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#271: Is my relationship over or am I just being a “selfish bitch”?

flying cars in the future city

I can’t guarantee flying cars, but I predict a day in your future where you shrug off this present unhappiness and feel as if you could fly.

Hello, Awkwardtown, I’m back from my weekend in Carmi, IL and I’m baking this right now. Shall we blog?

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’ve been with my partner for almost eight years now, and engaged for six of them. We’re talking about getting a house together, but it’s making me realize I’m not sure I want to live with him in ten years.

He has a sucky life. We moved to LA to see if his music would take off, and now that he’s getting older it’s getting more obvious it won’t. He doesn’t make much, he’s in debt, and has a job he hates.

But he’s started acting like an asshole. He’s always been a tease, but it comes with a bit of an edge now. He’s admitted he likes getting a rise out of me. It’s usually me doing the little gestures (getting a soda from the kitchen, finding a stray hat) and not him. I’m pretty sure I’m doing most of the housework, even though he disagrees. And he’s started complaining that I’m no good in bed, that I don’t take care of myself.

I’m trying to be supportive, but I’m getting frustrated. He says I’ve started treating him like a burden. That I rub the fact that I make more money in his face. I honestly don’t mean to. But I feel like all the sacrifices for the relationship, big and little, are coming from me with no sympathy in return.

I guess he’s right. If it does come down to just teasing, chores, and snack food, I’m being pretty selfish. And I don’t really get to count “making more money” as a sacrifice.

Am I just a self-centered bitch?

If by “selfish bitch” you mean “a woman on her way out of a relationship that’s no longer making her happy because the other person has totally stopped trying or giving a shit about anything,” then yes! Welcome.

Marriage licenses in California cost $56.00, and you could have knocked that out at any time in the last six or eight years if you really wanted to. I’m sure you had many reasons for not doing it before now, and a lot of them were “Well, we’re just waiting until x future thing falls into place, and then we totally will!” And then that thing happened or didn’t happen and you still didn’t get hitched. Don’t worry about those reasons now. “Grindingly unhappy together in a million small ways” is a good reason. “I love you but I don’t see us having a happy life together” is a good reason. Nobody has to be the bad guy here, or to have done something terrible enough to justify blowing this thing up. I could recommend therapy for either or both of you, but honestly, save yourself the cash you’d spend on couples’ counseling to sort out your true feelings. “I secretly dread the thought of buying a house with you and living in it forever” sums up your true feelings beautifully. Go with that.

Honey, I want to try some different things in our sex life to make it work better for both of us” is a conversation many, many couples have and is totally survivable. Debt and the search for economic stability and fulfillment can be totally survivable if love and respect are there. But “Honey, you’re crummy in bed and I don’t like how you look anymore” and other ways to “get a rise” out of you demonstrate contempt. Contempt & derision in a romantic relationship are not survivable. I don’t see there being some kind of magic conversation that fixes a total loss of both attraction and respect. It’s not enough to love each other and have a shared history – you have to like each other and treat each other with basic affection and consideration!

If you do break up, the next six months or so are going to SUCK. You will second guess your decision a lot of times, and you’ll feel guilty sometimes, and he may try to cling onto you at the end like a drowning man.

It gets better. The weight of worrying if you’re doing the right thing, the guilt at maybe deserting someone when he’s in a bad place, and the 1,000 tiny ways he makes you feel unloved and shitty will all fall away as you kick yourself free. I predict that your future without him will be an adventure, and your biggest question a year from now will be “Why did I stay so long?”

Or you could just stay together. Don’t let me tell you what to do.

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101 comments
  1. RodeoBob said:

    Am I just a self-centered bitch?

    Let’s see….

    We moved to LA to see if his music would take off,

    That doesn’t sound selfish…

    …he’s started complaining…

    OK, that doesn’t sound like the LW is being selfish…

    He says I’ve started treating him like a burden.

    …which would be selfish, if the LW had actually been the one to say it. But the LW didn’t say it, she said someone else said it, which makes me think she doesn’t actually (openly) feel that way.

    It’s usually me doing the little gestures (getting a soda from the kitchen, finding a stray hat) and not him. I’m pretty sure I’m doing most of the housework,

    So you are doing little gestures, and you’re still doing some of the housework.

    Not really seeing the “bitch” stuff here. Not seeing “selfish” at all, at least not in the negative way.

    DTMFA.

    Actually, if you’ve been together that long, I’d suggest separating your finances as much as possible (assuming any have merged) and start saving as much as you can. Yes, breaking up sucks, and breaking up after that many years is exceptionally tough, but I’ve found many of the non-emotional challenges of a breakup are helped considerably by a large pile of money.

    • JenniferP said:

      Really good call on the money, Bob. Solid.

    • FemmeForever said:

      I LOVE this comment so hard. LOL!

    • Sheelzebub said:

      +1. ELEVENTY.

    • Britt said:

      I would make sweet sweet non-marital love to this comment if that were a possibility.

  2. TY said:

    “If you do break up, the next six months or so are going to SUCK.”

    Not necessarily. I mean, maybe, but I found that when I finally ended the long term relationship that wasn’t making me happy anymore, it was a relief rather than a burden (and I had to make several failed attempts before I succeeded). It sucked to hear through the grapevine that my ex wasn’t doing well and that would upset me, but there was nothing I could do about it. I didn’t realize just how many things were not working until I was out, and I have really never regretted the break-up.

    Granted, I suspect I had less invested than the LW. My point is, sometimes it takes very little time and distance to get the perspective to realize that you made the right call to call it off.

    • catyshark said:

      Me too. It was one of those relationships where the breaking up happened in the relationship and by the time it was finally over (eight years…two of which were definitely on the breakup train) it was just a relief. Still a whole bunch of rigmarole over splitting up stuff (house, cars, pets) but that was just administrative headaches for me. The big emotional…that never came. But the relationship itself housed a whole lot of the big emotional. Not that my situation is the LWs…but it’s possible for it to be more headache than heartache.

  3. General Expression said:

    I anticipate nobody here is going to think you’re a self-centered bitch. BUT…I also think you need to reframe the question. Namely – who cares? The question is, are you happy? And if you are not, leave. You are allowed to give your own preferences a lot of weight here! Like, maybe, 100% of the weight?

    Also, I know a lot of happy couples, and none of them actively try to piss each other off. “Getting a rise out of” is a synonym for “irritating or making you angry.” That is just not decent behavior from a partner, ever. It is never funny and always unacceptable.

    • minuteye said:

      Seconded. Selfish is not always a bad thing; sometimes prioritizing your own needs over the needs of others is exactly what you have to do to keep yourself safe and happy.

    • Piemouth said:

      Thirded. Telling someone they’re selfish is a great way to control them. Telling yourself your selfish is playing those tapes other people have installed. It’s okay to be selfish if it means taking care of your own happiness.

      • Yan said:

        Quadded.

        You have to be selfish where “selfish” is defined as “taking care of yourself.” No one else is going to do it if you don’t. Well, someone might, but don’t count on it.

        LW, just in tone, you sound done. And looking for someone to tell you it’s okay if you are. Pardon if I’m reading in too much but:

        It is okay to be done. It doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t make him a bad person. It makes you done.

  4. Esti said:

    Oh, hun. Ask yourself this: if this were a new relationship, would it be the kind of relationship you wanted to stay in?

    Your letter is just covered in resignation of the “well, we’ve been together eight years so unless there’s some ironclad reason to get out I guess it’s too late to be thinking I don’t want to be in this relationship” type. But it is not too late. It is never too late to stop being in a relationship that is making you unhappy. And as the Captain says, “I’m not happy” is the only reason you need.

    • Caito said:

      “…if this were a new relationship, would it be the kind of relationship you wanted to stay in?”

      THIS. People don’t change as much as we learn new things about them. For example, a friend of mine only recently found out her boyfriend of a year believes [Factually Incorrect Religious Belief]. If she learned it at the start, she wouldn’t still be dating him, but because she’s been dating him for more than a year, there’s that fallacy of sunk cost creepin’ in.

      Your past counts for something, but your future counts for more.

      • maggie said:

        SUNK COST zomg for real! I spent 7 years with my dude, and actually saying “I don’t want this anymore” was freakin’ difficult. And then I never regretted it in the slightest. I think it’s often that first step that’s the worst.

        • Caito said:

          Yeah. There’s this dread-like feeling that, since you’ve put so much effort into a relationship, ending that relationship means you wasted all that effort. That simply isn’t true. If it made you happy at one time, then it wasn’t a waste. If it doesn’t make you happy anymore and you’re throwing more time and effort into it, then THAT is a waste.

