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#438: You get to choose your own happiness.

Dear Captain Awkward:

Hey. I have done some bad things. I need to tell you about it so you can help me figure out how to not do bad things ever again.I started dating this guy two years ago, my first relationship. He was a really fantastic guy. But it slowly became clear that he had a lot of problems of the mental health variety. Since he was my best friend and I loved him and we were going to be together forever and other teenage nonsense was in my mind, I tried to help him even though I know nothing about depression. Then he became dependent on me and I became dependent on him being dependent on me, and it slowly turned into this nightmare where I spend every day listening to him talk about how much he wanted to die and I was just constantly emotionally exhausted.

Anyway long story short I finally realized how unhealthy that was and broke up with him for both our sakes. Then I spent a while feeling super guilty and sad and angry, and just really confused. Meanwhile, a younger friend (who is also really hot) started moving in, and by moving in I meant he started doing really sweet things for me and being adorable. And I, being lonely and confused, totally went for it, and he asked me out only a month after I had broken up with Guy #1 and I said yes, because I felt like I might as well. 

I went out with this guy and did not feel ANYTHING for him. So I called it off. But then the post break-up guilt started again and I thought I just didn’t give it enough chance and if I just worked harder I could do it, and I just quit too easily, so I went back (I know, it was stupid.) And, well, I still don’t feel anything, except that his text messages are really creepy now. But guess what, Guy #2 totally broke down to me and it seems that he’s depressed too.
Now, I realize Guy #2 is not a good match, and I feel really bad because I’ve caused so much pain to Guy #1. So my questions are, what the hell do I do now, am I a terrible person, what do I do about Guy #2, and should I go apologize to Guy #1 to give him some closure, and why do I keep attracting these guys, and do you have any advice about dating depressed people? I just don’t want to hurt anybody.

I have read your letter several times now, and I fail to find any “bad things” that you did.

It seems to me that you dated  a few people, did the best you could to be nice to them, and then broke things off honestly when you were no longer happy. It is okay that you tried out dating Guy #2 to see if it was for you. Finding out that it wasn’t right for you is a sometimes-very-sad-but-entirely-predictable result of dating someone.

That’s pretty much the best you can do by anybody. There is no guaranteed way to avoid hurting people. Sometimes what someone else wants (to keep dating you) and what you want (to not be dating them anymore) come into direct conflict. Are you going to keep dating someone who doesn’t make you happy rather than risk upsetting them? Are you going to let fear of what might happen stop you from giving something an honest try? That seems like a lot of pressure to put on yourself.

Also, while a month may feel like a short window between leaving one relationship and getting into another, we are not in Ye Olde Victorian Timez. There is no obligatory mourning period where you wear black and grieve the passing of a relationship. While it’s understandably hard to see someone who recently used to date you dating someone new, you didn’t owe Guy #1 a certain interval before going out with someone else.

My practical advice is:

  • Do not apologize or otherwise contact Guy #1 because things with Guy #2 have gone south. First, I don’t think you actually owe him an apology. Second, do you want to go back to hanging out with (and emotionally supporting) Guy #1? I’m thinking no. So leave that alone.
  • Break things off with Guy #2. He will be sad and hurt, but you don’t want to date him anymore, and I think you have to be true to that.
  • Be single for a while and get both of these guys out of your system.
  • When you’re ready to stop being single, date around casually a bit. Go on dates with a bunch of different people and see who you click with.

After two experiences in a row with guys who are pretty down on themselves and not the best at taking care of their emotions, I can see why you want to figure out how to screen future partners for people who are more likely to make you happy. So let’s talk about how we do that.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Every single person has some kind of weirdness or baggage that makes them some person’s version of 100% undateable. You. Me. Them. Everybody! Fortunately, we all also have qualities that make us just what someone is looking for.
  • Attraction is subjective and unfair. You can’t force yourself to feel it when you don’t. And it’s possible to feel very attracted to people who don’t make good partners for you.
  • Rejection (or lack of connection) is totally normal. You can/will meet lots of people who are perfectly fine/great/awesome, whatever but who aren’t right for you and you aren’t right for them, and that is okay. You don’t have to know that right away when you meet someone and you are allowed to take a little time to figure it out.

So it is okay to make “takes good care of mental health” a thing you are looking for in a partner, and use the process of getting to know someone to figure out if you can have a happy day-to-day life with someone.

For a less-loaded example, I spent a long time dating someone who didn’t really cook. He would cheerfully go grocery shopping and help with preparation, but he was almost never the initiator of meals. So 8 times out of 10 I was the chief decider and implementer of dinner. You eat a lot of meals together when you date someone for five years, and over time the different way we approached food became a source of tension. It wasn’t a dealbreaker on its own, and if the relationship had been awesome otherwise I would have treated it like a Price of Admission. But once the relationship died, I could admit how important that was to me.

So when I was dating again last winter, I knew that one of the things that I was looking for in a partner was a similar attitude toward cooking. I did online dating, so I put something in my dating profile about wanting someone who thinks it’s fun to scout out grocery stores and cook together. I responded favorably to people who mentioned cooking in their profiles in a way that seemed like they knew what they were doing but were also fun and relaxed about it. When I started dating my current partner, I saw that he was good company around cooking and eating and that we fit together well that way. It was a green flag in wanting to get to know him more.

If I had met someone who didn’t like cooking, I might have bailed. This is because my former relationship had taught me that cooking and eating with someone, having certain rituals around that and trading off responsibility for that, are super-important for me having a happy life with someone. Not liking to cook doesn’t make you a bad person, but in a perfect world that’s something I wanted to share with someone, so I was allowed to try to find someone who is a good fit that way.

For a more loaded story, I told this tale here in the comments once: I went on a few dates with someone who was handsome and nifty. After a little while, there was no kissing stuff, so I asked him about it and if he’d want to try that out. He came out to me as asexual and said that he would happily oblige me if I wanted sex but he would probably never initiate it. Reader, I stopped seeing him. Not because he did anything wrong, but because I know myself and I knew that what he described about how he handles sex in a relationship would not make me happy. I realize that plenty of people find ways to negotiate a happy relationship despite not having sex drives that match up, but I was also allowed to decide that I did not want to sign up for that kind of negotiation after going to the movies with someone a few times. There are plenty of people who are fun to go to the movies with and who like reading; better for us both to find people who match up well in other areas! His honesty and self-knowledge about his own desires allowed me to make a good decision about whether to get more involved.

Forgive yourself for not figuring out everything you want from your very first relationships. Now you know more than you did before about what you need. Having someone who takes care of their mental health – by seeing a therapist and going to the doctor and staying on top of those needs and not expecting their partner to be their sole source of emotional support – is super-important to you. You are allowed to actively try to figure out whether a potential partner is good at that before you get deeply involved. My partner and I both have diagnoses, and soon after we met each other we disclosed our stuff and talked about how we handle it and what the other person could expect. I left that conversation feeling like “Cool, he understands and has compassion for my stuff, and he has a good support structure in place for taking care of his stuff. Cool, we can do this.” Of course stuff happens, and you can’t always predict when someone is going to go through a crisis or how they will handle it, but when a new dating partner hits a personal rough patch, you are allowed to decide if you want to sign up for this. And if they seem to be leaning on you more than is comfortable, you are allowed to say “I think you should talk to a pro about this stuff, it’s not something that I can really handle as your girlfriend” and see what they do.

We do end up taking care of each other sometimes, and there is something amazing in the caring for someone and being cared for in return. But every single day should not feel like work. And one person should not have to serve as Emotional Rescue Squad.

