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#486: Feeling lonely in a relationship and worried about self-sabotage

It's not you, it's me realizing you're terrible for me. Reader Alex T. sent me this excerpt from a post at www.verysmartbrothas.com about breakups. I like it.

All of the blogs, books, podcasts, Nightline specials, panels, interviews, features, shows, oral histories, news stories, and web series devoted to this topic have the same underlying theme: Helping people get into and stay in relationships. 

This is understandable. Being in a healthy and happy romantic relationship is something desired by most people—mankind’s existence is somewhat dependent on it and shit—so it makes sense that we’d devote a ton of resources to help make that happen.

But, maybe we’re going at it backwards. Maybe all this talk about relationships has helped to cultivate a condition where people eschew all common sense to achieve this elusive goal. Maybe instead of putting the focus on getting people into relationships, we should be more concerned with getting people out of them. Maybe instead of thinking of a break up as the worst thing that can happen to a person, we should start to recognize the beauty in them.

Yes, the beauty. The beauty in recognizing that certain fundamental incompatibilities are never going to change. The beauty in being willing to free yourself from some contrived commitment to get a return on an investment that you know will never be recovered. The beauty in not having to make excuses to yourself and everyone else when asked why you stay if you’re so unhappy. The beauty in enjoying singledom and not allowing external factors to pressure you into doing something you’re just not ready to do yet. The beauty in the hundreds of thousands of people back on the open market after freeing themselves from non-starter relationships; people who may actually be perfectly compatible with someone who’s currently single, but will never know as long as they stay in shitty situations. The beauty of taking time “off” to legitimately work on yourself. The beauty in saying “No” and continuing to say “No” until you’re completely ready to say “Yes.” The beauty in shifting our focus from getting people into relationships to convincing them to leave and stay out of shitty ones. – Damon Young, aka, The Champ.

Breaking up is hard to do, and can be really fraught and sad when you’re in the middle of one. But not even close to all relationships should last “until death do us part” (even if you once wore your fanciest clothes and promised that very hard in front of everyone you know). In this spirit, here is today’s question.

Dear Captain Awkward:

I have a question about relationships, specifically how you should decide when to call it quits when you don’t trust your own judgment.

A bit of background, I’ve suffered on and off with depression and anxiety for the last few years. This was undoubtedly aggravated by my relationship with my ex (a Darth Vader boyfriend if ever there was one). Thanks in part to reading this site and partly to my recently-improved mental state I ended that relationship at the start of this year. I don’t regret it, but with distance comes increased awareness of how messed up the whole thing was and that brings to me to my current problem.

About a month after I became single I started seeing a new guy. He asked me out, we went on a few dates, fun was had and after a while we started referring to each other as “boyfriend and girlfriend”. On the surface everything looks fine but I’m not happy. I’m very insecure and I really cannot read him at all. The whole relationship has been marred by my paranoia that he is losing interest. I am pretty sure this is not actually the case (he initiates dates etc) but I also think his idea of a relationship and mine don’t really match up. We see each other a few times a week and have sex maybe once a week. I really like him and want to spend time with him whenever I can but if I suggest spending more time together he is often busy and I feel disproportionally rejected. It doesn’t help that my depression is acting up and I often feel very sad and lonely. Initially I thought I would feel more secure with time and that I should just relax and let things take their own course but this isn’t working.

I know the person I should be talking too about all this is him, but I am pretty much convinced that that conversation can only end in break-up. I suspect if he wanted to see more of me he would and feeling like being clingy or demanding will only make me more paranoid. Thus I have reached the stage where simply breaking up with him feels less scary than trying to fix things. My jerkbrain however, sees losing this lovely guy as my punishment for being so messed up. I am worried my fear of getting hurt is making me create this whole situation. How do you know when you’re self-sabotaging and, more importantly, how do you stop?

Sincerely,
Tired of feeling sad

Ragecomic: Brain y u no work rightDear Tired:

There is a lot to unpick here.

Here is:

A Giant List of Thoughts & Questions I Had About Your Question That May Or May Not Contain Actual Advice

1) Are you treating your depression/anxiety stuff? Do you have a good support system in place for dealing with that? If you have a counselor, that person can be a good sounding board for your relationship anxieties and help give you perspective when it’s not sure if it’s you or the jerkbrain talking. If you are having a resurgence of bad brain times, my first recommendation is that you reach out and put mental health support in place for yourself.

2) You say that when your boyfriend does stuff without you, you feel extremely lonely and rejected. This is a pretty big “eeek!” thing, so I am glad you recognize it as disproportionate. Sometimes when I don’t trust my own perceptions can’t tell if I’m reacting or overreacting, I imagine the roles reversed. Would I expect the other person to be upset if I did the same thing to them?

For example:

Your boyfriend: “Can you come over tonight after work?”

You: Aw man, I’d love to, but my friends are getting together for dinner. I’ll still see you Saturday, though!”

Your boyfriend: TEN THOUSAND SADS! I AM REJECTED!

You: ????

Your sad lonely feelings? Totally real and legit, and it’s pretty pointless to argue with them. However, you are correct that framing of this as Couple Time = GOOD and Boyfriend Doing Other Stuff = REJECTION! is problematic and will not go over well.

3) So, when your boyfriend goes off to do other stuff, how do you pass that time?

If that feels like a really unfortunate and mean question, because you are lonely and depressed and don’t really have the energy to do stuff and aren’t I picking on you by asking, I think we’ve identified a significant part of the problem. More importantly, we’ve identified a place where effort spent will do some lasting good. You can’t really sad someone into hanging out with you more. If you don’t feel like “enough”, me writing you the perfect script that convinces him to be around you 24/7/365 won’t ever be enough. If you’ve got stuff going on, my suggestion is: Awesome. Do that stuff.  If you don’t, and that disconnection and feeling of too much time on your hands is contributing to your loneliness, then I suggest that you make a list of stuff you can do when you have the night to yourself. Such as:

  1. Call or Skype an old friend and catch up.
  2. Go to the movies.
  3. Go to the library.
  4. Sew all stray buttons onto shirts & coats what lost them.
  5. Find a meetup, social or cultural event and go to it. Theater season subscription? Free night at the museum? Board games night at the pub?
  6. Does Boyfriend have a standing commitment on a certain night of the week? Sounds like a really good night for you to find a volunteer gig or take  a class.

Whenever you feel yourself start to get in a bad headspace about him being gone, add something to the list, or better yet, do something from the list. In the beginning it might feel silly, but over time it will take on its own momentum and be a reminder that you have lots of options about how you spend your time. You are enough.

4) Does your boyfriend know about your depression and anxiety?

Because, ok. It sounds like you got together during an upswing, and that you didn’t necessarily dig too far into deeper topics before you decided to be boyfriend/girlfriend, and there is this feeling I get from your letter that you feel like have to hide this part of yourself from him or risk appearing “clingy.” This is a trap, which means that your relationship can only exist if you pretend that you are okay when you aren’t okay. So of course you can’t feel secure. And you’re spending a lot of energy being okay when he’s around, and then collapsing when he’s gone. So of course you feel emotionally exhausted. Performing is hard.

Cat on head.

My actual cat sleeping on my actual head.

And there’s a paradox here, because yeah, I just got done saying that you can’t sad your way into someone’s heart. And you can’t. And you shouldn’t try. “When you are here, I am okay, and when you are not here, I am not okay” is not actually a romantic sentiment and is too much for one person to carry. That’s pretty much how my cat feels about me, to the point where if I go to the bathroom and shut the door, the entire time I see tiny paws come under the door. JENNYFUR? ATTENSHUN? FOODZ? WARMS? It sounds cute, but I think she thinks her name is “Catgetoff” or “Catnotnow” or “Catgoaway”, as we have vastly different attachment styles.

I also feel like you guys got together without having talks about how you wanted the relationship to work. You’re both playing what you see as Good Boyfriend and Good Girlfriend roles, with a side of Is This Normal? Seems Like It Is! and as long as everyone’s having fun it works because you are both kind and lovely people and you both know the script. But when it doesn’t work (and if it’s not working because you are sad and anxious all the time, it’s not working) you don’t have that knowledge of each other, intimacy, and trust to fall back on to figure out another way.You didn’t break those words “girlfriend” and “boyfriend” down and figure out what they really mean. The good news is even if you kind of accidented into a way of being together, you get to renegotiate how things go. You get to make it up, to change your mind, to decide what you want and ask your partner for it. That doesn’t mean you are ruining everything.

A brief paradox review:

a) You have a ton of your own shit to work on right now, I think. And if being in a relationship is adding more unhappiness and anxiety to your life, breaking up might give you some clarity and redirect your energy in some positive ways.

b) However, you don’t have to perfect yourself – to magically become un-depressed, non-anxious, and  manufacture a life where you feel totally and 100% secure at all times –  before you deserve love.

c) Your jerkbrain could be totally over-exaggerating your emotional responses to innocuous stuff and making you paranoid.

d) Controlling for the jerkbrain, you may be correct that the two of you have separate and incompatible relationship styles and this thing is not viable over the long term. Your brain is actually being really smart and protecting you from making yourself vulnerable to someone who isn’t worth it.

e) It’s possible that you will tell him what’s really up with you and he will decide that it’s too much for him to handle. That would be very hurtful and sad. But that is his right to decide, and it is important information about whether he would be a good person to have on your side when you try to deal with hard things.

f) It’s possible that you will tell him what’s really up with you and he will decide, “Ok. I love you, so let’s deal with it.”

Only you can navigate this list and decide or find out what is true and right for you.

In your letter there is a lot of guilt  there is this overwhelming sense that this nice boyfriend (in contrast to your last partner) is something you can deserve or stop deserving. You say that losing him would be a “punishment for being so messed up.” This is your jerkbrain talking, the one that sees “Boyfriend went to play tennis today instead of brunch with me” as “He will probably leave me.”

Being single isn’t a punishment for not being a good or together enough person. I know entire industries are devoted to convincing all of us that this is true so that we’ll buy stuff, but it’s just not true.

And love is something you can try to be worthy of, but it’s not something that you can achieve or truly deserve. It’s given freely or not at all.

It seems like there are some conversations to be had with your boyfriend.

The easier conversation is one about the day-to-day mechanics of your relationship. It starts like this:

Hey, I really like you and how this is going. Do you think we could find a way to spend one more night/week together? That would really make me happy.”

(Listen)

Since we’re talking, is there anything we could do that would make things work better for you? Sometimes when things are really good it’s tempting not to mess with them too much, but I’d like us to be able to check in from time to time and not just assume.

There’s always the strategy of asking for the best-case scenario. “How are things working? Good? Cool. In a perfect world where everything is going the way you want it, how would this work?

The more vulnerable but really important conversation is “Hey, not sure if you knew this, but I have some issues with anxiety and depression that are flaring up right now. This is what it looks and feels like. This is what you can do to help. This is what I am going to do about it for myself.

Ghostbusters almost crossing streams.

Don’t cross the streams.

The best advice I can give you is to separate these into two distinct conversations. Conversation #1 is about how your relationship should work and what you want and need. You would need to have it if you were 100% mentally ok and not having any of the paranoid or anxious feelings you are having right now. “How much time should we spend together and how should that work so everyone is happy” is a thing that every couple has to negotiate and you are not messed up or weird for wanting to have it. Keep your expectations and what you ask for reasonable. If you’re seeing each other a couple of times every week, one more day or night probably isn’t unreasonable. “When you make other plans I feel sad and lonely, so, you need to be around more” risks being extremely unreasonable. Not because your feelings aren’t real, but because if he gave into them it would have the effect of isolating him socially and cutting him off from parts of his life he enjoys. He would feel resentful and manipulated, and your overall sadness would not be fixed because it’s not his TO fix.

Conversation #2 is about trusting him and letting him into who you are. It’s possible to have mental health issues and still be in a good, healthy, solid relationship. I have depression. My boyfriend is bipolar. We have the usual collection of Late Capitalism stressors and “oh shit we’re about to turn 40 and haven’t fully figured out money/artistic expression/whether to make small people” existential crises. Being in a good relationship doesn’t magically solve the rest of everything, but I know it’s a good relationship partly because when I’m struggling or feeling sad I can say so and I don’t get ridiculed or abandoned. The way we found out that we had that kind of relationship was to share some vulnerable stuff about our histories and see how the other person reacted. We both reacted in a non-scary, non-dismissive way and worked hard to make the other person feel safe and like they could be honest. Which made us safe to share a little more, and a little more, until we really got to know each other. To quote an old “How do I feelings?” post:

By saying it out loud*, you do take a risk. You risk that people will laugh at you, or not be on board. You risk that this person right in front of you will not be on Team You while you go after the things you want. You risk pain and disappointment.

By NOT saying it loud, you also risk never, ever getting what you want. Not because some evil nemesis put their evil boot down on your neck and stood in your way, but because you stayed silent, the people around you never knew what you wanted, and you never gave them a chance to actually be on your side or walk away from your side. And then time happened. Your silence + time + fear came in and stole your dreams from you, and then it was too late.

Every good thing that ever happens to us because someone said “Yes, let’s try it.” There is no love without courage, so be of good courage. Take your faults and walk into Camazotz. Take your passion and make it happen. Say “I really care about you and want you to stay in my life” to your boyfriend, and see what happens.

If this guy is lovely and you think you can trust him, be brave. Put it out there. If you don’t think you can, and you think it just isn’t right, it’s okay to break up. Regrets, schmegrets. There’s no law that you have to drill down and try everything to save your relationship – I’m not in this for some idea of The Relationship, I’m in this for YOU. And I can tell you that breaking up is not the worst thing in the world, not by a long shot. You ended your last relationship. You coped, and ultimately you were better off. If this thing has to end, the same good qualities that drew this lovely person to your orbit would still be in you. It’s not a failure. It’s not a punishment. It’s not a statement of your destiny. It’s not a manifestation of who you are. It’s flawed, wonderful You and flawed, wonderful Someone Else not quite matching up and one or both of you deciding to take your chances elsewhere. When I see my friends who are deeply and happily in love with their partners, I’m glad that they didn’t stay with 2-partners-ago. I’m really glad I didn’t stay with 2-partners-ago. I’m glad my happily single friends didn’t stay with last partner, or 2-partners-ago. Some people find True Amazing Love the first time around, and I’m glad for them! But as the song goes:

No, this is how it works
You peer inside yourself
You take the things you like
And try to love the things you took
And then you take that love you made
And stick it into some
Someone else’s heart
Pumping someone else’s blood
And walking arm in arm
You hope it don’t get harmed
But even if it does
You’ll just do it all again

In the comments, everyone is welcome, but I’d particularly like to hear from:

1. People in mostly happy relationships where at least one partner has anxiety. How do you guys deal with the ups and downs? How do you guys sort out whether a relationship issue is the anxiety talking?

2. People who ended relationships with perfectly good people for reasons of “Meh, it just wasn’t working out.”  This isn’t the thread for stories of abuse, assault, gross behavior & extreme incompatibility. We have many of those threads! We rock those threads! What I am looking for is “Nobody mistreated anyone, but this is how I knew that it was not what I wanted.”

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About JenniferP

Chicago filmmaker, teacher, and blogger.

205 comments on “#486: Feeling lonely in a relationship and worried about self-sabotage

  1. This:

    “When you are here, I am okay, and when you are not here, I am not okay” is not actually a romantic sentiment and is too much for one person to carry.

    …made me jump up and down and go YES YES YES. I was on the other side of this, and the idea that I was the only one who could make the guy feel better!!!! was romantic and thrilling… for about three days. And then it was a crushing weight of obligation and guilt, because I was The Only One Who Could Make Things Okay, and therefore whenever things were not Okay it was my fault. And that’s too much for any one human being to shoulder.

    (Perhaps unsurprisingly, after we broke up, the guy in question actually went to a therapist and got help–and I am really glad that he did. Because I am not a therapist, and my desperate untrained attempts to make things Okay for him were not a feasible solution.)

    • Agreed to the 100th power. My first partner was like this, I was the only one who understood him, who cared, who could make him not have breakdowns. His family loved him deeply and I always felt this statement wasn’t true. Even if it was, being the sole determinator of his happiness was a huge burden. How could I go out with friends if he was sitting in his house crying? My choice made him sad. It was awful, conflicting and built a lot of resentment. It got to the point where he point blank told me that if I left he would kill himself. I was in high school. I stayed, thinking I had to save him. I ended up kissing another boy, because I felt so unhappy and trapped. Everyone found out and I became the shunned slut. I still feel twinges of shame and guilt whenever I think about it. Toxic relationships don’t make one person any better, they can bring out the worst in all involved.

      It turns out that if you are the only thing in the world that makes them ok, then they are NOT ok and need more help then you are going to be able to give.

      I hope this didn’t veer into mistreated ex territory, because once he got the help he needed my first partner became a very kind and lovely person. It’s just that staying with him when I was inexperienced and he was in an unhealthy negative place only made things worse in the long run.

      • I agree. I was with someone in a similar head space, down to him threatening to commit suicide if it didn’t do X/show up at X time. That was just too much for me to handle and really not about love at all IMO. So I called his family and they helped him get help. And I stayed away. We have mutual friends and I hear he’s doing great now with therapy and medicine.

    • Yes that part really spoke to me as well. I often feel that way with several people in my life including my boyfriend. I have started talking to my mom about changing her thinking and she has made an effort to rely on me less, though she still has a long way to go. Bf, however, just thinks that getting married will solve all problems… Um, no! Needless to say I am taking a step back from the relationship and trying to really see the big picture now. It is not fun because I do love him tons, but that doesn’t mean I have to stay with him. http://twitterpatedss7.wordpress.com/2013/06/11/yes-i-love-you-no-i-dont-have-to-stay/

  2. Thank you so much! This question came at the perfect time. I recently ended my first real relationship a few weeks ago because we weren’t communicating that much and I felt really sad most of the time. I’m not really upset at him: I asked him if he wanted to work things out and he didn’t and that was a decision that was okay.

    Part of that was also because I was feeling very depressed and stressed out about family issues and I was in one of those situations where breaking up with him felt like The Worst Thing In The World. Turns out it isn’t. He texts me sometimes and I talk to him sometimes. We’re on good terms with each other and I’ve learned to forgive him because both of us are new to this and still learning and I realize that even if I may feel sad about the relationship ending sometimes, I’m okay. I can heal.

    I have depression and anxiety as well so I think that taking the advice in this post might really help me when I date someone new.
    It’s okay to risk it. It’s scary and you may not always get what you want, but it’s exciting.

    • Sometimes it’s this simple: In my last relationship, when I inventoried the things that were stressing me out, the whole question of my ex-boyfriend (Hey Intern Paul) – should we stay together? Was it working? Was I happy? – was part of the stressors that were weighing on me. I worried about it constantly and it was a drag.

      Now, when things get stressful, my current boyfriend is nowhere near the list of worry things. It’s like, “Oh, you, awesome, you make this better. Now let me go clean up that messy area of my life.”

      Glad you guys found a way to handle it like adults.

      • “Was it working? Was I happy?” is exactly the inventory I took when I broke up with my exboyfriend of three years when we were living together.

        We were one of those excellent in the moment/short term future couples – but our long term visions of our lives really clashed. Even just the notion of if we should/shouldn’t talk about long term goals/views. With the basic standoff that we never talked about those issues, I became more and more fixated on them and unhappy about feeling like as a couple we would only work in a Groundhog Day type scenario. No one was horrible, no one did anything wrong – we just hit that Woody Allen comparison to relationships where like a shark if you’re not constantly moving forward, you die. Not that I think all relationships necessarily need to follow that maxim but in that case it was just a perfect storm of one person ready to move forward at one pace and the other needing more time to stand still.

        I will also add that while the discussion may be “no one did anything wrong, this just isn’t working” – it was very very painful and difficult.

        • I am in this uncomfortable space now. We just started dating! But already I am adding up all the ways our long-term goals are incompatible. I have this whole sock-puppet conversation that looks a little something like this:

          Self 1: Whoa whoa whoa, hold up. You are putting way too much pressure on this relationship that is just in its beginning stages. Who knows what will happen between now and long-term?

          Self 2: Yeah, but are YOU putting too much pressure on it to make it work? Are you trying to make it work because you want a magical partner, and you’re a little (a lot) worried that if it doesn’t work with this guy, you’ll never find anyone ever again to trick into loving you?

          Self 1: Dammit. It’s possible. But maybe you are looking for excuses to break up because you don’t want to get too invested and then lose it all?

          Self 2: WWCAD? Captain Awkward has said that you don’t have to have a concrete reason to break up, just the mere feeling of wanting to break up is okay.

          Self 1: Yeah, but I actually have a really great time with this guy when I am not all up in my head trying to overanalyze everything.

          Both selves, Trek-style: JERKBRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIN!

          It’s a constant struggle between the two sides, and then there’s a third self that is above it all, asking if it’s really worth it to constantly worry about this. Especially since I ended my last relationship, with the help of CA, because it wasn’t right…not that we were horrible to each other or anything. We genuinely loved each other, but I wasn’t getting what I wanted from the relationship. And it felt like a huge relief to be done worrying about trying to make it work! So the third self objectively brings this up as a point, that maybe ending this relationship may bring some relief. And then one of the other selves accuses me of taking the easy way out, that all relationships take work.

          I dunno. I’m trying to live in the moment, not worry so much about the future, but as Bwmn said, it’s like saying “Don’t think about pink elephants dancing in polka-dotted tutus”…despite your best efforts you picture those merry pink elephants.

          Any advice from the readership?

          • What activities help you get out of your head when you’re worrying about other things? I’d apply the same thing here. I know, ‘stop worrying’ isn’t exactly useful advice, but if you can get yourself out of the jerkbrain-worry cycle you’ll have a much better chance of coming to useful conclusions. “Is this relationship working?” is a pretty complex question, and I for one deal best with complex questions by letting it simmer while I go about my life. Given more information and more time for my not-so-conscious self to chew on it, the answer will eventually float to the surface. I know I’m making progress when I start framing the problem in different ways. Sometimes it takes a couple of days, sometimes several months before the answer becomes clear. Often the situation changes enough in that time that the original worry is no longer relevant.

            To me this is a distinctly different feeling than knowing the answer damn well and not wanting to admit it. When that’s the case, I usually flinch away from the topic with feelings of shame and anger, rather than being stuck in an endless worry loop.

            So that’s what my process looks like. Hope it gives you some ideas!

          • @Revolver: I think the thing that’s worth working out here is whether you’re at a stage of life where you’re actively looking for someone to settle down with, or at a stage of life where it’s more like “Meh, that’s on my list of life goals but as long as it happens at some point I’m fine with it being X years from now where X is any randomly largish number”. (Actually, I shouldn’t assume that those are the only two options – you might not be bothered at all either way whether you eventually do anything along the lines of staying with someone till-death-do-you-part, or you might actively not want that until later, or… whatever. I guess what I mean is that you need to decide whether you’re in the ‘actively want to be settled down’ category right now or not, regardless of what the ‘not’ consists of.)

            Anyway, my point is that if you’re currently not bothered about wanting to settle down imminently, you can afford to let this particular decision go, because all you need from the relationship now is current satisfaction/enjoyment and as long as you have that (which you do) it’s fine to take each day as it comes and let the future take care of the future. So, if that is the case, tell Self 2 to take a hike. You’re with this guy because you want to spend time being with this guy, which is an incredibly good reason for being in a relationship and does not need to be analysed to look for more nefarious reasons lurking beneath. If you do not currently have any burning need to analyse the long-term viability of the relationship, don’t do it. Just get on with enjoying it now. And rest assured that it will still have long-term benefits whether or not those benefits, at the end of the day, include a permanent relationship with him; just learning more about what sort of things are fun in a relationship and what sort of things don’t work for you is great information to have.

            If, on the other hand, you do want to be actively working towards settling down with someone – either because you’re at that life stage or because you want to give birth at some point and your age is such as to put some time limits on things – then you do need to think about the future. This doesn’t mean you have to (or should) analyse everything in terms of how it will work long term, but it does mean you should be thinking about what you want long term and what things are dealbreakers for you, and be ready to cut your losses on this one if a dealbreaker comes up, even if it means short-term pain. On that subject, there’s a useful book by Barbara di Angelo about how to figure out whether someone is a potential long-term partner for you if that’s what you’re looking for – I’ll go look up the title for you in a minute.

            Jeez, sorry about the long rambling novel. I totally ought to get some sleep. Hope some of that was helpful.

          • Typically of a CA comment, I recommend words. :)

            In this case, “words” is having casual conversations about those long-term goals with the person. You like them, yes? Interested in what makes them go, yes? Like hearing about their hopes and dreams and stuff, yes?

            Find out if they’re really set on those goals or just some of them or something else. Maybe what you’re hearing so far is about possible implementations, and the actual goals driving them are more in line with what you want. Maybe they have some goals that are just “would be nice” but they’re flexible about them.

            Talk about your goals, too. See if they’re supportive.

            Sometimes, it doesn’t work out. Sometimes it does. In the meantime, you’d get some good conversation and hanging out.

  3. This may be completely unhelpful and irrelevant, but maybe it would be useful for the LW to think of the time she and her boyfriend are spending together in terms not of how many hours, but of how great a percentage of their free time they’re spending with each other.

    An illustration: for a while, I was dating my boyfriend during the last year of his PhD. I was doing a course that had 6 lecture hours a week and the additional workload was another 30 hours a week, tops. Meanwhile my lovely boyfriend was working 12+ hour days. There were a lot of times when I wanted to see more of him and couldn’t, because he was so busy. It felt like I had a lot more time for our relationship than he did.

    BUT I had more leisure time than I can be bothered to calculate. He had maybe 12 hours a week when he didn’t have to work, and he was spending well over half of those exclusively with me.

    I’m wondering if maybe the LW’s boyfriend is in a similar situation, and perhaps the LW would find it comforting to look at it from this perspective.

    Having said that, I stuck with the lovely boyfriend through him being so ridiculously busy because a) his PhD was eventually going to be over and b) I could deal with seeing him so little. It can also be the case that someone is be entirely wonderful and it can still be reasonable to break up with them because you’d rather date someone who has more time to spend with you.

    • Yeah, the temporary vs. permanent thing is a huge part of it. If someone temporarily can’t spend as much time with you as you want/need to be happy, then it might be worth waiting out the stress period. If the level of availability is constant (whether because they’re busy or just because they need a lot of alone time), then it makes more sense to ask yourself, can I live with this level of involvement forever? And it’s okay if the answer is “no.”

      (I say that as someone who has always been the “needs a lot of alone time” partner. Crazy introvert here! But it’s totally legitimate for people to decide that a relationship with me won’t work for them because of my availability level.)

      • If someone temporarily can’t spend as much time with you as you want/need to be happy, then it might be worth waiting out the stress period. If the level of availability is constant (whether because they’re busy or just because they need a lot of alone time), then it makes more sense to ask yourself, can I live with this level of involvement forever? And it’s okay if the answer is “no.”

        This really hit home for me in a friendship sense. One of my oldest and closest friends (the person I would call my best friend, is pressed)… I’ve begun to feel like we aren’t really friends at all. We go long stretches of time without seeing each other; when we do spend time together, it is usually a catch-up cup of coffee or dinner or sitting on the couch that lasts approximately 3 hours. We don’t talk on the phone. We communicate sporadically through text. She withholds when she is feeling down and withdraws from interaction even further. When isn’t feeling down she is chronically busy. The last time we spoke she told me that she is busy pretty much every weekend this summer. She knows this and summer hasn’t even officially begun yet.

        It’s been hurting me and I’m struggling with what to say about it, if anything. Because this situation is not temporary. It has been going on for years. And when we have talked about it in the past she reassures me that she doesn’t think of me as a second-class friend (indeed she is thrilled to be able to squeeze hanging out with 3 different people, running errands, going to the gym, and doing a work project into one day!), and that she does the best she can time-wise. To her, it is acceptable to have a friendship that is mostly composed of hanging out from 8:00pm-11:00pm on my couch.

        Because she means well, I have tried to make it acceptable to me. But it isn’t acceptable to me. I cannot live with this level of involvement forever.

        Obviously this isn’t a romantic relationship so we don’t really have to “break up,” but I do maybe need to deinvest myself from this situation. To stop thinking things will change or get better. To take a break from seeing her until I am okay with seeing her only sporadically.

        It’s a hard place to be in, made difficult (in my opinion) that change can be really hard. Even in a new relationship, you start adapting to having that person in your life, and thinking about them not being there… it means an adjustment and that adjustment can be scary. You know what your life looks like with this person in it. And even if it is “meh” sometimes or doesn’t make you happy, you know what you’re dealing with. I know if I was in the LW’s shoes I would be worried about ending the relationship and having the “meh” go from moments to a permanent state of being.

        But what I’m finding as I get older is that if you are having moments of unhappiness that are following a pattern, or are tied to you trying to make a situation work for you when it doesn’t, that state of being is already on its way.

        • Gosh, what you describe sounds like my level of interaction with my very best friends, whom I need and appreciate very much (with me being the one who withholds when life is too much). It makes me wonder whether my friends are sad about it, or have similar styles. It does sound like your friend may not be intending to reject you, and in fact values you greatly. But no, you shouldn’t keep putting yourself through a painful situation if it’s not going to change. One can come back to friendships sometimes after a quiet break, though?

      • Very true! I really wish I had known about this website during previous relationships. I basically dated someone that worked 80 hours a week (same industry as me but different area) and it was very hard for me to deal with only seeing him on weekends, plans cancelled last minute, etc.

        I could deal with his schedule ok until I got into a situation where I had to move out of my house because I felt unsafe (matters unrelated to boyfriend) and my expectations of the relationship basically went from “this is fun! dates! sex! conversations!” to “I really need someone who can be there for me to help me with the anxieties/uncertainties of being homeless for a few weeks, having to go back and get my stuff while being physically afraid of my roommate and finding a new apartment.” As I needed him more, he started being there for me less and less. This tore me up inside. I held onto the relationship for months after there was barely any relationship left because 1) I had this idea that because relationships inevitably involve challenges, I was going to keep fighting even if I was the only one in the relationship trying to overcome the challenges and 2) I wasn’t going to let my crappy home situation ruin yet another part of my life. And I was afraid of speaking up about my anxieties about him not being around because I didn’t want to seem too clingy.

        My current boyfriend works 80 hours a week as well, and he spends almost every night with me (mind you, we’ve been together for 2 years, but I never really had a problem with not seeing him enough). I am an anxious person, so even if I only see him for 30 minutes before he passes out, we have a nice rhythm going on and it shows that he cares about me. Maybe my ex needed more alone time and he wasn’t being busy AT me (or maybe he was? who cares?), but it didn’t work and I wasn’t happy, and we hadn’t been along together long enough to have the kind of trust and love to get through that challenge.

