#259: “I’m in love with someone who treats me badly.”

Darth Vader holding out a Shiner Bock, source: Hungry In Houston
Do not date this man, even if he offers you your favorite beer. Source: Hungry in Houston.

Hi Captain,

I’m in a sucky situation. I’m in love with one of my friends and he doesn’t treat me very well – even as a friend.
I started seeing him very shortly after the end of a very long, serious relationship. I said “this has to be casual, don’t ask me what we are or where this is going, OK?” and he didn’t. Some time went by, we were seeing each other a lot, sleeping together, hanging out at his house – it was great. And then I found my feelings for him were actually pretty strong.
He realised this (partly due to a drunken confession) and got a bit weird, saying he wasn’t sure how he felt. I left the conversation there. Then I had surgery and while I was in hospital, I sent him an email asking if we could carry on casually for now, then have a think when he goes away for 3 months in the summer, then if we both still wanted it, start a proper thing. He didn’t reply. 
I raised it with him next time I saw him in person. He said he agreed with what I said in the email and “if that timescale works for you” then it was cool, but I noticed he was being reserved and asked him about it. He said “Hanging out with you is like hanging out with a really good friend”. I was crushed. I said “What about all the sex, then?” and he said “…a sexy friend”. 
The temperature in the room dropped about a hundred degrees and I went to get dressed and leave his house. I said we should stop seeing each other the way we had been, and just be friends. He said he really wanted to be friends and he hoped we could be.
Since then, I’m struggling. I love him. He never texts me first, he doesn’t invite me anywhere, and the only time I was supposed to see him (at a gathering with friends) he didn’t go. So I’m missing him like crazy and having to bite my tongue not to contact him all the time. In fact, I deleted his number so I couldn’t. He hasn’t contacted me, so we haven’t spoken.
I know he treats me badly, but he has some autism-spectrum social problems and I’m not sure how much of it is just that. He’s well known for being hopeless at communicating and he’s never asked a girl out (they always have to ask him).
So what do I do here? I love him, I want to be with him, but failing that I’d at least like to go back to hanging out and maybe boning. I want whatever I can get from him, really. 
Please help me, I’m going mad thinking about him all the time.



Dear Infatuated:

First, read this.

Next, read this.

Third, let me answer your question here: “I know he treats me badly, but he has some autism-spectrum social problems and I’m not sure how much of it is just that.”

That sentence right there is why I discourage internet diagnoses. Diagnosis: May be somewhere on the autism spectrum. Behavior: Treats you like crap. You can’t fix or treat the diagnosis, so treat the behavior and perform a “Guy Who Treats You Like Crap”-ectomy. Seek out things you love doing and people who make you feel awesome and surround yourself with goodness while you recover from your Dark Side addiction.

Or, keep chasing/fucking him and feeling miserable until you are ready to stop. But know that this one doesn’t get better. It doesn’t turn into love. He doesn’t wake up and realize what a mistake he’s made. It’s just you, chasing him down, never getting his full attention or a kind word or even reliably good sex from someone who cares about you the way you care about him.

I’m taking your word for his badness. It seems that you were the one who wanted to keep things casual and got mad when he kept them casual…REAL casual. People who like you will act like they like you. He’s not acting like he likes you. Therefore, he doesn’t like you all that much. But maybe he’s not a jerk….maybe he just took you at your word and now that he doesn’t feel the same way, he’s keeping his distance. Real asshole behavior would be him reaching out from time to time just to keep you hooked so he could get laid whenever he wanted to and then doing a disappearing act. He skipped straight to “disappear.”

I don’t know what you thought I would tell you. There is no magic script for reforming bad boyfriends into good boyfriends or even good fuckbuddies. They pretty much keep sucking until you get rid of them and they go on to suck all the air out of someone else’s room.

I know you feel crazy and addicted right now, but you already took a great step by deleting his number. Time WILL heal the rest, if you stop exposing yourself to him and giving him the ability to reject and hurt you. I swear it gets better and in your future there is a someone who will treat you like you deserve to be treated.

39 thoughts on “#259: “I’m in love with someone who treats me badly.”

  1. OK, LW. I will say that you are right to cease all contact and that with time, you will get over this. It sucks, I know, and I’m sorry. I hope things get better soon.

