#309 & #310: The Broken Record

Dear Captain Awkward,

I need a second opinion. I’m at my wits end as to how to address something that has become a large problem with my boyfriend. My friends are no, help; I’ve gotten lucky, landed a good, caring boy, how could I have problems, lalalala-I-can’t-hear-you. I’m glad they approve of him, since I mostly trust their judgement, but… help?

Lately, I have been feeling really neglected by my boyfriend. (By lately, I mean since he stood me up a month ago; I went out with friends instead and it was fine…but he still stood me up.) This meant that if we talked, I initiated the conversation. If I went to his house, or he to mine, I planned it. Once we got there, if we watched tv/made food/fooled around, it was because I suggested it. If we were fooling around, I undressed him, and he had to be directed to return the favor. If we went out, I invited him somewhere, and he begrudgingly joined. 

This is not an exhaustive list, just things I pointed out specifically to him as “Hey, look, I’ve been putting in all the effort. Your turn to contribute” I sat him down, told him that I was feeling neglected and why. He agreed that he’s been shitty, and to try and change that. My solution was that for the next little while, it would be his turn. I was not going to initiate contact or plan anything; if he wants to see or talk to me, he’ll do so, if not, it won’t happen. That way, when we’re together, I can know that it’s because he wants to be there, not because I was pestering him.

But that’s not really working. He’ll invite me over, and then not know what to do. He’ll text me, and the conversation stops because things like “how’s your day/how are you/what’s up?” don’t occur to him. He claims that he knows I’m upset with him, which makes him think that I don’t want to talk to him, so he doesn’t initiate contact.


I don’t want to throw away over a year together over an off month, but I don’t know how to address this more directly. How can I say that I need more attention, I need you to do x, y, or z for me, without still being the one that’s pushing/planning things? I told him that he needed to invite me over sometimes, so he did, that I needed him to ask after how I was when conversing with me, so he did. But that’s micromanaging, not an expression of interest from my partner.

It’s a new problem, so I know this can work, but I’m starting to give up. Any words of wisdom?

~Small things

Dear Small Things:

You did the right thing by speaking up and asking directly for what you needed from your relationship. It was smart to pull back and then see what happened.

Then you found out what we sometimes find out when we do that: The other person either isn’t capable of giving us what we need. Or, they don’t want to.

“Please initiate plans with me.”


The silence is your answer. It means: Can’t or Doesn’t Want To.

One thing you could do that sometimes works when a relationship has come to an impasse is to ask him what his most positive and optimistic vision of the relationship is like. In a perfect world, how would things work between you too?

And then hang back a bit. Does that vision sound good to you? Is he committed to making it happen?

I think from what you’ve told me that he will struggle articulating this and that it will probably be kind of boring or some version of “What we have now, only without you being so mad all the time.” And then when it’s time to do the stuff he won’t do it. But you can ask.

Here, in my opinion, are your choices:

  • Continue running a relationship academy for this vaguely boy-shaped person that your friends think you are “lucky” to have and keep being unsatisfied.
  • Break up with him, free yourself from the constant feelings of frustration and rejection. Eventually find someone who is a good, active, attentive, demonstrative partner.

Boyfriends aren’t accessories. “Congratulations, you’ve unlocked the Boyfriend Achievement on your way to First World Female Adulthood!” They’re not golems to be molded or blank slates to be written on until they are civilized and shaped into a perfect partner. There’s this Hollywood & Glossy Magazine narrative we have that privileges having a (heterosexual) relationship over being alone (no matter the quality of the relationship) and that puts it on the woman to do the emotional work of keeping the relationship together by having the big serious talks and speaking up about feelings and stuff. And I use the word “work” on purpose. We hear that “relationships take work” and what they mean is “women’s work” – the work of reading magazine quizzes and carrying the emotional water and looking pretty all the time and finding ways to “drive him wild” in bed and cooking new recipes and making excuses. “You tricked him into ‘commitment’, now don’t let him get away!

I hear this in your friends’ “At least you have a boyfriend” (barf) responses to talking about these problems and I hear it when you say “I don’t want to throw away over a year together over an off month” and “It’s a new problem, so I know this can work.” Yes, it’s a new problem. Because something changed about his feelings or your needs.

I’m not going to say that relationships never take work, especially as we age and take on things like parenting, taking care of elderly relatives, and merging money. It takes work to merge a household and to run things smoothly. We hit bad patches. We hit times when our careers really take off (meaning we have no time) or when they flounder and we have to struggle. It takes effort to stay connected and not lose sight of each other in the midst of all the…work. But occasionally calling your sexy girlfriend and asking how her day was and planning a fun date together and participating fully in your sex life shouldn’t feel like work. If it does, something is off. And it’s a sign that you shouldn’t move into the stages of the relationship that actually take actual work.

Something is off here.

Oh, wait, let me get this out there. The classic response is to say that since these are very recent changes to wonder if something is going on with him – send him to a therapist, try to really get to the root of what’s going on – because we like having diagnoses and explaining why things are happening. It makes us feel smart, and it gives us an excuse.

Sure, ok. That’s a compassionate answer. But it comes back to Can’t vs. Doesn’t Want To. Does it really matter why this is going on? Or does it matter how he treats you? Is it your job to Sherlock Holmes out the reasons and then hold his hand while they’re resolved?

If you were going through some big problems would he do the same for you or even notice?

Sorry to be the Cassandra of Doomed Love…again…but I think you can do better than “grudging compliance.”

Dear Captain Awkward:

I (29, f) met my husband (“Dave”, 29) ten years ago and we married 3.5 years ago. We agreed I’d support us almost entirely while he figured out his future career (he was a low-paid artist). For religious reasons he refused to live together first. We disagreed but I thought I knew him well enough for it to be OK. We’d had a lot of sex and spent plenty of time together.

Dave unexpectedly inherited almost €33,000 right after our honeymoon. We agreed he’d buy a car to get to more clients, and save the rest for things like a house, course fees if he retrained, etc. I kept supporting us. I asked whether it was in a savings account, and he said yes. I trusted him.

