Lived Through This

Why ‘Passionate’ Relationships Are Often Just Toxic Relationships

It took healthy love to appreciate the abuse I had excused

Nina Renata Aron
Human Parts
Published in
6 min readApr 16, 2021

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Photo: David Wall / Getty Images

“Just a heads up, I might write about our relationship,” I recently said to my boyfriend. “But I promise I won’t do it without your permission.”

“Consent,” he said.

“What?”

“Without my consent,” he repeated. “You don’t need my permission to do anything.”

“Oh. Right,” I said, laughing a little, and we exchanged the knowing look — a tender, amused wince — that has become commonplace in our relationship. The look is a mutual acknowledgment that I am really fucked up. Or, to be kinder to myself (which is on my self-care list!), that I am still learning how to have a healthy romantic relationship.

My previous significant relationship lasted nearly a decade. It was on and off, but mostly on. Urgently, helplessly, dramatically on. It was a classic addict-codependent love story, and it was so confusing and combustible that I had to write a whole book about it in order to move into a new phase of life. In writing it, I sought to understand where I’d learned certain ideas about romance in the first place. I went back through my entire love arsenal: songs, movies, books, powerful family lore — like my parents’ and grandparents’ stories of falling for each other and marrying within weeks.

I’d always been a love junkie. But because of that, I now see, I hadn’t enjoyed healthy relationships. I hadn’t wanted a healthy love relationship. I didn’t find anything romantic about love with boundaries or firm expectations. I wanted to feel singular, to be swept away, consumed, obsessed. Calm, stable unions seemed boring. But my ideas about high-octane passion led me into ill-advised affairs with inappropriate people. Sometimes worse: badly damaged, volatile, monstrous people.

I dwelled in an environment of looming menace, even though I eventually stopped noticing it.

In my most recent long relationship, passion came at the cost of sanity. There was the drug abuse, lying, and stealing. But there was also frequent verbal…

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Nina Renata Aron
Human Parts

Author of Good Morning, Destroyer of Men’s Souls: A Memoir of Women, Addiction, and Love. Work in NYT, New Republic, the Guardian, Jezebel, and more.