    At the risk of pissing some people off, I also want to point out that your former FWB wasn’t being awful to you, he was being awkward as hell. That’s not his fault and it doesn’t mean he’s treating you badly. He didn’t use his words, he didn’t tell you that it would be best to leave things alone, which is not the most mature thing, but it’s not evil. He probably didn’t text you or invite you out because he felt strange about the whole situation and weird about you liking him in ways he didn’t like you. He doesn’t owe you an appearance at a friend’s party that you thought he’d be at, he doesn’t owe you initial texts, he really doesn’t owe you anything. He hoped you could be friends, but he also knew that you felt like shit that he didn’t feel the same way as you did. Texting you and inviting you out, etc. could have been construed as leading you on (I’ve been there, and it’s not fun).

    I don’t mean to be a bitch here, but I suspect the “he’s treating me badly” thing is a mask for your disappointment and hurt that he’s not as into you as you are him. I get it, I’ve been there, too! We all have! But it won’t help you to make this about him treating you badly. It’s okay to be disappointed and hurt and sad that someone doesn’t feel the same way about you that you do them. But that doesn’t make them jerks. That makes them someone you should stay away from for awhile until you’re over it and have moved on.

    1. You didn’t piss me off, for sure! Behavior (like never texting, calling, avoiding) IS an answer in itself, and the answer in this case is “don’t want to see/call/talk to you.” Which is something he gets to decide, even if he did put his penis in the LW (casually) in the past. Would a grown-up conversation be better? Sure. But it’s not like the guy is being confusing or unclear. He’s being pretty consistent, actually.

    2. I saw it the same way: I went back and read the letter a second time, looking for where he’d treated her badly other than not returning her desire to take the relationship further and acting accordingly. I didn’t find it.

      They had a casual friends with sex kind of relationship, and it worked for both of them for a while. LW realized she wanted more, and under the influence of alcohol let the cat out of the bag about that. He didn’t want the more, and cats don’t go back in the bag when it comes to stuff like that: once it had been said, he would always be uncomfortably aware that she wanted more, and either feel like a jerk for continuing the friend-and-sex-part when he was never going to give her the more and/or feel constant pressure on some level to give her that more. So he bowed out.

      True, he was not articulate and kind about the breakup, he just abruptly wandered off into the sunset, but substantively he was doing the right thing — and in the long run an abrupt end is actually kinder than continuing to take what he could get and letting her think (even by default) that there was some hope she could get what she wanted with him.

      The issue, LW, is not so much that you want someone who is unkind to you, but that you want more from someone than he is willing to give. The good news about that is that the first is unhealthy, and might bode ill for your next relationship if it means you have an attraction to men who treat women badly — the second is just unfortunate.

      It’s the way of the world that two people can both be great and appreciate the great things about each other without feeling that “oh my god I want to be with you forever” thing… because that is elusive and mysterious and neither party can make it be there when it’s not. Try to be glad (I know it’s hard) that he was there for you when you needed the friends-and-sex teddy bear after your long, serious relationship ended, and that he set you free when you were feeling like you were ready for a deeper connection than you were ever going to get from him. Not because I think it is important to think of well of him in all of this, but because it’s better than feeling victimized and ill used, which are not empowering feelings.

    3. Yeah, I read it this way, too. I kept going back to try to find the part where he treated the LW badly. It read to me like he basically took the LW at her word that she wanted it casual, and that pissed her off.

      1. 3rd this! From what is written it doesn’t seem like he is treating the LW badly. He’s not using his words (frustrating) but his behaviour is a pretty loud and clear indication that the proposition of intensifying the relationship is not something that he is into. Not to be harsh on the LW but someone not giving you want you want doesn’t make their behaviour bad, it just means they don’t want the same thing that you do, which hurts but doesn’t make them an asshole.

        I’ve been on the other side of this in a super casual flatmates-who-occasionally-have-sex scenario. Both he and I agreed to have the aforementioned set-up, which worked out well until he started developing stronger feelings. I made it clear that I didn’t want more than our previously agreed upon casual thing (I did however use my words for this). I didn’t treat him badly, I just didn’t give him what he wanted, which sucked for him but there’s not much I could do about it other than get into a relationship I absolutely didn’t want.

  2. “There is no magic script for reforming bad boyfriends into good boyfriends or even good fuckbuddies. They pretty much keep sucking until you get rid of them and they go on to suck all the air out of someone else’s room.”

