#286: I think the words you are looking for are “I am breaking up with you.”

A cake that says "I think we should see other people."
The internet is surprisingly full of breakup cakes, though on second viewing, this could also be a “Hi, we’re poly!” cake.

Hi there,

I have been seeing my boyfriend for a little over two years now, off and on. I have wanted to break things off for many reasons (lack of ambition being a key one) that he has promised to work on (although I haven’t seen a load of progress but maybe thats another letter). Every time I have broken it off he promises to make big changes and then either returns to his ways or offers small token changes (look honey, I loaded the dishwasher myself! (this man is 26 years old!)). I wouldn’t mind the incremental changes if it hadn’t been such a long progress and the amount of times he has promised to change in a BIG way.

Here is the other key factor: he has Aspergers. This cluster of traits creates an atmosphere of feeling like my activities, passions, and interests are not as important as his. He interrupts me. He talks down to me. He mansplains. I have called attention to these traits and he seems surprised every time–like he wasn’t listening or just doesn’t care enough to actually pay attention! He assumes he knows everything there is to know about me and refuses to ask questions about my opinions, thoughts, or feelings. (I have brought this up many times–he says his Aspie-ness keeps him from being able to think of any questions (Can someone please verify if this is a thing or not???!!?)).

I will admit that I stayed with him for a while because of the (excellent) sex. He was my first, and I come from a background where that is a big deal. Lately, however, the sex has gotten to be something I dread–I’ve been getting drunk in order to cope, I flinch, I wake up crying–and when I figured out this was sex related and told him he was genuinely shocked. (Remorseful and sad, but totally surprised.)

I’ve tried reaching out in so any ways to get up on the same page, communication wise, but I feel like I am the only one working at it. He would think that was a totally unfair statement–but I am so tired of doing the lion’s share.

Am I being too demanding to want him to live up to his big dramatic promises? Do I owe it to him to keep “working” on the stuff he says he is working on? What do I do about the fact that I cry when I think about him being intimate with me? Why won’t he stop mansplaining?

Please advise-

In need of help

This letter came in today. I feel like I can knock out an answer pretty quickly, so here goes.

Am I being too demanding to want him to live up to his big dramatic promises?

No, but you may be unrealistic in believing that those changes are possible for him after he’s proven a few times that they are not.

Do I owe it to him to keep “working” on the stuff he says he is working on?


What do I do about the fact that I cry when I think about him being intimate with me?

Don’t have sex with him ever again.

Why won’t he stop mansplaining?

I don’t know, he definitely won’t any time soon, and you definitely do not have to listen to even one more mansplanation if you don’t want to.

My clock says it’s just after 4:00 Central Daylight Time, which sounds like a good time for a breakup cake!

To review breaking up:

“Partner, my feelings have changed and I don’t want to be in a relationship with you anymore. I’m so sorry, I hope you will be well.”

Just like that. You’re broken up.

I know, I know, it’s never that easy. But it CAN be that easy.

You can’t change people. You can ask them to make small…let’s say…adjustments to certain behaviors to make your life together more harmonious. It’s a bad idea to hang out in a relationship that you only want to stay in if the other person changes a lot. You can’t make the other person change, but you can sure be dicks to one another and make each other miserable and waste a lot of your precious beautiful lives trying to force that change.

Asperger’s is a red herring. He could have it and still be a GREAT partner to you. This relationship has run its course. You’ve tried to hang in and see if it will get better. You’ve been the optimist. You’ve made every allowance. I know it’s sad to think about losing someone who has been so important to you, but this is not making you happy and you can do much better. There is no shame in finding love and losing it again. End it, take a break, grieve, and then find the next thing that makes you happier. Let him be with someone who finds being ignored a peaceful break from having things explained in excruciating detail.

Your wanting to leave is a good enough reason to leave. You don’t have to have an airtight case. You don’t have to convince him of the rightness of your cause. You just…leave. You say “I’m leaving,” and then you leave, and then it turns out you’ve left and all of it was in the past tense.

61 thoughts on “#286: I think the words you are looking for are “I am breaking up with you.”

  1. I agree with the Captain that the Asperger’s is a red herring. Asperger’s might make him unable to think of questions: it won’t make him unable to listen to information you volunteer. Nor does it justify or explain the interruptions. People with Asperger’s may need social rules explained in words more often than neurotypical people do. But “Do not interrupt when other people are talking” is pretty straightforward. So is “If you keep interrupting me, we will not be in a relationship.”

    It is possible for someone to have Asperger’s AND be selfish, or believe that his interests are inherently more important than yours (whether that’s gendered or simply because it’s him). And you don’t have to put up with it. (And the next person you meet who has Asperger’s might not be like that, just as the next neurotypical person you meet might not be.)

    1. Yeah — there are plenty of people with Asperger’s who aren’t selfish, condescending assholes.

      Also, it sounds like this may be a guy who likes to argue/debate/”reason” through disagreements. You may already know this, but it’s a lesson it’s taken me approximately 8 bajillion years to halfway internalize: you don’t have to engage. You’re allowed to refuse to argue, and that refusal doesn’t mean you’re wrong. You can just say, “This isn’t a negotiation. I’m not going to change my mind. I’ll bring your [books, sweater, toothbrush, plushie Cthulhu] by your apartment Tuesday night, and I’ll expect to pick up my [Pogues CDs, flip-flops, extra clarinet] at the same time.” And then you can just leave. (Incidentally, it might be best to have this conversation some place other than your apartment, so that you can leave once you’ve said your piece.)