I think you are very smart to figure out that there is more to life than shoring up some guy’s emotions at the expense of your own. Keep awesomeing!

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102 comments
  1. Love the cooking anecdote, Captain! I love to cook, and PhysioWife and I spend a lot of time together bonding and having fun while I cook. She is more of a baker, but a couple weeks ago when I was out of town for the weekend I texted her through the process of making two of our favorite dishes one night after the other. And both nights the shitte she made was awesome!!

    So yeah, I could never be with someone who is indifferent to good food and cooking.

    (Not exactly an on-point comment for the LW, but wevs!)

    • miss_chevious said:

      Just goes to show that people! are! different! I have no interest in cooking, whatsoever. I can do it a little bit, with a recipe, but the idea of cooking on the regular makes me feel tired and annoyed. I am happy to participate in the cooking like the Captain’s original partner, but I don’t care about it much and would not be a good partner for someone who wanted me to engage in it.

      To bring it back around to the LW — you are allowed to be who you are and look for someone compatible to you, regardless of what area the compatibility is in: sex, cooking, mental health, etc. That doesn’t make you a bad person, even if your incompatibility is around something that other people think you should overlook.

  2. Quinapalus said:

    Since I can’t add anything to the Captain’s excellent advice… okay, maybe I can dispute your (LW’s) characterization of having “caused so much pain to Guy #1″. Guy #1 was a big squirming sack of pain when you got there. Pain is how he experiences the world. So if pain is how he experienced you, it’s not necessarily because you did anything wrong. The only thing you owed him was an honest, compassionate breakup, and it sounds like you did that, so anything after that is all his.

    Anyway, since I can’t add anything other than that, I will abuse my early commenting position to flog a pet peeve of mine, which is the hugely widespread misunderstanding of what “closure” is. Closure is when you didn’t know what happened, and then you learn what happened. Its most tragic public manifestation is the relatives of someone who disappeared; if there’s no body, they don’t know for sure what happened. Then one day a body is found, and it’s the worst news, but at least there’s no uncertainty. More lightly: I was left cognitively “open” one night when my friends were supposed to come pick me up to see Rocky Horror and they never showed up. (I was moving away within the next couple days, so there was no time to follow up.) Closure is what I got years later when one of these friends got my email and wrote to explain that the slip of paper with my address on it had flown out the car window on the freeway! (This was before everyone had phones for that sort of thing.)

    If you know what happened when someone broke up with you, and you want to tell them how much they hurt you or whatever, what you are looking for is not closure, it’s satisfaction.

    • manybellsdown said:

      This is an excellent comment.

    • JenniferP said:

      This comment is good and you should feel good. Great description of what closure is and what it isn’t.

    • sp4rema said:

      I want to add to this that closure wrt relationships is not a thing anyone needs or is owed. About six months after one of my most significant relationships broke up, because I still was not completely over it, I emailed my ex asking what had gone wrong. That’s asking for closure, by your definition, but it was still very much Not A Good Thing To Do. She actually emailed back and talked really nicely about stuff (because we were friends. and are still friends, despite me acting like a total jackass. miraculously). I don’t know, I don’t think it was harmful exactly (although boy, it could have been), but I doubt it helped much either. What *actually* helped was finding it in myself to accept that the relationship was over and learning to stop wondering if there was any chance at all that we might get back together again. Closure was at best a neutral force in helping me move on, while letting go did all the heavy lifting.

      • Yes, sometimes “wanting closure” is “I don’t know what happened and I want to know!” and actually you totally know but you’re in denial about it. You heard them say, “You never listen to me when I talk about my problems, and I need someone more supportive” half a dozen times. You slept with them for six months whilst they were still married to their ex, but convinced yourself that it would be different with you. They told you that the relationship had stopped working for them but they can’t meeeeeean it!

        It’s a bit like that student who keeps asking for more information about what’s on the exam paper. “There will be X questions. Each will be worth Z marks and should be Y length. The whole exams will take two hours. You should revise topics A, B and C.” “But what’s on the exaaaaaam?” At some point you have to accept that you have all the information you need, and it’s your job to connect the dots!

        • RedSonja said:

          Oh holy freaking crap I HATE when my fellow students do that!!!!! The professor is NOT going to give you a verbatim rundown of the exam, so perhaps you should just STUDY.

          • This is relevant to my life. The professor described the type of midterm we were going to have at the beginning of semester. There is likewise a description of the midterm in the syllabus. Over the course of the term, during various classes, the prof has mentioned the types of questions that would be on the miderm, and possible ways of studying for them. The week before the test, Student raises hand and says accusatorially, “You haven’t told us what would be on the midterm. Could you tell us EXACTLY what will be on the midterm?”

            So much facepalming.

        • roramich said:

          Oh I heart this comment with all the hearts (says the professor during midterms!). thank you! And RedSonja, I’m so glad there are students out there who know what the deal is and hate it too!

      • lunette said:

        In my experience, this relationship-closure can be had without recourse to the ex. One time someone ended a significant relationship with me and gave vague reasons — along the lines of “not feeling the right connection.” For a while I was (internally) going “WHYYYYYYYYYY don’t you love meeeeee???” Then I decided it was like this: He needed to not be in that relationship right now. He had his reasons. He was taking care of himself to the best of his ability. This was not about me and how lovable I am.

        Flipping it around, I think no matter what explanations, support, etc. might be offered by someone in LW’s position, the other person’s level of peace and acceptance usually depends on whether they personally have gotten to “this is not about me”.

    • Thank you for the sentence “Pain is how he experiences the world.” This just clarified a person in my mind. Not a person I am involved with anymore, but someone a friend used to date.

  3. Jessica said:

    Oh LW, I hope you figure these stuff out, and you do seem to be a really tough and strong person. I sincerely hope things will be better.
    I can relate to your situation, and I think you would agree if I say that the longer you prolong the situation, the worst it gets for you, mainly emotionally speaking… My advice is: you don’t owe guy #1 or #2 to save them, and I am sure you know this, but you have to save you! It is never a happy situation, but you did nothing wrong! And when you truly realize this I think you will be ready to start understanding what are the things you value in a relationship, as the Captain mentioned. The good thing about breakups is that you get to know what you want or not, and I guess it kind of comes pretty clear with the time.
    Invest primarly in yourself, and take care of you, Leter Writer. Sometimes it is harder to properly acknowledge this.

    A hug of hope!

  4. Simone Lovelace said:

    You’re not terrible, LW!! In fact you seem like a lovely person, with a great deal of maturity and self-awareness. Please stop beating yourself up over a few relationships that didn’t work out! Relationships are hard and confusing for everyone, and breakups (even sad, scary, messy breakups) do not mean you’ve failed.

  5. misspiggy said:

    Great advice from the Captain as always. It makes me so sad that the LW feels terrible about these relationships. It doesn’t sound like anybody did anything bad, except perhaps Guy #2 with his creepy texts and ‘I happen to also be depressed, you have to take me back and support me just like you did Guy #1′. All he is owed is a firm ‘I’m very sorry, but this isn’t working for me any more. Thanks for everything.’ If he continues in creepy vein, the Captain has much advice about cutting people off.

    It takes trial and error to get to a relationship that makes two people happy for a long time (I mean, it often involves trying several relationships, not beating one’s head against the same brick wall). Relationships don’t have to involve self-sacrifice; in fact they shouldn’t. Doing things for one’s partner is important, but if it feels horrible instead of good, probably something isn’t right.

    If like me the LW is drawn to people who seem to need ‘fixing’, there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as one recognises it doesn’t really work that way in practice. If people have fun together and genuinely like each other, sometimes they can both help each other fix themselves.