I’d always known Dave was a bit eccentric, he was fine to date, but living with him turned out to be hard work. We were renting a one-room bedsit/studio.  I couldn’t pay for a better place on my salary, and it made me miserable.

His hygiene was worse than I realised. I found he hoarded – no joke in a bedsit. He was obsessed with cleaning certain things. He also ate a lot of junk food and gained about 40lbs. I argued with him about it for ages, and realised he probably had OCD and definitely needed some kind of therapy. I asked him to see a doctor, but he kept refusing. Dave was also very lonely (he moved to be with me) and he realised he was depressed and tried to tell me in the first few months, but I was stressed by the changes that came with him moving in and I pushed him away. I feel extremely guilty about that.

I started a part-time degree so I could get a better job. After six months Dave told me he was tired of me studying all the time, and pressured me not to study at home so much. I went out more to study, he complained he never saw me. The arguing and stress made me decide to give up the course, and I kick myself for letting it happen.

The next couple of years were messy, but eventually Dave started a course to change careers to something more profitable and that he would like. I got a different job, we moved to a bigger flat, and he went to therapy for OCD.

Things seemed to be better.

Eventually in April this year Dave wanted to talk to me about money. At length he told me that he’d spent every penny of his inherited €33,000 not just on his car, therapy and his course, but on … stuff. Like collectibles, charity donations, presents for his family, day trips for himself, rounds of drinks, a fuckton of Starbucks. He’d been borrowing from his very generous parents as well.

He said he had depression and being splashy with money made him feel better about himself. Dave explained about his childhood, bereavements, brutal bullying at school, and being lonely. I tried to be sympathetic, but it was a massive punch in the gut. I had this idea
of Dave as eccentric, but honest and responsible. My whole image of him was destroyed. I know I’m overreacting, but my sister and best friend both got into trouble (baliffs, court) with credit cards. I am so angry he nearly did that to us. I feel like an idiot for working to pay our bills for several years while he was out drinking lattes  all day. He wasn’t deliberately using me… but that’s how it feels.

He’s going to start therapy soon and he’s already on SSRIs. I’m doing my best to be supportive and kind. He knows how angry I was, and why. I feel like maybe given enough time, I’ll let it go. But I don’t know if I should stay married to him.

His diagnostician thinks he might have Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s hard getting an adult diagnosis, but it seems probable as he has the classic symptoms. Whatever the deal is, Dave has no common sense and is pretty passive, both regular Aspergers traits. I often have to stop him doing dangerous or inappropriate things. I feel like I took over from his parents when we got married and i dont relate to him on a proper adult level enough.

The thing is that since I found out about the money, I don’t feel the same. I don’t want to hug him, or hold hands, or have sex. I look at him like he’s a friend, but the desire’s not there. Our sex life’s always been passable to okay for me – I’ve had FAR better sex, but those guys weren’t ‘relationship’ material, so I settled for Dave. Now when he tries to initiate sex, I get an overwhelming “No” feeling. I still have a very high libido… just not for Dave. I’ve told him. He did not say much and seems resigned to it.

I know that all of this would be nothing if I still loved him. But I don’t think I do. It feels like someone pulled out a plug, and all the love drained away, and all that’s left are the bare problems and mistakes.

It’s been nearly three months since Dave told me. I went through anger and depression, and now I’m kind of level again. Could my feelings return to what they were? I’m so tempted to divorce. We have few assets and no kids. We have enough problems for three people and the thought of always having to look after him is frightening.

I feel tlike I’ve been taken advantage of for years. I want to say, no more. I’m out of patience. Should I even try? I feel evil for considering separating while he’s this low.

Dear Lucky #310:

Yes. Leave now. Get out now. Take the lie about the money as the precious, precious gift that it is: An obvious, good-enough reason to get out and get out forever.

Step 1: Call a therapist for yourself. Go to therapy.

Step 2: Call a lawyer. Begin separating assets.

Step 3: Call a friend with an extra room or a couch you can sleep on. Pack a suitcase and go there.

Step 4: Make some kind of final statement to Dave, like “I am sorry you are going through all of this, but I cannot be married to you anymore.”

Step 5: Communicate with him only through your lawyer.

Step 6: Keep going to therapy. Figure out what made the idea of “fixing Dave” so attractive to you. Forgive yourself for those years. Start imagining the life you could lead if you didn’t have to take care of someone to that extent and could focus on your own needs.

Step 7: Several years from now, begin to date again. If you meet someone with a giant array of problems, don’t get more involved with that person.

Let me sneak a Blanket Statement Monday in here (this is for everyone):

If you start dating someone and the first time they take you home you discover that there is a Hoard…maybe…just leave? Even if you like them. Even they seem like a good person and blah blah blah cognitive difficulties blah blah. LEAVE THE HOARD. IT IS OK TO LEAVE THE HOARD. It is ok to dump someone just because they are a hoarder.  “I’m sorry, I do really like you, but I can’t get involved with a hoarder and I can’t spend time in your house. Sorry this didn’t work out.” The early stages of dating are for figuring out whether you want to get more involved in each other’s lives. People who hoard obviously have some serious issues going on and need a lot of compassion and professional help. They may have many, fine, awesome qualities (they’d have to or you wouldn’t have gone home with them). That compassion doesn’t have to come in the form of you moving yourself and your Sympathetic Vagina into the hoard with them!

For hoard you could easily substitute a current drinking problem, drug problem, gambling problem, a history of abusing romantic partners problem, a colorful arrest record, a chronic mental illness that is not being treated, really bad financial management skills. Any  problem that is not being actively addressed and that makes you go “Oh shit, do I really want to be involved with someone that has that much crap going on?” is fair game. Wait, did I say it had to be severe and horrible? No. Dealbreakers take many forms. “Does stuff that annoys me.” “Not good in bed.” “Has stupid political opinions.” “Mama’s boy.“I don’t like his smell.” “Inattentive.” It’s okay to be picky. You don’t have to be fair about where you bestow your heart and your time and attention.

