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#306 Secrets, Lies, and Stephanie

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’ve been in a relationship with a kind, caring man for the past two years. This is my first serious relationship (yay!) and his second. I’ve had some experience with casual dating and casual sex prior to meeting my boyfriend, but he hasn’t had as much, so his previous relationship is his main point of reference. “Stephanie” was his first kiss, his first sexual partner, his first girlfriend, the first girl he introduced to his family…and they still work together, 7 years later. I’m trying to be understanding since anyone’s first relationship is a formative experience, and they also have to get along because they work together. I’m monogamous but generally not jealous; I’m friends with most of my exes and I assumed he’s friends with at least some of his. However, I don’t understand what’s going on here.

Just a couple weeks after we started dating, he broached the subject with a text message: “I can’t wait to see you…I had a rough day. big fight with my ex/coworker. I was upset all day.” This was the very first he had mentioned her, and I thought it was inappropriate but he was trying to express affection, so I ignored it. Soon after he started explicitly comparing me to her really often and drunkenly told me that I had “stiff competition” from her. Now and then when the subject of exes came up in conversation in a group of people, he would say that she had made him come alive, that she taught him how to feel emotions, she opened his eyes and changed his life, etc. I think that’s the kind of puppy love stuff that people say while they’re in a relationship, but not 7 years afterwards. Certainly not in front of their current significant other. On the other hand, their relationship was a rocky one, so whenever he was gaslighting me (another issue we had) he would compare me to her and say, “Don’t cause drama. That’s the kind of thing Steph would do. I thought you were better than that. We don’t need drama.” She was simultaneously an angel whose example I could never live up to, and the epitome of a terrible girlfriend. Another red flag was that during their relationship they did a shit ton of drugs together, and I’m not comfortable with the amount of drugs he uses now. Last summer she sold him a bunch of LSD which he later pressured me into taking, and I worry that his nostalgia for her overlaps with his nostalgia for his crackhead phase.

After some rough conversations, he finally stopped comparing me to her out loud, and has really cut back on the gaslighting. I really appreciate both those things. I also have absolutely no doubts about his fidelity, and know he would never cheat on me or leave me for her or anyone else. He has told me that I’m better than her in every way, and he has no desire to have a relationship with her ever again. He said the comment about “stiff competition” came out wrong and he wasn’t comparing me to her, but he was comparing his relationship with me to his relationship with her. When I explicitly asked him if he
still has feelings for her, he said, “Oh, I’m totally over her. But, I mean, we see each other everyday, so I never got any closure and never really stopped thinking about it. She’ll always be a part of my psyche. But yeah, I’m over her.” I was still uneasy but didn’t see the point in repeating my question.

Months went by and he didn’t mention her, and I was feeling a lot better about the situation. We moved in together and started talking about a future together. Then about a month ago, I was having a really bad week with some family problems, and mentioned to my boyfriend my cat is the only source of emotional stability in my life. Two days later, I found out my cat had three weeks to live, and my boyfriend was super supportive. However, a day after that, my boyfriend came home drunk, woke me up and started sobbing about his ex and how badly she had hurt him. Then he said he doesn’t believe that I ever loved him, that I’m just using him for emotional stability and as soon as I get my shit together I’m going to leave him for someone else. When he sobered up he apologized and said those accusations were directed at his ex, because that’s what went wrong in their relationship, in his opinion. He said he’s afraid of being hurt in the same way a second time.

While he’s a good listener, he’s not very good at articulating his feelings while sober, which is why they come out while drunk. He also has a tendency to not take responsibility for things he says and does while drunk. I asked him if he would consider therapy (for some other reasons as well) and he got defensive and said, “I’m not crazy.” I don’t think he meant to imply that I’m crazy for being in therapy myself, but his comments about me ‘manipulating’ him by confiding in him really hurt. I’m trying to stay honest and open, but lately I’ve been keeping my thoughts and feelings to myself more and more.

This whole scenario, combined with another situation with a different ex of his, has really eroded my sense of trust and safety in this relationship. Which FINALLY brings us to my reason for writing to you: last night I was using his computer to check my email. He was logged into Gmail with one of his accounts, and I briefly saw his inbox before I logged out. I would never, ever deliberately read his email, but saw the subject headings for a few messages. Apparently his ex has regularly been sending him money. I have no idea what it’s for, but I have a really bad feeling about it. I don’t know how to ask him about
it. I feel guilty for even reading the subject headings, and know that if I tell him I saw his emails, he will understandably feel like his privacy has been invaded. He already resents that I don’t trust him like I used to, and gets defensive whenever I mention her.

Should I ask him about the money transfers? If so, how do I go about that? How can I learn to trust him again?

Thanks for your help, and thanks for writing such an awesome column!

<3,
Humpty Dumpty

Dear Humpty Dumpty:

Here’s what I read:

You’re dating a guy who is still obsessed with his ex girlfriend, who has a history of gaslighting you, making things that are happening to you (stressful situations, the imminent death of a beloved pet) about that obsession with her, using substances in a way that you don’t like and pressuring you to take them to in a way you don’t like, and then using being drunk or high as an excuse to not be accountable for his behavior.

I don’t like him, Humpty Dumpty. I don’t like him one bit for you.

I feel like a broken record. And I feel like these “Or, you could just break up?” letters always turn me into a bit of a dick. I’ve hung out in dysfunctional relationships long past their expiration date and put up with some truly bad, bad behavior in the name of preserving the relationship and/or the idea of the relationship over my own well-being and happiness. At the time, nothing anyone could have said would have gotten me to pull the plug on love or loyalty or inertia or whatever it was before I was ready. So I get it. I don’t want to act superior or treat Letter Writers like they’re stupid, and and I don’t want to be a dick!

But my honest opinion is:

1. You fell into the trap of trying to be the Cool, Understanding Girlfriend. We’ve all done it.

2. Whenever you’ve tried to break out of that trap, he puts you back in. “I thought you were cool. Not like Stephanie.” That whole “you have stiff competition” thing makes me want to vomit.

3. I think and you think that something Not Cool is going on, and I think that the coolest thing you can do is to not stew about it. Just talk about it with him directly.

Listen, before I could close out of your email, I saw some of the subject lines, and it looks like S. is sending you money. I didn’t mean to snoop, but I can’t unsee what I saw. So, what can you tell me about that?

This isn’t 100% true, but liars (and gaslighters) tend to do a few predictable things to derail conversations when confronted directly about something fishy.

1) They’ll answer a question with a question. “What exactly did you see?” “What makes you think that?”

Derail: You end up describing what you think you saw. He pokes holes in what you think you saw and tries to convince you that you didn’t really see it (p.s. that’s called Gaslighting). Notice how you’re not talking about the real issue, which is what is that money about?

2) They’ll get very self-righteous and accusatory toward you. “What were you doing snooping in my email?

Derail: You end up apologizing for snooping. Notice again the lack of answer to your question about the money.

3) The story they tell will be too long and have way too many details, dramatic flourishes, and assurances that you didn’t ask for.  Like they’re daring you to question them.

4) They’ll get very self-righteous and mad at you if you don’t immediately believe them and pick a big fight about your relationship as a whole. “What, you don’t believe me?” Watch out for ultimatums or “Well, you’re always like this, I guess I should have expected you to be like this.” Bonus if the exact quote is “Well, I thought you were different but I guess this shows me you’re just like Stephanie.”

I don’t want to give a short course on being a good liar, but a stand-up dude for whom there is a stand-up explanation will say something like “Ugh, obviously I don’t love the idea of you being in my email, but those are about (simple explanation) for (simple probably work-related reason).” A shady dude will make you feel like you’re in sweeps week on a reality show.

The best way to work with the derailing tactics above is to observe them, make note of them, and then, as if from a great distance, say “We will fully discuss trust and snooping later, but right now, can we talk about you receiving money transfers from your ex? Because the way you’re talking to me makes me feel *more* like something shady is going on. What’s up there?

Probably nothing I say is going to convince you to break up with this “kind, caring man” if you’re happy with him, so let’s talk about this in terms of Dan Savage’s Price of Admission talk. Nobody’s perfect, and every partner is going to do some things that rankle that the other person decides to put up with or ignore because: Love.

So the price of admission for a relationship with this guy is:

1) He will probably always be a little entangled/obsessed with his ex Stephanie, and he will keep using her as a way to manipulate you into being either more or less like her when it suits him.

2) There will always be some trust issues around money, drugs/alcohol (“nostalgia for his crackhead phase“?), gaslighting(!), and Stephanie.

You “learn to trust him again” by making a decision that you don’t care about any of that and moving forward with the relationship as if none of it matters. You ask him about the money and he gives a satisfactory explanation and you choose to believe it (probably after apologizing 8 million times for your pernicious snooping and assuring him that you trust him). Or you choose not to ask him about it and bury it deep down and forget about it.

There’s no Advice Writer’s Code of Conduct (that I know of – maybe if I get syndicated somewhere they’ll admit me to the club and show me the secret book?), but I want to say:

There are guys out there who don’t have this particular cluster of issues and some of those guys will like you and treat you really, really well. They’ll have different issues, yeah, and you’d have to learn to live with some of those as they learn to live with yours. Two years seems like a long time to be haunted by the ghost of someone who dated your boyfriend SEVEN years ago.

If you want to keep paying the price of admission like you’ve been doing, proceed! I hope for your sake things get better.

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156 comments
  1. Stephanie said:

    Everybody has their issues, yes. These seem to be large issues, and ones that have an EXTREME impact on you, LW. Are you sure you’re in for this for the long haul? It doesn’t sound like this guy is going to change.

    Signed,

    crazed when I saw the post title, relieved when I realized I AM NOT HER

    • rachel scotland said:

      It really made me laugh that you were the first one to comment.

    • JenniferP said:

      Ha! Not you!

  2. How can I learn to trust him again?

    Weeell, he would have to give you reason to? Sure, no one wants to be super jealous or suspicious or something, but if you feel suspicious because something is going on that’s justified! It may be resolved by talking about it honestly, like the Captain described. But if the honest talk does not work out because it doesn’t seem all that honest, you are not bad or wrong for feeling distrustful. This isn’t something you can fix on your own. Both of you have to contribute to a relationship where you can trust each other.

    (And I am sorry for your loss.)

    • JenniferP said:

      Right, everything you said here.

    • Yeah, this. Trust isn’t supposed to be a gift you give your partner. It’s not something you just summon up because you want to be real extra nice to them.

      Trust is earned. Dude is not earning it.

      • This is something I have said so many times. If the first words out of someone’s mouth after asking about an issue ( any issue ) are “you should just trust me”, then it is clear by their response that they do not want to engage the issue at hand.

  3. LolaB said:

    I’m not the one in this relationship, but to be honest, I see nothing in this letter to indicate this guy is a “kind, caring man”. He lies, he gaslights, he *pressured you into taking drugs*, he’s still (as the Captain says) entangled/obsessed with his ex from SEVEN YEARS AGO…

    Urge to say DTMFA rising, rising…

    • The LW had me at “pressured me into taking LSD”.

      LW, I think you should get out now. Like right now.

      • Thirded. Dude is all sorts of sketchy, and *nothing* in this letter reads as “kind, caring man.”

      • Shora said:

        Honestly, I find someone pressuring someone into taking illegal drugs as bad as pressuring someone into having sex. Just… no. Go to jail.

        • Vicki said:

          The illegality seems like a side issue. It would be equally sketchy if he had pressured her into drinking enough rum to get seriously drunk, or into taking one of the designer drugs that the DEA hasn’t caught up with yet (or found some jurisdiction in which LSD is legal).

          • I disagree. The illegality means that, aside from pressuring her into intoxicating herself in a way she wasn’t comfortable with, he simultaneously pressured her into committing a crime.

          • Daisy said:

            I don’t know that it would have been equally sketchy. I mean, of course, it would still have been terrible.

            But the thought of someone pressuring others into taking a powerful hallucinogen, whether legal or illegal, is extra specially horrifying. Just because of the nature of a drug that temporarily dissolves your identity and your mental and emotional defenses, and where there’s a significant risk of unimaginably intense, horrifying trauma– a risk that’s exacerbated by the person taking the drug not feeling safe and secure.

            There’s an extra level of violation there in bullying someone to have that experience, and honestly I’m rather upset and freaked out just by having read that sentence. RUN THE FUCK AWAY, LW. If this was the one and only bad thing he’d ever done, you should still run the fuck away. Someone who would do that has got no sense of basic decency, empathy or respect. That’s terrible.

  4. laggedy said:

    Agreed, Captain. You’re not being a dick. LW needs to DTMFA..

  5. Elisabeth said:

    LW, you of course are the one who ultimately has to make decisions about you in this relationship, and it’s really hard for outsiders to know what a relationship is truly like, especially from a letter in an advice column. The “price of admission” calculation is worthwhile in this regard in that it gives you a framework in which you can focus on what YOU know about this relationship rather than having to cope with people saying “you need to do X or Y.”