  6. RodeoBob said:

    Hey. I have done some bad things. I need to tell you about it so you can help me figure out how to not do bad things ever again.

    LW – you have not done bad things. We’re talking about the first serious relationship you’ve ever had; if you made mistakes, they were from inexperience, not malice. No one gets it 100% right the first time, so you don’t get to beat yourself up over what you did.

    LW, you will make mistakes again, as long as you continue dating. Saying “I need to never do any bad things ever again” is just setting yourself up for more self-flagellation down the line, so knock it off!

    It’s possible that after dating two depressed people, you may have picked up some bad habits. Holding yourself to impossible standards is not good for your mental health.

    So my questions are, what the hell do I do now,

    You had a relationship that had a very emotionally taxing end. If you have a really intense work-out at the gym, you’ll be sore the next day, right? What do you do when you’re sore? You rest, you soak in hot water, you get a massage, you stretch gently, you hydrate, and you do the things that make you feel better, right?

    So now you should engage in some self care, LW. Find the spots that ache, that hurt, that are sore, and look for the things (that do not involve dating partners!) that ease those aches. You had a rough time, LW; give yourself some time to rest up and heal.

    am I a terrible person,

    No.

    LW, you should stop wondering if you’re a terrible person. You should stop asking if you’re a terrible person, and if you’re already telling yourself that you’re a terrible person, you should definitely stop that!

    what do I do about Guy #2, and should I go apologize to Guy #1 to give him some closure, and why do I keep attracting these guys, and do you have any advice about dating depressed people?

    Guy #1 & guy #2? Their mental health is their own responsibility. They have to take care of themselves. Dating someone doesn’t automatically or necessarily make you responsible for their health, their finances, or their pets, and it definitely doesn’t make you responsible after a break-up.

    Here’s a paraphrase of some solid dating advice that applies in a lot of situations:

    Work on yourself. Work on your relationship with yourself. Work on being a person you like to be, being able to do things you like to do (either for yourself or others) and living the lifestyle that makes you feel comfortable, safe, and happy. Don’t date right now. Work on making yourself date-able; maybe that includes exercise and/or therapy, maybe it includes taking painting or photography classes, maybe it includes joining a book club so you can read more and have things to talk about. Think of it as the next step after “self-care”.

    • CoolNewAnonymousNickname said:

      ‘you should stop wondering if you’re a terrible person. You should stop asking if you’re a terrible person, and if you’re already telling yourself that you’re a terrible person, you should definitely stop that!’. YES! And here’s a little observation that I’ve made over the years which may help you, LW. Actual bad people (the kind who delight in causing harm and know what they’re doing IS causing harm) NEVER, EVER think ‘am I a bad person?’. Never. If that thought has crossed your mind, congrats! It is highly unlikely that you are an actual bad person. Be gentle with yourself, and keep trusting your gut about things–it sounds like it’s working just like it should.

      • zweisatz said:

        Actual bad people (the kind who delight in causing harm and know what they’re doing IS causing harm) NEVER, EVER think ‘am I a bad person?’. Never.

        Except for the people who will immediately after asking this question look at you because they want you to reassure them that it’s wrong. Manipulative behavior ahead! Red flag.

        But the quoted sentence is still true: if you are asking yourself this question, nothing’s wrong. You are a wonderful person, who wants to treat people right. Congratulations.

        • CoolNewAnonymousNickname said:

          Yes, correct. With the exception of those who want to play Saddest!Panda!EVER! so that they can make you backpedal away from being appropriately angry or upset, bad people don’t tend to see themselves as bad.

  7. Katamari said:

    I feel for the LW. The harsh reality is that first relationships pretty much never work out and involve a lot of daft behaviour. I said and did some pretty dumb things in my first relationship, and then when that died, I did the classic rebound to someone I didn’t have very strong feelings for, but I thought, “this guy is the exact opposite of my ex, so he must be good for me!” It sounds like LW has done the same thing. :) So I want to say – Welcome to the human race! NO ONE is automatically great at relationships – it takes trial-and-error, screwing up a bit (or a lot), and then learning from your mistakes. You may not have dealt with things perfectly but that’s part of the growing process that will eventually lead to you having a happy and special relationship with someone down the track. And I reckon that b/f #1 (if he’s fairly new to dating too) might do some growing of his own, and in a few years will look back on your relationship and go, “I can’t believe I was such a jerk!” There is no need – I repeat, NO NEED – to feel guilty about what’s happening. And certainly don’t let your guilt drive you back to an unhappy situation. Ditch those guys and don’t look back!

    • Yes! Dating is tricky, and learning to date is also tricky. When I was learning to horse ride, some wise person told me ‘you can’t call yourself a rider until you’ve fallen off ten times’. In other words, there will be mistakes ahead. LW, you’ve fallen off the horse. That’s OK, that’s how you learn. You messed up (a bit, no where near as much as you seem to think you did) but now it’s time to pick yourself up, work out how to do it better, and then get back on the horse.

  8. LW, your emotional honesty is commendable. Did I understand correctly that you’re a teenager? That is amazing. You recognized your feelings, you were honest with yourself about those feelings and the state of your relationships, and most of all you communicated those feelings honestly to the people involved. You deserve all of the kudos for that. Hurt feelings are inevitable when relationships don’t work out, but the damage control and honesty you brought to it prove to me that you are the exact opposite of a horrible person. I have great respect for it. Again, I may have interpreted your letter wrong, but if you can do all this as a teenager, you can look forward to a very healthy dating life.

    Just let go of the idea that you’re horrible for hurting people’s feelings. Hurt feelings are inevitable sometimes. But when you handle thing like you did, with emotional honesty and maturity, that is the very best way to make sure that the hurt is short and survivable. It’s all the closure you can possibly give.

    Well done. Honestly.

    • I don’t think anyone can give anyone else closure. It’s a feeling you have to find (or fail to find) inside your own self.

    • I agree, the LW writes with insight and seems to really know her feelings.

  9. Yan said:

    LW, yeah, there’s always “more time” and more “patience” and more THINGS you think you might have could have would have done with someone you liked and cared about. But the Captain’s advice is all that matters — wanting to not date someone anymore and then being honest with them about it is all you owe them and something you do owe yourself. You sound really self-aware and honest with yourself, which is an awesome thing in a partner.

    My personal “thing” I’m currently looking for in a partner is someone who is willing to carry his/her own personal baggage. My last partner would alternately deny that there was baggage and dump it on me, and I want neither of those strategies as part of my regular life. I don’t feel guilty for wanting that balance.

  10. Copcher said:

    LW, I mostly just want to say that I 100% agree with the Captain that nothing you mention in your letter sounds at all terrible. Breaking up with someone is not terrible, even if it makes them sad. Thinking you might like someone and then finding out that you actually don’t is also not terrible, again even if it ends with sad. You sound more awesome than terrible, actually.

    Also, Captain, I love your cooking example. Not cooking (or not liking the beach, or not watching lots of films, or not doing whatever) does not make someone a bad person or a bad partner, but it does make them a person who doesn’t cook (or like the beach or watch lots of films or whatever). They are free to be that person, and you, who would like to be with someone who cooks (or whatever) are free to not date them. You are also free to try dating them and then break it off if it doesn’t work.

  11. Meredith said:

    Oh, LW. I read your letter with a grimace of recognition, because I had similar situation in my own teenagerhood (I suspect from your reference to “teenage nonsense” that you are or have recently been a teenager; apologies if I am wrong on that).