We are all flawed creatures. We all have problems. No one is perfect. I too was taught that I was supposed to forgive everyone in advance, just like Jesus. But some people are kind of really undateable until they start dealing with their own shit in an adult way that has hope of getting resolved, and I don’t have to be their personal Jesus. Nor do you. I have depression. Guess what? I have broken up with or not gotten further involved with people because they have untreated depression. I know that scares the shit out of a lot of people reading this, like, is she telling my partner to break up with me or that I am unlovable because I have problems? Well, if you aren’t dealing with your problems, and your problems are actively making life unhappy for you and your partner, and they feel like they can’t or don’t want to deal, then, yeah, maybe. People get to leave you if being with you is making them unhappy and they don’t have to exhaust every possibility before coming to that decision. And you could also make the choice to leave them for any reason at any time. Love is and should be a choice.

I don’t know what makes us double down with people like Dave. I don’t know what makes Sadness and Eternal Childhood and Addiction Issues or Chronic Fucked-upness into this magnetic pull for us. We don’t want to be the asshole who leaves someone for stuff that technically isn’t their fault? We want to feel needed? We want someone who will never leave us? We see the potential that is there and make a bet on it instead of dealing with what is? We feel like no one will ever love our fucked-up selves so we have to take it where we can find it? We like fixing stuff and feeling like the more together one in the relationship? We swallow the “All Relationships Take Work” narrative and decide somewhere that the more work something is the more worthwhile it is and roll up our sleeves? What fallacy is it that holds being totally-and-completely-non-judgmental as thing to aspire to?

You can reject someone as a romantic partner for any reason at any time, so I want to say: It’s okay to decide that someone has Too Many Problems and that you don’t want to take those on as your own. Use your judgment. Go ahead and judge. It’s not a moral failure on your part, ok? “You are Too Sad to be my boyfriend, sorry.

Letter Writer, somewhere inside you there is a tape playing the words “But he needs me!” over and over again. That tape tells you that by being self-sacrificing and trying to help Dave reach his full potential – by PARENTING YOUR HUSBAND – you are a good person and that’s how you prove you are a good person.

It is time to stop that tape player. Use any means necessary. You are 29. That is not old. You have time to go back and finish that course if you want to. You have time to find a partner who will not strangle your dreams and make you smaller in order to stay with him.

Those instincts that are telling you to leave now are your SURVIVAL instincts. The guilt about “but maybe I should stay and help him through this latest problem” is Dave’s Latest Mix Tape playing in your mind.

Hopefully he will get all the help he needs. Hopefully his parents will step in. There is no rule that says that you have to stick around for that process. Haven’t you sunk enough of your precious beautiful life into this guy?  Maybe Future Dave is a lot better. But Past Dave and Present Dave are terrible husbands. Go with that and not a dream of a better future that will justify all the shit you’ve been through. Please.

I see you two years from now in a clean, quiet place working at a job you love, supporting yourself, making new friends, meeting new people, feeling free and light as air. Please believe that your life and your relationships don’t have to be this hard.

Please make some phone calls today and start getting the hell out of that nightmare of a marriage. Expect Dave to do everything he can to keep you around up to and including threatening suicide if you go. Work with your therapist to actively plan for that threat, in fact. When the manipulation starts, when the guilt-tape starts, put your hands over your ears and keep running.

Therapist. Lawyer. Friend-with-couch. Therapist. Freedom.

107 thoughts on “#309 & #310: The Broken Record

  1. I can’t even tell you how much time I wasted trying to Fix Dave. Dave didn’t want to be fixed. Dave was just fine. I just didn’t want Dave.

    “Please [fill in the blank] for me.”


    The silence is your answer. It means: Can’t or Doesn’t Want To.”

    This is the answer. Quit throwing yourself up against this wall. This can’t be fixed.

    I’m suspecting neither letter writer really wants their Dave either, as much as they want to avoid the pain of disentanglement. But yo, Dave is a-okay with the way Dave is.

    And truthfully, my time would have been way better spent trying to fix myself and figuring out why I was willing and able to keep lowering my standards to make my Dave fit my life instead of convincing Dave I was worth fighting for.

  2. Continue running a relationship academy for this vaguely boy-shaped person that your friends think you are “lucky” to have and keep being unsatisfied.

    If you’re anything like me, LW, you’ll be Dean of Students before you even realize the academy exists, and that is not a fun realization to wake to. Run!

  3. LW #2, please do not skip the “call a lawyer” step. I know it’s tempting when you don’t have a ton of cash and the divorce seems like it should be simple (no kids! few assets!), but there are things that you need a lawyer to look out for on your behalf. Like, for example, whether Dave really came clean with you about the extent of his spending — because any debt that he took on during your marriage may well be debt that you share. Like whether, if Dave decided to try to get spousal support from you (the higher earner), you have any recourse based on Dave spending what should have been a joint asset (money he came into during your marriage). Like whether, if you’ve been making any payments into a pension (even a state pension that takes that stuff automatically off your paycheck) Dave is entitled to half of it. I don’t live in the UK and don’t know the answer to those questions, but you need to find someone who does to make sure you’re protected.

    1. Seconding this advice. Also, lawyers are useful for keeping down the drama potential. If you’re only contacting him through your lawyers, they can help filter out a lot of the guilt trips and recrimination and just get you separated and safe as quickly as possible.

    2. Yes indeed. Someone you are divorcing is temporarily your adversary. Lawyers help with that by keeping it professional and safe and inside well-defined boundaries. Calling a lawyer is taking good care of yourself.

    3. Do this, and DO NOT share a lawyer, especially if it’s one he originally retained. When my stepdad left my mom he offered to share his lawyer and get her to sign an agreement HE brokered- which included dumping the debt he racked up with the IRS (he didn’t pay the mortgage for three years!) on her.