          • NessieMonster said:

            Oh lord, SO TRUE! Just because it’s not right now, doesn’t mean it was a waste of time, nor does it mean that all the good stuff back then is no longer good. It’s a hard thing to remember, especially when you’re trying to make the case to yourself about why you should go (it’s somewhat easier to leave if you can convince yourself they are the evil baddy and were never worth being with in the first place). :-s

          • xenu01 said:

            Oh my, yes. Coupled with a healthy dose of “I’m old and gross and no one will ever love me again,” leads way too many people to head by default to Team Work It Out instead of Team DTMFA.

          • Yessity yes yes eleventy times this yes. So many years of my life are filed under “why did I stay so long?” Every minute I regained back of my life is worth all the more. DTMFA. And best of luck with the administrative process.

  5. Lucia Mora said:

    Oh, good lord. This hits so close to home. These words are going to be fierce, and that is because I am angry like a mama wolf on your behalf, and so I am not going to mince words, here.

    You need to leave.

    “And he’s started complaining that I’m no good in bed, that I don’t take care of myself.”

    Even if there were two sides to everything else, which it SO does not sound like there are, you need to get out of there NOW on the basis of this alone.

    Only a selfish asshole would say that.

    I’m not saying that having problems with sexual activities or performance or desirability makes one an asshole, absolutely not, everyone has to deal with some of this in their sex-type relationships if they last long enough . . . but to say it in a nasty way like that, to have unreasonable expectations about someone’s physical appearance which you then use to criticise them and turn it into a thing where they’re obviously being fat or hairy or not-made-up AT you, like, because they don’t LOVE you? Just . . . NO. BARRELS of fuck no. FATHOMS of no fucks. That is not okay. That is not something a good partner says to you.

    ‘Not taking care of yourself’ CAN be framed as a source of concern for someone who might be in a bad place and therefore neglecting themselves. Like my dear friend who is on Team Me might say to me, ‘You are clearly in a bad place because you are wearing the same shirt I saw you in three days ago and you look like something scraped off the bottom of someone’s shoe. Also, I think you have not brushed your hair since last month sometime. Honey, we need to talk about where you’re at, ’cause I’m worried ’bout you.’

    There’s another way of using it, and it is almost ALWAYS code for “You are too fat and/or insufficiently groomed and made-up for me. I cannot live with a real human being, or adjust to how real human beings change. It’s too gross. Also, I am a huge fuckin’ asshole and cannot think of a way to communicate with you about this issue that does not involve waving that fact in your face like a big red asshole cape in front of a bull. And then, when you get mad at me for being an asshole emotional matador in a sparkly fuck you outfit, I will act like YOU are the one out of line. “Heads I’m right, tails you are a crazy bitch.” You lose either way.

    See the difference between those two? See how the first one emanates from a place of concern and love and mutual trust and while it involves vulnerability it does not involve censure or punishment, and the other comes from a place of selfishness, denigration, and amazing assholery?

    Normally I am NOT AT ALL for putting words in someone’s mouth, normally I am all for reason and sense and working things out and trying to build. Because I am a fearful person. I fear change, I fear risk, I fear running. But this . . . I have seen this way, way too often. I have lived parts of it way too long. Run. You, darling, are in a big, ugly forest, and something wants to eat the rest of your life, just selfishly gobble it up, and you are in pain because you are scared of what wants to eat you, and you know you should be scared, but running is fucking scary, too, and maybe you should just stay hunkered where you are and it will go on by.

    It won’t go by. It will find you. RUN.

    And the rubbing the money thing in his face thing? I am 99.999% sure that you are not doing that. I am 99.999 percent sure that this is his own insecurity screaming at him like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir if it were composed entirely of banshees, and him not fucking dealing with that in a rational and conscious and civilized way, and then projecting that on to you because he cannot deal. I have done this myself, I have lived with a person who did this all the time, it is SO COMMON. And it is not okay.

    You do not have to accept his side of the story here, or try to see things from his point of view, or accept his guilt-tripping and passive-aggressive bullshit. You do not have to pity him for not being able to deal, or help him, or stick around and hope he will change, or wait until things are good again before you leave because leaving someone during a hard time is supposedly totally a shitty thing to do, even if it is often necessary for the survival of our innermost selves. You don’t have to wait for a better time to make the decision. You can make it today.

    You can make it right now.

    There is a door inside you labeled “THE WAY OUT,” and through that door is the possibility of a good life lived with someone who respects you, a life of integrity and partnership. You can decide to open that door right now. You can decide to go. And it will be a hard decision, it will be hard over and over again because it’s real and it must be lived every day, but it is worth it. It is so worth it.

    All you have to do with your life is what is best for you. Because if you do what HE thinks is best for HIM, you are living your life for someone else, and that person *does not respect you*. He resents you, he teases you, he resents you some more, he tears you down where you should be strong by telling you that you are not good enough, that he does not trust you. And in what world is that okay? In what world is that fair? HIS. Not yours. Not the one you want to be in a year from now. Or five. Or ten.

    Yeah, you’re making all the sacrifices. Do you want to sacrifice your self to this guy? Is he worth that?

    If you aren’t a selfish bitch, you need to FIND your inner selfish bitch, give her the keys, and let her be the one to hit the gas and give him the finger as you speed the fuck away. You need her. She is your best friend right now. Let her in and let her help you pack your shit up and GTFO.

    Run. Be a bitch. Be *free*.

    • Sheelzebub said:

      ***WILD APPLAUSE***

    • Clio said:

      like a big red asshole cape in front of a bull.

      Ehehehehe. Bless you.

    • PomperaFirpa said:

      Also, I am a huge fuckin’ asshole and cannot think of a way to communicate with you about this issue that does not involve waving that fact in your face like a big red asshole cape in front of a bull. And then, when you get mad at me for being an asshole emotional matador in a sparkly fuck you outfit, I will act like YOU are the one out of line. “Heads I’m right, tails you are a crazy bitch.” You lose either way.

      –and–

      And the rubbing the money thing in his face thing? I am 99.999% sure that you are not doing that. I am 99.999 percent sure that this is his own insecurity screaming at him like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir if it were composed entirely of banshees, and him not fucking dealing with that in a rational and conscious and civilized way, and then projecting that on to you because he cannot deal.

      There are NO WORDS for how I love these two bits, with their straight-up badass imagery combined with badass straightforward knowledge of how people work. You are SO AWESOME.

      • karinacinerina said:

        Someone please promote Lucia Mora to some military moniker in the Awkward Army STAT!
        +11

    • Best comment. Best ending. Best ever.

    • catyshark said:

      So so so true.

      And when you’re on the other side – at least when I found myself on the other side – I realised who I am, what I am, the incredible beauty and freedom that is what I am and now I know, for one hundred percent certain, that nothing and nobody can take it away from me.

      It was worth eight years of pain. But only because I found freedom on the other side.

      LW, please take this in an sit with it long and hard.
      Lucia Mora – you are amazing. Thank you for this.

    • Yan said:

      “You do not have to pity him for not being able to deal”

      THANKYOUSOVERYMUCH.

    • Britt said:

      This is everything I wanted to say only a million, squillion trimes better and sharper and wittier and while I may be having non-marital relations with a comment up thread, I will marry the fuck out of this comment right here.

    • Binjali said:

      GOOSEBUMPS. Thank you. I sincerely wish that I had known about this blog and read this exact comment in 2007 or so. It took me another two years to get out, and it took lying and running away and in general not acting in a very adult way at all, but I GOT OUT, and life immediately got better…and it’s been ramping up into more and more awesome ever since.

  6. LW, this seems pretty clear-cut, but something else stands out for me.

    I know the Captain edits for clarity, and you wrote in with a specific problem, not necessarily a feelingsdump that encapsulates your entire loving history. There are no extraneous details and that’s fine.

    However, there doesn’t seem to be any affection coming from your letter – or any anguish, either. There’s no “when he sneers at me, I feel a little piece of myself breaking off, because I used to love the curve of his smiling lips and now they just turn my stomach.” There’s no “Granted, our life looks like a grim rut from the outside, but when he sleeps he still looks like a sweet baby bird to me, so I can’t solve this problem with any clarity!” Or even “Honestly I want to stab him pretty hard in the gut about 70% of the time, but the other 30% is great and I only want to stab him lovingly in the lung!” Okay, you’re not required to be a romance-novel heroine moaning about breaking her heart, but it’s not like your tender feelings for him are clouding your clear-eyed assessment of your life, either. It sounds like it sucks, frankly.

    And, er, well, the tender feelings are kind of the point, in the end. You aren’t required to goop at each other after twenty years of marriage, but you should still love the bare patch at the back of his ear and gladly, willingly get him a soda when you get up. And he has to – HAS to – celebrate your success, do the dishes, admire your haircut and offer to buy you a pony at regular intervals. Otherwise there is literally no point. Just two people orbiting each other resentfully in an unloved house.