      Good luck. Let us know how things go.

    2. Does it matter whether it’s Asperger’s making him treat you badly, or just Assholes’? The bottom line is he’s treating you badly, you’ve given him ample opportunity to address your concerns, and not only have there not been significant changes there have not been encouraging signs that he’s trying to make significant changes. This is not “please bear with me, I hear what you’re saying and I’m doing my best but change is slow.” It is “Did you ask me to change? Gosh, I totally forgot. My super special syndrome makes your needs trivial to me.”

    3. Definitely seconded. People with Asperger’s don’t get a free pass out of their responsibility to their loved ones. More things may need to be explained to them, social things may be more difficult for them to pick up, and thinking of questions on the spot may be more difficult. But there’s a difference between that and “refusing” to ask questions about your opinions, thoughts, or feelings. Basic relationship functionality can be learned, and somebody you’re dating — especially if they’re already dealing with a handicap — needs to prioritize their participation in basic relationship functionality. If he really values your opinions and feelings, he can think up some questions in advance or something, if this is something he actually cares about. Just forgetting that other people’s ideas might matter is not okay.

      You have tried to help this person grow, and you’ve poured a lot of energy into it, and you’re sick of it, and that’s fair. The amount of change you need doesn’t sound like it’s a change he’s capable of — it’s too all-encompassing, and it doesn’t sound like he fully understands how he needs to do better. (Not your fault — it sounds like he’s having trouble listening.) Take care of yourself. His journey of growth sounds like it might involve being broken up with and learning the hard way how important it is to pay attention to other people’s needs and ideas. Maybe he’ll eventually figure it out, but it’s not your responsibility to keep waiting and trusting for years in case he does.

    4. I’d like to second (or fifth?) this comment. One of my longer relationships was with someone with Asperger’s. I would excuse a lot of problematic behavior because he said he couldn’t do something, or he just didn’t know better, and even though he did actually make appreciable changes, mostly in the sense of skill development, or learning useful social scripts, I was still sad and lonely and frustrated, and making sure that his needs were met really got in the way of taking care of my own, but I stayed with him, because he couldn’t help it, and it wasn’t his fault that he yadayadayada… Long story short, when I got my act together and broke up with him, he found a lovely Aspie lady, who didn’t need some of the things that I needed that were difficult for him, but who could also say things like “That’s not Asperger’s, that’s just you being difficult.” So in the end, we were both ever so much better off apart.

  2. I’ve been an avid member of the Awkward Army since we started here, and it’s been fascinating to see the parade of people who have really put up with A Lot of Bad Behavior from their significant others. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’ve been in a relationship (okay, more than one) past the time it’s run its course, so I am not without sin here, so I’m not saying this to blame people.

    But there are apparently so many people out there who are putting up with poor behavior when they really just don’t need to. You are worth more, you deserve more, life doesn’t have to suck this bad! You don’t have to put up with excuses, red herrings, whatever. You can have a slice of breakup cake and be on your way.

    Good luck, LW. The amount of angst you have over this relationship means that if you get to a point where you do get out, you might feel darn near weightless afterwards. That’s a lot of weight you’re carrying around right now.

    1. Yea, the “people in shitty relationships” letters have been coming at an alarming rate lately, haven’t they?

      That said, I’m not actually surprised with what people put up with, not least because my first relationship put me up there with the worst of the general bullshit-takers and emotional/verbal abuse-takers.

      But I’m also not surprised because of the loads of bullshit messages out there about how relationships are ‘supposed’ to work and the complete lack of relationship education we all have. (In kindergarten we learned how to share and play nice… Why could those lessons not have extended to ‘how to fight without being an asshole’ or ‘boundaries, they are good and important things’ or ‘these are the basic things you should get in a good relationship/these are signs of a bas relationship’?)

      We’ve been over a lot of bullshit ideas about relationships here… Geek social fallacies, the idea that you have to prove just cause to end a relationship that isn’t working for you, etc. I think we should make an easily-referenced and linkable list to share around. Along the lines of geek social fallacies, but expanded to a broader audience and to social/relationship fallacies.

      1. That sounds like person volunteering to do a cool thing! Let me know if I heard that correctly.

      2. Well, I know I stayed too long in a relationship because the person was promising change and supposedly about it and, upon further, much later questioning, admitted he’d consciously said what he thought I wanted to hear. It plain hadn’t occurred to me that sometimes people LIE.

    2. I think people also really hear the “relationships take work” canard as “relationships take backbreaking, soul-destroying work.”

      1. It has taken me so long to learn this distinction.
        Now I think of it as “relationships take work like the job and hobbies I love take work.” Sometimes I may have to pull an all-nighter to finish a project that’s important to me, or I may have to compromise and not meet up with friends because I want to focus on understanding something at work. But doing that work, even if its not always exactly enjoyable, still adds something to my sense of who I am.
        It does not destroy my soul like pushing a rock uphill for no reason. Relationships should not be like pushing rocks uphill.