  4. I have some thoughts for LW #309. I agree with Captain Awkward that this could be a case of he’s just not that into you. However, before totally writing off a year-long relationship, I would see if you can figure if there may be something legitimate going on with him. (In an extreme example, I once had a friend who broke things off with her fiance because he wasn’t being sufficiently attentive to her FOUR MONTHS AFTER HIS MOTHER SUDDENLY DIED with no warning. Yeah…he was a little distracted! This was her time to be attentive, not the other way around!) Now, obviously something that big hasn’t happened to your boyfriend or you’d know. But, I wonder if there is some change – extra busy time at work, fight with close friend/parent, etc. that is legitimately taking a lot of his emotional and mental energy – since apparently he used to know how to invite you over, text you, etc. I get Capt. Awkward’s advice that it’s not your job to investigate, fix, etc. and certainly that’s true – you’re under no obligation to do so and can walk away at any time! But I’m certainly glad I haven’t taken that route every time my boyfriend has had to work weekends and we can’t hang out or that he hasn’t taken that route every time I get overwhelmed with school and kinda cranky. If it feels worth it to you, I would try and have a talk that’s more about “what’s going on with you, are you stressed about something, etc.” rather than “what’s going on with me, I miss the way you used to act.” Just see where it goes – if you don’t like the answers, you’re still free to walk away, but hey – if you love this guy, it’s worth an hour of your time, right?

    1. It looks to me from the letter like she did that. And srsly, “give him a chance” gets said fat too often and “give yourself a chance” not nearly enough. I love our Capt. Awkward partly because she redresses this godawful imbalance.

      1. I agree!!! With three exclamation points, which meant I had to actually type that as a comment and not just say it silently in my head.

        1. Thank you!

          I think this ties in with the point someone made a few threads back about most people being inherently risk-averse, which combined with the messages we get about how vitally important it is to be in a relationship and then Make It Work means most women arre actually way too reluctant to leave. So, while there may indeed exist women who chuck their husband on the spur of the moment because his diamond anniversary gift was late, for every one of those there are a hundred gritting their teeth and digging themselves and their partners deeper in to the trench of misery.

          I suspect even Ms How-Could-She above, who left while her partner was in fresh grief, made the right long term decision. Grief changes people, for years or for ever, and alters their priorities, plans, even personalities. If you can’t cope with someone’s grief you have found something out about the depth of your compatibility: even then, although you owe them respect and consideration you don’t owe them your partnership and nobody wants a partner who stays out of a sense of obligation.

          1. I was actually really surprised when I read the Captain’s response to #309. Because that “give him one more chance” narrative is SO INGRAINED. It was a genuine shock (in a good way!) and incredibly refreshing to read a response that said “you don’t owe someone your companionship – you can leave any time you want for any reason you want, and THAT IS TOTALLY FINE” (sorry, am feeling a bit allcaps-y tonight).

            As has already been said above, women are socialised to do most of the work in a relationship, and it’s incredibly hard to break out of that programming.

            LW – if you wish to give your boyfriend another chance or do your best to draw an explanation out of him that satisfies you, that is absolutely fine. But if you are thinking “why the hell am I putting all the effort in to this relationship if I’m getting nothing out of it?”, then it is also totally fine to say you don’t want to do this any more. You don’t owe anyone your love or your time.

          2. Aargh, posting from phone is a Bad Idea. I *should* be posting as thegirlfrommarz but cannot get WordPress to let me change it.

            Anyway, I was going to say: to be brutal, LW#1, your boyfriend simply doesn’t sound that interested any more. I know it’s horrible, and I have been in that situation several times myself, so I know how you feel. But he’s not making any effort beyond the bare minimum. You don’t have to be in a relationship where your needs aren’t met, and it doesn’t seem like he’s planning to make any effort to meet them.

    2. I don’t know. There’s always another hour to give and another conversation to have but the line has to be SOMEWHERE.

      So maybe he’s extra stressed. Its HIS job to manage it the best he can, his job to talk about it if he needs to talk about it, his job to seek therapy if he needs therapy and, at the very very least, his job to go to the LW and say “I’m having a rough time right now and I need (X) from you. Is that ok?” Where X is “understanding that I might not be as present as usual” or “help finding a therapist” or “a temporary break from sexytimes” and then, armed with all the info, LW can make her decision about whether that’s worth the price of admission. But LW is NOT responsible for pulling that info out of him. He knows that his behavior is hurting her, if that’s not enough to fess up, then I don’t know what is.

      LW asked for what she needed and her BF either can’t or won’t provide. At this point, only a year in, I don’t know that the “why” is important, especially if the BF isn’t interested in talking about it.

      *For the record, I would guess that the “why” is “we’re past the early, heady, dating stage where we’re trying to be the best versions of ourselves and now that we’re settling into a more comfy LTR thing I’m showing my true relationship colors, which are those of a dude who doesn’t act really invested”. But I could be wrong.

      1. Right? LW said they sat BF down and said they had been feeling neglected and needed BF to initiate for a while. BF “agreed that he’s been shitty.” If there was really something else going on, other than BF and LW just not being compatible as a couple, that was a perfect opportunity for him to say, “yeah, I know I’ve been kind of shitty, I’ve just been so distracted/depressed/whatever because of [X], but I’ll try and do what I can to make you feel wanted.” Every time he awkwardly tries to make plans like LW asked, that’s another opportunity to say, “Hey, I know you asked for this from me, but I’m really struggling with [y] right now so making plans is kind of difficult for me.”

        Sure, LW can try and have one more conversation with him, or five more or ten more or whatever. There wouldn’t be anything wrong with that. But at this point, he’s had plenty of opportunities to speak up about why he might not be so into the… well, being an attentive BF thing at the moment. LW’s not really obligated to give him one MORE opportunity or mommy him into Using His Words when he has stuff going on. He’s had plenty of chances, and using his words is his own responsibility, you know?

      2. Right. And even if you have some idea of what’s going on (this is more for the general case than for LW specifically) it makes a difference if the other person says “I’m needy right now” and clarifies what they need, rather than expecting you to know that because zie is having problem A, they want you to do B and not ask for C right now.

    3. I assume “Hey, what’s up with you” came up in the initial talk, right?

      If my partner withdrew suddenly, that would be part of the talk. “You haven’t been around much lately, what’s going on?”