    But you did nonetheless write asking for advice, and I feel compelled to note that if you’re already saying that this “kind, caring man” is nonetheless gaslighting you (never mind all the stuff about “Stephanie”), that’s a great big warning sign about this relationship not being good for you. Gaslighting is never okay. Deliberately causing someone to doubt their reality is NOT OKAY. You know that he’s doing this to you and you know the term for it. I see a whole field of wildly flapping red flags on this, and when all the stuff about his ex and his substance use and his unwillingness to address any of the issues comes in, the field gets a whole lot bigger. You’re the one who has to make the choice whether to live in that field. I can tell you, as someone who has done that, that’s it’s a miserable, grindingly hard, destructive place to live. I hope you will think deeply about whether that’s a place you want to set down stakes.

    • L. said:

      Yes! The gaslighting. The knowing that he’s gaslighting you. AND the selfishness AND the pressuring you to take LSD (?! which, not that it would be OK in any case, but I’ve heard is a drug where feeling safe and comfortable during the experience are particularly important) AND the Rebecca (the novel)-style ongoing references to Stephanie. AND the other ex situation which got mentioned so quickly I almost missed it but also caused you to lose trust in him.

      What does it say to you that he gaslights you? To me, this stands out as a particularly manipulative technique that evidences no empathy or sympathy for the person being gaslighted. And the action of gaslighting itself seems directly contradictory to the possibility of true trust… unless “trust” means “trust me because you sure can’t trust yourself any more.”

      I came across three mentions of his good qualities in your letter; he’s kind, caring, and a good listener. But you don’t mention any specific instances of these, except for him being “super supportive” about your cat, except that then he wasn’t because he got drunk and completely made it all about him again.

      If there is one thing I have learned in this life it’s that actions speak louder than words. He may say things that are kind and caring but his ongoing behavior carries much deeper, and much more troubling, weight.

    • AnthroK8 said:

      It’s May Day in Moscow, ca. 1982 right now, and the Young Pioneers and the Komsomol are having a special Red Flag Spinning Demonstration to celebrate the Glorious Revolution. And there are a lot of Scottish people in the audience, and they are among the 11% of the Scottish population with red hair. And a contingent of amateur bullfighters on a promotional tour of Russia are there, waving their red-silk lined jackets, while some enthusiastic Maoist visitors are holding their Little Red Books of the Sayings of Chairman Mao. Meanwhile a wedding party adorned in gorgeous red and gold embroidered saris are making a pit stop on their way to Paris (because they won a lottery, I dunno).

      There are also some other red things but they are lost in the redness of the crowd.

      LW. You know yourself and your capacities and needs better than we do, and you will always will. Gaslighting and pressuring you to take drugs you don’t want to take are a big deal. Drugs you don’t want to take endanger your physical and mental safety, as a matter of fact, so does gaslighting.

      Take care for yourself, if you stay or if you go. May Day in Moscow should only happen once a year. After that, and the communist party is working too hard to persuade you of something for you to ignore it.*

      *It is improbably analogy/metaphor day here in my apartment. I blame the heat.

      • Britt said:

        A++++, would lol again.

  6. Ldubs said:

    Um, in the immortal words of Lisa Loeb “no no no. Bad.”

    That’s really all I’ve got. I’m… worried for you, LW. This dude is never going tone the BF you deserve. Right now you’re paying the price of admission of an all-inclusive resort on a private beach but getting a motel-6 instead.

  7. kristinmh said:

    “I’m sorry, your beloved cat is dying? What does that have to do with me? Let me make this all about me. Me me me me me. Me and my emotional problems and entirely unhealthy relationship with my ex and my lack of respect for your boundaries around drug use. Oh, you’re upset? Stop trying to manipulate me, we both know that all emotions you have are Entirely About Me. Because everything is about me. Get it?”

    It’s possible to come back from all or most of the problems you listed, LW (except maybe the gaslighting?), but you can’t come back from he fact that your BF is completely selfish. He can’t even help you deal with the loss of your cat (I am so sorry, BTW, losing a loved pet is so painful, especially because a lot of people will be all “What are you so upset about, it’s just a cat”) without making it about.him. I mean, we all have our drama queen moments, but this is just ridiculous. DTMFA, in my opinion.

    • Bunny said:

      Agreed, and that’s something else to add to the price of admission. Are you willing to deal with a future where any personal periods of emotional turmoil that YOU have are derailed by HIS need for you to reassure him about something that was ancient history before you even got together?

      Because every life has it’s ups and downs, and if this bloke can’t stand up and be genuinely there for you when you’re going through a bereavement, he probably won’t be able to be there for you during illness, other bereavements, job problems, money problems, family problems…

  8. Badsack said:

    LW — please run. Like pack up your stuff today, never speak to this guy again.

    The ex-girlfriend he’s still hung up on — AND STILL WORKS WITH = bad news.

    The drug issues and history of drug and alcohol abuse = bad news.

    The emotional abuse and manipulation = really bad news.

    The lying = really bad news

    You could invest many hours of your life going to groups like Al-Anon — but nothing can fix a person who is unwilling to fix themself. Addicts are supremely egocentric and manipulative — even ones who are in process of active recovery(which your boyfriend is not). There is nothing you can do to fix this relationship or make it alright. I guarantee that staying another minute in this relationship will damage you — and every stupid episode about his “feelings”, every lie, every distortion of the truth is another moment that that is like being trapped in a vat of acid, as each layer of yourself is slowly (painfully) dissolved.

  9. Copcher said:

    LW, I really feel for you. Several years ago I was in a relationship similar to this one, and I had a really hard time trying to square the way that my partner treated me with the nice person that I knew (or maybe just believed) him to be.

    A while after I broke up with him, I realized just how unfair it was for him to make me feel responsible for his problems in his past relationships. I had absolutely nothing to do with any of his exes, just like you have absolutely nothing to do with what went wrong between your boyfriend and Stephanie.

    You are the only one who can decide whether you want to stay with this guy, but I do want to second the Captain’s advice about the price of admission. Staying in this relationship means staying with gaslighting, trust issues, drugs and alcohol, manipulation, and an obsession with Stephanie. There’s nothing you can do to remove those things from the relationship if you stay with him. If you’re okay with that, then all the best to you! If you want a relationship without those things, that probably means you don’t want this relationship.

  10. Badsack said:

    Here is a theme song for your boyfriend by Louis XIV:

    The “Me me me, that’s all I talk about,
    Me me me, that’s all I care about” chorus is catchy…

  11. Shora said:

    I got about a paragraph in before a voice in my head started screaming “Oh god, no. Run

    Like the captain, I too have stayed in a relationship for long past it’s expiration date (because reasons) and I couldn’t have ended it until I was ready. And then, I was ready, and someone said “You know, you should really break up with him.” while at the same time understanding that it seemed like breaking up was impossible (mutual friends! I will see him all the time! Interpersonal drama!) and that only I really knew him and our relationship, and she made absolutely clear that if I didn’t break up with him she wouldn’t love or respect me any less and she wouldn’t think I was stupid for staying.

    So, LW, I hope that the fact that you wrote this to this site, specifically, (presumably after having read many other letters and replies and comments and developing an understanding of the likely response to what you have written), means that you are ready to hear what I and the captain and so many other commenters are saying; His behavior is not okay, this relationship does not seem healthy or happy, and you should really, really consider breaking up.

    But if that is not the case, and you are not yet ready to end this relationship (which, seriously, I recommend), that is perfectly okay.

    Just… think about it, alright?

    • AnthroK8 said:

      Yup. This.

      I will say… a thing about addiction/ chemical dependency/ problem substance use that just sucks for the loved ones of a user is… you might find yourself wondering how you got to a point where it seems like the only person in your life to help you out is your using loved one.

      It might seem impossible to leave because not only do they need you, you don’t see anyone else around to support you the way they seem to. Or everyone else is part of their network and how can you leave that, too?

      My BFF was in exactly that place at one point. Apparently I had told her (I don’t remember, but she does) waaay back in college that if she kept [basically being an addicted to her enabling-needing partner], her other friends would start to watch their own backs, and distance themselves from her. Not because we didn’t love her, but because she wasn’t reliable or trustworthy.

      And that is what happened. It took her so much monumental effort to pull herself out of that toxic stew in part because she was terrified she’d sabotaged everything else she had.

      But you know what? That is not what happened. We were always friends, and have reconnected and are really close and I am so blessed and lucky to have her as my friend. She did some really difficult things to make her life and relationships right. I admire her strength so much. She is a wiser, more compassionate, less judging person because of the process she went through.

      I am not saying you are doing with your other friends and family- birth or chosen- what my BFF had going on in her life. Nor am I saying you don’t have anyone else on Team You. I am saying, if you are strong enough to stay with this person, you are strong enough to leave him. You are.

      I also am saying it’s so striking to me that in a really troubled moment, your feeling was “I don’t have anyone except my beloved pet.” It might be true, or it might be your perception of things as they are right now. It might be partially true, or not true at all. It might have been a single minute’s feeling that went and won’t come back.

      No matter what, it doesn’t have to be true. You can nurture or seek out Team You. You aren’t a stupid or bad person if you stay with this dude. You still deserve to have a Team You if you decide to stay, or if you decide to leave. Being at sea alone with your dude is not a guarantee you will be alone at sea forever.

      The only way that can change, though, is if you start heading for shore, with or without your partner. There are people waiting there for you, I promise.

      • I am saying, if you are strong enough to stay with this person, you are strong enough to leave him. You are.

        We need to embroider this on Awkward Army pillows. That is such, such good advice.

        • JenniferP said:

          Yes! Cross-stitch samplers ahoy!

  12. K. said:

    Nthing the DTMFA with (nearly) everyone else.

    LW, do you have a Team You you can turn to for support that doesn’t have the boyfriend involved? People who will willingly have your back in case things get difficult? Friends who will give you jedi hugs and a shoulder to cry on when you need to talk about your cat? Because you do deserve a Team You.

    • Private Editor said:

      +1 on building Team You. LW, you don’t mention friends in your letter, but I hope you have someone you can lean on for unconditional support while you figure out what you want to do. It could be friends, relatives, a counselor or even a clergyperson. Whatever you do, you are not to blame for your boyfriend’s situation. Best wishes, and I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s always hard to lose a beloved pet.

    • kristinmh said:

      It doesn’t sound like you *do* have a Team You, LW, since you said your cat and your BF were your only emotional support. Maybe if you’re not ready to leave you can concentrate on building your team? Finding new friends, connecting with old ones, spending time out of the house away from dude? Even if you do decide to stay you’ll be a lot happier if you have supportive peeps on your side.

    • Humpty Dumpty said:

      Unfortunately Team Me is a little sparse. I’ve moved around a lot and have all kinds of trust issues so I don’t have that many close friends, especially in the city where I live. I’m working on it, but most of my friends are also friends with my boyfriend, and many of them have known him longer than me, so I worry that in the event of a painful break up they would all side with him. It also makes it hard to confide in them, since they tend to say, “Aww, but he loves you so much and is so sweet. You should let the drunk stuff slide.” Team Me is basically me, my therapist, one or two friends, and, until recently, my cat.

      Up until the drunken outburst last month, I thought my boyfriend was a charter member of Team Me. Last year I had problems with my birth control and was nauseous, cramp-y and weepy for several weeks. I was constantly sobbing for no reason and my boyfriend would hold me while I cried, tell me it was going to be ok and then tickle me to cheer me up. It’s been a rough year for my PTSD and he would listen to me and hold me while I cried and told him some really dark things. It took me a long time to open up to him, during which time he kept saying that he wants to make me feel safe, he wants to make me happy, I keep putting up walls and shutting him out, etc. That’s why it was so shocking to hear him accuse me of using him for emotional stability–and of course, I felt guilty when he said that because on the days when I’m not sure if we have a future, I appreciate that in the present, he’s a source of stability.

      After my cat died, he was sweet and supportive but I told him I wasn’t sure if I could/should confide in him. He got frustrated. Le sigh.

      • wally2069 said:

        I have only one question for you LW.

        Do you still want to be in a relationship with this person if he isn’t on team you?

        You do not have to answer it to me or anyone else on this, but I strongly suggest asking yourself this and coming up with an answer if only for your own sake.

      • red said:

        I would like to argue that a person who is truly sweet and supportive does not throw that sweetness and support in the face of the person they love when things are not to their liking.

    • matthewjames123 said:

      Everyone deserves a team you. Mine is my therapist and my dog Peter. LW pressuring you to have drugss you don’t want is a sure sign this relationship is long past its usefulness in fact its begun to border into abusive behaviour. Gaslighting is atrocious behaviour and so very harmful. I hope in time you find someone who truly does respect you boundaries and all.

  13. I went through a similar time in my life. I was miserable, and I think in retrospect probably had some situational depression. I hated my job, and it was that whole post college transition thing. I really thought that the only things keeping me sane were my boyfriend, and my cat.

    In retrospect I realized it was just my cat.

