Dear Captain Awkward:
Maybe you can help me untangle my brain?
I’ve been dating a guy for eight months. We live about an hour apart, and made up for irregular facetime with hours-long phone calls. Then bad things happened in each of our lives, and the rainbows and unicorns we’d started with disappeared. The last time we saw each other, we talked: we both feel like we’re often speaking different languages, and we’re both stymied by that. There’s a kind of life experience gap between us that maybe explains this. He’s an only child from a well-off white family, coping with adult-diagnosed ADHD. I’m from a biracial middle-class family (half white, half Native American), have a younger sister who has severe disabilities, and am being treated for anxiety and depression.
Sometimes things…get weird. Like, we had dinner with his dad and his dad’s friend, then we all went to a pro sports game. Afterwards, when I said the racism of the evening had upset me, he assumed I’d been talking about the crowd at the game – not what his dad and the friend had said at dinner. His openness about his kinks has helped me to identify and enjoy some of my own, but I’ve felt overwhelmed by trying to be GGG. (He’s my first sexual partner; I still haven’t tried PIV sex.) He feels rejected by my lack of engagement with casual touch (which I’m not used to and have told him I’m trying to change), which he seems to need and feels is “his” language (mine is evidently word based). I am barely recovering my sex drive after a rough summer, and told him that, but he was already hurting.
He usually engages when I start tough conversations, and that’s worth something, but it’s incredibly frustrating to feel like he doesn’t see me, and that I have to explain everything. (I haven’t dated a lot; is that normal?) He says he wants to invest more in me but is afraid to, because it’s hard to get close to me. He lacks understanding of a lot of privilege-related issues that have been huge factors in my life, and he has mentioned self-loathing where he is aware of this. One of my friends assures me that I’m not obligated to be his object lesson, but if I stay with him, how can I reconcile these things?
I’m sure I’m missing things about him, too; I don’t want to blame him for something troubling us both. He seems reluctant to volunteer information, so I have to ask. Problems result. We never agreed to be exclusive (he calls himself poly-friendly, and I’m still trying to figure out where I stand), but I called off sexytimes the last time we were together because I did ask about his seeing other people, and it turned out he has been and didn’t tell me, even though I thought I was clear (months ago) that I needed him to tell me, if only for safer sex reasons. I’m exhausted, trying to recover from my third major illness of the year. I don’t have much fight in me right now. I know I should talk to him about all of this, but I feel paralyzed – I don’t know where to start, or how to get past the hurts on both sides. It makes me want to run. (Trust, intimacy and control issues – I has them. Also: time to find a new therapist.) I want there to be a way to get back to rainbows and unicorns. If we can get there, I’m willing to try, even if it means being tired for awhile.
But my brain feels clouded by illness and depression, unable to settle on reality, let alone make healthy decisions. And so I’ve written to you, Captain!
You never really asked a question, so I’m not 100% sure what to tell you, but the whole time I read your email I thought of Commander Logic’s “Bad Boyfriends Are Like Ill-Fitting Pants ” speech. I will briefly paraphrase it here:
You know how sometimes when you try on pants, they just don’t look good on you? Or they don’t feel good on you? They aren’t necessarily bad pants, they are just not quite right for you, and if you buy them you will never really wear them, or when you do you’ll always be pulling them out of your buttcrack or wearing tunics to cover the resulting muffin-top and telling yourself they will fit if you lose or gain 10 pounds, as if there is something wrong with you and not the pants.
Back away from the pants.
The pants are not right for you.
This boyfriend is ill-fitting pants. (Trousers, if you speak the Queen’s English).
That urge you have to run? That’s not trust and intimacy issues that you need to somehow get over. Why should you trust someone who has been seeing other people without telling you? That’s your self-preservation instinct talking.
It shouldn’t be this hard. Love doesn’t conquer all.
Flee the scene of the pants.