      Since they have talked about things, he has had chances to say “Hey, there’s some stuff you don’t know that’s going on with me,” and chosen not to take those chances. That’s what I mean about Relationship Academy. Is it her job to tease out his emotional state or his job to share what’s really going on with a partner?

      This isn’t a directive to flee at the first sign of difficulty, but if you bring up a (pretty darn solvable) problem and don’t get either a solution, an attempt at a solution, or even an explanation, how many more talks do you have before it’s just done?

      1. Oh God, so much yes! I am seriously nodding so hard right now I am about to sprain my neck.

        1. This letter and the comments about endless discussion are giving me deja vu. I WISH I had paid attention instead of being a good little worker bee to my Queen of a relationship.

  5. Look, there is every chance that both of these men could turn out in the future to be good people who have healthy and fulfilling relationships, but there is no way for you to doormat them into that, there is no way for you to love them into it or to ultimatum them into it. You can’t make these men into anything. What you can do is make yourself happy,and neither of you sound like you are happy now, so maybe do something about that?

  6. Me too. Eight years of wasted precious, beautiful life and the only reason I can live without regret for those lost eight years is that it taught me how precious and beautiful my life is now I am free from parenting a man seven years older than myself, who lied and and cheated and lay on the couch with his hand over his eyes mired in his depression while I worked – effing hard – to hold us together, pay our bills, pay his child support, clean up his messes. Sweet Jeebus, what was I thinking!

    I knew – at month three – that this was Not Good For Me…and yet I persevered against all odds. I had Ani DiFranco’s Joyful Girl words running through my head whenever I felt like I was drowning in the misery that was my life with this man: “do you prefer the easy way? well ok then, don’t cry.” What I didn’t realise that freedom isn’t “the easy way”, freedom just doesn’t suck the life from my soul and the bounce from my step and the light in my eyes. And crying is fine, but own your life and acknowledge that pain, difficulty, misery and lack of enthusiasm isn’t normal and needs attention.

    LWs, being alone is a glorious state that is far far far better than being trapped in a miserable cage of your own creation. Set yourselves free. There may not be the great dude on the horizon (although the possiblity is strong, there’s a lot of great dudes out there) but the beauty in being absolutely ok alone and at peace with the glorious life that is ALL YOURS pales all else by comparison.

    1. Catyshark, I love you for this :”LWs, being alone is a glorious state that is far far far better than being trapped in a miserable cage of your own creation. Set yourselves free. There may not be the great dude on the horizon (although the possiblity is strong, there’s a lot of great dudes out there) but the beauty in being absolutely ok alone and at peace with the glorious life that is ALL YOURS pales all else by comparison”

      That is all.

    2. I knew – at month three – that this was Not Good For Me…and yet I persevered against all odds

      Right, this is kind of what happened to me also.

      Why is this so common?

      I think there is definitely a narrative that “relationships are tough” and that women are supposed to behave as carers to men. The harder the challenge, the better we are.

      I went to a wedding recently where the rabbi gave a long spiel about how we are all born half of one whole and when we meet our soul mate, our other half, then we are complete but how we must work so hard to make the relationship successful… Blah blah, so you better not get divorced as then you are just not trying hard enough.

      Nobody is half of anything and if it’s making you miserable – leave.

      1. Unfortunately there’s a lot of cultural programming that comes from religious upbringing. Coming from a christian home- as a little girl I was taught to “submit to [my] husband” and that women are the more nuturing, which meant I was required to care for everyone (husband included).

        It’s also driven home with hammer and nails that divorce is worse than boiling live puppies. You make the baby Jesus cry when you get divorced, which apparently means that you’re a bad person who ought to be shunned and stoned. I think it has something to do with those vows of “richer/poorer, good times/bad times, etc all”

        I do know that the christian mentality of laying down your life for your friend is part of what makes it so difficult for religious people to have or enforce boundries. You’re not being a good christian if you’re actively being selfish by having boundries. “Jesus didn’t have any, so why do you get them?” This is a phrase my own mother has used, and it horrifies me like few other things do. Many religious people see having boundries as selfishness, and that being particular on who you allow into your heart and/or sexy-bits is being judgmental. This is something Jesus was not, and by not being like him, everyone in your church is allowed to brow beat you for it.

        Culturally we’re taught that something is wrong with us if we’re not paired off. It’s subtle and insidious, and it’s re-enforced with the broad hammer of guilt that says you’re a bad person if you don’t shoulder all the problems of someone else.

        LW’s, relationships are a combination of good times and easy times. More than anything, you need to listen to what your instincts are telling you. When it comes down to brass tacks, you’re the one who lives your life and is accountable for the choices you made along the way. Do what your gut is saying is best, not what the peanut gallery thinks. We’re just spectators- you’re the one living your life!

        1. I think at this point, it’s so much a part of the cultural soup (and here I’m thinking of the US culture with which I have experience, but it’s widespread) as to transcend religion. I am at least a 4th generation atheist on every side, and I still come from a family of women who considered it their responsibility to be martyrs to their men.

          1. Is your family my family? Seriously, at this moment in time one of them is trying to teach the new boyfriend that she is allowed to have opinions, while another doesn’t know if she’s in a relationship because that is apparently a thing he gets to decide. And that’s the low-grade stuff.

        2. “LW’s, relationships are a combination of good times and easy times. ”


          My significant other and I are working our way through a tough transition right now – graduating college, moving to a new city where we don’t really know anyone, starting new jobs – and sometimes things are kinda rough. Some days I get really lonely, some days he has a hard time handling job stress, some days we get grumpy at each other for good reasons or bad reasons. These are not easy times, but they are still good times. We still have fun, have really fun conversations, and give each other the warm fuzzies. We still make each other smile every day. Life is a little hard right now, and that certainly bleeds over into our relationship sometimes. But our relationship is not what is hard.

          1. “Life is a little hard right now, and that certainly bleeds over into our relationship sometimes. But our relationship is not what is hard.”


            Thank you. I’m about to enter that stage myself, as my boyfriend and I graduate, and it will be nice to keep this in mind as the test for how things are between us.