        Things I learned from losing my ex and landing an awesome guy who is much more right for me:

        1) If someone wants to spend more time with you, they will (though I’ll go with the Captain here – ask for one more night a week – be reasonable). I also second the Captain on needing to speak up, since it’s not like he can read your mind.

        2) It’s okay to break up with someone because their need for space worsens your anxiety/depression/desire for companionship/etc. That’s just one of many ways two people can be incompatible. Your boyfriend should make you feel like a better person at the end of the day, not like someone who is sad and messed up.

        3) You don’t have to logic yourself into being happy with a relationship that doesn’t make you happy. It’s not your “punishment for being messed up” to think about leaving a relationship where you feel sad and lonely.

        4) My boyfriend loves me despite my anxieties. Even if they’re annoying sometimes. He loves me, and my insecurities aren’t a dealbreaker for him. After all, everyone has insecurities, including him. I’m sure, Letter Writer, that your boyfriend has insecurities, too.

        I’m not saying you need to rush into breaking up. As the Captain said, you should seek counseling for your depression, and you should definitely also talk to this guy and try and figure out how he sees it and if he’d be open to spending more time with you. If he wants to take things slowly, can you gauge where he sees this relationship going in the future? Maybe he likes you but doesn’t want to give up all the other awesome things he’s doing with his life. Maybe he’s been hurt before by being the clingy one. Maybe you can find a good middle ground where if you get lonely, he can give you some attention and calm you down without physically being there. You’ll never know until you ask.

        But if you find out that you’re looking for something more serious than he wants to give you, or if your ideas of a relationship are incompatible, or if you figure out he’s using being busy as a way of distancing himself from you, or if your conversation does lead to him breaking up with you as you fear, know you can find someone more right for you.

  4. I am in group #2. I dated this man a few years ago; he was sweet and funny and we had some common interests and so we had some good times when we got together on the weekends (we lived too far apart to see each other more often). But after a while, I just dreaded seeing him. I wasn’t happy and didn’t enjoy spending time with him like I had at first. It took me two months to get from “starting to feel uncomfortable” to “time to break up now”, and while I wish I could have known it sooner, I don’t regret taking the time I needed to be sure.

    He wasn’t a bad person or anything. There were a lot of little things that sound kind of silly if I put them into words, but in aggregate added up to “this isn’t working for me”. He was a good guy, but we weren’t a good fit.

  5. I am a dater with anxiety, dating a dater with other mental health things. We are in the early stages of figuring out how that works, but already know that we have some differences of need.

    I have found in this individual immense reserves of acceptance and understanding, and a real investnent in listening to me as a person say what I need. I have tried to give the same. We also have an agreement that both of us need to be safe, and that no-one gets to pull “my need is greater” out when both of us have stuff going on.

    We talk a LOT about what constitites security for both of us in the big world, and are working on it within our relationship. The relationship stuff is harder because of… all what the captain said. We also both practise self-care, and knowing what comes from real stuff and what comes from the jerkbrain.

    Dear LW, I empathise strongly with your need for contact, and rejection worries. It is very hard to distinguish the real in that situation, and you’re all emotionally bound up in your conclusion. Partner and I did in fact have a conversation about when to be in touch and how often, which workef really really well in helping me. We then also needed to have a conversation about “My anxiety makes me feel x when you y – can we work out a way where you either don’t do y, or you put y in this framing so that I hear it in a good way.”

    Sometimes partner still does y. Sometimes I do the equivalent. Sometimes we hit a switch we don’t know about and set off a full-blown attack of the fear. It happens. Sometimes it requires a conversation, and sometimes it just needs an “Oh fishsticks I did the thing. Here, how can I fix that for you.”

    Don’t be afraid of talking a lot. Brains and people are complicated, and even without the additional needs I still hope we’d do a lot of talking so we got what was right for both of us.

    All the best.

    x

  6. My boyfriend and I both have varying degrees of anxiety and we’ve found a very simple way to avoid putting pressure on the other person when expressing our anxieties. When you are talking about a troubling relationship anxiety, preface it with “I think this is probably an irrational thought and I am not expecting you to behave differently because of it, but I currently feel like [feelings].” Surprisingly helpful for something so simple – you get to express your anxiety while explicitly not making the other person at all responsible for it.

    • This. I have anxiety & depression. I know many times what I want is unreasonable and won’t make me feel better but if we talk about it I end up feeling better and my husband then goes and does whatever he had planned (classes, shopping, library, etc.). Just being able to say I know its unreasonable that I’m feeling abandoned by you doing x and getting a hug has gone a long way… Once he realized that he should continue with his plans as staying home with me really didn’t make me any happier.

      • We used to do something similar for a while, but we found it doesn’t work for us in all situations. If they tell me they feel bad/abandoned when I go out and do stuff, I will then carry that with me and not be able to do my thing and enjoy it. So what we do instead is that they tell me once that x makes them feel y, and I make an effort to reassure them before and after I do x, without them having to prompt me. They only bring it up again if their feelings get worse or if my reassurances aren’t working, aka when we need to discuss it again and possibly figure out something else.
        Just thought I’d add my two cents, in case it helps anyone. =)

    • Yes this! When I am having a thought that I know is brain raccoons, or even I am only 95% sure is brain raccoons, I say pretty much exactly that to my wife. Well, I say an abbreviated version of it, because we’ve been doing it for years, but you get the idea. It helps because she knows that means “Help me with my brain raccoons” and not “I actually think this irrational thing is true”.

    • Yes! I have chronic severe depression and moderate-to-severe anxiety, and my husband is fairly neurotypical. I have a hard time distinguishing between jerkbrain worries (Husband reads through dinner! He must be tired of my company and planning to leave me*) and valid, useful worries (Husband snaps at me over something silly! Maybe we need more alone time,and a studio apartment wasn’t the best idea for us). Telling him about my anxieties in a format of “this might be my jerkbrain talking, and if so, Totes Not Your Problem” is helpful to all and sundry: it helps me clarify what, exactly, I’m anxious about; it helps him stay in the loop of how I’m feeling, and reassures him that he can trust me to tell him what’s up in my head; and it tells him clearly that he doesn’t have to be responsible for my anxiety. I personally try to avoid tagging my anxieties with rational/irrational language (mostly because I’m working pretty hard in therapy to recognize that just because an emotion doesn’t make perfect sense to me doesn’t mean that it’s not real or important); so usually I’ll say something like, “I’m not sure whether this is coming from you or from me, but I feel X.”

      The main thing I have to watch out for in exchanges like this is my tendency, over time, to make Husband the Arbiter Of The Real. Constantly asking him to tell me what’s jerkbrain and what isn’t–even implicitly–can put all kinds of pressure on him and also seriously undermine my own self-confidence.

      *When, in point of fact, reading through dinner has been one of the guilty pleasures of dating another introvert for the last 9 years.

      • Coming to this thread late, but this comment about not setting up your partner as Arbiter Of The Real is super awesome and important. Totally helpful, would read again!

    • Yeah, this is great. “I know this isn’t your fault, it’s just my brain being a jerk, but I’m feeling [feelings]” is a great way to begin these discussions so your partner knows zie isn’t under attack.

  7. Yes yes yes to everything in this post.

    And oh! I have a lot of experience with the breakups, including mostly non-Darth ones:

    1) The boring one, i.e. the very decent, very reliable, sweet, comfortable guy I got into a 2-year relationship with because I was recovering from post-assault PTSD and had not felt safe enough for a committed relationship in a long while. He was trustworthy and safe and that was what I needed. I was also really bored. There wasn’t really any spark. I knew it was going to eventually have to end for that reason, but I did need him at the time and he seemed to need me, and I tried to be honest that I didn’t see us getting married. I know it still broke his heart when I finally knew it was Time and ended it, and I hated that, but I also haven’t regretted my decision in the slightest (and my mysteriously declining libido came back like nothing else about a day after the breakup, so, that was interesting).

    2) The post-honeymoon-period fizzle. After a very, very emotionally intense and passionate and head-over-heels initial period of a few months, and declaring our love for each other and being overwhelmed with Feelings, his romantic feelings for me rather abruptly evaporated. This was confusing and upsetting for both of us. We hung on for a little while, hoping it would return for him, while I waited and hoped and felt repeatedly crushed and heartbroken. After a couple months I knew I had to cut my losses: I was starting to feel actually depressed, and I was becoming deeply anxious and unhappy. I had had panic disorder before, but the attacks significantly ramped up. So I was the one that walked away, even though I was still madly in love with him and desperately didn’t want to do it. It crushed me and I didn’t get over it for a while, but: I did then get over it, and it was all okay.

    3) Various slow starts. Learning from the lessons of #2 and realizing how much more painful it was to have hung on for those couple extra months, I had three short (~2-4-month-ish) relationships where it gradually became clear that my feelings were developing significantly while the other person’s were not. There was also one where *my* feelings were not developing romantically (I cannot be sure of his, since he did not say). I was the one who ended all of them: two because I realized I was falling in love with them and that way clearly lay inevitable future heartbreak, one because I might have been headed in that direction and the timing in his life was clearly wrong for it, and that last one because my feelings were clearly not romantic. I have no doubts that all four were right decisions for me.

    I am now navigating what was expected to be a short-term sex-only fling with someone who was already committed to moving far away after a month. Unexpectedly, though, we have both reflexively behaved more like a dating couple with mutually developing emotions, because being together was so effortless. So there is a looming, impending conversation about to happen where we will probably have to decide if we want to let this go now, or try something casually long-distance for as long as that still feels rewarding. I’ve never been in quite this situation before (both of my previous long-distance attempts followed serious, in-person, committed relationships of ~2 years, and we were not able to navigate the transition well; also both of those people were jerks). I plan to be open about how I feel and what I’m thinking, ask him the same, and we’ll go from there.

    • Your first example the boring one….gives me a little hope? I’ve been honest that I don’t want to cohabitate or wed, and my libido is definitely declined to oblivion….so that would be nice to recover. I figured I was just broken.

    • I really feel your first example. In one of my relationships my own libido dried up, totally. I blamed my IUD and anxiety about my last semester at University. Once it ended, suddenly I had those feelings again.

      I did want to comment on the long distance thing. My current relationship had been long distance for well, a year or more. I found that while it wasn’t great, we both felt fulfilled by our frequent IM conversations and texts. Everything still felt stable and happy. I missed him, but it was livable and I didn’t feel like I was missing out on some important part of life without is presence. Things were great when he was there, but good when we were apart too. We are in the same town again, and it is an adjustment in both our lives, but so far things are going well. It is very possible to still having a rewarding relationship even with distance, though it is a transition in regard to how you express and feel attachment. It sounds like you are going about it the right way, best of luck to you no matter what happens!

      • My current relationship is long distance and has been long distance for the entirety of the time we’ve been together and probably will be for another year while I finish school, though we see each other about once a week. LDRs are totally possible with anxiety, although they have unique problems. There’s really no choice but to be separated for right now, so I *can’t* angst about us not spending time together while were both in our separate cities or that is all I’d do. I WANT him to be happy and have fun when we’re apart, just like he wants me to be happy and have fun. Having our own healthy lives separately allows us to be stronger together as a unit.

        When I do start to get anxious, that is when it is SO important to realize it’s the jerkbrain. When we’re apart, I try to keep it to myself as much as possible when I’m upset about the distance. The occasional ‘I really miss you/wish you were here’ text is good and reinforces that we’re thinking about each other, but too many and it gets too sad. It’s no one’s fault that we’re in different cities, and I never want him to feel like when I’m sad that it’s his fault. But if I told him I was sad every day*, that’s not going to make him feel good about the relationship. A relationship won’t survive by dwelling on negative emotions, it’s too much stress. Sometimes if I get really sad about the distance, I’ll set a timer for 15 minutes or so and just FEEL ALL THE FEELINGS. I’ll be upset, I’ll cry, I’ll wallow, whatever. But once the timer is up it’s time to get my shit together and get on with things.

        I’d say the most important thing for people in LDRs with anxiety is to just establish a routine that makes you feel comfortable and keeps you connected. Stay in some sort of contact every day even if it’s a simple check-in text message. Some sort of ritual that you can commit to every day that serves to reassure both of you that you are thinking about each other despite being far apart. That way when the anxiety creeps up, you can tell your jerkbrain ‘nope, zie has promised to call me at 8pm, and I know zie will do that because zie loves me and is committed to me.’ Make sure you always honor those commitments. I also really like to look at pictures of us when I’m upset/jerkbrain is being mean, or read old sweet text messages. Combat the jerkbrain with whatever evidence you have of being happy and loved.

        *that was hypothetical; I am not sad every day. :P I do miss him every day, but I’m not always sad. I am really, really glad to have him in my life and the distance is worth it.

  8. I am one of those people in a mostly happy relationship where at least one of the partners has anxiety (also depression, fun times!).

    As the anxious party, I worried for a long time about trying to hide that part of me so that he wouldn’t get scared off. Then one day he made some off-hand comment about my anxiety and I realized that, not only did he already know, but didn’t really think of it as a big deal. One thing that (and other encounters with other people) has taught me, is that often people who are or have been mentally ill assume that it impacts the lives of others as much as it impacts our own. Obviously, when somebody cares about you, they don’t like to see you in pain, but that doesn’t mean they can’t deal with it.

    While the Captain is of course totally right that having stuff outside of your relationship to focus on is important, and that no other human being will complete you… please don’t let your fear of being ‘clingy’ make you settle for something that doesn’t meet your needs. Different people have different levels of need for validation/togetherness/affection etc.; your boyfriend and you appear to be on different wavelengths. Maybe you can meet in the middle on this one, but maybe you can’t. Being anxious may increase the amount of time you need from a relationship, but that doesn’t make those needs wrong or false.

    I spent almost a year in a relationship where I was constantly wanting more and never able to get it, and it made me feel anxious and insecure and unloved. Maybe that would have changed if I’d articulated what I needed, instead of trying to hide how unhappy the situation was making me so he didn’t think I was needy, but I didn’t. My current partner, on the other hand, is much more like me in how much closeness he wants, and it has been a breath of fresh air.

    So I guess what I mean to say is that (controlling for the jerkbrain) it is okay to have needs, it’s okay to ask that those needs be met, and if you can’t get them met in your current relationship, it’s okay to leave and find someone who can meet them, and that wouldn’t be anybody’s fault.

    • Yes, this! LW, there is a big difference between having needs and being needy. If you can figure out what your heart genuinely wants (I want to see you four times a week plus a phone call every day, for example) versus what your jerkbrain is telling you out of panic, and you are able to communicate that to your boo, then you are a remarkably mature and awesome human being. And anyone who would be scared off by the mere fact of you sharing your genuine needs in a relationship is a big ol’ jerkface.

  9. It seems like we’re societally pressured to rank things in this order:

    1. Being in an awesome relationship
    2. Being in an okay relationship.
    3. Being in a crappy relationship.
    4. Being by yourself.

    This explains a lot of things. It explains why quite often people don’t have the We Need To Break Up talk until after they already have another person safely lined up, or why they keep working on merely okay relationships because, hey, if you fix things, you can upgrade to awesome, right?

    This is the way I rank things:

    1. Being in an awesome relationship.
    2. Flying solo.
    3. Being in an okay relationship.
    4. Being in a crappy relationship.

    The last relationship I was in, I finally walked away because the pain of staying and the pain of leaving were pretty much equivalent, and I knew that the pain of leaving would be survivable. It did hurt like hell, but it was definitely the best choice for me.

    It was honestly the first time I’d been the one to end the relationship since high school, but that’s in part because I’ve always avoided embarking on relationships with guys who didn’t turn me on in the first place. Because, well, see list above.

    • Yes, this. When I tell people my priorities (sometimes flying solo is even #1 on the list, depending on how I feel/where I am in my life) it seems so weird to them.

    • You are a wise lady. I decided a few years ago that if I couldn’t find someone who was BLINDINGLY AWESOME to be with, I would be alone. And I haven’t found BLINDINGLY AWESOME dude yet. But I am not missing him because I am emotionally committed to Mr. Eh, You’ll Do For Now.

  10. I am a person with some mental health issues. Specifically, I had some depression in my teens, and, while I am generally good at managing the part of me that is capable of spiralling into a total lack of motivation, dealing with it is still a big enough part of my life that it’s something I had to tell my boyfriend about when we first started dating. For me, that disclosure went something like:

    “You know how you said you broke up with that ex because she was crazy? Well, sometimes I *am* crazy. Specifically, I am aware that I can be prone to depression. This is *my* crazy, I deal with it myself, and you don’t need to fix it for me. But you should know that this is a thing I deal with. Mostly, what this means is that I monitor my moods pretty carefully and I work hard not to get into a depressive spiral. You can help me by being understanding of this, and also by not using ‘crazy’ as shorthand for ‘difficult or impossible to be in a good relationship with’ (and yeah, I know you didn’t mean it like that. It’s ok.)”

  11. I identify from camp #2. I dated a friend a year ago and we had a nice time, many similar interests and always enjoyed hanging out together, whatever we did. But I was a little more distant or less emotive than what he wanted/needed from a relationship. And even though we discussed often where we stood and what was going on in one another’s head that might have been misinterpreted or confusing, *it ended up feeling like too much work to keep being in a romantic relationship with each other.* Nothing really ever actually went wrong; there were just feelings of insecurity and misunderstood actions/words interpreted as rejection.

    ‘I haven’t been feeling so hot and want to take it easy,’ was taken as ‘Oh, she’s not that into me,’ when I meant, ‘I’ve been depressed and need a little space to manage it, but I still dig you.’ I didn’t feel a level of closeness/trust yet to talk about the D word, but I was soon forced to share more than I wanted to when he assumed I was breaking up with him.

    We decided to call it, and it was a bit awkward for a few weeks after while we nursed wounded egos, but we’ve been casual friends ever since and still hang out pretty regularly, even one on one, and still always enjoy it, whatever we end up doing.

    Not everyone can have as uneventful a breakup that leaves their friends wondering why and leaves you without any good answer. “We were just better at being friends,” is all I can say, but no one gets that.

    • This definitely. And I get it. One of my closest friends is a man I dated, who ended it with me citing lack of compatibility. I was hurt, but I’d been feeling the lack as well, I just hadn’t accepted it yet, especially since there was emotional intimacy and some serious intellectual connection. Took some time to accept that those alone were not enough, but once I did, BOOM! Awesome, easy to maintain friendship! With cool dude that likes me and knows me and makes me laugh but doesn’t make me worry about what a raising family or making a home with him would be look like! Cause that’s where we hit “ooohh no” territory. So much better at being friends.

  12. I am going to answer number 1. I am one hundred percent positive that the way it happened for me wasn’t the best or optimal way, but it did happen. I first hooked up with my now-husband in 2004, so it’s been about nine years, and at this point I trust in his love completely. But I didn’t always.

    It’s hard to tell this story without going into lots of irrelevancies, but the short version is that I have major abandonment anxiety (child of divorce, yadda yadda). The pattern of my early relationships was pretty much that I would get obsessed with someone, pursue them, cling to them with all my might, and be *utterly devastated* when they eventually dumped me.

    Serious Boyfriend #1, I must say, did not help at all by breaking up with me using these exact words: “I don’t love you and I never have.” This was after a relationship of over a year in which marriage was discussed (he showed me the ring!)–my first sexual relationship. It was the “I never have” part that nearly killed me. Looking back, I can see how he was right to end that airless, suffocating relationship, but he left me convinced that if I could be *so wrong* about our love then clearly I had been wrong about everything else, ever. And nobody in the world loved me, or ever had.

    Sooooo after I was interrupted in my suicide attempt and subsequently got out of the psych ward, I discovered my own capacity for bisexuality and fell just as deeply in love with Serious Girlfriend #1. She was an introvert. I remember one time she said “I love you but I need some time alone” and I said, I swear to God this is an exact quote, “What? You’re alone when we sleep!”

    We were sleeping next to each other, of course. I meant that she was alone because, *in unconsciousness*, we weren’t truly interacting with each other. But I felt with complete sincerity that all our waking moments should be together.

    When *she* dumped me, she used these exact words: “I can’t give you what you need, but it isn’t for lack of loving you.” That is how I learned that while breakups always suck, it is possible to end a relationship and still be kind. And I didn’t try to kill myself after things ended with Girlfriend #1, so that represented major progress.

    After that I actually had a string of more or less normal relationships, with both men and women. My therapist told me something, I have no idea if it’s true or not, but I clung to it: she said, on average, that most people have fourteen serious relationships before they meet the person they’ll spend their lives with. She said as long as you take something out of those relationships, as long as you learn and progress and mature, that you’re on the right path. She told me that love is never wasted. But she also said to take my grief seriously, because it’s neurochemically exactly the same process as grieving a death. Someone has been lost to you. It is okay to grieve.

    And the truth is, looking back, I do thank the universe that I loved all those people *before* I loved my husband. Each one taught me something more about loving someone without suffocating them. And I learned to let go, and care for myself, and mourn the death of the relationship while continuing to believe that I was loved and worthy of love.

    When I met my husband, I was his first girlfriend. He wasn’t that much younger than me, just shy, and it hadn’t happened for him yet. I was able to kind of point out some of the milestones as we approached them. But we stayed together, and we stayed together, and eventually we got beyond the parts I’d done before, and it was new territory for both of us.

    We had some screaming fights. We don’t really do that any more, but there was a part there, early on, when my anxiety clashed with his inexperience in a nasty way. I was “testing” him because I wanted reassurance, he was reacting angrily because he didn’t see that I was coming from a place of vulnerability, and I answered anger with DOUBLE ANGER because I was being self-protective and this shit has been life or death for me. At this point I wasn’t in therapy any more and it probably would have gone more smoothly if I was. But eventually I learned how to say, in words, out loud: “I am going to storm out now because I want you to follow me and give me a hug.” It turns out that works a lot better than just storming out and slamming the door, without the words.

    And the important piece of this is, he didn’t fling his hands in the air and walk away. He got angry sometimes but when I said “Follow me and give me a hug,” he did. AND he filed it away for future reference, that when I storm out and slam the door, the fight will end if he follows me and give me a hug. And I filed it away that when I ask for something, out loud and using my words, that I can trust him to try and give it to me. So we got to the point where we didn’t need the door-slamming in between the hugs.

    When I look back at all my previous relationships, even Girlfriend #1 (with whom I eventually worked my way back to a cherished friendship), part of the reason it didn’t work with those people is *they didn’t love me enough*. It feels almost taboo to say this because that’s the exact lie you tell yourself when a relationship is failing: if I can just LOVE HARDER, it will work. And that never succeeds.

    But we have that abandonment anxiety for a reason. We have it for self-protection. We have it because if someone is going to bail on us we need to know sooner rather than later. And sure, it leads us to do maladaptive things, things that totally sabotage our relationships (“What? You’re alone when we sleep!”). But sometimes, when we test and probe that way and the relationship crumbles as a result, it’s a good thing. It was never really going to work out between me and my introverted girlfriend, no matter how much I loved her and how much she loved me back. Our attachment styles were totally different.

    So I wrote all those words because I want to be understood when I say: it’s not necessarily bad to let your crazy show a little. Some of those behaviors that seem self-sabotaging may actually be self-protective. Even if you keep working on your anxieties, you’re still fundamentally you, and you’re probably always going to be the sort of person who needs a bit more time and reassurance from their significant others. If you test, and if the relationship crumbles as a result, then the foundation probably wasn’t strong and it *might* be better to learn this sooner rather than later.

    It gets better over time, and time is just about the ONLY thing that will lead you to real security. Nine years into things with my husband–seven years into our marriage–I really do feel secure and I don’t do that testing stuff any more. It’s probably possible to get there without so much drama, but to me it feels like the early drama we had was actually necessary and important. I showed him my worst self and he stuck around anyway–that’s how I knew I could relax.

    So yeah, work on you, but also don’t be afraid to show your real needs. As my old therapist told me, every relationship teaches you something. You learn what you need to learn until–eventually–the thing you need to learn is that someone loves you and they aren’t going anywhere.

    • Your first ex telling you he never loved you makes me think of my first boyfriend. We dated all through high school and into college. He basically spend the last year, year and a half of our relationship openly despising me with his actions but saying he loved me with his words. I was so clingy and naive that I never even saw the break up coming. To this day I have some serious triggers surrounding that relationship. In fact, just a few days ago my partner and I got into a bit of a quandary because he was super focused on something and couldn’t pay attention to me (like, was completely ignoring me) and I interpreted that as “I hate you and your presence annoys me and I am going to string you along for another few months and then dump you.” We found a workaround where he can signal me to come back later, but it was a tough one to work out. Anyway, I guess I just really empathized with something about your story.

    • I love this story, because it shows how you can use open communication to work through baggage/ trigger points to create something beautiful and healthy. Congratulations on what sounds like an awesome relationship!

    • “You learn what you need to learn until–eventually–the thing you need to learn is that someone loves you and they aren’t going anywhere.”

      I have to admit – I teared up a bit reading that. I’m going through the early early stages of an awesome healthy relationship with an awesome healthy person – and just realized that 1) he actually gives me my space and 2) he isn’t just going to up and abandon me. Which is great in theory, but because paradoxically, because of the great and the fun (and my life in general being awesome and healthy than its every been) certain demons I’ve never really dealt with or dealt with before have decided to come around and dance in my head. For the first time, I don’t know what’s going to happen to us in future, but there’s no nagging feeling of OMG – which can incur nagging feelings (etc etc).

      I’m working through stuff – but there are lows – it feels like I’m fighting myself for my own joy sometimes – so it was really comforting to read your words today. It inspired me to keep with my own work and keep working THROUGH it for me and not around it for the sake of not making waves.

      Thank you so much for sharing your story! I loved it. And congratulations on your awesome self and your awesome relationship!

    • Yeah. I’ve had this experience too on a smaller level and the same embarrassed reaction. Cause on one hand its seems like I *should* just be able to deal with my own stuff. But in practice I needed someone to put up with me heming and hawing for a few months before I’d even THINK about getting attached.

      Current boyfriend was originally a hookup which meant I felt free to say “I like you but I don’t love you.” then “I have great affection but don’t want to see you too much.” and “I love you but I still might leave at any minute” til finally I was ready to say “I love you, I’m not going anywhere anytime soon, but let’s stay light on the heteronorm scripts, k?” Boyfriend was patient, supportive, and open minded throughout all this. He kept telling me that I was very special to him, he valued out connection no matter what it became, and that he was along for the ride. (In all fairness we’re poly which I theorize makes it easier to be flexible, but I think all that is to say that you need the right context AND the right individual to get your attachment needs met. Mine is poly, someone else’s might be an arranged marriage. Both are valid.)

      So LW, I agree, its okay to need alot from someone as long as you ask for it in as respectful manner as you can and can accept that they might not be able to give it. I think there’s this idea that we’re not supposed to want proof from a partner. That’s bullshit. We all need xyz in order to know that we’re loved.

    • First of all, I am really glad it all worked out for you.
      This particuar thing : She was an introvert. I remember one time she said “I love you but I need some time alone” and I said, I swear to God this is an exact quote, “What? You’re alone when we sleep!” struck me the most.
      I broke up a couple of relationship because of this very thing. I don’t talk a lot, I can’t talk with a person for more then 3-4 hours a day and not getting tired as hell . I can’t even sleep in the same room with anyone else for more then a week or two, without feeling absolutly drained.I prefer beeing alone most of the time, Me and my best friend talk once in a mounth and it’s great not to be forced to come to parties. It was so hard to explain people that it doesn’t mean I don’t care or love them. Thank god, my mom(who is pretty much the same) and my sis ( a little bit more tolerant of talking, but still) understood it and told me its ok, or I would be thinking that It was my fault.
      PSA: People, if you partner wants to be alone for a couple of days, it doesn’t mean she/he hates you. Just ask him/her about it and don’t make it an issue.

  13. I belong to both of these groups, if the spectrum of “anxiety” also includes severe PTSD, which Spouse has.

    For the second group, I think I’ve mentioned before that my BFF is also my ex-girlfriend. We dated twice, the first time when I was 17 and the second time when I was 20. The first break-up happened because I introduced her to a close male friend, and they sort of did the love at first sight thing. I’ll never forget this conversation:

    “WOW! She is so cool! Is she seeing anyone?”
    “Um…yeah. Me.”
    “Wait…but…what??”

    (I was not out to said male friend at the time. SUPER freakin’ awkward.)

    Their breakup happened because BFF was not sure she was attracted to men at all. Then she basically decided she’d made a huge mistake breaking up with me and that she wanted me back. And we gave it a good try. The beginning of the end came when she visited me over the holiday break (she lived about 5 hours away at the time) and after I had to put in a ten-hour day at work, she and my father teamed up to “civilize” my apartment and dragged me around shopping because it was apparently horrible that Cheshire The Heathen Savage didn’t have a soap dish in her bathroom.

    She meant well! I know she did! And she’s beautiful and brilliant and sweet and wonderful. But…that was the night I started to suspect we were not compatible roommates. And a week later, she went back home and two months after that, I had the horrible “I love you but this really isn’t working AT ALL” conversation with her.

    I was 20. I’m 35 now. She’s still my BFF. We’re both happily married to other people, and she lives too damn far away.

  14. I have anxiety and my gf of 1.5 years does not. We’ve both gotten better at spotting when it’s my anxiety talking. For instance, if I’m doing some of my anxious behaviors (like obsessively doing the dishes or not doing them at all for days, picking at my skin/cuticles, or plucking chin hairs) she’ll generally ask if it’s anxiety or not, and I’ll be able to tell her. So, we both work to recognize when I’m getting anxious. I’ll also straight up tell her “I’m feeling really anxious today” or “I’m pretty sure this is the anxiety talking, but [this is how I feel about x].” That really helps–being able to point to the anxiety. Also, I’m careful to ask for what I need–like alone time or physical touch. She’s good about asking for herself, too.

    tl;dr, we’re really conscious communicators, including about my anxiety.

  15. I’m currently in a relationship where I have depression and occasional anxiety issues. Now that we’ve been dating for several years, both him and our relationship are primary among the Good Things in my life. However, when we were first dating, I had a lot of jerkbrain-aggravated fears about us. Many dissipated on their own as I got to know him better and felt more comfortable/secure but some required work.

    I mostly handled the freakouts by first sitting with the thoughts for a while (sometimes I need to think an issue through for days or weeks before I can articulate my feelings coherently), then either running them past one of my best friends (if I’m having trouble articulating) or letting him know what’s going on. The friend-consults have gotten fewer and fewer as we’ve gone along as well; they usually get filled in after the fact now.

    He sometimes has a hard time understanding where I’m coming from (his brain does not hate him) but is always supportive and helps however I ask him to. Recently I’ve been having an atrocious time with school, money, work and health woes all dumping on me at once, and he’s been amazing about taking care of me (making sure I eat and get outside time primarily).

  16. I have, more than once, broken up with a guy just because it wasn’t working. It was a loooong time ago (I’ve been joyously married for 13 years) but I may have some useful thoughts. Some of them may be repeats of excellent advice above, with my own unique metaphors.