    ^^^This, basically, forever.

    On a personal level, this is one of the life lessons I’m still trying to figure out, why I am, as so many self-help books proclaim, attracted to unavailable people. (I can tell you why I am, logically, but struggle when it comes to identifying with and feeling my feelings.) But I will say that those of us who find ourselves attracted to, in love with, and unable to quit people who clearly aren’t able to have a good relationship for *whatever* reason often have a lot of work to do ourselves to make ourselves ready for a good, mutual relationship. Oftentimes, all this time and energy trying to figure out the person who won’t have us is a defense mechanism we have for avoiding our own issues, which are complicated and deep-seated, and which we roundly avoid by sticking to the intellectualization of feelings instead of just reading and feeling them.

    If I could rewind the last ten years of my life, I’d top focusing on why he does what he does, and concentrate on why I can’t stop trying to figure him (them, everyone) out, and then making excuses, and then concluding it’s my fault, and then I would have had the time and brainspace to do whatever it took to heal myself before diving head-first into a series of bad relationships (or friendships or more crappy, I-hate-my-life jobs).

    If none of this fits for you, read this as me prattling on about my own problems. But I will say, as someone who chased other people who weren’t interested in my and my attention long after the snakes and landmines and red flags were so populous I stopped seeing them, if I knew then what I know now, I would have taken off running in the other direction right into the arms of a good therapist.

    1. Good for you! I think a lot of us analytical, fixer-upper-type people end up in relationships like this, where we think if we just untie enough knots everything will work out ok. No! Run away!

    1. Thanks! I really don’t have time to deal with it, so go ahead and nominate someone else if you have an open slot.

  3. LW, I married him. He was, I dunno, relatively nice to me on our wedding day, I guess. We had a fun honeymoon. Two weeks later he said, “I love you, but I don’t really like you.” Right around our first anniversary, he said, “Most of what I feel for you is an obligation.”

    Toward the end of our marriage, he suggested repeatedly that his life would be much easier if instead of divorce, I would kill myself so he could have the insurance money.

    And all this from a man who said, when I did not orgasm THE SECOND TIME WE HAD SEX, “It’s not my responsibility to *service* you.”

    So … leaving aside my own monumental boneheadedness in putting up with that shit for 9 years, what I took from that was: if they treat you badly at the beginning, the trend is set.

    Wouldn’t it be lovely to spend time with someone who thinks you hung the moon in the sky?

    1. Oh…oh Virginia, can I just tell you what an incredibly STRONG AND AMAZING PERSON you are for surviving that kind of shit? You rock my socks. For the serious.

    2. I HATE that guy. Let’s build a TARDIS and administer retroactive pre-emptive ballkicking justice.

      1. I hate that guy too and have steel toed boots ready for said ballkicking justice!

    3. Oh my goodness! That guy is the WORST. I am really really glad you are free of him now! Also, I know this isn’t very charitable, but I kind of hope he ends up with someone even more terrible than he is.

          1. I work at a law firm that does a lot of divorces, and sometimes I amuse myself by imagining setting up all of my least-favorite clients or opponents. (Occasionally I also wish we could introduce awesome clients or opponents to each other, but terrible people seem to be terrible in similar ways, and awesome people are often pretty different.)

    4. Oh man! I am wiping away tears of laughter. You beautiful people! With the time-traveling and the cockpunching!

      I rebuilt myself from that – better, faster, stronger, as the saying goes – and I couldn’t be the me I am now without it.

      But oh, you guys. It is good to feel the Ferocious Sisters of Justice on one’s side. Jedi hugs all around!

  4. LW, based on your letter and Captain Awkward’s advice, I think Sheezlebub is spot-on. It sucks when people don’t like you the same way you like them. It sucks even worse when they don’t say it to your face, but you can feel it, but EVEN THEN you have this hope. You also think, “This feels like a trick. I hate feelings. Is there something wrong with me? No, I’m too smart for that kind of self-denigration. There must be something wrong with him!” And let’s be honest. Maybe there is. There’s a lot of things messy about all of us. But it would do you well not to think of that. Instead, think of this: you will be over him in a month.

