Question #183: Should I break up with my “over-sensitive” partner?

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Dear Cap’n,

Hello! I could use some advice. I have been with my girlfriend for four and a half years. I am 23 and she is 21. We have both had a couple of previous relationships, but nothing remotely serious. We currently live about 200 miles away from each other (3 hours by train) and our relationship has always been long distance in some capacity due to university, and now work.

We are both smart, capable people but we are quite different; in general I am very calm and balanced (though sensitive) while she is extremely emotional and over sensitive, mostly due to family problems. She is doing some CBT to deal with this and feels like she’s becoming much happier because of it.

The problem: over the last year we have started fighting about things. Stupid, insignificant things more often than not. It started when she was living with a group of people quite unlike her who she seemed to be conforming to; I got upset with this because I didn’t like what I felt she was becoming. We had a lot of fights there. She later agreed and recognised that they were mainly a bad influence, and now lives with some pretty cool people who I have no problem with. I expect that I probably sound like a jerk, but the situation was honestly ‘I am really not happy with how you are acting around these people and I want you to know that.’

After she had just moved out and the summer holidays had arrived, we went on holiday with my family (eek) and promptly broke up in our shared hotel room; it was like the pressure from the previous few months went critical. This only lasted one terrible day, where we were in separate hotel rooms crying constantly. She left the hotel and went for a walk at night without notifying anyone in a completely unknown place. I was worried sick. The next morning, after hours of tears and discussion, we agreed to get back together and were happy for a while.

But… arguments have kept happening and now it feels like there’s this spectre of ‘breaking up’ hanging over us since it has happened once. I really love this girl, but every time I go to visit or she visits I think ‘I really hope we don’t argue!’. It’s got to the point where I’ve said to her ‘I can’t do this anymore, we need to stop this or break up.’ Now she says she feels like there’s some ‘tally of chances’ and that she’s on her last one, so understandably she feels under pressure. But (and I’ve said this to her), that’s not how I operate! I love her and yes, there have been times when I’ve said (to myself) ‘if we argue this time, that’s it’ but there is no tally in my mind.

We are both terrified of hurting each other, we both hate arguing and when times are good, they are fantastically great. But when they are bad they are the *worst*. I guess my question is this: should we carry on and try to overcome the baggage (if, so, how can we do that?) or should we give up and move on?

Thank you.

– Baggage handler

Dear Baggage Handler:

I really shy away from telling people that they should or have to break up with a partner…it’s your life, right? What do I know?

However, this sentence?

in general I am very calm and balanced (though sensitive) while she is extremely emotional and over sensitive mostly due to family problems”

This sentence contains the seeds of doom for your love.

Once you set up your emotional style as more calm and balanced (and therefore correct) than your partner’s, you are setting up a situation where you win every argument, you are always right, you are the one whose emotions can be trusted. You react. She overreacts. You are sensitive. She is over-sensitive. Whether you mean to or not, you are emotionally auditing partner – everything from her roommates to how she reacts to a breakup with you is up for judgment.

So it’s not exactly shocking that she feels judged and defensive?

Sometimes you meet young and you grow up together. But most people don’t marry the person they loved when they were 16-17 (when she met you), and most early relationships run their course for a reason. Your girlfriend is getting therapy, dealing with her family/childhood issues, and is in the process of morphing into the totally badass and amazing adult she is destined to be. The arguments could be an example of her overreacting to stuff and/or pushing your buttons, but it could be about her finding her voice and standing up for herself (imperfectly) because she doesn’t want to be seen as the less stable one anymore.

I also want to talk about the distance thing. You’re hearing about a lot of things after the fact instead of experiencing them right there with her. Since you see each other seldom, and there is great effort and expense involved, there is more pressure on the visits to be harmonious and special. Y’all are in the position of having to choose, all the time, “do we have this fight we kind of really need to have and maybe ruin the weekend, or do we just ride it out and try to keep the mood going?” I can see that leading to some passive-aggression on both sides, with small conflicts escalating quickly and you wondering why simple questions aren’t so simple.

Maybe you guys will ride this out and your shared history will only strengthen your bond. But since you asked me what I thought, I’m going to ask you to imagine a future where 1) you don’t have to ride 300 miles to see the one you love 2) you are not the caretaker of your partner, and 3) your girlfriend has a partner who doesn’t see her as over-anything and just thinks she’s straight-up great. It doesn’t have to be this hard.

165 comments
  1. Windupbird said:

    Once again, the captain is spot on. This woman deserves a significant other who will legitimately consider her feelings. I have a feeling there’s a lot of derailing going on in this relationship.

    • commanderlogic said:

      Eh, maybe, but I also think Baggage Handler is figuring out his (his? I’m presuming here) own mind and how to be in a relationship. 23 and 21 in their first long-term/long-distance relationship? It’s a tough row to hoe, no matter what your age or experience.

      You can love someone and not be totally right for each other, and you can do your best even while what you’re doing isn’t quite the right thing. BH is trying, and that’s admirable, but the answer to his actual question (“Should we break up?”) is from this outsider’s perspective a great big YES, with a side of “That doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person.”

      • Windupbird said:

        I think I was a bit harsh, the letter writer does seem to want to work on the issue. I think Holly makes a good point below… BH needs to recognize hir girlfriend’s emotional agency for sure.

        • commanderlogic said:

          We are 100% in agreement on that! Emotional agency is for ALL people with emotions! 😀

        • JenniferP said:

          I like Holly’s advice, too!

          And yet?

          I am Team Harsh.

          • The Windup Bird said:

            I think we’re just being emotional. ; )

          • I am all for Team Harsh! My first bf went off to college. I was the “oversensitive” one, and he was the “very calm” one. (Or so he thought. I was setting reasonable boundaries for myself.)

            In the long run, I wish he’d broken up with me – sooner, when he left to go to college, basically any time. He “didn’t want to hurt me,” but the years of emotional abuse – presumably unintentional, we were dumb kids, but it was still abuse – fucked over those intentions but good. Instead, *I* had to be the one that broke up, and *I* had to be the one that set those boundaries and limits and eventually do all the breaking up, because he couldn’t handle it.

            Break up with her. If you can’t trust her judgment – the judgment that she clearly trusts – and you’re trying to police her actions to the point of disapproving of her roommates, then you’re not in a healthy relationship. There’s no “but” here.

            Your girlfriend is an adult. She can figure things out for herself. If you can’t let her, you need to end the relationship before you both hurt each other too much.

  2. I think you nailed it, CA; there’s definitely a weird parent-child, boss-employee dynamic coming through in that letter. Everything seems to be about the girlfriend meeting the LW’s standards, and not much in the other direction.

    I think if they’re going to ride this out, the LW has to do a lot of work to stop with the “I am the authority on my girlfriend’s life and emotions” stuff and put some trust in the two thoughts:

    1. My girlfriend is the authority on her own life. I just happen to have the privilege of being part of that life.
    2. Sometimes my girlfriend will screw up, and that’s okay. She’s dealing with that in her own way. I screw up too and I fix it myself. Unless she asks me for help (and even then I will respect boundaries), I will simply stand back, hold my tongue, and support her as she finds her own way in life.

    • The fact that the girlfriend feels put “on notice” and hasn’t herself considered that she could also be making judgments about whether to stay or go is telling. I think a lot of women have been there, and getting over feeling like he gets to make all the choices is a major part of liberating yourself.

  3. knufflebunny said:

    I am still dealing with the aftermath of a relationship where the narrative of our relationship said that he was the healthy, responsible, grown up partner and I was the irresponsible, childish, unreliable partner. The thing is, when we started dating, this was probably true: He was several years older than me and I was chronologically and emotionally young. However, several years later, it was a struggle to change the narrative — in every argument, he somehow ended up with the moral high ground, as I struggled to find my voice.

    Years later I am with another, completely different partner, but I find myself responding to my first partner. I struggle with telling the truth about my fears because of the anger and frustration response my current partner never has. It’s like I am in a relationship with someone who isn’t there … which I think will be the death of the wonderful relationship I am in, so I am working on it as hard as I can.

    Bless his heart, I don’t think my first partner meant to hurt me or control me, but the end result was that he did, and it effects me years later.

    • JenniferP said:

      I am not proud of this, but when Intern Paul went through a very rough patch, I sometimes treated him like he was the “broken” partner and that became somewhat the narrative of the relationship (even though I was also broken in some of the exact same ways…errr…we kind of traded off who was the “sane” one at times). Even though we loved each other lots, it was totally unhealthy and disrespectful to him, and I’m really ashamed of some of the thoughts I had and ways I behaved. It’s a really insidious attitude – once it sets in it’s hard to argue against it, especially when there is heavy/hard stuff going on and it seems almost self-fulfilling. I regret it for sure and want to be extra-vigilant to never do that again.

      • Yeah, in the realm of Things We’re Not Proud Of, my current relationship once came dangerously close to this territory. For a short time I found myself frequently thinking that my girlfriend was immature and that I was the only real adult in the relationship. Fortunately, I managed to check that attitude before it became the narrative that dominated the relationship. (And we managed to work it out with a minimum of tearful conversations, which is always a plus. And of course the reason for that is that she’s far more of an adult that I’d been giving her credit for.)

        • delbelcoure said:

          This exactly! I always have to tell myself that my spouse is a grown ass adult and can deal with his own issues. Honestly he deals with his life as well as I deal with my life, I just had to leave him to it. We sometimes have very different approaches to situations and it took me a while to realize that there are lots of ways to get to a good solution. There are also lots of good solutions, my way is not the only way.

    • CoolNewAnonymousNickname said:

      I think the internet ate my original reply, which is probably just as well, because this sort of thing hits my hot buttons.
      Much like knufflebunny, I was also cast in the role of irresponsible, disappointing, ‘over-sensitive’ Child while my ex played long-suffering, responsible, rational Adult. No one wins in that scenario, and as the Captain so brilliantly put it, it sows the seeds of doom for the relationship. While I realize that my abuse-filter colors the way I see things, the ‘your roomies are a bad influence’ and ‘she took a walk! Outside! By herself! Without a permission slip!!” lines are really, really troubling. That is all kinds of totally unacceptable right there. Also, the implication that the ‘overly-sensitive’ (GAH! what a horrid phrase!) girlfriend has no personality of her own and just absorbs those around her? What, seriously? How is that not offensive? Please, you two may be great with other people, but not with each other.

      • Ethyl said:

        That thing about the roommates really poked my brain, too CoolNewAnonymousNickname. It made me feel like LW is never going to allow his partner to change, to grow. What if these roommates weren’t such a terrible influence? Why does LW get to be the arbiter of what is a good or bad influence on hir partner’s life?

        And I mean, there’s nothing wrong with changing, especially at that age and in those circumstances. The question shouldn’t be “can I keep my partner from changing,” but rather “can I change in ways that are complementary to my partner’s changes.”

      • Chickie said:

        The roommates thing brought up a red flag for me too. I’ve had my share of bad roommates, and it seems pretty obvious to me when a living situation is not working out. The idea that the LW knows better about her living situation, and that girlfriend came around to see things LW’s way in retrospect? Ehhhhhh.

    • Chimpy said:

      I’ve been there, completely. I was the ‘oversensitive’ partner, my ex was the ‘rational’ partner, and it was bullshit. And six years on, I’m happily married to an awesome dude who is really good to me — and I still sometimes get scared and act like he’s going to treat me the way my ex did.

      What I can tell you is that this doesn’t happen nearly as much as it used to. It gets easier with time. Slowly my unconscious is understanding that I’m not with the ex any more. I’m confident that this will go away completely one day, but it can take a surprisingly long time.