    1. A relationship that isn’t working isn’t a judgement on either party. Bleach is a good thing — makes your clothes white, kills germs, disinfects pots so your tomatoes don’t keep dying of blight. Ammonia is a good thing — cleans your tub, repels moths, makes your oven sparkle. But when you put them together, you get mustard gas that kills everyone. That is an extreme analogy, a relationship doesn’t have to be deadly to not work, but it’s clear. Two good things, together, don’t always make a good thing. Really grokking that can make it easier to end things.

    2. A relationship that isn’t working is kinda like a busted bicycle. Spending time trying to push it along the road, whacking your shins on the pedals, bent over until your back hurts, huffing and puffing up the hill, sun scorching your sweaty neck…. that takes so much TIME and so much ENERGY. So much MORE time and energy than just laying the bicycle on the side of the road and walking by yourself! Hell, even a really awesome relationship takes time and energy! Which leads me to point three.

    3. I think being alone is really really important. LW mentions that she had a Darth Ex and was only out of the relationship a month before meeting current nice guy. A Darth can just suck your energy and a month doesn’t seem like enough time to recharge. I think that the LW may want to think about dedicating the time and energy she’s spending on her relationship with Good Guy and spend it all on herself. I know that I was a much better partner after I’d had a year or two by myself. In fact, that applies to most people I know who are in successful relationships.

    You’ve got a muddle, LW, and I’m sorry that you’re dealing with this. I don’t know if my metaphors can help, but I hope they do.

  17. I have another longer comment brewing, but this jumped out at me, perhaps because the “stories we tell about ourselves/stories people tell about us” themes from the last letter are still fresh in my head:

    LW, did your Darth paint you as clingy/needy/emotionally imcompetent? Because, hey, that is one of my self-sabotage triggers LIKE WHOA. My Darth absolutely convinced me that I was all of those things, and now I have a really hard time crossing a threshhold of mutual emotional commitment – I am SO HORRIBLY AFRAID of being seen as clingy that the more deeply I feel about someone, the harder I pull back and wait for them to demonstrate affection first, and the more scared/lonely/confused/betrayed I feel if they don’t do so, in the time or fashion I hope for. (I’m fairly self-aware about this, and I’m working on it. Yay therapy! But it is a hugely destructive force in my life.)

    Love and solidarity. You’re brave and wonderful.

  18. “Take your faults and walk into Camazotz.” Ah, Meg, one of the best characters ever in kidlit. Yay for Wrinkle in Time fans!

    I’ve ended relationships in which I didn’t feel it, and I’ve had relationship ended on me when they didn’t feel it. An imbalance of feeling. And it hurt to be both the ender and the endee. With one otherwise lovely young woman things were going very well, but then started swinging out of balance (and I learned a lot about being on the other side of insecurity, more than 50% I’m the one second-guessing everything). The problem got worse because it was like reverse oscillation — the more she felt insecure, the more I felt smothered, the more I pulled away, the more she felt insecure. It was unfair on both of us that neither of us was able to recognize and halt the dynamic until it was too late. On the flip side, I’ve had plenty of experience wondering, and for that matter knowing, that I’m holding on too tightly.

    I’ve also had to recognize, with some formal and informal help, that a chunk of my own relationship insecurity comes from a belief in my innate unloveableness. Which I realize is totally irrational, because people do love me! They do! But the “I don’t deserve this” voice can be gratingly loud at times. Worse is the feeling that if a person really knew me they wouldn’t love me, or that they actually have poor judgement in loving me. This doesn’t happen with friends, colleagues or family, but only with lovers.

    I realize that a significant part of this is that my first Serious Relationship was with a deeply insecure, angry and critical fellow, who could only build himself up by putting others down. By the time he dumped me (“you’re just not the woman I fell in love with anymore,” nice eh?) I had the self-confidence of an earthworm. It’s not always easy to bounce back from that sort of thing, is it? So I have to give myself permission to have the wobblies when needed.

    So I’ve gotten very cautious about getting involved with anyone, and between relationships have enjoyed being by myself more and more. Having far less emotional self-deprecating of myself is a definite benefit. And I find myself pretty good company a lot of the time.

    Short version: Recognizing my dynamic of feelings-imbalance is great to do early, awareness of factors leading to my internal critic getting noisy is helpful, enjoying my own company rocks big time.

    • I feel like we could do a whole catalogue of things NOT to say and things to say when you’re breaking up with someone. Things NOT to say include: “you’re not the person I fell in love with” and “I don’t love you and never did.”

  19. I’ve been dealing with depression and anxiety for over ten years now, and I’m currently in a pretty serious relationship with someone who has also been depressed and has family members who are. I did the whole disclosure thing on our second date, but that is just because I am a very “get things out of the way!” type person. Also, we met on OKCupid, and I felt that even if I liked him, having him decide it was too much on a second date probably wouldn’t hurt my ego too much, as opposed to the risks of talking about it later.

    A lot of year one was us figuring out each other’s buttons: I have a lot re: getting advice while being depressed and hating the whole “pep up!” talk, and he would get triggered by my depressive moods b/c of his previous history with family members. It was really hard, but I tried to make it super clear to him that my depression wasn’t his responsibility (esp. since he had felt responsible for other people in the past), and that no matter how down I was, I really really really needed him to take care of himself first, as opposed to hanging out and trying and pushing himself to an emotional breakdown (fun times). The whole trigger merry-go-round of my depression making him break down which makes me resent that still happens some times, but usually to a much smaller degree. We also started couples therapy after the first really big bout of triggering.

    Now that we know each other much better, he can do the “that is your jerkbrain talking” with me without me getting defensive, and I feel a lot safer telling him about my down times when I know he’s not going to freak out about it. We also had to deal with having different ways of getting ourselves undepressed (me: concentrate on small stuff, him: talks himself into optimism) and how each person’s method didn’t work for the other person. A lot of that was in therapy…

    I also still do things like snap out if I’m super anxious, but I try really hard to take some moments for myself and then come back out and apologize. And he is really good at giving me room to just be introverted or antisocial.

    It’s also pretty nerve wracking for me when he gets depressed and emotional breakdown-y, but a lot of it was having to just let it happen and not freak out about it too much. And sometimes some of that is realizing you can’t fix everything, but just being there can be helpful.

    I think one of the big things for him was realizing that even when I am down and depressed and look like I have totally given up, I am still trying to fight it on the inside, even if it’s just by conserving energy and being a couch potato. And also just that things would get better, even if it really sucked at the moment.

    And it is really hard. I mean, usually stuff is awesome! We hang out and are really comfortable! But even a year or so in, I was scared that the depression would be too much, because… well, it’s a pretty big thing. And I think he was scared of that too, which wasn’t particularly reassuring for me. But in the past few months I think things have gotten much more deliberately serious with pretty long-term plans, a lot due to him being more sure about the fact that things would get better even in the midst of a depressive slump.

  20. CA: “This isn’t the thread for stories of abuse, assault, gross behavior & extreme incompatibility. …Nobody mistreated anyone, but this is how I knew that it was not what I wanted.”
    Now, it turned out, for me, that it was actually more of a gross incompatibility than I could recognize while we were together, so it’s a little of this and a little of that.
    I was with someone who was very kind, a good daddy to my kitty, emotionally available, cuddly-affectionate, generous with time and money, nerdy in many ways I like, pretty cute and quite funny. Sounds awesome! Well, we had very few activities in common, WILDLY divergent sexual interest and needs, and equally divergent ideas of what “clean enough” is in the house. And no one has ever ever accused me of being a neat freak, so delta down to “frat house bathroom” to get an idea of his level of “clean enough.” I was pretty unhappy the whole time, but it crept up slowly and I gaslighted myself thinking, “but this guy actually WANTS to be with me, which is a first! How could I possibly do better than someone who wants to be with me?”
    Anyway. We tried and tried. We did Cialis. We did dieting. We did attempts at shared activities. We moved in together. We threw great parties. We did counseling for 2 years. One session, our therapist suggested we meet somewhere in the middle between 3 times a year and one a week for sex. The middle of that (we did the math) ended up being essentially every 13 days, which was WAY too much for him and nowhere near enough for me (though I probably would have taken it). And we went to eat and dissect the session and came up with the analogy that in our situation, it was like one person wanting to have a kid and one not. You can’t have half a kid, or a kid half the time. It’s one or the other. And our other clever analogy was that you can work super hard with love and care and sweat on a vintage car, but if they don’t make the part any more, that vehicle will never drive.
    So we broke up in 2010. It was wonderful.
    We’re still friendly, because it never devolved into a full-bore resentment (not saying zero) and because it was so evidently outside US as a problem. This was neither of our faults. The car just cannot be repaired.
    Now he’s with someone with whom he is much happier and I am with someone with whom I am much happier, and that never could have happened if we had clung on another few years, TRYING and TRYING and growing more frustrated and resentful.
    Yes, I cried. I mourned all that work for nothing. I mourned the years earlier I should have realized our deep incompatibility, which from the inside SEEMED maybe fixable? If only X, Y, Z…? I mourned the amazing wedding ceremony I had slowly designed that was perfect for us as people because I can’t help but do it sometimes. I mourned the years wasted and weight gained and that’s OK. Every day I was broken up with him was a day I didn’t have to mourn more.

    (And anyway my “new” boyfriend is way better than his “new” girlfriend, and I would be lying if that wasn’t a little gratifying.)

    I don’t know if you need to break up, LW. But I do know that letting go of the fear of breaking up and seeing what could be (peace and lack of anxiety) is a good thing.

  21. I am IN situation #2. Four years in. It was fun/exciting/liberating BUT I started to date him when I was at a really good spot, feeling insanely grounded and powerful and optimistic and physically well. HE is in something like situation #1, with intense loneliness, anxiety issues that lead to controlling and monitoring behaviours, etc. Which makes ME go into a funk, and has lead to a loss of many of the good things I had when we started going together. BUT I feel so guilty about it not working out that I am barely hanging on, although bored out of my gourd, and pretty fully aware that we want different lifestyles and levels of connect. Our sex life is dead, but he doesn’t seem to understand HOW dead it is on my part. His response has been to go into something awfully like stalker-mode, and I know that I am placating and enabling to avoid the horror that will come from simply being done with him. I want to move on, and the situation feels stuck.

    I know that’s no help, but I”ve tried to make it work out and his issues and my boredom with same are completely stuffing up any hope.

    • That’s a really difficult situation to be in. “His response has been to go into something awfully like stalker-mode” – behaving like this is unacceptable no matter what is going on in your relationship or in his head. Depending where you live there are resources around, like helplines, usually anonymous, that can give you practical advice and just listen. I’ve also found a lot of helpful stuff under the “personal safety” tag on Captain Awkward’s blog too. Good luck!

      • I kinda know what I SHOULD be doing (peeling his sorry carcass out of my life story, just based on the stalkery stuff), or COULD be doing (insisting on counseling together, instead of just him going and then never ever discussing any of it or bringing me into the picture or the process), but what I am doing is just coasting, sort of like when you’re wearing shoes or a pair of pants that don’t fit right, and you are too far from home to change them, and you just get through the day in discomfort that isn’t enough to warrant buying new stuff at lunch.

        Right now he is working away a lot, so what I have to endure is only a phone call. EVERY day, at least 2

        but when he’s around, he shows up multiple times, unannounced and uninvited, and wants attention. My world is supposed to focus on him, or endure being pawed at and watched.Actually I’m not even sure just how odd or wrong it all is because it’s all been so weird for so long. Used to be massive fights til the wee hours, and it took 4 yrs for him to finally get divorced (I think about 20 yrs, after being separated on and off for 13 of them, and fighting with me anytime I reminded him that I wasn’t ok with it and ha dbeen clear (but not clear enough to say “get lost”, I know)

        • It sounds like you are slowly edging out of this relationship. Stalkerish behaviour is a warning, not just within a relationship, but very much so after. There are stalkers who do now accept when their partner breaks free. You may know this, bit if not I wanted to post this. Set up a support system for when you leave him that helps you be safe!

          • Well, being stalked and in a relationship like you describe can be really, really exhausting, so I totally get that “just gotta get through the day” feeling. The stuff about stalking, the unwanted touching and being watched, and expecting to be the focus of your attention all the time sounds really unreasonable and unfair. And scary. You don’t deserve to be treated like that. I hope you can get some support and find a place of safety, where you can be that grounded, powerful, optimistic and well person again.

        • There’s a bit in a Jilly Cooper novel where she says something about a bad relationship being like being in a bath going cold in a chilly room. You know it’s only going to get worse, you know you’ve got to get out sometime, you even know that once you’ve got out it’ll be briefly horrible but then you’ll dry yourself and get dressed and it’ll all be much, much nicer, but there’s still that horrible moment where it’s even colder than being in the cooling water and it’s easier to just sit still. I’ve always thought that was very wise.

          Good luck – I hope you figure out how to take action in one direction or another soon.

          • Oh, this is so much how it feels. Like I’m stuck between two unpleasant options, knowing both will only be worse if I don’t act soon, but the bath SHOULD be pleasant and I COULD have hotted it up with fresh water if I had acted, but even that would just end up drowning me or getting cold.

            The whole thing is made harder because I didn’t just walk away when I shoud have, years ago when the fights were destroying me, physically, because I was running on 3 or 4 hours of sleep, when I really really need 8. And the insane was obvious, and not this insidious pressurising shit that’s going on now.

            And I have SAID ther eis no future, and I don’t want him, and I don’t want to live with him, and his offspring is unsettlingly mute, and my kid has had to witness all this, while his has been carefully tucked up with his mom, and I’m really very angry.

            And still, the bed-sharing offers, and the “yawn-and-arm-over-back-of-chair” style manipulation, and the forced kisses hello and goodbye, even in the middle of a sentence, I have NO libido left when it comes to thinking of actual real people. The last few times I felt like punching him in the head repeatedly, and that finally was what made me quit…he’s been waiting for six months for a chance to sleep with me. At first he said he had considered an affair, because I had once done that (years ago, entirely different situation, and yes, I see what he did there)…..but I don’t know what he’s doig about it now, and don’t really care.

    • Sorry for the derail…but it feels important in this case…

      He sounds a lot like my abusive ex. Wanting to always be the center of my universe. The arguments that didn’t end until I was screaming myself hoarse or battering myself. Death of libido. Forced “affection” and demands and pleas for sex (including the day we closed on the house and he packed up all of his possessions in a moving truck and cracked a rib in the process–the last day I ever saw him in person).

      I tried breaking up after 1 year, but it was my first time dumping someone and I couldn’t deal with causing that much pain to someone who melted into tears. So instead, we moved across the country and bought a house together. I finally broke up in year 7, long after the fun had ended. I was starting to self harm and would grit my teeth about getting through just one more day, every day. I can’t say that there was any particular trigger for when I finally made the decision to leave him. In the previous couple of months, 2 different friends checked in with me regarding the relationship with obvious concern (they were people I saw regularly, so it’s not like they were unaware of my situation). Maybe they helped me reach some sort of mental threshhold, I dunno. But I did finally decide that I needed to end it. The pain (for both of us) was much worse for waiting another 6 years. My moment of pity ended up causing more harm in the end.

      Please don’t wait longer. Start looking into what you need to do to end it and get away from him.

  22. The last relationship I had before my current one definitely falls in Category #2. We met when I was in college and he was a couple years out of college, introduced by mutual friends. Neither of us had been in a relationship for a while, which I think contributed to us both taking the attitude of “Well, this is going well ENOUGH and I’m happy ENOUGH, so let’s keep it going.” Additionally, ALL my friends were in relationships (most of whom are now, five years later, married to the people they were dating at that point), so having a perfectly decent, if not head over heels, relationship felt miles better than being single.

    We moved in together after I graduated, after just over a year of dating, and things continued to go pretty smoothly. I had some doubts about our compatibility: I’m a planner, he likes to play things by ear; he’s an extrovert, I’m an introvert; he’s a major gamer and I can’t be bothered; I love to cuddle and he’s uncomfortable with it. There were a lot of life events going on at the time, however, that made staying in a relationship much more comfortable than breaking up: my mom, to whom I am close, remarried and moved 500 miles away, I started graduate school and felt excruciatingly lonely and inadequate, his friends started getting married and he, I think, was freaked out by that. Plus, all our friends constantly commented on what a solid couple we were and how they assumed we’d get married soonish.

    The summer before we broke up, I remember saying to a friend something about how the boyfriend and I would probably get engaged within a year, to which she responded, “Well…do you WANT to marry him?” I was like, “Kind of.” We got along ok, we were good friends, I loved his family, we’d probably have pretty awesome, smart kids…

    Fortunately, we finally agreed that neither of us actually actively wanted to plan a future together, and we parted amicably. I’m MUCH happier with my current partner, and New Partner and I are going to Ex’s wedding in the fall. I won’t say I came away completely unscarred, but it was certainly more of a fundamental lack of a good fit than anything scary or abusive.

  23. “I really cannot read him at all”. This jumped out at me but I’m not sure what LW means by it, it could be from anxiety or it could be something else. I am wondering if it matters.

    • I used to worry a *lot* to my therapist about not being able to read people. We eventually got through to the realisation that I had had a lot of socialisation from my family (backed up by socialisation from, er, society, about what women should be able to do) that it was always my responsibility to ‘read’ what people wanted or needed, or to ‘know’ what would irritate them or ‘know’ how they were feeling. This is a totally unreasonable and impossible expectation for anyone except telepaths. (Sidenote: telepaths don’t really exist.)

      It took us quite a while for me to work out what was a ‘normal’* amount of ‘reading people’ to be able to do (ie the type that is picking up that this random small talk topic is making someone a bit uncomfortable so switch subjects, versus the type where you’re supposed to know that your boyfriend would rather you’d shelved the books by subject rather than alphabetically, or that your friend has a phobia of bunnies – when neither has EVER SAID anything about these things).

      LW, not being able to read someone can be really scary. But it doesn’t mean you or your relationship is broken if you can’t. Sometimes people (particularly women) can have unrealistic expectations of being able to read someone. It’s fine to ask!

      If you can’t read him because he *refuses* to talk about how he feels/thinks about things, that might be a different sort of problem.

      * not the sort of ‘normal’ that means IF YOU CAN’T DO THIS YOU’RE A FREAK AND NO ONE WILL BE YOUR FRIEND. Just ‘it is not (for you) a ridiculously unreasonable or magic jedi mind trick to do this, but the world will not end if you don’t/can’t/can’t be arsed’.

      • Oooh, yes, this rings very true for me. I also have spent a lot of my life trying very hard to “read” everyone around me because it felt like it was somehow my job to intuit what they wanted and make everyone happy at all times. So being unable to read someone was really frightening to me, because how could I make sure they were happy if I couldn’t figure out what they wanted/needed?

  24. Wow, wow, wow, I can really relate. Right now I’m too sleepy to write anything more than this, but hope to be able to tomorrow. I’m looking forward to reading all comments.

  25. So now that I have a bit more time, I’m going to answer #1, as both an anxiety-haver and a partner of an anxiety-haver.

    As an anxious person, it’s been really helpful to stop when I feel anxious about my relationship and think about why. This, combined with CBT training, has helped me sort my bad feelings into two categories: “I am feeling bad because there is a real issue” and “I am feeling bad because my brain is misfiring.” It’s not always easy to do the sorting, but it’s usually possible if I put in the work. So if I’m feeling anxious/stressed/bad about my relationship and I think about *why*, and I come up with something concrete, like, “I’m stressed because I feel like I’m doing more than my share of the housework” or “I’m feeling bad because he said X thing that hit me in a weird place,” then that’s an issue I can work through with my partner. But if I can’t get more specific than “I’m stressed because I think he might have made a weird face this morning before getting in the shower” or “I’m feeling bad because… because… because REASONS,” then it’s entirely possible that the issue is a brain misfire, which has a different set of solutions (stepping up the therapy work, being more mindful, being careful to put my CBT training in practice, etc.).

    And when my partner is feeling crap, I can nudge him in the direction of making that assessment himself by saying, “Are you annoyed/down/whatever because of something I did or said, or just because?” That’s often enough to either bring an actual issue to the surface, or to get him to realize that he’s having an anxiety/depression spasm rather than an issue with me per se.

    We support each other during the periods of anxiety/depression, make no mistake–it’s not as though, once one of us realizes that the crazies are internal rather than external, it’s all on them to solve it. But there’s a big difference between “I am upset with you because of concrete reason X, and I would like you to do Y differently,” and “I am upset because my brain is busted, and what I need tonight is to order a pizza and watch Star Trek: The Next Generation reruns because Captain Picard always makes me feel better.” They’re both things my partner can help me with, but in the former case the problem is concrete and external and has a specific solution, and in the latter case the problem is abstract and internal and the help comes in the form of supporting my self-care.

    The biggest problems that I’ve run into, as both the anxious person and the supportive partner, is when the line between external/concrete and internal/abstract blurs. That’s, IME, when you start to run into both the problem of making someone else responsible for your self-care (the “you are the only thing that can make me feel better, so it’s your JOB to make me feel better, and if I feel bad it must be your fault” problem) and the problem of internalizing everything (the “I have no right to be upset that he never does the damn dishes, because I”m probably crazy and blowing it out of proportion”). Those are both terrible mental traps, and worth avoiding.

  26. I have anxiety and avoidance, uh, issues, and I’m not sure that my story is going to be super useful, because effectively I needed to find someone I felt very strongly about who basically ‘love bombed’ me, so I didn’t constantly have that on-edge feeling of “I like this person more than they like me, they are going to leave me at any moment if I do even the slightest thing wrong.”

    I had a pretty emotionally unfortunate upbringing, a combination of early loss of a parent, the other parent being verbally/mentally not-good (ie I messed up school and parent said ‘I will be your parent and support you financially because I have to but I am done being there for you in any emotional way because you aren’t worth it’ and then not talk to me for 2 days…but anyway) and no friends my age till high school. My very first relationship I became obsessive to the point of stalkerish (I was 19.) We were very very bad for each other–she was becoming less interested in me romantically and didn’t tell me, just figured I should work it out on my own, and my response to this was to freak the hell out.

    So, after I moved out of toxic environment, and separated from first girlfriend, I went through a real life epiphany, found amazing friends, and in short, things were great! Except, in relationships I developed this really weird pattern, where I would develop strong feelings for the person I was with, but be unable to express them, and then the other person would break up with me because of lack of connection.

    When I met my current boyfriend three years ago we had an instant attraction/chemistry I’ve rarely experienced, and I explained to him some of my prior issues and how I tended to be, but told him I liked him a lot and didn’t want to mess this up. He’s much better at expressing emotions than I am, so once he knew i really did like him, just was not great at expressing it, he had no problem being very affectionate and make most of the emotional first moves in the relationship.

    One rule we have for each other is that we have to tell the other one if something is niggling at the jerkbrain regardless of circumstance. This wouldn’t work for all couples, but we both have the tendency to go ‘Oh no! Partner is upset! It is all my fault! They will now leave me!’ in our heads if we get that sense of ‘off’. So knowing that we will get an honest answer to ‘Hey, is everything all right?’ is great, as it helps us believe the ‘Yes, everything is great!’ and realize when it is just Bad Brain. And also, ‘Yes, I am bothered by something, but I can’t talk about it yet, it’s nothing you’ve done’ is a totally acceptable answer too. We’ve both had previous partners do the ‘nothing is wrong!’ then later say ‘you should’ve realized I was upset’, so both really try never to do anything like that.

    We also have similar needs when it comes to communication–ie we both need time alone, but are in pretty frequent text communication. So I’ll have a night to myself while he does something, or vice versa, but we’ll probably send four or five texts over the course of the night. That’s just how we roll, and others would be driven nuts by this kind of thing. But then, we’re fine with things other couples might not be. We both have no issue with the other one seeing someone one on one, regardless of gender, for instance. So, in my case it was really a case of being able to honest fairly early on, and finding someone who was complementary with my communication/attachment needs.

    • ” but we both have the tendency to go ‘Oh no! Partner is upset! It is all my fault! They will now leave me!’ in our heads if we get that sense of ‘off’.”

      OH MY GOSH WE DO THIS TOO. And it is so hard to adjust for, when we are both going “must not look sad, don’t want to make partner sad” and “Am sad because partner seems sad and is not telling me why” AT THE SAME TIME. We have several times gotten ourselves into mutual sad-spirals of avoidance and are still working on how to fix this.

  27. I am also a person who dates while having mental illness, including some pretty severe and (on a more prosaic level) very annoying abandonment/trust issues. Current boyfriend and I are doing pretty well, so hopefully I can be of use.

    First off, if you have told him, go you! That is a scary thing to do, well done. If you haven’t, I know I JUST said it was scary, but I think it’s also important and very likely to end well. I don’t think I could work out stuff with my boyfriend as easily if we weren’t coming at things from a place of knowing I have severe depression. Telling him didn’t mean he never made stupid insensitive jokes, or screwed up, or that I never did the whole ‘I am sad FIX IT’ thing to him, but it did mean we were both able to handle those mistakes with more understanding of where they had come from.

    But they still happen! I have done some crappy feelingsbombing, he has made some really insensitive comments, we have had a horrible public fight, this stuff happens. However, I think a big part of what allows me to cope with it is trying to keep the handling of my depression separate from handling my relationship with him. And also putting myself, and my mental health, unequivocally first. When we had the horrible public fight, it was because he was doing something that was causing me to feel unsafe talking about my depression around him, and that was not ok. Had he not responded with apologies, listening and us working on that, I would have broken up with him. I was also in therapy for most of the time we’ve been together, which I think helped a ton with keeping my sense of proportion healthy, and knowing what I did need to talk to him about and what was my stuff to handle.

    Is that last thing something you maybe need to work on? If your feelings of loneliness are because you are a person who needs to spend lots of time with their partner, then that is a Thing To Discuss. If it’s because your jerkbrain is telling you he doesn’t want to spend time with you because you are awful/he’s cheating/you smell etc. then you should for sure talk to a therapist about that. If you aren’t already seeing someone, do. This stuff is hard even without your brain being mean to you! And I know that my relationship works best when I am emotionally healthy*.

    *This phrasing is kind of wrong, because I have just come out of a four month run of BAD illness, culminating in a trip to A&E, and Boyfriend was brilliant and our relationship great. But I was also very good at keeping things separate where I needed to, and letting out the ‘oh God what if he leaves me because I’m crazy’ feels on other people.

  28. A few years ago, I met a wonderful guy: sweet, smart, attractive, honest, and VERY attentive. We started seeing each other, but I was just overwhelmed by the amount of time he wanted to spend with me, and I felt really smothered. He also had depression/anxiety issues. (To be fair, I probably do, too, but mine are undiagnosed and comparably minor.)

    I liked him a lot, and we clicked nicely, but ultimately, I had to end it after a few months, because I was not in a healthy place in my own life and couldn’t provide the attention and support that he needed from me. He would’ve stayed with me and tolerated the fact that I couldn’t meet his needs, but I ended it, because I knew it was wrong to be with someone who was willing to give me way more than I gave him in return.

    He was really hurt, and felt betrayed by me, but after a year or so we got back in touch through some mutual friends, and we’re very close friends now. He understands now why I made the choices I made, and he’s really grateful that I didn’t just go through the motions and drag it out when I knew it didn’t feel right long before he did.

  29. Hi, Alex T here, so glad the quote made the thread! And this thread could not have come at a more perfect time for me – I woke up and checked my inbox and sighed, “Oh, no *way*, the Captain is magic.”

    I have been single, and have also suffered from depression and anxiety, for many years. A bit over two weeks ago, I started dating a gorgeous guy and we had a whirlwind romance and we’re in love. We’ve talked about my mental health experiences and he seems totally supportive and understanding.

    The first complication: last weekend I went away on a mini-break to an isolated location with my sister, who is a functional alcoholic. I love spending time with her but I become stressed when she is drinking. On the final evening, I was Facebook chatting with the new guy and it was so! lovely! to talk to him! when I was already feeling stressed and YAY! It did not go well. He was busy working plus was coming down from party drugs and feeling a bit distant, and I was talking at him and missing him and feeling upset for no clear reason. I ended up messaging him the next day thanking him for being patient while I was off my game the day before, and letting him know I was taking a few days to de-stress and get back to my regular programming. (I had barely been back to my flat since we met and missing out on solo time in my happy place was another stressor).

    The step back was to deal with the (possibly irrational!) anxiety that I’m keener than he is, by making sure that I wasn’t the one pushing for us to see each other, and giving him a chance to initiate dates etc. I feel so comfortable when I’m with him that my inclination is to fit in with his plans e.g. co-working from his house together. (There are also locational and work flexibility factors which means that this makes sense). I’ve realised that I want quality time, not just quantity. My wanting to spend time with him while he is coding = snuggles with someone who is 95% focused elsewhere, and 5% giving me forehead-kisses when the next batch of experiments is running. I want to dial back the comfy domestic stuff and go out on dates where we need to put on clothes and pay each other our full attention. Hopefully that approach will also help us to structure what is “us” time and what is not.

    I don’t have clear answers about how to definitively tell what anxiety is from me and what anxiety is from the relationship. I’m pretty sure at this stage it’s me. When I’m with him I feel amazing. When I’m not with him I swing from feeling good to feeling doubtful and insecure. One thing he says he likes about me is the fact that I am in lots of ways secure, and bold, and outgoing – so I occasionally worry that I won’t be able to show my soft, anxious underbelly without risking a loss of his respect.

    My current strategies include:
    - Practising amazing self-care with good food, good sleep, light exercise, chats to friends (including “I am feeling anxious, can you help me?” chats), and trying to structure my time as rigidly as I can. “This is yoga time, not freaking out about my boyfriend time!”. Having some goddamn’ self-compassion.
    - Having “how do we run this relationship” conversations with him about how much communication we need, and what kind (Facebook chat is not for us). How are we going to keep in touch in a way that means that I don’t feel needy and he doesn’t feel obligated
    - Trying to step back to ensure that I am not ‘chasing’ him / putting in far more effort than he is. Recognising that he is a busy academic with an international conference presentation in a month’s time and a full and happy life, and that his not being in contact does not mean he is suddenly not in love with me.
    - Practising therapy techniques (such as mindfulness or Acceptance Commitment Therapy) – feeling what I feel while I am feeling it, like clouds passing across the sky.
    - Journalling to bleurgh out my anxieties and hopes and dreams and gushing in a no-judgment fashion – 750words.com
    - Noticing when I am catastrophising and stopping that shit: “What if we break up? What if he doesn’t like me? What if he DOES like me?” – Notice. Stop. Go and clean the kitchen. I end up with reduced anxiety and a cleaner kitchen. Win!
    - Deliberately choosing to trust him, and show that this shit is hard for me, and ask for his patience on the occasions I need it, and ask for a goodnight text / some form of small communication to let me know he is thinking of me (if he is! No pressure!)
    - At insecure moments, re-reading his nice texts or emails in a scanning way (not a nit-picking way), which reminds me that this dude says he loves me and says he wants me to be happy.