    I dated someone all through middle school and through the beginning of high school who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Toward the end of our relationship, I hardly ever saw him because his illness meant he was never at school and he didn’t always want to socialize on weekends. Even though I was increasingly invested in his emotional issues (plus invested in this three-year relationship that was my first True Love), I was less and less interested in being his girlfriend. I broke up with him and felt extremely guilty, especially because he said he was still in love with me.

    Within a couple months of this, the friend (read: crush) who was helping me deal with the fallout of the breakup asked me out. Now, unlike you, I was thrilled to go out with him and was very much in love with him for a year…until he broke up with me, citing as one of the reasons his own diagnosis with depression.

    The reason I mention this is because in the months after Guy #2 dumped me, I started dating Guy #1 again, because I knew he still had feelings for me and I wanted to be loved, even though I really wasn’t particularly attracted to him. I put off breaking up with him a second time for a while because I felt like the worst person for taking advantage of his feelings. When I finally did end it (over the phone, feeling like a total jerk), he admitted sadly that he had expected all along that it wouldn’t last because, again, he felt more strongly for me than I for him.

    It has been 13 years and I still feel kind of shitty when I think about this. BUT, and this is a big “but,” I have figured out that pretty much everyone has one or two or several relationship things that they regret and wish they could do over. It’s a part of growing up. The Captain is right; relationships are trial and error for everyone, especially, I think, for a lot of people when they’re young. I definitely don’t think you’re a bad person. I think you’ll find that the Awkward Army will pretty much unanimously tell you that you’re quite the opposite, and I hope hearing that helps you feel better about this situation.

    Good luck, LW. Jedi hugs if you want them.

  12. Sarah G. said:

    About the only thing I would say is this: You said you broke up with Guy #1 for “both your sakes.” Don’t ever break up with someone for his sake. That’s patronizing. You don’t get to decide what’s good for him – he gets to do that. If you had broken up with him solely for his own sake, that would be a bad thing you did. Fortunately, you broke up with him for your own sake, so it works out.

    You didn’t do anything wrong or bad. Please stop thinking you did. And honestly? Doing bad things isn’t the end of the world. Doing bad things doesn’t mean you are a bad person.

    • I disagree with the first paragraph. I think sometimes you realize that a relationship dynamic is not healthy for either of you, even if the other person really really wants to be with you.

      One of the best things my first boyfriend ever did for me was to break up with me. I wouldn’t have done it, but in hindsight he was right to not feel guilty doing it.

    • JenniferP said:

      I support the breakupper owning their feelings and not trying to sell the breakupee on the split being a mutually good idea; it’s enough to say “this isn’t working for me, I will be happier alone.” The “I”m just doing what’s best for both of us” can come off as wicked patronizing. It’s not a burden of proof the breakupper has to meet.

      • It’s not a prerequisite; you can break up with somebody because the relationship is not working for you regardless of whether it’s working for them. And you shouldn’t necessarily say “this is really best for both of us,” because that probably will come across as patronizing.

        At the same time, third parties can look at a relationship and see that it’s not healthy for either of the people in it, and I don’t think being one of them (and being intimately aware of what you bring out in each other!) disqualifies you from making that observation.

        And realizing that can make it a lot easier to muster the strength to break up with someone, and help you stand firm when they’re pleading with you to give it another go.

        My second boyfriend I broke up with largely because although he was a great guy and kind and sweet and the sex was lovely and I loved him, I didn’t Love him the way he Loved me, and I was uncomfortable with the disparity in our feelings and where we thought this thing was going. And being able to say “he deserves better than this” made it easier to walk away from that when he said stuff like “see, look how much fun we have together….”

        So I’m just saying, it’s not horrible and patronizing to say (to yourself and third parties on the Internet) “I broke up with him/her for both our sakes” whether or not the other person would agree.

        (And of course the LW didn’t say she did it solely for his sake… She said it was best for them both… so the criticism wasn’t really apt).

        • JenniferP said:

          Yes, this is totally fair!

        • I agree – I read “for both our sakes” as “I feel that this relationship isn’t good for you, and even though you say it’s working for you, I don’t trust you to be a good judge of what’s good for you”.

          You might be right or wrong about their ability to know what’s good for them, but if you don’t trust them to act in their own best interests, that’s a *great* reason for not being in a relationship with them.

        • Copcher said:

          I think that’s totally fair. I also think that, if I broke up with someone because they felt more strongly than I did and it made me uncomfortable, I would really mostly be breaking up for my sake.

          And breaking up with someone because you feel uncomfortable with how they feel about you is totally allowed, mostly because breaking up with someone for any reason in totally allowed.

          • No question I was breaking up mostly for me — just as the LW was breaking up mostly for her. I was just responding to Sarah G’s comment, which seemed to take issue with having “this is really best for both of us, whether he/she thinks so or not” be part of your thought-process at all.

            Because actually, a pretty common reason to get out of a relationship is the realization that a) you are not having any fun, and b) you are enabling some really bad stuff or the relationship has fallen into some really unhealthy patterns and you don’t think reset is possible within the confines of the relationship — and there’s nothing patronizing about having part b) be the thing that tips you over the edge and gives you the strength to get out and stay out.

          • Canomia said:

            I have a problematic relationship right now that relates to this. i won’t write yhr whole story, I’m saveing that for my own letter tp the captain. The thing is this.; I have a friend, he is pretty new in my life but we quickly became importent to eachother. He had a girlfriend and I washappy being a good friend. They broke up and a week later at a party we kissed. I told him it was to soon after his brakeu, that he was lovely but we should just be friends. But then we decided that I should let him decide if it was to soon or not and kept the kissing and the building something other than a friendship. I should have rralized I wasn’t telling him it was too soon for his sake but for mine. Because it was and now I’m a mess and a very important friendship is far more complicated and painfull than it needed to be.

  13. there is more to life than shoring up some guy’s emotions at the expense of your own

    Totally! A boyfriend/girlfriend should not be an all-consuming, life-defining fixer-upper project. Which is not to say “only date/love people with no mental health issues” just that there’s a difference between someone who needs some accommodation and support as they struggle with their mental health issues but tries to minimize blowback onto you and someone who sees nothing wrong with dumping all their problems on you and expecting you to shape your whole life around managing their depression.

    It’s kind of like loving someone with pain in the ass food allergies. Does your person acknowledge what a drag it is and try to manage their own food-needs so as not to disrupt your food-related life more than necessary (e.g., “really truly no tree nuts in our home, and when we share a dish it needs to meet my restrictions, but of course you don’t have to eat gluten-free all the time just because I do”)? Or does he/she act like their food issues have magically become your food issues because you’re together, and it’s your job to be sure their dietary needs are met?

    One is reasonable. The other is self-centered and obnoxious.

    • Bittybird said:

      Yes! The problem is not that the men she has been dating are depressed, it’s HOW they’re being depressed–their depression is her problem to solve. Their depression is a fundamental feature of the relationship. They may not mean two be making it her problem–depression makes many of us do unpleasant things–but they are, and it is totally okay for the LW to decide she wants none of that. It’s also okay for the LW to decide she wants nothing to do with depressed partners at all for a good while henceforth, but LW, I just want you to know that there are many people who struggle with depression but still maintain happy relationships, because they don’t make it their partner’s problem.

      I go through seasonal depression (winter, how you crush my soul!), and being unemployed and failing at life is making it particularly wretched this year. That’s my personal struggle to work through. My boyfriend can’t help me with it, and if he could fix it for me (as I know he wishes), I wouldn’t WANT him to, because this is my battle to fight and I’m going to have to do all the heavy lifting. He is there to be by my side, not hold me up–and it’s shitty enough that *I* have to deal with all these jerkbrain emotions, why would I inflict them on him! I still worry sometimes he’ll get tired of having such a sad girlfriend, but well, depression in relationships is never *easy* no matter how well it’s handled. But the way I see it: it’s MY depression, not OUR depression. LW, you didn’t do anything bad! You dated two guys who offered to let you hold their depression for them, and you said thank you but no. You have nothing to feel bad about.