    While I was in that relationship I felt like I needed it and that it was helping, but in retrospect it was probably more of a source for my distress than I realized. The problems we had were different from yours, but they were still issues that weren’t like “OMG WE ARE EOVER” issues. We had some fights, and said hurtful things to each other, but we always made up. And I really thought things were mostly okay, just not perfect.

    It wasn’t until I was in my current relationship that I realized that saying hurtful things about how I don’t really need someone is not something that I do when I really love someone. And he doesn’t pick fights with me about stupid stuff or make me feel bad about things. I really couldn’t see how bad things were between me and my ex until I was somewhere better.

    It can be so much better, trust this random stranger from the internet to tell you this. You deserve better.

    I am so very very sorry to hear about your kitty’s illness. We are just so lucky to have each other for the short time that our pets are with us. It is so hard when they leave. (This song is how I feel about losing pets, do not watch it if you are already sad, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qCH87-cbDpA I’m going to go cry into someone furry now. )

    When you are ready, there are always other animals who need homes. It wont replace your kitty, but there is another kitty out there who needs you as much as you need it. You can build a new life together, without gas lighting jerks.

    • Humpty Dumpty said:

      Thanks everyone for your condolences! Our other kitty (more my boyfriend’s than mine, but I watched him being born and fostered him, so I’m pretty attached to the little guy) needs a playmate so we’ll be getting another one once I’m ready. I miss my cat so much and I’m nervous about getting another. I’m sure it’ll be better than no kitty at all, but I’ve had a lot of pets over the years, and though I loved each and every one of them, this last one had by far the most personality. And he picked me, not the other way around, at a time in my life when I really needed some companionship so I’m especially grateful to him. I’ll love the next one, but it won’t be the same.

      • I hope you will have an experience similar to mine. Previous Cat picked me, was my boon companion, went with me to Girlhaven when I left my Darth Vader ex, and for a long time it was Me and Cat Boadie Against the World.

        When she died, I was shattered. She was 13, and it was very quick, but it was awful and my first experience with having to put a pet to sleep.

        My honey (not a cat person) put his foot down very firmly about getting a new kitten pretty quickly. I made a lot of grumpy noises about it being too soon and wanting an adult cat … but he was right. Jinx is not Boadie. Jinx will never be Boadie. But he is his own being, and in his own way just as good a friend. He’s a different kind of friend, because I’m a different me now.

        It won’t be same, but I hope the new cat that finds you is the cat you need for the now-you.

        Wishing you well, HD.

  14. TR said:

    LW, if you don’t want to break up with him, you may also want to consider changing your price of admission. You told him no more gaslighting/mentioning the ex, and it sounds like it stopped (mostly) – not that you are responsible at all for changing his behavior, but he does seem to be willing to pay a price of admission for you.

    Consider telling him no more being around you when under the influence – you don’t seem to like not-sober him. Something like, “You say hurtful things when you’re drunk/high/stoned and I don’t like being around you, so I won’t. If you get drunk/stoned/high, don’t come home. Go to a friend’s house or get a motel, but don’t come home.” If he’s willing to do that, you’ll have a look at the relationship when it’s truly him and you and things may become clearer. If he’s not, well, that may tell you something as well.

    • My grandmother used to tell me not to marry a man I hadn’t seen drunk. She said that when the inhibitions come down, the real personality comes out, and never to accept “I didn’t mean it; I was drunk” as an excuse for anything.

      • Jiggs said:

        Your grandma is a super smart lady.

        • She really was. She also told me not to marry a man I hadn’t slept with, because it would tell me whether he was selfish and whether he would listen to me.

          • AnthroK8 said:

            Wow. She is Badass Grandma. The kind of Grandma a wolf would do well to steer clear of.

          • These are amazing pieces of advice! I demand MORE of OtherBecky’sGrandma’s hints and tips for git-free living.

          • JenniferP said:

            Hear hear!

          • Alice said:

            I wish your grandma could write a guest post here.

          • JenniferP said:

            If you want to do a guest-post of Grandma’s Awesome Advice, you know my email.

            I brought a college boyfriend home to meet my grandparents and play Scrabble with grampa & cards with both of them. Afterwards they told me he was a sore loser and I shouldn’t marry him. They were correct!

          • Wow — thanks for the suggestion, Captain! I’ll give it some thought.

            Alice, I wish she could guest post here too. It’s been a few years since she died, but I still miss her. One of the lines in her obituary was “In her years as an army wife, [Other Becky's Grandma] traveled extensively and had many adventures, some of which were actually true.”

          • PomperaFirpa said:

            Other Becky, you are one lucky lady to have had such an awesome grandma. It also explains a lot about your personal awesome. I am tucking both those bits of advice into my tool kit for when my daughter is older, and for all my friends right now.

      • Kathryn said:

        Yay Grandma!

        The phrase that drives that one home for me is always “If you smoke while you are drunk, you are still a smoker.”

  15. MHM said:

    Holy red flags.

    Captain- I appreciate your kind yet honest answers. I can see why you’d feel like a dick for reepating the same message again and again. But what is the alternative? The LW is basically asking: Is there anything in my teeth? What should I do? And you are like: OMG! Yes! I suggest flossing.

    LW- oh honey. I actually felt physically sad reading your letter. As others have noted, the mere mention of pressuring you into using LSD and being nostalgic for crackhead days was so disturbing. Please be careful. Use 2 methods of birth control, if you can.

    You are asking how you can trust him again and you say you feel bad for not trusting him. So, how is this about your trust issues? Based on your description, I would not trust your boyfriend to babysit a plant. Maybe your unease is a sign of good judgement rather than a problem to be solved.

  16. RodeoBob said:

    I’m going to highlight a few key bits from the top of the letter.

    This is my first serious relationship…

    That means this really is the LW’s first rodeo, so to speak. They have no idea what “normal” or “healthy” or “right” feels like. Like everyone else, they’ve seen relationships from the outside, so they have an idea of what it looks like, but the view from the back of a bronco really is different than how it looks from from the seats in the stands, and they’re trying their best to hang on.

    If I had to guess (and that’s all this is, so take this with a grain of salt) it sort of seems like the LW is trying to make this relationship look right, even if it feels wrong, because that’s where their experience is. They’re saying “I’ve seen other couples, and the girlfriend trusts the boyfriend. They do things together, and try new things (like drugs) together. So that’s what I should do, to make my relationship look like those…”

    But doing that is making the LW feel not-so-great, and they’re trying to figure out why their feelings are at odds with their efforts.

    So let me say it loud and clear: LW, good for you for listening to your feelings! Good for you for seeing that something isn’t matching up, and for asking questions and trying to sort things out! Your feelings matter, and if things in this relationship are making you feel not-good, that’s worth paying attention to. Good for you for not ignoring those unhappy feelings; those are yellow flags, caution signs that things may not be OK.

    I’m trying to be understanding since anyone’s first relationship is a formative experience.

    That’s a very generous, caring sentiment you’ve expressed, LW. What I’d like the LW to do is take that level of care, that generous spirit, and apply it to herself. To use the cold language of logic:
    IF this is LW’s first relationship
    AND LW feels “anyone’s first relationship is a formative experience”
    THEN LW, consider how your experiences in this relationship might be shaping what comes next, what follows for what you accept from others, what you expect from them, and what you accept/expect from yourself. Is this a foundation you want to build on, a pattern you want to see repeated with future partners?

    • Is this a foundation you want to build on, a pattern you want to see repeated with future partners?

      This. A thousant times this.

  17. RodeoBob said:

    My kingdom for an edit button! I hit “post”, and then realized something probably significant…

    This is my first serious relationship…

    You know, there are a lot of things we have to learn the hard way, especially about relationships. There’s not a lot of great guides out there for how to navigate it all, and the LW is learning all kinds of new skills as they go, so let me suggest two skills that maybe the LW doesn’t have, and see if anyone has any ideas on how to develop those skills…

    Skill #1: knowing when it’s time to end a relationship

    Skill #2: knowing how to end a relationship

    If you’ve never had a relationship, how would you know when it needs to end? And if you’ve never ended a relationship, there’s no way you’d know how to go about doing it, would you?

    • Adelene said:

      I can’t say much about ‘when’ – that seems to be a rather personal kind of thing, to me, and what worked for me probably won’t work so well for anyone else even to the degree that I think I got it right. But for ‘how’, I’ve had good luck with planning ahead, being blunt, and just leaving – pick a day, have a specific plan for where you’re going to go after, tell your ex what’s up, and then make yourself scarce as soon as possible afterward. Having some friends or family around to help is useful, too, both in terms of getting your stuff moved out of the no-longer-shared living space and in terms of giving you a way to say “I really need to go now, X is waiting for me.”

      It’s also important to realize that you’re not *asking*. You’re *telling*. The message is “this is not working for me and I’m leaving now.” It might help to remember that your ex is already your ex, not your SO; the relationship ended and that became true as soon as *you* decided that was the case. It’s still polite to treat your ex gently while they’re adjusting to the idea, but you don’t owe them anything just because they’ve been an ex for ten minutes rather than ten years.

    • Humpty Dumpty said:

      This is my first serious relationship, but I’ve ended shorter relationships before. 8 years ago or so I had a 10 month long distance relationship that I ended because he was manipulative and made me feel bad whenever we talked. We tried staying friends on and off but I cut that off too recently. He was stationed at a base in my state and started calling me all the time because he was lonely, but the last straw was when he said, “I named a mortar target after you today.” Apparently it’s a gesture of affection in the military to name an object after a person and then blow it up?!

      Aside from a twisted friends-with-benefits situation gone horribly awry (9 months), most of my other dating experience was less than 8 weeks. There were long periods of being single, but I like single. I’ve never ended a longer relationship, certainly not one where there are leases and utilities and shared possessions involved.

  18. Humpty Dumpty said:

    Thanks so much for your replies and advice! An update: I talked to him and told him how it makes me feel when he compares me to her, how it hurt when he used to gaslight me, and asked point blank why she sends him money. I didn’t go into the whole ‘So I was checking my email…’ thing. He listened to what I said without getting defensive, said he hadn’t realized he was gaslighting and said he was sorry about doing that. So far so good. Then he told me that she sends him money because she’s still on his cell phone plan. Which they signed up for 9 years ago. Up until we moved in together, he was also still using her Netflix account. This is seriously weird, right?

    I’m not going to go into a laundry list of his good qualities, because that just screams ‘OMG I need to justify my decision-making,’ but they’re plentiful enough that I love spending time with him, love living with him, and don’t doubt that he cares a great deal about me. The main thing keeping me from walking away entirely has been his responsiveness to some of my concerns. For example, he drinks way, way less than he used to, and no longer tries to get me to smoke or stay out late with him. When I confronted him about the gaslighting months ago, he apologized and stopped entirely. Now and then there were a couple instances when I had to point out that he was doing it again, and he again apologized and stopped, but he hasn’t gaslighted at all in months. Same for the more explicit comparisons to Steph (except, of course, for that awful night last month). When we met, his apartment looked like an episode of Hoarders (I’m not exaggerating) and after some less than subtle hints from me he started cleaning up after himself like an adult. For all his limitations, he is trying.

    We do, however, have very different values and goals. I do worry about the price of admission. It includes the fact that he will continue seeing Steph everyday for the foreseeable future. It also involves tolerating his excessive pot smoking and his terrible taste in friends. He really wants a future together, but I’m just about ready to give up on the long term and try to enjoy spending time together one day at at time.

    • Good luck out there, sweet pea.

      If I may presume, I would like for you, in your life, to have another source of emotional stability besides your cat. It is too bad that your family is fucked up – i’m sorry about that, it sounds rough – and it’s too bad that you’ve explicitly placed your boyfriend on Team Emotionally Unstable – but a source of comfort and stability is something you rightly deserve to have. Give yourself permission to have it.

    • Starling said:

      This may be completely OT and awful for me to ask, but how exactly did you solve the Hoarders problem? Because I would really, really like to know. (Uh, for a friend.)

      I actually have a relevant question, too: you guys are living together and talking about the future. At what point does the future involve him not working with Stephanie? Has he ever considered getting a different job? Would he be willing to do that? Have you talked about ways to make it happen? Because what you’re saying is that your boyfriend is actively trying to change into someone good to date. One of your major problems is a continued entanglement with Stephanie. Can he see that as something that needs to change, simply because you care about it? Or does he get all, “You’re jealous and weird and it’s your problem” about it?

      • Humpty Dumpty said:

        Haha, I have to say I’m fairly proud of that. I just called attention to it as much as possible. “Wow. This take out bag has rotting food in it.” “Wow. I can’t see your floor.” “Wow. You have 16 pillows on one bed, and only 4 of them are washable.” “Wow. That slice of cake on the counter was there a week ago.” I also tried to make cleaning a routine, like washing dishes right after eating. And part of it was simply an ultimatum that I wouldn’t move in with him unless he learned how to clean, and I emphasized that we both needed to downsize our stuff before the move. (“A grown man does NOT need 40 button down shirts.” “You can’t fit two people, two cats, and 18 pillows on a queen sized bed.”)

