I didn’t cry about what my boyfriend did. I raged

When I opened the door of my apartment, something felt off. The way the click of the lock echoed in the room was wrong. It was too resonant. The furniture usually absorbed the sound.

But the couch, the rug, the dining room table — what used to buffer the noise of the tiled living room — were gone.

That’s when I realized my boyfriend had moved out without telling me.

I’d only heard of such a thing happening on television. But unlike a character on television, I didn’t cry thick tears or reflect on how my choices landed me here. I raged. I called him repeatedly, knowing each time he declined the call. I texted him and told him to do some very specific things to himself. I walked into each room to assess what he’d done, each discovery a spear through my gut: the hangers dangling on the closet rod like a smile of broken teeth. The disemboweled dresser drawers. The bathroom stripped of everything — even the shower curtain — as though freshly rejuvenated for a new renter to walk in and decorate.

We had broken up two weeks before, at the end of a conversation he spent staring into his phone while responding to me with one-word answers. It was the conclusion of a fiery, unhealthy pairing dominated by a passionate relationship’s hallmarks: mind-blowing sex, furious arguments, heavy drinking, conversations that turned sour on a dime, and constant fluctuating between the euphoria of the extreme highs and the devastation of the melancholy lows. After a year and a half, I needed to get off the carousel. It was spinning out of control.

I was codependent. And my boyfriend, though he wouldn’t admit it, couldn’t control his drinking. Worse, he made sure our entire social life revolved around it.

During our relationship, our weekends all looked the same — karaoke at the only gay bar in Pasadena, the Boulevard, with me at the mic and him tossing back whiskeys and chain smoking at the front door. I loved that place, and the people who were regulars there like me. Over time, the only thing I didn’t like about it was his drunkenness. The way he’d casually swipe at me with a barb about something he knew was an insecurity for me.

I started anticipating what might trigger his emotional abuse, taking steps to avoid those situations. He’d entered graduate school and struggled to complete his work due to ADHD. Soon I was grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, doing the laundry — meeting every need for the two of us all on my own. It was exhausting, but looking back, I thought my suffering gave me depth and meaning. Love meant sacrifice, I reasoned. And if I sacrificed enough, surely he’d finally love me without conditions.

Toward the end of his program, my boyfriend broke down and started taking ADHD medication. The change in him was immediate and drastic. Instead of being a stressed-out powder keg, he was calm and focused. What struck me was how loving he’d become. This had been our normal configuration: He sat at our kitchen table crafting pieces of a huge project while I sat on the couch watching TV, trying not to irritate or distract him and falling asleep while he worked through the night. But now he was gentle. He looked up at me and smiled. “I love you,” he said unprompted. He almost never said it to me first and never this warmly. I snatched up this emotional crumb and cherished it. See? I convinced myself. When I do everything right, I’m rewarded. But by the end of the month, he was off the meds and back to his old self again.

When I told my therapist about my boyfriend’s double changes, he advised me to give him an ultimatum. “Tell him he has to stay on his meds or you’re leaving.”

A few days later, I approached my boyfriend. I described how different he’d been on his meds, how loved I felt, and how much I hoped that could continue. “I don’t feel like myself when I take those drugs,” he barked at me. “I don’t like it.”

I gave the ultimatum. He — as expected — blew up at me, raging across the apartment about how selfish I was, how I didn’t love him for who he was. How he was the victim in the relationship — not me.

And deep down, I thought he was right. Making my needs a priority. Asking him to do something that made me feel loved? I felt bad. I felt selfish. But I also didn’t think I’d make it even another month in the relationship the way it was. If he couldn’t give me what I needed, I’d be better off on my own.

A few days after that, he was gone.

At the end of the month, I moved to a little one-bedroom on the hillside of Mount Washington. It was quiet there and far enough away from city life that it felt like a retreat. I rebuilt my life there, one day at a time, starting with the wounds and traumas that led me into a codependent relationship. I knew I was better off. That happier things were ahead. But I also knew I’d have none of them if I didn’t learn how to love myself first.

The author wrote the forthcoming book, “Splice of Life: A Memoir in 13 Film Genres.” He lives in Long Beach. He’s on Instagram: @charlesjensen

L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $400 for a published essay. Email LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission guidelines here. You can find past columns here.

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