      • My Two Cents said:

        Ditto this, oh yes. My partner is (periodically) very depressed, yet he’s very good about not being depressed AT me, or making it my fault, or my problem to solve, or any of that. I know this very clearly because I was married, for many years, to a depressed man who did just that, and I spent so long tiptoeing around, trying to fix it, trying to not trigger it…and failing, of course, because that’s an impossible place.

        I am so much happier now. I wish my partner would not suffer, because I love him and it hurts when he suffers; but, there it is, and we get through it as best we can. It’s better for BOTH of us when I’m not sitting there wondering what I did wrong, and he’s not trying to cover up his feelings because he’s trying to take care of me. Sometimes we call his depression ‘weather’. Not to make light of it; but, like inclement weather, it comes and goes, and sometimes it’s awful, and then it goes away again, and we’re still here.

        • Josie said:

          Thinking of depression like weather is so useful. Because it’s not something you can control – you can put up umbrellas and wear a coat – but the hail storm is still happening. Thinking like that has really helped me to remember that it passes and it is not something that’s my fault.

    • TheJackdaw said:

      I’m the partner with mental health problems in our relationship and I’ve recently had a flare up that I’ve been unable to manage without intervention. And this intervention has come from medical professionals and medication, NOT from my husband.

      In my first relationships, I was too damaged and too ill to have any self-awareness and I thought I could make my partner look after me and make me better, because otherwise, what were they good for? It took a lot of therapy and a lot of brutal honesty with myself to get me into the position I am now, where I recognise that I am ill again and I take myself off to get treated.

      We talked about it briefly last night and my husband asked me how I was feeling and if I was sure I needed help. I said I had realised we had fallen into a pattern where everything he and I did was to manage my moods. It had happened slowly and over a period of about 5 months and it was (scarily) really easy to do. He then admitted it had felt like he was walking on eggshells but he had lost what ‘normal’ felt like and so wasn’t sure what to do.

      That was really hard to hear, even in my more self-aware state. But conversations like that are part and parcel of living with mental health problems. It’s really important for me to face the effect I’m having on people around me when I’m ill.

      For me, it’s kinda like the sex rule – if you can’t talk about it honestly, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it at all. If I can’t have honest conversations about my illness and the effect it has on the people I’m in relationships with, maybe I shouldn’t be in those relationships.

      I wish you all the luck in the world LW and I hope these guys find their way out of these dark patches. It’s not your job to Gandalf them out of Mirkwood though.

      • JenniferP said:

        “It’s not your job to Gandalf them out of Mirkwood though.”

        And we have a “best sentence of the thread” winner.

        • Leonine said:

          I this just became my current life mantra.

        • caryatid said:

          but shouldn’t it be more “Bilbo them out of Mirkwood”?

          • staranise said:

            “Eagle them out of Mordor”?

          • caryatid said:

            “Gandalf them out of Moria”?

          • currently mulling over changing username said:

            Tom Bombadil them out of the barrow?

          • TheJackdaw said:

            *applauds wildly*

      • MamaCheshire said:

        I’ve recently had a flare up that I’ve been unable to manage without intervention. And this intervention has come from medical professionals and medication, NOT from my husband.

        Coming from Household of Brain-Glitch: YES THIS. SO IMPORTANT.

        Especially when it feels like the person who is NOT having the flare-up has lost sight of “normal”. Things being not-normal isn’t anywhere near as much of a red flag as forgetting what normal is like.

    • Charsi said:

      Yes, it needs professionals on the one hand, even an appendicitis can’t be healed with the power of love, on the other hand, if a partner/friend/family member/anyone had a disorder which makes them abuse and attack me against their will, I would be sorry for them but selfish enough not to be their punchbag.

  14. the witching hour said:

    LW, something I’m observing in this whole discussion is a lot of absolutes about your character, and I’m guessing something the script in your head has a lot of “I’m terrible! No, I’m fine and I shouldn’t worry! No, I’m the worst!”

    So try sitting down and defining, in the abstract, what counts to you as “good” actions, and what counts to you as “bad.” You have to restrict it to your actions, not the results. So you can’t say “I’m bad when my boyfriend feels bad” — I’m sure you can see how that gets you nowhere.

    Here’s a few of mine to start with – It’s bad to push someone to feel bad so they need you more. It’s good to make food for someone who feels too bad to take care of themselves. It’s neutral to not have the emotional energy to help someone who’s depressed. It’s good to be honest with someone about how much and in what situations you can help them. It’s bad to hold someones depressed behavior over their head to punish them.

    Then, when you feel like you might be terrible, you have something semi-objective to compare it to. Most of the time when I’m in these situations, what I find is that my actions are mostly neutral, but the whole situation sucks so bad that the it-sucking starts to rub off on how I think of myself.

    • Copcher said:

      This is a really good idea. Once you’ve done that, you might want to go back and look at the things you put in the “bad” actions list. Would they count as bad if other people did them, or are you only counting them as bad because you are imagining yourself doing them and you have already started to see yourself as a person who does bad things. You might find that you’re holding yourself to a different standard from the one you have for other people, and that is totally unfair to you.

  15. M Dubz said:

    LW, you may feel like you made some mistakes in these first two dating scenarios. Congratulations! Welcome to the club of Every Other Person Who Has Ever Been In A Relationship Of Any Sort. We have membership badges. They have unicorns on them.

    The truth of being human is that occasionally hurting the people that you care about is inevitable. The best that you can do is to act with grace and integrity, and to own the moments that you cause others pain without beating yourself up. It sounds to me like you are acting with integrity and a great deal of caring with both of these guys, so good work! You are doing better than most people!

    As to whether or not to apologize to Guy#1, it is often kinder, I have found, to leave an ex alone if they are still hurting from the relationship and you have ended things, regardless of whether you did anything jerky (and I don’t think you did). Reconnecting has the potential to open old wounds, and your ex may find it more comfortable and easier to get over you the less he has to think about you.

    • Oh!! May I please have a membership badge with a unicorn on it? I totally belong in this club!

      • M Dubz said:

        Yes! Unicorns and glitter for EVERYONE!

  16. LW:
    Let sleeping dogs lie. Leave both exes alone; as was mentioned above, it might just reopen wounds better left to heal in peace.

    The Captain’s advice pretty much covers everything, though I want to add that you appear to have had only a few relationships so far. It’s a lot about learning when you start having relationships. I’ve been in LOTS of relationships (I’m kinda old) and I’m still not all that good at it and I’m still learning, too. It takes practice and self-knowledge and a whole lot of other things and life STILL throws you curves in your relationships.

    You’re doing great. Try to ease up on yourself a little–I liked that the Captain and a few others suggested just being single for a little while. It matters enormously that you can live with yourself and be happy. See, it’s only YOUR job to make you happy; it’s not up to some other hypothetical person to do it for you. If you can be happy alone, chances are, you can learn to be happy in tandem with another, equally happy person.

    It’s okay to explore. I don’t think you’re doomed to only fall for depressed guys. I think it’s probably a fluke which will resolve itself on its own. If not, talk to a therapist. They tend to be good at helping you sort this stuff out.