        He theoretically is open to finding a new job because it bores him to tears and the stress is ridiculous, but is nervous about changing. He’s been there 10 years and has never worked anywhere else, and is worried no one will hire him because he didn’t go to college. He’s paid well and his employer treats him like family, so I understand his reasons for staying. It doesn’t help that I haven’t found steady work since I finished school, so we’re relying on his financial stability. We’re both going through a 1/4 life crisis and trying to figure out our career goals; if he were to switch jobs, I’d be ecstatic not just because Stephanie would be out of the picture, but because it would mean that he’s figured out his goals and taking steps towards them.

    • tinyorc said:

      Hey LW! It’s positive that your BF is capable of a) listening to your concerns without getting defensive and b) changing his behaviour based on those concerns. However, I think you’re totally right about focusing on the short term for the moment. That will give you a chance to see if those changes are sustainable. I think there are two simple things you could ask him to do that would lower his price of admission and make your life easier in an immediate and tangible way.

      a) I don’t know how your conversation about the cell phone plan went (I’m assuming you told him that she needs to get her own plan IMMEDIATELY and he agreed) but it’s a bit alarming that he neglected to mention that arrangement at any point in the last two years. Ditto for the Netflix. He needs to come clean about any other shared accounts/memberships, and then he needs to cancel all that stuff. He also needs to return anything of hers he might still have lying around. He should no longer have any physical/financial ties to Stephanie, period. He needs to do his housekeeping and clear out any of that weird residual relationship stuff. Seriously. It’s been seven years!

      b) As another commenter suggested, no more drugs around you! Everything you’ve said so far indicates that you’re not comfortable around drugs. This is a totally legitimate boundary. People who are into drugs will often try to make you feel like you’re being needlessly uptight, but that is a high school tactic and should not enter into adult relationships. So from now on, he needs to limit his pot usage and cut it out all together when you’re hanging out at home with him. Encourage him to have his high times elsewhere with his friends (which also you means you don’t have to spend as much time with them! Added bonus!) If he cut back on the drinking at your request, it’s likely that he will also take you seriously on this one. If you are going to a social gathering where drugs will probably be a thing, make it clear that he’s free to get high, but you will not being going home together if he does. You can tell him this in a light matter-of-fact way. Make it clear that it’s not an ultimatum, just a boundary that will make the relationship more functional for both of you. ”Hey Boyfriend, as you know, I don’t like drugs and don’t particularly enjoy hanging out with you when you’re high. So, if you decide to get high at this party, I will make my own way home! I’ll text you to let you know I got back safely and please don’t wake me up when you get in!”

      All the advice about taking care of yourself, giving time and attention to your own needs and assembling a good Team You is super important! Also, get a new kitty when you feel ready. Cats are the best, and I’m so sorry for your loss! Good luck with everything!

      • Humpty Dumpty said:

        (a) I wasn’t sure what to say so I said I’d think about it, but I’m going to ask him to change plans. In an unrelated but equally painful story, he changed his phone to impress a different ex. If he’s willing to go to inappropriate lengths to placate her, he HAS to go to reasonable lengths to placate me.

        (b) The compromise we’ve worked out is I leave social events when I want to and he comes home when he wants to. It’s harder when there are people over at our place. I’ve stopped being around him and his friends while they’re drunk but you’re right, I need to make clear I simply don’t want to be around them while they’re high. Among other things, they reminisce about the good ol’ days in the crack house (I’m not sure how much they’re exaggerating) and it terrifies me that (a) they still think those days were good and (b) they have nothing else to talk about.

        • tinyorc said:

          If his friends are the kind of people who reminisce about the good old days in the crackhouse, they are more than likely the kind of people who will pull the “Why is your girlfriend such a square?” card with your BF when they find out they are no longer welcome to get high in your apartment. They will probably try to make you feel small and silly about it with pointed comments and teasing. I have no idea what a good script for dealing with this situation might be, but stick to your guns: Your home. Your relationship. Your boundaries. Your life. I would also get your BF on your side with this one and ask him to help you enforce it by not inviting them over and standing up for you if they give you shit over it. “This is a decision we made together and the reasons are none of your business” should be his line with them.

    • purple said:

      LW, the first thing I did when I had formally broken up with my boyfriend was get my own netflix, but I was being realistic about cutting financial ties as soon as possible so that we could get some closure, and it sounds like this was not where your boyfriend’s head was when he and his girlfriend broke up. In fact, it sounds like maintaining financial ties so that they had to stay in communication might have been a conscious or subconscious strategy.

      I wish I had better advice for you, but all I can say is trust your gut, and also: I am not objectively anti-weediness. I don’t think weed’s particularly physically addictive. But I can say that I just went through four years of living with an on-again off-again serious pothead, complete with oaths of reformation and long periods of abstinence and backsliding and a return to the place where I swear to god it felt like my apartment was coated with resin like the inside of a pipe it was so weedy. It lost its bohemian charm and eventually I lost my goddamn patience with things like having to seriously ask myself how much weed was in the apartment before considering calling 911 on an altercation in the parking lot.

      But I hung on in that situation because I wasn’t ready to break up yet, even though we had “serious differences in values and goals” and I couldn’t see us having a future together. I gave myself permission to not make it work out and because I knew that therapy works for me when it comes to making major decisions I found a therapist who I liked. I also reached out to some old friends who I’d drifted away from, some of whom became sources of really great advice and support. It took a much longer time than I thought it would to come to a resolution, and I’m still really sad, but I also know that I made the right choice and gave both of us the hope of finding someone who’s really compatible, not compatible after some fixing-up around the edges.

      • Humpty Dumpty said:

        I’m 90% sure he only uses weed on a regular basis (who knows what happens with his friends when I’m not around) but there’s a lot of it. Being around him while intoxicated is a crapshoot: when he’s drunk, he’s either extremely affectionate or extremely selfish and manipulative. When he’s high at home, he’s like a lazier version of himself. When he’s high in a group, he becomes a stupider version of himself. (I can go on and on about how excruciatingly boring it is to be a sober person surrounded by stoners) I don’t think he’s physically addicted because he can go without while he’s traveling, but he’s emotionally dependent on it for self-medication. Any time he’s upset he immediately looks for a way to smoke, even if the reason he’s upset is he had too much to drink.

        At my request, he’s cut way back on the drinking but the smoking has stayed the same. I’ve made clear I won’t smoke and will leave a party if he’s drunk, but he’s surrounded by people who party harder than he does and he feels like he has to keep up.

        • Esti said:

          Can I suggest you check out a local Nar-Anon chapter? It sounds like your boyfriend’s drug use is something that affects your interactions with him and that he’s not cut back on despite your requests. Going to Nar-Anon doesn’t mean that he’s definitely an addict or that you have made any decisions about the future of your relationship, but it will provide an immediate Team You space where you can find support and some gut-checks on how comfortable you are with his continuing drug use.

          • Humpty Dumpty said:

            Somewhat ironically my ex-who-I’m-still-friends-with-but-rarely-see-because-I-actually-AM-over-him works for drugfree.org and said he’d put one of his coworkers in contact with me. I’m looking forward to talking to him and getting his advice, but not sure what more I can do. I don’t know if there are options beyond “deal with it” and “walk away.”

            Initially my biggest issue with the weed smoking was not knowing whether or not the weed originated from Mexico, and thus contributed to the horrific violence. (Not that it’s relevant, I’m Mexican, though I think anyone with a conscience should be concerned about that, nationality be damned.) After 18 months of pestering, I finally got my boyfriend to confirm that his dealer gets it from someone in California with a prescription. Now that that’s settled, I think I’d be ok with it if he weren’t so dependent on it. I worry that it has something to do with his terrible memory and constant lethargy, and think cutting back might help him a little. But I don’t know if he’s willing/able to cut back.

          • Esti said:

            I think maybe the thing you could get from Nar-Anon or a similar support system is help with both of those options: coping strategies for dealing with it (whether it be setting boundaries about how his drug use can happen in relation to you — no smoking in your shared home, nothing harder than weed, no weed from Mexico, etc. — or regular reminders that his drug use and corresponding behaviors are not your fault in any way) and help setting and sticking to dealbreakers that would cause you to leave.

        • Ambivalent Academic said:

          LW, I think you might be dating my ex (the whole story really, but the gaslighting goddamn, and dude was still using my Blockbuster account (it was a long time ago, OK?) and called me in a rage when I cancelled it without telling him first, and the cell phone plan, which he was supposed to terminate but didn’t – but the drug use habits are so exactly the same it’s uncanny).

          If so, I am sorry.

          And also if so, you will not want to hear this, but: YOU CANNOT FIX HIM AND HE WILL NOT CHANGE. Not for you, not for his previous gfs, not for the three gfs he will date after you. ALL of those relationships followed the same trajectory, and ended the same way – with the woman finally saying ENOUGH long after she should have and varying degrees of neediness, stalking, and/or violence (which none of us saw coming). And then we all compared notes and asked each other/ourselves: WTF!?!?

          Please, please, find the strength to move on – you deserve so much better.

          If you are not dating my ex, may I posit that there are enough similarities here that the advice may still be relevant.

          Jedi hugs,

          Not Stephanie

          • Brynndragon said:

            Actually, I think there’s something important in here, LW: if he’s gaslighting you, it’s really, really probably that he gaslit Stephanie as well and could even *still* be gaslighting her – might be why they’re still attached at the cell phone (remember, she’s stuck working with him as much as he’s stuck working with her, which regardless of how she feels about their past might lead her to tolerate behavior that no one should tolerate).

            Also, not being willing to enter therapy is a major red flag in my book – he’s clearly still obsessing over her but doesn’t think that’s a problem that needs fixing (much like his pot-smoking). So that’s part of the price of admission: he’s not willing to work on getting over her at all, and thus probably won’t. How long can you tolerate it?

    • letternext said:

      dear humpty dumpty, i am not a regular commenter here but your letter really sang out to me. i really hope you will be able to find the strength to do whatever it is you need to do. something that stood out for me was when you said:

      “I asked him if he would consider therapy (for some other reasons as well) and he got defensive and said, “I’m not crazy.” I don’t think he meant to imply that I’m crazy for being in therapy myself, but his comments about me ‘manipulating’ him by confiding in him really hurt. I’m trying to stay honest and open, but lately I’ve been keeping my thoughts and feelings to myself more and more.”

      please, it’s not ok for anyone to shame you for being in therapy or for needing someone to talk to/listen to you & support you. these are basic human needs & you don’t need to feel bad for having them. i think it’s entirely reasonable & smart for you to bring up therapy as something that helps you & many, many people & as an option to at least explore. it’s not manipulation to suggest this, it’s called being responsible & exploring all the options.

      i hope you can talk about some of this stuff with your therapist, even if it’s hard to talk about it with other people in your life [i know it is, sometimes the thought of having to explain what's going on with you, in the face of "but i thought you guys were so happy"/"why have you stayed with him so long then?" etc is too much to face.] if there is no one else in your life you feel you can talk to, maybe consider keeping a journal & just writing down the things that happen in your relationship & how they make you feel. this isn’t about finding a way to explain it to him or make him understand, it’s just about your feelings & how stuff in your life effects you, it’s about working through the confusion & taking a second look at incidents that you maybe didn’t feel right about when they were happening. i personally have found this to be very useful, so thought i would suggest it to you.

      i am so sorry to hear about your cat, losing an animal that you have bonded to is one of the most difficult & painful things that can happen. i’m also sorry to hear about your family problems & i truly hope things get better soon.

      • letternext said:

        o i’m sorry, i see i may have misunderstood the “manipulation” comment, it wasn’t in relation to suggesting therapy but in relation to confiding in him. i don’t think it’s manipulation to confide in a partner or to ask for support or help, i think being able to share this without feeling ashamed is a really important part of a healthy relationship.

        good luck!

    • apricity said:

      He really wants a future together,
      But you don’t, because of the reasons you outlined. And that’s okay! Just because he’s changed things about himself doesn’t mean that you’re now obliged to stay in the relationship. Remember also that the things he changed have actual value for him. His apartment is tidier? Great, he has a tidier apartment! He drinks less? Great, if nothing else he can now spend that money on something else! He’s not gaslighting as much? Great, he’s becoming a decent human being! These are all wins for him. You don’t have to keep rewarding him with a continued relationship for doing those things. He’ll get his own rewards from them. Question whether you are actually trying to date the-guy-he-will-be-in-the-future, because he’s not that guy yet and you’re in a relationship with present-day him.

      Also you don’t have to wait for the relationship to become broken by all objective standards before you go, Hey, this isn’t right for me anymore. Let’s call it a day. As the Captain says, you can care a lot for each other and still not be right for each other.

      Good luck with whatever you decide is best for you, whether it’s staying or going.

      • repeated delurker said:

        yes yes yes. That’s great that he’s becoming a more tolerable human being, but that does not obligate you to stay with him. And his telling you he’s afraid you will leave him (like Stephanie did) is manipulative IMO.