        1. Oh gosh yes. There’s that seed of truth, of course – all relationships take work, not just romantic ones. Even the most affable of us will have some friction when we meet. There is always adjustment, negotiation, and compromise. But in practice, “relationships take work” is too often interpreted as settle for being frustrated and exhausted.

          The work of being partnered with someone we love should (I think! I hope!) at least tend toward being joyful and satisfying. If a partner is an antagonist more often than they are an ally, something is not right; something has to change; maybe someone needs to leave.

        2. My analogy is that it’s work, sometimes hard work, but it’s a kind of work that I like. I tend to say
          “it’s like gardening or cooking, not like scrubbing the floor,” but that’s specific to what I like to do. Someone else might say “it’s like fixing a bicycle, not like pulling weeds,” or might use scrubbing the floor as a positive analogy.

        3. YES Sweet Machine and Girl in a Green Dress! It took me so so so so long to make that distinction.
          Vicki: My analogy is work versus maintenance for a car. An old beater car needs extensive, expensive WORK. A good car that is well maintained needs oil changes and tire rotations and only rarely something will break and need your hard labor.
          I am finally in a new Honda (metaphorically, with my fella) and the road is smooth, after so many metaphorical cars with duct-taped windows and bungee-corded bumpers and three wheels..

        4. THIS. YES. A MILLION TIMES THIS. ::points vigorously up at GirlInAGreenDress::

    3. I think, sometimes, we forget how to be happy. And by “we,” I mean “I.” I think I have minimized bad behavior from people in my life before because I just got used to it.

      I’m sure you will have many chances to be happy again, LW.

      1. I think this is a very, very true thing and one we gloss over a lot. When my spousal unit and I were first married at 22, he sank very shortly after our wedding into deep, suicidal depression that left both of us very unhappy. It wasn’t until the situation changed and he got his mental health taken care of that we both were able to see how black the world had been for us for a long time.

        It’s interesting, isn’t it, how accustomed to darkness and terrible behavior (warranted or no) and just general misery we humans can become.

    4. I think people really like to tack “But they aren’t THAT BAD! There are things that are good!” to the end of whatever person they’re unhappy about. Like because they rescue kittens, it means they’re not Bad Enough to break up with.

      Most everybody is not 100% horrible all the time. Maybe they do only tell you you’re ugly and stupid on occasion — it DOES NOT mean good stuff cancels it out. It’s not cancel-outable. It’s not bookkeeping. It doesn’t make things balance out.

      1. I’m going to note that I have certainly done this too. But it is easier to break up with someone than it feels.

  3. “It’s a bad idea to hang out in a relationship that you only want to stay in if the other person changes a lot.”

    This is great, important advice. Most people cannot sustain big changes that were made to please their partners, especially when it comes to complaints like lack of ambition, his personality, etc. If someone is already working to change in a particular direction, support and encouragement from a partner can be helpful. But if he’s okay with himself, and he’s only promising to change to avoid breaking up, I don’t think you can expect a result in the future.

    You deserve a partner who makes you happy now, not in some hypothetical future after he has made major changes. And your boyfriend deserves a partner who accepts him the way he is (although he should really stop mansplaining to all women, including future girlfriends. But soon that won’t be your problem anymore).

  4. I knew this was gonna be an easy one for the Captain. Basically, when you are in a relationship where one person “has promised to work on” something that is a deal-breaker for the other, the likelihood that it is worth continuing because things will eventually be great is extremely low.

  5. I’m really concerned by your statement that you dread sex with this man, are getting drunk to cope, and are waking up crying. I don’t know the details of your situation, but I do know that that’s really, really, really not how it’s supposed to be. This is a place where it would be very appropriate to ask for support from Team You.

    *big hugs, if you like them* It’s going to be rough for a while, but you’ll be okay.

  6. I would say search around the Internet or your town/city/rural area for an Asperger’s support forum/group. Not so that you can learn to stay in a relationship with him – DTMFA is my official opinion – but because I think you’ll be able to clearly define what was Asperger’s and what was asshole. It doesn’t seem like you’re entirely aware of Asperger’s entails and even retroactively it may be helpful to find out. (Also, I second that Asperger’s or Asshole’s, doesn’t matter. Dump him because this relationship is not what you want.)

  7. I… don’t know. I mean, the Captain’s advice is seriously spot on. I just want to add that I really hope you dump this dude for his sake, too. As we’ve learned this week, being in a relationship with someone who wants you to change in “a BIG way” is really tough. And not to excuse this guys apparent arrested development and making promises that he can’t (or wont) keep and mansplaining and ALL of that bullshit, but the “I have to get drunk to cope with sex with you and even then, it makes me cry” conversation is heartbreaking for BOTH of you (this is all assuming he’s a decent human being re. sex stuff).

    I guess I’m just saying that being in an incompatible relationship is a really terrible dynamic. Hurt people hurt people and all that.