          2. If I may suggest: Dinner parties. Invite anyone remotely cool over for dinner and ask them to bring someone else fun. Do it on week nights so everyone has to go home early. Order take out if you don’t cook.

            It builds a social network and even if you don’t meet your new best friends, you will learn about the social side of your new city and start getting invites out to do other things. You don’t have to do them all, but it is meeting new people in a space and time that you control, one on one so you actually get to meet them, two or three at a time.

            Fitting into a new city is really rough. My now husband and I stumbled on this dinner party thing and it has been amazing. Having a social life and getting integrated into a support network really helps with other stress and makes a new city feel more like home.

        3. I’m not Christian, or any kind of believer, but I’ve read the New Testament, and it seemed to me that Jesus had rock-solid boundaries. Seems like he spent half his time telling his disciples they were being idiots. 🙂

          1. Makes me wonder if Jesus felt like he was running a relationship academy (among others) sometimes! 🙂

        4. Yes! Maybe Jesus didn’t have boundaries, but he also ended up nailed to a cross. So I think it’s fair to not want to emulate Jesus in every possible regard, even if he was super super nice, you know?

        5. This post is hitting home so hard for me, mostly the past, a few things in the present. I swear I actually have a long-ass email typed out to CA about some recent shit that I’m trying to shovel but it’s too long, I need to edit it and just writing it has helped.

          Anyway, the point is, even in a super-feminist, not at all religious (to the point of being baffled by it all) family like mine, my mom was telling me yesterday that “guys just bottle up their emotions” and “you’re better off leaving them alone” (and not trying to talk to them about something that IS KILLING THE RELATIONSHIP.)

          WTF is that non-awesome sauce? If you can’t have a reasonable conversation with me without cursing me out, you’re not “just a guy bottling up his feelings” you’re an inappropriate sukly teenager who does not get to share space with me.

      2. And it never, never comes down to rabbi, or priest, or the world in general, suggesting the male half of a male-female pair actually has to do the work.

  7. LW 310, you can definitely go back to school! Even if you wait another 20 years, then go, it’ll be worthwhile if you’re doing what you want to do. When I went back to school at 28 (note very close to your age now), there were loads of people older than me and with different experiences, and it was incredibly great to have them there. Community colleges are especially good about adding up your credit from previous courses, but universities will help you sort things out too. I’m almost finished with a Ph.D. now. If you want to complete that course, nothing has to stop you. Good luck.

    1. My mom went back to school in her mid-50s, taking a few credits (amazingly) from her early 20s with her. I think most of my transitions in adulthood have been easier for me because she did that, because I have seen someone live the idea that it really is never too late to change your mind and do something new. She got a good 10 years out of a brand new career before retiring.

  8. I was lucky. I dated my “Dave” when I was still in college. And I did exactly what LW #310 is doing (albeit on a smaller scale)–believed that he was a good person with just a few problems, and if I fixed them he’d be a great boyfriend.

    He never refused to be fixed; he just passively sabotaged it. I took him shopping for apartments so he could stop living with his parents, and he smiled and said “this place looks great” and then never called the landlord back. I cleaned his room and it was dirty the next time I visited. I told him he had to start going to class and he went to one class.

    I think the nastiest thing is that we were both made miserable by this. My “Dave” hated when I acted like his mom. He resented it and felt humiliated by it. The “later” in “he’ll thank me later” never came.

    And it doesn’t sound like 310’s will either. Not only is he not going to be fixed, but he’s not even going to be grateful the LW tried. Which makes a very good argument that it’s better for both of them if they end it.

    Plus, on a more practical/cynical level, I think that Dave won’t stop spending just because the 33,000 is gone. Esti’s comment recommending a lawyer is a very, very good idea.

    (My “Dave” wasn’t my last relationship with a dude who had Troubles. But it was my last relationship where I made them my troubles. I’ve dated people with mental illnesses and it was fine so long as they managed it themselves. I would help them with things like “can you give me a ride to my psych’s office?” or “I’m having a real bad time, come over and comfort me,” but asking for that kind of help is a part of self-management. Sitting around being miserable at your partner is not.)

    1. The Gentleman Caller and I had a Diagnosis Disclosure very early in dating (definitely before pants came off), and I’m so glad we did. It was honest, complete, and very matter-of-fact. It covered “This is how this works, this is how I manage it, this is what it looks like when it’s not-so-good, this is what I need from you.” It made it okay to talk about that stuff right from the beginning. Nobody got surprised or blindsided. It was vulnerable and scary to be honest because we liked each other a lot, and there was definitely a risk that the other person would back away, but I’m so glad that getting more involved felt like an informed choice vs. Love Me, Love All My Issues. There was no sense that anybody wanted or needed to be fixed or (thank god) parented.

      Having a mental illness doesn’t make you a bad partner. Lying, compulsive spending, not paying attention, asking your partner to drop out of school so they can spend more time parenting you makes you a bad partner until yuo take a lot of steps to pull yourself together.

      You can have compassion for someone without yoking your life to theirs.

      1. Yep, we did the same thing during a very long walk. It was scary but necessary. We now own a home together and I can almost wrap my brain around the possibility of us being together until one of us dies, yet I still check in with myself at intervals about whether this is working or whether I need to consider walking away. I’ve always been that way and used to think that it was just that I feared commitment, but I think it’s just that I have good survival instincts. In the current situation, it’s because I am still trying to find that balance between being supportive and rescuing/parenting.

    2. “asking for that kind of help is a part of self-management. Sitting around being miserable at your partner is not.”

      I really needed to read this today. Thank you, Cliff!

    3. I feel this way about my history of depression. I have some issues, I can manage them myself, if you want to give me a hug sometimes and hear about my day that would be great and really helpful; do NOT try to fix me, I got this (and when I don’t I’ll go to a counselor).

