She lied, I doubted myself: Here's how I escaped a toxic relationship

Relate & Date: Serena's manipulation and emotional abuse made Ming question himself.

Asian couple argue with each other leading to a breakup.
Ming recounts his unconventional romance with Serena, starting from their Instagram DMs to the manipulative tactics she employed. (Photo: Getty Images)

Imagine swiping right on Instagram only to find yourself on a rollercoaster ride of confusion and manipulation. That's what happened to *Ming, a 38-year-old visual designer, when he met *Serena, a 38-year-old psychologist with a picture-perfect online persona. Here, he recounts his experience with her.

I never thought I'd find myself in such an unconventional romance until Serena slid into my Instagram DMs one day and asked if I’d be interested in hanging out with her. It was unexpected, to say the least.

Instead of the typical introductions through friends or chance encounters at a bar, our connection began in the digital realm. At first, I was skeptical. I thought her account had been hacked. But as we chatted daily and I saw her active presence on the platform, my skepticism waned. I also discovered that we had mutual friends, so it was easy to verify her existence. I learned that she had dated highly influential and affluent people, which slightly intimidated me.

Still, I decided to give it a shot. After chatting almost daily for two weeks, we decided to meet. Our first meeting, though, threw me for a loop. Serena didn't quite match the image I'd built in my mind from her Instagram posts. She was fuller, more real, than her carefully curated online persona. Despite the initial shock and feeling like I had been catfished, I brushed it off, recovered quickly and just focused on enjoying our time together. However, her complaint about me not offering to pick her up for our picnic date added a sour note to the start of our outing. To be fair, I did feel like I could have at least offered to pick her up, so I apologised. Nevertheless, I tried to make amends.

Despite the rocky beginning, our chemistry blossomed, and Serena's wit and flirtatious nature drew me in. Learning about her career as a psychologist and her passion for helping others was refreshing.

But as we delved deeper into our relationship, I uncovered her expectations rooted in her upbringing, where financial reliance on partners was the norm. While I respected her past, I made it clear that our relationship had to be a partnership, not a replication of her parents' dynamic because I don’t make the same amount of money as her dad.

I work in the creative industry, and while I don’t earn as much as someone who works in finance, I enjoy my job, and the pay and perks are adequate for me. I could still go on regular vacations, finance my apartment, and enjoy the niceties of life. I also came from an upper-middle-class family and had the privilege of owning a family car that my parents bought. I consider myself lucky, given how ridiculously expensive the cost of owning a car is in Singapore.

The day after our conversation about expectations and finances, I couldn't shake the feeling that something was off with Serena. Cracks began to surface when Serena's aversion to work and dependency on me became apparent.

Throughout her previous relationships, Serena had always been a student, pursuing degrees and a PhD. This meant she was never forced to enter the workforce, as her partners provided for her financially. This fostered within her a sense of entitlement and a dislike for the rigours of employment.

Now, whenever she faced a challenging day or week at the clinic, the pattern was the same. She would turn to me, longing for a solution to free her from the burden of work altogether. At first, her requests were playful, a light-hearted inquiry about my ability to support her financially. However, as her work-related frustrations mounted, the playful requests morphed into blame and resentment. She began to hold me responsible for her predicament, claiming that if I had a better-paying job, she wouldn't have to endure the hardships of her current position.

Her playful inquiries about financial support soon turned into blame and resentment, revealing a stark contrast in our views on employment and responsibility. Despite attempts to address our differences, Serena dismissed my concerns, accusing me of selfishness and lacking generosity.

She then ignored my messages for days, saying that I had assassinated her character and called her lazy, even though I did not say anything of the sort. According to her, she could tell I was selfish when I didn’t offer to pick her up in the family car the first time we met. When I tried explaining myself and apologising for any sort of hurt I may have caused; she was quick to say that she wasn’t sure if our relationship could work because I did not make it a point to try to appease her.

The situation escalated when Serena resorted to manipulative tactics, including feigning illness and testing my loyalty through deceit. After a week of ignoring my messages, Serena sent me a picture of a medical tag around her wrist. Concerned, I called to ask what had happened, but she shouted at me for not caring enough about her actual pain.

To demonstrate how much I cared, I rushed to the hospital, only to find out that Serena was not actually registered there. The nurse who tracked the numbers on the tag said that it was from two years ago when Serena was admitted for COVID-related issues. I was extremely embarrassed for making such a fuss at the hospital and confused about why Serena would lie about being admitted.

When I confronted her, Serena laughed and said she only lied to find out how much I actually cared for her. According to her, this was a test of my loyalty, and she was happy to say that I had passed. Despite feeling hurt and confused, I forgave her, only to face further challenges when my work trips became a source of contention.

Our relationship had been sailing smoothly for weeks. However, things changed dramatically when I embarked on three-week work trips to Australia and Thailand. Excited to share my first-ever business class experience, I posted more frequently on social media, documenting the incredible places I visited and the exhilarating activities I participated in.

Unfortunately, upon returning to Singapore, I received a long and accusatory message from Serena. She claimed my social media activity was excessive, suggesting I was addicted and showing off. "Posting that much on a work trip just isn't normal," she wrote. "Not everyone has the same privileges as you, so why would you flaunt it?"

Her accusations of attention-seeking and jealousy strained our relationship further, leaving me questioning my worth and decisions.

The final straw for me was when she asked me why I was following so many female friends and colleagues on Instagram. I had been invited to a good friend’s wedding, and because it was small and intimate, she only invited friends and did not include plus ones. Serena couldn’t quite understand why someone would do this and extend the invitation to partners.

I was heartbroken. I had never been involved with someone who made me question everything about myself and whether I was worthy of being in love or if I was making the right decisions in life.

Confiding in my friends about Serena's behaviour, their response was immediate and unanimous: break up with her. The incidents described in this article are just a glimpse into the larger picture – a picture marred by incessant conflict and emotional abuse. Though I recognised the bullying and manipulation, I lacked the strength to confront her about it. Exhaustion and fear of her potential retaliation kept me trapped in a toxic cycle.

When I stopped replying to her messages, like clockwork, Serena sent me a picture of blood-soaked tissues. Apparently, she had gotten a serious gastrointestinal infection and was puking out blood. I didn’t bother asking or checking to see if this was even possible. For all I know, she could have just had her period and was doing all of this for attention. When I didn’t reply to her messages, she once again accused me of being selfish and not caring for her well-being enough.

Cutting contact with Serena wasn't a decision I took lightly. Ghosting wasn't my usual approach, but the thought of engaging in another futile discussion or attempting to reason with her felt utterly pointless. After countless arguments and the constant erosion of my self-worth, I was drained. I had already lost too much of myself to this toxic relationship. Blocking her on all communication platforms was the only way to truly break free and begin the healing process. At the time of writing, it’s been more than two months since I spoke to her, and haven’t looked back.

I've yet to start dating again, but for now, I'm enjoying the freedom and self-discovery that comes with being single. My experience with Serena made me realise how much I value my own time and how happy I can be on my own. Focusing on my career and travel goals allows me to pursue things at my own pace. While I may not be actively seeking a relationship at this time, I remain open to the possibility of love finding me when the time is right.

(*Names have been changed on request)

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