  17. staranise said:

    LW, there’s this idea running around that it’s bad to ever cause someone else to feel bad, and if someone has a need or wants something from you, the correct and polite thing to do is just let them. Like, this gets parodied at the beginning of The Hobbit because Bilbo is trying to be all genteel and not upset anybody, but all these dwarves are coming into his house like OH GOOD SO COZY, HOW NICE YOU HAVE ALL THIS FOOD FOR US. But most of the time when you prioritize the feelings of the people who are walking all over you, you do not get a magical adventure.

    I think it’s really important to differentiate between “nice” and “kind”. “Nice” means perfectly fitting what is expected of you in a situation. It’s not actually a positive as much as it is a social survival mechanism. What I believe is more important is “kindness”, which is deliberately choosing to act in a way that is loving and gracious. Kindness can mean choosing to prioritize their needs in the moment, though it can also just be curbing the natural impulse to be nasty and cruel. Sometimes being kind means removing somebody’s ability to hurt you any more; it can be when you stop sheltering someone from the consequences of their actions. But to do that requires living with the fact that sometimes the people you are kind to will be pretty hurt or angry with you.

  18. Rowan said:

    Repeat after me: “I am not responsible for anyone else’s mental health.”

    It’s not your fault that your partners have had depression, and nor is it your duty to walk on eggshells around them, trying to make their life easier to the detriment of your own health. While relationships always have their ups and downs, there will be periods where one partner leans on the other, this shouldn’t be a one-way street. Being with another person should, in general, make you happy. If it doesn’t, that is reason enough to end it. Deciding “I am not happy, I want out.” doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you a person who is sensible and self-aware.

    This works from your partners’ points of view too – if they rely on one person (you) to be their sole source of happiness and worth, then that’s not healthy. I suffer badly from depression and have made a decision not to get into a relationship just now for that reason. I got into a dreadful spiral of convincing myself I was ‘worth something’ because X cared about me; then my demons saying “ah, but what if he doesn’t?” and me constantly leaning, pushing, demanding reassurance until my partner couldn’t cope any more; then after the break-up which I often caused (“How can you want someone like me? You can’t. You deserve better.”) I’d feel wretched until a NEW guy came along… lather, rinse, repeat. Crappy as it is being on my own, I know I have to get my own shit together. Then any future partner gets a healthier me and we’ll both be happier for it.

    • Ellex said:

      Your post makes me want to jump up and down, point and scream “This, this, so much of this!” Yes, you are not responsible for anyone else’s mental health…and no one else is responsible for yours. Support is a very different thing than a crutch.

      • Rowan said:

        It’s very easy, with depression, to want to hand it all over to another person. What with the apathy, exhaustion & self-doubt, the fall-back position is “let someone else do it. I’m too tired and I’d only screw it up anyway.” I would absolutely love it if someone else could fix me, but I know they can’t. Relying on a partner to sort my depression is like putting a sticking plaster over a severed limb and pretending that’s it all mended.

    • M Dubz said:

      You are awesome for being so self-aware about what you need. I hope that treatment goes marvelously!

      • Rowan said:

        Thank you. I’ve FINALLY found meds that don’t wipe me out so fingers crossed they’ll hold me up (rather than relying on a person to do that) while I fix my brain.

    • Hazel said:

      A++ cosign every word.

  19. No one goes through life without fucking up and doing some bad things once in a while. That’s just being human. Please don’t hold yourself up to some impossible to reach-standard. Life isn’t about making other people happy.

    You’ve tried to be nice and give people the benefit of the doubt. That is the opposite from doing a bad thing. In fact, I think recognizing what you’re (not) looking for and getting a feel for what that is is something you’ve learned from this and will bring you great results in the future.

  20. Angela said:

    Personally, you need to not put yourself down…that may explain your reasons forgoing out with these guys that need help. Trust you can’t help them and it will not amake you having trying just like it hasn’t so far.

    Forget about these guys and work on you and what you want out if life. Start pleasing and loving you! You don’t have to feel guilty about anything….move on…there are tastier fish in the sea.

  21. Hobbes said:

    Quick story: a couple of years ago a well-meaning (but stupid stupid stupid) girlfriend decided that she was qualified and designed to take responsibility for my brother’s mental health. He has schizophrenia. She convinced him to ditch his anti-psychotic meds because she “could handle it” and medications are “dangerous”. Long story short, he had a psychotic break and he was hospitalized for the better part of a year. Obviously they have since parted ways.

    What she did was a bad thing. What you did was all kinds of right. You don’t just damage your own psyche when you posture yourself as a caregiver of someone else’s brain. I wish more folks were like you, actually, and understood which lines shouldn’t be crossed when you love someone with a mental illness. Best wishes of wellness and happiness to you :)

    • She WHAT? I can’t even. I am so angry at her, and I don’t even know your brother.

      • LMM said:

        But manic pixie dream girls solve *everything*! Didn’t you see “Garden State”?

        • panda flannel said:

          My short story: a very, very dear friend of mine and I once tried to date we were first getting to know each other. One of his actual reasons listed for why he thought this relationship was a good idea was because he was depressed and felt bad about the world and I was always so positive and excited about things and he thought that I would be good for him. I was younger and dumber and back then that didn’t raise any pedestals, er, flags.

          Flash forward to us dating for about three weeks and him realizing that I am actually a positive, hella excited person who also deals with incapacitating depression, and he broke up with me. It was like once I disqualified myself as a true M.P.D.G./therapist of quirk I was no longer fit to be his girlfriend.

          Yeah. Lots of talking until we were friends again.

  22. annejumps said:

    I can’t express how valuable the overarching theme(s) here (and in other columns) has been to me; it’s been just as important to me as the actual therapy I’ve been in for the past year. I shouldn’t feel obligated to go out with someone or force attraction where there is none just because I’m usually ignored by men. It’s okay for me not to be in a relationship, period, rather than try to scrounge something up just to have something going on because I’m a failure otherwise. Etc. Thank you, Captain, and the Army.

    • Josie said:

      Jedi hugs.

      • annejumps said:

        :) I mean, my problems aren’t major, but they’re still things I’d like to solve, you know?

    • Yessssssssss – in my last therapy session, we had a discussion where I brought up many things I had learned from the Captain et al; mostly that I wanted some tools for coping with my depression and keeping it from spilling over onto my relationship, because it is unfair and unhealthy to make my partner responsible for my Sad. And my therapist looked at me and said “that is very self-aware and an excellent starting point, let’s go with that” and I was like, “Yessssssss, thank you Captain.”

      • annejumps said:

        I’ve mentioned CA a number of times to my therapist, she might be getting a bit jealous ;)

        • staranise said:

          Or just wishing she had the URL. I’ve wanted to point a couple clients to this blog… but haven’t because then they might find my Internet persona. Which I feel bad about, because it’s a good resource!

        • JenniferP said:

          I haven’t been to my therapist in a while, but last time I checked in he was a reader, which kind of made me feel like I’d graduated.

        • irks said:

          I sent my therapist a link to this blog after I mentioned one of your posts to her, and I think she said she really enjoys reading it.

    • bluecandles said:

      ” I shouldn’t feel obligated to go out with someone or force attraction where there is none just because I’m usually ignored by men. It’s okay for me not to be in a relationship, period, rather than try to scrounge something up just to have something going on because I’m a failure otherwise. ”

      YES. THIS. Captain Awkward and the Many Awkwardeers have really helped me with this, too. I get such different views from (usually coupled) friends that I should be ‘less picky’ but this site renews faith in trusting my own feelings and instincts about to whom I’m attracted.