    1. Yes, I also feel bad for both LW and for the boyfriend. They’ll both be better off apart.

  8. Just adding my voice to the chorus of “Aspergers is a red herring.” As a diagnosed Aspie in a long-term relationship with an undiagnosed but perfectly textbook Aspie, I’m in a position to tell you that having Aspergers can make a lot of aspects of relationships more difficult, but if you want to work round it, you can. Nothing about your letter makes me think your guy wants to. It sounds to me as though he’s basically using his Asperger’s as a note from his mother to the effect that he doesn’t have to listen to you or make an effort to take your feelings into account. Being neuroatypical unfortunately does not preclude being a giant douchcanoe, nor does it excuse it.
    And it doesn’t matter. Even if he really is truly not capable of changing any of the things that are making you unhappy, and even if it is because of a genuine disability, that doesn’t mean you have to put up with them. It doesn’t matter why he can’t give you what you need, just that he can’t.
    And sweetheart, if you are at the point where thinking about sex with him brings you to tears, and you’re having to get drunk to whiteknuckle your way through it, *please* stop having the sex. You don’t have to. No one should be in that situation. I really hate to think of you going through that. It’s easy for us to say and much harder for you to do, I know, but I don’t think there’s anything good for you here. You have gone above and beyond the call of duty trying to make this relationship work for you, and it isn’t working.
    I hope that you do decide to break up, and that eventually you find one of the many other guys in this world who will *want* to try to give you what you need. Or not, and just live a happy life filled with adventures and friends and achievements.

  9. Putting the “I’m a teacher” cap on … I have special ed students who excuse their really poor behavior by saying they have some sort of disability, and it irritates me because my boyfriend has a disability and this isn’t an automatic excuse for shitty behavior. These kids don’t seem to realize that we can tell between behavior they can’t help but do and them just choosing to be moody adolescents. Part of my job is helping students figure out the difference between the two, and helping them moderate behavior they can control. (I am not a SpEd teacher, but I had 17 SpEd students last year.)

    I suspect a lot of people with emotional disorders or things like Aspergers get to use the “but I have a disability!” excuse, and because people don’t commonly know what those things entail, they buy it. If the LW’s boyfriend grew up with people excusing absolutely everything he did because he’s an Aspie, then even *he* might not be able to tell between “I genuinely have a problem handling this here” and “this is annoying, but I could learn to deal with it.” And if so, he will need a lot of help overcoming that – it’s much more than “I said I would make these big changes.” It could be that he is honestly trying to make big changes, but simply doesn’t have the mechanism in place to do so. It could also be that he’s excusing behavior he doesn’t want to change (or feels like he can’t change) with his Aspie diagnosis. Last, there’s no way the LW could really help him make those changes, other than by encouraging him or catching him when he hasn’t done what he said he was going to do – he needs a therapist to teach him how to do this.

    1. I think “I behave like a jerk to you because of excuses” is just generally common. For me, “I’m a writer who’s not faaaaamous” became “My father doesn’t looooove me” became “I’m an alcohooooolic” became “You are a miiiiiillstone around my neeeeeeck.”

      -a writer, not famous and somehow still not jerkish

  10. I think, quite simply, that if this guy were going to change, he would have changed already.

  11. By all means, do break up.
    If you need some more info about Aspergers and relationships there are several books you could check out. Best Practices, by David Finch, Alone Together by Katrin Bentley and Aspbergers Syndrome and Long Term Relationships by Ashley Stanford. I suspect that reading these will re enforce your decision to move on. Good Luck.

  12. Be free, LW, be free. You deserve WAY more and he deserves more, too. Am just going to agree that “asshole” comes in many varieties and flavors, but all of them include making excuses for the condition.

  13. A thought about the Asperger’s twist – people with Asperger’s can totally have wonderful fulfilling relationships where they work around their extensive and mind-boggling quirks. But you’re not under any obligation to make yourself miserable to make this possible for someone else. Everyone’s a little broken. The trick is to find someone whose brokenness is compatible with yours.

    1. Everyone’s a little broken. The trick is to find someone whose brokenness is compatible with yours.

      I think I’m going to tattoo this somewhere on my body…

  14. LW,

    I think that you might like to look at some of the brilliant writing of David Finch– he often writes articles for Slate magazine, although I think I’ve heard him speak on NPR and read him in other places as well. He is very forthcoming about the fact that he has Asperger’s and often writes about how that changes and colors his interactions with his wife. And his disorder definitely changes his interactions with people, but he is perfectly capable of changing behaviors and interactions in order to make others feel better.

    I don’t think you should read David Finch in order to rationalize or try to understand your boyfriend’s bad behavior, but rather so you can see that it’s possible to have Asperger’s and be a kind person who is in a good relationship. Your boyfriend is behaving badly and is bad for you, and it’s because he’s behaving badly and is bad for you and not because he has a disease and maybe some words or some medicine or some doctor will fix him and there will be rainbows.

  15. This sucks, but…I think when you bring up a problem in a relationship and the other person acknowledges and says they’ll change and then just DOESN’T, then your relationship has become dysfunctional. Because that problem will annoy you again and you’ll bring it up again and they pay lip service again and then they don’t change again and the problem…continues. And then you have to end it. Because you’ve already shown you can’t live with that problem. And pretending you can will just make you both suffer.