        • Humpty Dumpty said:

          His fear about me leaving him makes me worry that he would come up with some sort of victimization narrative. The most likely scenario for a breakup would involve me leaving the country for grad school in the UK, and then I’d come back to NY after a year or two. During that time, he would have ample opportunity to tell our friends that the breakup was my fault, and he’s so heartbroken. Our mutual friends have known him much longer, so I’m not sure if they would welcome me back with open arms.

          • Ambivalent Academic said:

            You deserve better friends, and you will probably find awesome ones in grad school. So there’s that.

          • repeated delurker said:

            That’s what’s so manipulative about it! He has already invented the victimization narrative to make you feel trapped or guilted into staying. And that is not cool. And calling YOU manipulative when he’s acting that way… well that just pisses me off. I don’t even know you and I’m so pissed on your behalf. Is this the gaslighting you were talking about?

          • It took me a while to learn this, but it was such a relief when I did: you can’t control other people’s opinions of you. You can’t set “Suzy believes I was justified” as a goal and then plan your actions around making it true, because Suzy will just make shit up, and the actions that she believes would be justified will destroy you. All you can do is what you believe to be the right, and let life gradually move you closer to people who agree with you.

          • Lilly said:

            You know you can break up with him anytime you like, for any reason, right? You don’t need even to give him a reason. And your life is yours, not his or your friends’. What he does or says about a break up is nothing you can influence. And it’s not romantic to stay with someone out of guilt.

            But anyway. If you did go to grad school in the uk, after 2 yrs you will have a ton of other friends, new experiences, and maybe other romantic interests too. It’s your life. Live it. Enjoy it. For you.

    • Sarah B said:

      It’s a good thing that he’s sorting out his shit, and I’m glad that he has genuinely good qualities. But neither of these obliges you to stay in the relationship if it isn’t working out for you.

      Sometimes we fall in love with people who just aren’t right for us, and nothing can be done to really change that. Love isn’t enough to make a relationship, and it fades eventually anyway.

      In some ways a sort-of-working relationship where some things (other than the sex!) are genuinely good is worse for people than a really bad one, because there’s a tendency to stay in it, limping along, for long past the natural expiration date. After all, he’s sort of a source of emotional support (except when he immediately gets drunk and makes it ALL ABOUT HIM again), and it sounds to me like he’s filling a lot of the places in your life that would normally be filled by Team You, and that makes it harder to distentangle things.

      But limping along in a relationship that isn’t really right is a kind of band-aid. If you think that’s what you might be doing, then it’s worth taking a really good look at YOU and at YOUR LIFE to try and work out why you might want to be doing that, and what you can do to fix things up a bit.

      Oh, also? Your bf is TOTALLY responsible for everything he says and does while drunk/high. After all, he’s the one who chose to get into those states, knowing what he’s like when in them.

      And I’m sorry about your cat.

      • SECONDED. Just because both of you have been working on it, and working on it, and working on it, and it’s getting better, does not mean you owe it to your relationship to keep trying at any given point. I know it can feel bad and wrong to give up on any project after investing boatloads of time and energy in it, but if you are putting more into it than you’re getting out, my rule of thumb is that it’s time to skedaddle.

        In November, my then-partner and I lived together, and we realized we’d been engaging in some seriously toxic behaviors towards each other. Once every week or two for the next six months, we had a Big Angsty Talk with lots of tears and self-loathing that usually ended in me saying, “I’m sorry, we need to continue this conversation another time because I have to be up for work in five hours.” We talked a lot about breaking up. I talked about moving out separately (and kept moving up the date.) Then after each Big Angsty Talk things got better for a week or so, then tension started building up again and another Big Angsty Talk happened. The thing is, the Talk got a little less Big and a little less Angsty every time. I got better at setting boundaries, he got better at seeking alternate emotional outlets. Personal growth was occurring at breakneck speed.

        In the end, we broke up anyway, partly because we still had behavior patterns and ways of seeing each other that we didn’t think we could fix while staying in a romantic relationship, partly because I realized I wasn’t going to be able to continue the liaison with him on the level we had been and still have the future I wanted, and partly because no matter how hard we were both trying, we were still miserable together.

        Also? Me leaving him was his BIGGEST FEAR and the WORST THING HE COULD IMAGINE HAPPENING TO HIM, annnnd it turns out it wasn’t that bad and he is happy with his life, though a little lonely, and we have a healthier friendship and more open communication than we’ve had in probably a year! GO TEAM BREAKUP!

        I hope things work out in the best of all possible ways for you & yours.

  19. Chickie said:

    The thing about this letter that makes me the maddest is this: “Then he said he doesn’t believe that I ever loved him, that I’m just using him for emotional stability and as soon as I get my shit together I’m going to leave him for someone else. When he sobered up he apologized and said those accusations were directed at his ex, because that’s what went wrong in their relationship, in his opinion. He said he’s afraid of being hurt in the same way a second time.”

    This is setting up the idea that if you ever dump him, you are the bad person who was using him and it’s your responsibility to make sure that he never gets hurt again. It puts the relationship on his terms – he can do whatever he wants and you can’t leave because then you’d be ‘proving’ that he was right. It’s just gross and manipulative. You deserve better.

    • Copcher said:

      Totally agree with this. LW, it might help to keep in mind that, if you do leave him, it doesn’t matter what he thinks of you after. He can hate you. He can tell everyone you used him. He can make you the problem. You don’t have to worry about your reputation with him once you’re gone, because you’ll be gone.

      If you don’t have a great support team, or if most of your support team is close friends with him, that might suck, because he could tell them that you’re an awful person who is worthy of their hate. If they know you and care about you, they’ll want to hear about what happened from you. If they don’t want to hear your version, they probably aren’t very good friends. (It sounds cheesy, but I have found that it’s actually true.)

      So, to second what people above have said, focus on building team you, and, if/when you’re ready, get out of there.

    • Mel V. said:

      Yes, this exactly. You can leave him for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with using him. It’s also an interesting admission from him: “If you get your shit together, you’d leave me.” He’s kind of admitting that he knows he’s not worth staying with.

      I’m also baffled by the part where you’re supposedly using him for emotional stability. He sounds about as stable as a really unstable thing to me. I haven’t been in a relationship like yours, so perhaps there’s something I’m not seeing, but how do you gain emotional stability from someone like that?

    • Humpty Dumpty said:

      You know, in a counter intuitive way, I think it’ll be healthiest for the relationship all around if I plan for a breakup, even if I don’t actually plan on breaking up. I mean, I need to invest more in Team Me, I need to become financially independent, I need to apply to grad school regardless of whether it takes me out of this city and away from my bf. Then I’ll be independent enough for a healthy breakup. If we work out our issues by then, I’ll at least have a stronger Team Me, a job, and a master’s degree. And a new cat.

      • I would like to throw out thumbs up to this plan. All of these things–Team Me, financial independence, grad school–are things that will make you feel more awesome as an individual and make any relationships you are in more awesome by virtue of your new skills and support.

      • Sarah in Tokyo said:

        All the thumbs, man. All the thumbs.

      • JenniferP said:

        GOOD PLAN.

        You are smart.

      • Ambivalent Academic said:

        YES. THIS IS A FANTASTIC PLAN. YOU ARE A REALLY REALLY SMART PERSON. GOOD FOR YOU.

      • repeated delurker said:

        YES YES YES

      • PomperaFirpa said:

        I think this is the best possible thing you could ever say, because honestly, all those things are good for you regardless of the state of your relationship. This is not “planning for a breakup”, this is “I am a grown-ass adult and am getting my shit in gear so that my Awesome may shine upon the world in all its glory and so that, incidentally, I will feel pretty damn good.” You can totally rock this, and it will be great.

  20. tinyorc said:

    Second all of this advice.

    LW, if this is your first relationship and you’ve never had a Big Serious Break-up before, it’s totally understandable that you would take your BF at his word when he says he’s over Stephanie.

    However, “I never got any closure and never really stopped thinking about it. She’ll always be a part of my psyche” is the POLAR OPPOSITE of being over someone. Those are not the feelings of someone who has had a healthy break-up and maintained a healthy platonic relationship with their ex. He is obsessed with her. He may never ever act on that obsession, but he has told you with his words that she is on his mind all the time. Unfortunately, he’s already decided that he is over her, so he will never see the need to take steps to, you know… actually get over her. Ergo, he’s never going to comparing you to her, bringing her up when he’s drunk/emotional, confusing his relationship with you and his relationship with her. And please please please don’t think that is your fault, because it’s not, it’s nothing to do with you. Despite everything your boyfriend does and says to contrary, she is nothing to do with you! You could be World Champion of Super Wonderful Girlfriend in the relationship Olympics, and he would still not be over her. And sharing that much emotional headspace with your boyfriend’s ex is an astronomically high Price of Admission.

    • General Expression said:

      This is a good point. I am over my ex-boyfriend. I know this because I never think about him. Seriously, maybe 4-5 times a year? That’s what being over someone looks like.

    • Mel V. said:

      Yes. My husband is genuinely over his ex of seven years. He rarely mentions her, by which I mean maybe twice a year. When he does, it’s with respect for her (because she did contribute to who he is now pretty significantly), but also an acknowledgement that the relationship went well past its expiration date. It ended badly, and he wishes he could have a redo on that, but otherwise I’ve heard no nostalgia or comparisons or anything. He’s glad she was in his life for a while, he learned from the experience, and he’s using that experience to build something even better with me. That’s what being over someone looks like.

      • kristinmh said:

        Yeah, none of my exes are part of my life or social circle and I can’t say I think of any of them more than once every few months. You know, “OMG the guest star on Leverage looks exactly like [ex]!” But that’s about it.

        I remember saying when I.broke up with the person who preceded Mr MH, that zie would always be part of my psyche and I would always love hir. Well…not true! Zie isn’t, and I don’t! Disentanglement: it can happen!

    • Oddly, the best-case scenario here is if BF sincerely isn’t over the ex. Because if he doesn’t actually have any leftover feelings for her, comments like “stiff competition” and “that’s just what she did to me!” are purely manipulative tactics.

      Granted, they’re kind of manipulative regardless.

  21. This boyfriend sounds like a total dickewadde. When one of the best things you can say about him is that he “has really cut back on the gaslighting”, I think that’s your answer right there: DTMFA.

    • Humpty Dumpty said:

      Hahaha…thank you, sometimes a person needs to be told, “Your significant other is a dickwaddle.” :)

  22. Jiggs said:

    Oh LW, I feel your pain. My first serious relationship was a lot like this. Gaslighting, obsessed with his ex, everything was about him and/or full of drama. I don’t want to tell you what to do about the relationship right now. I think you know what to do. I do want to say this:

    You say he’s cut back on the gaslighting, and that you really appreciate that. I just want to throw it out there that you don’t HAVE to appreciate that, like, not even a little. Not gaslighting someone is the bare minimum requirement to pass the bar and become A Decent Person. You don’t owe him anything (your gratitude, understanding or time) just because he’s making a small effort towards not being a complete asshole. It’s not a nice little favour he’s doing for you, it’s what he owes you as your partner.

    • AnthroK8 said:

      Ding! Exactly. Not Gaslighting is the proofreading a paper with no thesis of the dating world. He polished up some obvious at the surface issues that can’t be ignored. But, he left other major ones structural ones untouched, hoping you won’t notice, and wanting full credit for the revision.

      But you know your dude and his style. You can see the style as well as the structure. You know what your standard of A-grade is, and if he is capable of achieving that standard. You can spot that polish job bait and switch.

      We don’t get As and a cookie for doing D work. Not in writing classes, and not in relationships.

    • This goes also for the comment on “I should go to therapy? I am not crazy.” It doesn’t matter if he knew it would hurt you, if he did it on purpose or not, it’s NOT OKAY. And you do not have to make excuses for him. You can only stand there, say “I am hurt when you indirectly describe me as crazy” and expect him to apologize. You don’t have to take into account why he said it. Not your job.

  23. glassmind said:

    Regaining trust is not your job, it is his. That feeling is a reaction built up over time to untrustworthy behaviour*, it is only going to go away with an extended amount of time of trustworthy behaviour. You can certainly choose to give him the benefit of the doubt every time your doubt shows up, but it really isn’t going to go away until the source (ie the history of not deserving trust) is overshadowed by good/comfortable/safe experiences. And it may not go away.

    The fact that he ‘resents you for not trusting him like you used to’ sounds to me* like he doesn’t understand the fact that his actions caused you to lose your trust. That is going to be a hurdle to overcome.

    You could ask your therapist about a referral for couples counselling. Going together might make it less intimidating to him*. And it might introduce him to the idea that therapy is something that lots of people do when they need help not ‘omg-crazy-dogwhistle-nonsense’.

    Seriously… there’s a convention full of air traffic controllers using red flags to communicate in semaphore that this situation ain’t right*.

    *At least that’s how it comes across to me, a stranger on the internet with very little knowledge, expertise, or insight into this situation.