    Do yourself a favor and have a quick conversation with Future You – just check in with her, see how she’s doing and where she is now and how she got there, and maybe it’ll cheer you up a little. Best of luck!

    • JenniferP said:

      I don’t actually edit letters – I don’t have time. I either post as-is or, if it’s too long, send it back to the person and ask them to make it shorter.

      These two people have lost the magic for sure.

      • Oh okay! Sorry, I didn’t realize. I was under the impression that you did – I guess the LW is just pretty good at expressing herself. It seems like here she was basically just writing a letter to herself, and the answer was within the letter.

        • Caito said:

          I’ve gotten into the habit of composing letters to the Captain – sometimes typing them out, but usually dictating them to myself somewhere I’m alone, like in my car. I “edit” them (decide which details are extraneous, which are necessary for fair consideration) and then I usually come to find the answer for myself, long before I get to the part where I submit a letter to the Captain.

          And, if I do this exercise and CAN’T figure out the answer, I usually check her archives for a similar situation and read her response. And then I don’t have to submit my question because some nuggets of wisdom are multi-purpose.

          Basically I guess reading this blog has made be better at independent social problem-solving, especially when it comes to work and family.

          • JenniferP said:

            “reading this blog has made be better at independent social problem-solving”

            That’s my dearest hope in writing it, so thanks.

          • Long before I found the Captain, I did the exact same thing with letters of advice. Frankly, I think it kept me sane. (I suggest hanging on to the letters you’ve typed, and reading them later; they have a surprisingly powerful impact and give you great perspective.) If you’re the sort who likes to write stories or scripts, I think it’s a good thing to tap into as well.

            In fact, I started to make some letters up. I have this memory of driving down a dark highway, crying to myself because I couldn’t cope with some aspect of my life, and I started to compose a letter in my head as I drove. But it was so obvious that I had completely messed things up that I couldn’t even handle writing the letter, so I made up a different letter to write, from a fictional single woman who wanted to adopt a particular baby and was looking for advice about her mean family but really just wanted to know how on earth she was going to cope. Then I obviously had to answer her letter, because she was so terribly upset, and I knew that people like Dear Prudence would just blow her off in some single-shaming way that would make her feel even worse. Okay, it sounds odd, but there was something so soothing about coming up with her problem and then helping her to solve it that I was able to face my own mistakes with a lot more compassion for myself. And then I had to give her a happy ending. And then I was home.

          • Oh man! Me too! This, exactly. I was just talking to my best friend about this the other day. When I have a FEELINGSproblem I start to compose a letter to the Captain in my head, and in the process of clearly forming the question, I always find the answer.

          • delbelcoure said:

            “Basically I guess reading this blog has made be better at independent social problem-solving, especially when it comes to work and family.”
            Mee too! My answers are usually that I need to set some firmer boundaries, or I need to be a better listener and not a problem solver and occasionally that maybe I should find a therapist to learn how to avoid taking the bait in discussions that turn into arguments.

  7. Alice said:

    I think that if “acting like an asshole” is a phrase you use to describe your partner’s behavior towards you, then that’s a pretty good sign that things aren’t working for you anymore.

  8. Sheelzebub said:

    LW, you’re not happy in the relationship. That’s a good enough reason, as far as I’m concerned. However, let’s break it down so you’ll know you’re not actually a bitch:

    1) He enjoys getting a rise out of you, and it’s gotten nastier. Wow, no. There are people like that in my family and let’s just say we’re not close (button pushers love to dish it out but not take it). It’s exhausting to be with someone who does that, like you cannot relax and you’re always on the defensive. Someone who takes pleasure in upsetting you is an asshole. He can’t even claim stress on this one–he’s always pulled this shit.

    2) He says you’re crummy in bed. Well, that’s a line sure to make you swoon and stay! I mean, look, if he’s not satisfied or wants to do things differently, he can approach you the way the Captain said but he isn’t. He’s putting you down–he’s not expressing dissastisfaction with concrete examples (“babe, when do X during sexytime I feel Y”). This looks more to me like it’s part of the continuum of putting you down.

    3) He complains that you don’t take care of yourself. Um, yeah okay. Let’s put it this way–if you’ve stopped doing the things that maintain your appearance, it’s likely because you don’t want to be with this guy (see 1 & 2) and are pushing him away. If you’re not, he’s acting like a jerk and it’s a continuum of putting you down. (See 1 & 2).

    4) You’ve been very supportive of him as he’s tried to get his career off the ground. I mean, I’m pretty sure the move to LA was for him? He’s been an asshole to you.

    It’s okay to leave a relationship you are not happy in. It doesn’t make you a selfish bitch. Staying in a relationship you’re miserable in will make you deeply unhappy and will kill your soul.

    I get it, he’s depressed and angry, but it sounds like from what you’ve posted here that a lot of this isn’t recent, it’s just intensified. He likes pushing your buttons and upsetting you and you’ve been making the sacrifices and gestures (big and small) for him and never vice versa, It’s just gotten more obvious now. You’re emotionally checking out of the relationship, he may be sensing it, and instead of maybe doing things to make *you* happy, he’s railing against you for having the gall to not center him.

    Don’t feel guilty about getting out of this.

    • Well said! I completely agree with all of this.

      About six years ago now I was on the phone with my mother, and had a moment of clarity that I think will always stick with me. I was finally in a place where I was willing to admit, out loud (and to my mother, even!), that I was unhappy in my marriage, and I followed that up with, “but I don’t understand why I’m so unhappy. It’s not like [husband] is abusive or anything.”

      Mom replied, “okay–but he puts you down a lot.”

      My mind was completely blown, first with the realization that a) yeah, he totally did do that, and then with the awareness that b) that was a completely valid reason to be unhappy with this person and even to leave him.

      So, LW, I’m just going to repeat what Sheelzebub said, because it was exactly what I needed to hear six years ago: “It’s okay to leave a relationship you are not happy in. It doesn’t make you a selfish bitch. Staying in a relationship you’re miserable in will make you deeply unhappy and will kill your soul.”

      Sending lots of jedi hugs, should you want them!

      • xenu01 said:

        Plus 1000 to your Mom! I like this a lot, and it goes very well with PomperaFiera’s comment about not having to PROVE why you’re leaving to a divorce court. I think that sometimes we get this idea that if it’s not bad enough we don’t deserve to leave, and honestly, there will always be some people that will ask you WHY your relationship fell apart and then want to explain why you should have stayed, but at the end of the day, if you don’t want to be there, you deserve to leave. Full stop.

  9. Vicki said:

    Also, his depression is not your obligation.

    I am not saying “do not stay in a relationship with a depressed person.” I’m saying “do not stay in a relationship with someone because they are depressed.” If your depressed partner said loving things to you, treated you well, and didn’t expect you to solve all their problems, their depression wouldn’t necessarily a reason to leave. But your partner isn’t treating you well and lovingly, and you aren’t happy. You don’t have someone who has trouble getting out of bed, but looks at you and says “how did I get so lucky?” and tells you that you’re beautiful and thanks you for that offer of a coke. You have an unkind person who is also depressed.

    • Sheelzebub said:

      Yes to all of this.

  10. pochiblythe said:

    You can look up the research of John Gottman. Contempt and criticism can be signs of the relationship apocalypse.

    http://helpingmarriageswork.com/docs/resources/gottman-s-4-horsemen-of-the-apocalypse-signs-of-serious-trouble-in-your-marriage.pdf

    These are also just poopy things to experience and I’m sorry it’s happening to you. You sound unhappy and like you carry a lot of the weight here. And your man seems miserable and you wrote how he is doing some cruel stuff. Whatever you do, maybe it’s not the best time to buy a house together (with YOUR money). Not sure how the common law works where you live, but he may be entitled to half your assets and good luck cutting a house in half! You will not get out easily.

    As an aside, if there is no wedding date (or wedding year) scheduled, are you really engaged? Is there an expiry date on engagements? Maybe there should be.

    • Caito said:

      Oooh, that is an interesting link, thank you for sharing it.

    • staranise said:

      Oh, Gottman. He’s got some good stuff. He’s also a huge proponent of Calm Down And Use Your Words.

  11. MusicSheep said:

    LW, I did not see one little bit of your letter where you expressed any, tiny, lingering desire to stay. If I did, I would hesitate to tell you to leave–but your letter is a complete desert of affection.

    It is not at all your fault that his life isn’t working out the way he wanted it to, and it’s not your responsibility to pick up the pieces of his failures. Not wanting to is not selfish. You are not leaving him because he has not had success–you’re leaving him because he’s being an asshole.