    • My husband deals with a lot of baggage left from relationships with my exes. Unpacking that is HARD. As is separating baggage from past relationships with current problem behaviors.

      What has worked for me is to sit down with my current partner and explain the past, your reactions to the past relationship, and what triggers those reactions in your current relationship. Should you choose to do something like this (and obvs my feelings won’t be hurt if you don’t), your current partner may get upset and say it’s not fair that they have to deal with all your past baggage. (I say this because Mr. Havoc did, not because I know your partner’s behavior patterns.) Which is true! It’s not fair! Fair or not, though, that’s the way life is. For Mr. Havoc and I, it was totally worth doing all that work and all that unpacking.

      I’ve been doing self-examination on those behaviors for about 14 years now. I wouldn’t say you ever “get over” it, but, with time and self-examination (and examination of patterns of behavior in both relationships), plus therapy if you decide you need it, it can get better.

  4. bellacoker said:

    I know this isn’t the meat of the problem, but this part of the letter, “She left the hotel and went for a walk at night without notifying anyone in a completely unknown place. I was worried sick.” bothered me a lot.

    • JenniferP said:

      Right – They were broken up and then she went for a walk without telling her ex-boyfriend where she was? So that she could be alone? Possibly an assumption that she cannot handle herself in an unknown place, when clearly she did and can?

      • Might have been said:

        That’s not I interpret ths statement. He didn’t say she didnt ask for his permission or anything. I would be worried if my partner/friend/anyone I care about goes off in a foreign country at night without letting anyone know where they were going or how long they would be gone for. For all we know, this vacation could have been in Paris, or Mexico. I agree with your answer in general but I thought that sentence was innocuous.

        • JenniferP said:

          I am amused by your list of places that are terrifying at night. Let me personally tell you that Paris at night? Not scary. Awesome, in fact. Haven’t been to Mexico. Will probably walk alone at night if and when I go.

          Yes, it can be rude to leave your traveling companions and not tell them where you are going, and probably an “I’m heading out for a while!” note or call is good? Especially if you’re skipping out on planned group activity and they might be waiting for you? But alone at night in a strange city is just not that big a deal or an automatic reason for worry (unless you’re my mom, which, hi mom, I take the eL a lot after midnight by myself, sorry to worry you), and wanting some time to yourself (without answering to your now ex-partner) right after a breakup is not a big deal. Possibly the girlfriend did it for some extra attention because she was sad, which, I hope nobody’s auditing dumb stuff I did for attention between the ages of 14 and 23.

          LW, feel free to provide more details of that incident if they’ll clarify.

          • Please don’t walk alone in Mexico. I’m just saying. I’m not downplaying your awesomeness or self-sufficiency but there is too much scary shit going down in their cities for that to be smart or safe for a man or a woman.

          • j said:

            I live in Mexico (in one of the safer cities, but I digress). I walk alone at night.

            That said, I’m so torn on this. I hate victim blaming. I totally think that I should be able to walk alone at night wherever the fuck I want, and wherever the fuck dudes walk alone at night.

            That said, I understand that there are good reasons that nobody should wander around alone at night. I also understand that this goes double in places where you don’t have a working cell phone or the linguistic ability to get help in an emergency. What if you trip and break your leg? Anyway, what I really think is that my – and LW’s – internal Jewish mother should shut up and let the sad girl take a walk alone.

          • JenniferP said:

            I’m 100% not comfortable saying “Paris is ok but an entire huge diverse country (that happens to be in the Southern hemisphere and full of mocha-colored people) is unsafe at night.” Obviously shit happens, and sometimes very serious shit, and everyone should use caution in a country where they don’t speak the language and aren’t familiar with the area. Serious shit happens everywhere, though.

          • Zed said:

            I am torn. On the one hand, I think that a friend or partner (or ex-partner) going out at night in an unknown environment, especially if s/he doesn’t know the language and is upset, is not a reason to worry in and of itself. People, even women, are allowed to make their own choices about what they go and where they go, and their person safety is their responsibility. But if a traveling companion went out at night in Paris or Papantla or Pittsburgh and didn’t tell me where they going and didn’t come home at a time when I knew they were usually snug in bed? Yeah, I’d worry. I’d call them if they had a phone. I’d check with the front desk or other travelers in our group to see if they left a message (in GF’s situation, I might have left a message for LW’s mother or another ‘safe’ family member, but that’s me). But I wouldn’t be gnashing my teeth and pulling my hair and calling all of the local hospitals, either.

            LW’s worry alone I did not think was a huge red flag, but the fact it was mentioned at all – like it was one of her ‘sins,’ or like the LW got back together with her out of some paternalistic concern because the moment she was out of sight she couldn’t be protected – was.

          • Stentor said:

            LW’s worry alone I did not think was a huge red flag, but the fact it was mentioned at all – like it was one of her ‘sins,’ or like the LW got back together with her out of some paternalistic concern because the moment she was out of sight she couldn’t be protected – was.

            This. Traveling companions keep tabs on each other in case something goes wrong (with the person who wandered off *or* with the people left behind). But the fact that LW felt it was necessary to mention it in the letter shows that they were thinking of it as an example of the (then ex-)girlfriend’s oversensitivity and the oh so horrible stress it’s putting on LW.

        • Viajera said:

          I’m an “over-sensitive” woman who lives in Mexico, in fact, who has lived in three different places, both rural and urban…not only that, but I have lived in Madrid, Spain and all over the US, and I walk at night!!! Because I know where it is safe to walk.

          In fact, walking at night is far safer in Mexico than in many places in the US, because people walk. It is more like Europe in that regard than say, Dallas.

          I find the LW’s attitude towards said awesome woman extremely controlling and infantilizing. That said, I know it isn’t easy to work through all the roles we are taught, and they are young. First mistake gets a free pass. But please, consider what it must feel like to be dictated to in this way.

          • piny said:

            Yeah. There are a few entire countries where it’s really not a good idea to walk around at night, and there are plenty of cities all over the world where it’s not really a good idea. (And there are many more places where it’s not terribly safe to walk around looking like a tourist. Including the states. Travelers in Mexico, like most places, do have to worry about opportunistic crime, and should exercise basic caution, etc. etc.) But Mexico, despite its current terrible problems with drug violence, and despite the high homicide and crime rates in several areas, has a lot of safe areas and cities. It’s a gigantic, populous, and diverse country. It’s like saying that it’s not safe to walk around the US at night: there are dangerous neighborhoods and safe neighborhoods.

            IME, this can be a childish thing to do–disappearance can be scary, and sometimes people do use it as a manipulative tactic. (I knew one guy who had a habit of doing this when he was dangerously inebriated. Not cool.) But if you guys had just broken up, and you knew that she had left voluntarily, then there wasn’t anything to worry about, and it is infantilizing to act like she was wrong to go stomp around outside for a few hours.

    • That jumped out at me too. She’s a grownup. She can go outdoors by herself.

      The thing about the roommates bothered me too. Partners deciding who their partners should associate with and who’s a “bad influence” (more parent-child language) is bad news.

      • volcanista said:

        And also the whole idea that she was changing in ways he did not like, and after months of fighting about it he finally convinced her to agree that that was a problem and fix herself accordingly. Because how could someone who is all of 21 possibly change after exposure to new people and ideas and that whole maturation thing that happens at 21! I think for me, that was actually the biggest of the several red flags in this letter: sounds rather like she grew up some by interacting with these new roommates, and the person she is becoming is someone who is not as compatible with the LW as they used to be; but the LW’s response to that was to convince her she was doing it wrong and that she had to stay the same as her 20-y.o. self. Whoa.

        • Eh, it’s possible the roommates really were obnoxious douchebags. But even if they were, it was her decision to live with them and fit in with them, and partners don’t get to pick out each other’s homes or friends.

        • Zed said:

          Agreed! That whole part of the letter is framed around what the LW does and does not approve of, with no mention of GF’s well-being or desires. “I didn’t like what I felt she was becoming” and “pretty cool people who I have no problem with” and “I am really not happy with how you are acting.”

          Maybe the roommates were a terrible influence on her. We don’t know. Was this a case of “My girlfriend moved into a party house and now she’s drunk/high all the time and she’s missing work and I’m worried about her” or does it mean “My girlfriend met some new people and cut her hair and listens to music I don’t like and now we don’t have much in common”? Or does it mean something much simpler, more along the lines of “My girlfriend has new friends and spends all her time with them instead of me?”

          I have no idea. But it troubles me deeply that LW tells this story like s/he was showing her the error of her ways and forcing her to become the person the LW thought she should be. At 21, people change. Wild teens settle down in adulthood. Conservative teens go wild when they move out. People make new friends, are exposed to new ideas and new activities as their world becomes larger than one college campus. That change isn’t always positive, but in most cases it needs to happen.

          When LW said s/he didn’t like the person she was becoming, I wonder if she ever once said, completely sincerely, “I don’t like that person either”? I am concerned that she is on the cusp of adulthood, working on ‘improving’ herself via CBT and coming to terms with her family issues…and, in the middle of all that change and maturation, is feeling restrained by LW’s understanding of who she is and belief about who she *should* be.

      • Certainly I’ve learned that if your SO starts keeping company you don’t like, it’s probably time to terminate (the relationship, not the person) and move on. Easier said than done, of course.

    • I was just about to say the exact same thing! OMG A LADY ON HER OWN! In the dark without her boyfriend who is NOT EVEN her boyfriend at that point in time!

      Statistically, a woman must be about a hundred times safer on her own in any city on Earth than with the chap she’s just broken up with. Something to think about, LW.

      • Eclairity said:

        Yeah, I travel for my job and spend so much time in strange cities alone. This used to worry me until I looked at the statistics and realized sleeping in a different place every week alone actually cut my chances of rape by over 90%. It makes me laugh, but it is a bitter mirthless laugh.

      • Given that a woman is far, far more likely to be raped by an ex-boyfriend (or even a current boyfriend), or a male friend, or a male teacher or basically SOMEONE she knows, than by a stranger in an alley at night, you’ve got a point there.

    • I would be worried *if* the girlfriend had a history of suicidal or self-harming tendencies, but yeah, since the LW didn’t say anything about that, it comes off as really weird.

    • Simone Lovelace said:

      I don’t know. In my last relationship if that happened I would have been all “Oh my God she went and killed herself and it’s my fault.”

      So if the LW feels (rightly or wrongly) that his partner is unstable, I could see him having some genuine concerns for her safety.

      • Simone Lovelace said:

        Or…what Sweet Machine said. >_<

  5. kweirley said:

    This is so great!

    “Once you set up your emotional style as more calm and balanced (and therefore correct) than your partner’s, you are setting up a situation where you win every argument, you are always right, you are the one whose emotions can be trusted. You react. She overreacts. You are sensitive. She is over-sensitive. Whether you mean to or not, you are emotionally auditing partner – everything from her roommates to how she reacts to a breakup with you is up for judgment.”

    I was in this relationship (on the girlfriend’s side) in my undergrad. It’s nice to have someone describe the situation I had so much trouble articulating back then.

    • piny said:

      Yeah, my sister basically treated me like this the entire time we were growing up. I was the mad one, she was the grownup one. And now being with her is like biting down on tinfoil, even though we seem to have become lovely adults in the meantime. It’s a terrible burden to place on anyone you love, and it can really poison the well.

  6. Once you set up your emotional style as more calm and balanced (and therefore correct) than your partner’s, you are setting up a situation where you win every argument, you are always right, you are the one whose emotions can be trusted. You react. She overreacts. You are sensitive. She is over-sensitive.

