The First Warning Sign My Relationship Was Souring

You might not think that style could ever serve as a warning sign about your romantic relationship, but I have a slightly different take. Many of us know how to spot the signs that a relationship is going sour: You get a tape-over-the-mouth feeling when you're with them, seeing unwashed dishes from breakfast is read as the first push into WWIII, and kissing them goodbye makes you want to internally roll your eyes. But opening your closet doors and not relating to a single thing hanging on the racks? From my experience, that can be just as big of an indicator.

My old boyfriend was a nice enough guy, but after living together for about a year, things started to go downhill, and fast. To this day, I couldn't tell you what took from us happily eating frozen pizza and watching '90s shows every night to me turning on the shower in the bathroom and leaning against the sink with my eyes closed just to get a little bit of alone time.

But one thing I did notice was that very close to the end, nothing I put on felt right. I'd get ready for a tapas night out, put on a dress to go to the farmers market together, or grab a denim jacket right before he grabbed the keys to step out to the bar, and every time I zipped something on, it felt so... foreign. It was like wearing all the clothes you've ever gotten for Christmas and your birthday all at once: None of it was hideous, per se, but each thing just felt off.

Before our downfall, I really enjoyed a good vintage, moth-holed dress. But as our relationship took a negative turn, I started to feel like I was playing dress-up. I'd walk down the street to the post office or grocery store with this sweet Grace Kelly-like number on, and I'd scratch a phantom itch on my cheek out of self-consciousness. I felt foolish — like I stuck out. But that was all I'd ever wanted to wear the past couple of years, so what gave?

What gave was that I wasn't that same person anymore. After about two years of getting kimchi tacos every Tuesday night, doing laundry together every Thursday afternoon, and spending weekends watching bad indie films and holing up underneath living room forts, we outgrew each other. And as a result, I outgrew all the things that I used to like from that stage of my life. Including my wardrobe.

Like a friend who sits you down for coffee and is all, "Listen honey," my Urban Outfitters jersey dresses showed me what was obvious for a long time: I couldn't be someone's idea.

Looking at those dresses, all I could see was the person my boyfriend wanted me to be: She was sweet and liked to cook dinner as Doris Day played, most likely walked barefoot in the grass, and was positive to the point of a mental breakdown. She was sugar and spice and everything nice. And I was tired of carrying the responsibility of being that for him.

I wasn't really treated like a partner, but like a type of possession. It didn't matter who I actually was; it mattered who I should be for him.

I wanted to just be me — the person who overcooks pasta, is a complete slob right up to the moment company comes, throws livid tantrums over dumb reasons like getting her sock wet in the kitchen, and doesn't look like the pinnacle of a '50s housewife.

And so I started to rebel in the first way I knew how: my style. I wasn't quite brave enough to come up to him mid-dinner-prep and be all, "Hey, I think we should never see each other again, like ever," so I got myself used to the idea of a change by flipping my closet.

Just think back to when that rebellious craze hit in your teenage years: One moment you were wearing the matching sets your mom bought you at Burlington Coat Factory, and the next you were piercing your own ears in the bathroom with an ice cube and experimenting with belly tops and skirts that most definitely didn't pass the to-the-fingertips rule.

And it didn't go unnoticed. Where once I wore modest midi skirts and sweaters from the thrift store that probably belonged to someone's Aunt Janine, I started to step out with sheer black shirts that let me show off my lacy bras underneath, crop tops that fell off my shoulder á la Alex Owens from Flashdance, and tight jersey dresses that left the '50s way behind.

And I felt so much more like myself. When I'd put my hair up in the morning and look into my reflection, I saw someone I finally recognized; not someone I'd been trying to mold and fit into a peg to make someone love me. And it was liberating.

That is, until the fighting started. True to an unraveling relationship, he saw it as a move to slight him, rather than a move to better suss out who I actually was. In his eyes, I didn't buy these clothes because I was changing on the inside and wanted to let myself grow in the direction I needed to grow. I was doing this just to spite him.

He was offended, suspicious that I wasn't being the girl he had in his mind. He didn't like the person I actually was. And my new clothes helped show me that. Like a friend who sits you down for coffee and is all, "Listen honey," my Urban Outfitters jersey dresses showed me what was obvious for a long time: I couldn't be someone's idea.

We didn't break up right away. Those of you reading who have had relationships probably know that it's not the easiest thing in the world to pull a "we need to talk." It ended the way I thought it would: I exploded over the dirty dishes stacked high in the kitchen sink, waiting there for the barefoot-in-the-grass lady of the house to clean them up.

So when the dust settled over the aftermath of WWIII in our apartment, I packed up my new dresses and felt a twinge of bitter-sweetness. It's hard saying goodbye, but if the trade-off is saying hello to that new, honest version of yourself — even if that means someone stops loving you for it — then that's a pretty solid deal.

Images: Marlen Komar