    Saying, “oh, he’s an asshole because he is unhappy, frustrated, disappointed, jealous, and feels like a failure,” and giving that as a reason to stay with him is THE reason you should break up with him. Life is full of unhappiness and disappointment, and marriage will include it. A good relationship will help each partner weather their own failures in life, but a bad one will exacerbate them.

    And honestly, it does not sound as though you are very good for him right now. He resents you, does not enjoy sex with you, and is mean to you. You are not making him happy or helping him by staying unhappily by his side. The changes he needs to make in his life in order to make it better have to all come from him.

    Leave him. Find someone great. Have lots of excellent sex.

    • piny said:

      Yes, this. “It’s a lousy relationship, but, well, I am already in it, so….” He sounds like quite a jerk, but the lack of an upside is enough all by itself.

    • kristinmh said:

      Yeah, the lack of any “But I still love him!” jumped out at me too. LW, I suspect you already know the answer to your question and are looking for confirmation. It sounds to me like the relationship is over. Breaking up sucks, but not as much as being with someone who doesn’t make you happy.

      I mean, I suppose it’s possible that you are *also* a selfish bitch, but even selfish bitches don’t owe a relationship to anyone. DTMFA.

      • YES. If he’s like “you’re a selfish bitch,” then a correct answer might be “Then you will be delighted to find out that I’m leaving.”

  12. PomperaFirpa said:

    LW, I don’t know your guy, but I know the type. MisterFirpa is a troll at heart, and likes to tease me and goof on me, so I know and dearly love that kind of guy. He is a lifetime student of watching everyone else’s reactions, and usually in our marriage he is the one analyzing what everyone else is up to, and how we can best maneuver around that, and what little things we should do– and when– to keep the people happy that you need to keep happy. It comes from being the peacemaker in his family, I think. He’s not the most straightforward guy sometimes, but we understand each other and we navigate this married-life thing pretty well.

    So I know, LW. I know what you’re talking about. I also know that if he started to ignore all the upkeep on our relationship, and to turn that knowledge of my reaction buttons against me to actively piss me off and make me feel bad, that would mean one thing: he’s trying to make me leave.

    I would bet money on this being the case for your guy. No idea why, I’m really not sure it matters at this point, because the salient point here is that your gut is telling you not to buy a house with this guy, and obviously your gut has been quietly guiding you NOT to marry him this whole time. You’re the expert on your relationship, not us, and while there’s nothing specific you could point to if you needed to prove in, like, ancient divorce court that you should incontrovertibly dump this guy, that doesn’t matter. You’re not in ancient divorce court. You don’t have to lay out impartial, “important”, accepted reasons for a break-up, like if he were stealing all your money or sleeping with all your friends or beating you or abandoning you or actively fucking up all your business contacts or all of the above! You don’t need to be emotionless and impartial about this. You don’t have to convince anyone– not him, not your friends, not your family, certainly not us!– you just have to make a decision in the privacy of your own head.

    The only person you need to convince that your happiness is reason enough is you.

    Are you happy in this relationship? Not “have you been happy”, or “were you at some point happy”, or “might you be happy in the future”, but “are you happy right now?” That’s the only question that matters. Don’t dismiss this as unimportant, or selfish, or of lesser importance than whatever INCONTROVERTIBLE PROOF you have in your head as the thing you’d need to break up with him: if you’re not happy, and you have a partner who not only is not invested in making/keeping you happy, but who is actively trying to make you unhappy, that’s pretty much the only reason you need to leave him and make a different life where you at least don’t have someone dragging you down emotionally (and, let’s face it, being a drag on your finances and your time and energy) without any emotional recompense.

    You’re not obligated to continue to make sacrifices for someone who is unappreciative and resentful of those sacrifices and who never, ever gives anything back. You don’t get extra magic karma points. You just get drained, and resigned, and emotionally cut-off, and end up plodding through doing this thing you’re doing because you said you’d do it, and how would it look if you stopped? FUCK THAT. The people who love you, want you to be happy, want you to enjoy life, want you to be fulfilled and able to give your emotional bounty away to others instead of scraping the last bits out of your emotional oomph out of a dull sense of obligation. I don’t even know you, but I want that for you!

    Go be happy. It’s important.

    • xenu01 said:

      You’re not in ancient divorce court. You don’t have to lay out impartial, “important”, accepted reasons for a break-up, like if he were stealing all your money or sleeping with all your friends or beating you or abandoning you or actively fucking up all your business contacts or all of the above! You don’t need to be emotionless and impartial about this. You don’t have to convince anyone– not him, not your friends, not your family, certainly not us!– you just have to make a decision in the privacy of your own head.

      THIS. I totally fall into this trap all the time. “I’m leaving this job because IT’S THE WORST. They suck and here’s why.” “This city is THE WORST because REASONS.” “I’m leaving this man and it’s because he did this, this and this.” Really, the only factor needed to negotiate or leave a situation is “I’m not happy and I need change.”

      • Totally! “Unless my X is THE WORST X EVER, then I have to stick with it!” rather than “I am no longer getting what I need out of this X, therefore some kind of change is necessary, and if it has to be a drastic change, then so be it.” We deserve to live for ourselves and strive toward our own happiness, even though society (including families, certain religious tenets, etc.) often tells us otherwise.

      • PomperaFirpa said:

        So many problems with this logic! I am kind of weaning off of it. I catch myself doing this with calling in sick to work: I have to explain why I am too sick, and often this translates into feeling pressured into going to work even though I feel like butt, just because I don’t have a fever or am actively tied to the toilet for REASONS and so I feel like my explanation (which I am not required to give!) would fall flat.

        Or I am FINE even though I am feeling blue, because the reasons in my head don’t translate well outside of it. Or I feel like I really have to explain why I don’t like a book/movie/TV show when I could just say “eh, not my thing” and then it starts to sound to my friends like I am saying THEY shouldn’t like it and they’re bad for liking it. Or I like something that someone else doesn’t, and I feel like I have to defend it because the simple fact that I like it doesn’t count enough.

        Generally, it is this place in my head that fully expects that nobody around me will value my opinion or validate my emotions / symptoms / lived experience (and that toooootally needs to happen!) just because, and I need to defend it before someone attacks or, worse, before they pretend to agree and TOTALLY DON’T, BUT THEY DON’T SAY ANYTHING BECAUSE THEY’RE POLITE AND SHIT. Ugh, ugh, ugh, of all the many things I would like to manually remove from my brain, this is up near the top of the list.

        • Liennae said:

          I totally get all of the above. I dread calling in to work just because my supervisor can’t leave “I don’t feel well” at that. I’ve seen her be mad at me for a couple days because she didn’t like my reason for not coming in.

          I also hate talking about what novel I’m reading because usually people have zero interest in the sort of books I read. *hides under a rock*

          • cicatricella said:

            heh, totally random and not relevant to the LW (so many people have responded so well already, I don’t really have anything to add) – but ‘what are you reading’? is one of my least favourite questions EVAR. The questioner very rarely actually cares and a lot of the types of books that I read are often looked down on by others (I mostly read genre fiction like SF, Fantasy and (gasp) romance novels, not Literature) so telling the questioner is inevitably met with blank incomprehension at best. (Bonus, follow-up question: ‘is it for school?’ Because the idea of someone reading a Book for Fun is also met with blank incomprehension.)

  13. xenu01 said:

    I think you have already embarked on stage one of leaving this increasingly toxic relationship, and I also think you probably aren’t at the point where you could or would be able or willing to leave him. You know he’s a jerk to you, but even if he were only communicating in grunts and/or spending all your shared savings on cheetos/telling you your sister is more attractive/whatever jerk behavior, I still think you’re Team Work It Out because you were happy once upon a time. Also because it is really really freaking hard to leave someone even if they are terrible all the time. Especially if you love them.

    Look, don’t blame yourself on this one, really. We all do it. I stuck with a guy ferociously once, even though on the weekends that I saw him, he either disappeared at some bar till 3 AM and stumbled drunkenly into my place or was mean to me until I cried because he couldn’t bear to see me happy when he was miserable. My best friend in the whole world is a brilliant, wonderful, amazing woman, and even SHE stuck it out with a jerk and tried to work it out even though he was mean to her and moped around and was a general asshole for the last couple of years they were together (with the occasional sunny day to give her deceptive hope).

    However! The good news is that I don’t think you are on Team It’s Just Me, I Suck quite yet, and that you are aware that things will end sometime and this guy is not your guy anymore. You do say he’s not in your ten-year plan, right?