    Unless that problem is ghostbusting or something?

  16. Oh, LW. I have sung this song and cried those tears and it is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad place to be. My ex (with whom I was in my longest relationship), while not an Aspie, had a number of mental health concerns and physical health concerns and learning disorders and came from a dysfunctional and low-level abusive family, and in retrospect, the majority of our relationship was spent with me waiting for that day when she would just finally do the freaking things she had said she would do and stop expecting me to contort myself into a perpetual human pretzel to deal with her behavior.

    She wasn’t a bad person, she genuinely did love me and had a great many good qualities, but her unwillingness or inability (I really don’t know which) to contribute to our relationship and not expect me to be mother/housekeeper/teacher/girlfriend all rolled into one slowly drove me to the point where I wanted to have a dance party when our break up was finally, finally official, except for the crushing guilt that I wasn’t compassionate enough or mature enough or whatever to deal with her shortcomings.

    The less you think of your boyfriend as a Tragic Victorian Invalid (TM) who mustn’t be taxed or held accountable a la Colin in The Secret Garden, the more you can get to a point where you can internalize that, while your boyfriend has shortcomings that maybe aren’t his fault and that he should be given some slack for, you’re not obligated to put up with his behavior, especially after giving him opportunities to change that went unused.

    You deserve more than this, dear LW, and so does he, really. You both deserve someone who is happy with you as you are and enjoys being with you and talking with you and sharing a life with you. Thinking about it like that may help you shed some of the feelings of obligation and guilt that it sounds like you have (and that I certainly had when in the process of breaking up with my ex).

    Good luck and many Jedi hugs to you, should you want them.

    1. Best. Ever.
      The less you think of your boyfriend as a Tragic Victorian Invalid (TM) who mustn’t be taxed or held accountable…, the more you can get to a point where you can internalize that,… you’re not obligated to put up with his behavior, especially after giving him opportunities to change that went unused.

      I am using this forever.
      Signed, Former Tragic Victorian Invalid Fetishist, apparently.

      1. Tragic Victorian Invalid Fetishists unite!. For a period there, even the partners who didn’t *seem* like they were the type somehow ended up in that mold at some point in the relationship. Thank the deity of your choice that I got wise to that pattern eventually, because it is soul sucking in the extreme.

  17. Let me join in the choir: You do not have to have any justification at all for breaking up with someone, beyond “I do not feel happy in this relationship”. I’d also add that all my Aspie friends are quite capable of interacting with others without being assholes; in fact, they tend to ask more questions to make sure they aren’t misunderstanding or being misunderstood.

    And about the intimacy situation: The fact that you are feeling fear and unhappiness at the thought is not just a huge red flag; it’s a fire alarm ringing loudly enough that everyone hearing it can’t help running away from the sound. And one thing that I specifically noticed: You talk about crying at the thought of “him being intimate with me”. That sounds as though being intimate is something that happens wholly on his terms, with you there as the object of his desire/intimacy, but not being an active participant. That scares me.

  18. As a person with Aspergers, I appreciate when people around me take that into account in their interactions with me, like not touching me without asking for permission, not making a big deal about it if feel socially overwhelmed and need leave a party and actually give me an honest answer if I ask if I’m talking too much/if they want me to leave/stuff like that.

    I do not appreciate when people suffer through bad behavior on my part because I have AS and they think it’s mean to point it out or that I can’t help it. I want people I like to actually enjoy themselves in my company and I don’t want to act like a jerk. Both those things are far easier achieved if someone actually tells me that what I’m doing is bothering them.

    The boyfriend might really have a hard time to make some of the changes that LW wants him to do and it might really be because he has Asperger’s. But LW, if those behaviors are a dealbreaker for you (and they would be for me), I say break up. You deserve a partner that treats you the way you want to be treated and your boyfriend deserves a partner that wants a relationship with him, not a changed version of him. You shouldn’t stay in a relationship that doesn’t make you happy because your partner has a disability.

    1. This, so hard, from another Aspie.

      Maybe the boyfriend is being an asshole and using AS to excuse those behaviours. Maybe these are behaviours that are genuinely extremely difficult to impossible for him to change. Maybe he’s already invested so much energy into changing himself for NT people that he’s just reached his limit and can’t anymore. Any of these and more could be the case (and I have to admit I’m uncomfortable with how many people in this comment thread have jumped to the conclusion that it’s #1.)

      But? It doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, these are behaviours and personality traits of his that are not going to change. You, LW, also have behaviours and personality traits that are not going to change. And some of these make you incompatible. It doesn’t have to mean either of you is at fault or an asshole, it just means that you are not meant to be.

      For instance, maybe your boyfriend genuinely has difficulty asking questions about how you are or what you think because he assumes that if something you want to share has come up you’d volunteer it and so asking seems weird and intrusive. (Not saying this is how it is, just that if you ask “is there a reason someone might not ask these sorts of questions because of AS?” this comes to my mind). You, on the other hand, clearly need a partner who will ask those questions because otherwise you feel ignored/taken for granted/etc. That’s incompatibility right there, and for *both* of you there are people out there where this will work better. Don’t assume you’re obligated to be okay with everything caused by his disability – and also don’t assume that just because something is a dealbreaker for you it will be that way for everyone.