    • seenonflickr said:

      “Regaining trust is not your job, it is his.”

      THIS, like whoa.

  24. Adelene said:

    LW, it feels to me like you might be still experiencing some of the after-effects of that gaslighting you mentioned – or maybe it’s still going on, in ways that are not so obvious. You know that something’s wrong here, or you wouldn’t’ve written in, right? So why are you not trusting your feelings on that?

  25. Elikit said:

    Wait, so he still shares a phone plan, with his ex of seven years ago? WTF?

    I mean, I can see staying in the same job, because jobs can be hard to come by in this economic climate, and if you find a place where you like working and you like your job, you want to hold on to that shit with both hands.

    But still being on the same phone plan. After seven years.

    How does this not scream “I need to be connected to this person so badly that I am unwilling to do something as simple as getting a new phone plan.”

    How can you be in a relationship with someone when they’re not yet out of their last relationship?

    • Lilly said:

      Yeah, this.

      LW, your boyfriend is deliberately not fully detaching himself from his ex-girlfriend after SEVEN FUCKING YEARS. He is deliberately hanging on to her, making sure that they are connected.

      This = not a good sign.

      Your letter rang a lot of alarm bells for me because when I was with my gaslighting, still stuck on SEVERAL of his exes ex-boyfriend, I would talk about him with my best friend, and I would say “but he is a really nice, caring person!”.

      Wearing my Clear Spectacles of Hindsight, I realized that:

      1. Part of his gaslighting/ assholishness was to make me think that **I** was the Uncool One, not him;

      2. Our culture is really geared towards SOULMATES and THE ONE, so that if you break up its like admitting that your relationship was a big, stinking mistake because obviously, you wasted time on someone who is not THE ONE. So people try to fix the unfixable, believe the onus is on them to change/ be cooler/ more patient etc etc.

      Here’s an example of what my asshole ex (let’s call him Ass) used to do re. his “I’m so over my ex” that he was still obsessing over:

      1. His ex lives in another country but Ass would call her EVERY SINGLE WEEK to chat to her, I was not allowed to be present during these chats because they were discussing “personal, private stuff”. Every week?

      2. We went on vacation together to the country where his ex lives, beforehand Ass insisted that we would meet up with her and spend some time together. He told me “she was the love of my life and you will have to get used to that fact”. When we met her, Ass insisted on chatting to her about the wonderful times they had together, they got out a photo album of them together and Ass made comments about how amazing she looked in a bikini and about how the bikini photos of her were exciting him.

      Later in the vacation, we went for a walk with Ass’s ex, and Ass insisted that he and I did not do any PDA’s or hold hands, and that she would walk in the middle, so that she would not “feel uncomfortable or jealous”.

      You’re totally wondering why I broke up with him, right – he sounds like such a keeper.

      • Elikit said:

        Dude. Your ex is a piece of work.

        My ex went back up to his old town to visit his ex. She had purchased him concert tickets. She also financially contributed to his plane ticket. Since I was the Cool Girlfriend, I had no problem with this. In retrospect, it made me feel ooky.

        I think a lot of times with your theory of The One pressure, it also makes us feel like, if shit doesn’t “work out” then the time we spent with that person was a waste of time. When maybe that time was sent learning what we need or won’t put up with next time.

      • Leah Jaclyn said:

        Oh god, I’m glad I’m not the only one who fell for this bullshit. My Ex was “never really over” his overseas girlfriend so he “couldn’t fully commit to a relationship” I should have taken him at his goddamn word and left.

      • JenniferP said:

        On the subject of SOULMATES and THE ONE here is a fun game:

        1) Wait until a Twilight movie is premiering.
        2) Tweet “Soulmates aren’t real and you don’t have one. #Twilight.”
        3) Become drunk on sweet sweet Internet Tears.

          • JenniferP said:

            There’s at least one more of those shite-fests coming, right? Enjoy. Or, “enjoy.”

        • Humpty Dumpty said:

          Oh man, compassionate advice AND mocking Twihards? I love you already.

  26. Chrissy said:

    So does that mean that every time you try to be friends with your ex, that’s a friendship with an expiration date? I am so not cool with that concept (as expressed by many commentators).
    I’ve just come out of the first relationship in which I valued someone’s friendship/companionship more than our relationship. We met just over a year ago and immediately found we had a million things to talk about and enjoyed many of the same activities. After sniffing each other out for a while we started dating. Well, that didn’t work out due to circumstances. Bummer but as mentioned before, this persons friendship was so much more important and we’re trying to be friends. If we had never dated, we’d be best friends by now. So does the fact that we tried and pretty much failed at dating mean that any friendship we could have now has an expiration date because regularly talking and thinking about your ex is a big NO-NO????
    I don’t like how often that thought is expressed above.

    • JenniferP said:

      I (and plenty of other people) are good friends with some of their exes. But if thinking about your ex puts you through enough “emotional pain” so you’re drunkenly waking your current partner in the middle of the night up 7 years later, or constantly comparing your current partner to the ex, something unhealthy’s going on.

      Nobody was insulting YOU or your relationship. After a few YEARS that friendship needs to be in a comfortable, chill place for it to be a healthy one. This thing with Stephanie is not chill.

      • Lilly said:

        Right – I was best friends for YEARS with one of my exes, after a period of about 8 months after we split up (I broke up with him and didn’t do it very well, actually). We began talking again and had a fantastic friendship, until I moved very far away and we could not see each other. Now we are still friends but it is harder long distance.

        He is completely over me, I am completely over him, we both have new partners and there is no question that there are no “leftover feelings”.

        Another ex I am not friends with because we had a nasty breakup that really hurt me terribly, then shortly afterwards he found a new gf and decided to tell me how loved-up he was, which was a Bad Time for me, so I just lost touch.

        It depends on the ex. But yes, years after a breakup if you still have Those Feelings for your ex, that’s not a healthy friendship.

        • Chrissy said:

          I totally didn’t mean that you had said that, Jennifer. I just couldn’t decide which of the comment above to reply to as there were several that implied that the fact that they still worked together or simply talking/thinking about an ex were problems in themselves, not because of residual problems. In general, often I find that the comments on here are a very resolute “If you have [any kind of problem] with someone, just don’t talk to them anymore.” And maybe that’s because many of the problems that people write in about do specifically require that, but many comments take a rather unnuanced view. Sometimes that’s a bit scary when I’m actually trying to do something else personally.

          • JenniferP said:

            You’re the expert on and boss of your own life, and all advice is caveat emptor, so use only what works for you.

            We do remind people that they don’t have to talk to people anymore if they don’t want to, and that a lot of interactions are a choice.

            For the record, I do recommend a good 3 months of no contact even with an amicable breakup to totally reset the relationship, but do what works for you.

          • tinyorc said:

            There is a massive gaping gulf of difference between “Hey honey, I’m going to meet Ex for coffee, I’ve been wondering how she’s been getting on in her new job and we’re due a good catch-up” and “I think about/talk about my ex constantly and I use her as a tool for emotionally manipulating my current partner.” Both qualify as thinking/talking about your ex, but the former is healthy and normal, while the latter is a massive red flag.

            I think it’s also worth noting that while it is entirely possible to be in a really great friendship with an ex, can you never be Just Friends with an ex. An ex is always going to be My Friend Who Is Also My Ex. You can’t ignore that distinction, because any new partner is certainly not going to be able to ignore it. It doesn’t mean you can’t have a close and healthy friendship, but it does mean that the boundaries are going to be a bit different, *especially* when new partners are involved.

            Last year I ended my first long-term relationship. Even though it was a mutual break-up for all the right reasons, we had our share of messy emotional stuff! But now we’re on good terms and chat fairly regularly. However, I get the impression his new girlfriend isn’t super-comfortable with me being around or with us hanging out one-on-one. And that’s totally cool. I respect the fact that her comfort levels are an important factor in this scenario. I am secure in the knowledge that Ex-BF and I will always be important to each other, so I’m fine with hanging back while he establishes his dynamic with his new girlfriend. Maybe that will mean seeing less of each other in the long run, but that doesn’t mean we’re not friends!

          • I find it wholly appropriate that the underlying ethic of pretty much all the advice dispensed here is “*You* decide who you interact with and the parameters of those interactions”, because there is a huge amount of bullshitte social pressure designed to remove that absolute agency from people and tell them that they “need to” cater to other people’s whims and desires. Read Dear Prudence and you’ll see this fucken garbage all the time.

    • PomperaFirpa said:

      Oh my lord, no. Mr.Firpa has an ex-wife, whom I was actually friends with before I ever met him (it is quite the story) and we are all still friends. She and her mom, who have little other family of their own, have pretty much adopted us, so essentially my daughter now has an auntie and an extra grandma. I can’t say it’s normal, because it’s really not and it’s utterly weird, and I can’t say it didn’t take a wretched amount of work and talk and understanding during the first year or so that Mr.Firpa and I were together, and there are still some boundaries that require a bit of upkeep, but in general it’s awesome. Mr.Firpa is now even good friends with his ex’s current guy, which is unexpected but also awesome, and speaks to everyone in the situation being capable of acting like an adult all at once. (Which, I must say, is RARE.)

      The difference between that, and this, is pretty major. For one thing, none of us regularly weep in our beer over our relationships (past or present) with the others. THAT IS KIND OF A TELL.

      • Humpty Dumpty said:

        May I ask how you negotiated those boundaries?

        • PomperaFirpa said:

          Essentially it was need statements of “[I / other person] needs this” and “this hurts [me / other person] when you do it, so cut it out” and re-stating that when it came up again, only MORE FERVENTLY and with some statement of what punitive measures would occur if the offender offended again. (And if the offender offended again, the promised punitive measures would occur– which were mostly things like walking away from the conversation/activity and going to hang out with someone else in our group of friends.)

          Mostly this worked out because a) all three of us were doing this kind of as a group, and b) we started out with everyone as friends and still all loved each other in one way or another, so we were all pretty responsive and flexible on it even though it was AUGH FUCK SO MUCH WORK to keep track of so many people’s feelings when so many high emotions were going around.

          Which is to say, saying “what you just did hurts me, if you do it again then [punitive action]” is a good place to start; it states that you’re hurt without getting into an argument of BUT THAT WASN’T HURTFUL BECAUSE OF REASONS, it places responsibility on the person who did the action, it states what that action was, and then it says what will happen the next time that person does that action. The problem is in keeping up with the punitive measures, because if your hurt isn’t already enough of a reason for the other person to avoid hurting you, or if that person is determined to believe that you’re not really all that hurt, or if that person flat-out doesn’t care, then punitive measures need to happen.

          Vaguely related example re: enforcing and maintaining boundaries: my kid liked to stand up in the bathtub a lot. She’s 15 months old, her balance is not great, the tub is slippery, and I fear for her cranium when she does that. Whenever she stood up, I’d say “oh, so you want out?” and take her out and the bath would be over and I’d have to finish scrubbing her off on the bathmat. It took about three nights for her to realize that her awesome splashy playtime would end prematurely when she stood up, so she stays down now mostly, but sometimes she tests me and I have to yoink her out of the tub again so that the situation doesn’t deteriorate, because it WILL.

          People who are older than 15 months old are more subtle about these things, but they work pretty much the same way. Figure out what positive things they get out of doing something bad, then if they do the bad thing, act against the positive thing (at least, whatever’s in your power to do so). That’s about it.

  27. The things I now can’t BELIEVE I put up with from ex-boyfriends are so alarming and/or embarrassing that I can’t bear even to give examples. LW, good luck to you whatever you decide.

  28. solecism said:

    LW, your situation sounds like the worst concatenation of my ex and my partner. Let’s start with your boyfriend. He has addictions to one or more physical substances. He has a history of gaslighting and other emotional abuse. His baseline living conditions were not acceptable to you. He has “terrible taste in friends” and goals and values that are not congruent with yours.

    Every person’s situation is unique, but rather than telling you what to do, I’ll share my experiences. My ex was an alcoholic and long-time potsmoker. He stopped with the pot after we moved across the country into an apartment together but only because he no longer had access. He never stopped drinking. Being a nondrinker myself, I had no frame of reference for how much beyond typical social drinking his intake was. When I started telling him that I couldn’t deal with his drinking, and that the alcoholism meant that my leaving him was inevitable, the only question was when, his reaction was that I knew what I was getting into, so why am I complaining now, years after the fact? And frankly, all of the pot and alcohol from a fairly young age seemed to have interfered with some of his mental development. He seemed to be the eternal teenager with about the mental development of one and his appreciation of humor never seemed to get much beyond the scatological.

    He also gave me the line that I was just using him, and that as soon as I got what I needed, I would leave him. In my case, that was finishing graduate school. That manipulative tactic worked because I stuck it out two more years, even though I no longer had school and research to keep me out of the house. Actually, one of the reasons I decided to pursue this relationship was exactly because of the quality of his friends. He was surrounded by an array of terrifyingly awesome people who were fun and smart and talented and creative (and potheads) and acted as great nonverbal character references. After we moved away, his best friend ended up convicted of dealing pot, and that whole scene broke up. So there are some potential serious legal consequences for staying enmeshed in a community of illegal drug users where at least one of them is selling/distributing.