    So here’s what I’d advise you to do. Right now, tell yourself that you’re not happy, and you’re trying to figure out how to make yourself happy. Gather together Team You, which the Captain has some excellent advice about in her archives. Stop telling yourself you’re responsible for his happiness and give yourself one anti-date night a week. You can even phrase this as, “I think you need some space, so here it is!” if you wish. Join meet-up.com. Take up rock-climbing. Learn to knit. Go to your favorite concerts. Take yourself to movies he doesn’t like. Spend the whole afternoon in the park watching dogs chase each-other. Etc. Etc.

    And honey, don’t blame yourself if you can’t make yourself end it right away. The important thing right now is to give yourself a little room to be happy, one day in seven. Consider DTMFA to be a painful, expensive surgical procedure that you secretly know will happen in due time, but it won’t happen until you wake up and say, “Today. Today I will go to bed free.”

    • PomperaFirpa said:

      THIS IS AWESOME AND YOU ARE AWESOME FOR SAYING IT, THE END.

      • xenu01 said:

        Haha thanks. *blushblush*<3

        • PomperaFirpa said:

          It is lovely, and frank, and sympathetic, and gives immediately-do-able steps to take that will make life better immediately AND bolster Team LW AND make it easier for LW to eventually get out because support! and moments of happiness that can be compared to LW’s relationship and show how it is wanting! and exploration of things that can lead to new people and new interests and new bits of happiness! and people who know the situation and are right there and are BOOTS ON THE GROUND!

          I’m just going to turn it around in my hands and admire it. Very, very well done!

      • JenniferP said:

        AGREED.

    • MissPrism said:

      I love the concept of an anti-date night.

      • With my most amicable ex, I think one of the things that contributed to our pleasant break-up was the fact that as the relationship was winding down, we created the institution of the “fuck-off night” (not as hostile as it sounds.) Once a week each of us would leave the house for one entire evening without the other, giving the one who left a chance to practice socializing on his/her own and the one who stayed a chance to enjoy being alone.

    • The important thing right now is to give yourself a little room to be happy, one day in seven.

      Genius! Leaving a long term relationship is terrifying, it’s such a good idea to make a little space where you can be happy. I love the concrete steps to make things better now *and* make things better in the long run.

  14. Jake said:

    LW, you don’t need any kind of “good reason” to leave a relationship. Just being unhappy in it is reason enough. I ended my last relationship after two years, not because there was anything wrong with my ex (he was and is a super nice, kind, and interesting guy), but just because I had this feeling of malaise about the relationship that wouldn’t quit. Once I got some distance from it, and talked about it with other people who knew us well, I was able to see specific things about him that really didn’t work for me, but in the moment all I knew was that this didn’t work and I wanted out. So I got out. And it sucked hard balls for six months or more, and was one of the contributing factors that sent me into a major depressive episode (but not the only factor) that ended up leading to a lot of life changes. But despite all that massive fallout, I’m so glad I did it. My life is so much better now than it would have been if I had tried to force myself to stay.

  15. Dearest LW,

    You deserve happiness, respect, love, consideration, and a myriad of other good things. I have found that when my relationships have gotten to the point of disregard from one or both parties that it is time to move on. It is never easy. It is always painful. I always got through it, and you can, too. I would say, LW, that I do not know your situation entirely. While that is true, however, I cannot recommend anything that involves staying with this person unless he shapes up immediately. I wish you strength, courage, support, and resolve.

    –Foxipher

  16. jfs said:

    “Remember how I said I’d rather be with someone for the wrong reasons… than alone for the right ones? I’d rather be right.”

    Amanda Jones Some Kind of Wonderful

    Everything I need to know in life, I learned from John Hughes.

  17. Annafel said:

    Hey LW,

    There were a few things in your letter that gave me flashbacks SO HARD – to the point where I just accidently typed “my letter” instead of “your” and had to correct it. Huh.

    So I thought I would tell you about one incident that happened near the end of my relationship, which led pretty directly to its end, in case it rings some bells for you too.

    My ex sounds a lot like yours (and how many people like this are there in the world anyway??) in that he loved to push people’s buttons and see how they’d react and what he could get away with. As our relationship progressed, and as he became more depressed, his teasing of me became more and more hurtful and deliberately cruel. One day, we got into an argument because he made a comment about my supposedly unhealthy eating habits, and I became upset. We ended up arguing about how we were arguing – he said that there was nothing wrong with his original comment, but that I had overreacted to it, and his escalating reactions in response were therefor MY FAULT, because I was the one who had originally reacted badly to a “harmless” comment. His logic was literally that I had “started it.” He actually believed that this meant that he was not responsible for anything he said or did, as long as he could frame the beginning of the argument as somehow my fault.

    It took me a while to parse this out, but when I realised what he was actually saying, and that he actually believed it, I had to realise that he wasn’t the person I had thought he was. The person I had loved did not actually exist. And the person who did exist – I just didn’t respect him.

    I have seen a number of commenters note that your fiance doesn’t respect you – and I agree. My ex didn’t respect me either. But I am wondering if maybe you don’t respect him any more either. It’s okay if you don’t. It sounds to me as if he’s destroyed your respect and affection for him as completely as my ex did mine.

    Seriously – why would you stay with this guy? When I broke up with my ex, I did still love him. It took a few months for me to really get over him. But it honestly didn’t suck that much – it was such a relief to have chosen my happiness over his, finally. And I felt so strong and brave for having finally gotten out.

    Good luck.

    • Keely said:

      “We ended up arguing about how we were arguing – he said that there was nothing wrong with his original comment, but that I had overreacted to it, and his escalating reactions in response were therefor MY FAULT, because I was the one who had originally reacted badly to a “harmless” comment. His logic was literally that I had “started it.” He actually believed that this meant that he was not responsible for anything he said or did, as long as he could frame the beginning of the argument as somehow my fault.”

      My Darth Vader ex did this often. He was very good at a) playing the victim and b) arguing, and I had very little backbone/tolerance for being yelled at, so this tactic plus a few others meant that for most of our relationship, I ended every argument by giving in and apologizing, sometimes sincerely meaning it and hating myself and sometimes just wanting the yelling to stop. Our relationship was 6 years long, and we started having ugly fights at roughly 3 months. Obviously I can’t say that I was never in the wrong, but the nasty and/or manipulative tactics he used should have been a red flag so so so early on. (Unfortunately, I grew up in a house where arguments like this were the norm, so while I was often miserable, I mistakenly believed that either this was just what love was, or this was what my relationships were like because I sucked.)

      Congrats on getting out. I hope LW gets out as well. “Selfish bitch” is a manipulative thing you call people when you want to keep them from realizing that they have every right to prioritize their own happiness over the happiness of a shitty partner. It’s gross and it gives me flashbacks and… ugh.

      • Annafel said:

        Thanks, Keely – I’m sorry you went through this too, but it does feel really reassuring to know that I’m in good company! What you describe sounds so very, maddeningly familiar. And my ex told me I was selfish too. I think I’m just starting to understand the difference between bad selfishness (I don’t care about you because I only care about myself) and good selfishness (I care about you but I have to take care of myself by setting boundaries). People like these Darth Vaders want us to believe that the good kind is the same as the bad kind. It is not!

        • Keely said:

          People like these Darth Vaders want us to believe that the good kind is the same as the bad kind. It is not!

          Exactly. There is bad selfishness, and then there are healthy boundaries. This simple fact has literally been life-changing for me. Hell, the very concept of having boundaries even in close relationships was novel to me until not all that long ago. I have a tendency to let other people’s emotions become my emotions, and to be better at taking care of others than at taking care of myself.

          I’m now learning that taking care of myself and prioritizing my happiness isn’t selfish at all–I’m a more pleasant and productive person when I’m happy. Putting other people first at the expense of my own health/sanity/happiness is the actual selfish behavior, because in exchange for feeling all selfless and helpful and like a “good friend/girlfriend/daughter/etc”, I’m making myself miserable, which ultimately hurts my true friends who WANT me to be happy/healthy/sane.

          Put another way, if you put 100% of your effort into taking care of others and 0% taking care of you, you a) ultimately have less to give, and even 100% of not-much is still not-much and b) you detract from other people’s happiness by being a mess. Where as if you put however much of your effort is necessary (and sometimes, if you’re in bad enough shape physically or mentally, ‘enough’ might approach 100%) into taking care of yourself, you a) ultimately will have more to give, and even 10% of a-whole-fricken-lot is meaningful and b) you make everyone feel better JUST BY BEING A HAPPY PLEASANT PERSON.

          Honestly, I read Captain Awkward in part because regular reenforcement of *boundaries are good!* and *your needs/wants really do matter* are really good for me. I’m still trying to eradicate the part of me that sees myself as undeserving of consideration of any kind and sees any time/effort spent on doing things purely for my own pleasure/sanity as a waste. Jerkbrain doesn’t completely rule my life anymore, but it’s still there and sometimes it still does a lot of damage. I need all the help talking back to it that I can get.