    Maybe Captain Awkward won’t like me making such a proclamation, but I feel it do be true. You have not spoken since, and you won’t speak in that month. Instead, you will do more interesting things — like read Girls in Trucks by Katie Crouch or Letters to a Young Poet by Rilke. Or watch Snow White and the Huntsman, or Avengers (again), or Bridget Jones’s Diary, or Pixer’s the Brave. Or bake sugar cookies covered in stars, or meet up with an old friend, or go to a museum and see a painting that is definitely not the most beautiful or well-made, but the one you keep going back to in your head and take a picture of, but when you go home it’s not the same. You will make at least one new friend, even if it’s a minute long conversation when you’re drinking coffee at Barnes & Noble.

    Right now, your feelings on this situation feel insurmountable. But you know feelings — they are totally inconsistent. Tomorrow you will hate him. The day after you will feel your heart crumble because he will never know what a good thing he gave up. The day after you’ll wonder if getting a cat is a good idea, because even though it’s a lot of work, you keep having these great dreams about kittens and you want one, dammit.

    Finally I leave you with this quote that really summed it up for me:

    “It hurts to let go. Sometimes it seems the harder you try to hold on to something or someone the more it wants to get away. You feel like some kind of criminal for having felt, for having wanted. For having wanted to be wanted. It confuses you, because you think that your feelings were wrong and it makes you feel so small because it’s so hard to keep it inside when you let it out and it doesn’t coma back. You’re left so alone that you can’t explain. Damn, there’s nothing like that, is there? I’ve been there and you have too. You’re nodding your head.” – Henry Rollins

  5. Hey, LW, I don’t know if this helps, but I think have been in the position of the boy here. I had a really good friend in HS who was a cute boy who worked in a record store. When we met, he lived in a different town and neither of us had drivers’ licenses, so we talked on the phone for hours, several times a week. Then, when I was in college, he came to visit me right after someone had broken up with me and we hooked up.

    I had always thought that he and I would’ve been a great couple, but the night we hooked up, I just wasn’t feeling it. Maybe it was because I’d just been dumped or I had my period or maybe the chemistry just wasn’t right. It wasn’t his fault, it was my fault and I felt SOOOO guilty. During the course of the hookup, he confessed that he’d always had feelings for me, and I had always had feelings for him too, and I told him that. Yet, as the dust settled and weeks turned into months, I realized that without the chemistry, this was going to be a no-go.

    I hate to say it, but I didn’t contact him for a long time after that. I flaked on our plans and didn’t return his calls. I know this was a shitty way to behave, but I needed time and space to figure out how I felt. I wanted it to work so badly!!! I liked him so much as a person!!! I felt like such an ass for leading him on!!! But every time I thought about him, I felt guilty and miserable, and like I had destroyed our friendship.

    So your friend may be avoiding you because he feels guilty as hell, and likes you as a friend but not in That Way. Or he may be a Darth Vader. I know this is hard, but either way, it doesn’t matter. Try to focus on what YOU need right now – which is to mend your feelings and heal – away from him.

  6. You guys agreed to be friends, right? Because looking at your situation through a “we’re just friends” filter, it seems like you have a friend who never initiates communication/hanging out. I have friends like that! I like them. I have to to the heavy lifting when it comes to initiating contact, but it really doesn’t bug me. I am probably that friend to some other people. They seem fine with it. I have friends that I would probably hang out with more, but neither of us is very good about doing the initiating and we see each other at group events and have a good time with no hurt feelings. Its completely fine if you want all your friends to be the type that periodically initiate contact, but that isn’t the only friendship model out there.

    It it possible for you to treat this as a “We’ll hang out at group events with no hard feelings” friendship? I get why it might not be possible, but I think that this guy is making it clear through his lack of contact that he isn’t interested in more than that. Which doesn’t make him a bad person, just an incompatible person for you.

    Being in love with someone who doesn’t love you is really hard. ESPECIALLY when that person isn’t behaving especially badly. I hop your heart heals soon.

  7. Having been in a similar situation (addicted to someone who’s not really interested but agreed to a casual ‘thing’ at one point), I have to say isolation from the person is the best policy, combined with keeping busy. Deleting the dude’s number is an excellent first step. Step 2 is doing more social things so you’re not alone all the time in your home trying to avoid looking at your phone. Meeting new people is good too, not necessarily for romance, but just to show you that there’s a lot of interesting folks for you to spend time with.