    Thank you so much for this incredibly timely advice, Captain. I will be eagerly following the comments and making mental notes to help me navigate these waters with this fantastic new boating buddy. I am so, so clear that I don’t want my anxiety to derail this relationship. :)

    • Thank you for sharing the actual strategies, that is super super helpful.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience and strategies! I can really relate to the idea of building and maintaining your relationship in a very conscious, deliberate fashion.

  30. I have skipped over comments to come post this before it escapes me, so apologies in advance for any repetitiveness.

    I am in a lovely relationship, and I am the anxiety-haver. I have MANY examples of how this has played out in my relationship, but I will point out one, which involve more proactiveness and less of me sitting on the floor crying for no reason (which does indeed happen at times.)

    Story #1: First of all, important to know that this is First Serious Capital Letters Relationship for both BF and myself. When we first met, everything was honeymooning and rainbows and puppies for a while. Because we had met online, habitually we did a lot of interacting over text and IM. I got into the habit of logging in to IM ALL the time to see if BF was there. (He always was, because he works in software and that’s one of the ways he stays available for his coworkers.) I liked the feeling of having him there AT ALL TIMES because Constant Connection! And he Always Wants To Talk! and also Always Available When I Feel The Slightest Bit Lonely! And the anxiety-having part of my brain thought this was awesome, because Proof that he actually wants to be with me, and such.

    Turns out though, this was Not Awesome for BF. First, he was working, and second, it’s a lot of pressure to feel like you have to be constantly available for someone. So, eventually, he initiated the SUPREMELY AWKWARD conversation where he went “Hey, it stresses me out when we IM constantly, because I feel like I can’t be doing other things since you expect me to be there, and also we run out of things to say so when we spend time together it feels less special. But I’m afraid of making you sad. What do we do?” And I had a very big Sad, and anxious brain went REJECTION! But the logical part of my brain that wasn’t made of velociraptors kicked in and said: “I’m sorry to hear that! What would make you feel better?” And he said “Lets stop IMing and texting for a while, and just do nightly short phone calls” And anxious brain went “HE DOESN’T WANT TO TALK TO YOU OHHH NOOOOOOOOOOOOO” but reasonable brain said: “Sure.” And we did that, and honestly it saved our relationship. I survived not talking, he actually called every time he said he would (which went a long way toward making me feel wanted), and the time we spent together in person suddenly started feeling shiny and exciting again. And once we had established some more normal communication patterns and I was feeling less anxious over What It All Means, we were able to go back to IMing and texting in a normal way. If he had forever not said something or if I had let my Jerkbrain convince me that his having boundaries meant REJECTION so that I didn’t listen when he did, we would have built up resentment and anxieties and pulling away and anxieties and avoiding and anxieties and rejection and Sadz, until one of us broke up with the other one. As it is, we sorted it out with a little work, and three years later (holy crap) we are still feeling awesome.

    So: There is hope! And also: Talk to him! And be prepared to do a little work and confront your worries a bit. It will be fine :) And even if there turn out to be things that cannot be fixed and you decide you must break up, it will still be fine.

  31. One more point in addition to my last comment – the boy is awesome and our time together is awesome. My job is to make sure the rest of my life is awesome and balanced enough so that he doesn’t become the Shining Beacon. My jerk!brain has fixed on shiny shiny inappropriate men as a distraction from both the daily grind and the unrelenting mental health grind before, and it never goes well. I need to be a whole, complete, as-happy-as-I-can-be person to have the relationship I want with this lovely lad. Plus I want a happy balanced life in general, so I have every incentive to try and strike the balance as best I can.

    • I don’t read fanfic, really, but I want to say that I really like your use of ! in jerk!brain to describe the jerkbrain as a alternate-story-line form of brain in that sort of fanficcy way.

  32. Several years ago, I issued my then-boyfriend and ultimatum: stop putting his family first CONSTANTLY, or at the very least communicate better with me and stop being so passive aggressive, or we’d break up. He blew off valentine’s day and my birthday (which is at the end of Feb) and i didn’t hear from him AT ALL that month, so I called him and left a break-up message on his voice mail (which I’d been trying to avoid), packaged up everything he sent me, and mailed it to him.

    About a year later “Lord Of The Rings” came out and I was so, so sad because I missed him. He was a huge LOTR fan so every single ad was a reminder of him. I called him, we started hanging out as friends, a few months later we started dating, a few years later we got married, and now we have a kid.

    It was really important for our relationship and our own maturity that we take some time apart. We were both able to grow and experience the world in ways we hadn’t been able to when were together, and we both worked out some mental health stuff and some general maturity level stuff, AND got a better idea of who we are as people.

    I think the life I have is really great and I’m glad I called him up and we got back together. But I also think I’d have a good life if I hadn’t called him up, if I’d started dating someone else or nobody at all. One of the biggest reasons I have a god life now is that I put myself first and did what I needed to do to take care of myself.

  33. I am currently in a relationship with someone who has issues with depression and anxiety. We had a long history and met when we were in middle school, separated for a while then reconnected.

    I understand him a lot more now, but it took a lot, A LOT of often frustrating conversations to understand why he wouldn’t eat at the dining table with me, why he doesn’t clean his apartment (This is an ongoing issue…) and why he shuts me out at times. I don’t think I fully ‘got it’ until I had some depression issues of my own surface in college. But even when I didn’t understand his issues or even know that an illness called depression even existed, I went out of my way to be open, trust that these feelings or lack of feeling were very real to him, and to ask what I could do to make him comfortable.

    My advise is to be gentile and honest with one another and to give your partner a chance to digest what was said before coming back to discuss it again. We worked out a signal for when he is in a depressive down swing and needs time alone, and a signal for when I have shit going on in my life that I really need him to make an effort to be there for me. It balances out, and while we have had some hard conversations, most of the time we just, fit. I don’t know how else to explain it. I am happy to be with him, I look forward to seeing him. I feel safe, I feel like he gives me space to be my own person and still supports me. I know that he makes an effort for his own mental and physical health and does not always rely on me. We have both maintained that we are together because we choose to be, not because we need each other to survive. I even value our difficult conversations, because by the end of them we understand more about each other and can both be better partners. I could be doing the shittiest, grossest job on the face of the earth, and I know that having him there would make it better. He made moving cross country fun! We had this terrifying decoy owl that we would hide in each other’s drawers, car trunks, cubbards, pile of clothes, etc. Yesterday I went out to my car to leave for work and the damn thing was buckled into the passenger seat with a baseball cap on. He must have snuck out of bed somewhere between 12 am and 6am to set it up. We have difficult conversations, but we have a lot of fun too.

    I have also been in good but not great relationships. Ending them has always been a struggle for me, and I am ashamed to say I have done the slow fade and acted in a less then honorable manner. Part of knowing it was time to leave was that I simply didn’t feel up to being with them. Going to his events, listening to him talk about the trials of his day were taxing and left me exhausted. I realized that I was having to feign interest in his life, his interests and it always left me feeling, fake. It was a bit like a pebble in the shoe sort of feeling, that something you can’t articulate is a bit off, and it just builds and gets more and more irritating. It got to the point where the way he ate food bothered me. If your own partner gives you ‘bitch eating crackers’ irritation, then it is time to let go for both your sakes. It was difficult, because I would love him, but not exactly like him, or like him, but not love him on different days. He spoke about the future, about moving in together and I felt a bizarre sense of dread.
    I stuck with it though, because I had read all of these stories about how relationships naturally reach a lull, how everyone gets annoyed with their partner. My parents are not particularly affectionate, so I thought most relationships gradually faded into a committed tolerance. He picked up on my disinterest and told me how lonely he felt, then I realized that something really was wrong, I was hurting him too.

    I decided that if all relationships naturally turn into a rut where you just eat meals together and strain to care about when the other is saying, then I would rather die alone with friends and a house of dogs. I wanted a connection with another person, something alive, breathing and fun. A strong bond to build a life together. A good, laughing, supportive life. I don’t know if what I have now is that, but so far I am enjoying figuring it out.

    Relationships should add more then they subtract in regard to your quality of life and how you feel about yourself. It may not feel great every day, but it should feel good. It should feel good, feel strong and respected. Staying in a ‘meh’ relationship, even with a good person just wasn’t worth it for me.

    Sorry for the length!

  34. I fall under #2, a habitual short-termer. A friend told me once that she admired the way that I would get myself out of a relationship as soon as I realized that it was not right–no dilly-dallying. It’s tough to pinpoint anything in particular, there have been some great people crossing my path, those people I really thought were wonderful and kind and fun. But I know how I want to feel, and when I can tell that I will not/no longer feel that way, I cut the ties. When I find that feeling I’m looking for, I stick around.
    I’ve been dumped my fair share as well and have been bummed when something seemed to end earlier than I wanted. And while that’s no fun and you go through a little bit of oh god what’s wrong with me, in hindsight I kinda appreciate every dumper’s honesty and willingness to let me go before I got too attached.
    I always try to remember, ‘no good reason to break up’ is not the same as’ good reason to stay’.
    ps- I love the piece from The Champ. Don’t we always cheer for our friends (and ourselves sometimes too) when we break free from something crappy!

  35. I broke up with my first girlfriend despite the fact that she was sweet, funny, and we had a lot of the same interests. Neither of us were abusive, we just weren’t such a great match in the end. We weren’t terribly good at communicating with each other when we needed to, so most of the time I was just bumbling along feeling like I had no clue what was going on or what we really meant to each other. (We dated again later and that time she instigated the breakup, so I can only assume that she felt the same way.)

    Anxiety had nothing to do with that one that I know of – back then it hadn’t really come on yet.

    I’ve been with my current partner for about three years, and my anxiety started being a noticeable thing a couple of years ago. Actually my partner was a big, helpful part of getting me to realise what my anxiety was, since at the time it had become such a huge part of my life that it felt totally normal for me. I forgot what it felt like to not be anxious and I forgot that everyone else doesn’t feel this way. I’m getting counselling and it seems to be helping.

    Within our relationship the anxiety doesn’t actually have dire implications. We’d already found our rhythm with each other before my anxiety started flaring up, so it was just a case of reiterating boundaries and what we want from each other. We have Big Scary Relationship Talks at least once a week, and they’re no longer scary. We’re poly so that involves quite a bit of negotiating anyway, just to make sure that we’re still happy and comfortable with each other.

    My partner is super supportive and he’s done a lot of research in his own time about anxiety stuff, so at this point he probably knows more about it than I do.

  36. “1. People in mostly happy relationships where at least one partner has anxiety. How do you guys deal with the ups and downs? How do you guys sort out whether a relationship issue is the anxiety talking?”

    My partner and I both deal with varying amounts of anxiety, although I feel as though mine takes center stage more frequently (for me, it’s paired with chronic depression, for which I am getting treatment). We have a few ways that we get through the tough times, although the majority of our methods seem to boil down to COMMUNICATION OMGS FOREVAR.

    When one of us is feeling consumed by, or even just affected by, our anxiety, we tend to mention it – just a “heads up, I think I’m getting kind of anxious about this thing here” or “hey, I’m feeling pretty anxious but I don’t know why”. This helps us both stay on the same page and navigate the situation together, instead of trying to guess how we’re both feeling and how to respond.

    We tend to use spoon terminology quite frequently; for instance, if I’m feeling anxious, I will mention it to my partner and he may say that he doesn’t have the spoons to really handle it full-on at that moment. This helps me to know that, while he wants to help and support me, he doesn’t have the ability to take on all my issues right then, and I am able to go back to my anxiety and work on it by myself a bit. It can feel rough at the time but the fact that we look out for our own mental/emotional health as well as each other’s is crucial to not overwhelming each other with ALL the feels and getting exhausted.

    One of the ways my partner deals with his anxiety is by treating himself, especially when I am low on spoons and not able to help as much. He’ll watch favorite tv shows, eat favorite foods, or find other enjoyable activities to take his mind out of the cycle of anxiety. I will also occasionally use this method; I frequently find that giving myself space, by reading or making pottery or coloring (some sort of creative endeavor) can help as well, until we both have spoons to work on it together again, or until I feel better/distracted enough to go back to my life. It can be really important for us to find our own ways to deal with our anxiety away from each other, so that we aren’t wholly dependent on the other one fixing our feelings.

    The most important thing is that we give ourselves room to feel our anxiety but not let it take over; that we talk to each other about it and, if one of us can’t handle too much talking, just sit together or hug for a while. This reassurance that we are here for each other helps us get through the mountains and the valleys together.

    P.S. Long-time reader, first-time poster. I have learned so much from CA and everyone over the years, I’m excited to finally contribute and maybe help a bit in my own way.

  37. I feel like I fall into both categories of comments. The easier one to explain is how I knew my ex just wasn’t the right person for me. The thing is, on a day-to-day basis, I quite enjoyed his company. We had some long-term compatibility clashes, but we were great friends. But then he moved to another state for grad school and asked me to come with him and I just balked. I used my job as an excuse to stay and we tried being long distance*. We stayed together for a month or two after that, and during the time when he wasn’t around, I realized that I was OK without him and that the fact I had instinctively recoiled from moving to be with him was an indication that something was wrong. At this point I suspected he was thinking of marriage, and I imagined my life with him and it just left me cold. The thought of it felt perfectly comfortable, but nothing to get excited about. So I ended things. Part of why I know my current partner is right for me is that when I think about a future with him I get excited and daydreamy. It’s like an adventure to look forward to, not something to fear.

    As for the other thing, I have anxiety and depression, and unfortunately it’s been in a bad cycle for a good chunk of our relationship (much, much less so now though). In a way there are two parts to it: Getting through a crisis and working on improving each others’ understanding of how to interact around/with the mental illness.

    When I went through a really bad cycle and I was convinced that I was so unlovable and I was looking for proof that he hated me in every interaction, I started to act so unreasonable that I actually was driving him away. I remember my mother gave me the advice to work on myself as much as I could and demonstrate to him that I was trying to get better, but that in the meantime I should ask him what he needed from me to make the relationship work better for him in the short term. The idea was that if we could smooth over some short-term issues, we could reach a point where things were calmer and we could re-evaluate our long-term plan. It worked really well for us. He gave me a couple of tangible things I could do to make my depression more bearable for him, and that in itself helped me feel less insecure. I remember once feeling really proud because I had gone a whole day without asking him if he loved me, and that was real progress.

    The other thing is difficult. We communicate a lot. We analyze how my mental illnesses affect our own side of the relationship and tell the other person about it when we are calm, and then we work out a game plan. We have had many little talks and a few big talks about things like what to do if I’m having a panic attack or “can you not try to fix my problems unless I ask you to?” and “can you not say ‘I need to talk to you’ with me and keep me waiting because it makes me anxious and I will assume the absolute worst” and “I’ve noticed that I act like x when I’m depressed, so if you notice it and I don’t feel free to tell me so I can take appropriate action” or, from his side, “I know you get anxious and worry that I’ll leave you, but can you communicate that to me in a way that doesn’t sound like you’re angry with me?” It’s been a long process and we’re not perfect, but we are both happy with each other and the relationship and we have come a very long way.

    One last thing (and I do apologize for the long comment) is that he read a book called “When someone you love has a mental illness.” I think I heard about it here, actually. It is mostly for the loved ones of people with severe depression, bipolar or schizophrenia, but he skimmed it and read the sections that were relevant to him/us and found it incredibly helpful. I would not recommend reading it if you are the depressed person, because I did and it made me feel incredibly guilty, but I would definitely recommend it to loved ones of people with those specific diagnoses. Not sure if that bit is helpful to the LW, but I like to throw it out there just in case.

    *Note to people in a long-distance relationship: The fact that my LDR did not work out was entirely due to the fact that we were incompatible and not due to the distance. The relationship ended for unrelated reasons and I am not trying to cast a reflection on LDRs in general.

    • I, too, had the experience of knowing a relationship was over when he started bringing up marriage. Instead of feeling excited and giddy and in love, I felt… disappointed. Like, “This is fine, but is *fine* the best I get for THE REST OF MY LIFE?” I ended things about a month later, and it was incredibly hard because he desperately wanted a reason (something he could “fix”) and I couldn’t give him one.

      • Yes! My ex also was really insistent that I give him a reason. I remember trying to explain that “when I think about living with you forever, I see myself feeling dissatisfied after 15 years and being bored and stifled and wanting a divorce” or something like it but in a nicer way. But then he responded “but you don’t KNOW that. You can’t read the future. We could be happy if you just tried.” And that’s when I realized that giving someone honest reasons why you are dumping them is not always the best policy, no matter how much they ask.

  38. I’m one of those folks who ended a relationship with a perfectly good person because it was just meh. I had a lot of my own stuff going on at the time and the time and effort it took to build a new solid relationship was really taking away from all the self-work I had to do. I was doing well without a partner before we started dating and thought it’d be okay to add another person to the mix, but it turned out I was wrong. I broke up with her after having met her family, and after having exchanged “I love you”s, so there was a fair amount of external pressure to “make it work”.

    What really drove me to break up (and save both of us the time) was something a friend of mine said to me – she said that my partner would not be the ONLY person to ever want a relationship with me, that at any given time there are several people whom I would be compatible with, that this was not my last and only chance at everlasting romantic bliss and _even if there was nothing really wrong with our relationship_ if it didn’t feel right this early on, it probably wouldn’t later.

    LW, you say you ended a crappy relationship earlier this year. This new guy you’re dating is not going to be the only guy in the world who does not treat you like crap. There will be other people who will be wonderful partners, and who will treat you with respect and love and care. Maybe just something to keep in mind.

  39. Speaking out for situation #2 here. By way of background, I went to a small conservative college where it was understood that female students were there to find a Good Man. And while I was attending college in order to learn and get a degree, I did hope to find me one of those Good Men as well. In my first year there, I met a *perfectly* nice guy. We shared the same faith, liked a lot of the same things, had pleasant conversations, went out for several months…

    …and I started deliberately not answering the phone when I saw his number, leaving the apartment by the back door when I knew he was waiting in the lobby, and making plans with friends so I could decline when he suggested that we do something. My roommate and friends thought I was crazy. “He’s smart! He’s cute! He likes you! What more do you want?” I couldn’t articulate it, but I *knew* it was “not this”. Conversations where our responses mirrored each other because we were so very much alike, discreet hand-holding (mustn’t carbonate those hormones!), and a broad, general feeling of…tolerance. And when I confronted the common viewpoint at that school at that time–that a female should be either in a relationship, or looking to be in one–and said “self, would you rather be with this guy than be single?”, my self stated emphatically “SINGLE LADIES PUT YOUR HANDS UP!”

    He was honestly confused when I told him I didn’t feel it was working for me, and we were never friends, but he was gracious enough to respect my wishes. And I found out that having someone to go out with on Friday nights kind of sucks when you don’t particularly want to be out with them, or in with them. Which was an excellent lesson to carry through my twenties

  40. I had a relationship that didn’t have any abuse issues it just didn’t work out.
    To start I had just turned 18 when the relationship started though we met a few months before. He was 22 is. I realize now he was sorta Nice Guying himself until I turned 18 but that is neither here nor there. I realized early on that we had different ways of communicating. I much prefer face to face communication for major relationship stuff. He preferred to call and do it over the phone. So if something bothered him he would call me after a date to discuss it instead of doing so when we were together. He also wanted to get a lot more physical than I was. I some point I realized I didn’t even find him attractive. I started thinking about whether or not to break up with him and how. He came over one day and hung out for most of the day. I wanted to play a game well a video game and I didn’t get to very often so I was playing for most of the afternoon that he was there. I guess he was bothered by the fact that I didn’t need to revolve around him to have fun even when he was there. But after he left he called and said that he was not feeling like I really cared and that he wanted to be more the center of my attention when he is around and he felt like the relationship wasn’t going anywhere. He told me he thought we should break up (he did lead the conversation with this actually). I asked him why and after he explained told him how I was feeling about the communication issues and that I didn’t really think we wanted the same things out of a relationship right then. He told me he still wanted a relationship but wanted my behavior to change. We broke up and managed to have a civil relationship after that (though he definitely still wanted to date me for a long time). I would have stopped talking to him more but at the time he was tutoring my little brother and he is a family friend of my absolute best friend. I realize now that I wasn’t attracted to him from the beginning but was trying to get used to my new “18 and a freshman in college” thing while also trying to recover from the last two years of high school that had been rough on me. I wasn’t looking to settle down and he was so it wasn’t going to work even if I did find him attractive. We also had very different values. I was looking for a friend and confused that with something it wasn’t. This most certainly wasn’t an abusive relationship so I thought it appropriate for this thread. We had very little in common in things other than some fringe bits of our respective hobbies and a mutual friend.

  41. Number 2 is really relevant to me. I ended my first real relationship after six months, despite being 21 and having my number one goal in life be “boyfriend” for as long as I could remember at the time. He’s a great guy, but we were incompatible on so many different levels.

    Number one, we were at opposite ends of the cuddling spectrum. Touch is a fundamental part of how I communicate love, and understand other people communicating love to me. Not getting a good-bye kiss could make me sad the whole drive home, no matter how fun the evening was up until then. He felt uncomfortable so much as hand holding in front of other people. We tried to find a happy middle, but the only middle was pretty unhappy.

    Number two, he was very opinionated and liked expressing strong feelings. That’s fine, but the trouble is that he likes expressing them to people who share his strong feelings, either by agreeing with him, or by disagreeing with him in an intense, yay-let’s-have-a-debate way. I have opinions, but often they’re in shades of grey. I like seeing multiple sides to an issue and often my take is honestly neutral, which frustrated him when it came to things he was passionate about.

    Number three, while he was a nice guy, when he’s in a bad mood he gets very snappy. I grew up in a house where my Dad would switch from seeming calm to shouting and swearing at the drop of a hat, so I didn’t react well to being snapped at.

    Number four, we had radically different hopes for our relationship. I was hoping for something permanent. He was really just having fun without much thought for the future.

    So clearly, nothing wrong with being the kind of person he is, nothing wrong with being the kind of person I am, something very wrong with the two of us trying to be together. Since breaking up with him, I’ve become a lot more confident and less needy, partly from seeing that, yes, I can have a boyfriend, and no, losing said boyfriend won’t be the end of the world. I’ve intentionally been single for a while now while working on myself/my non-relationship plans for the future, and that’s been a great decision. I still want a (more compatible) boyfriend someday, but I’m not gonna lie, singleness rocks.

  42. Reading this post has led me to reflect on the fact that, in all those many ways that we are constantly talking about romantic relationships, there is virtually no discussion of the fact that people may have different needs/desires in terms of how much time they want to spend with each other. There are discussions of one partner (usually female) being clingy and wanting to spend too much time, but that’s about it. But we all have different needs/preferences for how we spend our hours of the day, and romance is no exception. Perhaps something similar is going on with LW and her boyfriend, and that does not mean that either one is in the wrong. It doesn’t make LW “clingy” nor does it make the boyfriend *insert male derogatory term here*.

    I’m fortunate the both of my breakups were for “Meh” reasons, and I broke up with my most recent boyfriend largely due to time issues. I did really like him and like spending time with him, but I needed a lot more time away from him than he did from me. I was happy to see him once or twice a week; he would happily spend days together with no break. It led to a sad cycle of him not seeing me as much he wanted, and me feeling guilty that I didn’t want to see him more. And I knew it was time to break up when I came to fully understand that we had such profound differences, and when the guilt/sadness started to overwhelm the happy times I spent with him. I did love him, so I didn’t see any reason to press through with the work that the relationship had become.

  43. I was once in a situation where I similarly, couldn’t read the other person at all. In retrospect, I also think we had different ideas of what the relationship was/could be. The relationship occurred at a really bad time in my life, and not being able to read the other person + their tendency to say and do things that accidentally pressed all my insecurity buttons triggered the heck out of my already heightened anxiety. The situation sort of imploded.

    I don’t think it would have lasted if I’d been in a better place elsewhere in my life. I probably would have ended it sooner, actually, since I would have been less “AAAAAAH, WHAT IS MY LIFE” and more “This one thing is not making me happy.” The relationship wasn’t horrible, but we were seriously incompatible. Part of that was my issues (hey there, insecurity), but all humans are human and it’s okay to want to be around other humans who don’t highlight the parts of ourselves that maybe we don’t enjoy.

  44. This letter literally could have been written by me a couple months ago, and I’ve actually got experience with both situations the captain asked about.

    To tackle the good-people-relationship-didn’t-work bit first, this is kind of what happened with the guy I dated through two years of college. It was a good relationship that definitely helped us both recover from past not-good relationships and gave us a better perspective on the way healthy relationships work, because neither of us had really been in a good relationship before that point.

    However, as time went on, we started to realize that while we had a lot in common, had fun together, and even loved each other, the relationship was just not working out. Part of the issue was that the physical spark went out of it, but a bigger part (and what led to that, I think) was that we just have very different styles.

    I’m an assertive person, but he’s very conflict-avoidant. I’m not always very perceptive, and he’s not great at talking about his feelings. I’m a very independent person, while he’s much more into being part of a community. I have a perpetual case of itchy feet, where he just wants to find a place to settle down long term. I want to have plenty of time outside of work to live my life with the person I love, where his ideal profession involves a lot of long hours.

    It just wasn’t working, and we were both starting to feel a little miserable because we could both foresee compromises and conflicts that would leave us both unhappy.

    So, we tried to take a break. We realized that we both felt much better without the stress of the relationship, and officially ended it. We were both much happier for it, and are now pretty good friends. I think that he’s a very good person – there was just a lot of incompatibilities that just weren’t going to resolve themselves. We’re both much happier now, because we’ve found relationships that don’t involve the same sorts of compromise.

    As far as being depressed/anxious in a relationship goes… oh boy.

    Like I said, this could have been written by me a few months ago, darth vader boyfriend aside. (I have a couple, but those ended a long time ago.) I’ve always struggled with depression, and in the last couple years my anxiety has gotten to be really bad as well.

    I was avoiding relationships, but then I met this guy who was in a couple classes with me in grad school. He was cute and fun to talk to, so when he asked if I wanted to get drinks to celebrate the end of the semester, I said yes.

    Long story short: we got drinks, I liked him, we had a couple more date-ish things, and then we kissed and ultimately became a couple.

    I was very, very anxious about all of this. LW, everything you are describing, I felt. I wasn’t sure whether he really liked me. If he didn’t text me back quickly, I assumed that he found me annoying. If he said he was busy, I assumed that he was avoiding me. If he ran late, I assumed that he was just blowing me off. If he missed a class (we had another together in the spring), I assumed it was because he didn’t want to see me. Every little thing got interpreted in the most negative way possible, and it was like I was just looking for proof that he didn’t really like me.

    I didn’t feel this way when we were actually together. When we were together, I really enjoyed myself. The rest of the time, though? I spent a lot of it a complete wreck and on the verge of breaking up with him, even though I really liked spending time with him and even though he seemed to enjoy spending time with me. It didn’t help that I had a hard time reading him, because he tends to be relaxed and easygoing in general.

    Fast forward a few months. We’re still together, and my anxiety and depression is gradually coming a little more under control, at least in regards to him. Now I’m a lot more confident about his feelings toward me, and while I still have a lot of moments of doubt, they’re not consuming me like they did. I also don’t think that he’s taken on too much of the responsibility for my emotional well-being, which is very important.

    Part of what’s helped me has just been time – if he’s still hanging around, he must like me – but there’s also been a lot of communication that’s made a huge difference. I’ve tried to be more open about what’s going on with me and in my head, and when things are really bad I do try to reach out to him for support, even if it’s something as simple as a text saying, “Sorry about how dead your fish are. I still like you, though.” (Hyperbole and a Half ftw. Such a great analogy.)

    I think that knowing where my head is has helped him figure out how to think about what he’s saying and how I might interpret it a bit more. (Not overly more – just a bit.) Things like, “Sure, sounds good” turn into “Yes, I’d love to see you.” The latter is *true* – it’s just not how he was articulating it before. Sometimes, those little things make a big difference for me.

    He has also done a very good job at being supportive without taking on the burden of my mental health. He frequently ignores me when I say things that he sees as putting myself down. (He doesn’t always – when I’m clearly very distressed, he asks relevant questions and comforts me – but when it’s random self-deprecating comments, he usually does.)

    It makes me annoyed in the moment, but I’m very grateful afterward, because the message he’s giving me is that he’s my boyfriend, not my champion: he’ll give me support and perspective, but he won’t get sucked into a pattern of defending me against myself. That’s a good thing, at least for me.

    It’s not perfect, of course, and it’s been very tough for me to get even this far. I probably wouldn’t have if I didn’t have some friends and a brother who were very reassuring and talked me down from the ledge of break ups when I climbed up and it made no sense. I’m also trying to address my issues with my psychiatrist and therapist, because there are still a lot of them.

    But it’s much better than it was, and I’m glad I hung in here, because he’s a great guy. Communication has been key, and so has the perspective of the people around me so when I’m feeling uncomfortable about the relationship, I’m not usually talking to him about it.

    *hugs* Good luck.

    • “If he didn’t text me back quickly, I assumed that he found me annoying.”

      Oh gosh. I just remembered something that happened a while ago – my partner was late home from work, wasn’t responding to my calls, and my jerkbrain had me utterly convinced that he’d been in a car accident. Not texting me back? Must be dead!

      It’s sort of funny in retrospect, but it wasn’t at the time.

      • Oh man, I get that too! It’s just the most ridiculous thing.

      • Oh, boy, yes. I do that too. Once my partner stayed late at work without telling me and I was seriously five minutes from driving his route home to see if I saw his truck in flames by the side of the road when he walked in the door.

  45. I am a person with a history of depression that still comes back from time to time married to a person with some anxiety issues. We’ve been married three years and have a newborn now. I think there are two things that really work for us in our relationship.
    1. Honestly and explicitly saying where we are emotionally. When we ask each other how we’re doing we actually want to know how the other is doing. And we take the answer at face value. If I say “fine” then he accepts that I’m fine. If he says “a little anxious” then I accept that as the truth. We don’t have to spend any time or emotion wondering if “fine” really means “fine.” It does.
    2. Honestly and explicitly saying what we need from the other. If I ask him if there’s anything I can do for him and he says “nothing” then I accept that that’s exactly what he needs and that’s what I do. If I say I need to have some time alone in the house he accepts that and finds somewhere else to be for a while. We know that it’s about needs and not necessarily about each other. “I need to be alone” doesn’t mean “I don’t want to be around you.” We know that, so it’s safe to ask for what we need.
    I know this sort of thing probably wouldn’t work for everyone btu there’s a great deal of comfort in knowing that I’m in a relationship with someone who actively cares about me and my needs and who is able/willing to allow me to care about him and his needs.