      • CoolNewAnonymousNickname said:

        As one who has always been ignored by men, I send many Hugs of the Jedi to you, annejumps. Sometimes I wonder if my attraction switch has just the two settings–‘wallflower’ or ‘creep magnet’? There is a lot of bravery in the act of being deliberately single, though, and I wish it was hailed as the flavor of normal that it is rather than being side-eyed by society in general.

        • annejumps said:

          I actually get suspicious of guys who express interest in me, since I’m usually ignored. Sigh. But yes, fortunately, I’m someone who is comfortable with being alone without feeling lonely, so that helps steer me away from being in a relationship just to be in one, or because it’ll make me look better to third parties.

    • panda flannel said:

      “It’s okay for me not to be in a relationship, period, rather than try to scrounge something up just to have something going on because I’m a failure otherwise.”

      Seriously, thank you for saying this out loud. That needs to be my mantra. I don’t feel insecure about my ability to attract people, but relationships just stress me out and I don’t much like sexy times or making plans with people or whatever and I just DO. NOT. WANT. 99.999999% of the time.

      But I still spend so much energy trying to figure out which person I could possibly see myself dating in order to make myself feel like I’m not failing at something. Especially now that I’m coming up on having my current group of friends for four or five years and feel like their impressions are going from “I’ve never known Panda Flannel to date anyone” to “I’ve never known Panda Flannel to date ANYONE.”

      • annejumps said:

        I haven’t had sex in… years, and I’d like to, but I know that going the route of having sex just to have it is probably not the way for me to go, personally. Kind of sucks, because every now and then I’m conscious of voices telling me I’m getting older and “wasting time,” but hey. I don’t like making plans and I don’t like being around many people for very long; just how I am.

    • redgirl said:

      This blog *is* really therapeutic, I agree. I just wish I had found it about 20 years ago.

  23. LW, I’d like to introduce you to your jerkbrain.

    It’s the part of you where you store the bad feelings about yourself. When someone says something that hurts you, those words go right into your jerkbrain. When you make a mistake, your jerkbrain takes notes.

    Later, when you’re struggling, your jerkbrain starts yelling at you. It says, “You are TERRIBLE and BAD and that you have done AWFUL THINGS and you have to APOLOGIZE for being such a TERRIBLE PERSON and you remember that thing you said to your mother twenty years ago?* And that awful thing some stranger said to you fifteen years ago, REMEMBER? Look at that mistake you made. See how much you fucked up. See how much you suck.”

    LW, your jerkbrain is lying to you. It’s manipulating you. It’s an abusive asshole you carry around in your head, and it just wants you to feel guilt and shame. I don’t know why humans are like this, but you are not alone — everyone here has a jerkbrain.

    One of the things that happens with depressed people is that the jerkbrain can become pretty much the whole brain, and there’s nobody else in there saying “Seriously? That thing I said twenty fucking years ago? Seriously?”

    The part of you that is thinking that anything you’ve done that hurt someone means you are a terrible person, that is the jerkbrain. The part of you that looks only at your mistakes, with no compassion for your suffering, that’s your jerkbrain.

    You don’t have to listen to it. It can be super hard, and we all struggle with it, but you don’t have to. If you struggle a lot, you can go for therapy — cognitive behavioral therapy is pretty much all about How To Handle Your Jerkbrain. I’ve made progress by working with mindfulness techniques that are all about having compassion for myself, which felt completely impossible. Everyone has to work with their own jerkbrain.

    An artist I love calls it brain weasels. You may find other words for the phenomenon, but remember, this thing in your head that is full of negativity? It will tell you it’s the truth, but it’s not. It’s just the grimy unscrubbed birdshat corner of the soaring beautiful tower of you.

    Give yourself some loving, let yourself off the hook here if you can. You’re a perfectly lovely person just as you are; now you’re a bit wounded, and you deserve the time and space to heal.

    —–
    *Seriously, my jerkbrain will not let go of a hurtful thing I cluelessly said to my mother twenty.fucking.years ago.

    • rinna2412 said:

      Thank you–I struggle with depression, especially in the winter, and The Spouse struggles with anxiety and depression. I’m going to send your comment to him, because it’s beautiful.

    • panda flannel said:

      One thing that really helped me with thinking about the jerkbrain was reading Monster Talk.

      I don’t want to tell anyone else how to think about their brain, but for me, I just kind of don’t want to & refuse to believe that there is a part of my brain that is actually my enemy, because it is all ME. It’s not a person who I can cut off or force boundaries with. It is parts of me that I need to work on to mediate and have a healing relationship with even though my jerkbrain has hurt me SO FUCKING BAD.

      • I quite agree. I’ve never found it helpful to think of depression as something that the “real” me has to constantly fight against. For one thing, the idea of a struggle that I can and will never win, for the rest of my life, is just about the most depressing possible thing. I can understand why the metaphor would be useful for other people, but I cope much better when I just assume that this is the way I function, and set about outwitting myself when I get all wonky.

  24. Charsi said:

    Romance is not about charity and one-sided service. It should make both members happy. And even a psychiatrist isn’t obliged to devote his/her emotional life for a patient.

    • Hobbes said:

      I need to get that first sentence printed on business cards and just drop them from rooftops a la Roseanne in She-Devil.

  25. Comrade Wolf said:

    LW, I’ve been in this situation recently, except I was your boyfriend. (Uh, you know. Metaphorically.) I spent years plagued by depression, unpredictable mood swings, and other brain wackiness. For most of that time, I was surrounded by people, including and especially my girlfriend at the time, who were so determined to Stand By Me and Get Me Through This. I was going to be Fixed. They were good people who love me and meant well, and I didn’t mean to take advantage of them, but the end result was that I was a weight around everyone’s necks; between them, they were able to keep me sort of treading water, but wasn’t ANYBODY making progress. Which was not a good thing!

    What eventually happened was that I had a psychotic break, because — surprise! — it turns out my problems are actually the result of bad brain wiring and not insufficient willpower and/or love. And as awful as that was, in a way I’m perversely grateful that it happened, because that was what it took to convince me, and the people around me, that I needed more help than my friends could reasonably be expected to provide. You, luckily, are much smarter than me! You have already figured out that your boyfriends’ Sad is a property of their brains, and not something you can carry or nurse into nonexistence. You KNOW these things, LW; let yourself believe them. I know from depressed people, and we are hard bloody work, even when we are not being jackasses. You are not even a little bit of a bad person for only being almost perfect in your dealings with these dudes. (Because: really? I am having a hard time seeing how you could have handled things much better, myself.)

    Hear ye my warning! I am the Jerkbrain of Boyfriends Past. Nooooo amount of sympathetic listening will fiiiiiiix meeeeee. /rattles chains

  26. Ann said:

    Breaking up with people is what we do when we don’t want to date them anymore. It is not a bad thing. It does not mean you or bad, or the other person is bad. It means you don’t want to date them anymore.

    I had a friend once who felt horrible for splitting with her husband because he was a good guy. As though his being good (which was not entirely the case, but that’s beside the point) meant that he should not experience difficulty, and that by implication she was wrong for being unhappy with him.

    You do not have to be with someone who makes you unhappy. You do not, in fact, have to be with anyone at all.

    • Charsi said:

      That’s even sexist if I think about how men are never accused with cruelty just because of having the temerity to not fall for a girl just because she is nice and loves them. Only girls are obliged to be with a man out of mere courtesy. Once I read a question like ‘ girls, would you break up with your boyfriend if you were in love with someone else?’ And the asker was surprised that the answering girls would be able to break up WITHOUT ANY REASON. What is considered as a reason then?

      • staranise said:

        Like how with Les Miserables, you really feel for Eponine when she’s pining madly; but at the end of the show, most people aren’t like MARIUS YOU BITCH, they’re smiling and crying and clapping.