  8. I want whatever I can get from him, really.


    Oh, LW! I really feel for you. Like others, I’ve been there, when a 2-year relationship got downgraded to long-distance friends, and then, once we lived in the same city again, turned into FWB for a few months, until everything finally fell apart rather spectacularly. This person truly was one of the closest friends I’ve ever had, and we truly did (do) care about each other, but we TRULY were not meant to continue our romantic relationship. He had a history of depression and anxiety, and by now has been diagnosed with/started getting treatment for a mood disorder that had been rearing its head more and more dramatically over the last 9 months or so we were together – all of which I tried to convince myself was the root cause of his not being a great partner for me. In truth, none of those things were the real reason, they just offered me a convenient lie to tell myself.

    Most of those FWB months were me still being in love with and having sex with someone who wasn’t really in love with me anymore – hoping that he’d come back around once he found a treatment routine that worked for him, even though I had explicitly agreed that we were just friends with occasional sexytimes and that that was fine with me. Like you, I wanted whatever I could get from him, thinking a little bit was better than nothing at all. I did not use my words, just clung on and hoped for the best, and it drew out the pain of the breakup unnecessarily. It is hard, LW. It is hard, and it hurts so much to keep hoping and hoping for a relationship like that to work out. It wears down the soul, I think. You lose something of yourself when you settle for so much less than what you truly want. In cases like this, nothing is infinitely better than a little bit, because that little bit is really just the wedge that keeps the wound open indefinitely. You’re sacrificing your present happiness for a hypothetical future happiness that is unlikely to manifest itself. Stop doing that! You deserve to be happy right now, as soon as possible!

    I know “It stops hurting so much eventually!” is sort of cliched and cold comfort in any case, but it really is true! I wanted to offer my story up here with the other commenters’ as another bit of support. You can do what I did and hang on until he finally does something so wretched (yes, even if the wretchedness is a result of an illness he may not have control over) that you really have no choice to walk away – but I don’t recommend it. I’ve now gone cold turkey from the person in question, and while I do hope that we can salvage the friendship at some point in the future, my biggest priority was getting myself out of a situation that made me really unhappy. Your letter makes it sound like you already kinda know that that’s what you’ve gotta do, so here are some cheerleaders to support you!: *\o/* *\o/*

  9. I have two very dear friends who were once together for about nine months. Let’s call them Q and P. Q saw their relationship as something with stages progressing toward Commitment, while P was more, “hey, let’s be dating right now and not worry about The Future.” Of course they didn’t really use their words about these things. And then P broke off the relationship because zie wasn’t really feeling it anymore, you know? And Q wanted to stay friends, because zie wasn’t ready for things to be over and quite honestly still had feelings for P. Still with me?

    P tried. Zie really, really tried, because P did care for Q, just not in that way, and also is a good person. Unfortunately, Q wasn’t really able to be friends and was still wearing zer heart on zie’s sleeve, and this made things awkward for P. Especially if P wanted to check out someone else while they were hanging out and Q was SO JEALOUS but smiling grimly and pretending everything was cool and no it’s fine! We’re friends!

    P realized that Q was not really able to be a friend right now, because the wounds were still fresh, so friend-broke up with Q, which caused Q to protest, and then call zie’s other friends and go out and drink too much and cry a lot and rage a lot and then, one day, Q had a crush on someone new and realized it wasn’t so raw anymore. So it will be ok. I promise.

    It would be nice if your friend was as thoughtful as mine was to zer ex, but the captain is right that people who want to be around you will act accordingly. I think maybe it’s time to have a talk with yourself. Even though you were never Together, your friend is still kind of like an ex, you know? And once you’ve let the feelings out of the feelings drawer, you can’t really stuff them back in. It’s not going to be the same. My advice would be to tell your friend you have some stuff to work through and you want to friend-cool it for now (even though he’s kind of freezing YOU out, this gives you some power because it makes it your idea) and then work through your stuff. Or put it out of your head for a while. Hang out with other people, don’t think about him more than you have to, and one day you’ll either realize you are over it and want to reconcile, or that you’re not interested in doing so.

  10. LW, I dated this dude for three years. I think about the length of time we’ve now been not-together in the same way I think about how long I’ve been not-drinking-so-damn-much. It took three years of me twisting myself in knots trying to make my feelings smaller and smaller so they’d be manageable for him, of having conversations about what I wanted and needed that he responded monosyllabically to, of him cheating on me in our open relationship, to realize that I could not change him, could not make him love me in the same way I wanted to be loved.