  46. I am someone who is both in a relationship and dealing with ongoing anxiety and depression. Sometimes both are well-managed, sometimes one or the other comes out to interfere with my life for a bit. My long-term partner (a little over ten years, whoa) probably has depression but has never been diagnosed as far as I know.

    When we first started dating for real, my mental health issues were still completely undiagnosed and untreated, and I had a LOT of worries that they Just Weren’t That Into Me, etc. I felt like I needed a lot of reassurance, but didn’t know how to ask for it without sounding clingy. Plus I found that I needed a lot of space sometimes too. It turned out that we do sometimes have different needs and communication styles; I tend to process my anxiety and upset feelings by talking about it and my partner tends to process it all internally and just dive into a solitary project for a while. When our flareups happen at the same time, I’ve learned to be pretty forthcoming about what I need and ask for it. “Can you take a break and snuggle with me on the couch for a minute?” “I need to get outside of the house for a minute, should I wait for you to be done or go on my own?” “When can we sit down and spend some time doing [x] together this week?” “I’ve been pretty wrapped up in my own head lately, is there something you need from me that I can help with?”

    Also: last year I was in a long-distance relationship with a dear friend. I suppose this is an example of #1 and #2: we were communicating mostly by long emails, and when he was busy enough that he took a while to respond I found myself worrying a little. I am a Golden Retriever of Love sort of person, especially early on in relationships, and started to have the vague worry that I was the More Invested One and would sound really needy asking for more attention.
    But I realized I was starting to be in a bad place mentally, and in my next email said “hey you, it makes me so happy when you text me to say hello in between writing these great long emails, can you do that a little more?” and he would text and tweet at me a little more often after that. It really just took me asking.
    Things didn’t work out for a few reasons, not all of which I’m comfortable sharing here, but the distance was a big part of it (and we both knew there was no real chance we’d live near each other in the near future). I have a lasting bittersweet sadness about the whole thing, because he’s a wonderful person and I do love him, but the ldr was just not working for me. I’m sad about it, but ending the romantic relationship was the best thing for my mental health and it doesn’t reflect on him as a person.

  47. This isn’t either of the comment-types that was asked for, though it is a comment about the captain’s post, so if it is out-of-line please feel free to delete it. I just wanted to ask if the captain would consider using the term “girlfriend” only to refer to people in romantic relationships. My reasons for asking: I think it’s exclusionary language or is confusing. Firstly, the usage of it to refer to ones fellow women who are friends came from a time when lesbian relationships were not allowed by culture and law, and now that they are some people still don’t understand that times have-a-changed (Real conversation I’ve had – Me: My girlfriend and I are buying a bed together. Mother: Oh that’s nice! Saving money by not buying seperately? Me: *headdesk*), and so the dual meanings are not really helping lesbian-relationship-havers out and letting them live their lives without having to constantly explain their relationships as different-than-what-is-normal. Secondly, bisexual people (who have a boyfriend but then go out with girlfriends!) exist, which is what I initially thought that role-reversal example was maybe trying to say and I was confused, and they too deal with the same language aggravation that lesbians do. And lastly, Poly people and people in open relationships and other not-necessarily-hetero-non-monogamous relationships exist, (My boyfriend is at home while I go out with my girlfriends suddenly seems like a great reason to sit down and maybe discuss time-sharing jealousy issues suddenly!). And if we always assume that when someone talks about their girlfriends it also kinda leave poly people in language-limbo and constantly having to explain and justify their relationships as no, not what you think it is.

    Anyway, in context I did figure out what you mean after a re-read, so it’s no big deal and I don’t want to step on toes and this is 100% your space to do with as you please, I just think even mildly exclusionary language is no good and this seems like that to me.

    • Yes this! I’m bi and sometimes it’s really hard to make that part of my identity clear when people assume that I am straight because I have a masculine-presenting partner. Talking about girlfriends just makes people assume I mean girl-space-friends. (Which would be a weird phrase for me considering I don’t usually divvy up my interaction with people on the basis of gender.) So then I have to really blatantly mention the queer groups I attend, or marriage equality rallies or something, or say “ex-girlfriend” which is at least clearly non-platonic but dwelling on exes in conversations with new people can be pretty awkward.

      I just like to imagine super-masculine straight men talking about going to see a football match with their “boyfriends”.

      I think using “girlfriends” platonically is also something of an empowering thing? But yes, definitely confusing, definitely something I have found personally annoying. Maybe I should start referring to the women I am in relationships in as “WOMAN-SHAPED ROMANTICALLY-ATTACHED PERSON THAT I SOMETIMES HAVE SEX WITH”. Totally not awkward.

      • Haha, totally! I think that’s why my friends-group landed on ‘my sweetie’ for that.

      • Oddly, in British English it’s actually the opposite – “girlfriend” is always romantic. We’d never refer to our female friends that way. Not sure how or why that difference arose.

        • Really? That’s interesting – I’m Australian but I could have sworn I’ve heard British relatives use “girlfriend” platonically. Maybe a regional/class/age thing? Or maybe just influence of American television :P

    • I changed it in the OP, thanks for this insight. I will try to be more careful and deliberate in how I use it in the future.

  48. “Conversation #1 is about how your relationship should work and what you want and need. You would need to have it if you were 100% mentally ok and not having any of the paranoid or anxious feelings you are having right now.”

    I just want to double, triple +1 this. I am in a long term heterosexual relationship that has progressed along such “normal” lines that societal expectation in general would be that we would never have a conversation about it. But as it happens, I’m queer, and had been single for seven or eight years (mostly happily!) beforehand, and had had time to think hard about what I wanted and how to negotiate that, so when my partner and I got together, I figured I should do that anyway. As a result, we have both known from day one that we wanted the same thing (monogamous, long-term relationship) and have been able to regularly check in on our expectations without it seeming like a big deal. A bunch of conversations that could have been hard – whether to move in together, whether to get married, etc – have been instead easy, because they weren’t out of the blue, and we already had a good idea of what the other person would want from all the other conversations we’ve had.

    Also, when we got together, I was living alone in a tiny flat, and I loved it. I had just managed to achieve living solo instead of with housemates (who had been making me miserable). It was taking up pretty much my entire income, and it was worth every penny. I would not have given that up for anything less than really, really wanting to live with a particular person or people, and as a result, living with my partner became a positive choice that I made because I really wanted it, not because I needed a new living situation or felt like I ‘ought’ to. Obviously that particular scenario is really dependant on a bunch of factors like income and whether or not you enjoy living alone – but I think it generalizes out, too. By the time I met my partner I was happy being single. I really appreciated a lot of things I knew I’d lose if I were in a relationship. So choosing to be in a relationship meant deciding that what I’d get out of it was worth the exchange – and being picky about whether or not a relationship would give me that.

    All of which boils down to a big vote for enjoying being single, and for having conversations about expectations even when they seem obvious.

  49. 1. People in mostly happy relationships where at least one partner has anxiety. How do you guys deal with the ups and downs? How do you guys sort out whether a relationship issue is the anxiety talking?

    We talk constantly. CONSTANTLY. We talk about what’s on our minds and whether we think it’s coming from a place of anxiety or depression. We respect each other’s take (“Wow, honey, that sounds way out of proportion”), but the person whose brain it is has the last word on whether the concern is legit or nonsense. We offer each other a lot of patient support (“Ugh, I hate it when I get worried about things like that even though I know everything is fine, I’m so sorry you’re going through that”) and reality checks (“That said, you do know everything is fine, right? Because I promise that everything is totally fine”). We talk more. Dragging this stuff out into the light, even when it’s hideously embarrassing to have ever thought something so loony as “I’m scared you’re going to leave” or whatever, is the only way to put it in context and see if it makes sense. Anxiety makes some things look huge and other things look tiny; you need another person there to provide a sense of scale.

    One big hallmark of anxiety is not wanting to talk about whatever’s bothering you because deep down you know that the other person will provide reassurance/a reality check and you won’t be anxious anymore. If you have a real concern, you probably want it to be fixed. But anxiety doesn’t want to be fixed; it wants you to go on being anxious. I think of it like a parasite that wants to stay alive, so it discourages host behavior that might lead to the host taking anti-anxiety measures. Creepy thing.

    2. People who ended relationships with perfectly good people for reasons of “Meh, it just wasn’t working out.” … “Nobody mistreated anyone, but this is how I knew that it was not what I wanted.”

    I had one of those with someone who’s still very dear to me. We have completely incompatible views on what constitutes “being partners”. For example, I value planning while she values spontaneity. I put regular dates with her on my calendar to show my dedication, but then she felt neglected because I didn’t spontaneously ping her to hang out, which I felt was an unfair imposition on my busy schedule and distracted brain… that sort of thing. We do much better as friends. When something’s not working, you’re completely allowed to either try to fix it or accept that the best relationship between you and the other person may have a different shape than the one you originally expected or hoped for.

  50. My first major relationship lasted almost exactly for the first year of university/college. It contained a lot of firsts, but most importantly for me, was my first attempt at really sharing my life with another person. He was lovely, and we had a good time figuring out lots of ins and outs of feelings at each other and so on. But then the Summer vacation happened and I took all my new-found self-confidence that I’d built with him and my new friends at uni and I went out on my own and with my family and travelled and made friends and flirted and talked to new people and just WON. And when I came back to uni and we saw each other again, I wasn’t happy with him anymore. There were lots of reasons I could have ascribed it to, but what it boiled down to was ‘when we were last together before this Summer, doing stuff with you made me happy. Now, it doesn’t do that for me much anymore.’ No one did anything wrong, and I owe that relationship and him a lot of my personal growth. But we ended it pretty quickly and although it took some getting over for both of us, it was definitely the right decision.

    Nowadays, I am starting to face up to some anxiety problems that I’ve been having for a while, and am in another long-term relationship. My partner has been helpful in keeping me grounded and being very supportive in a ‘limitless number of hugs’ kind of way. I have a tendency to talk myself round in horrible anxious circles, and his approach of non-verbal support has been very helpful with that, because he tends to only want to talk things through when I’m calmer. He is also very good at talking me down off sudden-decision-ledges, like when I suddenly decided I wasn’t happy in our relationship a couple of months ago, and then two days later realised that I’d just had a wobble about life in general and that it wasn’t true at all. I think he does a good job of not ignoring my current feelings but accepting that they may well be transient, and just waiting and seeing without freaking out. Which of course gives me space to share them without worrying that they’ll be acted upon in ways we’ll regret.

  51. First up, you deserve a good relationship! Maybe this is the one for you, maybe not, but don’t let the jerkbrain tell you you don’t deserve it.

    People in mostly happy relationships where at least one partner has anxiety.

    *waves* My partner suffers from depression. He was in an up point when we got together but has had ups and downs since and is currently on anti-depressants. Meanwhile, I am finding that I have quite a lot of anxiety about relationships which can be exacerbated by his depression: I was previously in a very long-term relationship which broke down, and while my ex was going through the ‘I think I don’t want to be in this relationship anymore’ stages he behaved in ways which were very similar to depression (or, I guess, had situational depression). So I get a double dose of ‘serious relationships can break down’ and ‘people who stop loving you behave like this’ jerkbrain.

    What makes it work for us? Reading Captain Awkward.

    Well, I jest, but actually reading this site has helped me a lot in identifying strategies that make it work. We had a conversation reasonably early on where we both revealed our ‘baggage’ – his history of depression, and some family issues of mine – which helped a lot in knowing what our respective ‘things’ were and gave a sense of what to expect. When he started on the first downswing, it helped me a lot to know that this was a pattern and not something I was causing. So, I’m definitely with the Captain that it’s really worth being up front about your issues, because it gives a lot more context to what’s going on. For your partner, it’s about knowing that your need for reassurance might be more intense and understanding that’s not a sign of crazy clinginess.

    In our day to day lives, using our words is really what helps. He’s really great at identifying when depression is being a douche to him, which is helpful in all sorts of ways. It’s good for me to know he’s withdrawn / angry / whatever because of brain chemistry, because otherwise I start worrying it’s me. I’ve also gained a lot of good scripts from this site about how to offer help, so I now just say ‘Can I do anything?’ or ‘Do you want to talk about it?’ and (usually) let it drop if the answer is no. I am one of the tribe who wants to Talk Everything to Death, so being mindful about this is good. Working out which scripts would work also involved a few conversations with him about what he needs / wants in these kinds of situations, so again, letting your partner know about that stuff is good.

    Because of Captain Awkward, and also because my partner is awesome and encourages it, I have gotten much more accustomed to saying things like ‘I am feeling anxious today, can you give me a cuddle?’, or even ‘I know your depression is just an illness, but sometimes I worry when you’re feeling down that it’s because of me, can you reassure me?’ This really works for us because it lets us get straight to the issue and the solution, whereas old!me would have waited until I got really worked up / upset / angry and picked a fight or had a meltdown. I guess advice for the person on your side of the divide is to make the space for your partner to voice those things (about how your issues affect them).

  52. My relationship with my uni boyfriend ended as a result of lots of incompatibilities which were tiny and insignificant when we were devil-may-care uni housemates, but as we got into our mid-twenties became bigger and bigger. I ended it at the point that I think a lot of couples get to: “either we get married or we break up”. I didn’t want to get married…yet…maybe one day when I was sure… well eventually I got to the point of thinking that maybe marriage would be ok “cos he might die young”. It turns out that if you’re hoping that the love of your life might die prematurely, they’re probably not the love of your life. So I broke up with him.

    At the time it felt like I was having a hand amputated cos it had gangrene. I knew it was the right thing to do cos otherwise gangrene will kill you, but, you guys, my hand, I really need my hand.

    I met up with him a year later, he was so much happier and so I was I. Neither of us did anything wrong, we just didn’t make each other happy any more. I’m so glad I went out with him, I’m a better person because of him, but I’m also a better person for having broken up with him.

    I don’t know if this will help the LW, but I recently found out that one of my friends harboured secret “maybe he’ll die soon” thoughts about her ex so maybe it will help other people to take the plunge.

    • This is very, very similar to my ‘splitting up with my uni boyfriend’ story, although instead ‘maybe he’ll die young’, it was very detailed fantasies of getting married to him but on my wedding day have the guy I was majorly crushing on tell me I was the one he’d always been in love with, at which point we would kiss and then run away together.

      Sooooooo I didn’t get married to that guy. I got married when, on the run up to the wedding, I couldn’t listen to a Beyonce ballad at work without bursting into tears because I was so filled with love. TRUE STORY.

  53. I guess I’m a case of both a. and b.
    We’ll do b. first, since that’s the easy one. I once dated a perfectly good guy. A nice guy, who loved me fiercely and wanted to marry me. And I liked him very much. He gave my my first orgasms, after I’d thought I couldn’t have them. etc. etc. But over time, things started to bother me. I was in college and had already planned my PhD, and his big dream was to be a boiler operator for a cruise ship. We had (not huge, not intense) arguments about image and appropriate clothing, (he wanted to wear scruffy jeans even to job interviews, b/c “they should take me as I am”). Slowly everything that bothered me about him became magnified. I started resenting him for… well, for nothing. I stopped wanting to have sex with him. Other guys started to look more and more attractive. So I broke up with him. It was not fun, and he was devastated–he’d honestly seen us getting married. But last I’d heard, he was married to a lovely woman in Chicago, and I’m married to a great guy and have two kids. Not the end of the world for either of us.

    As far as a., I do have some serious relationship anxieties. I am married to a guy who is, objectively, a hottie. He can write, he can cook, he is a decent artist, he can fix the car or the dishwasher or run the new electric wiring, he’s great in bed, he’s good with his kids, and he’s a biostatistician. And he loves me without reason. BUT… I have a hard time with my jerk-brain telling me how fat I am (I am objectively obese) and how he would probably like me to be more ambitious (I am a pretty content stay-at-home-mom) and how he would like me to be polyamorous and kinkier in bed and will probably leave me someday for someone that will do all those things to him that make me squick. Much of the time it’s OK. Sometimes, especially after sex doesn’t go juuust right, I just flip out and decide that he’s going to leave me for some poly kink goddess. Sometimes, he gets a bit resentful that I’m not poly or as kinky as he would like. And it is HARD to talk about these things, because I often break down in tears and he has a really difficult time with that, so any discussion where I cry ends up being just awful.

    What we did to help work it out was to start a private blog with just the two of us as authors and readers. We stated that anything said on the blog was allowed, and we discuss things back and forth in writing. What usually happens is that this discussion can then move into the real world, because I’ve gotten a sense that he isn’t going to tell me I’m a terrible person and leave me for my feelings, and he sees that I’m not going to break down into a blubbering, freaking out, hyperventilating puddle since the ice is already broken and the FEELINGSBOMBS have already dropped. It also really helps us to have things in writing because we have a tenancy to read things into the others’ words that aren’t really there, and because we both have taken all the classes on how to have constructive arguments (Use *I* statements, don’t say “you always,” etc) so when we have a fight we’ll actually use those techniques against each other “That didn’t sound like an *I* statement to ME!” and get madder and madder. Having things in writing lets us step back from the emotions and read and reply and not use our classes in verbal judo on each other.

  54. However, you don’t have to perfect yourself – to magically become un-depressed, non-anxious, and manufacture a life where you feel totally and 100% secure at all times – before you deserve love.

    But. . . is there a “you must be this emotionally mature to ride” line somewhere? Do you have to feel secure 65% of the time? 45% of the time? How broken do you have to be before it’s unethical to try to be in relationship with someone else? Do you have to be able to manage all of your difficulties by yourself before you can be in a relationship?

    Like, I am still struggling really badly with my depression and anxiety (which may actually have another diagnosis that sounds much scarier so I have been more intimidated to share it.) I am so lonely and hungry and desperate right now that any scrap of kindness I can get I end up latching onto and making more of it than is really appropriate, because I am studying 4700 miles away from home about 50% of the time in a language I am not super fluent in, have no close friends within 2500 miles, have no partner, and have never had a partner. I want to start dating because it seems really outrageous to be hysterically sad about how alone I am while not taking any actions to address that problem, but I also want to start dating to prove that HEY I AM JUST FINE AND TOTALLY MATURE AND NOT EMOTIONALLY STUNTED AT ALL AND YOU DON’T HAVE TO LEAVE ME OUT OF THE LAB FUNCTIONS ANYMORE BECAUSE I’M THE ONLY TERMINALLY SINGLE ONE.

    I have always assumed that if I was very open about my mental illness it would immediately kill all chances I had of making new relationships (friendships and romantic partners both) because I’m not super physically attractive and a little weird socially, so people would tally that up and go, “not worth my time.” But my usual method — trying to hide it through cheerfulness from everyone except a select few people I trust not to ditch me, until it overwhelms me and I do bad stuff like hide under my lab desk weeping (sometimes for hours) and cutting myself with craft knives — also loses me friends and friendly acquaintances. (This recent bout was AFTER six months of therapy and four months of antidepressants. Blargh.)

    It doesn’t help that I usually cannot tell if I’m attracted to someone until I’ve known them for a few months, by which time the stakes for telling them that I’m mentally ill are set really high, because I don’t want to make them think badly of me. I also think that my normal manner is bubbly and bouncy enough that people find the fact that I’m also suicidal really disorienting, and I’m terrified they’ll think I’m lying or be so disgusted they’ll stop talking to me.

    • I feel like this should be its own question.

      Using dating as a way to meet interesting new people in a foreign country seems fun. But using it to prove something about your own worth to other people seems like a bad idea. What if everyone you meet is not cool enough for you?

      I don’t understand your percentages of being ok, and I don’t have any rule about when you should start to date or when you should disclose. Maybe here is what “ok enough to date” looks like:

      -You meet someone and seem to be connecting well.
      -A few dates in, you tell them about your depression.
      -They say, “It’s been nice meeting you, but that’s way too intense for me, I am sorry.” Or, they make some other excuse – “I’m not really feeling it, sorry,” and they bail on the relationship.
      -And you are sad but basically ok. It doesn’t trigger self-harm or a depressive spiral, it doesn’t destroy your self esteem. You are able to say “well, obviously that wasn’t the right person anyway” and move on in a relatively short time.

      In your question, you are auditioning. “Am I ok enough for you to like me?” That seems like a bad way to set it up- others are the normal cool ok ones who have all the power and you are the broken one. When really, a) everyone has their problems and baggage and b) knowing about your depression would be an important part of knowing about you. You really need someone who gets it and can empathize, otherwise you’ll end up performing.

      This may be useful information: Boyfriend and I disclosed our mental health stuff on the second date, during one of those “stay up all night” conversations. It was obvious we were connecting well, it was before any pants came off or we got too deep into each other. That was what worked for us, so not a rule for everyone, but I will say that it was good to know early and fold that knowledge into the emerging picture of the whole person. I know it was a risky topic for him, and he was very aware of the stigma around bipolar disorder and worried that I would bail when I knew. I remember that he was very matter-of-fact and self-aware in discussing it, and I came out of the conversation feeling like he was dealing with his stuff in the best possible way for him and being totally honest with me about the good, the bad, and the ugly.

      Crucial: If I had bailed, he would have been ok. If he had bailed on learning of my depression, I would have been ok. There was no pressure on either side, because everything was so new. But neither of us could have moved forward with a partner who didn’t know and accept that part of us.

      • Yeah, it probably should be its own question.

        The percentages were facetious (sorry) but yeah, I was looking for specific qualifiers of “okay to date” and “not okay to date.” By that metric of being cool with rejection, I probably am not okay to date, given that my labmates leaving me out of events on several recent occasions brought me to panicked tears and self-harm (I was alone or at least trying to be very quiet.) Even coworker and casual acquaintance interactions stress me out right now. :/

        I guess my problem is that I have some longstanding issues, but am also at a particularly low point, so I’m trying to figure out whether my anxiety about trying to date is mainly a sign I need to heal for a while or that my squidbrain is telling me stupid shit that I should ignore so I can start to climb out of this crappy lonely hole. It’s very hard to get out of the cycle of [hurt too much to deal with rejection] –> [can't make friends because want too much from them] –> [get super sad because no friends nearby] –> [need friends for support really badly] –> [repeat.]

        • There would be a lot of rejection (on both sides, you and them) in any dating enterprise, because it takes a while for people to find a good fit. Understanding that is pretty key to jumping into any “I’m going to meet lots of people and maybe date them!” venture.

          It sounds like the energy might be better purposed into finding friends and other social outlets. Living where you don’t quite fit in or speak the language is really hard, so give yourself some credit.

        • Maybe it would be less stressful to replace “dating” with “making friends” or even just “meeting people.” I find each of those things kind of intimidating, but making friends less than dating, and meeting people I don’t know less still.

          Think of it like a top-down vs bottom-up approach, maybe. You can’t just create a romantic relationship and collection of friends on the spot. Relationships of all kinds are things you have to build from a base level. Are you familiar with the fantastic Unfuck Your Habitat? If not, 1. it’s awesome, and 2. I actually use a similar approach to talking to people. The gist of it is: any step is progress. It doesn’t matter how small, how seemingly insignificant in the face of the overwhelming odds (and/or pile of dishes) stacked against you (see what I did there?). So in your case, maybe just investigate if there’s a meetup group for expats where you are, or maybe one of those “have coffee and practice our [language]” groups, or a choir, or beginners fencing, or whatever you would find low-stress and fun. Then go to an event. Talk to a few people. If you liked the group, go to another event. YOU HAVE NOW ACHIEVED THE BASELINE! YOU’RE AWESOME!

          Also, importantly, be gentle on yourself if you decide to do something and then back out. This is where I struggle the most. I am a champion decision maker and also then realize I Do Not Want after all, and then I feel shitty about it and waffle a lot.

          • Thanks for responding. I have been here a little over a year now and my tentatively constructed social structure underwent some massive changes when my mental illness reared its head.

            Kindness to myself is really very hard, particularly where there is a font of information on how to handle situations maturely, and I can’t seem to put any of it into practice, or when I do it I end up feeling awful anyway.

            @Ali: I had never thought of the Ufyh philosophy in those terms before. I stopped following that blog because keeping my space clean was another thing I couldn’t really manage to do. :( (Getting better.) But perhaps a system of effusive self-congratulation for whenever I manage to meet new people is in order. (I am trying! I went to a writing group last week! But. . . I can only do tiny steps right now, and not very many at a time.)

            I think I probably have mainly unhealthy reasons for wanting to date — I thought it would distract me from a broken friendship (the one close friendship I thought I had made here) and maybe get me to acting more normally so I wouldn’t obliterate the rest of my social network by being too damaged.

    • Oh, Jane. *sympathies* I understand your question exactly! My situation, which is not like yours but evokes some of the same feelings, is: I have a fantastic dude who adores me, I haven’t been in a relationship with a woman in seven years, I have a great social circle of mostly new-to-me friends (most of my closest friends right now are people I’ve known less than three years) who have not yet wrapped their heads around the fact that I’m bi and poly, I’m turning forty in a few weeks, and there’s a niggling feeling in the back of my head that if something doesn’t happen soon on the dating front I will NEVEREVER HAVE TEH GIRLSEX AGAIN. Which makes me want to weep until I vomit, and is absolutely wreaking havoc on my self-esteem and general emotional health. And yet. I live two hundred miles from most of my social group, I’ve had lots of Big Life Stuff on my plate over the last few years and still do, I have an anxiety disorder that I’m only mostly managing okay most of the time, and I don’t have enough spare emotional energy to sustain a cat, so what kind of fucked-up asshole would I be to get into a secondary relationship right now? And what do I have to “fix” before I get to the place where I could do so and still like myself? And if “not feeling attractive to women” is one of the emotional badness factors contributing to a place where I feel like I shouldn’t be actively dating, how do I address that in my own self enough to let myself be vulnerable with women?

      What I keep coming back to is these two things (which may also help the original LW gird herself for the necessary conversations with her boy):

      1.) I don’t get to decide for Potential Partner how fucked up I have to be to not be worth her time. SHE DOES. That’s her choice. “You deserve better than me” is insidious poison IN a relationship, so why would we do it to someone who’s still theoretical? If I find someone who likes me and is willing to try, I will tell the Jerkbrain to STFU and take that ride.

      2.) Someone who decides that my life is Too Much is not the right person for me. Ergo, the right person for me will not treat me like a chore or a fix-up project or a disgusting crazy, and I will not treat them like one more responsibility to worry about! We will feel safe with each other. I will be able to let down the Bubbly Competent Facade. Anybody I can’t have a panic attack in front of does not get in my pants.

      I guess what I’m saying is there’s no such thing as “too fucked up to date,” there is only “THIS PARTICULAR PERSON, STANDING IN FRONT OF ME RIGHT NOW, is not dating material for various Reasons that may or may not include their reactions to my lovely uniqueness.”

      (formerly Beth, but there are at least THREE Beths actively commenting and after six months of hanging out here it looks like I’m sticking around for a while, so I’m pulling out a handle I use on a couple of other sites.)

  55. “People in mostly happy relationships where at least one partner has anxiety. How do you guys deal with the ups and downs? How do you guys sort out whether a relationship issue is the anxiety talking?”

    I am in an extremely happy and stable relationship but I have suffered from anxiety. Nowadays this anxiety is almost never directed towards the relationship. In general if something about our life is bugging me, we talk it over and break down situations into achievable concrete best-case scenarios (which everyone would find satisfactory) and then form plans for realistic intermediate steps and intermediate scenarios. This helps me to separate out my feelings by recognising 1) how there are genuinely issues that need resolving (by comparing the gap between Status Quo and Best-Case Scenario), 2) in what ways I simply need patience (because intermediate steps take time and effort and may come with uncertainty) and 3) what might just be anxiety speaking (wishing for more than the Best-Case Scenario makes no sense). So it doesn’t just all snowball into a big mass of shapeless Do Not Want.

    The anxiety once affected the relationship negatively, but we did pretty much the same thing then. I was concerned that Partner didn’t share some of my interests, and kept wondering if it pointed to some Deeper Incompatibility that showed we were Not Meant To Be. I worked myself up over it privately and only brought it up when I had made it – in my head – into a huge, monolithic conundrum. Partner pointed out that there would always be some differences in our interests, that it was not possible for me to get everything I wanted out of life from Partner alone, and that it was okay for me to seek some of it from other people and activities. The Best-Case Scenario was that I would get enough from others and still have plenty of happiness and togetherness with Partner; the intermediate steps involved building on my own life, with Partner by my side. It was appropriate for me to feel dissatisfied without what I wanted (i.e. enough people in my life sharing these interests); the unnecessary anxiety was in the belief that everything had to come from Partner or else Something Was Wrong. We also recognised that I might work on building what was missing and still find it inadequate because Partner wasn’t involved, but there was enough going for us that I thought it made sense to find out from experience rather than pre-judging the question. Seven years later, I think that was definitely the right call.

  56. “The usual collection of Late Capitalism stressors”
    This is gold. Thank you Captain Awkward for spinning such beauty.

  57. I have anxiety and can be self sabatoging. I had a couple of real crappy relationships. I finally said enough and loved myself. And had a partner after that who was really awesome but then I realized we were just going different directions in life. (big one: he wanted kids I just had a hysterectomy because of severe endo)

    So I broke up wih him because I knew if was just the right thing to do even though he was willing to figure it out, we had put two years into our relationship. I could tell though it was his fear of being alone that was motivatin him. It wasn’t fun but we both lived through it and it was absolutely the right thing looking back.

    Then I met my current partner and I also consider him to be my bestest friend, which is HUGE in my book to have that be one in the same. In the process of falling in love with him I was SCARED. Anxiety had me in it’s grip especially because this man was so much the man I could see myself with for always.

    It was terrifying some days. Not because he was untrustworthy but because I was just so vulnerable.

    And as much as he would give me reassurance I just became more vulnerable because he was being just that awesome with my anxiety and providing such a safe environment for great communication that I became simultaneously incredibly invested and wanting to self sabotage… Creating massive anxiety at some points. I leaned on Team Me to spread the ‘burden’ around and I just had open honest communication with him and eventually it all evened out.

    I trusted him and I trusted myself. Best thing I ever did. ;)

    It’s hard not to take rejection personally but LW you are who you are, anxiety and all. You have so much awesome to offer that you should accept nothing less than being accepted for you. In essence it’s not rejection of you but their inability to provide the things you deserve, which is not necessarily a negative reflection on them, it just is what it is.

    Being vulnerable is hard and scary but take baby steps and know that you are strong as fuck and can totally do it and totally survive it even if it doesn’t go the way you want.

    Be true to yourself and communicate honestly, you got this.

    • Also my partner is not one to suffer from anxiety & what I call ‘The Crazies’ so he can’t really identify. But all humans can be vulnerable and fragile and through me he’s learned to identify and ask for reassurance in the moments he needs it. Positive things!

  58. I’ve got answers for both #1 (anxiety issues in a relationship) and #2 (breakups caused by one partner feeling “meh”).