    Amazing, amazing point. It’s not like you have to assume the opposite is always true, either. Do I feel like my girlfriend has overreacted or been unnecessarily paranoid in the past? Yes, I do. On a couple distinct occasions. Thing is, so have I.

    But as the Cap’n said, if you believe this kind of blanket statement about your girlfriend, you’re going to see everything she says and does through that lens, and pre-judge her at every turn. What you should be doing is taking each reaction and feeling of hers seriously. If you take it seriously and, after consideration, think, “Well, I feel she’s overreacting about this,” that’s fair! But be sure that that’s really what you’re doing.

    When we deal with people who aren’t incredibly close to us, we often take shortcuts. You may have pegged your coworker Bob as a guy who’s unnecessarily critical, so when he criticizes, your first assumption is to take it less seriously. In general this is fine, as long as you’re careful about it. But the people closest to us in our lives deserve better. If you’re not willing to take each of her thoughts and feelings seriously on an individual basis, I just don’t think she’s someone you should be close to, to be 100% frank.

    • commanderlogic said:

      Amazing, amazing response!

      Also, lead me to do a googlesearch that turned up this for us all to enjoy:

      • JenniferP said:

        1000 “likes.”

  7. karen said:

    i’ve been in similar-ish relationships in my life. in fact, my whole life has been in some ways dominated by one big relationship that bears some strong resemblances to this one (with a twin). and i’m definitely in the letter-writer’s position in that one.

    it sounds to me like the consensus here is to hold the letter-writer responsible for this dynamic in his relationship. maybe i’m just reading it that way because of my own experiences & prejudices. but i’d submit that the underfunctioner in these situations can be just as responsible for the dynamic and just as actively ignorant of the overfunctioner’s feelings and agency, and that they’re both responsible for this state of affairs.

    maybe yall are just directing this at the LW because he’s the one doing the LWing, i don’t know. maybe this is just pushing my buttons. but i figure it can’t hurt to point out that they’re both in the particular relationship they’re in for some reason or another.

    • Who says she’s the “underfunctioner”? The LW is casting her that way, but the only evidence we have is:

      A) Sometimes they argue
      B) Sometimes she does things (picks her own roommates, goes outdoors alone) he doesn’t approve of

      As far as I can tell, the only things she could do about these problems are:

      A) Never start arguments or allow arguments to continue–not good if it means she never speaks up for herself
      B) Read her partner’s mind and always do what they think is best–impossible and also not good.

      Nothing here says to me that she’s a person who can’t care for herself, only that she’s being treated that way.

      • karen said:

        i didn’t mean that she couldn’t take care of herself, and i didn’t mean underfunctioner to be in any way negative (any more than overfunctioner). i may be using those terms incorrectly.

        i don’t see any reason to believe she can’t take care of herself either. she has agency whether the LW sees that or not, and she’s responsible for being in that relationship and the way that it works just as the LW is. that was my only point.

        • Ethyl said:

          I don’t think those are “terms,” as such, to be used correctly or incorrectly. Maybe you are looking for words more like “more passive,” or “more domineering”?

          • karen said:

            they’re terms in family systems therapy, which i’ve heard used enough that i forget they’re not common. it was a mistake. sarcasm isn’t necessary.

  8. This is going to sound kind of hippie dippie, but being so young and already frozen into a long distance relationship – especially one that doesn’t seem to be 100% fulfilling either the LW’s needs or the girlfriend’s (she thinks she is always on the brink of being dumped, he thinks every fight is a harbinger of doom) – might not be the best way to spend the years in which we do the most growing and changing and meeting new people and finding ourselves. GF is doing a lot of work on herself because of her issues, and the stressors (and patterns) of the relationship might actually be preventing her from fully embracing new cognitive behaviors she is learning.
    This might be one of those moments where “if you love someone, set them free, if they return to you…” etc. You can break up amicably and do your thing locally and reassess the next time you’re in a position to be in the same city, whenever that might happen.
    I seem like Team Quitter when I say things like this, but what I have learned over my dozens of breakups of things large and small is that a breakup is far from the worst thing that can happen. One of the worst relationship things is being held in a cage of expectations or hopes or false narratives about your life, knowing that it’s hurting you, but being afraid of “failure” or “being alone” and so staying, on purpose.
    Also that Cognitive Bias song was great!

  9. The LW needs to examine his assumption that he is “in general I am very calm and balanced (though sensitive)” person. This is a major sexist dog whistle to women. You can have strong feelings that are completely rational and logical. Feels can make sense. Over-reacting? What are you reacting to? I think that’s the real question. Emotions, in certain situations, are not over-reactions. Acting like you are on a higher moral plain because you simply deal with emotions differently or rationalize your feelings does not, in fact, make you more correct or a better person. Even if you decide to break up with your GF because you’re young and not really meshing together well, LW, you need to look at the assumption that you’re the most rational and logical person in the relationship. That attitude is a huge turn off to smart, capable women who would love to date a smart, capable man, but not a man who considers himself the uber-rational partner.

    • West said:

      Very true. “Rational” is a red flag. It can mean “if you’re upset with anything I do then I can claim you’re overreacting and write you off.”

      • Cassandra said:

        Yes yes, West and H. D. Lynnh you are both so super-correct.

        Reminds me of that crummy Reddit comic where the guy sets up the premise by drawing a picture of himself with his mouth open and the words “LOGIC LOGIC LOGIC” coming out while the Stupid Person antagonist, usually a mom or girlfriend, goes blah blah blah.

    • Zed said:

      I distinctly remember one night, several years ago, I was completely overwhelmed by my social anxiety – which had been triggered by something small and unexpected. I remember saying, through tears, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I know this isn’t rational.” And the person I was dating at the time said, “Of course it’s not rational; emotions never are.”

      Isn’t that a beautiful thought? Emotions aren’t rational, but that’s okay, because they’re not supposed to be. If emotions were rational and objective and provable and always expected and always manageable, well, we’d probably be computers. I had been putting myself down and casting myself in the “over-emotional woman” role mainstream society perpetuates, and at that moment I needed the reminder that irrational didn’t automatically imply illegitimate.

  10. Eclairity said:

    I have never been on either side of this type of relationship, but being a woman I have had people pull this ” Ladiezz, they SO emotional, amirite!” crap on me before. It is so rage making. “Oh, you’re upset because your coworkers drew penises all over your stuff and told you to get back in the kitchen? Why u mad? Stop being so emotional! Is it your lady time?” No, just no.
    Seriously, though, do you want to spend the rest of your life being this woman’s daddy/boyfriend? Because I have been in a relationship where I had to be someone’s rock or they would totally kill themselves (his words not mine), and that sucks. There are so many other people out there to date that have boundaries! and are adults! that can take care of themselves! Date one of those and let this woman grow up without you constantly reminding her of how irrational she was at 18.

    • Eclairity said:

      Also this reminded me of why I pretty much stopped talking to my parents for a couple years because everytime we talked it was like they were trying to stuff me into this box of the person I was and wouldn’t acknowledge the awesome person I was becoming. Super frustrating.

      • That’s exactly what happened with me and my sisters. They had me pegged from a young age as “Mr. Book Smarts With No Common Sense,” and no actual behavior on my part could change that pigeonhole they’d put me into. It was very hurtful.

        But also, this happens SO much:
        Because I have been in a relationship where I had to be someone’s rock or they would totally kill themselves (his words not mine), and that sucks.

        Arrrgh it pisses me off, because it’s so manipulative. “Love me and stay with me or I’ll kill myself!” is the most horrible emotional blackmail. If a SO said that to me, I wouldn’t break up with them immediately (obviously, they might kill themselves), but I would break up with them as soon as they had a therapist and were visiting regularly. I take suicidal thoughts seriously, but it is still a 100% asshole thing to do, whether you’re depressed or not, to emotionally blackmail your partner.

        • Marie said:

          Dark humor about detailed suicide plans to follow, FYI or TW or YMMV.

          When I was near the end with my abusive ex, at one point he told me how he’d been thinking about how he would kill himself, and he described this whole set-up where I would walk in and see his body in the most traumatic fashion possible, and he’d have one of my favorite songs playing on a loop so I could never listen to it again, etc. After he told me his whole suicide-fantasy and how much it would destroy me, because *that’s how far I’d driven him*, he gave me this really expectant look, like I was supposed to burst into tears and beg him not to kill himself or something. I did, after a beat, in a really wooden, poorly acted way, but my first thought was, “Oh my god, that would solve so many problems.”

          I can tell you that every time I run across one of those things that he was going to work into his suicide fantasy, to ruin it forever to me, I am just so happy. This song! Oh my god, turn it up, this is my favorite song, because it was almost the song that made me never have to talk to that shithead again!

          • Eclairity said:

            Yeah, you know it’s time for the big D when your visceral response becomes, “That would make my life so much easier!” instead of the gutwrenching terror it used to cause. Ahh, emotional blackmail, good times, good times.

        • meh said:

          Or, just break up if you were going to, and call an ambulance if they threaten suicide. You aren’t responsible for waiting for them to get a therapist, and you can’t control that. Someone who threatens suicide to manipulate you may not be terribly eager to get therapy voluntarily, but by waiting you entangle yourself in that mindset they’re trying to create. Believe me, I take suicidal thoughts seriously, and I yell at people who ignore or joke about them in other people. But an ambulance visit takes it seriously while making it clear that it is not going to drag you in.

      • In point of fact, I very nearly did commit suicide after one particular girlfriend broke up with me (long time ago, I’m well over it). We ended up getting back together (not a great idea, but it went better than the first time), and I was telling my therapist that I wasn’t sure what to do with the fact that I’d almost killed myself as a result of her actions.

        My therapist’s response: “Never, ever tell her.”

        And she was right. Nothing good can come of it. If you’re still bitter at your partner for driving you to that point (I wasn’t, fortunately), you need to just break up. You’re not going to fix that, and you’re certainly not going to fix that by trying to punish them with guilty feelings.

        • zweisatz said:

          I don’t really agree with the phrasing. “…and I was telling my therapist that I wasn’t sure what to do with the fact that I’d almost killed myself as a result of her actions.” and “If you’re still bitter at your partner for driving you to that point”
          Why do you phrase it as her responsibility? She did something that triggered your feelings. Feelings you are responsible for.

    • roo said:

      Someone drew penises on your stuff? wha-wha-wha-what?!

      How… odd. It’s like they thought the penis images had shamanic powers to force you into submission. Good thing you had your yonic gris-gris.

      (Sorry. Weird actions conjure up weird images for me sometimes!)

      • CheckeredFoxglove said:

        “Weird images”, bullshit. That’s brilliant. If anyone does this to me, I’m drawing vagina dentata all over their stuff. I might even have them devour the penis they drew on my stuff. I’m always up for a good, passive-aggressive doodle battle.

        • roo said:

          That is awesome. And I’ll make sure I have plenty of puka shells on hand for those yonic imagery emergencies.

          • Eclairity said:

            Ha! Both of you are brilliant and hilarious. At the time it was pretty upsetting, but in their defense I was soundly kicking their asses at Science and Math and those are clearly the domain of men. I don’t know what I was thinking. Plus, I insisted on not being ashamed or apologetic of this clearly fluke circumstance.
            Ahh… the military, an experience that I would recommend to absolutely no one.

  11. I kind of want to tell the girlfriend to escape this relationship. She needs room to grow and be the adult she already is.
    He needs to let go of the sexist framing and grow up already.

  12. GemmaM said:

    My boyfriend is a sometime carrier of the “emotions should be rational” notion. He says “Can you see why I feel this?” when I would say “Can you accept that I feel this?” For a while, this created problems. The first time I had a dramatic emotional reaction that he didn’t expect, he reacted to my insistence that he should just accept that I feel what I feel by treating me as a chaotic force with emotions that could only be worked around.