      1. Beautifully said, and important advice for anyone whether they as Aspies or NTs or whatever. Dan Savage has said that every relationship has a price of admission. For the LW’s boyfriend, it’s the behaviors that irk the LW. He’s not going to change them. The LW is not going to change her need to have her boyfriend ask questions and engage. Those things that can annoy others are the Price of Admission to the relationship. Sometimes that price is too high, such as this case. When the Price of Admission is more than you’re willing to pay, it’s time to say goodbye.

    2. You deserve a partner that treats you the way you want to be treated and your boyfriend deserves a partner that wants a relationship with him, not a changed version of him.

      I think this sentence needs to go in the CA comment hall of fame for distilling the pure essence of “yes, break up already” advice.

  19. DTMFA. All other things are secondary.

    And homework assignments about *anything*, including a soon-to-be ex’s diagnosis, shouldn’t be required for a breakup — not before, not during, not after. If you want to read up on ASDs (and you have absolutely no obligation to do so), I would actually recommend doing so long after you’ve moved on. Right now, you’re just as likely to second-guess your breakup as you are to learn to differentiate between AS and asshole-ishess — and protecting yourself emotionally right now is *far* more important than eventually learning about ASDs on your own. (You’ll have years for that.) (*) And I say this *as* an Aspie.

    FWIW, in the relationships I’ve been in, I’ve done plenty of asshole-ish things without thinking about them. I’ve also completely blamed myself once I’ve found out and done my best to compensate. I *really* hesitate on playing the disability card — mostly because, at the end of the day, the person I’m with is with *me*, full stop, and, disability or no, if they don’t like being with me, they’ll leave. The fact that he perpetually plays it, the fact that he’s only made minor improvements in his life — that’s a bad sign. But, again, it’s secondary. DTMFA.

    (*) My one caveat: if you are cynical enough that reading about ASDs will make you think “oh, he said he did that because of his ASD, but that doesn’t mean that at all,” then go ahead and read all you want to right now. But if you are even remotely in love with him, don’t read anything until you are over him.

  20. I would say LW needs to get out of this relationship right now.

    General observations. I don’t think this is happening in LW’s case, but at times the people in a couple where one partner is autistic will both think that they’re doing a huge amount of the work in the relationship and the other partner is doing nothing. Both of them are making an effort but their differences make it hard to tell what the other partner is doing and how much effort it takes.

    Also, an elderly relative gave me an excellent bit of advice when I was a teenager. She told me, “Honey, never marry a man thinking you’re going to change him. It doesn’t work like that.”

  21. Oh, LW – I am just out of a long-term relationship where we both tried really really hard to accommodate the other and change for the other and you know what I realized in the end? It was better that we both cut ourselves loose to go find someone who doesn’t need us to change all those things to be happy. He tried and tried and tried, and so did I, and you know what? I am pretty sad that things didn’t work out and so is he, but we both report feeling like a weight has lifted off of us now that we’re not trying to cram ourselves into a relationship that doesn’t work. And yes, some of the things both of us wanted the other to change were so reasonable! Would have even been improvements in the other’s quality of life, if they could just have done them! But you know what, people are how they are, and life is only so long, and how long do you want to spend walking another human being through basic conversational skills and kitchen maintenance? And frankly, how much longer do you want him to spend trying to fix his personality and habits to match what you want from a relationship? What you want is valid and okay, but you’re not going to get it from the person you’re with, not without a literally lifelong struggle that will leave both of you exhausted. It’s time to trust in the basic hope that somewhere out there there is a better fit for you. And maybe for him, though some time to himself to work on his life skills might also help him there.

    1. p.s. I feel a little bad for how I addressed skills up there and I want to go ahead and say: I have spectrum-style sensory issues that WERE a big deal in my last relationship. If one person likes movie theaters and loud parties and the other person CANNOT cope with the overload of either, should one person give up their preferred recreational activities? Should the other deal with situations that leave them more or less migrainey and shut down? It would be easy to cast one person has being a joy-sucking buzzkill who needs to get with the program or the other as sybaritic and inconsiderate, but dang, maybe those two people just need to not date. And now we don’t and wow it’s much better.

      1. And when the person isn’t neuro-atypical and is just profoundly lazy, and when they accuse you of trying to change Who They Are – when you ask them just to wipe up a spill when it’s fresh rather than letting it crust over so you (inevitably) have to work triple hard to clean it – if they are pinning the core of their identity on being lazy/gross/contrary rather than being respectful/considerate/adult, get out.

        1. I mean my housekeeping fluctuates according to how my brain is doing, and I’m not going to say it’s never caused conflict. But you know who can improve my housekeeping skills? Me. You know who can’t? ANYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD. No one else can make you learn anything you’re not ready or willing to learn! And if you’re really ready and willing to learn a skill you will probably find a way without a significant other coaching you through every second – there are easily tens of thousands of blogs/books/articles/podcasts in the world about how to clean a kitchen. Some of them are even geared towards people with specific neurological quirks and conditions! (That’s how I learned to do all cleaning that involves water or soapy textures with gloves on, for instance).