    4. I think that Cliff’s last paragraph is important. I dated and married a dude who has Troubles–major medical issues that bleed into much of our lives and mean he’s fully disabled. At this point, I provide a fair amount of logistical support. But I am not his shrink, his savior, or his mommy. Sometimes I have problems with what he’s doing that I address with him by means of Using My Words, and he responds. Sometimes he cannot, and then we brainstorm for other solutions. What he doesn’t do is ignore what I need. Nor does he discourage my ambitions. Nor does he lie to me, nor gaslight me.

      I am glad I didn’t look at the Holy shit, issues! pile and opt out. There are problems–but they are not relationship problems, just Life Happens problems.

    5. As someone who wastes a good portion of the student loan on lattes, he will not stop spending now. When my bank account gets to zero, I go into the savings, because I don’t have an overdraft because I would spend it. That is why this year is Therapy and Budgeting Year.

      As someone whose mum got saddled with lots of debts after her husband’s irresponsible spending (technology which broke because he also had an anger problem 8D), you do not want to have that over your head.

  9. LW #2, you said:

    I feel like an idiot for working to pay our bills for several years while he was out drinking lattes all day. He wasn’t deliberately using me… but that’s how it feels.

    After the story you told us, I have to completely disagree. I think that’s exactly what using someone looks like. So that’s why it feels that way! Using people doesn’t have to involve a 5-year premeditated plan.

    I am so mad on your behalf. And so sorry you have to deal with this mess. And I hope you extricate yourself and have future huge happiness!

    1. Oh so much this. He used the letter writer really badly. He doesn’t get to write history his way “I used you because I was sad and sick and selfish.” Whatever, user dude. This was your wife that you treated like that, living off her and spending your own money on fun times for you.

      I don’t care if he felt badly about it or if he’s lying. It was ten years of using his wife this way. I wouldn’t waste breath on telling this dude what I think of him. He’s literally not worth it.

      Letter writer, the husband you thought you knew never existed. This man is wearing his skin, but he’s not that loving responsible guy. No wonder you don’t want to touch him. He gives me the creepy crawlies. Your life will be a gajillion times more awesome without him.

    2. The letting-her-support-him-and-his-art thing isn’t bad if that was their agreement (See #308). The lies and the squandering the resources that meant that the LW might be able to pursue some long-term financial security, home ownership, graduate school, etc. is a huge violation. You don’t just forgive and forget that kind of thing.

      1. Yep-although I personally would probably not be comfortable supporting my SO entirely, that part was agreed upon. The spending $33,00 EUROS (in Canadian dollars that’s like a gagillion! 😉 ) and borrowing from parents is HUGE. The fact that he did all that without talking to his wife is a huge red flag. That level of fiscal irresponsibility and lack of communication will not go away, even if he treats depression. Can spending money make you feel better if you’re depressed? Sure. But most people have will stop before it gets too bad (yes, depression affects everyone differently, and some people totally self destruct, but if you are someone who is really good with money before being depressed, you probably won’t become a total disaster. But if you are awful to start with, you probably WILL be a total disaster), and pretty much everyone would talk to their wife.

        LW- you are obviously pretty responsible with money. And Dave is pretty obviously not. As another person who is very money-conscious, that would be a total deal breaker. And I think it is legitimate. Would you ever trust Dave with money again? Would you constantly be worrying that he was spending money behind your back? If he can not just depend on you to support him, but recklessly and carelessly spend money while doing so, you do not want to stick around. You say it wasn’t like he was out drinking lattes while you worked…but he was. What he did was very selfish and showed a total lack of respect for you and your hard work. I don’t think that will change.

        Also- your letter was full of complaints and problems, moderated by “he’s a really nice guy”. Except he’s a really nice guy isn’t a specific tangible thing that can make you stick around. I am sure there was something there 10 years ago, but from this letter you sound like there is nothing left in your relationship except a feeling of obligation on your part. (That sounds harsh, but I’m not trying to be mean! I’m just wondering if you’ve realized how much your feelings towards him have changed).

        You want love and mutual respect, and happiness and puppies. You DESERVE that. So don’t settle for no-love, respect or trust!

  10. To the first LW:

    A friend once told me something very wise. After repeatedly being stood up, ignored, and given the silent treatment by my first boyfriend (which made me think it was something I was doing and only made me want to try harder to make things work), she said “Neglect is a form of abuse.”

    Perhaps it’s not the kind of abuse that necessitates police action or a transition house, but that one sentence brought the situation into sharper focus for me. Rather than bend over backwards to try to get my boyfriend to acknowledge me or spend time with me, I dumped him and have been much happier for it. Funnily enough, he was totally blindsided.

    Part of the dating experience is asking for what you want and, if needs be, accepting that you won’t get it from your current situaion and looking elsewhere.

    There are plenty of people out there who will be happy -nay, ENTHUSIASTIC- to spend time with you, talk to you, and engage in sex with you. The thing is that you’ll never have the opportunity to meet them or explore a relationship with them if you’re using up time and energy trying to get someone who can’t/won’t acknowledge you to stop neglecting you.

    Don’t think of your leaving as being fickle and not making things work with Self-Absorbed McNeglecterpants. Think of it as giving Likes-you McSpendsometime a chance.

    1. This this and more this! I had two Daves in a row who unconsciously taught me that yes, I just need to try HARDER next time, and I wasted 10 years trying to nurture them into an actual person who would be in a relationship with me. The insulting thing is that I had to initiate the breakups both times. They weren’t happy either, but they didn’t have the courtesy OR the self respect to set me free. Now I can pity them from afar and Dr. LikesMe McSeriouslyLikesMe is a much better companion.

  11. I’d really like “All Relationships Take Work” to take a walk back behind the chemical shed and not return. It’s not doing anyone any good. We hear it and we think: Work. Job. I HATE my job. My job is shit. And even if my particular job isn’t shit, we all know that “work” is supposed to be “that thing you do because you don’t really have any choice, and it sucks, but you slog through anyway, because it’s WORK, and if it didn’t suck, it would be called FUN.” So then we make our relationships like that, and they’re miserable. And we’re miserable. But at least we’re not single.

    There are obviously great wads of cultural assumptions wrapped up in that story, and I know that none of us really believe them (not all of them, at any rate), but they’re so ingrained in Western cultures that we’ve likely all breathed the vapors. And even the vapors are a toxic lie.