        • That In A Hat said:

          Except for teenaged girls. Eponine is the patron saint of passionately-stupid unrequited love, and I would be lying if I said teenaged-Hat hadn’t sang “On My Own” while thinking about whatever Certain Someone was being pined over. Also, kinda poster child for Nice Guy (she doesn’t call Marius names, but she does do a lot of whining about how he just “never saw me there” but keeps doing things for him in the hope that eventually he’ll like her. Hell, she gets herself dead and is happy because she finally gets held).

          But just like Phans who hate Raoul and think Christine should’ve gotten with the Phantom, there are a lot of fans who think Eponine “deserved” Marius.

          (For the record, I could never really stand Cosette, and their romance was my least favorite part of the show, but that’s neither here nor there.)

        • Maybe not in the show. In the book, Marius actually is a gigantic toolshed to just about everybody, and I totally hate him.

          (/off-topic)

  27. Vicki said:

    The only closure you might owe someone is letting them know it’s over. Not “I am breaking up with you because REASONS,” let alone “because REASONS that they agree are valid,” just “I am breaking up with you.” LW has definitely done that, in both the relationships she wrote in about.

    I know even that minimum notification isn’t always possible, and sometimes it needs to be on a postcard or in email from a throwaway account (if the ex feels unsafe, or has a history of arguing you into staying), but the point is that this basic statement isn’t the minimum someone is entitled to in a breakup, it’s the maximum. If your about-to-be-ex is reasonable, you may choose to give them more, and even to remain friends, but You Don’t Have To.

  28. maieczka said:

    There’s also quite important lesson here about being able to say “no” in the first place. LW, you started dating Guy #2 because you were “lonely and confused” and believe me when I say I know how it feels. My three first boyfriends were like that. And I dated one of them for three years. It’s not like I didn’t like them, oh no. They were good friends to me. But when they asked me out I was in such a mental state that I would accept anyone as long as they wanted me. And it’s wrong thing to do, it can cause serious harm to both parties. Sure, society does everything it can to teach you how it’s wrong to say “no” (friendzone myth, anyone?)… But it can be unlearned. And you know what? When I actually said “sorry, I like you, but not that way, I’d prefer if we stayed friends” for the first time it felt liberating. I didn’t have to do anything, I didn’t owe him dating for his niceness, I finally felt good enough with being single that I didn’t have to get first person who showed some interest in me. That guy is my friend still and actually helped me get together with my girlfriend.

  29. Beth said:

    LW, don’t feel guilty for breaking up with Guy #1. I have been in his situation (although my partner was actually kind of mean, and you don’t sound like you were at all!), and being dumped was the best thing that could have happened to me. I don’t mean that in a bitter “fine, I don’t want to be with you anyway” sort of way. I mean that it forced me to stop relying on my partner for everything. I learned to stand on my own and was forced to develop a healthier way of dealing with depression and gain a wider support system. If your ex doesn’t do the work of making the end of a dependent relationship into a growing experience, that is his responsibility and not yours.

  30. allreb said:

    Oh, LW, so many Jedi hugs for you. I have so much empathy, because I have been in very similar shoes to yours. They are pointy toed and don’t fit right and hurt like hell to wear.

    One thing you asked that I don’t think people have mentioned very much is the “why do I keep attracting these guys” bit. And obviously I can not tell you anything about your life for sure, but I can tell you a bit about mine. I am an emotional caretaker. It’s just who I am and how I roll, and it means that many of my relationships, with both friends and significant others, have had me-as-caretaker as one of the foundational pieces. I like the feeling when people come to me for help because it’s important to me to be someone helpful — *not* that I want people to need help so I can feel happily heroic, but presenting myself that way means I am presenting myself as a good, reliable friend to people who need a good, reliable friend. So of course that’s part of a lot of my relationships.

    But the thing is, the relationships I was in in high school and college sound exactly like what you’re describing, and those are *not* the relationships or friendships I’m in now. Because I hadn’t learned these things about myself yet, so when High School Dude told me he thought he’d kill himself if I wasn’t there for him, or College Dude said he couldn’t go to the health center with his stuff because he didn’t trust anyone but me ever, I let them lean on me and lean on me and lean on me, because clearly I was the only one who could help them!

    But, uh, I *couldn’t* help them. Not only was I not qualified for giving that kind of help, but I was also super young and inexperienced in general — and even if I *had* been qualified and *had* been more experienced, I was still their girlfriend and not their doctor. But I didn’t get that yet and took all of their issues on to me, and let them make me miserable and depressed and totally unhappy and unable to cope with my own life, because I thought that was just what I had to do to be a good person. It really, really isn’t.

    It isn’t okay for a bunch of reasons, but the big two I’m thinking of are: 1) you are not obligated to take someone’s mental health issues into your own head; and 2) you can not take care of someone when you yourself are feeling that ground down and worn out by their issues. But you will resent the hell out of them for making you feel like that, and that will also poison your relationship. (You might not feel this now, since it sounds like you’re still in a place where you blame yourself for other people feeling upset, but down the line, I give it a 90% chance you will. One day you will sit up and go WHOA, HE HAD NO BUSINESS ASKING ME TO BE HIS SOLE SUPPORT, WTF, WHAT A JERK. Because even if he was not being a jerk on purpose, it was still a jerk thing to do to you.)

    Anyway, the happy ending for me has been: I don’t do that kind of relationship any more. Even though I am still a caretaker who is friends with people who sometimes need someone to lean on. Because now I take care of myself first, by having boundaries and a better understanding that while I can listen and empathize and try to help, I can not magically fix everyone’s problems, and it’s not fair to myself or healthy at all to take those emotions and turn them inward. And further, the people I’m friends with now? They don’t test or push or overstep my boundaries. I tried, with College Dude, to draw a line that he couldn’t cross because I knew I needed it…and he danced right over it and I had no idea how to stop him. Not only do I stop things like that now, I am friends with awesome people who respect me and my needs, and if I said, “I can’t do this for you,” they’d say, “Okay, thanks for listening.”

    And oh yeah, because of that, instead of resenting them, I trust them. Which means when I need it, they are people who take care of *me*. I never, ever had that in those dud relationships, because I was so resentful, and so worried that if I gave them one more tiny thing to think about, they would … I don’t know, explode or something. I was afraid to share my own issues then; I’m not now. Which means my relationships now are much, much healthier.

    So… that all got super long (sorry! I just have a lot of feelings) but to sum up: you really didn’t do anything wrong in these relationships, but as you meet new people who need whatever kind of help that you want to provide, it’s okay to do so – but it’s not just okay, it’s actually probably necessary, to also have boundaries that protect yourself.

  31. dancerdc said:

    I read this post with a bit more concern for the pattern that LW finds herself in. When she says she “did bad things”, I don’t think she means “I hurt people and I’m morally repugnant” (though she might). I think she means “I’m failing to understand how to be in a relationship but take care of my own needs.” It’s not unusual, esp as a woman and a teenager to have a paradigm of “love as a form of endless sacrifice”, but it is “bad” in the sense of “not a useful long-term relationship strategy”.

    I sense some yellow flags in Guy#2, mainly that he pushed heavy and hard early on, and that LW let him. Healthy relationship develop more mutually, with both partners slowly revealing themselves, slowly investing themselves. It sounds like the relationship with Guy#2 was all him, from the get-go. He tried winning LW with gifts and acts, then with threats and guilt-trips and sketchy texts. It’s not as if the threats are bad but the gifts and acts are good. They’re different kinds of manipulation, but both seem to skip the getting to know you, seeing if we’re a good fit stage.

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