    After my divorce, I fell head over heels in love with a man who liked me well enough and wanted to date me, but did not love me. He made it clear to me, over and over again and all the time, that he was giving me what he was willing to give me, and he was not going to be giving me anything more in the near future. Eventually he broke up with me, and it took me more than two years to get over him.

    I was always asking for reassurance, and he NEVER reassured me – he couldn’t without lying, and he was an honest person. He liked my companionship and he liked having sex with me, but he didn’t know if he would ever love me, and he didn’t know how long the relationship would last. After it was all over, I learned about the “attachment styles” stuff that Jennifer linked to in her response. Learning about that made sense of that unhappy relationship: I tend to be anxiously attached, and he was avoidantly attached, and so we were a bad fit: his avoidance made me more anxious, and my anxiety made him more avoidant.

    I noticed that I was drawn to men and women with an avoidant attachment style, and I thought this was probably why I tended to be unhappy in relationships. But knowledge doesn’t immediately lead to changed behavior, so I continued to date people with an avoidant attachment style.

    Eventually (HAPPY ENDING!), I met my partner. I was extremely cautious, because I was at a point where I almost preferred to stay single than to be hurt. But everything about him was steady – an independent adult with his own hobbies and interests who wanted to pursue a relationship with me. Every day he liked me, whereas I was used to relationships in which I didn’t know how much I was going to be liked or cherished or touched from one day to the next. I am still an anxious person, but now, 1.5 years in, I am no longer anxious about *him.* Also, I’m grateful that the guy who dumped me did, because otherwise I would probably still be trying to make it work and being miserable.

    TL;DR – If he is avoidant and you are anxious, it may be a crazy-making fit for you, and that’s not the fault of either one of you. If you are anxiously attached, finding someone with a secure attachment style can make you feel safe and sane and content. Good luck getting your needs met, and kudos to you for breaking up with the guy who FOR SURE was not meeting your needs.

  59. (Been following this site a while, first time chipping in. Hope I don’t get eaten by the moderation queue)

    Sharing stories, I can relate to both dating with anxiety, and to ‘it just ain’t working’ break-ups. I’ll do the latter first, because it sort of fits better into a narrative.

    My first proper relationship ended with things fizzling out. He was a really sweet guy, very easy going, we had plenty in common, even had compatible views on how much we saw each other and acceptable levels of tidiness. We started dating at university, when we were both living in student accomodation, and ended up moving into a flat the following summer. Over the course of the next year, the desire just went out of the relationship entirely, and while neither of us withheld affection, neither of us was offering the other as much as they needed. I guess cohabiting, learning to negotiate being responsible adults together, the minutae of domesticity changed our relationship from a romantic one to a practical one, and we didn’t notice that change until it was too far gone to fix. Also, we were pretty young and inexperienced and just had no idea of how to communicate any of this or ask for what we needed.

    One evening, we were sat in the pub talking about some mutual friends who’d just split up fairly amicably. I can’t remember who said it first, but we kinda looked at each other and were like “Shall we just be friends, and get on with our lives?”. Yes, it was sad. I think there’s a lack of social script for amicable break-ups. It has to be Terrible and Someone’s Fault… and it just wasn’t, and that was as confusing as anything. Long story short, though, it turned out we worked very well as flat-mates and stayed living together for the next four years (then he scraped the mortgage for a tiny flat together and went off to join the property ladder). So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that sometimes relationships that don’t work in a romantic way can evolve into really good platonic friendships if you let them by breaking up.

    As for dating with anxiety and depression… hoo yeah, can relate to that. I am a whole lot better than I used to be, but I still have to work hard on differenciating between what is real and what is jerk-brain, especially around relationships. I wasted much of my mid-late twenties on a relationship where we were mutually Darthing each other (I think… he was big on gaslighting and I still don’t have a clear picture on who did what to whom), and I still have lasting damage from that. Like several posters above, themes include “Beloved is not happy! Clearly this is my fault for being a terrible person. Must fix all the things!”, “I am terrible and do not deserve to be loved, therefore I must have terribly misled beloved into staying with me.” and “I am sad and frightened and need a hug. Argh, I am being clingy and aweful and beloved will leave me!”. Also, because of the Darth ex, “I am experiencing a negative emotion. Am I only doing that to manipulate and control beloved? I am a terrible person.”

    The way I have found to get around this with both Partner and Boyfriend (polyamorous, negotiated, informed consent etc), like someone else said upthread, is to acknowledge that these thoughts are ridiculous and irrational and not something P or B are responsible for fixing, but they still bother me and I need to vocalise them to stop them from spiraling out of control. We use ‘headweasels’ as the code-word rather than ‘brain racoons’, but it’s the same principal. Fortunately, they’re both incredibly patient and understanding and don’t take my headweasels personally, so I can feel safe telling them stuff like that. Boyfriend is especially good at spotting when something I say that sounds maybe possibly reasonable is in fact a headweasel though, and talking me through it. Partner is a little prone to trying to fix all the things, but then he’s like that with eeeverything, and does stop when I ask him to.

    Tl:dr – when dating while Wrong In The Head, “I understand that this is irrational, and not a reflection on anything you’ve done, but I am feeling [headweasel]” is a really useful statement. If you don’t feel comfortable saying that to your partner, it’s probably a sign that you aren’t as compatible as all that, and going separate ways to both find people you are properly compatible with might be the kindest thing.

  60. I’m a #1. My husband has dealt with some pretty severe anxiety, and while it’s under control, it does crop up from time to time. I also have my own anxiety related to abandonment. What has helped us is using our words. When we started dating (after having been friends for a couple of years), my husband was still driving back home to stay with his parents (a 2 hour drive) on most weekends. I was not exactly thrilled with this at first, and I told him I wanted to spend more time with him (we lived an hour apart, so we mostly only saw each other on weekends). To his credit, he made the effort, and he also told me about his anxiety issues (some of which stem from being away on school trips when bad things happened to his family, including his dad having a heart attack). Knowing that made it a LOT easier to deal with, because I knew that he wasn’t gone on the weekends b/c he was trying to avoid me. So LW, I don’t know what other stuff your SO is doing, but some of it might be entirely b/c of his own stuff/issue that is completely unrelated to you.

    We took some steps so that we could spend more time together once he told me about his anxiety. His family lives in the same town where my grandparents live, so I started tagging along and spent a weekend a month visiting them AND getting to see him; if that wasn’t possible, he’d stop by for a couple of hours and get lunch or coffee with me while he was on his way to his folks’. For his part, knowing that I was going to work with him/his anxiety helped him feel better. Slowly, over several months (he was also in therapy during all of this), he started spending more time with me. I in turn tried very hard to be patient and not push him too much. About 8 months into our relationship, I had a job change that moved me closer to him, and that helped a lot, too, since it was much easier to see each other during the week–I got more time with him, and still had plenty of time to myself. Over time, he’s also been able to let go of some of his anxiety about not being around for his parents.

    We’re married now, and while the anxiety issues aren’t gone (they never will be), our problem now is more of a “we’re always together, which is awesome, except that sometimes we need alone time”. We’re still navigating that, and honestly more of the issue there is mine, but the key the entire time has been to talk to each other. He checks in with me “is it okay if I spend some time doing X?” and 95% of the time it is; if it’s that other 5%, I tell him, and we work something out. It’s no fair me getting upset with him if I don’t tell him I’m having a problem, and vice versa. I know that when I do say I need more time with him, he’s going to make an effort to do that. And vice versa, and the same also goes for when I need alone time. And if he’s feeling anxious about something, he often uses me as a sounding board, i.e.: “I’m really stressed about X, is that normal under the circumstances or am I overreacting? Do I need to chill?”

    Talking only makes things easier. We draw from what we’ve learned witnessing our own parents (whom we love, but neither of our sets of parents are very good at talking through problems without yelling) and try to avoid what to us seem like obvious miscommunications. We both know we love each other, and whenever we talk, we assume the best intentions from the other, and that goes a long way. We don’t always agree, but we can usually come to an understanding on things we disagree about. Talking to the other person is the single best thing you can do to have a healthy relationship. I think that goes for every relationship, not just those where one or both parties have anxiety. We all have baggage, and the only way the other person can help you deal with it is if they know what you’re dealing with.

  61. Side note, I kinda wish English had a word for “invest” that wasn’t related to money so that we wouldn’t always be using the logic of business and profit as a metaphor for our relationships

  62. I’m undiagnosed, but I think I have pretty severe anxiety, and boyfriend has brain issues but he is extremely logical, so deals with them pretty well. He’d rather spend time with me than anyone else, and is more of an ambivert while I am an extreme introvert (he would rather be around people than not, but exhibits other introverted personality traits). I think we’re still working out our “space” issues. He has said several times that we don’t have to see each other every day, but I still insist on it even though I’m the one who would want more alone time. When he’s gone on vacation and such, I miss him but am glad for the alone time. We play MMOs together a lot, which helps with the distance I need at times. However, he makes me very happy, and being able to talk about the way my brain works is helpful. He always says that he loves that I can recognize when my brain is being irrational, and would rather that I tell him what it is rather than hold it back.

    • “He has said several times that we don’t have to see each other every day, but I still insist on it even though I’m the one who would want more alone time.”

      Just curious, why do you want to see him every day?

      • I know it doesn’t make any sense, that’s what I ask myself :P We live about five minutes away from each other, and like I said, we play MMOs together, so we switch off whose house we’re at for raid nights and have date night in the middle of the week. I have very little time at the end of the day too (I work from 7:30 a.m. to about 5:30 or 6:00 p.m.) and so I really don’t see much of him except on weekends. Like I said though, it’s an irrational feeling that I have that doesn’t make any sense.

  63. I am a person with anxiety dating a person who does not have anxiety (or at least not in the same way). One of the best things I’ve done for myself and our relationship has been to institute “Wiley Nights.”

    I like people, but I am a loner and I enjoy my own, solitary company. So on nights when my girlfriend has class or is out to dinner with a friend, I hang out with myself! I take the opportunity to order some Dominoes, consume some substances, and watch 30 Rock. Or call my best friend and catch up. Or do a laundry and play with my bunnies. Recently I’ve been learning card tricks from the internet because it gives me something to do, and has the added bonus of making me sexier (gf loves that I can do them) and more interesting at parties.

    Lest you confuse me with a well-adjusted person who doesn’t freak out when their partner isn’t around, let me tell you some of the things that go through my head–if GF doesn’t respond quickly to my texts, she’s definitely having sex with some or all of her classmates and probably professor. If she spends a half hour longer at dinner than I expected, she has no regard for my feelings and should be dumped. My jerkbrain is INTENSE. But having these nights where I get to have FUN with myself and be silly and scratch my butt and watch 86 episodes of Community in a row makes me look forward to time away instead of dreading it and being anxious the entire time.

  64. The part of the letter that stands out to me because I’ve asked myself this a million times, is how do you decide to stay in or out when you don’t trust your judgment. For me personally, the way I have dealt with that has always been to step away for however long it takes to rebuild my trust in my judgment.

    I choose to step away because I tend toward people-pleasing and perfectionism. I want to fulfill the role of the perfect geek girlfriend and never be “at fault” for a breakup. When I’m with someone, and I’m in the don’t-trust-myself headspace, I fall right into doing what’s expected, and asking myself “does he like me?” and “am I doing this relationship right?” without thinking much about what I want.

    Sometimes stepping away has meant an evening alone, journaling through pros and cons and possibilities and fears, and then in the morning, everything looks sunny. Sometimes that has meant actually breaking up so that I could focus on my needs, manage my mood, and rebuild Team Me, for a good many months. “If you love someone, let them go,” right? If it’s going to work out, he’ll give me the space I need to be sure.

  65. I have some sort of mild social anxiety. I’ve never spoken to a professional about it, but I’m pretty sure that assuming that my friends all secretly hate me, that groups of strangers laughing in public are specifically laughing at me, or that someone making a pass at me is being cruelly sarcastic so they can make fun of me with their friends later are not the proper responses to those situations. I’ve had it since middle school and it’s followed me into my 30′s.

    As a result, I have a duality of being emotionally cold to most people, and hypersexually needy to my partners. The constant affirmation of feeling attractive to someone was the baseline for my relationships even though it was the emotional turmoil that drove it. It led to many very physically relationships that sorely lacked stability. When they ended, I was a wreck each and every time because I was unable to separate “We’re not good for eachother” from “I’m disgusting and no one will ever love me!”

    Now skip to the present. For the last five years, I’ve been in a remarkable partnership with a man that has brought out my calm-self. Even though I still have these anxieties, I’m able to look at them from a more logical prospective. There is no magic specific trait that makes me feel this way. It was the enduring stability and maturing of the relationship. When we met, it was hypersexual as was my norm. But sometimes we would be too tired from work, and would just watch TV and cuddle. Sometimes he would go hang with his friends and I’d hang out with mine. Sometimes we wouldn’t touch eachother for over a week and yet the partnership didn’t implode from lack of constant physical affirmation. I came to a point where a loving hug was more comforting than 2 hours of exhausting bedroom antics. I can now feel sexy without performing the act of sex.

    I like myself in a way I don’t remember ever having before. He’s not my ‘boyfriend.’ He’s my family. We don’t have children, and we both have families in other towns, but me and him are a family of two. Sometimes we disagree and sometimes we want time without one another but I feel that’s fairly normal.

    Now skip back 12 years. I was fresh out of highschool and in my most unstable state. I entered a relationship with a nice man a few years older than me. There was nothing ‘wrong’ with what we had. He was perfectly kind and we did many fun activities….even homebody stuff like canning our own pickles and picking out his patio furniture. We spent loads of time together and had a standard happy relationship that lasted for over a year. For some reason, I could never relax. I never felt like we were connecting enough, despite practically living together. He brought out my paranoia hardcore because I felt like he was just going through the motions…

    It actually turns out that he was. He contacted me recently and explained that he’s going through therapy. He has a depression that makes emotions difficult to feel which drove him to simply live in a way that he thought other people wished him to. I feel closer to him now as a long distance facebook friend than I ever did as his partner.

    So as hard as I fought for that relationship, it was broken from the start despite how unproblematic it seemed from the outside. I don’t subscribe to the “One Right Person for Everyone” school of love, but I do believe that some people just shouldn’t be together and that it doesn’t need to get dramatically terrible before bad matches should end.

    Wow…that was long and rambly

  66. The happiest, had-the-most-chance-of-working-forever relationship I’ve ever been in was with a man who literally schedules time off work at least every second week to fit in the time he needs to manage his anxiety. And I’m a pretty high-anxiety person myself. We were good together. Our mutual anxieties led us to be very, very much in the use-our-words camp. But there were definitely different levels of attachment.

    I was the cat in that relationship. I didn’t like coming over just to hang out and share space, I needed my own thing to do. I wanted to hang out mutually doing our own things, and he always wanted to find things to do together. When I got a job that required I move out to sea, just a few days after he moved to my state, the attachment thing began to be a problem. I was happy to call him nightly, bless the god of infinite minutes, but less so when the first fifteen minutes of any given call became about how much he missed me. He was trying very hard and very well to manage that anxiety on his own, especially after we had a conversation specifically about that. But eventually, we both had to face the fact that the life I wanted would /always/ mean that I was either away, just returned, or about to leave again. And that neither of us wanted him to come with me. So things ended, very amicably, and I’ll be going to his wedding before I leave on my cruise.

  67. Hardest breakup I ever went through was when I was still into the guy, he wasn’t a bad guy, but it just wasn’t working. We didn’t want the same things long term, neither of us had been happy for a while, so I broke things off. I was devastated, but even at the time I didn’t regret it. It was just time to move on.

  68. Camp two, here.

    Dated this particular man for years. Things were great. Then things were really good. Then they were okay. Then they were a little off. Then I was questioning whether it was my [insert outside stressor] or if it was something really going off with the relationship. Then it rallied! Then it was over.

    We were that couple. That seemingly perfect for each other couple. On paper, we were GREAT. Finished each others sentences. Complementary but not entirely overlapping interests. Similar styles of attachment (well, until they weren’t anymore.) Other people got depressed when we split up. But it was the right thing to do. On the one hand, I’m glad we didn’t split when I was in the middle of strife and/or headbees so I could be sure that it wasn’t something external that did it. On the other hand, I do feel a little bad that I dragged it out so long in the cause of being sure.

    • Tangent, but that’s a brilliant user name.

      • Thank you! I am quite fond of it. I also use youandsometimeswhy if this one’s been taken. Apparently I’m not the only one who has thought it clever and wanted to have it as a username.

  69. Holler to the the letter writer. I didn’t read the other comments, though I’m sure I will, cause this stuff is like the story of my romantic life the last couple years.

    My attachment style is avoidant with a side of insecure for fun. Insecurity especially comes out when new people join my poly network.

    The last three years or so I’ve had a pretty wide range of experiences with relationships + depression/anxiety. If you haven’t, LW, I’d totally go read Elodie Under’s Glasses answer to the “how do I tell my partner about herpes?” because I think the two make a good compliment to one another. D/a is just another thing you have to deal with in a relationship. I think that being in a good relationship is a combination of doing your own work, finding the right partner, and sometimes throwing your hands up in the air and saying “this relationship is not perfect, partially because of how my d/a is interacting with it, but its good enough to be worth it.”

    Instead of telling long stories I’d like to offer some things that have not worked/have worked in the past and present for me, partners, and my d/a…

    Not worked….
    -being told I should just “feel better”
    -going to my partner whenever I was sad just so that I’d have a nice endorphin boost
    -partner telling me I needed to handle my own shit (which I did!) in such a way that I started questioning my relationship with my entire support network
    -spending a majority of time with partner talking about my problems
    -playing the role of “the sick one,” “the crazy one,” or “the one that is falling apart”
    -trying to fix myself so the relationship would work
    -pouring all my sorrows on someone in the first few months

    Worked…
    -telling partner I was in therapy so zhe new it wasn’t on them
    -being in communication with partner about zhe’s emotional resources to deal with d/a
    -being with partner when things were tough in order to get support having feelings without using partner to try to make feelings “better”
    -partner specifically telling me zhe was listening without fixing
    -asking for specific things to feel better like “I need you to hold me right now” or “I want a cup of tea”
    -knowing what I wanted out of the relationship on a day in day out basis and then being willing to take the emotional risks that come with doing those things. Its not a matter of “I want to marry this person” or “I want this relationship to feel a certain way” Those things are good to know, but I’m talking about things I can actually control like “I want to look partner in the eye when having sex” or “I want to have one intellectually stimulating and one emotionally vulnerable conversation as appropriate when we go on dates” or “I want to know I can ask for what I need.”
    -divulging my history slowly

    Good luck LW

  70. Nobody mistreated anyone, but it was not-right-for-me story:

    I was in a relationship with a very, very nice guy. We had met at work (college bookstore), got along great, got along with each others’ friends, liked lots of the same things.
    It was cute and lovey-dovey and somewhere in the middle of it I had said the words “love of my life” and told friends he might be “the one”. We were together for nearly two years, though looking back, I should have ended it sooner.

    To sound cliche, I realized that while I loved/cared for him, I was not IN LOVE (anymore). (I didn’t have CA resources back then and didn’t have better words to put around what was going on with my heart/brain).

    I was early twenties and was very NOT READY to “settle down”. I felt content, and it was nice, but part of my brain was like “nice and content – is that really what you want to grab onto and stick with right now?”
    And then, that would go into a spiral of “omg! am I a bad person for turning up my nose at this nice-awesome-comfortable-going-right-along relationship? Will I never find anyone else to love/love me because I turn down this totally-ok-chance-at-the-idea-of-happiness?”

    I knew breaking up would break his heart, but I also knew that if I didn’t, I’d get proposed to (he was older than me, the youngest son and all the other siblings were married and he was leaning that way).
    And if that happened, I would have to turn down a proposal (and break his heart then), or not turn down a proposal to spare his heart, and then get into a marriage that I knew I was not ok with / wasn’t really wanting.

    He was nice, but he was very tame / stable / calm, and I felt like I had a lot of adventure /hell-raising / things-to-do that were not going to be able to be explored inside that relationship.

    Nearly ten years later, I am SO glad that I did that breaking up. Working together was awkward for awhile, he went off and married a controlling twit, my mom was mad in a passive-aggressive way for awhile that I had broken up with such a nice person, but it was the right thing for me and I would not be in the amazing place I am now had I stayed where I was.

  71. About 8/9 years ago, I met a really wonderful guy. He was kind and funny and smart and all kinds of wonderful. When we got together it felt like everything fit. And it did, it fit for years. Until it didn’t.

    It wasn’t anything bad. Neither of us did anything wrong. But I looked at the relationship and I realized that they way we lived our lives and what we wanted wasn’t actually a good fit, and it was going to make both of us more frustrated than it was happy to keep trying to force it. So I ended things after 5.5 years. We lived together, had a joint bank account, had pets, the whole shebang.

    It was the scariest, hardest thing I’d ever done but I realized that I could stay with him and be half the person he needed and only get about half of the partner I needed, which was horribly unfair to both of us, or I could end the relationship and make both of us hurt for a while in search of the greater good – a life for each of us that made us completely happy. I didn’t know if my life would involve a partner or not, or if his would, but being out of a relationship was solidly better for both of us than being in that relationship.

    He moved out, we both moved on. It’s been about 3 years since the break up, and we’re both leading lives that are better for us than the lives we had then. We’re also actually friends now, too, and chat daily. It doesn’t happen that way for everybody nor is it healthy for every relationship, but once you move on, you don’t have to rule out a not-the-right-partner-for-me kind of person from your list of good friends just because a romantic relationship didn’t work.

  72. I’m in a mostly happy relationship. I think we both have anxiety but I think mine manifests more often. (But I don’t know; I’m not in his head.)

    It’s been… an interesting ride so far. We’ve been together almost a year. One of the biggest hurdles I think was the fact that he is an extrovert and I am an introvert. I like people just fine, I even like being in groups of people, I love his friends, but sometimes I just want to be one on one with the boyfriend and not stress out about being “good enough” at conversing and being IN a group and what have you.

    So we had a talk about this, and we started having more time that was just us and I got used to there always being people at his house, to the point where there are occasions when I go over there and I’m sad that there aren’t like five people drinking on his couch.

    One time we were having a going-away party for one of his friends that was moving and there were maybe ten or twelve people hanging out in his room, all people that I knew well and liked well (and like me well, as far as I’m aware) but I began to just get super nervous and stressed out about being in this group that I had to get up and go downstairs. He followed me and asked me if I was okay, and then if there was anything he could do. I’ve always just found that so sweet and touching. We went back upstairs and about half an hour later he relegated everyone else downstairs.

    I mean… we’re not perfect. I think we both have these sort of abandonment issues. He worries that I’m going to either leave him or cheat on him, because all the other girls he’s been with have done both of these things. I worry that other things in his life are more important than me, because there are SO MANY THINGS in his life and I’m like “Is there even ROOM for me in there? Are you SURE?” And while I know I have a little corner with a sign on it and everything, I still worry that I just need more room than that little corner and maybe his life is just so packed with work and friends that there is just no extra space left over. Will I be okay with that? Will I just “get used” to it? Do I HAVE to just “get used” to that?

    But I love him. A lot. I’ve never met anyone who’s so… different and unique and not only doesn’t take the piss for my weird hobbies, but actually ENJOYS THEM TOO… that’s great.

    So it’s… a work in progress. Talking helps. I try not to have feelingsbombs. I don’t think it always works, but I try. He’s pretty open with me, I think. I try to catch things as they come and not sit on them for a week. I try to be understanding that he isn’t always able to see me or respond to my texts immediately. I try not to let my jerkbrain or my “brain raccoons” (I love that phrase so much) get the best of me. Usually he knows when they’re scurrying.

    I feel like this has been less than helpful, lol. But that’s my situation. I guess you just have to find out where your breaking point is, how much you’re willing to give and take in return. Relationships can be a pain in the butt, no lie.

  73. Woah…LW this is pretty close to the issues my BF and I ran into when we first met. The only difference is he was in your place, and I in your current gentleman caller, so maybe I can help with some perspective?

    BF and I met online and on the fist date clicked imediately. I told him I was interested in spending more time together and a few days later…well, he gave me a whollop of a response. Turns out he was going through a divorce (with a Darth Vader, to boot), and although he really liked me he didn’t feel it would be best for us to really persue something serious at the moment.* We ultimately agreed to put the brakes on the pants feelings, but decided to still hang out.

    Although he didn’t tell me about his issues of depression and anxiety then, he did mention that he was seeing a therapist. Knowing that really helped me to negotiate how to move foreward with being-friends-but-only-for-now-because-pantsfeelings. While talking sometimes he would bring up his ex**, and I (having just started to read Captain Awkward. Coincidence? I think not!) set a boundary. I told him not to talk about his ex or the dealing of the divorce with me, as I didn’t feel it was my business and not something I wanted to deal with. What helped me set and maintain that boundary was reminding him that was his therapist’s job. Our time together should be just about getting to know each other and having fun.

    One night both of us crashed at a friend’s house after a party and stupidly thought it wouldn’t be a problem to share a futon. After pretty much drunkenly making-out all night we decided we couldn’t pretend to be “friends” anymore. I was upfront about my feelings and wanted something more serious, but I didn’t pressue him. I encouraged him to talk to his therapist, Team BF, family, etc., and take however much time he needed. Ultimately we decided to give us a shot!

    It still took alot of negotiating and LOTS and LOTS of communicating and conversations, especially when it came to his anxiety and depression. Knowing he was seeing a therapist so early on and being used to talking to him about seeing her helped ALOT. It established early on what my role was, her role was, and his role was in terms of dealing with his issues. Also, although I don’t have any mental illnesses myself, I had to deal with big life and family crisises during this time. We developed a jerkbrain system – whenever one of us is feeling down we’ll preface conversations with “my jerkbrain is being an asshole right now, FEELINGS. Can you come over and we’ll order Chinese and snuggle while marathoning House of Cards?”

    One big difference I see between myself and your genteman caller is I was very upfront about my interests, so I suggest you take a look at his enthusiam level. Does he act like he likes you? Does he initiate conversations, invitations over, etc., at least 50% of the time? Do you feel like scheduling slumber parties, time with him, etc. is a chore?

    If his enthusiasm level is there, then have the conversation about where you want this relationship to go. Are you guys ready to officially delcare yourselves a comitted couple? Is this just a fun, casual thing for now? Answer those questions first.
    If you don’t see his enthusiasm, or not enough enthusiasm, maybe it isn’t your anxiety that is weighing you down, but your brain trying to send you a warning message?

    Using that information decide how you feel about it. Is this too much of a chore? Do you feel fully in it? Answer those questions for yourself first, and get what kind of relationship this is on the same page with him. Then, as the good Capt’n said, have a seperate conversation with him about your mental illness. Frame it as what he can expect, what are some concrete things he can do, and create whatever boudaries both of you think is reasonable. Yes, there is a chance he’ll walk away, but just think…how freeing will it be either way? Regardless if you tell him, think about how much easier it will be to go about your business not actively hiding all of your FEELINGS.

    I wish you lots and lots and lots of jedi hugs, and good luck!

    *He was dating to get used to going through the motions of dating, not looking for something serious. Our Holy Sexual Chemistry Batman! meeting really caught him off guard.

    **He wasn’t being a red-flag bitter bag of dicks about it, it was his jerkbrain being an asshole.

    • “If his enthusiasm level is there, then have the conversation about where you want this relationship to go. Are you guys ready to officially delcare yourselves a comitted couple? Is this just a fun, casual thing for now? Answer those questions first.
      If you don’t see his enthusiasm, or not enough enthusiasm, maybe it isn’t your anxiety that is weighing you down, but your brain trying to send you a warning message?”

      Ace advice! Granted it can still be hard to judge sometimes, especially when there is wishful thinking in the mix..

  74. Thank you! LW, honey, everyone feels lonely sometimes, but if you cling harder when he tries to get a little space, it’ll just make him pull away more. A lot of the advice here is wonderful…try to find your own thing to do when he’s off doing whatever he likes! Find a book series you enjoy (a guilty pleasure of mine are Amanda Quick’s harlequin romances…I don’t care if they’re bodice-ripping barely disguised porn, THEY AMUSE ME) or hang out with some of your friends. Go play laser-tag sometime! (Seriously, it’s awesome). I can kind of understand where Boyfriend is coming from…I like my space. I’m a very private person, and when someone is clingy or tries to be around me all the time, even if I’m fairly comfortable with them, I’ll start dreading seeing them and pull away more and more until I hardly ever see them at all. Just give him some breathing room, everyone needs their space! It doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you!

    • Oh man, bodice-ripping romance novels are a total guilty pleasure for me too! *fistbump*

      • 8D -fistbump!- I particularly like Amanda Quick’s because her heroines tend to be quirky and have a lot of personality, rather than being blanks for people to project themselves on. My favorite has to be Harriet from Ravished, she collects and studies fossils, and almost beat a guy with a chamber pot for trying to steal her fossil tooth.

  75. I have a diagnosis of General Anxiety Disorder (GAD); for me, this means my brain being constantly on the lookout for things to worry or outright panic about (sometimes I just walk around in a constant adrenaline rush, woohoo). When my soon-to-be-husband and I first started dating, my GAD was lying low, like LW’s depressive symptoms, and I didn’t tell my boyfriend. I had definitely internalized the whole “he needs to see the best of you and only the best of you all of the time or he will leave thing.” I didn’t actually tell him about my diagnosis until over a year after we started dating, after we moved in together. But – it didn’t break us! It just meant we needed to learn how to communicate better – something we are always going to work together on, I hope.

    Here’s what I learned: Even though my bf doesn’t have a diagnosis, he gets anxious about things too! However, I had to willing to talk to him about what my diagnosis means and how I experience it, and how it affects us. Ultimately, I’ve learned that he’s someone I can trust to support me and understand me. He doesn’t think any less of me for the parts of myself that I don’t care for. I can’t stress this enough, LW: Working on trying to accept ALL of myself (including my anxiety), with unconditional love, helps me be realistic about what I can expect from others. I try to remember to treat myself as lovingly as I want to be treated; I heartily echo CA’s suggestion to attend to your needs (through therapy, yoga, exercise, art – whatever is healing/feeds your soul/self). When I’ve taken care of myself, then I don’t feel like I NEED my bf’s attention all the time (as happens when I’m feeling super anxious). Best wishes, LW!

  76. LW, I can totally relate to the not-trusting-your-feelings-fully-because-of-depression thing. All my relationships, before my current one which is wonderful, have ended because I ended them. Before my current boyfriend I had 4 previous relationships, all with men who didn’t do anything wrong or awful to prompt the break up, and who I was good friends with, and did not do anything abusive. (though after extensive reading of Captain Awkward, I realise that my 1st boyfriend might have raised a few red flags if I was to get together with him now. But luckily nothing terrible came of them.) What would happen would be: I would become close friends with a guy, and then we would decide we wanted to date each other. But even though I liked them, romantically and as friends, after a while I would begin to feel like a mute was put on my emotions. Like I couldn’t match their levels of love and affection that they expressed for me. After a while I would withdraw and not want to see them, to the point of being in tears if I was in their company. Then I would realise that the guilt of not feeling enough for them was so hard to deal with that I would break up with them. I could get into relationships but I couldn’t stay in them. I would feel like the pressure to feel strong emotions built up over time, to the point where I couldn’t take it any more.