    Fortunately, my boyfriend is a good sort at heart and has become much more in the habit of treating me like an adult who can hear his concerns (yay!). He accepted early on that “stop feeling that, it doesn’t make sense [or is oversensitive]” is a bad reaction, but now he’s learned that he can accept my emotions and still ask me to change. He can say “Give me a moment, I need to wash my hands” even if I’m crying. He can say “I know you feel that way, and I want to help you feel better. Could you help me by working on this aspect of the situation?” That means so much to me.

    It sounds like both of the people in this relationship have some growing to do — and that the LW’s girlfriend may already be doing some of that growing. A healthy relationship involves accepting each other’s emotions and treating each other like adults. If you want to fix this, LW, you’ll have to make a commitment to letting your girlfriend make her own choices about how she feels, who she wants to be friends with, and when she’s going for a walk by herself — and then, in addition to that, you’ll have to develop a dynamic where you can still raise concerns with her about the things that do affect you in a way that respects her choices about how to proceed.

  13. Alice said:

    I feel like I kind of am in this relationship, except in the same position as LW’s girlfriend. Having someone act as if though their feelings are rational and objective while your feelings are unreasonable and unmotivated is… well, it’s infuriating and it makes it really hard to have any disagreements.

    LW, I’m sure you think you have some great reasons for thinking your girlfriend is oversensitive and extremely emotional. Maybe you really do. But how do you expect to be able to consider and respect her feelings if you think she’s oversensitive? How can you make your relationship better if her feelings about it isn’t as important and well-motivated as your feelings?

  14. FemmeForever said:

    Should I break up with my “over-sensitive” partner?

    No. She should break up with you. You are not her leader, authority figure or daddy. You are not in control of her actions or choices nor are you entitled to be. Hear me now. Women don’t owe you anything at all. Not their obedience. Not twisting themselves into a pretzel to fit into your arbitrary, made up, preconceived, self-serving, thimble-sized box. Here’s the thing. She can live her life and express her emotions in ANY way that SHE sees fit and you don’t get a vote. That’s what it means to be a full-fledged, free-as-a-bird adult. You know that already because if she tried to do the same to you you’d be incensed. This is not concern. It’s misogynist narcissim. She should not walk, but run from you – permanently. Feel free to quote me on that. This is how young girls get chained for life to some misogynist asshole just because they met as teenagers and therefore he thinks he owns her and she thinks he’s her soul mate. Make’s my skin crawl.

    • CoolNewAnonymousNickname said:

      FemmeForever, I think I love you. That was what my brain would have said if my heart could talk to it with words. Awesome. Can we print that on flyers and hand it out to every young woman everywhere?

  15. Xenu01 said:

    Several years ago, I dated a man who, in my opinion, did not have his shit together. For the majority of the relationship, I was the one with the job, the apartment, the supportive circle of friends, the calm and logical cognition. He was the one with the drinking problem, who lived with his parents, who couldn’t keep a job. Wev. Anyway, he did some shitty things, like needle me until I cried when I was happy because he couldn’t stand to see me happy when he couldn’t be (no, seriously, he said this- just making the point that people are complicated), but the point I’m making here, LW, is that in many ways, I was you. He started the relationship struggling and things continued to go downhill for him. Meanwhile, while I had my ups and downs and was supporting myself on two low-paying jobs, I got to be the stable, self-sufficient partner. And the calm & rational one, too!

    What this boiled over into was a common thread of resentment on both of our parts. When I had a bad day and told him, he didn’t want to hear about it, because he was at a point where every single day was bad. And me? I just kept wondering when he would get it together and be the person I wanted him to be.

    I saw him a couple of years ago. He pretended not to notice me, but I know it was him. He was getting off the subway and what I noticed is that he must be sober these days- his skin looks great and his nose doesn’t have those broken blood vessels anymore. Maybe us breaking up was the best thing that could have happened for him, because without me hovering over him and trying to fix him, he could assess what he wanted to fix about himself, and do it to his own standards, instead of mine.

    • Hanna said:

      Just wanted to say I have had the exact same experience with the “make you cry if you’ve had a good day to punish you for being happy” thing. Urgh! I’m glad we have both moved on from that.

      • xenu01 said:

        Me too! Also, the thought that someone else went through that makes me feel so much less alone. ❤

    • Ethyl said:

      And to toss in another perspective, I too was once the “stable” one to someone who was depressed, who flunked out of school, who had a series of low-paying jobs while I had A Career. We met when we were 19, even. But. He was supportive, and when things got really ugly, he worked on getting himself help and medication, he was loving and did sweet things and then? He got an amazing lucky break and is now making good money and going back to school. Did my parents think he was a loser I should dump? Yep. Did I believe that? Nope, because *we* were good. We are still together 15 years later (full disclosure: not currently monogamous). So yeah, in so many ways LW’s relationship doesn’t need to be like this, for either of them.

  16. ohdearlittleone said:

    Dude. Dude. Duuuuude. Like I been saying for the last six months…

  17. Holly Pervocracy said:

    One angry note to the LW – Do NOT tell her, or let her think, that you’re breaking up with her because you just couldn’t handle her unreasonable emotional ways.

    You’re breaking up (if you are) because you’re incompatible, because your relationship has developed a nasty power dynamic that hurts both of you. Don’t you dare break this to her as “I just can’t handle you and your baggage anymore.”

    • Ensign Perception said:

      All I can tell you is that I’ve been dumped in that fashion, and welp, it sure is a blast trying to disclose my problems to my current, very empathetic boyfriend nowadays. Because deep down I’m pretty sure he’ll eventually leave me for “having too much baggage” too.

      So yeah, LW, listen to Holly.

      • JenniferP said:

        Dude, Holly is the smartest.

      • Lesley said:

        Ha, one ex handed me a copy of “The Road Less Traveled.” Years later, when we met up at a reunion, I reminded him of that and he said “Oh, shit, really?? That’s a terrible book! I can’t believe you’re talking to me after I did that!!” We’re friends now.

        But at the time, it sucked.

        • I once got broken up with using the sentence “I’m afraid you’re going to turn into your mother.”

          He knew my mother was massively emotionally abusive.

          Yeah, that was pretty much the most assholest breakup ever. Not just because it was a hideous insult, but because it sent me into my relationship with a “I mustn’t be like my mother, so I’ll never object to anything and I’ll never express any needs and I’ll take everything out on myself and be the perfect girlfriend!” mindset.

          That’s what I’m most afraid will happen to the LW’s girlfriend–if she’s dumped for being “too emotional,” (especially if she’s dumped in a way that really grinds it in and makes it a punishment, like “I’ve tried so long to tolerate your over-emotional ways but you just blew your last chance with me”) she goes into her next relationship thinking “I must never bother him with my stupid little emotions” and nothing good will come of that.

          • piny said:

            All of this. She may also be acting out because of the role he’s placed her into. I do that with my family. I can’t be around them for more than fifteen minutes without turning into the helpless, absent-minded, volatile, clumsy person they know me as. It affects the weirdest things–I get lost more often when I’m around them. When I’m away from them, I turn into a different person.

    • Canary said:

      “Don’t you dare break this to her as “I just can’t handle you and your baggage anymore.””

      I love you Holly.

  18. West said:

    I have been in LW’s girlfriend’s position – and here’s the thing, I actually WAS oversensitive and overemotional, and it made me a crappy girlfriend for the kind of guy who prided himself on his calm rationality.

    “Rationality” almost always ended up meaning “dismissive stubbornness.” If a guy labeled himself “rational”, he never had to listen to me, never had to acknowledge my feelings as valid, and could basically do whatever he wanted while I bent over backwards to prove I was a good person who could change! Sometimes this meant choking back tears when boyfriends did legitimate real honest-to-god things to hurt me. They were allowed to do them and I was not allowed to cry about them because then they’d stand there, arms crossed, eyes distant, saying “I can’t listen to this. You’re clearly overreacting.” And then I would break down and promise to be a better person, I swear!

    LW, I am not at all saying this is you guys. I’m just saying – she could be thinking like this right now. You might be able to cheat, ignore her, call her a “whiny bitch” to her face, all the stuff I got done to me, and SHE will blame herself because you’ve both set her up as the flawed one and you as the one who’s always right. Not that you would do this! But you have set up an emotional environment where you probably could if you wanted to.

    Do you want this? It does not sound like you want this. Then you need to back off the judgmental crap, because it sounds like she’s buying it to a dangerous level.

  19. Sounds to me like letter-writer is a pompous jerk and is completely clueless about the nature of his girlfriend’s experience of their relationship. And yeah, they are so fucken young that there is nothing surprising about thatte.

  20. ACB said:

    LW, probably not most of the responses you were looking for here. You might be like the people some of the commenters have had to deal with in the past. You might not. You’ve pushed a lot of buttons though, it seems! I hope from this response you’ll be able to take away that both you and your partner deserve to have your emotions taken equally as seriously and that you can find some common ground that allows you to both have fair positions in your relationship.

    And commenters, I know it’s not everyone, but can we please get away from the “anyone under 25 is soooo young” trend when commenting? I’ve seen it in a few posts now and being told “you’re young” as if that explains away anything does not help. It only grates. Just because they’re young does not mean they don’t know what they’re doing. Just because they’re young does not mean that their relationship is any less valid than a relationship between two people twice their age. Yes, they are still growing and learning and that may be a factor, but aren’t we all growing and learning even in our 30s and 40s? Thanks.

    • dusty_rose said:

      Agreed! Age-based condescension is not cool.

    • i’m 48. i STILL dont always have my act together, and i’m not ashamed to admit it. its just who i am and where i am in my own head.

      the difference is, i’m willing to say “ok, i know *this* about me, and i’m always willing to work on *that* together, and i know i have issues with *this* that i still struggle with.” and TheEngineer says “ok, this relationship left me with *these* issues, and i need reassurance about *that*, but i trust we’re always honest with each other.”

      we’re still making it work….together. and i think that’s where LW is struggling, zie hasnt reached that space of making it work together. “dear, i worry about you and your roomates and how you act when you’re with them” ok…then let the g/f make her decision.

      going on a family vacation? EEEEKKKKK. i’m still reeling from the one i took in may. (his sister. OMG. trapped in a car. just, no.)

      all “you’re young” means is that you dont have as many life experiences, and you hopefully have years and years to make more. maybe LW and the girlfriend will last, maybe not. but the “chance” to last needs to come from both sides, not from the “i’m always right” side.

    • Thanks for saying this. My mother is a far better person at 50 than she was at 40 (and she was a good person at 40!). Some people stop growing when they hit 26 or so, but we don’t have to. If you take “adult” to mean “has all your shit together and no more personal growth required, whoo!” then almost nobody is an adult.

  21. Simone Lovelace said:

    Eek. Maybe I’m projecting, since I recently left a relationship with a very lovely, very troubled, and ultimately very toxic young woman. But I am bothered by the general lack of sympathy for the LW’s side of the story.

    Yes, the LW comes off as a bit arrogant and judgmental here. I get that. Yes, he should be respectful to his partner. And yes, this relationship is definitely f*cked.

    But I’m surprised that no one seems to think the girlfriends’ behavior might really be a problem; that maybe the LW’s actions are an imperfect response to an awful situation.

    It is totally possible that the girlfriend is, in fact, doing a crappy job controlling her emotions. Maybe she blows up over tiny things. Maybe she digs in her heels, and refuses to give in at all about anything ever. Maybe she makes the LW feel that he’s walking on eggshells, or doing constant damage control. Maybe he is genuinely and understandably miserable. We don’t know.