    This was my first serious relationship. I had never dumped anyone. The first time I tried (one year in), I hadn’t the heart to go through with it in the face of his immediate suffering. When I finally, he was convinced that the entire 7 years had been a complete waste of time. I think he bought into the fallacy of the one true soul mate and happily ever after with no more struggle or challenges. I recognize that I learned a lot of important things in the course of that relationship, and I don’t regret the experience overall. However, I was deeply conflicted the whole time we were together because I truly believe that it’s not my place to change other people, and if I can’t accept them as they are in fundamental ways, then I need to let them go. I couldn’t accept his alcoholism, so in effect, I was trying to change him, thus I was living in direct conflict with my own values. Cue the angst.

    The reality is that you can’t make him give up his addictions, or even necessarily tone them down. He is clearly being more discreet, and it sounds like he’s no longer trying to change YOU by reeling you into his lifestyle. It appears that you are unhappy with his friends, his habits, his ABUSE (another thing that he won’t really change about himself without internal motivation and professional help and a lot of work) and that you recognize that you don’t have a future with him. That’s good.

    Now onto the entanglement with the ex. He works with her every day. He talks and thinks about her a lot. They still have shared finances in various ways. His IDENTITY is built on a foundation of his experiences with her. This makes me wonder who did the dumping. He clearly has not moved on and in fact is metaphorically camped out on her porch with you sharing his sleeping bag. Every now and then he gets up and pounds on the door. That bag on the porch may look like you’re living together and he’s centered on you, but you’re there to make camping out a little less lonely and cold.

    My partner has an ex who is definitely a broken stair. Their relationship ended badly many, many years before we started dating. My partner said zie was not at all interested in maintaining a relationship with her, and yet zie did. When I first visited hir (we started out long distance), I discovered that zie was living in her duplex and effectively managing it while the ex lived on the other side of the state. And then that job ended, and she moved back into the other half of the duplex. The ex maintained a friendship with my partner’s mom. The ex is still storing stuff for my partner, though there’s a short deadline on that right now. My partner was the first person she called to vent to or to ask for help, like backup driver for long roadtrip.

    My partner doesn’t like conflict or saying no to people. Because the ex is a broken stair that everyone works around, my partner has generally followed a policy of appeasement. My partner didn’t want to talk about hir or deal with hir or think about hir, and zie tried to put a box around her as soon as possible, which meant that zie wasn’t communicating to me about hir at all. Zie wouldn’t tell me when the ex was involved in something, so I would be repeatedly blindsided, either by being left out of a social gathering and finding out after the fact, or following up on something on behalf of my partner and finding out that the ex was the one who had set things in motion.

    When we first started dating, multiple people came up to me and thanked me for getting involved with my partner, because maybe finally the cord between hir and my ex would finally be cut to everyone’s relief. Well, we’ve been together for 6 years now, and the cord between them has attenuated greatly, but it’s still there. What made the most significant impact was my partner moving in with me in a different city 2 years ago. The ex can’t turn to hir for help when zie’s no longer available. She’s turning to her cousin instead. And my partner finally learned to consult me before committing to help others in a way that would impact both of us. And while we all still have many mutual friends in common, the group has diluted as various people have moved away or turned their attention in new directions and new people have joined the group. So it just doesn’t feel quite as incestuous as before. Our situation has improved, but it’s been 6 years, and it’s still ongoing. It’s now been more than 12 years since they broke up, and my partner was not enthusiastic about maintaining a connection, yet it is still there.

    I have never tried to dictate to my partner about hir other relationships. All I can do is spell out how those relationships have direct consequences for me and for us and state my preferences. Ultimately, zie needs to navigate hir own life and make hir own decisions. Since we are partners, I certainly hope those decisions respect me and my needs and boundaries, and so far they mostly have. Where they haven’t, we’ve had conversations. Sometimes repeatedly. It’s a process for both of us.

    Sadly, you have a boyfriend who is deeply invested in keeping this connection. He’s done nothing to distance himself from her, and has been extremely circumspect about the many, many ways that they remain entangled together. Again, this is not something that you’re going to be able to sever, since he needs to make these decisions. If you force compliance, he’ll simply be resentful and those connections will simply be buried further underground. He may have many excellent qualities, but you’ll likely remain third wheel and comfortable for the present while he dwells on the once and future relationship with the ex. You’ll have to decide whether you can live in that position and for how long.

    • JenniferP said:

      Fixed yer pronouns. If you’re going to be gender-neutral, be consistent!

      This a great, very illustrative comment and I hope the LW finds it helpful.

      • solecism said:

        Thanks! Clearly I need to spend more time proofreading.

  29. Emma said:

    LW, if and when you decide to break up with this guy, I think you’re going to need a serious exit strategy. He has a clear track record of being unwilling to let go of women after their relationship ends, and you don’t want to end up being the new Stephanie. This looks to me like the right break up for a full on Somebody That You Used to Know.

  30. Liennae said:

    LW you’re completely right, you do not need to justify staying in this relationship to us. I agree with the other commenters that there are a lot of red flags, but we are not living your life and you’re the best judge of what works for you.

    If in a few months or a year you are still unhappy, and do want to break-up with him, do not buy into the fallacy of sunk cost. Yes you’ve put all this time and energy into the relationship, but that is not a reason to stay together. I know it’s so tempting to say “But we’ve been together x amount of years, so it must be good! I have to stretch it out longer because otherwise those years meant nothing!” But do not let yourself believe that. If it’s not working, staying with him in spite of things doesn’t mean you care more.

  31. Datdamwuf said:

    Being sweet and kind and caring is just a part of the cycle of abuse. The part that keeps you in your relationship, he hurts you and then he treats you very well for a while, then he does it again. I spent 17 years in that kind of relationship, cycles, many cycles. They started out much slower than yours are but they were there. He didn’t start gaslighting me until the last year when he was having an affair (that I found out about) and of course he denied, denied. I called him on gaslighting too and he seemed to get better, fact is he just got better at gaslighting me without my realizing what he was doing. It turns when he was drinking he didn’t gaslight as effectively as when he was sober. Then the cycles geared up greatly and the emotional abuse escalated to physical abuse when I refused to be in the relationship any more.

    Please examine his blaming and not taking responsibility more carefully, write down those interactions. LISTEN to his apologies, are they real or is he apologizing for upsetting you? When he says he’s sorry is he telling you how much it hurt him? Because that is NOT an apology and shows a deep lack of empathy. And, after he apologizes does he do the same/similar thing again later? It’s important because his actions tell you the truth even when his words do not. Can you clearly state there are times when he’s taken responsibility? For example, after he pressured you into taking LSD, what exactly did he say to you about that? Did he really apologize?

    Lastly, the way he talks about the former GF and you sounds like he has the either or mentality, you are either a saint or a slut, your are either so wonderful or evil. You must be better than former GF or he wouldn’t be with you, when you are not better than her, you are not good enough. Are you really your authenticate self around him?

    • tinyorc said:

      ” fact is he just got better at gaslighting me without my realizing what he was doing.”

      That is terrifying and I’m so sorry you had to go through that.

      • Datdamwuf said:

        ty, what Baytree says below is what it came down to. toward the end he was telling the only 2 friends I had left that I was abusing him, and telling me the same thing. When I finally realized he’d been giving them a totally distorted vision of what was going on between us they both had already figured it out, mainly because he told them I was abusing him and they knew me for so long, they would (thank god) not believe this part. He’d co-opted my friends so much that it took a long time to realize that he was telling them stories while I was suffering in silence at what he’d done. I will never be silent again.

  32. BayTree said:

    LW, I’ve never been in a serious romantic relationship, so I can’t give you advice on that. But I will say that gaslighting is NEVER okay. It damages you, in a way that hangs on for years (or even forever), and it doesn’t matter if you know it’s happening or not.

    My dad was a huge gaslighter. It was really obvious at times what he was doing… he would sometimes outright tell me I was crazy, or had a personality disorder that made me pick fights with him. Or that *I* was the one abusing *him,* and mind-controlling (his own words) my mom-and sister to make them hate him. It was blatantly, obviously false. And yet? To this day I constantly second-guess every word I say because I can’t be 100% sure he was wrong.

    Please please don’t let that happen to you. Gaslighters are really good at what they do, and they’ve been doing it to people their whole lives. If you’ve realized he’s doing it to you, you need to get out ASAP. Because the obvious things that you can SEE him doing are only the tip of the iceberg. There are a thousand other ways he’s manipulating you and making you doubt yourself, and the longer you stay the more normal his crazy reality will seem.

  33. mintylime said:

    I couldn’t get more than a couple paragraphs in before I was thinking that this relationship sounds like the House of Angry Bees. (see also: the tag here on CA called ‘angry bees’.)

    As others have said better, this is so very much not what “over my ex” looks like. This is mindbogglingly NOT over the ex. I do kind of have to wonder what Stephanie’s experience of the situation is and whether she finds it just as creepy.

    • Esti said:

      Since Stephanie chose to stay on the LW’s boyfriend’s cell plan all these years, my guess is that she’s not particularly invested in detaching herself from this situation.

      • Elikit said:

        Totes. I find it hard to believe that their phone plan is some sort of wild nine year contract. Which means that Steph is totes cool with sending her ex money every month instead of saying, after this month, I’m on my own phone plan.

        Of course, this is all predicated on the LW’s boyfriend having told her the truth about the money transfers. I am now wondering if he’s told this lie to cover up the real reason for the money transfer, and the real reason is something that would make the phone plan lie, which is dodgy weird and totes inappropriate, look favourable in comparison to the truth. Ugh.

        • Humpty Dumpty said:

          To be honest, the only possibly explanation I could think of before I asked him was “drug money.” The fact that my brain went there is a bad fucking sign.

      • Humpty Dumpty said:

        You know, it never occurred to me to wonder what her role in all this is. I was more concerned with how he talks about her, how he thinks about her, and was trying to remind myself that I’ve never had a conversation with her and have no reason to think she’s a bad person or anything. But given that he describes the second half of their relationship as ‘one long breakup’ and says she would give him the silent treatment for long periods of time, it’s totally possible that she’s not the most mature person herself.

        • tinyorc said:

          I would continue not wondering about her role in all this. The Captain’s advice on this one is so solid: you should not have to deal with her. You should not have to factor her into your relationship. Your boyfriend is already forcing you to factor her in every time he compares you to her etc., so don’t start speculating about her on your own time, she already takes up enough emotional space in your relationship!

          Everything you’ve said indicates that she is enabling your boyfriend’s continued entanglement with her and I doubt she’s particularly mature or functional, but this distracts from the real issue, which is that your BF is obsessed with his Ex. It doesn’t matter what she’s like as a person. She could be perfectly lovely. She could be an evil harpy. Either way, she doesn’t owe you anything. But your BF sure as hell does.

          • theLaplaceDemon said:

            Seconding the “it really doesn’t matter what her role in this is.” Even if she is intentionally and maliciously leading on his obsession and entanglement, that doesn’t absolve him of blame AT ALL. He is responsible for his own behavior. Not her.

        • Datdamwuf said:

          Humpty Dumpty, please at least take a break from this guy, I think if you do he will become so sweet and amazing to get you back that you’ll have a hard time staying away. The more you pull away the more needy he will become, the more you will hear how you are special, the only one, it’s BS.

          I say this because he is telling you he’s over the ex and he obviously is not, I’m betting he’s telling the ex that you are not as good as she is, that he’d drop you if only she would take him back. My ex husband played that game with me. “I love you, need you, only want you”, I know he was telling both of us the same thing (not going to say how I know, trust me). Sometimes I feel sorry for the other woman, mostly I’m glad I am no longer in his thrall and it was really hard to get away from someone who could be so charming and caring, problem is all sweet stuff he did was only to keep me on board. The more he drank the easier it was to see. It’s hard to see the cycle when you tell yourself you love the person, it took taking a really hard look at why I loved him and realizing I wasn’t getting any of that most of the time. It took more than that to take off the blinders completely but I won’t go into that now.

  34. Stef said:

    I’m a little concerned about this:
    during which time he kept saying that he wants to make me feel safe, he wants to make me happy, I keep putting up walls and shutting him out, etc.

    People get to have boundaries in intimate relationships. He shouldn’t be pushing you to discuss your PTSD before you’re ready.

    …and this:
    I was more concerned with how he talks about her, how he thinks about her, and was trying to remind myself that I’ve never had a conversation with her and have no reason to think she’s a bad person or anything.

    You’ve been with him for two years and haven’t even met his friend/co-worker/ex-partner? That seems weird.

    I don’t think it’s necessarily weird and wrong that he has a cell phone contract with Stephanie, but I do think it’s a very good sign that they are consensually a part of each other’s lives, and not just exes and coworkers. So if you want to maintain a relationship with him, you should know she comes with it.

