to experience first hand William Blake’s view that as we grow older, we gradually lose our innocence, and every lost bit of innocence leaves a space for an equal bit of experience. My perception of Bronte’s novel, which is still a favourite, or rather my perception of the Catherine-Heathcliff relationship, has considerably changed. Instead of romanticizing about the relationship, I think I have come to see it for what it really is: a toxic relationship. I know that dozens of my friends, and maybe professors, will probably view me as a heretic for daring to ascribe such a trait to what has been viewed throughout the ages as a “sacred” relationship, but let’s face it. Heathcliff, before turning into the criminal he eventually becomes, gets involved in an exhausting relationship which drains him when he is, in fact, investing in it each and every bit of energy and feelings only to be rejected by Catherine who loves him, yes, but still sees herself deserving of a better match.

Unfortunately, many of us get involved in such toxic relationships time and again. By a toxic relationship, I mean a relationship which you build and which, by contrast, ruins you. A toxic relationship is like a great wall which you keep building in order to protect yourself, but the higher you make it, the more bricks fall on your head and smash your brain. The irony lies in the fact that we mainly build relationships in order to make us happier, but toxic relationships turn us from normal sane people to ruined criminals seeking revenge, depressed people contemplating the beauty of suicide, or even miserable introverts who were once able to fill the lives of those around them with joy, colours and butterflies.

How do I know if I am involved in a toxic relationship?

Unfortunately, these examples are not uncommon in our world:

  • A girl falls in love with a young man who reciprocates this love unconditionally. She departs, however, the minute she discovers he will not be able to fulfill her materialistic needs after, guess what?, promising him that she will never leave his side and after he has invested all his emotions in this relationship.
  • Another girl gets married to a man whom she convinces that he is the love of her life. She blackmails her husband and literally depletes his money as a price for the feelings she graciously grants him.
  • A young man falls in love with a girl whom he specifically admires for her success and hard work. The minute he guarantees he has succeeded in controlling her feelings, he starts to ruin her career life bit by bit by convincing her to find another less prestigious career simply because jealousy is eating up his heart for he cannot stand the fact that his girlfriend is more successful than him. Some time later, he starts isolating her from her friends and the outside world. The girl eventually becomes completely his, another property which he happily adds to his latest brand car and cell phone.

Toxic relationships are not only romantic ones. Any relationship which is based on unreciprocated sacrifices and efforts to maintain it, whether between a couple, friends or even workmates, is a toxic one in which the sacrificing party is destined to be doomed. We always need to remember that we do not have to get involved in, or go on with, a relationship which is draining and exhausting. We build relationships in order to make us happy, in order to find someone who would share with us our joyful moments and lend us a shoulder to cry on in times of sorrow, in order to find someone we can turn to in times of uncertainty, in order to find someone who would give us honest advice in times of need. If a person would not grant you what you need in a healthy relationship, just do yourself this big favour and stay away from them. And always remember, sometimes amputating a body part which has become infected is the only solution to protect the rest of the body from being ruined by the infected part. The same goes for relationships. If a relationship drains you instead of fulfilling its original function of making you happy, it is high time you end it so that it would not eventually ruin your life. Key to happiness? Stay away from toxic people.