    That being said, I’m ultimately in agreement with the Captain’s advice. This relationship has gotten to a place where the LW feels that his partner is unreasonable and oversensitive. Whether he’s right or wrong, the best and kindest thing to do at this point is to break things off.

    • ACB said:

      I’m bothered as well.

    • It’s difficult because a lot of the letter is so vague. The bit about the holiday, for example: we’re assuming above that it was a holiday to a foreign country where the LW’s girlfriend didn’t speak the language, but he doesn’t say that – just that it’s an unknown place. He doesn’t say what the roommates were doing that was such a bad influence, or give any examples whatsoever of his gf’s irrational behaviour.

      And, harsh though it may be, my instinct is to assume that if someone’s not presenting the facts it’s because the facts aren’t on their side.

      • Ensign Perception said:

        I agree with this, and also, the whole “I am the calm and rational one” is a legit sign of trouble for me. I hope LW doesn’t feel we are being too harsh.

        • Simone Lovelace said:

          It is definitely a sign of trouble! I agree. It’s also something I occasionally felt in my last relationship, which led me to say and do some crappy abusive things that I am not at all proud of.

          On the other hand, my ex’s style of arguing often consisted of the following.

          (1) Seize upon some problematic thing I said, and twist it to mean something hateful that I would never say or even think.
          (2) Refuse to listen to explanations or apologies.
          (3) Go into a deep funk or an implacable rage.
          (4) Bring up the incident every time we had another argument for months.

          She wasn’t a bad person, and her feelings were not unmotivated or unimportant. And certainly I wouldn’t call myself the “rational” one in that relationship. And yet, disproportionate emotional reactions can be crappy and abusive in and of themselves.

          So if the LW’s experience is anything like mine, he might want be genuinely in need of support, sympathy, and a chat with a counselor…even if his own behavior is really problematic.

      • W.T. said:

        Yeah, that’s sort of how I felt about it. A lot of the responses here are pretty harsh, but they’re also going off of what the LW gave us– sure, zie might be struggling with some very real issues, but if zie is, zie didn’t… say that. In fact, the only reference to either partner making one feel a certain way in specific detail is that the girlfriend feels like she’s having a tally kept against her and on her last chance… which, even within the letter, the LW immediately blew off with BUT THAT’S NOT TRUE AT ALL I LOVE HER THERE’S NO REASON TO FEEL THAT WAY /even though I actually have had those exact feelings before/, and zie’s… consulting a column writer about whether they should break up (and casting hirself as “Baggage handler!”)

        So yeah, maybe the girlfriend is toxic for the LW– it’s certainly not a healthy relationship even from what’s presented her– but the LW didn’t give us anything to go off of to make us actually believe that it’s the girlfriend and her ‘irrational feelings’ that are causing problems. Zie didn’t say, “she blows up over tiny things, digs in her heels, and refuses to give in at all about anything ever, and makes /me/ feel that I’m walking on eggshells, or doing constant damage control.” Zie said, “we argue, and she says /I/ make /her/ feel like she’s on her last chance.” Yeah, I do feel bad for the LW for being in a relationship that zie’s not happy with, and I would feel bad if it turned out there was more at play here than a controlling significant other that needs a reality check. But given what’s actually in the letter, and what we can actually know from it, I think mooost of the responses here fall on the side of harsh-but-fair.

        • Simone Lovelace said:

          Yes this makes a lot of sense! I think this letter did hit a bit of a nerve here because the LW reminds me of the worst parts of myself…and yet…even people who have made a lot of mistakes deserve a way to pick up the pieces you know?

          So I guess I would say is…hey LW! Listen to your gut, okay? If you feel like your lady friend is treating you in a way that is not okay, it’s okay to be sad and upset about that, even if you haven’t always done right by her.

          Also the breakup will suck and you will deserve sympathy and support when it does happen.

          That’s all.

    • Copcher said:

      There does seem to be a lot of dumping on the LW, and it’s true that the girlfriend might not be completely blameless in this situation. Like MissPrism said, it’s hard when the LW only presents impressions of what happened and not actual examples of the girlfriend’s behaviour.

      Regardless of what kind of person the LW is, I agree that setting up a dynamic where one partner is the rational one and the other one needs help, intentionally or not, is really dangerous. My first serious relationship was with a seasoned serious relationship haver, who was also several years older than me, and many of our arguments ended with me conceding that I was probably in the wrong because I just didn’t know how people in relationships are supposed to act. I doubt he meant to use his experience to bulldoze me, but once we both thought of him as the one who knew what relationships were supposed to look and feel like, it was hard to get out of that pattern.

      Even if the LW’s girlfriend is behaving irrationally and making the LW’s life very difficult, the conversations need to be more about her behaviour and how the LW feels, not about how appropriate her reactions or feelings are. Like Holly said above, if LW does break up with her, it’s because they aren’t compatible, not because she has too much baggage. People with mental illness and/or emotional baggage are capable of having healthy, happy relationships.

    • Gretchen said:

      I’m so late commenting here, but I just want to say that when someone is accused of overreacting, being hysterical, being too sensitive or extremely emotional etc that that someone is a generally a woman, and saying the above is a brilliant silencing and delegitimization technique that manipulates the person into not believing or trusting their own sense of reality. As for the LW and people being harsh, commenters can only judge on what they read, and as the letter reads it is very (at a minimum) paternalistic.

      Other than that, as the LW points out, his/her partner has family issues; very often when someone is seen as overreacting, being overly emotional etc, it is not because the person is being irrational or overly anything, it is because something is happing to them that is triggering.

  22. Hallom said:

    Long time reader/lurker, first time commenter, but I feel compelled to do so here.

    LW, I was in this type of relationship, in your position. Right down to the long-distance aspect. My girlfriend was a wonderful, loving, intelligent person with what I believe (admitting that I’m not a professional or in any position to diagnose this) was a serious anxiety disorder. I was in the position of being her only emotional support, since — unlike your girlfriend — she refused to get any help or make any effort to make friends in the new city she was living in (and, she blamed the latter on the fact that she had to spend every other weekend with me, even though I travelled to her city more often than she did to mine). And if I tried to set any sort of boundaries around it — for example, when she called my cellphone to talk about an issue while I was at work (which she did semi-regularly), and I asked if we could wait and talk about things after I got home — I was met with a lot of guilt and a lot of indirect, passive-aggressive “that’s fine, I’m okay” when that obviously wasn’t true.

    It was extremely difficult and emotionally draining and when the relationship did end, it was a relief in many ways — even though I was heartbroken because I was very much in love with her.

    I can tell you that other people in this position appear to get a lot more sympathy on this site than you are getting, but at the same time, I did a lot of the same things wrong that many of the commenters have experienced from partners and/or accuse you of doing. I certainly took on a caregiver role that was not positive for either of us, I was judgmental, I contributed to the narrative of myself being the well-adjusted rational one against which she was defined, and toward the end I know I made her feel like she was walking on eggshells, on her last chance. I am not proud of any of that, and when I realized that I had acted that way (through therapy) I felt terrible.

    At the end of the day, neither of us were angels, and the same is probably true of you and your girlfriend. And it doesn’t really matter who’s at fault. What matters is that it seems you two are stuck in a rut where you are in a caregiver position and she is in a care receiver position, and neither of you wants to be there (and it’s not healthy for either of you to be there). It may be possible to change those roles with a gargantuan effort and a lot of self-reflection and honesty … but sometimes these ruts have sunk in too deep to pull out of, and what you both really need is a new start.

    • commanderlogic said:

      For a first comment, you knocked it out of the park!

      And thank you for sharing your story with us, especially one where you aren’t necessarily the hero.

      A lot of the reactions on this thread are negative bordering on harsh towards the LW because of personal history that has nothing to do with the LW hirself. But LW is only human, and one of the most human things to do is cast ourselves as the hero in our lives. That’s why I linked to the cognitive bias video: objectivity in your own life is HARD, yo!

      I think the LW is doing some things wrong in this relationship. That doesn’t preclude the girlfriend from doing things wrong, too, just that we haven’t heard from her. And ultimately it doesn’t matter who is doing the wrongest, just break off either the behavior pattern or the relationship. (I vote relationship!)

  23. Sheelzebub said:

    LW, frankly, you’re the one coming off as a bit of a drama generator and overly sensitive yourself, and I suspect you’re projecting this onto your girlfriend. Might I remind you that you ALSO spent the entire day crying over your breakup? You get into fights with your girlfriend, you freak out over her choice of rommates and her chaning ways (heaven forbid) and you go off the rails when she does the perfectly normal thing of taking a walk to clear her head after you two break up. There is nothing unstable or emotional about that, that’s actually a normal thing to do and people do that all the time. Even on vacation. Even in foreign countries. You’re really grasping at straws here. And you call *her* oversensitive? Seriously?

    If she changes in ways you don’t like, or if you are not happy in the relationship, you break up with her. You don’t put it on her, you say that the dynamic isn’t good between you and that you two should part ways. What you’ve done is to let her know at every turn what a long-suffering martyr you are, how she is of such concern to you (those roommates! that walk! that emotion! Quelle horreur!). Jesus.Of course she feels like there’s a threat hanging over her head.

  24. AMM said:

    The “in general I am very calm and balanced” comment resonated with me.

    Not because I think I really am calm and balanced — if anything, I feel like I’m emotionally all over the place a lot of the time — but because I often find myself in situations where I feel like I have to play the calm and rational one, because there isn’t anyone else who will.

    I spent 16 years married to someone who I at first admired because she seemed so passionate, but I came to realize it was really a lack of self-control. Once we had kids, I felt like I was constantly having to run around protecting the kids from her sometimes over-the-top reactions to what I thought of as normal, if obnoxious, kid behavior, or trying to keep her from driving away nannies and babysitters (I was usually not successful in the long run.) It wasn’t until I moved out into my own place and realized that I could go to bed without fearing that I would get waked up in the middle of the night to deal with some emotional crisis of hers that I realized that life didn’t have to be like that. I felt bad leaving the kids there, but at least I could offer them a more peaceful, structured, and nurturing life during the nights and weekends when they were at my place.

    The odd thing is that now, several years after the divorce, I think she’s doing a lot better. I think part of the problem is that I wanted from her what she couldn’t give, so by keeping a strict emotional distance from her, I’ve reduced her stress levels. The kids being adult now (well, they’re now over 18, at least) helps, too.

    I would say to the LW: if you feel you have to play the “calm and balanced” one all the time, it’s time to get out of the relationship. Do you really want to spend the rest of your life having to always be the mature one?

    And now I’m sort of back in the role of having to act like the mature adult in a relationship, this time with my son, whose life has sort of fallen apart (more likely: he never had it together to begin with.) What was the term for when the US Army kept extending Iraq soldiers’ terms of enlistments?

    • Copcher said:

      That’s interesting. I wonder what her perspective on the situation would be, not because I think yours is at all wrong, but because I’m guessing she didn’t see herself as totally lacking in self control (even if she was). You say that you wanted something from her that she couldn’t give, so probably the relationship was not good for her either.

      I would say that if this is the situation the LW is in, then probably the relationship isn’t working. Again, like Holly said above, it’s not that it isn’t working because of the girlfriend’s baggage. It isn’t working because they don’t work together.