          • theLaplaceDemon said:

            +1 !!

  18. Emmanonymous said:

    I think your heart is a little bit stuck in the Fallacy of False Compromise.

    Journalists, when they write stories, have a professional obligation to present both sides of any controversy. When they write a story, they will call up an organization on the opposite side and ask for a response or a quote. That often leads people to conclude that the truth must be somewhere between the two extreme positions:

    “The Justice League says that Dr. Evil kills unicorns every day for breakfast, but Dr. Evil insists that he is a vegan animal rights activist. Obviously, they’re both exaggerating, and Dr. Evil only eats puppies for breakfast.”

    It’s easy to spot the fallacy there, but it’s a lot harder when we’re talking about, say, reproductive rights or marriage equality. Rather than agreeing that LGBTQ people will burn in hell or that they should have full marriage rights, people will settle on “I don’t have a problem with teh gays, but kids need a mom and a dad” — that’s a nice even-handed response that gives ground to both sides, and they can tell themselves they’re moderates rather than frothing bigots.

    Except that’s not true, because the middle ground between justice and anything else is still injustice.

    And that’s what I hear in your words, LW: “I am unhappy, but he says I’m an awful person. I can’t figure out how I’m awful at all, but I must be at least a little bit, or he wouldn’t have said that.” But he’s wrong, just as surely as the anti-marriage-equality folks and the Justice League are wrong.

    The truth doesn’t always lie in the middle — the truth is where it is, regardless of the relative positions of the people arguing about it. Sometimes one party really IS right and one is an asshole, and bad situations aren’t always both partners’ faults. Don’t let the rhetoric of compromise and balance convince you that you must be partially in the wrong to make him behave so badly.

    • …the middle ground between justice and anything else is still injustice.

      This times eleven.

      Also, you can’t logic someone into liking you. You can’t reason them into respecting you. (oh but how I have tried)

      It is not that you are not good enough at logic, or at reason, or at deserving to be liked and respected and loved. If he doesn’t want to be a partner to you, this is not something you can overcome with will.

      He isn’t accidentally stumbling into your vulnerabilities. He is prodding at them on purpose. He is daring you to leave.

      So be daring.

      Start with small things, if you like. Dare a little more each day. Build up momentum until you reach escape velocity. You deserve to thrive, and you can’t do that where you are now.

      • Featherless Biped said:

        Also, you can’t logic someone into liking you. You can’t reason them into respecting you.

        +1 for simultaneous alliteration and truth.

    • JenniferP said:

      I love this comment for summing up everything that drives me nuts about false equivalence in journalism and then applying it to relationships.

      • Emmanonymous said:

        Oh, it can have its uses in politics.

        I’m prominently involved in a political cause and therefore sometimes get the call to serve as the voice-of-balance, or show up at the opposition’s events to snag some earned media. I give a pretty good interview, so I can often get some positive spin for the Side of Right and Justice.

        Of course, the other side does it to me too, but at least it reminds people that not everyone agrees with [a truly horrible social-conservative policy goal]. It’s super-helpful for working as an underdog in a red state.

        But that’s the perspective of a political operative. If you’re trying to be a good journalist or a good relationship partner, you probably want to, oh, maybe do the exact opposite of what I do. Alternately, if you find yourself exploiting False Compromise or being exploited by it, and you are not actively engaging in politics, you maybe have a teensy problem.

    • I love the analogy, BTW 😉

  19. drst said:

    LW, you do not need to prove something by standing by this guy any more than you already have. He will likely take any decision on your part to separate or end the relationship as justification for for blaming you and implying that you are wrong and a bitch for not sticking with him, but he’s wrong.

    You should not have to share your home and life with someone who treats you like this. Even if it’s been a lot of years, even if you’ve put all that work into it, even if you’re scared of what might come after this. You do not have to put up with him treating you this way to prove some kind of moral fiber or worthiness. There’s a huge difference between hanging in there “in good times and in bad” and letting your partner scapegoat you for every fucking thing he doesn’t like about himself and imprisoning yourself in the relationship that makes you miserable out of some sense of duty. A responsible partner would be making some kind of effort to consider your needs and happiness. He doesn’t seem to be bothering to do that at all. That’s not a partnership, and you have no obligation to stay.

    This was a learning experience. You moved to a big city, got what sounds like at least a decent paying job. You’ve discovered some things about yourself and your relationships. Walk on.

  20. LW here. Wow, I didn’t know there would be so many responses to this!

    RodeoBob, thanks for the advice about the money, but I really am set. We’ve got a his-hers-ours setup for the money, and I’d give him all the ‘ours’ money if it would help.

    elodieunderglass and MusicSheep, I guess your responses kind of go together. There’s still a voice in the back of my head saying, Be reasonable. Be rational. This is probably just a couples’ fight, everyone has those. Are you the kind of person who can’t deal with a few rough months without the warm fuzzies?.

    pochiblythe, good reading, thank you. One thing I should have put in the letter, there IS a back story to the engagement. Basically, his folks are strongly Catholic, and don’t believe in living together before marriage, but I think 18-22 is too young to be married. So that’s how that happened. *shrug*

    PomperaFirpa, I think you’ve got the best handle on what this guy used to be like. He’s whip-smart, observant, funny, and brutal, and you know what? The nice thing about that kind of guy is you know exactly where you stand. He would say things that stung but were true and made people better.

    The difference, these days he’s just doing it to get a reaction, and I can’t tell if it’s true or not. That’s a new thing, and I don’t like it.

    Everyone else, thanks for the sympathy and good advice. I talked to him last night, and since he acted like this was coming out of the blue, I’m going to give him another chance to make things right. I’m probably going to regret this, but I wouldn’t forgive myself if it turned out this was rock bottom and I left right as things were turning around. In the meantime, I’m starting the practical part of unhooking things. If I get finished and nothing’s changed, well, I’ll have my answer.

    • Shaenon Garrity said:

      He would say things that stung but were true and made people better.

      It’s nice that he tells himself that. Wait, did I say nice? I meant the opposite of nice.

      Please introduce him to me. I will tell him lots of things that are true and will make him better.

    • alphakitty said:

      Hey, LW. Sorry you’re going through this.

      I can’t improve on others’ advice before your post down here, so I’ll just add that acting like this is coming out of the blue is actually of a piece with the other stuff. It’s as if he’s saying, “You mean you don’t LIKE when I push your buttons and call you names and don’t pull my weight and then act like there’s something wrong with you for having some standards for how you’re treated? Huh! How was I supposed to know that?”

      In other words, it’s an attempt to wrongfoot you for supposedly failing to adequately communicate your expectations and that his behavior was not up to snuff. He’s trying to make you feel like you have an obligation to continue putting up with his crap because he was entitled to some kind of due process with proper written notice in triplicate that his behavior was noncompliant, and because you failed to give it you don’t get to give him the boot. (Where does he think he is, landlord-tenant court??)

      I’m sorry, but saying you’re no good in bed and that you’re not taking care of yourself is just fundamentally unkind. Letting you carry the weight in the relationship for an extended period and then making you feel like you’re selfish and money-grubbing because you let it show in some way that this isn’t really working for you anymore is bullshit.

      Saying “this is coming out of the blue” is like saying “I had no idea that would be hurtful!” Uh uh. He has not been being kind to you, and whether he admits it or not he knows it. The “out of the blue” part is that he thought he could get away with it, and now you’re telling him no.

      There was a post elsewhere on this blog not too long ago, about giving thought to what you want — out of life, out of relationships. Spend some time thinking about what you want — not specifically with reference to this guy, though obviously your experience with him will make some things stand out more than with others. Then think about whether what he’s capable of giving * without you having to police his behavior all the time* and what you really want out of a relationship match up.

      I’m not saying good men (and women) don’t ever get down in the dumps and kind of dump on their partners for a while and need to get a wake up call, and do better after that.

      What you want to watch out for is getting sucked into an endless cycle of you putting up with gradually worsening treatment, then calling him on the carpet and saying “this needs to change or I’m outa here,” having him vow he’ll do better now, he just didn’t realize you didn’t like being treated like shit, and him getting superficially better for a little while but then regressing ’til you call him on the carpet again.

      The way to tell which you’ve got, I think, is whether the guy in question is willing to own his own behavior, admit your expectations are reasonable and fair and that he’s been doing a crap job of meeting them. Followed by him walking the walk on that whole new leaf thing.