    Breaking up with them was always sad, and when acquaintances saw on facebook that my longest relationship (3 years) had ended they assumed that I had been cruelly dumped because I was sad about it. I don’t know many people who have ended a lot of their relationships for reasons like mine, and I don’t tend to tell people that I’ve ended all my previous relationships because I don’t want to seem like someone who uses men and then ditches them heartlessly, and that is the only cultural narrative we have for women who end relationships with men who are in love with them. After my last breakup (a couple of years ago) I attempted a ‘friends with benefits’ type thing with another friend but it didn’t work because I experienced the same problem with my emotions. I was concerned about whether he actually wanted us to be in a proper relationship and so worried that I was using him and that his feelings for me were stronger than mine were for him that I ended that too. Then I told myself I would not get in a relationship with someone until I was really, really, really, really sure. And I had a year or so of being single, and it was a really good idea.

    Like you, LW, I would experience overly strong emotions to things. Like one thing that really seemed the end of the world about 9 months ago was that a group of my friends and acquaintances (we all met through a website, and some I know better than others) were going to the wedding of two of the group. My closest friend in the group was invited, as was (what seemed like) everyone else. Except me. And for some incredibly embarrassing reason, it was DEVASTATING. I felt like it was an assessment of my worth as a person, and like someone was yelling ‘haha, you thought you were part of this group BUT YOU WEREN’T!!’ It caused me to feel terrible for weeks on end. But I couldn’t tell anyone because it was so selfish and awful of me to feel that way. A couple’s wedding is about their happiness, and I didn’t actually know them very well, I just felt like the whole group was going and I was in the group so I should be going. Which was a lousy way to think. But I couldn’t help it, and not being able to tell anyone made it even worse. The friends I confided in about it also unintentionally made me feel worse. That is where a therapist comes in. You can tell them about times when you have felt things that are ‘wrong’, or that it would be wrong to express to the people in question (the couple whose wedding it was will sure will never know I ever felt like this!) and the therapist will not judge you. I had therapy for a long time, and in the middle of it made the decision to go on antidepressants, and since then that mute on my emotions has gone. I feel like I am just having emotions now, not having emotions about having the wrong emotions! And I don’t feel disproportionately awful about things now. Don’t take that as me saying ‘go on meds, it totally works!’, it’s just my experience, and depression is of course treated in all different ways, what works for one person may not work for another. I guess its my way of saying you may not always feel this way, LW. One day you may look back on your past and realise how much easier to deal with your emotional responses are than they used to be, and feel relieved. Whether you decide to stay with this man or not, remember that your emotions are not wrong to feel, but you don’t have to struggle with dealing with them alone.

  77. Yikes. Captain, when you did you move inside my head? I broke up with my perfectly fine* boyfriend of seven years last night, so let me take a crack at number two:

    2. People who ended relationships with perfectly good people for reasons of “Meh, it just wasn’t working out.” This isn’t the thread for stories of abuse, assault, gross behavior & extreme incompatibility. We have many of those threads! We rock those threads! What I am looking for is “Nobody mistreated anyone, but this is how I knew that it was not what I wanted.”

    So. My exboyfriend is a lovely, kind, warm, funny, caring individual and I feel like I am a nicer, better person when I’m around him. A year or so after we started dating, I felt like that was it. I was done looking. He was My Person. But the years kept slipping by, and our relationship didn’t change. It was good. Sometimes it was great. Neither one of us wants to get married or have children, so we didn’t have any reason to move things along. But about two years ago, when I was considering moving, I had a conversation with him about what we would do – would he come with me? LTR? – and realized that he never, ever intended the relationship to change, and every conversation about The Fyooture was more vague and maddening than the last. When I asked him, point-blank, if he wanted to be with me, he told me that he didn’t know. But he never actually broke up with me. We got along so well in every other respect, in every other way, that it seemed almost trivial. Meanwhile, he got more and more complacent and I became more and more accommodating, and I realized that we could either drift on like this, with me becoming more and more resentful, or end it while I still had mostly positive, happy memories of our time together.

    Seven years of this. Somewhere out there is probably someone who would be able to say, unequivocally and without a doubt, that they DO want to be with me. Whole-heartedly. Without reservations, without equivocation, without a bunch of qualifiers.

    He’s a good man. But sometimes that’s not enough.

    • Wow, that’s huge. How are you feeling today?

      • Hi Captain!

        I’m feeling okay, mostly. I think it may be harder in the next few weeks when it really sinks in that I just can’t call him or talk to him when I feel like it, since I’ve decided that no contact is the wisest and best way to handle this. Maybe eventually we can become friends, but if that doesn’t happen, I’m okay with just fond thoughts of our time together.
        I’ve scheduled extra sessions with my therapist and am working on a lot of self-care, and let all of my friends know that I need to stay super extra-busy the next few weeks. We had separated once a year ago for about a month, and I was miserable the entire time, and I feel very differently now. We’d been slowly drifting apart for so long that there is much less to miss now. Of course, there’s some residual frustration and anger over his being willing to let the relationship continue when he had no intention of either 1) facing his issues about the future or 2) actively working on any of the things that were making me unhappy in our relationship. He was content to just let things piddle on the way they were, because his need to avoid addressing anything that made him uncomfortable trumped my needs.

        I tried handling it by being every more accommodating and low-maintenance, which was a mistake. But it was genuinely hard to come to this decision, because in so many ways he was such a good partner and we were very compatible. I think I’ve made the right choice – of course, sometimes the choice isn’t between right and wrong, it’s between right and right, which makes it even harder. Ultimately, I hope he’s able to address those things that caused this, but I hope he does it for himself, because it’s too late for us.

        • I am sending you so many jedi cupcakes right now. (Not cookies…I’m actually not great at making cookies, they’re okay but not really my specialty. Cupcakes, though, I rock at! Especially marbled red velvet/buttercake ones. I’ve been told people would kill for those.) Even if you’ve got a good reason for it, breaking up can be hard. It was for me, even though I had a damn good reason for it. -hugs- Good on you for doing what you needed to!

    • Whoa. Even though you sound secure in your decision, after 7 years that has to be really rough. I’m in a similar spot ~3 years into a relationship right now and I’m struggling with a lot of the same stuff — the voice in my head says that the day to day is so good, why would I want to rock the boat just because he doesn’t know if I’m his Person? We don’t want kids, so shouldn’t I just chill out because we have all the time in the world? I want to be the super cool person who’s happy in her relationship today because it’s a positive experience today, but eventually you do have to bail out if it’s always going to be less than you want and, at least for me, it’s so hard to know if you’ve hit that point.

      I know I’m an internet stranger, but I think you just made a super brave move and I hope that you’re OK!

      • Thank you, Jen Vidi Vici. Speaking as someone who also isn’t going to have children and is ambivalent about getting married, it is a really tough situation to be in. Someone told me once that relationships are like sharks – if they don’t keep moving forward, they die, and I think there’s truth in that.

        I’m not going to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do, but for what it’s worth, I’ll share my experience with you.

        I realized that we thought very differently about our relationship about three years ago when I was considering applying to a graduate program in another state. When I asked him what would happen if I was accepted, he said that we’d ‘talk about it when it happened.’ Any time I pressed him about any future plans – and these could be something as innocuous as taking a weekend trip a month or two in the future – we couldn’t discuss it because ‘thinking of the future made him anxious.’ The day to day was fine. But we never did anything that required any forethought or planning whatsoever, I think because that would have made him acknowledge that he was thinking of us as still being together a month, two months, a year from now, while I thought of my future with him in it.

        I brought it up a few more times and each time it got more frustrating. He told me he was working on this unnameable inability to think about the future together, but I never saw any evidence that things were changing. (Keep in mind, when all this is happening, he was still able to plan things like elaborate camping trips with his friends that required a lot of planning and coordination, so it wasn’t that he couldn’t do it AT ALL, it was that he couldn’t do it WITH ME.)

        If there’s anything I’m angry about, it’s that he was willing to waste so much of my time with no intention of ever working on any of these issues, but at the same time, I chose to stay, so I can’t be too angry at him. I don’t want to be with someone who is ambivalent about me.

        As I said, I can’t really offer you anything other than my experience, and I know what you mean about it being hard to know when you’ve hit that point. But I just knew. Before, I had begun every conversation in the hopes that things would work out, but after another two years, that hope died.

        I wish you all the best in this difficult situation.

        • I have also been going through similar things lately, though in a shorter relationship. It lasted for 9 months before I gave up and ended it two weeks ago. I also have some anger, both at him and me, and sadness, but it is also a relief not to have to carry all of that any longer. To let it go.
          Jedi solidarity hugs if you want them.

  78. As an example of “Meh, things aren’t really working out…”:

    There was this guy. We were friendly, and then we were boy-/girl-friendly. He was sweet, considerate, loving. We had a lot in common, but a lot different, too, so I got to learn about and experience new things. He did his best (and it was enough!) to understand and accept my depression and the times that I was crazy overwhelmed and crying because “I HAVE A FEELING AND I DON’T KNOW WHY OR WHAT IT IS AND I CANNOT HANDLE THIS LACK OF UNDERSTANDING.” (I hate that phenomenon, btw.)

    But something was off. Something was off enough that I would get frustrated with insignificant things and it started to sour my opinion of him. Luckily, I realized quickly that there was nothing wrong with him, but something simply wasn’t quite fitting with the way we interacted. So I ended it. I cried, he cried – we loved each other, after all. I listened to Moxy Fruvous’ Fly approximately a bajillion times. But we’re each happier now, and that’s the important bit.

    • And on the flip side…

      I’d like to be able to say that the insight and strength required to break up with that boy came naturally to me. But they didn’t. I was only able to do that because I learned a hard lesson in a previous relationship.

      Hard Lesson Girlfriend and I started dating when we were teenagers, and it was head-spinningly awesome. We’d each dated other people before, but they never “clicked” like we did with each other. We were crazy in love and sure that we were destined for each other. Each passing week was proof, then each passing month, then each passing year. How could we, as teenagers, have a multi-year relationship, if it wasn’t True Love?

      And it was True Love, in the sense that we were truly, wonderfully in love, for a while. Maybe 2 years. But eventually things cooled, and while we loved each other, we were neither in love nor clicking. We didn’t break up, though – we *couldn’t* break up – because True Love is True Love and it lasts Forever. Of course things eventually ended, but that was at least a year after we stopped being happy together, and by that point we could barely remember what we loved about each other.

      Anyway. Nine years passed, I met and starting dating that Boy, and when I realized that we were headed down that same path – falling out of love, inevitable breakup, forgetting the good because everything grated on us – I couldn’t let it happen again. Like I said, hard. Many tears were shed. But at least I remember all the wonderful things about him.

    • Oh god, that phenomenon. So much suck. Thankfully I get it a lot less these days but it’s still nice to see it in words on a computer screen and know that someone else feels that way sometimes too.

  79. Oh, I fit both one and two here. I’ll go in numeric order.

    1. I am currently going almost 2 years strong with my boyfriend who has both anxiety and depression further agitated by insomnia. We have been very actively head-on tackling interpersonal problems for the past 6 months and I’m proud to say he’s been making positive changes in how he interacts with me when jerkbrain is talking. I’ve made changes too in how I interact with him and as someone who has dealt with depression in the past (and still somewhat seasonally), I do my best to understand what he’s going through and what I can do to help him. Some of that has been by reading Captain Awkward’s blog posts. (Thanks so much, Captain Awkward!)

    The Big Things:

    - It’s okay to stop a conversation now that it’s getting heated/emotion-filled/upsetting and revisit it later in a comfortable setting where you’re not stressed out and your mind has had time to process it better. My boyfriend does not handle stress well and when he is having an anxiety attack, he has a hard time staying calm in conversation with his adrenaline pumping. If I think the conversation is escalating to jerkbrain territory, I cut it off and tell him we’ll revisit it later and then when I think he’s calmed down, we’ll talk about it. Before, I would start the conversation but now, my boyfriend will come forward when he’s calmed down and start the conversation.

    - We didn’t try to stop arguing with each other. We changed the way we argued in to something more constructive by using it as a chance to open up communication about how we tick to each other. Part of our problem wasn’t that we had disagreements. It was how we talked about those disagreements. A lot of our problems were just plain misunderstandings that were escalated by how we were going about figuring that out and solving it. Once we calmed down, we’d say what happened, how it made us feel, why we felt that way, why we think we reacted that way, and we’d try to actually understand the other in how things happened from their perspective.

    - We don’t excuse bad behavior but we do try to understand why it happens as a way to fix it and once it is fixed, to forgive and not hold it against one another. Even when I can hear my boyfriend’s jerkbrain talking, it’s not hard for me to realize it’s his illness and not him and truly believe that. For me, it’s easy to see when his depression is talking because he’ll talk down to himself. He’ll overreact to my suggestions with a self-defeating comment. He will think everything that can go wrong will go wrong. It can be annoying and frustrating but I’ve learned to not take it personally and to give him a little space when he’s in a funk. If he’s being a real Debbie Downer, I might point out this could be the jerkbrain talking and I’ll optimistically assure him most likely nothing will go horribly wrong and point out times when things go right. Jerkbrain likes to conveniently focus on everything that goes wrong and not all the things that go right so some times some optimism and correcting of that mindset helps get my boyfriend out of jerkbrain funk quickly.

    - Trust and honesty are essential to working on interpersonal problems caused by depression and/or anxiety. I have my hang-ups and stress triggers from bad experiences too and some times I have to be painfully honest about how much something my boyfriend does affects me and why I have that trigger. I have to trust that my boyfriend will acknowledge my feelings, acknowledge the reasons behind those feelings, and want to help minimize those feelings. My boyfriend has to put that exact same trust in me when he’s honest about his past and triggers. As two people who prefer not to talk about their past and problems they may or may not have come to terms with, opening up about it is not an easy task at all and it took us a year before we even really wanted to delve in to it. It would not work if either of us were uncomfortable with each other and weren’t sure that the other person was going to be supportive.

    - One of the most important aspects of how this works: Neither of us are Darth Vader partners. No matter how angry and upset we get, we do not call each other names or resort to violence of any kind. We do not gaslight each other. We do not dismiss each other’s feelings. We don’t try to cover up the mistakes we make even if they hurt.

    2. My last partner was not abusive or bad for me in any way and I still felt I absolutely needed to get out of our relationship.

    The Good: He was kind, affectionate, had a lot in common with me, open-minded, and someone I could trust as I knew him a few years before we got together. Every one he knew thought we were perfect for each other and had stories about how he had been in love with me for long before we started dating. We shared the same hobbies and interests and had many fun times together. We wanted to live the same lifestyles and wanted similar/compatible things out of life. We got along well, almost never argued, and lived happily together for a good 6 months before I needed to move back to my home state to finish college after needing to take time off. It wasn’t even the distance that caused our break up.

    The Bad: It stopped working when I just didn’t feel the same way as he did because he was just not the kind of person I could see a real future with. I may not always have tons of motivation but I do have drive which he lacked. I hadn’t even lived on my own properly before we moved in together but I had leagues more experience in how to take care of myself while living on my own than he did. He hated having a desk job as a civilian worker for the military where he was a nuclear spill specialist and got to sit at a desk doing whatever he wanted while he’s on call for when an accident happens (which is very rare) and getting paid $15+/hr. I consider him exceptionally lucky to have gotten a job like that through his father and can’t understand why he’d rather be a “starving” freelance graphic designer. None of these qualities even matter that much to me. None of them were super terrible deal breakers but all of them together mixed with how he also didn’t have super awesome points to balance it out just made me feel dissatisfied with the relationship. It was like we were on different plains when it came to life experience and I felt like I had to catch him up to be happy which meant things just weren’t working out.

    In terms of amount of arguments and stressful external factors, my current relationship looks rockier but the difference is I’m much much happier with someone I feel like I’m on the same page with.

  80. I’m still in a relationship with my lovely boyfriend, but it’s a relationship with a deadline. Basically, I’m moving back to my own country, and when that happens, we’re going to break up.

    When I say he’s lovely, I really mean it. He’s an amazing cook, can clean the entire room in less than an hour, loves cuddles, and food, and games, and people watching just as much as I do. Being with him can be super fun, and through his influence I’ve grown in so many ways.

    BUT – and it’s a big but – I don’t feel like we have a future together. One reason is that he wants to do ALL THE THINGS in ALL THE PLACES, and I eventually just want to pick a country and settle down and start a family (which isn’t on his list of things he’s actually made plans to do, more like just presuming he’ll do it as some kind of side note because it’s what people do).

    Another problem is that he’s super big on being allowed to do his own thing his own way – which often translates as NO I WON’T EVEN TRY THAT THING YOU RECOMMEND – but can’t even realise when he’s imposing on my own autonomy of choice. Like telling me “Put some clothes on, you’re being trashy” when I’m lazing around naked in my own room after a shower. Even after I’ve explained to him that sometimes I just feel more comfortable naked.

    These two things can seem like minor problems, especially when we’ve had a great day together. I often second-guess my decision to break up. Deciding to be alone is scary, and sometimes I just want to settle for the great times we have together and pretend the rest doesn’t matter. But I believe that spending my life with someone AMAZING who just refuses to compromise and listen when it’s really important, really won’t be amazing. Even if I there’s a chance I can never find someone better, I have to do this for myself.

  81. Oh, man! I’m a somewhat new reader, but I’m trying hard to embrace “use your words” in my daily life and (particularly, perhaps) in my romantic life.

    I read the call for comments and actually felt like I might have something worth pitching in on both points, so I haven’t read the full set of comments yet, so take that for what it’s worth.

    (1) I am in a happy newish relationship with another CA reader. One of us has diagnosed anxiety. One of us is scheduling an appointment for evaluation . We are using our words and when someone has jerkbrain acting up or other concerns, as far as I can tell, we’re both pretty good at talking about it. That we are at a distance sort of encourages more talking.

    (2) I was in a long relationship with a quality human being (for our purposes, Alex). There was one problem; Alex’s stress management techniques were such that they dramatically and profoundly affected my stress levels. I tried to use my words, and also did encourage Alex to consider (free, through work, confidential–EAP’s are awesome) talking to somebody. She didn’t think it was an issue, and…well, that turned out to also be an issue. It was the primary issue that led to me breaking up with Alex, after a little more than three years. There was a significant amount of good in the relationship–there had to be, for me to stay for three years. At the end of the day, and at the end of the time, I just knew it wouldn’t be long-term successful. The breakup was painful, but an engagement (which was on the table) would’ve only led to worse.

  82. In my mostly happy relationship, I am the one with anxiety. We are long distance (of the kind where we see each other about once a week but live in cities 100 miles apart). We’ve been together for only 8 months now but fell in love pretty quick and both of us are having forever feelings.

    For us, I am lucky that I found someone with whom it is very easy to communicate with, and that has been our key to navigating my anxiety. Sometimes he has to coax the words out of me because I’m feeling scared/insecure, and when you feel that way it is HARD to get the words out, even if the environment is totally safe. But the first time we discussed my anxiety, his response was “I can only help you deal with it and give you what you need if I know what is going on.” And that is so, so true! So when my jerkbrain acts up and I feel insecure, I have to tell him. It’s hard, but you have to speak/identify the problem to get a solution.

    I find it is also really helpful if I give him a concrete action he can take to make me not feel upset. The Captain hit on that in her post, and it’s brilliant. To illustrate with an actual conversation from this morning, I really value a few minutes of cuddle time in the morning when I’m waking up, but boyfriend usually wants to get out of bed earlier than me. So he was trying to sneak out quietly and thinking he was doing me a real favor by not disturbing me too much and letting me get my rest, and I was getting insecure because I felt a little like he didn’t want to give me that physical affection. So this morning we had to have a conversation where I explained to him how much that touch meant to me, and he explained that he thought he was doing good by leaving but OF COURSE he wants to hold me. So now after we talked he now knows that if he can spend about two minutes cuddling me in the morning before getting out of bed, I’ll feel a lot better.

    As an aside here, Captain asked us to talk about how you separate jerkbrain from real thoughts. Sometimes, that’s not totally necessary. Like, is it completely rational need for me to want that cuddling before he gets out of bed? I mean, I guess not–it’s not a referendum on how much he loves me at all. But I can feel bad if I don’t get it, and it’s so easy for him to give and he WANTS to… why not just indulge that? So maybe sometimes you don’t always do the rational thing, and you find ways to work with and placate the jerkbrain. Just, communication is key. Tell your partner what your worried about and what they could do to make you less worried. The more you can articulate your needs specifically, the better things will be for your relationship. If they want to meet your needs in that way, they’re a good and safe partner for you.

    Lastly, if you suffer from anxiety, it is so important for you to have a partner you trust. Sometimes when I’m feeling insecure I just need something as simple as “tell me you love me.” I trust him when he tells me he does, sometimes I just need to hear it again. It’s ok to ask for that. But if you can’t trust those words from your partner, or if you doubt they’re being genuine, that partner might not be the best one for you. But, trust is not just on the other partner–yes, they have to prove worthy of your trust, but you must also take the risk of being vulnerable and opening yourself up to someone else.

  83. “On the Radio” was playing on my pandora station when I got to that part and it kind of freaked me out. Like I thought that maybe I was imagining it becuase it was just too weird.

    • I first read the scene in The Time Traveler’s Wife that takes place near the fireplace in Ann Sather…sitting near the fireplace at Ann Sather. Spooky, right?

  84. At age 19, I broke up with my first boyfriend after 2 months because the relationship just didn’t feel right. It was an utterly terrifying thing to do – he was the first person ever to want that kind of relationship with me (as opposed to just friends or just sex), I wasn’t sure I’d ever find another decent person who wanted me (my sense of self worth was not the best), and worst of all I didn’t even have an explanation for why I wanted to break up with a perfectly good boyfriend. (Was I just messed up and unable to appreciate a normal relationship?) But I broke up with him anyway when the not-right feelings got strong enough that I didn’t want him touching me.

    Once I was able to get some distance from the situation after the breakup, I began to identify what it was about the relationship that was Not Working for me. My loss of romantic interest became less mysterious and terrifying to me, and I learned some things about what I need in a relationship. And of course, over a decade later I can safely say that he was NOT my only chance to ever have a real relationship with a decent person.

  85. Thank you for this post! I’ve been made to feel really guilty by people in my life for breaking up with a very sweet, nice boy who just wasn’t right for me. He was essentially my first boyfriend, who was a very good first boyfriend, but there were just fundamental things about each of us that were incompatible. For example, it is a priority for me to travel in my life, and though he tried to convince me, I knew his heart wanted to settle down and raise a family by his parents. There’s nothing wrong with that, it just wasn’t for me. Along with a few communication issues, I broke it off. This was important for me to believe that I could determine my own future, instead of just letting it happen to me. I have a choice in the matter!

  86. All of my relationships that can be called such (… all three of them) have been with good people that just ended because we weren’t great together. (Well, maybe five, if you count the high school boyfriend of two weeks that I ended because he brought me a rose two days into dating and I went, “Uh… that feels weird and you’re more into me than I am into you, so bye,” and the other high school long-distance internet “relationship” that just faded into silence. … I am not sure if those should really count, because, high school!)

    Funnily enough, said all three have been instigated by the other person. I’m not sure what that says about me. First one was just that he was graduating and moving to the other end of the country and didn’t want to do a long distance relationship. It was my first serious relationship (at least, reasonably committed and vacationing together, if not talking about The Future), so I wanted to give it a shot. He didn’t. There was no real resentment, though I cried a lot and missed him terribly. I ended up attending his wedding later to a lovely woman who shared his WoW obsession and desire for kids. :)

    Second one was a brief, intense fling that ended after a month. He never gave me a reason (not that he has to, it just never happened), but I suspect he got spooked by my level of attachment – I let slip the love bomb, and he broke up with me a week later. I acted, um, extraordinarily poorly to the dumping, but fortunately he doesn’t seem to have held it against me, even if it led to some awkward times. We still work at the same place and things are fine and cordial, if not close.

    Third was the longest relationship yet; he moved and we tried the long distance thing for over a year, while I hunted for a job in the area. It was a good relationship – we talked a bunch, had similar interests and liked doing things together, had fairly similar attachment styles (although I worried that I was too attached, as he needed more alone time than I did), we were good about asking for what we each needed, had good sex (though it started running into issues of routine). It didn’t work out for reasons that still sting a bit, and so I won’t disclose, but were pretty reasonable (if unexpected) – ultimately, he wasn’t sure what he wanted, and didn’t feel like that uncertainty was a good position for me to be moving over there and in with him. In hindsight, I’d been having a lot of worries about whether we were settling for each other and how we weren’t super-passionate any more and that I was gung-ho about moving in together and he was pretty chary, but we were still comfortable and fit so well together and and and don’t all relationships go through rough patches, I’m sure I still love him and we should work things out! etc.

    Still recovering a bit from that – not talking to him yet, as I retreated to protect myself and get over him faster, but I have no doubt that I’ll someday be in a position to reach out and reconnect (if he still wants to be friends then). In the meantime, I’ve been dating around and having some flings, and it’s been good. A bit lonely, since I realized how nice it is to have a close relationship (and I have trouble connecting with friends, for whatever reason). Still, I cringe thinking how miserable it would be to be with someone just for the attention they give me, and as no one yet has quite sparked the “I really want this person in my life a lot,” I’m more content being single and looking for dates than being with someone who’s just okay, in limited doses. There is someone I’m interested in seeing more, but between various things (surgeries and long travel, for one) and not being sure if he feels the same way, I’m mostly all right with taking it really slow. (Not that I don’t have my silly anxieties sometimes, like getting anxious when I see him back on OKC when I’m doing the exact same thing).

  87. I’ve been reading and commenting here for a year, and I suspect if anyone were to go track all of those comments down you could read the slow, no-fault end of my only long term relationship.

    We were online, long-distance best friends for years, and somewhere in there that turned into a mutual crush, and then mutual worrying feelings. After a lot of talk, we started dating, still online, still long-distance. The thing about dating like that? It isn’t like other dating. It’s a lot of things, many of them great, but it isn’t the day to day reality of sharing your life with another person. Because of our mutual anxiety/depression issues and my communication issues, communicating mostly via IM and email, plus occasional phone calls, was perfect as far as I was concerned.

    So I moved to Australia to go to grad school and be with her. And that was great, too! I had an apartment and she stayed over frequently, and we were really good together. There was some disagreement about our future plans–you know, which country to live in, kids, pets, housekeeping–but we really thought it was solvable. I moved back to the US at the end of my visa and we went back to long distance. We visited back and forth. It wasn’t as good, but still pretty great, and all of our friends and family were invested in this relationship, so we worked on it hard together. Plus, I loved her! I wanted it to work!

    We decided Australia was where we’d like to live, mostly because of better immigration laws. I moved again, we started permanent residency procedures, we got an apartment together. We got a kitten together. And I became so, so unhappy.

    Every time we had to do anything for immigration, we had to tell the story of our relationship, and every time I found myself less excited about it. Some time in the long-distance, the physical spark had been lost (for me, don’t know about her). It wasn’t that anything was bad or wrong. The idea of being together forever just seemed interminable instead of exciting. I missed exciting. I tried hard to get exciting back. It didn’t work. We went to couple’s counselling, but no. It hurt a lot. She’s still my best friend. It was almost nine years, and in retrospect we weren’t perfect together at all. The little things that wore me down were always there and would always have worn me down.

  88. When I broke up with a boyfriend a while back, it was because my needs weren’t being met by the relationship. And despite working together to work out some expectations so we were both happy, things weren’t working out. And I didn’t feel that my ex was keeping up with his part of our relationship agreements. Which meant we hadn’t solved the problems. Sure, I was disappointed and upset – but I didn’t want anyone to be upset at my ex on my behalf. I tried explaining it to a friend this way, “It’s not that I hate Mike. And it’s not that he’s a bad person, he’s not. It’s just simply that he’s not good *enough*. He’s not bad – he’s just not capable of having the relationship that I want to have. ” And that’s what it really came down to for me.

    I’m happy that I stuck to my standards, that I was confident enough to insist that I be treated well. And recognized that his efforts didn’t meet my standards. I am incredibly happy now.

    • Ah! So much of the this!

      It’s hard to explain, and heck, it’s even kind of hard to understand. Most of my who have ended relationships ended them because the other person was a jerk or just flawed in some particularly unpleasant way, or was, well, “the bad guy.” So it’s so easy to fall into that trap of thinking,”If I want to break up with someone, it’s because they’re Not Good.” And just as easy to follow that line of thinking to: “There’s nothing wrong with this person; they are Not Bad, and therefore this relationship is fine.”

      (In my case, it was the creeping realization that I want to be, er, In Charge in a relationship, among other things, and the swell guy I was seeing was very much a traditionalist. As you say–he couldn’t have the kind of relationship I want to have. He’ll make some girl very happy one day, I’m certain. Just not me.)

      Props to you!

  89. I am in a happy relationship (getting married in 3 1/2 weeks) and frequently deal with anxiety. Sometimes it’s relationship-related, more often it’s not, but I’m not always good at figuring out the difference.

    Not to sound cliched, but communication was absolutely the key for me. I had to be willing to say to my boyfriend, “I feel really panicky whenever I think about [whatever relationship issue] and I don’t know why.” Then we could talk through it, figure out whether this was coming from an actual relationship problem or something else, and determine where to go from there.

    For the first several months of our relationship, I kept finding myself afraid to actually tell him these things. I kept thinking I’d come across as needy, or clingy, or dysfunctional, or that he’d be tired of helping me figure out my problems and listening to my complaints. 100% of the time, however, I felt *better* after I expressed my anxiety to him, even if it was about him. He was unbelievably patient and was eager to help me work through it any way he could.

    I am finally learning that it’s the waiting and wondering that makes me the most anxious. If I am anxious or stressing out over a relationship issue, I’m trying more and more these days to talk to him about it first, rather than psyching myself up with weeks of worrying.

  90. How about when you’re in a mostly happy relationship #Team1 but the parameters change midplay due to anxiety? And you’re left kind of flailing, wondering if it’ll go back to what you know as Normal or wow, is this the way things are now? That’s not what I signed up for.

    Does anyone have any thoughts? I think sudden onset anxiety can really change how someone acts. OTOH you don’t know if it’ll pass soon-ish or ever, and how do you cope when someone you love starts acting a lot different due to anxiety?

    • I know this is coming late, and Kellis, I don’t know if you’ll see this — but I’ll try anyway. It is super hard when something changes the Deal mid-stream. You think you know what you signed up for, and then WHAM.