      • AMM said:

        I wonder what her perspective on the situation would be, not because I think yours is at all wrong, but because I’m guessing she didn’t see herself as totally lacking in self control (even if she was).
        Yes, her perspective was very, very different. What I saw as screaming and losing control and making extreme comments or threats she saw as simply natural expression of her emotions. (This is only one example of our differing perspectives.) One difficulty was that she wasn’t willing to consider views that differed from hers, as they were simply wrong. Typical conversation: me: it bothers me when you do X. Her: no it doesn’t. Me: well, that’s how I feel. Her: no, you don’t.

        You say that you wanted something from her that she couldn’t give,… getting a little off-topic, but: I wanted emotional intimacy, such as someone to care about how I felt. I’ve come to realize that she isn’t able to deal with other people’s needs if they in any way conflict with any of her own. Now that I keep my emotional distance from her, and the kids are old enough to not need so much, she doesn’t blow up so much.what

  25. duck-billed placelot said:

    Ugh, this letter. I think the reason so many commenters are outraged is because we still have to navigate this bullshit all the time, in our relationships, in our professional lives, in our familes: girls are SO OVER-EMOTIONAL, can’t make rational decisions, get all screechy, etc. etc. etc.

    On the plus side, it inspired me to rewatch Sense and Sensibility, so that was excellent.

  26. maggie said:

    Just wanna say: thanks Captain, you’ve pointed out a lot of stuff that is applicable to me.

    Depressing to keep seeing how relationships were fucked up in the past, but also good because I can see my husband and I are doing pretty damn well together. Huzzah for personal growth, boundaries, and healthy relationships. ❤

  27. Queen George said:

    I think another reason why comments towards the LW may tend toward the “harsh” is that some of the behavior zie describes of hirself are borderline abusive. Controlling someone else’s choices and behaviors is emotional abuse, straight up. And so while we want to say “but the GF also has the agency to leave,” it’s possible that her behaviors have been so heavily controlled and monitored that she literally can’t see or understand that agency. Also, we have no evidence tat she digs in her heels about things. What www do have is evidence that she actually caves in eventually to whatever th LW wants. Zie wants her to get new roomies, so she does it. It’s possible that part of the reason she feels “on notice” is that she understands that the relationship is going sour, but she’s been so trained to distrust her own emotions that she doesn’t trust herself to make that decision.

    What I’d like to see the LW ask hirself is this: “I portray this relationship as bein pretty miserable. So why do I stay?” An honest answer to that question can tell you a lot.

  28. Letter Writer said:

    Hello, I’m the author of the letter/email/post. I think one of the best things about this blog is the differentials diagnoses which come in the comments, so thank you all very much for your thoughts, opinions and input. I have a few things I’d like to clarify and a few responses I’d like to make.

    – Yes, I am male. I am also a committed feminist and I absolutely detest the idea of controlling anybody. The very idea of infantilisation makes me shudder. As far as I’m concerned anybody who thinks that women are less intelligent and rational than men is ill-educated or an idiot.

    – I think I’m probably more rational than the average person because I question myself a lot; that is, all the time and about everything. My brain never shuts up and I question every opinion I have as soon as I form it. But I also know that I’m just another human and really not that special at all, so perhaps I’m entirely wrong about it. The last thing I want to do is lord it over anybody, though I know I sometimes make that mistake. I’m working on it.

    – Going for walk, et al: nothing to do with control; rather, ‘person I love has vanished and is not answering my calls, does not speak the language and does not know any of the area, oh no!’. Eventually she texted me back telling me she was safe, which was really appreciated. It was a question of worry and concern rather than authority. The people she lived with drank lots, partied, bitched about each other and watched bad TV all day, while my girlfriend is an intelligent, active and academic person who did not fit in with them at all. I felt like she was losing some of the things important to her — yes, and me — and that’s why it bothered me so much.

    – As far as I am concerned, all relationships should take place between free beings with no coercion or obligation. I am all about fairness and equality. But…

    – … I get things wrong ALL THE TIME. I’m human. Sometimes I’m an idiot and I say dumb or unkind things. But I never mean to and I always try to apologise when I am wrong. I like listening and learning from others and I know that I will never be perfect, but I will always aim to improve.

    – If we do break up, it will be a result of the two of us both having problems we cannot overcome. It will certainly not be ‘all her fault’ or due to ‘her baggage’ — the ‘baggage handler’ thing was meant to refer to my baggage more than anything! I hate the idea of making somebody feel insecure and I guarantee that I will do my best to avoid that whatever happens.

    I still don’t know how things will go, but I promise I’ll keep you updated.

    Thanks again for all of your thoughts — even those who are convinced that I’m an evil misogynist bastard who should never ever go near women.

    • xenu01 said:

      Hey. I don’t think anyone thinks you are evil? I think it’s just that some people have some raw wounds and partially-healed wounds and some things you said in your letter brought up some shit for people. But I want to applaud you on “I hate the idea of making somebody feel insecure and I guarantee that I will do my best to avoid that whatever happens,” because it seems like you are totally aiming to not be that person who made those wounds, so yay!

      Re: “I think I’m probably more rational than the average person because I question myself a lot; that is, all the time and about everything. My brain never shuts up and I question every opinion I have as soon as I form it.”

      Haha- you’ve come to the right place. A lot of us are geeks! And geeks analyze stuff! But overanalyzing things can make things too complicated sometimes, so maybe it is something to work on. See questions 149 and 176:
      https://captainawkward.com/2012/01/19/question-176-the-perpetual-seething-mass-of-resentment/
      https://captainawkward.com/2011/12/11/question-149-the-sad-cat-neighbor-feelings-situation/

      • I find it ironic that several people have in essence positioned themselves as the calm and rational ones, in contrast to other commenters who have “raw wounds” and whose “buttons were pushed” by the LW, where they could equally be described as people with experience who recognise warning signs. I’m not trying to take sides here particularly, but given that the whole post is about not dismissing people for having emotional responses, it rankles somewhat to see that attitude.

        • Now I wish there was an edit button – I didn’t mean you were pulling the “I’m so rational” trick. It’s the raw wounds thing. In general, when talking about danger, a person with raw wounds probably has a very valuable perspective.

          • Letter Writer said:

            xenu01: Yes, I definitely overanalyse things! I will work on it. I’d rather just analyse things.

            MissPrism: I completely agree. I was affected by a couple of the posts that I felt were painting me as controlling and misogynistic, both things I definitely do not think I can be reasonably described as. I hate that stuff.

            Some of the most valuable input here has been from people who have been hurt in similar situations and I really hope that by learning from them I can limit the bad feelings that arise for us in future, whatever happens.

          • xenu01 said:

            I probably should have spoken only for myself, because I am definitely not ok 100% yet and sometimes I get triggered because someone reminds me of my abusive ex(es, if I am honest). I was merely assuming I understood where other commenters were coming from.

    • commanderlogic said:

      Hey there, Letter Writer! So glad you made it through the comments relatively unscathed. I just want to signal boost what xenu01 said: You aren’t evil, and concern is something we all have for the people we love.

      If my husband had wandered off into Paris for hours by himself during our honeymoon, I would have been fucking worried. Not because Paris is a dangerous hellhole, but because he doesn’t speak the language, our cell plans didn’t work there, and he could get run over by a moped and I’d never know it. In that instance, it’s not controlling to want to know when he planned to be back, so that if he’s an hour or so late I can call the gendarmes.

      That is my own experience. People on this thread have had experiences where someone in their life was extremely controlling, and that makes them sensitive (in a totally legit and reasonable way!) when they see even a hint of controlling. They don’t want you to be that guy/gal from their pasts! You don’t want that either! But the love around here can be tough, and we’re dealing with raw painful emotions. If you can, try and read the accusatory comments as “We care about you! You are probably not a jerk, but you’re doing some things that remind me REALLY STRONGLY of that guy I knew who was totally on the Dark Jerk Side! Stop doing them before you lose a hand and are burned in a horrible flow of magma!” Don’t hang out with Senator Palpatine, even if he IS your golf buddy. Don’t go postal on the sand people even if they DID kill your mom. Reject the stupid STUPID dialog that George Lucas hands you. Just have a long talk with your girlfriend about what the both of you really want. Ok?

      You and your girlfriend are the only people who actually know what’s going on in this relationship, and I think you two will work out what is best for your future, together or apart. Based only on the info I have, I vote apart for both your sakes; not because you’re controlling or she’s messed up (’cause hell, I don’t know about either of those things), but because I think you both need some space to become individuals apart from each other.

      • They don’t want you to be that guy/gal from their pasts!

        Jesus, Commander, can we please kill this narrative? I have no such past experience and I still find myself agreeing with the people who see the string-pulling attempts. Your hypothetical about your husband is not analogous to LW’s situation with his ex-girlfriend. When a person attempts to maintain that level of co-responsibility with their ex as if they were still in a relationship, that raises a huge red flag in my eyes.

      • Esti said:

        This, this, this.

        Ultimately, people on the internet can’t diagnose your relationship based on one partner’s description of it. You being worried and trying to get in touch with her when she left the hotel in a foreign country could be “oh GOD SHE’S A CHILD WHO CAN’T TAKE CARE OF HERSELF” or it could be “this is really not a safe area and she hasn’t travelled before and she just left and no one has heard from her in hours”. Equally, the roommate situation could be “what do you mean you got drunk for the first time with your roommates and then slept through one of your classes I NEED TO PARENT YOU” or it could be “since you moved in with them, you’ve been get drunk five or six nights a week and lying on the couch all day watching bad TV instead of going to any of your classes”. In all likelihood, both situations are somewhere in the middle. But either way, we can’t really help you by adjudicating whether you or your girlfriend was reacting unreasonably in any given fight.

        What we can do, though, and what the Captain did really well, was point out patterns of thinking that don’t seem to be conducive to a happy, healthy relationship. Whether your girlfriend is actually over-sensitive or not, you believing that she is sets up an unhealthy dynamic. Similarly, whether or not you are actually ticking off how many chances she has left, her believing that you are doing it sets up an unhealthy dynamic. If you two want to make things work, I’d suggest you sit down together and talk about some of the unhealthy dynamics you have going on, and figure out (together! mutually! not with either of you just deciding and the other person going along with it!) ways to break those patterns and things that will make you both happier with the relationship.

        Lastly, the one thing I will say about your comment-update is that you need to rid yourself of the idea that questioning yourself a lot makes you more rational than the average bear. I question everything about myself and my beliefs all the time. It doesn’t mean that I’m especially rational, it means that I’m an over-analyzer. And more than that, “rational” is not necessarily the optimal state to be striving for, especially in a relationship. Emotions matter, and whether or not you think about your own beliefs has zero to do with how well you relate to others or your ability to compromise or the skills needed to maintain healthy boundaries. In general, I would really let go of the idea that your internal dialogue is a trait that is relevant to this discussion/your discussions with your girlfriend.

        • commanderlogic said:

          HIGH FIVE, ESTI. This is totally what I was trying to say.

        • NessieMonster said:

          Hear hear, Esti! you’ve covered most of my opinions on the post and the comments, and much more eloquently than I could.
          Also good point as to the distinction between rational (I’m thinking of Sherlock here) vs over-analysing every single thought/feeling (hello fellow worriers).

    • Nobody thinks you’re evil, and your displays of self-awareness are a good sign. But. Nothing in your justification of the “walking alone” thing or the roommates thing comes across as a valid justification. You got upset because your EX wasn’t returning your calls for a few hours? Seriously? In the interests of safety, it may have been wise of her to let someone know she’d be out, but a) that’s her decision to make, she being an adult and all, and b) there’s no reason that person should have been you. Y’know, her ex.