      • alphakitty said:

        P.S., You do NOT want to be in a relationship with anyone who is only nice to you because they’re afraid you’ll leave if they’re not. You want to be in a relationship with someone who is kind to you because they know that is what you deserve and because they want you to be happy for your own sake not just because it gets them what they want out of you.

      • Annafel said:

        The way to tell which you’ve got, I think, is whether the guy in question is willing to own his own behavior, admit your expectations are reasonable and fair and that he’s been doing a crap job of meeting them. Followed by him walking the walk on that whole new leaf thing.

        THIS. My ex could never, ever have done this. suspiciouscate, if your fiance can do this, and make real, lasting changes to his behaviour, then I wish you both the best. But if he can’t, my wishes are only for your freedom and happiness.

      • General Expression said:

        What she said – don’t get sucked into the due-process black hole!

        • General Expression said:

          Er. Possibly mis-use of pronoun. What alphakitty said!

      • White Rabbit said:

        What alphakitty said.

        Your guy’s response sounds all too much like the manipulation and guilt my emotionally abusive ex put me through when I started calling him out on the crummy things he was saying and doing to me. I spent a long time – far, far too long, in retrospect – giving him second, and third, and fourth chances because his pleas sounded so sincere.

        Please heed what several very wise people have shared here. If my instincts are right and you’re dealing with a guy similar to my ex, and if you’re at all similar to me in wanting to be there for people and to give them second (and more) chances, it can take a while for this gnarly picture to crystallize. Just please don’t let him turn all of it back on you. My ex did, and I’m still patching up my emotional wounds a year later. Stand your ground, and if he tramples your boundaries, guilt trips you, blames you, or otherwise tries to convince you that you’re crazy (in subtle and/or not-so-subtle ways), DON’T internalize any of it, and just recognize it’s a symptom of what’s wrong with him. Come back to this board, re-read the advice, and realize you’re not alone.

        Finally, if you want a stark perspective from an expert, I like to point people to Lundy Bancroft’s book, ‘Why Does He Do That?” It’s about abusive relationships, and all of the gradients therein. Your guy is veering into emotionally abusive territory with some of his behavior, and I think there is tremendous value in gaining a solid perspective on where the line sits between healthy disagreements and abusive crap. Also, manipulative partners are especially difficult to suss out and leave their victims very confused and distraught, and in my experience a book like this helps to cut through the fog.

        Good luck to you.

      • AnthroK8 said:

        Oh my sweet cheeses. Yeah. It’s like working with jailed felons and no-child-left-behinders at their most not-left-behind-badness.

        If you haven’t documented x-behavior from a problem felon-student then you can’t be sure you’re calling out at the right time in the right way. Never mind your not having given them a direct order and then written an incident report won’t matter one bit to the Discipline Sergeant, because s/he will know you were right.

        Never mind that you didn’t put ON THAT PARTICULAR ASSIGNMENT “no plagiarizing” in the rubric. It’s IN THE SYLLABUS and THE COLLEGE HONESTY POLICY.

        The things is… they know the rules. The documentation is only in case you have to go to Discipline or the Dean. And even then, you don’t usually need it, it just makes life easier when you have to nail someone for inappropriate behavior.

        Don’t get me wrong, college students that are your students, and felons, can be rewarding people with whom to work. But you shouldn’t operate with your loving partner the way you operate with people over whom you have authority and with whom you have a professional, mentoring relationship.

        He knows the “rules” of decent partner behavior. He knows being mean for kicks and telling you you’ve let yourself go is not okay.* If he claims to not know he is on borrowed time, he’s deluding himself. He knows. He just has to choose what to do about it. The only person for whom that spelling out of the policy will do anything is you.

        Which is cool- it’s a good step to evaluate where you are at and where you want to go. It’s part of the establishing happiness and carving out a space of independence process. Which you can totally do, when you are good and ready.

        *Also, telegram for Mr. Boyfriend Person, delivered by Western Clue-nion:

        MR BOYFRIEND PERSON STOP
        DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE IS SORRY TO INFORM STOP
        ATTITUDE ABOUT QUOTE TAKING CARE OF UNQUOTE MISOGYNIST STOP
        IN ADDITION STOP
        WHAT WILL REST OF LIFE BE LIKE QUERY
        ANSWER IF WOMAN INSUFFICENTLY OBJECTIFIABLE AT AGE 28 STOP
        YOU WILL BE MISOGYNISTICALLY DISAPPOINTED WHEN DATES ARE 37 STOP
        KEEP YOUR ENTITLEMENT TO YOURSELF STOP
        YOU SOUND LIKE UNREASONABLE CHAUVANIST STOP

        END TELEGRAM

    • Patu said:

      Honey, it’s good you’re taking all this on board, but there’s just one thing here I think is a bad sign: “since he acted like this was coming out of the blue, I’m going to give him another chance”

      Does that mean that until you explicitly spelled it out to him he had no idea that his behaviour was upsetting you? That he had no clue how much he was hurting you? How could he not notice? Seriously, how could his asshole, manipulative behaviour come as a surprise to him?

      Either he is dangerously oblivious or lying, because this kind of unhappiness is the shit you NOTICE.

      • White Rabbit said:

        Yes, this.

        When I was trapped in the fog of an emotionally abusive relationship, I recall debating with a close friend whether my boyfriend at the time was a manipulative asshole, or simply emotionally obtuse. I really wanted it to be the latter, but lo and behold, he was just a run-of-the-mill emotionally abusive a*hole.

        LW – He KNOWS what he’s been doing, and the fact that he’s playing dumb now is setting off alarm bells for me. So not only has he acted like an asshole, but now we see that he’s also capable of being quite manipulative. Please heed what people have shared with you here.

    • Caito said:

      Be suspicious, Cate.

    • apricity said:

      suspiciouscate, when you say “We’ve got a his-hers-ours setup for the money, and I’d give him all the ‘ours’ money if it would help.” – help what exactly?

      It sounds like you’ve got a pattern of behaviour in your relationship where you do the work to make your partner feel better, and to me this sounds like more of the same. But if you’re breaking up because that pattern no longer works for you, then don’t sacrifice your share of the money because you’re used to sacrificing for him.

      I think it’s perfectly valid to “pay” him out of your shared money to go away, if you feel that the benefit of getting rid of him is worth the cost. But only if you’ve done the cost-benefit analysis based on your new patterns of behaviour. 🙂 Also be aware that this is a negotiating tactic that will probably work better if it’s explicit (that is, don’t automatically give him the money without any discussion) and he may not stick to your (spoken or unspoken) bargain and still keep on bugging you. Best of luck with everything.

      • Elysia said:

        suspiciouscate, when you say “We’ve got a his-hers-ours setup for the money, and I’d give him all the ‘ours’ money if it would help.” – help what exactly?

        I’m glad you asked this, apricity. suspiciouscate, I read RodeoBob’s advice to be: make sure you have money to take care of yourself. The breakup may hurt, but you’ll, say, have the ability to rent a place you love near close friends, or buy ice cream on sad days, etc. Your response makes me think that you read RodeoBob’s advice to be “save money so you can pay Partner off so that HE feels better after the breakup,” and that…well, like apricity said, it sounds like keeping to a pattern of you doing all the work to make your partner feel better. You wouldn’t have written to Captain Awkward if this situation actually worked for you, though.

        From what you’ve said, I believe that your partner doesn’t want your money. He wants to live up to some standard of life that he’s not living – where he’s a rockstar rolling in cash and parties and fame. He doesn’t have that, and you’re doing well, and I suspect that he’s lashing out at you because it’s easier to do that than to honestly face his shortcomings and disappointments. It’s not about money, and it’s not about you.

        Which brings me to saying that you should reread Vicki’s comment. I’ve been depressed. I *am* depressed. I definitely have acted out in anger and criticized people because I felt so wildly out of control that being an asshole was the only thing I could do to feel in control. The voice in your head saying this is a couples’ fight is a coping voice, but it’s not being honest: I know couples with uneven finances and way bigger problems, and they work on those frustrations *together*. This is your partner’s problem, not yours, and you cannot fix him. Your partner being an asshole. He may be struggling with something that when resolved would make him less of an asshole (depression, anger at perceived life failures, etc.), but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s being an asshole now, and you don’t have to put up with it, or his decision to be an asshole rather than get to the root of the problem.

        So good for you for starting the unhooking process! You are taking care of yourself! That’s great! This is a rough situation, and I wish you the best of luck with getting to a happier place. (And, despite being a bit harsh here, I wish your partner the best. Just…not through your efforts.)

    • maggie said:

      “Be reasonable. Be rational. This is probably just a couples’ fight, everyone has those.”

      Oh man, LW, I remember thinking that. Eventually I realized I couldn’t remember when I last actually loved him (must have been at least a year).