    It’s hard to deal with this. I just….got fed up. I couldn’t take it anymore. I want better for you. I now realize that you not only have to love/like someone overwhelmingly – you have to FEEL loved/liked overwhelmingly for something like this to work. The difference between ‘he’s hopeless at communicating but we adore the shit out of each other’ and ‘he’s hopeless at communicating but I adore the shit out of him’ is YOUR HAPPINESS. If you’re deeply in love but never happy, it’s a sign.

    1. I’ve been dating/FWB-ing/quasi-dating(?) this guy for three and a half years. Katie, your words resonate so hard that if my brain were a crystal structure, it would have just blown up. Part of my hesitation to walk away has been that we’re both non-college-aged people in a college town, though honestly even if there are better people for me out there I’m too fixated on him to notice. It doesn’t help either that we’re part of the same small community organization, so to sever ties would potentially make things awkward there.

      I feel like I’m slowly realizing just how unhappy I am in this relationship, but I know that to bring it up to him — even in the context of “hey, can we fix this?” — would garner monosyllabic non-responsiveness from him, and I’m just not ready to have it confirmed just how ambivalent about me this person I care so much about is. Thanks for putting in to words so perfectly what I’m feeling, and thanks to the Captain for such excellent advice as well! Maybe one day soon I’ll actually follow it.

      1. I would love a whole thread devoted to the dating/FWB/quasi-dating scenario. I mean, I’ve been Awkwarding for about six months now – the entire duration of my WTF-are-we-anyway relationship and I knew knew knew all along that it wasn’t what I wanted. But, like the LW…anything seemed better than nothing, I was so *into* him. And then SaneMe would look at ObsessedMe and feel enormous compassion and just want me to rescue myself from the situation – as did the vast majority of my friends. But rescuing never happened, despite my best intentions and half-hearted attempts at Using Words (because, at base, I didn’t mean those words).
        Thing is…he wasn’t and isn’t a bad guy. I signed on. We created it between us. There was no deception and his intentions were pretty clear all the way through. I just can’t assign blame (not to him, and not to me….I just felt a lot).
        I had thought that I needed to figure out What Was Wrong With Me to get to the saving. Until, one day, I realised …no, I didn’t. I didn’t need to know, to rationalize, to explain. I just needed to permit myself to leave, do the grieving and get to realising that I love me more than I loved us. But that shift didn’t happen from me willing it to happen. It just, somehow, let me go.
        And it seems to be sticking. So, yay!


          And I know that stuff’s going to keep being hard for at least a bit, so I send you Jedi hugs and all the awesome good-feels that I have laying about. Good luck!

        2. You are smart as hell, and that is a great description of the whole dynamic.

  11. Everyone else has covered much of what I wanted to say, but I do have one thing to add re: diagnoses excusing people’s bad behavior. It’s good to be compassionate and to try and be understanding of other people’s shortcomings, LW, and that speaks to a fundamental decency in you. Being compassionate and understanding, however, doesn’t have to mean putting up with other people’s crap all the time. Someone else’s diagnosis does not have to negate your boundaries and expectations of fair and compassionate treatment from the people you choose to let into your life.

    As a general rule of thumb, I’ll make whatever *reasonable* accommodations for someone else’s diagnosis that they ask me to make. No guessing at their issues, no guessing what would help, no blanket allowances for inappropriate, hurtful, or generally fucked up behavior. Someone who has whatever their challenges may be under sufficient control to be in a relationship should be able to articulate what they need from me.

  12. I think the Captain could probably sum this up better than I can – and probably has done – but would like to point out that whilst some people do have learning difficulties, mental disorders etc. that do act as a social hindrance and need dealing with, it’s not your job to deal with them, or to tolerate their poor behaviour. I think it’s come up before that a good response to someone’s attempt to use ‘but it’s because I have X disorder’ is to recommend they see a trained therapist or life coach, and you’re still entitled to correct them.
    As an Asperger’s person myself, I’d prefer to have my behavioural mistakes pointed out to me so I can apologise and try to correct them, rather than protesting ‘but-but-but Asperger’s…!’

Comments are closed.