      I get that we often feel like we could be making a better decision for another person than they are for themselves. I’ve been there. Kill that voice. Just do it. At most you can ask, “Say, have you considered [x]?”, or to use a more relevant example, “Are you happy with these roommates? Do they really seem like the kind of people you want having a major part in your life?” You can reasonably express your difficulty in believing that she’s happy with those roommates – once. If she says she is, trust her and move on. If you feel like she’s changing into someone who’s not as compatible with you, the solution is to reassess the relationship, not to attempt to hammer her back into shape. Despite your explanations, that’s still very much what it looks like, and no amount of “But I’m a feminist!” changes that. Feminists are human, too.

      She has a right to grow and change independent of what you want in a partner.

      • FYI, if you feel like you can’t trust her decision-making abilities, because she’s irrational or whatever, that’s a reason to break up, not a reason to try to make decisions for her.

      • roo said:

        Re- “You got upset because your EX wasn’t returning your calls for a few hours? Seriously?” — whether she was his ex or not, he cared about her. Whether he was right or not to worry when she left and he couldn’t contact her, he did. He was scared about someone he cared about, and that fear made him upset.

        He can’t just decide not to feel those things. Maybe he can learn to respond to those feelings differently, but I don’t think it’s fair to expect him not to have felt them in the first place.

        • I don’t really care what goes on in another person’s head. But when they make what’s going on in their head somebody else’s problem or somebody else’s fault, that’s an issue. He was worried/upset about her going off alone at night? Fine, whatever. Making it her problem, counting it as a strike against her, expecting her to answer his phone calls whenever the hell he wants her to? Asshole behavior. Especially when they’re not even together anymore. It’s bad enough when your SO wants to be your mommy; when your ex wants to do it, that’s crossing the line.

          I’m not asking him not to feel those things. Just asking him not to take them out on her. Me, I sometimes feel annoyed when my girlfriend takes a long time to respond to a message of mine. Do I snap at her or act passive-aggressive later or demote my perception of her? No. (Well, not anymore. These are things that take effort over the course of one’s life. But if, back when I did do those things, somebody had called me an asshole for it, they would have been justified.) Ideally, I wouldn’t feel that annoyance at all, but I do. Another thing I’m working on. But step one is recognizing that it’s my problem and not hers.

          • meh said:

            Oh god thank you for that! I just had a friend pull that on me when I asked for space before talking about something upsetting that happened to me. I held my boundaries firm, but I felt both furious at him for continually intruding his worry on me each time I said to stop until I cut off all forms of communication and guilty for needing that space and not just being nice to someone worried about me. I didn’t have the words to say what you just said perfectly. I wish I had; I feel so much better seeing someone else say that.

          • roo said:

            “I’m not asking him not to feel those things. Just asking him not to take them out on her.”

            Gotcha. We’re on the same page.

            My mom used to freak out that I’d be abducted if I walked to a friend’s house a few doors down. Thank goodness in that instance my father was more reasonable. Still, Mom couldn’t help being afraid.

            That doesn’t change that she was wrong– just makes me gentler in how I deal with her.

        • Sheelzebub said:

          Look, no.

          He can be as worried as he wants to–and if he sent a text or left one message saying, “just text me and let me know you’re okay” I wouldn’t be all over him. But he didn’t. He called her ****multiple times****, basically demanding her attention. When it was pretty damn clear she wanted space–they had broken up for crying out loud, while they were on a trip with his family. I’d need time away from them as well, and he wasn’t giving it to her.

          And I’m sorry, but I call BS on this “you’re telling him he can’t feel things” crap. He’s painting her as irrational and overly emotional for taking a walk after they broke up and not returning his multiple phone calls over the course of a few hours. Yes, I think that’s going overboard, and I think it’s shitty to use this as an example of why she’s supposedly so over sensitive and emotional (while he’s so “rational”–um, not so much anymore, now is he).

          • roo said:

            Okay.

            I agree he’s wrong to paint her as the emotional, irrational one. I don’t think he knew any better. I do think he wants to learn to do better– that’s the sense I’ve gotten, anyway.

    • LW – I think it would be good for you to read CA’s answer to the previous question! It’s a very different context but it touches on an analogous emotional issue to some of the things you’re feeling about your girlfriend.

      Specifically, this part:

      “However, next time you’re out and about with others, try something else: try NOT managing how he interacts with others. Don’t assume they are bored. Don’t cut him off because you’re worried that they are bored and “no one’s interested.” Change the subject when YOU are bored, and own it. “That’s enough philosophy for me for the night. Seen any good movies lately?” Or leave him to it and go talk to other people. You are almost always on the losing side of an argument when you start invoking what other people might think, like “I love it when you go on and on about philosophy, you know that, it’s just I’m worried that other people are bored.” You’re not your partner’s mom or his teacher, you don’t have to answer for him to others.”

      In other words, let your partner make their own mistakes. Leave them if those mistakes are persistently intolerable to you, but don’t think you can fix everything by managing their life yourself, because whether they’re right or wrong they can’t live and grow if they can’t make their own mistakes.

      Living with people who watch bad TV, for example. If your girlfriend isn’t the sort of person who watches bad TV, then eventually she’ll realize this and move out on her own. If she is that sort of person, then she’ll be perfectly happy and functional in a bad-TV household. Either way, no input from you is required.

      Plus, when you stop making her issues your problem, you’ll have a whole lot fewer fights.

    • Stentor said:

      If you are a committed feminist, that should come across in your words and deeds — it shouldn’t be something you have to assert as a rebuttal. Intellectual assent to an ideology does not necessarily entail that you’ll actually follow through on it in real life, though it’s certainly a good start. You should be careful that defining yourself as a feminist and a rational person doesn’t lead you to overlook ways that you’re doing un-feminist things in real life. I like to think my male self is doing good at feminism (I read feminist blogs! I serve on the Women’s Studies committee! I preferentially befriend and date feminists!). But in the aftermath of the last big breakup I had, I was forced to admit that in spite of my own desires and self-image, I had failed to respect my ex’s intelligence and autonomy and made sexist assumptions about her. I’m not saying you’re an evil misogynist, just that even the most awesome male feminists make mistakes.

      • Christina said:

        THIS. Stentor, you totally sound like a more convincing feminist than LW.

  29. Sheelzebub said:

    “Going for walk, et al: nothing to do with control; rather, ‘person I love has vanished and is not answering my calls, does not speak the language and does not know any of the area, oh no!’. Eventually she texted me back telling me she was safe, which was really appreciated. It was a question of worry and concern rather than authority. The people she lived with drank lots, partied, bitched about each other and watched bad TV all day, while my girlfriend is an intelligent, active and academic person who did not fit in with them at all. I felt like she was losing some of the things important to her — yes, and me — and that’s why it bothered me so much.”

    UM. Everything you’ve criticized her about in your original letter you say comes from “concern” but it still comes off as controlling. She went out for a walk and you barraged her with calls? And she’s over emotional? Again, I think you’re projecting here. (I’ve taken walk alone at night in places where I didn’t speak the language and where I didn’t know the area–you stick to the road your on or nearby and your fine.) She “disappeared” for a few hours–do you really need to know where she is at every minute? You broke up and had an exhausting, emotional day and she did the very reasonable thing of taking a walk to clear her head. Maybe she wanted some space from you and so didn’t answer your calls.

    Her roommate situation hardly sounds like it was dire. She’s *21*. You know what I did at 21? I drank a lot. I partied a lot. I would have watched bad TV if I had a TV. My friends and I bitched at and about each other. We were still finding our feet and fucking up BECAUSE HELLO WE WERE 21 YEARS OLD. You’re sounding really patronizing in deciding what is best for her. This all supposedly comes from concern but you nag her and hector her and then declare her oversensitive and emotional. You don’t have to like her roommates but you do have to butt out of her life.

    I . . . you are not coming off well, here LW. I suggest you analyze your own behavior. You got called out on your letter because you came off as really blamey towards your GF–like she was the one with the big issues, she was over-sensitive, and she had baggage. You never once mentioned your own baggage, contrary to your assertion in your follow up. I get that you’re offended at many people’s impressions of you, but know that it is not coming from nowhere. Also: If you don’t like being seen as an ‘evil misogynist bastard’ then maybe you could ask yourself how your girlfriend would like to be portrayed as being oversensitive and emotional and somewhat immature? Because that’s how you portray her, and it’s not as if she’s doing anything dangerous or particularly trainwrecky.

    • RedSonja said:

      The description of her “bad influence” roommates in particular blew my mind. Really? I thought maybe they were into drugs or dog fighting or knitting or something. But drinking and watching bad TV? *clutches pearls*

      Honestly, this comes across much the same way my ex-fiance did. He was 9 years older than me, had a college degree while I did not, and he thought that made him better able to judge what was best for me, and for us. And I believed him for a looooong time. So I dieted severely. I stayed in a job that made me miserable. I coddled his narcissism. And I was MISERABLE. There is nothing like knowing you “aren’t good enough” for your partner to crush your soul.

      Super bonus assholishness: he threatened to kill himself if I broke up with him. I did it anyway – I was finally able to recognize it for the emotional manipulation it was.

      • Eclairity said:

        I knit AND watch bad TV, sometimes at the SAME TIME. When this happens, the miasma of my bad influence seeps through the walls and causes indolence in all of my neighbors.

        • Celeloriel said:

          +1

    • W.T. said:

      Yep. “I totally appreciate your response, but let me tell you all the reasons why you’re wrong!” Somehow I’m not getting anything from LW here to make me think that Team Harsh was anything other than right on the money.

      • It was really kind of the LW to drop in and mansplain how we were all just over-sensitive and over-emotional in our reactions to his letter about his over-sensitive and over-emotional girlfriend, probably because we’d all been in bad relationships and were projecting.

        Seriously though, this guy makes me see red flags everywhere.

        You notice how his response included “even those of you who think I’m an evil misogynist bastard who should never be allowed near women” ? No one said that! That is typecasting, straight out of Gavin de Becker. (I’m not even going to mention the unsolicited promise, the OTT detail and the forced teaming of “We’re all on the same page about treating women as people!” despite the CLEAR lack of truth of this statement).

        Basically, this guy gives me the willies, and I am on Team Harsh.

        • Letter Writer said:

          The ‘parting shot’ was mainly due to FemmeForever’s post earlier on in the thread. It rubbed me the wrong way because it seemed so extremist. Of course you’re entitled to have whatever opinion you want of me, but ultimately what I want to do is make myself a better person and try and fix the situation I’m in in a way that’s best for all parties.

          You’re mistaking a genuine attempt to try and solve things as insincerity, and that upsets me a little — but I understand that actions in real life are a lot more important than words in the Internet. You can write me off as ‘mansplaining’ and anything else you like, but you will be far off the mark.

          • Sheelzebub said:

            You are not exactly disproving her theory about you. And frankly, I don’t think she was being “extremist” in saying that you came off as controlling and that you don’t get a vote in how your girlfriend lives her life or reacts to things–you can only stay or go. That’s actually feminism 101.

            Also, you’re making this about how mean we are, and not about how you’ve come off. Perhaps the truth hurts, but that’s the way it is. You’re coming off as controlling and dismissive. If you analyzed your own thoughts and actions as much as you claim to, you’d be taking our reactions to heart. Your letter and your responses indicate that this isn’t so much about making things better for your relationship as it is showcasing how irrational your GF is and how rational you are.

            You aren’t showing any indication that you’ve read one word of what anyone wrote here. Yes, the responses are harsh and for good reason. If you cared half as much as you claimed to, you’d cool off and rationally consider what we’ve said.

          • Look, there is no way to dig yourself out of mansplaining. If someone says you’re doing it, the proper response is to STOP EXPLAINING THINGS to that person. You can grumble as much as you want on your own time, but if someone is saying “You’re disrespecting me,” a response of “Nuh-uh” is not going to help your case.