    • Keely said:

      Seconding everyone who has called bullshit on the “this was so out of the blue, please give me another chance!” tactic. He might be telling himself this was out of the blue. He might even convince himself of it when he’s really worked up. But from the descriptions of behavior you’ve given us… I’d say he fucking knew what he was doing. He knew he was being a dick. He just expected you to continue to put up with it because you love him.

      I tried to leave my emotionally abusive ex many times and then ended up backing down because he begged for second chances and promised he would change. And there would be a little change, and sometimes even some grand romantic gestures to make me feel special and loved and like I would be an idiot to get rid of this lovely boy.

      But the behaviors I had a problem with always, always came back. And all the begging and romantic gestures in the world don’t make it okay to be shitty partner day-to-day. That begging and the short-term change in behavior may come from very real pain and panic on his part–he knows he has something good and he is very scared to lose it. But whatever underlying thing is making him act like a dick–he isn’t ready or willing to deal with that. He probably doesn’t even believe there is anything to deal with. You’re the girl with mysterious, unforeseeable needs like “wanting to not be constantly harshly criticized by your partner”, and he’s the poor put-upon man who was a dumb boy and couldn’t read your mysterious smoke-signals correctly, but now that you’ve laid out your strange lady-needs he will oblige in order to keep you around.

      The only acceptable response to you calling him out on the behaviors you’ve described is “Fuck, you’re right. I’m unhappy for [REASONS] and I took it out on you and that was mean. I’m so sorry, will you please give me a chance to fix this?” There maybe could have been a little denial at the start or some discussion of behaviors of yours he takes issue with, but not to the point of trying to distract from your complaints and make himself the victim. But he didn’t do that, he went “Huh? I had NO IDEA mean, hurtful things were mean and hurtful, you can’t leave because I just didn’t know I was doing anything wrong.”

      He probably doesn’t really believe that he is doing anything wrong and he definitely isn’t actually sorry and ready to change. He’s just doing damage control. He thinks that if he keeps you at a minimal level of content, he is safe. He can keep getting the things he likes out of your relationship while still treating you with contempt.

      I know you are going to give him this chance. Which is fine. Maybe I’m completely misreading the situation because my personal history causes me to see any remotely not-cool behavior through abuse colored glasses. And anyhow, as long as you are protecting yourself financially and making sure you have a good support system outside of him, there isn’t much harm in “one more chance” going badly other then a little more time lost to unpleasantness. But if this becomes the pattern that I think it will? Or if this is something he has done frequently in the past? Fucking run.

    • xenu01 said:

      I am glad that you are at a better place, suspiciouscate! I just want to reiterate that taking a little time for yourself now and then might be a good idea regardless of what you decide is best for your future relationship. It might be that you don’t end up breaking up at all! Nevertheless, sometimes you need a little space to work things out and get a fresh head. It’s hard to sort things out when you’re in the middle of them.

    • PomperaFirpa said:

      (pointing vigorously upward) LISTEN TO XENU, XENU IS WISE.

      Good on you for doing the practical unhooking! Also listen to Xenu and do good Team You things; this kind of process is exhausting and nasty and it’s best to be bolstered by a lot of warm fuzzies. I can see giving him another chance, but I’m also glad to see you’re approaching it from a skeptical place. (Surprised? Really? And this coming from such an insightful, observant gentleman? INTERESTING. The grain of salt I would attach to this professed surprise is the size of a Volkswagen.)

      If things go the way I kind of expect they will, and he gets nasty on you again, you may want to be prepared for the “you were just waiting for me to screw up again, you don’t really want to fix this, you never meant to stay, you you you you your fault not my fault at all ignore all the shit I did all your fault you you you you you” barrage. Be aware that in spite of the fact that, yeah, there’s a grain of truth there, HE’S THE ONE SCREWING UP AND THE ONE WHO SWORE HE WOULDN’T DO IT AGAIN AFTER CLAIMING HE ONLY DID IT IN THE FIRST PLACE OUT OF IGNORANCE. Okay? Your probationary attitude is not such a terrible, horrible thing that it totally eclipses / excuses / causes his own actions. Just remember that, if he pulls that trick on you. I’ve seen it a few times.

      JEDI HUGS and, again, listen to Xenu and do Team You stuff like mad. You deserve nice things and comfort and people on your side!

  21. alphakitty said:

    I sometimes worry that commenters come on a little strong with the harsh labels of the letter-writer’s significant other… the letter writer says “he is acting like an asshole,” and the commenters say “well, yeah — he IS an asshole!” But often the letter writer isn’t ready to say that’s what the person they’ve been with all this time fundamentally is… because if he didn’t have finer qualities as well, they wouldn’t be in the relationship in the first place. (Using gender pronouns applicable to this letter, not saying the asshole is always a male!)

    What I would suggest to the LW is that it doesn’t matter whether your guy is fundamentally an asshole or not. What matters is whether he is acting like an asshole to YOU, not as rare and isolated events within a context of day-to-day love and partnership and occasions of sublime sweetness (and followed by apologies in which he owns his asshole behavior), but on a recurring and/or sustained basis.

    Maybe he is not an asshole to the world at large. Maybe you guys have gotten caught in a vicious whirlpool of a dynamic, where he is rotten to you because he sees you as witness to his failed dreams or something, so when he looks at you all he sees is his own failure. But if he’s an asshole to you, he’s an asshole to you.

    • Keely said:

      THIS.

      It took a long time after my breakup for me to be able to say of my asshole ex, “Yup, X is just an asshole.” I internalized a lot of his criticisms of me and his weird ideas about what I owed him/the relationship, so when people made outright declarations that he was an asshole, I got defensive and said I must be misrepresenting him because he could be lovely and I could be an ass and they just weren’t seeing the whole picture.

      While I now see asshole ex as an asshole, what I needed from friends at the time I was ending the relationship was “Ok, maybe he’s really an asshole, maybe he isn’t. But these behaviors you’re telling me about, those are not okay behaviors. And even if you’re exaggerating those… you aren’t happy. You’re allowed to leave just because you aren’t happy. He doesn’t have to be an evil abusive villan for you to have the right to leave. You always have the right to leave. The important question isn’t how evil he is, it’s about whether this is a relationship that makes you happy.”

      I totally understand the tendency for commenters to just declare someone an asshole. When it’s someone else’s life, and you have distance and experience, it’s easy to spot red flags and jump on them. Whenever a LW discusses anything remotely like the kind of emotional/verbal abuse I’ve experienced, my first instinct is to scream “GET AWAY FROM THIS PERSON THEY ARE EVIL AND BAD FOR YOU AND YOU DESERVE BETTER PEOPLE IN YOUR LIFE.” But that’s rarely the best approach. I think it’s important to have a reminder that we need to think about where the letter writer is at and at least try to meet them there. So thanks for that.

  22. staranise said:

    People have been so awesome with comments already. All I can say is, this is the kind of relationship Lois McMaster Bujold’s Komarr is about, and when you can say that the relationship is pretty dire indeed.

    LW, it sounds like you’ve spent so much time sacrificing your happiness and right to joy, affection, and pride on the altar of your relationship. Anything less than a complete sacrifice is “selfish”, unheedful of your SO’s needs, bragging, neglectful. But there will never be a point at which the demands stop–no point at which you will be good enough to satisfy him. That’s because he’s trying to feed off you in a way relationships were never meant to work; you are supposed to be able to face your failings together with love and hope. Instead, he thinks his failings are awful and abhorrent to you, and yours are therefore awful and abhorrent to him. In fact, judging you harshly is the only way he can stave off the criticism he fears–and by doing this, he is creating the situation he fears most.

    This is not something you can change, because it’s in his head.

    You deserve all the things he should have given you, and ended up taking from you instead. It genuinely sucks because it’s obvious you want this to work so much, and you still want to be with him. But unless he undergoes a long, slow process of change, it isn’t going to work, because no matter your faults the problem right now isn’t with you.

  23. tirzahrene said:

    OK, so I’m incredibly late to this one.

    LW, here’s something I learned after I left and started again:

    All those things that make your partner crazy, the things he knocks you for, the way you’re so selfish and never think of his needs and don’t really like him and and and…

    …all those things about you are not the Big Problem that he thinks they are. They’re only a Big Problem for him. And somebody who suits you isn’t going to throw words your way to make you feel bad about yourself when you’re just being YOU. They’re going to think you being YOU is just fine, and only need to tell you there’s a problem when you’re actually being a jerk (like, not when you’re simply being an introvert, or needing a plan, or wanting financial security, or saying no).

    So go and do what you need to do in order to feel like you’ve done what you needed to do. I needed to do that too. But don’t forget that the problem is not the fundamental nature of you doing all the things wrong.

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