      OTOH, things change mid-stream all the time, and you can’t predict it. Accidents, illnesses, job losses, who knows. You can’t live a life without the unexpected. And people just change over time. So it’s unreasonable to expect that the Deal will always be the Deal. You can hope but nothing can ever be guaranteed, regardless of the best of intentions.

      The other thing that is important is that you can always leave for any reason or none. You don’t have to stay, just because you made a deal. You might even decide you’d be a terrible person for it, but it doesn’t matter; you don’t have to try to ride out a relationship with a mentally ill person if you don’t want to. You get to leave if you want to.

      But I think you don’t really want to right now? But maybe if it will never change, you might? But you don’t even know, you’re just like WTF. Mostly you want it to all get better. The first thing you should do is get your own therapist, if you can, or someone who is your friend and not your partner’s friend, to talk to.

      Next you should try to help your partner get the medical care they need. Whatever it might be. It’s their responsibility to follow through, but you can help make it easier. If they won’t do it, though, then you’re off the hook — you cannot fix them, you cannot make them get better.

      Throughout you try to communicate as best you can. Your partner is having a terrible time, but so are you; it’s harder for them to know how their suffering causes you pain but they don’t get to live without knowing that. You are not required to be the all-suffering martyr; you get to have healthy boundaries. You get to renegotiate who does the dishes and all that, you get to say they are not allowed to talk to you like that, etc. It will really suck for them, but the important thing to know is that it probably already really sucks for them. When I’m anxious, it is far better to know the concrete badness than the amorphous maybe awful disaster. But how you do that depends a lot on you and them and how they react and what your doctors say and all that.

      And then… well, you might decide “okay, things are getting better, I will try for a while longer” or you might decide “okay, even though they’re trying and doing the meds and seeing the therapist, I cannot deal” or you might decide “they’re not trying but I am, realistically, not going to leave. How can I keep myself sane?”

      Also… look closely for problems with recreational substances, that can complicate everything and make an anxiety problem that you could live with into an addiction problem you could not. Or not. Only you know.

      It is really hard and heartbreaking. You get to decide, though. You are not helpless or stuck, you have lots of choices.

  91. I’m a #1. My husband has been very lucky with mental health issues and I’m obsessive compulsive and honestly, I can say the best thing is that we communicated about it. I don’t really get upset about relationship issues (except dealing with his mother – my mother in law can be difficult to handle at the best of times, and absolutely horrible when I’m not on top form), so that helps. Probably the hardest thing is that he gets upset and frustrated to not be able to help me when I’m in pain.

    But we have talked about how I cope and tangible things he can do to help (cooking when I’m panicking, so I don’t have to deal with feeding myself.) And it REALLY helps that I have a great support system of friends and my family, so it’s not all on him, all the time.

  92. My wife of 10 years suffers from anxiety that can be crippling.

    One thing I would caution is that the whole game of trying to decide what’s “real” and what’s “just the anxiety” is a bit of a trap. An anxious person often spends a lot of time and energy worrying about whether their anxiety is “real” or not, leading them to obsess over anxiety-producing aspects of life, which makes things worse. Also, it’s a very difficult question particularly in a long-term relationship because the anxious partner’s anxiety fulfills some very real functions in the relationship (for example when my wife’s anxiety is well-managed we get our heat turned off more because I don’t worry about stuff even when I should and she is overburdened with those kinds of tasks.)

    The boring-ass, heard-it-all-before answer is unfortunately the only answer which is that you have to talk about it. The relationship has to be big enough to include this super-scary conversation:

    Partner A: I was thinking we would spend the weekend together!
    Partner B: Sure! But I have tennis and poker and I was planning to go over to my buddy’s house and help him put together his grill.
    Partner A: Wow, I’m feeling really anxious right now!
    Partner B: Oh, you’re feeling anxious?
    Partner A: Yes, When you make a ton of plans that don’t include me it makes me feel unloved and I feel worried you want to leave me!
    Partner B: When I make a ton of plans that don’t include you it makes you feel unloved and you feel worried I want to leave you? Tell me more about that, because I love you and I want you to feel that I love you and feel secure that I don’t want to leave you!
    Partner A: You love me and you want me to feel that you love me and feel secure that you don’t want to leave me? I now feel slightly less anxious, but let’s keep talking for a bit longer so we can explore this a bit more…

    Now obviously people don’t really talk like this. But you should, actually. And one day, if you stay in your relationship long enough, you will, because some therapist will make you do it. So you might as well start practicing now. Good luck!

  93. This thread is very useful to me. I broke up with a lovely boy I’d been with for 2.5 years at the end of last year because we simply wanted different things – it was long-distance, and I wanted us to be closer, but he wanted to keep things going slowly. I couldn’t cope with that, it made me unhappy, so I ended it. What followed were 4 months of horrible, blood-curdling (literally) pain and sadness and regret, but also of constant desire to be happy and strong again, which made me start doing all sorts of things I’d wanted to but never had. A good friend told me early on in the process that even though you might feel like you will never recover or find someone as good, one day, not too far away, you’ll wake up, and the first thing you think about won’t be that person. And, for me, one day, 6 months later, I was fine. Life went on. I had lots of help from friends and family along the way, but also the belief and the experience that Life does always go on. In the past week I’ve started dating another lovely boy (I’m quite lucky finding lovely ones I guess, and there are lots out there), who’s told me yesterday (our second outing) about his anxiety problems. He’s so nice (seriously, he looked after me a whole night a few months back when I’d gone on a drinking spree and was throwing up all over my friend’s house), that all i want to do now is help him SLEEP! So I guess asking how I can help is step numero uno. But, it’s like the Captain says – you can’t control people’s reactions or feelings – if they like you and care for you and want to be with you, they will do whatever they can to be happy together (IF they know what the problem is!), and if they don’t, they’re not right for you. True. Fact.

  94. Ahhh, another LDR here.
    I am the one with anxiety, and I have a pretty bad ‘physical consequence’ from suffering anxiety. Let me say the awkward: I pull my hair out. It’s an awkward, awful “disease”, and I opened up to my partner. I was crying so hard. I had to tell him this part of me that I hide from everybody else. Damn it was hard, but it was so liberating to tell him. And I was secure because I knew we both had (have!) forever feelings and he would still love me for that. Sometimes I forget this is something I never tell to everyone, it became a very common routine to do my hair trying to hide the lack of hair I sometimes have. But I told him and it went well and our relationship got deeper. I love him vey much. Next month we are going to close the distance, I will move to this country and do the best master programme there is on earth for me! I am pretty lucky.

    But I have anxiety and even though I love the way we are, sometimes I tell him I am afraid we loose what we have. Not because we don’t love each other, but because of… sutff. We are extremely compatible in every thing (what we want for our lives, ways of living, sex, feelings, preferences, ..!). I love him and us so much that I am afraid something will happens to sabotage my hapiness. Having my parents kind of divorced does not help and they are always yelling at each other and then I cry and I am afraid I am going to be like my mom who yells if I leave a glass in my room. She is also very anxious too. But she criticizes a lot of me, and she yells for very unimportant things. Two times partner heard her on skype yelling at me and he said, and I quote: “she scared me”. I am afraid I become like her and mess up my relationship, but at the same time we respect each other very deeply and we never ‘fight’ in that mean, snarky, yelling term.

    How do we cope with that? Me being able to tell when I am not fine. It is hard to do his, but we’ve agreed that I tell when I am worst from my “hair” problem, or when I am about to cry for something. I feel clingy when, like today, he is in a dinner-cocktail party because a colleague from work is leaving. I tried to keep this to myself, but I finally opened up saying “I am sorry partner, I love you and I want you to have fun, but I feel that I’m working so hard at work, and studying so hard for me finals, and you’re having fun with pople I really don’t know, doing something very cool when I am not”. Eventually I took this day for myself to have a break from everything (work and school).

    Being LDR is very hard for someone so anxious, but I was anxious before our relationship and this is the happiest I’ve ever been. Not because of the pressure to be in love, but because we are so happy together. I never thought about runing away because our relationship feels like an adventure!

    I must say it helps to think that this is me, taking or leave it. I dont apologize for who I am and I won’t. But… I must also look for help, and that has been hard to accept. I am planning to find a therapist next month on my ‘new’ country!

  95. I am the one with anxiety in #1 and have a story for #2.

    2 first: I realized I wanted to be poly and he didn’t. We tried kind of a mono-poly thing for a couple of months. One day, he messages me with “Hey.” Me: “… Are you breaking up with me? Because if so, I totally understand and agree.” Him: “LOL How did you know?” Me: “You never start conversations that way.” Him: “Well, uh, great? …Do you want to go see a movie this weekend?” Me: “Sure!”

    And we have been best friends ever since.

    For #1, my anxiety often manifests as sleepless brain on a hamster wheel, so the solution is often “Can we talk about this in the morning, when your brainworms aren’t at their most active? If it’s still an issue then, we’ll discuss it.”

    Sometimes that doesn’t work, and it’s conversations until 4 AM about what The Jerkbrain is doing. That’s become less frequent, but it was really an issue for a couple of years there.

  96. Hi there! Divorcee and veteran of about ten years of singleness interspersed with the occasional bullshit soul-crushing ambiguious on and off relationship.

    I’ve got issues a-go-go.

    With current, decent, not at all ambiguous boyfriend of 1.5 years, I’ve had to struggle with my insecurities and abandonment issues. It’s taken a while but I’m coming to terms with the fact that I *can* actually voice my needs and concerns without having to gear up for a fight or a total emotional shut-down, and that he actually *wants* to be aware of these things because lo and behold he cares about my happiness.

    It’s involved unlearning a lot of passive aggression and defence mechanisms and really learning to ‘use my words’

    On the other hand, I’ve dated at least one other guy who was really cool and sweet but I was just not feeling it, and I told him I’d rather see him meet someone who was really super into him because he was such a fantastic person whom I just could NOT muster up more than a vague fondness for.

  97. I was in a relationship that was okay when we were together and not at all when we weren’t. But that was *the relationship* not me. *I* was okay when he wasn’t around; I didn’t trust that our relationship was. And I do not deal with anxiety issues. I did in that relationship. That was a red flag I missed. When something about the relationship you are in does not allow you to be yourself honestly, or brings out traits or feelings you aren’t prone to, do pay attention.

    I am currently in a new-ish relationship with someone who does deal with ongoing and chronic issues. We are learning to deal with them. I knew that things were on a good path when I was able to ask him about a point when he dropped out of the communication pattern we had established and the conversation that followed was respectful and rational.

  98. I have an uninteresting story:

    I’ve never really dated, but I would like to be in a relationship. I like the idea of having a partner to go through life with, someone to have my back, someone to take care of me and someone to take care of in turn.

    Awhile back, a very nice guy messaged me on a dating site. He was nerdy and knew things like who *insert obscure but lovable superhero* was. He was sweet and funny and a genuinely nice guy. He was pretty cute too. Very much My Type, physically.

    It just didn’t work out.

    He lived a few hours away. At first, that’s what I blamed it on–it was such a hassle to see each other, and how could I really get to know this guy and really start to like him on a friend-maybe-boyfriend level as opposed to acquaintance-that-I-enjoy-the-company-of-sometimes level when we couldn’t see each other much. Surely I’d like him more if I saw him more, right? I just needed a lot of gradual build-up to get into a relationship. I’ve never been in one before, but he seems really great, so if I keep trying to feel like I want this to be romantic, eventually it’ll click with me, right?

    I blamed it on my physical hang-ups. For reasons both personal and religious (six of one…) sex is off the table for me for a good long while into a relationship. And heck, I’ve never even kissed anyone. And I didn’t really want to kiss him. So I didn’t. But there were times when I could tell the script of How Relationship Goes, and especially the script he was reading from, said “They Kiss Now.” “They Cuddle Less Platonically Now.” And I felt bad that he’d drive such a long way to get no real physical contact except for platonic cuddles as I “built up to” liking him. I felt awkward only going by the script sometimes, and I felt bad because that felt like leading him on.

    He was very nice about it, for the record. At no point did he ever try to force me or coax me (well, maybe a little there, but less of the sleazy coaxing, and more of just…eh, I dunno). He never got upset or even looked or acted disappointed when I’d shut it down physically. Really, he is an absolutely swell guy.

    But it took about a year of us seeing each other off and on every couple of months or so for me to realize that I didn’t want him.

    At first, I kind of worried that it meant I was “broken.” I’m not Ace, or at least I don’t think I am (Ace is not “broken” ftr), but I would call myself demisexual and I am very very gunshy about funtouches. And I have an ridiculously low libido, especially when compared to, say, my best friend. And here’s this guy who looks great on paper, who has a good job, who’s a sweet, funny, gentleman with a serious nerdy streak, who likes doing goofy things and makes wonderful, terrible, cheesy puns…

    And I just didn’t want him.

    And as soon as I came to terms with that and stopped trying to justify it or blame it on something he did or didn’t do or on something I was or wasn’t, I stopped feeling so anxious about the whole mess. And the whole process helped me define what it is I DO want in a romantic relation as opposed to just a friendly relationship.

    So…

    Um.

    Well, now I just gotta try to find something that looks/feels a little more like that. But I’m glad I DIDN’T stick with Guy #1 (though I’d be lying if there weren’t times I didn’t think, “Hey, this situation would be easier to deal with if I were in a nice stable relationship with Guy #1.”) because I know it would’ve been uncomfortable and a lot more difficult to extract myself from a pleasant-but-unsatisfactory relationship if I actually got INto one.

  99. 2. People who ended relationships with perfectly good people for reasons of “Meh, it just wasn’t working out.”

    All of my previous breakups fit under this category, except that I was the dumpee. It always sucked, but I didn’t fault the dudes. They couldn’t help not feeling it, or wanting something so different out of life that there was no way for us to compromise. The one life lesson I can hold up from these combined experiences is that when you see the end coming, it’s best to take quick, decisive action. Dithering serves no one when one partner wants to split up.

    Of course, that’s easier said than done. For a while now, I’ve been pretty miserable in my relationship with a perfectly good person because of ISSUES that are not anyone’s fault, ISSUES that would pose a huge challenge to any couple. If I looked into a crystal ball and discovered that the ISSUES would never be resolved, no matter how hard we tried, I’d bail on the romantic side of our relationship. Since I only suspect that we can’t resolve our ISSUES, breaking up in the moment never feels right.

    I wish there were some chart where you could look this sort of thing up. “If you have not resolved issue X in Y amount of time, you will never resolve it, and you can move on, secure in the knowledge that there’s nothing else you could’ve done.”

    • Life should be like one of those nerdy card games, where every now and again, you gain the power to peak ahead in the deck and shuffle a few things around.

  100. I fit into #1. My husband and I have been married for 15 years, have two kids, and have known each other since middle school, so we have lots of history. I had mild anxiety when I was younger; now that I’m older and mellower, I think a lot of the anxiety was in reaction to the huge amount of stress I was under when I was in school. My husband suffers from bouts of clinical depression, migraines, and severe back problems (sometimes all three at the same time). His family dynamics were also pretty toxic, although his parents are still (surprisingly) married to each other.

    We talk to each other a LOT. We try really hard to communicate what is going on with us in terms of work, kids, emotions, etc. We were a couple for almost 8 years before we married and only once or twice came close to breaking up pre-wedding. I think we’re still together because even then we knew/sensed where the Lines of Doom are/were for the relationship and held back from crossing them. (Lines of Doom can move, BTW, which is why you have to keep track of them.) We both will listen to the other person’s POV, even when s/he’s done something egregious, and we feel able to say “You’ve just honked me off so much that I need some time to cool off before I want to talk to you again.” The Silent Treatment is Verboten in our household. And that whole thing about not going to sleep angry at each other – um, sometimes you do need to sleep on it before dealing with it, IMO.

    One example from early in our marriage: Husband was in a friend’s wedding. For reasons I don’t remember now, the rehearsal dinner was a week before the wedding. Husband completely spaced on the rehearsal dinner and went over to a friend’s house to hang out. That I didn’t know where he was, exactly, is fairly typical of our relationship – we don’t keep tabs on each other unless Important Stuff is happening. Anyway, the groom called, and I promised to track Husband down. I spent 3 hours going through the address book, calling everybody I could think of within a 2-hour drivetime radius, and came up empty. (Husband and friend had gone out to dinner and had their cell phones on mute.) Husband finally called me around midnight to let me know he was on the way home. I was so relieved he was alive and in one piece that I only slightly hysterically asked him about the rehearsal dinner, and then, of course, he felt like an idiot (and is still ribbed about it by the groom to this day). Anyway, Husband had an aversion to checking in because his parents were severely helicopter-y when he was a teen. So the next day we worked out the Keeping in Touch Accord, which is still in effect. If Important Stuff is happening, we call each other every x hours, no matter what. Otherwise, Husband will let me know where he is if he expects to get home after midnight. This takes care of everybody’s issues, because I know I’ll hear from him by 10:30 PM at the latest, one way or another, and he doesn’t feel as if I’m hovering like his parents did.

  101. I have been in both categories. Ended a 3-year relationship early this year because it just wasn’t right. We had different communication styles and couldn’t weather the hard stuff together/in the same way. The moment when I “knew” was when hard stuff happened (death in my family). I still think of him and wish him well; he was not a bad person.

    Now I am the person with anxiety in my brand new relationship (dating about 3 months). We have extreme chemistry! It is great! But I shook and cried and had nightmares before all of our early dates (for about a month and a half). I probably wasn’t ready to date yet, and I don’t really know why I didn’t run. But I’m glad I didn’t. A few dates in after a particularly bad weekend I did tell him that I have what I call “freakouts” and if we continued dating I was going to have to tell him when it happened and if he’d accidentally done anything to trigger it. He was just like, okay, that’s fine. In fact he had noticed I was acting weird and it was a relief to hear me explain why! So now I just let him know if my anxiety is acting up and over what, he reassures me or tells me he will try not to phrase X in Y way anymore, and there have been very few issues. Additionally, and this is relevant to the LW, he is busier than I am and we went 2 weeks without seeing each other a couple times. He brought up a “hey what are we doing here” conversation at some point and I told him I’d need to see him more often if the relationship became “official”/serious. He said he wished we could see each other every other day, but can’t do that while we live an hour away, so we settled on twice a week. So it’s not always a case of if he wanted to see you more he would.

    So that’s the extent of the dealing with the ups and downs, and late comment is late, but hopefully that is helpful in some way.

  102. […] when they can. YES YES THIS. -Pretty much everything Captain Awkward writes is gold, and this recent post is no exception. -Related to yesterday’s post, I love love love this essay: Exploding the […]

  103. Hey! I’m somebody who ended a relationship that was in many ways really good for me because there were a few things that weren’t working for me and I couldn’t get around them. Things that could have worked but just didn’t, and it was stressing me out more than I realized until I broke up with him, at which point I was both much more relaxed and much more heartbroken. Actually being okay with ending a relationship that isn’t working for me WITHOUT doing absolutely everything in my power to fix it first is one of my personal development goals for the year – I didn’t get divorced until I’d gone well beyond the call of duty and hurt myself pretty badly in the process; I like to try and learn from my mistakes, you know?

    So I’m dating again, and practicing being at peace with the whole idea of calling off something that might be good but isn’t, just because I am not desperate and do not need to latch onto the first maybe-good thing that comes along. Being not-desperate is a pretty nice place to make decisions from, actually.

  104. A very recent experience of mine:

    There was a Darth Vader. I developed anxiety and started having panic attacks.

    After Darth I, like the LW, started seeing someone maybe too soon. In the beginning I was terrified a lot. I either couldn’t sleep or had nightmares when lying next to him. I had panic attacks when he was too close to or slightly over my boundaries sexually (or mentioned Freud in a positive way). He was mostly understanding, accepting and very cuddly. I disclosed too much too soon. He disclosed later that he has chronic depression. I didn’t think much of it at first, figuring it wouldn’t be much different from my recurring light, undiagnosed depression. It was. During his worst times he would completely shut me out, disappear without a word for long periods, months even. Obviously this is not one of those mostly-fine relationships, but it still has quite a few similarities with the LWs story, so I want to share.

    I also couldn’t read him. This was mainly because he avoided eye contact most of the time. He would glance and look away and then hide under his bangs. I was always anxious about the relationship, constantly on the lookout for red flags and at the same time I couldn’t really trust my judgement. Was that a red flag or just a PTSD trigger? It’s really hard when you don’t know what is a legitimate warning and what is the brain being overly cautious (strategies anyone?). I didn’t realize how much of the anxiety came from the lack of eye contact until I went to a counselor and he held my gaze for a long time, steady and safe, and I couldn’t believe how much I had gotten used to not getting that connection.

    I have dealt with my anxiety on my own and I started looking for help. I also wanted to deal with this and all other things regarding our relationship by using my words. He wasn’t a big fan of words though. They gave him anxiety. I really needed communication. We did talk, but he was mostly passive and would rather cuddle, which I was all for at first, but after a while it felt so-so. I started to feel used, like he didn’t really love me, didn’t really care, just wanted someone pretty to look at and to cuddle with once in a while to elevate his mood. Not sure how true this was. I wanted a life partner, someone to settle down with and some day start a family. He didn’t see himself ever being well enough to have kids and wanted to take one day at a time, not planning or even dreaming about a future together. My wishful thinking said “this will change soon, when he feels better!”

    I constantly had to navigate around his depression and it was hard but sometimes he helped me by telling me what he needed, which I appreciated. I also asked for things sometimes and he seemed to care, said he’d do it and then didn’t and never mentioned it. Made it worse instead of better. He did do other really good things though, like feed me when I needed it and help me out of triggering conversations at parties.

    We probably also had incompatible attachment styles, me being slightly anxious and him being avoidant. I do need my space too, but I always want at least some contact. A phone call, a couple of text messages. He didn’t need to have contact every day. Every third seemed fine sometimes. Hard for me. When he started going in to a depressive episode this worsened, which triggered my anxiety and sent us into a bad spiral.

    This was a very, very difficult relationship and I tried very hard, because sparkles! synchronized heartbeats! best cuddling ever! glorious food! and all the things we liked together. Also he fit right in with my friends. And dreams! Wishful thinking! I still can’t really know how much of the things that set off my alarms were things that I should worry about, but I believe there were at least some correctness, probably enough to make it a good idea to end the relationship even if he hadn’t ever disappeared like that. And what should have been my biggest deal-breakers: the lack of communication and eye-contact. Dreams are hard to crush though.

    Good thing: all of this made me focus really hard on self care.

    Hopefully your relationship is easier to deal with. Whatever you end up choosing I wish you the very best.

    There were also stories of mostly fine relationships that had to end, but I cut them out to not make this comment endless. Here is a fitting Chicago house classic instead: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpTHZ6IiemQ

    • Oh, I forgot to say I ended the relationship two weeks ago, after he’d been gone over two months. We lasted 9 months, 5 of which in contact. It was hard, especially hard to have to do it in an email and not face to face, but it was the right decision.

  105. Hi everyone its LW here. I just wanted to say thank you so much CA and everyone else for your comments and stories. I did end up breaking up with my bf. I liked him a lot but as several people pointed out a few months is not long to get over a darth ex and I realise now I was still in the process of dealing with the fallout from that relationship. I’ve been trying to look after myself since and accept that my new relationship not working out is just something that happens and not a punishment for being messed up. Thank you to everyone who posted strategies for dealing with anxiety in relationships. I hope to be able to put them into practice sometime down the line.
    It’s been a really emotional experience reading this, its amazing how much of what was going on in my head you got from that one letter!

  106. Sounds like this is a bit late for LW but I’m glad they were able to take steps to feel better!

    I don’t really have anxiety, but on the subject of breaking up with people who aren’t bad, but aren’t right for you:
    #1 – Do I actually enjoy spending time with them/look forward to it? At one point I was in a bad emotional place and ended up with someone just because I needed to be with someone*. He was a decent guy and soon I felt a lot better! But after a few months I realized I felt annoyed a lot when we were together at things he did (perfectly okay things he did that I just wasn’t interested in anymore) and when we were apart my mind would drift to fantasizing about breakup scenarios. … that later one is what clued me in that “it’s time to break up”. Did I feel a little guilty and kinda like I ruined what might have been a perfectly good friendship with dating? Yeah, a bit, but he moved on and found someone else, and I was happier out of the relationship. Also ended off the relationship better than I started it, and fully acknowledge he deserves a “thank you” for that even if it didn’t work out long term.

    *some may understandably object to “needing to be with someone” but unfortunately I really do think I need to be with someone to feel okay, on a long term basis, unless I am living with my parents. Not something I was happy to realize as before I went out in the world I was adamantly independent and Did Not Need Anyone Evar. Then I got super sads and didn’t understand why, and after being miserable for a year or so figured out it is what it is. Tends to act up after I am on my own for a few months. Which leads to #2

    #2 – There is an external, structural reason that is not changing that makes the relationship not work for me. And/or life priorities do not line up. After #1 I met a great guy, we were together for two years, I graduated and still being Adamantly Independent I moved out of state after an offer of some post-grad training while prepared for the next round of education/applications. I was really happy with said guy, our families loved each other, we talked about getting married, etc. He was going to graduate one year after me and the tentative plan was he would either get a job out by me, and/or I would apply to schools near him if that didn’t work out. I figured being in an long distance relationship would be no big deal because I WAS still in a relationship, right? … unfortunately, the Sads started up after a few months (this is how I learned that). Visits helped but we were both busy people on opposite sides of the country, and a few days every couple of months was not enough to maintain emotional equilibrium. Eventually it became clear that I was not able to get a position near him, and he was unable to find a job near me. So even though we were great together and I still loved him a lot, our priorities just didn’t work out. I didn’t want to go be an artist and live off him, he didn’t want to give up his own jobs to live near me.

    … FWIW while struggling with this I did meet another guy, who is also great, and now I’m married to him and we’ve been together almost 10 years. I did meet him while in the LDR with guy #2 above, but is not the reason I broke up with guy #2, even if it did add to some personal guilt/confusion in the situation. I love being with my husband, we still crack each other up, the jokes just seem to get better because we know how to play off each other. We are probably codependent but don’t care? And his #1 priority is to be with me and he has moved with me several times, finding new jobs each time and postponing retirement benefits. FWIW eventually my job should pay pretty well so while I wouldn’t EXPECT this of anyone, as I wouldn’t do it myself, I am grateful and don’t think he’s sacrificing his future to be with me.

    So I guess those are stories where breakups happen with people who are fine but it just doesn’t work out, and it doesn’t mean you won’t find someone eventually as you figure out what your needs are. Not that I can guarantee my current relationship will actually last a lifetime, nor that everyone needs one of those, but I’d like one, and so far prospects seem good.

  107. Randomly posting on an old topic because I just found this blog…

    For #1:

    I have a lovely fiance. He’s extremely laid back and I’m a ball of worry. I’m anxious about everything. Mostly, he combats that by staying calm (I figured out from my parents’ relationship that if you’re like my mom [which I am] you need a non-reactive guy [like my dad and fiance]). I try to curb my anxiety by avoiding triggers (like, I’m not allowed to watch medical shows or look at WebMD). I have anxiety about people judging me. After we moved in together and he started cooking for me, I’d get terribly anxious when he fixed my plate for me because I decided it meant he was judging my weight. After a few moody dinners, he pulled the reason out of me. Now, he always asks whether I want to fix my own plate or let him do it. And I have to let him know when I figure out that something triggers me so we can both work to avoid it. So our secret is communication and his inherent patience. Also, it talking rationally about my anxiety (usually not in the middle of the episode), he feels more like a part of the solution to my issues than just a victim of them.

    For #2:

    I was really in love with a former boyfriend. We dated off and on for years, but finally broke it off completely when we realized that we just don’t express affection in the same ways and that left us both unsatisfied with the relationship. It was completely heart wrenching before we figured out “d’uh, we can still love each other as friends!” For some reason, we thought breaking up meant we couldn’t hang out anymore. It took a while to stop being awkward with each other and to feel comfortable talking about our current relationships. But now we’re still friends, and I have a fiance I’m completely compatible with.

  108. Drive by comment in two parts:

    1) I am in a relationship where I have been diagnosed with depression and have dealt with anxieties in the past. Like LW, I got into it after a shitty Darth Vader relationship. I found “make sure you have your own things to do” really helpful, and me and my partner have had several good conversations about how we plan time. One thing that made me feel rejected was when I had built up this idea that tonight was a night for Hanging Out Doing Couples Things, and he just got a new game or an invitation out to dinner and now he’s gonna do that instead. To head this off, we’ve figured out when is the best time to have conversations about that, and plans get made without too much commitment. In general, I’ve found that setting up ways to manage my expectations and making sure I have plenty of options for things to do makes me the happiest.

    2) I broke up with someone for this reason. It was a longish breakup, but our relationship is a lot better now that we’re not dating anymore. I figured out it wasn’t what I wanted because it was making me unhappy, I kept trying to make it work, and it kept not working. There was also academic stress confounding that problem. Finally, the academic stress was over and I had a weekend of party and social and wandering around doing whatever I wanted without worrying about if I was spending enough time with anyone, and it was so great. I felt fantastic and further, I felt like we interacted a lot better when we only saw each other a few times and we weren’t trying to be a couple. So I broke it off, and it was sorta mutual, and now things are good. There was some cool-off time, and we’ve become closer since.

  109. Being single isn’t a punishment for not being a good or together enough person. I know entire industries are devoted to convincing all of us that this is true so that we’ll buy stuff, but it’s just not true.

    This is for me today, I think. Jerkbrain says, “If you were lovable, someone would see that and want you to be their No. 1 Special Person. Since no one has, you are not lovable.”

    Still trying to work out how exactly to balance needing to do some major emotional renovations so that I don’t unexpectedly collapse in on myself and feeling like I could deserve to be loved as-is anyway, though.

    • I don’t know if my perspective is all that helpful because I came by it the “traditional” way – by finding someone who did love me.

      But, honestly, the real way I learned that I was a lovable person, was by loving someone else who thought *they* weren’t lovable. Seeing my own responses “but I’m not good enough! I’m horrible, why would you love me? I don’t think that you can love me, I don’t even *like* me” mirrored in her whenever I said I love her seemed to really emphasise the point: it’s impossible to evaluate your own worth as a person, your own “lovability”.

      So don’t try.

      Those people who love you – romantic or not – use their feelings towards you, the way they smile when they see you and tell you how awesome you are and look happy when you tell a funny story, as evaluations instead of the jerkbrain. These people who love me, they are awesome people. And if they think that I am cool and lovely, then it’s probable that I am.

      Because what I saw when I looked at my girlfriend was the most beautiful, wonderful person I have ever met, who didn’t think she was worth a moment of my (or anyone’s) time. And I thought, if she can be so off-base with her self-perception, could I be too?

      So these days I just trust her when she says she loves me, as I trust my friends when they say I am awesome. It’s hard, but I’m getting there.

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