  30. aprilhl said:

    this is tangential to the question (though I agree with the response):

    I have never really understood why ‘rational’ and ’emotional’ are socially posited as different ends of a scale: they’re really two very different attributes, and don’t cancel each other out. there are rational emotions (ie if someone hits me, it is VERY rational to be upset, and so on).

    I am both very rational and very emotional, which makes life confusing sometimes, as I am constantly trying to evaluate my emotions and figure them out.

    sometimes it is helpful (in the “why did this upset me?” way) and sometimes it is very not helpful (because emotions are very often NOT rational, too).

    I’m sure the social narrative that men are only rational and women are only emotional and that there is this weird spectrum/divide between the two attributes.

    • As someone who considers himself rational but has occasionally cried himself to sleep, I agree. I acknowledge and own my emotions. Being an emotionless machine doesn’t make you rational; it makes you a sociopath. Sociopaths tend to be convinced that they’re super-rational, but there’s nothing rational about sociopathic behavior. Caring about the lives and welfare of your fellow humans comes from an emotional place, but it’s sure as hell not irrational.

      But yes, as you said, this is all tangential. I’m not saying the LW is a sociopath or anything. This comment has nothing to do with the letter.

      • I think it’s also important to note that, contrary to the Hannibal Lecter image, a lot of sociopaths are really dumb. It’s not like once you stop caring if people like you, you automatically get good at math.

        (I’m not talking about the LW here, just making a general point.)

        • It’s true. There’s a distinction between high-functioning sociopaths and low-functioning sociopaths. The vast majority of sociopaths are the latter. I mean, if you don’t care about feelings and perceptions of others, and you can’t see why you should, how likely are you to care about, say, grooming?

          The Hollywood image of a sociopath is someone who’s charming and likeable and uses that to manipulate people to serve his desires. The reality is that most sociopaths aren’t charming and likeable, because they literally do not understand other people’s feelings, much less how to manipulate them. As such, most of them are unlikeable bastards who sit in their living room all day whining about how they’re so much better than the rest of humanity and how come nobody can see that?

          • Eclairity said:

            So they are MRAs?

        • “Contrary to the Hannibal Lecter image, a lot of sociopaths are really dumb. It’s not like once you stop caring if people like you, you automatically get good at math.”

          That’s excellent. Just quoted you on Facebook.

  31. kathleendonohue said:

    Monday-morning quarterback here, but after all I read all the comments here, it sounds like the LW has a case of “We’re growing up and therefore apart”. Maybe you should rewatch “Lucas”.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucas_(film)

  32. Christina said:

    Um, so I’m kinda wanting to like Letter Writter because of the open admission to over-thinking, which normally = LOVE! But here’s the thing that’s got me stumped: Letter Writer has decided that he can’t possibly display sexist behaviour, because… he is not sexist? QED?? Um, no.

    LW, the proper script (like Captain Awkward would say!) to that kind of observation goes like this: “I like to think I’m not a sexist person. This means that I generally try not to do sexist things. Sometimes however I know I certainly do, because I live in a sexist world, which will inevitably have rubbed off its sexist ways on me, despite my upmost efforts to subvert them. People are pointing out that maybe elements in my behaviour might be sexist? Hm, I will have to think about that VERY HARD AND VERY HONESTLY and not just dismiss it off-hand because it is inconceivable that I am sexist because I am not sexist.”

    But you’re not doing this and that is troubling to me. And this seems to be a recurring pattern? Take also the fact that your girlfriend feels she’s on notice, a notion which you reject, because You Say So, even though you’re writing in to an advice column asking whether you should break up with her, which to me rather makes it sound like your girlfriend’s nervousness is spot-on? Maybe instead of building yourself up as the Totally Rational One you should be giving more thought to why you refuse to validate and examine other people’s reactions to you.

    Honestly, LW, again, I’m really hating being on Team Harsh here, but yes, it kinda does sound to me as though, if controlling, infantilising behaviour is something you hate, you’re dangerously close to becoming what you hate. Going for a walk by yourself in a foreign city is not a reason for your loved ones to worry. Hanging out with party people isn’t either. Having your partner dismiss your perfectly valid feelings by insisting that you are Oversensitive and Emotional? Now that’s troubling (though, no, not evil). I think it’s time to give some serious thought to walking the talk.

    • Letter Writer said:

      I completely agree and I will do my best to walk how I talk.

    • roo said:

      Tuesday afternoon quarterbacking! Christina, I thought this comment was really well-crafted, and spot-on in tone and content (as evidenced by the LW’s response.) Nicely done.

      • Christina said:

        🙂

        LW reminds me of my father. His heart’s in the right place, but he too has a tendency to forget about or devalue other people’s feelings (though strangely never his own!) in his quest for the Objective! Scientifically Proven! Best! Solution to Your Problems! Over time we have learned to give him stern looks when he does this and wag our fingers and ask what’s more important: him being right or the happiness of the people he loves? And he has learned to acknowledge this tendency and (possibly after a few “yes, but”s) look sheepish and apologise. And you know, the thing is it is very much concern and love that’s driving him – it’s just that concern and love can sometimes make us controlling and patronising too.

        • him being right or the happiness of the people he loves?

          Lots and lots of parents I know are pretty blatant about the former being more important.

          • Christina said:

            Hm, I think it’s usually more of an inability to see the two as not fundamentally connected: more of a “you will not be happy if you don’t listen to my advice” situation.

  33. Chantelle said:

    Nothing to add – I have just really enjoyed this thread. Thanks all!

  34. Karen aka the guppy said:

    It’s funny, I read this very differently from many of the respondents. I know this isn’t about “taking sides” but I completely got where the letter writer was coming from and felt a lot of empathy.

    Let me use a tired metaphor which I nonetheless have found helpful: Some people are guppies and some people are dolphins.* Guppies like to swim quietly in calm waters. Dolphins are all about the highs and the lows. Dolphins feels things deeply, and they like to lay it all out there and discuss them and let you know their feelings. Guppies want to think about it, process it, and then only talk about feelings once they feel like they have a good handle on them.

    When they describe each other, particularly amidst conflict, they can use all kinds of pejorative language that may not go over well with readers of an advice column; i.e. dolphins are oversensitive and irrational; guppies are repressed, aloof, and unfeeling.

    I don’t know how compatible these two different types are. I’m a guppy and had a dolphin in my life (she’s the one who starting using this metaphor, actually). I found it exhausting to keep up with her emotional life, even while I admired how rich it was. She found it unrewarding to get so little feedback and commiseration from me, even though she admired my ability to stay even-keeled. I felt bullied and buffeted around by her moods; she felt rejected and unneeded by how I kept mine to myself. And were weren’t even dating, we were friends.

    Anyway, I think it’s okay to realize that someone just isn’t your “type” even if you love them and admire many things about them. Sometimes it just doesn’t work. There’s nothing bad about that. Or maybe you CAN make it work, who knows? But either way, I think you need to recognize that these are just differences. There isn’t a right or a wrong; there are pluses and minuses to both approaches to life. You are who you are. While anyone can (& should!) aspire to address their dysfunctions (we all have them!) some of these tendencies are not that changeable, IMO. Therapy is a great thing, but you can’t expect it to turn a dolphin into a guppy or vice versa, or to turn either of them into a generic middle-ground kind of person.

    That’s my $.02.

    *See also, the “Roller coaster” metaphor from the movie Parenthood. Or the stoic German vs. the irish temper. Or a dozen other such things.

  35. Forkis said:

    I’ve been in the girlfriend’s situation, with the details inverted. I kind of freeze up when people get angry or upset with me and expect a specific response that I can’t work out, but because that’s not very helpful and will make everyone feel bad, I’m good at using my words in such situations – trying to identify what specfically I’ve been doing to upset the other person (or as best as they can identify), and what they’d like me to be doing differently.

    This drove my first boyfriend up the wall. Here he was, feeling all these emotions and I was trying to reason it out like I didn’t even care? Clearly I wasn’t as invested in the relationship as he was, and didn’t really care about him, and was all dead inside, and this wouldn’t be happening if I actually cared. (His reactions were “organic”, mine were unnatural and cold. It made it a bit impossible to resolve issues, because if I tried reasoning he got angrier, and I wasn’t allowed get angry back. The correct course of action was for me to apologise, which would also make him angry because I wasn’t even trying to fix anything. What a fun time that was!)

    He was also emotionally abusive, which isn’t to say LW is. Going only on the facts presented, though, if you view your partners attitude to your relationship, and life generally, as the wrong way to react towards a relationship or life, it sounds like you don’t respect them a whole lot as a person, which doesn’t sound like a fun relationship for anyone.

  36. Letter Writer said:

    We broke up on Tuesday. We are both heartbroken but I guess that’s par for the course.

    I just don’t know what to do with myself now.

    • Ensign Perception said:

      Aw, dude, you’ll be OK. This is just my standard boilerplate for people who’ve recently broken up, but remember: Every relationship you are in will end, until one doesn’t. It’s worth keeping in mind that at the end of this relationship, you two ended up in a pretty unhealthy dynamic – but don’t beat yourself up over it too much. Take good care of yourself, make sure to have a productive daily routine and spend some time with friends whenever you have the energy.

    • Eclairity said:

      Breaking up feels super crappy. Especially when you realize that the one that you want to call about being sad is, in fact, the one you broke up with in the fist place.
      Fortunately, Captain Awkward has very good posts about what to do when you are broken up!
      Right at this moment it is probably really hard to see how this is the best thing that could happen, but honestly learning to be the person that you are outside of a relationship is the best thing ever! Seriously.
      For right now, it is good to take a moment to grieve over this relationship, just try to remember that just because you are sad doesn’t mean that you didn’t do the right thing.

    • maggie said:

      Breakups suck! Seriously, seriously, seriously. It is very rarely anything less than painful, no matter what.

      Mourn, be sad. But you will do one thing at a time (watch a TV show, go for a walk), and then other things (clean your home, read a book), and days will go by, and you will do more things (skydiving, deep sea exploration — well, you *could*), and months go by…

      When you’re done the initial bit of mourning, you should go date yourself. Join or do fun things, eat tasty things, ask friends out to do fun and tasty things. Enjoy being in your own company (and the company of others, when you choose to be around them).

    • JenniferP said:

      Sorry, sweetheart. Be really good to yourself right now, ok?

    • FemmeForever said:

      My hope is that GF is safe, comforted, and thoroughly in love with who she is wherever she may be.

      • Letter Writer said:

        That’s absolutely what I hope too. I made it absolutely clear that the reason we were breaking up was because of how we were interacting, categorically not ‘because of her’. She understood and I am glad of that at least. She lives with friends and has family pretty nearby and I know they’ll take care of her.

        A pity party is the last thing I want, but I live alone and I don’t know anybody at all where I live since I recently moved. I appreciate the support I am getting from my friends online and over the phone but I’m only getting out of bed to eat and go to work.

        • Sounds like you did the best thing for both of you, both in what you did and how you did it. In the future you’ll look back on this as a learning experience, but don’t worry about that right now. Just keep getting out of bed to eat and go to work, and eventually you’ll find yourself looking forward to other things, even if it’s just the next episode of The Closer*.

          *Just an example. It could also be an actual good show.

        • Lauren O. said:

          Go read the threads on how to meet new people and make new friends!
          Super helpful if you’ve recently broken-up (I speak from experience).

          Best of luck– you’ll make it through!

    • commanderlogic said:

      Oh, my dear. It’s going to be okay, I promise.

      You’ll come through it, and live to love another day.

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