    The other thing that concerns me is that you and he have different preferences around drug and alcohol use. I’ve never had a relationship with that kind of difference that worked out. (But it might just be me.)

    I don’t necessarily think you have to kick him to the curb. I think the problems between you and him might be solvable over the long term, given that he’s shown he’s willing to change his behavior. Some people need a lot more training than others in order to be good partners.

    I do hope that if you stay it’s because you want to, not because he whined about how you would abandon him or because you think you can’t do better.

  35. Commander Banana said:

    I feel like a lot of LWs who know they need to break up with someone but for whatever reason(s) aren’t ready to do it write in, hoping to find that final push. But, at least in my experience, when you’re ready, you’re ready, and you’ll wake up and realize that you are done.
    I dated a gaslighting, verbally and emotionally abusive, money-sucking alcoholic for nearly two years, and everyone (I mean everyone) was all “errrrmageeeeeerd, dummmp heeeem.” And I did, eventually, when one day I realized that the bad behaviors not only outweighed any good that there was, but also that I had lost all affection and any respect I ever had for him because of his shit-tastic behavior. And that was that.

    Or, if this is helpful, look at it like this – the LW mentioned that this guy is kind and caring. Well, so what? Adolf Hitler was nice to his dogs. Most people aren’t All The Devil All The Time, which makes it harder, but if someone is kind and caring, they can still be a secret sociopath or part of the Klan or just a crappy boyfriend. There are kind and caring people out there who aren’t hung up on their exes and whose hobby isn’t playing “Who Do I Like Better – You or Stephanie?”

  36. Lauren said:

    I had to jump in here. I am friends with and coworkers with one of my exes, and I genuinely consider him one of my best friends. We work on projects together, go out for lunches regularly, and get our families together to hang out. It’s been ten years since there was anything between us, but it was a torrid love affair. I’ve got nostalgia for it, and I have a soft spot for him, certainly — it’s comparable to what I imagine brother-sister love is like, or, it’s as much about feeling nostalgic for who I was then for what we had. Here’s the difference. What I say and what I do with my husband equals the exact same thing. What my ex says and does with his wife equals the exact same thing. I don’t cheat or obsess because I’m not cheating and I’m not obsessed. There is no hanky-panky on the side or comparisons to be made because we are not entangled and enmeshed in one another’s shit. I did once drunkenly tell my ex’s wife how lucky she was to have him and how much I appreciated having him as a friend, but that’s the closest we’ve ever come to stepping on the line.

    So I’m just going to say this. This relationship is bad. If his words and actions don’t match up, that’s a red flag and a flashing neon road sign to let you know that the bad feelings you have about all this deep down are CORRECT. It doesn’t matter what they are. It doesn’t matter what he says. He’ll (clearly) say anything that keeps him feeling good about his cognitive and relationship dissonance. Let go of any expectations you’ll have about resolving this issue in a healthy manner, and write this off.

    And granted I have a history with addicts and love relationships, but the drugs and alcohol use, the drunken confessions, the pressuring you to use drugs, the mismatch between what he says and what he does, the gaslighting… there are a lot of signs that addiction is a factor here. The one thing I can say time and time again about being close to an active addict is that the frog in a boiling pot of water analogy is spot-on. I’m telling you, this pot is HOT. Jump out.

    • Datdamwuf said:

      You illustrate it well, the difference with the LW is that she has not been introduced to the ex girlfriend and her BF does not think of his ex as a friend. I am still friends with my ex 20 years later (we were together 12 years) and I think of him as a brother. I would introduce him to anyone I was having a relationship with and let my current SO know the history before hand. That is normal, what the LWs BF is doing does not resemble being friends with an ex.

  37. PomperaFirpa said:

    LW, you and I have something in common: we are both the new (-ish) partners of men whose exes are still in the picture! And I can appreciate just how much work it is, and how very odd it is to live with the Ghost of Relationship Past hanging around, and all that jazz.

    THAT SAID: part of the fact that both me and Mr.Firpa are still good friends (like, “you are now a weird form of extended family”-friends) with his ex is that Mr.Firpa does not operate on the assumption that what his ex did, I will do, because although we two ladies have a lot in common (it is one of the reasons we’re friends), we are still different people.

    Of course he still has scars from their relationship, and the divorce, and the sheer fact that he has a failed marriage on his relationship resume, and of course those come out in our relationship. That’s how it works: we all have a past that informs our present. The difference I’m seeing here is this: your boyfriend seems to have his past relationship informing his present as something that was done to him, whereas Mr.Firpa has his past relationship informing his present as something in which he was an active participant. In other words, your boyfriend’s fears are based on the assumption that you, a totally different person than his ex, will act in exactly the same way for NO REASON, whereas Mr.Firpa’s fears are based on the fact that he, the common denominator in both relationships, will do similar things without realizing it and that it will cause a similar reaction.

    You’re absolutely right in thinking that your boyfriend needs therapy (who doesn’t?), because he seems to be clinging to the idea that he is completely passive in all this. Assuming this:

    he doesn’t believe that [she] ever loved him, that [she was] just using him for emotional stability and as soon as [she got her] shit together [she left] him for someone else

    –is all true, and it well could be because people have an astonishing capability for cruelty to one another– assuming he was a complete innocent and she is just that evil, he’s still playing passive. He’s passive about doing anything to get past the relationship; he can’t not see her, they work at the same place! he can’t change jobs, because nobody else would hire him! he can’t get therapy, because he’s not CRAZY (which, leaving aside the amazingly poor word choice and insult to you for a moment, I think may mean in his head “it’s not as bad as all that, there’s nothing that therapy could offer me”)! he won’t take responsibility for what he says when he’s drunk/high because he was drunk/high and doesn’t really MEAN IT! he can’t move past his relationship with her, because it was SO MAJOR and his FIRST and FORMATIVE!

    (I am not even going to touch the drug stuff, but I can almost guarantee that there are things he says that he WANTS to do but CAN’T because of REASONS.)

    I’m sad to say that Passive Boyfriend Is Passive and that whatever you do is, when he’s drunk or high (or if you break up with him) going to be phrased as stuff that you did to him (or at least AT him), and he will of course have had nothing to do with it. That’s just going to be the way it is with him, and unless a miracle occurs he is not going to change it because it would involve him putting forth an effort and taking a chance, and he sounds like he’s allergic to that kind of risk. It’s a comfy headspace, in its way, because nothing is ever your fault and nothing is demanded of you in the way of change! The thing is, when someone thinks that they are completely powerless in the face of a terrifying world, they spend a lot of time being scared and passive-aggressive and gas-lighting and manipulating and AUGH all the bad things. It’s not healthy for them, and it’s no fun for anyone they’re around.

    There’s your price of admission, right there. That’s what you’re paying, and what you will continue to pay. I can’t make decisions for you, but I can put a frame around it and say “there it is”.

    Another price:

    but his comments about me ‘manipulating’ him by confiding in him really hurt. I’m trying to stay honest and open, but lately I’ve been keeping my thoughts and feelings to myself more and more

    and

    He already resents that I don’t trust him like I used to

    So, in summary: if you confide in him, you are “manipulating” him, but if you don’t, then he resents it. That sounds like a downward spiral of a situation right there. In the meantime, he’s clearly not volunteering to tell you everything in his life, particularly anything having to do with the ex and/or drugs, and– see above– he is convinced that he has no agency in his major life decisions and that life just happens to him, so I don’t see him changing his end of this at any time soon (which is my personal shorthand for “it’ll be a cold day in hell, honey”).

    I am not going to tell you to dump him, but I am pretty sure that the answer to “how do I trust him?” is “this relationship is not calibrated for trust, period.” You can live with that, or not. I personally don’t see how I could be in a relationship where I had my shoulders up around my ears constantly and couldn’t count my partner on Team Me, but your mileage may vary.

    I wish you luck, particularly in finding a new cat! Make sure you get one who’s into YOU right off the bat, because what you don’t need right now is a cat who is supposed to think that you are his person, but instead picks your boyfriend (or the other cat– I’ve seen it happen) as its person. And talk to other people while you’re out on cat detail. You might make some new acquaintances who could turn into friends of your own– not mutual ones who are more on Team Boyfriend than Team You.

    • Kate said:

      Wow Pompera, you sum up perfectly the contrast between accountability/self-responsibility versus martyring/passive-aggressiveness. There is a great temptation to succumb to the latter because it fools you into thinking “it’s not my fault, I’m the victim, I don’t have to change, it’s the rest of the world that has to do the work and change”. Admittedly this attitude worked for my mom who managed to wring out a financially comfortable life even though she hardly worked for 40 years, unless sucking souls somehow is a paying job. But I would argue any day that having accountability on one’s life leads to far richer life.

    • JenniferP said:

      Such a good analysis of that “it’s not my fault, stuff just happens to me” mindset.

  38. Humpty Dumpty said:

    Wow, I’m amazed how many people have shown an interest in this! Thanks for all your great advice, and even if it sounds like I’m getting defensive (“But he’s not all bad, I swear”) please believe me when I say I’m taking it all into consideration.

    A couple updates/clarifications:
    – I’ve met Steph twice, but not long enough to actually have a conversation. I figured it’d be pointless to extrapolate based on that one bitchy thing and that other sweet thing she said.
    – He agreed to get a new cell phone plan without her and didn’t put up a fight, though he did sulk a little. I don’t think he understands why it’s inappropriate in the first place. Kind of a mixed victory there.
    – He still insists he’s over her, and that he doesn’t think about her very often outside of work. According to him, last month’s drunken outburst was a one-time thing. I am skeptical. Time will tell if he’s able to control his outbursts.
    – On a day to day basis, our relationship is affectionate, relaxed and fun. There are a lot of good things about him and about us that make me think the price of admission might be worth it, as long as my price of admission is that he continues to grow in all the aforementioned areas.
    – Complicating things is my tendency to gaslight myself without any outside help: I have tons of commitment issues, and I know a part of me would like nothing better than to sabotage this relationships so I can pack up and travel by myself. I always ask myself whether or not I’m exaggerating the things he says so I have an excuse to leave.
    – We’d been thinking about long-term plans together, but, well…I think I need to take it one day at a time. I get overwhelmed thinking about all the things that would need to be resolved. (Kind of a shame, seeing how Wednesday is our anniversary and I’m running out of romance already.)

    Time to do me, then.

    • Esti said:

      I have tons of commitment issues, and I know a part of me would like nothing better than to sabotage this relationships so I can pack up and travel by myself. I always ask myself whether or not I’m exaggerating the things he says so I have an excuse to leave.

      If you think you might want to sabotage this relationship or that you’re looking for excuses to leave… maybe you should do so? I mean, maybe there are commitment issues that you want/need to resolve with yourself, but there are also commitment issues where you just aren’t ready to settle down at this time or with this person. If what you really want to do is pack up and travel by yourself, you don’t need to have an ironclad excuse to leave. You can just go.

      I used to think I had commitment issues because I would start a relationship super gung ho, and then after a few weeks or months I would start to feel icky around the person and wouldn’t really want to see them, and then I would force myself to give it a try a while longer, and then eventually I would break up with them and worry that I would never find someone I didn’t get tired of after a few months. But then I dated someone pretty awesome and realized that I didn’t have a commitment problem, I just didn’t like the people I had dated before. Society is really good at telling us that there’s something wrong with us if we haven’t found someone we can stand to be around–and vice versa–for the rest of our lives. I think a lot of “commitment issues” are really just people who want to wait until things feel right, and that’s something we should encourage.

      And even if you do have real problems with commitment and relationships that you think you need to tackle in the long run, you don’t have to do it with this guy. Someone who appears to be an addict and engages in gaslighting and is that stuck on his ex is maybe not going to be the healthiest partner to be with while you work on telling your jerkbrain to knock it off. Because there are a lot of valid reasons here for your brain to be screaming “Get out! Get out now!” Even if you think your brain would scream the same thing if your relationship was perfect, trying to silence those messages respect to this dude doesn’t seem like a great idea. He’s displayed enough serious issues that you want to be extra-attuned to thoughts and feelings that tell you to run. Between your brain and your boyfriend right now, I would trust the former.

      • theLaplaceDemon said:

        “But then I dated someone pretty awesome and realized that I didn’t have a commitment problem, I just didn’t like the people I had dated before. ”

        THIS. I had “commitment issues” too…and then I met my current SO, and it became clear pretty fast that the problem before hadn’t been “issues,” it had been “haven’t found the right person yet.”

        Which is not to say that some people don’t genuinely have a fear of commitment that negatively impacts their life, but…Not wanting an LTR at any given time, or with any particular person doesn’t necessarily mean you have “issues.” It might just mean you’d be happier alone at that particular time/not with that person.

        • anneka said:

          The other thing is, if the LW really does have “commitment issues,” is that the worst thing in the world? LW, if you just want to pack up and travel the world and date people until you don’t feel like it anymore, that’s really and truly an option for you–see LW #233.

    • General Expression said:

      Packing up and traveling by yourself sounds pretty awesome to me, actually.

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