          If someone is not in a place to learn a skill, even if they really want to, or inversely, even if they’re just being a lazy asshole about it, no one else can make them. And honestly if something’s really, really cognitively difficult, to the point where someone’s avoidant and antagonistic about addressing it, then I think that super double plus makes it a danger zone for a relationship. There are lots of people in the world – therapists, support groups, close friends who aren’t facing potentially sharing a mortgage – who might be better-suited to be serious support for those kinds of issues. As women we get taught that we’re supposed to be the ministering angels of mercy for every single situation, and as members of our culture we get taught that a romantic partner should be able to be all things at all times, but I really think that there are some dynamics that should just stay out of a relationship if possible.

      2. Amen and hooray!

        You don’t have to be bad people to have a bad relationship. Some people just don’t fit each other.

  22. Your intentions are so good and sweet, LW. You care about him so much and have been working so hard and taking on so much. I’m sorry it’s not paying off, but it speaks well of your resources of compassion. I wanted to add something:

    If you are dating someone who is depressed, someone who is struggling with mental issues or disabilities, someone who is neuroatypical, someone who is socially difficult, someone who cannot get their life off the ground: do not stay in the relationship after the point when you want to leave just because of that reason. Don’t stay because you’re guilty, or because you don’t want to be that bitch who kicked the depressed person while they were low, or because you genuinely think that you can help them to get better, or because they’ve told you that you are the only thing that makes them happy, or because they need you to cope. Do not martyr your heart on that altar. It is not fair to either of you.

    I stayed in a relationship for way too long because “He has ADHD! And depression! And an exam coming up! If I break his heart now, then he’ll flunk the exam and ruin his future and then he’ll have even LESS ambition!” Then I realized that there was always an exam coming up (because he was in college), there was always some excuse for why my needs were less worthy than his, there was always going to be some life circumstance that made it a Less Than Ideal Time To Break His Little Heart. After a while, constantly making his excuses completely destroyed any lingering feelings I had, and I broke up with him. He failed his exam, dropped out of college for the third time and mansplained very clearly that I had ruined his life with my pesky need to be free of his problems. And he critiqued how I broke up with him! I’d done it wrong, he explained, because I didn’t really realize how truly sad and socially broken he was, and I should have made at LEAST one more year’s worth of commitment to prove the depths of my compassion.

    In the course of your long and rich life you and your partner[s] will hit some serious rough shit. Parents will die, people will get sick, accidents will happen, depression will hit, love will feel strained… and you’ll need every last scrap of your big wonderful heart and your reserves of strength and compassion to get both of you back into the light. This is not that relationship. This is the one you walked away from because the sex made you cry. Good luck.

  23. One thing that I haven’t seen adressed: you seem to have a problem staying broken up. So, if you decide to go for another try, plan how you can stay broken up.
    I don’t have much experience here, so maybe other commenters can help, but I think it’s a good start to (1) not discuss the reasons for your breakup. When you’ve stated the fact, he is not supposed to argue. If he tries, leave (or hang up or whatever). (2) Take the brake that has been recommended on this site several times. Tell him you need to not talk to him for 3 month? 6 month? Block/delete/unfollow him wherever necessary. Tell your friends you don’t want to know anything about him. (3) Set yourself a time span where you will not contemplate getting back together to clear your head. This is not necessary if point Nr.2 works but maybe it doesn’t because he manages to talk to you/you run into each other. In this case, promise yourself you will live at least 3 month without him, before you consider going back.

    You can probably imagine I wish you the strength to go with step Nr. 2, but in any case: your decision is the right one if you feel it’s what you really need right now.

    1. I second this, cut off contact with this dude and do not renew until you are over any feelings you still have for him. If you are meant to be friends someday then you’ll be friends someday, but that’s not going to happen until both of you have gotten over this thing.

      I also want to add that you should immediately start thinking of him as your ex. You have to retrain your brain that it is OVER FOR REALS this time, since previously there’s been this “oh but maybe he’ll change and we’ll get back together and everything will be butterflies and kittens” NOPE. No that will not happen. All relationships end, and this one is like a zombie that desperately needs a double-tap. If you think about him, he’s your ex. If you tell someone about him, mention his ex-ness. Your brain has worn a deep groove in the “but maybe he’ll change and we’ll get back together so is he REALLY my ex???” and you have to get over that and say “yes, brain, it’s over, we’re not getting back together, he is The Ex now.” Don’t leave the metaphorical mental door open for him to come back in with more promises of change, because clearly you’ve given him chance after chance and it hasn’t worked, it’s only caused you more pain.

      Also, you might want to try some therapy for yourself? Therapy is pretty awesome, and if you can get a therapist that’s familiar with Asperger’s then they could maybe help you sort through some of the “what was the disorder and what was him being an asshole” stuff. (although ultimately it doesn’t really matter which was which, someone doesn’t have to be an asshole to not be a good match for you.) Also, breaking up sucks even if it’s totally the right thing to do, and therapy is good support for that.

  24. One thing I haven’t seen mentioned in this thread: how what LW is going through is a _standard_ _script_ that society teaches boys and girls from the day they come out of the womb. LW is not alone.

    We are bathed in messages that a woman is supposed to find her fulfillment in sacrificing her needs to satisfy Her Man’s. That men can’t be expected to actually do anything that they don’t feel like (“I can’t change that diaper, I’m in the middle of a Boss battle!”), and if he does even one thing, it’s an epic deed of heroism, so anything the man doesn’t want to do is the woman’s responsibility. That men can’t be expected to notice what their SO is feeling (or doing), even if it’s pointed out to them, because relationships are Chick Stuff. And of course, that the guy always knows more, because, well, lots of reasons that boil down to “because he’s The Guy.” And if a woman doesn’t do a great job in this role, or doesn’t _love_ doing it, there’s something wrong with her. Cf. Sandy Posey’s “Born a Woman.” This was what everyone assumed was normal back when I was a teenager (40+ years ago), and as far as I can see, it’s still the norm today.

    To put it (I hope) more constructively: it’s not just this one MF that LW needs to DA. It’s also these expectations and roles. Which is to say, a lifetime of training as to what it means to be a woman.

    (BF needs to do the same thing, but he didn’t write to CA.)

    BTW, I wonder if the BF has actually been diagnosed with Asperger’s, and if so, whether by somebody competent. Even assuming it wasn’t self-diagnosis, my experience is that most mental health professionals don’t actually understand what ASDs are, and tend to just assume lack of social skills/adjustment = Aspergers.

  25. Please forgive me if this is a double post; my password blew up.
    I totally could have written this exact letter (including the Asperger’s) 9 years ago. LIfe is too short to be with someone with whom the relationship is sadness and work and nothing else. Would you want to be with someone who had to get drunk just to have sex with you? Do you really want to be with someone who exhibits no interest in or curiosity about you?
    No matter how hard and long you beat on that car engine with a hammer, your “hard work” is for nought if you are using the wrong tools or techniques. He wants a medal for all the suffering he’s doing for your benefit, but he wouldn’t be doing any of it if you weren’t pushing him.
    Life is too, too short to waste your time in relationships that are so very wrong. People adjust and people learn, but this dynamic has found its groove and all the effort in the world will only prolong the need to make tremendous effort. My previous post was better worded, I apologize.
    I wish you well and PLEASE end it. You will be doing yourself a kindness and perhaps teaching him that his way doesn’t work like he thinks it does. If not, oh well, his emotional development is not your job.
    Jedi hugs!

  26. “You can ask them to make small…let’s say…adjustments to certain behaviors to make your life together more harmonious.”

    This. Basically, here’s what you can do: take something – ONE thing, not a suite of things like “he’s not interested in my opinions” but one behavior like “my partner routinely interrupts me when I’m speaking.” Talk this over with your partner and see if he’s on board with trying to change it. Come up with an agreed-upon way for you to both participate in changing the behavior (a set way of reminding him on your side, and a set way of responding when he’s reminded for him.)

    Over the course of several months, if you work together and keep a sense of humor about it, you might be able to take this one aspect of your relationship from a 1 or a 2 on the satisfaction scale to a 4 or a 5. That’s pretty much the ceiling on behavior change requests in an intimate relationship.

    In this case it sounds like such an improvement would not even make the tiniest dent in your overwhelming unhappiness with this relationship. Which is a good sign that the relationship is over.

  27. Sweetheart, sweetheart, oh God, I hope you have dumped this guy already. Relationships are like gardens, but there’s no amount of water you can pour on a dead garden to bring it back to life. You have been sitting in a dead garden for years now, and you keep coming back for false promises of miraculous new growth, but your boyfriend has just been applying green paint and affixing a few plastic flowers and claiming that it’s a sign of things to come. It’s not. The garden is dead.

    Lately, however, the sex has gotten to be something I dread–I’ve been getting drunk in order to cope, I flinch, I wake up crying

    That’s not just a red flag, it’s a red flag being waved by an elephant at the front of a marching band, flanked by a dozen baton twirlers. Your subconscious is screaming at you that you are not in love with this guy anymore and don’t want to have sex with him; you should listen.

    I hope you’re well out of this relationship already, but if not: please leave. Break it off cleanly. Mourn. Rest. Heal. Be kind to yourself. Let your friends and family be kind to you. You are loved and you deserve to be happy.

  28. > I will admit that I stayed with him for a while because of the (excellent) sex. He was my first, and I come from a background where that is a big deal.

    We mostly do! Our “first” anythings are big deals to us, and anything to do with sex gets even more importance loaded onto it. Our first sexual experience is A Big Deal, and most of us attach a lot of Big Feelings to our first partner. That’s not a special thing, it’s just a human thing.

    I’m glad that sex with your ex was good. I’m glad that your learning experiences were fun. And now you know how to have good sex, and believe me when I say that not everyone knows how. (You can teach people what you like, which more people should do, and which is totally awesome, because truly, not everyone likes the same things.)

    Have you had sex with other partners? It doesn’t sound like it. With more experience, you may find that sex with your ex was pretty good, but not actually excellent. Especially if you find a partner who doesn’t assume that he knows everything about you.

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