    Relationships Are Work in the same way that making a film is work. Or holding a photo shoot! Organizing an event! Building a giant alien metal fire sculpture thing for people who are high as neon kites to walk around on in the middle of the desert! These are all collaborative, creative enterprises. A relationship is a collaborative, creative enterprise. And that means that sometimes you’ll be stressed and sometimes you’ll get on each other’s tits, because that happens. But it’s okay, because you are building your dreams together. And if you’re not? If you wake up one day, and you realise you don’t know what it is you’ve been hammering on all this time, and you’ve mislaid the blueprints, and were there even blueprints, and whose idea was this, and these angles, they’re so peculiar—

    You are building a cage. Run.

    1. THIS! This on a t-shirt! This on national television! This as the subliminal mantra played while we sleep at night! This in the drinking water! This this this this!!!!

    2. The other thing I find odd is when people say that “After the initial magic dies down, relationships start to take work.” This is as false as the idea that the ‘work’ of a relationship should be generally unpleasant. The initial part of a relationship takes lots of work, communicating and figuring out what your expectations are and where you might want to go with this and learning what your partner likes and what zie cannot stand. It’s all work, and it’s usually pleasant work, bound up in the joy of meeting a new person and exploring each other.

      So yes, if the ‘work’ of a relationship is all being done by one person, or if it’s generally unpleasant for you, or especially if that work is damaging you emotionally, this is NOT normal. You can leave — you can always leave, and in this case you probably should.

    3. ‘A relationship is a collaborative, creative enterprise.’

      That’s an amazing way to put it, thank you!

  12. I also want to point out that sometimes our partners can grow into better, happier, more fulfilled and more fulfilling partners—and that if they are to do it at all, they have to do it without us. I’ve recently reconnected with an ex, an ex for whom I was an enormous source of support, an ex who had a terribly difficult time breaking up with me, and she’s grown so very much in just the several months we weren’t in touch. More than that, it’s completely clear to me that the growing that she did relied on being broken up with me.

    Let me be clear: you shouldn’t break up in the best interests of someone else. It’s not a good way to manage it. And you shouldn’t stay with someone in their best interest if it’s not in yours. But as partners who think of ourselves as The Caring Ones, the Helpful Ones, the Supportive Ones—not inaccurately!—it can be really important and useful to remember that sometimes what our loves need is to be apart from us, to grow into the stronger people we were hoping they would become.

  13. I think the opt in/opt out structure of our relationships is kind of messed up. You opt in once and then it is assumed that your opt in is continued, no matter what happens, until you opt out and that opt out is a big, hairy deal. While I know, in my brain, that we really choose to opt into a relationship on a moment by moment basis, just like I choose to work at my job on a moment by moment basis, it doesn’t *feel* that way.

    I’d like to structure a relationship with regular periodic evaluation and re-opting, to say once a year or once every three years or however long, we are going to take some time and decide whether to re-up our commitment for another period of time until the next evaluation.

    1. I dunno about the “once a year” thing–I’m pretty sure I’d spend the days leading up to that re-evaluation barfing and crying, then desperately hiding it from my partner so it didn’t bias him against me. I’m a big supporter of scheduled “let’s talk about our relationship” meetings, but a “let’s see if we’re going to break up today” meeting would be… dear God. It’s one thing to know that my partner is free to break up with me at any time for any reason, it’s another to periodically hold me in suspense and rub my nose in it.

      But I agree that opting out definitely shouldn’t be a “only if something horrible happens” thing. Just being unhappy with the relationship–even sorta unhappy! even if it’s not the worst unhappiness that could possibly be!–ought to be enough.

  14. A person’s true character comes out when they are handed a big pile of adversity to overcome. And life is so, so full of this stuff. There will always be something stressful going on. If this is how dude handles himself when the going gets tough, you don’t want any part of it.

  15. I have a feeling that part of the attraction of Sadness and Eternal Childhood and Addiction Issues or Chronic Fucked-upness might be abdication of responsibility.

    *shrug* Dunno. What do people think?

    1. I’ll buy this, at least in some cases, and definitely in my own history. A partner who has delayed fully growing up or who has regressed into adolescence during a bad patch can be a really fun person to stay up late watching bad TV with. They don’t pressure you to get your shit together and are great companions for the part of you that doesn’t want to grow up all the way. For a while. And then eventually you realize that you’re enabling each other’s worst tendencies and the attraction dies and you move on to better things, hopefully.

      1. That’s definitely been part of it for me in the past – I sort of confused “does not judge me because I have my shit together WAY MORE THAN HIM” with “is an open-minded always emotionally safe person!”

        But I think a lot of it was really this idea that being compassionate meant sticking with someone no matter how hard their issues were for you. 18-year-old me would have been all “but that’s what people in love do! they take care of each other!”

        My partner when I was 18 was in many ways a Dave. I supported him, because for 90% of our relationship he didn’t have a job (or at least not one that gave him much in the way of hours). He had a long list of psychiatric issues that he more or less refused to get any help for (he had a brief stint in therapy while we dated, but really didn’t buy into it and hid a lot from his therapist). I was his one and only confidant. He usually didn’t have enough money to buy food, so I would buy us both at least two meals every day, which he was always acting SO GUILTY about…though when he decided he wanted a laptop he miraculously managed to save up $1000 over just a couple months. As far as house work went, I either did it all or nagged him into helping – which was about twice as much effort as just doing it by myself. One of the memories that most defines the relationship for me now: Coming home, after a day of both work and school, finding him naked on the couch playing video games. The one thing I had asked him to do while I was gone – load and run the dishwasher – was not done.

        And getting back to why I bought into it all: He also had this idea that loving people meant you totally disregarded your own happiness in favor of theirs. In retrospect, it was really self-destructive on his part. I didn’t realize it at the time – we were just So In Love and his life was So Tragic and I waited and waited for the day when I would Just Love Him Enough to save him. It didn’t occur to me how self-destructive this was, how it actually wasn’t doing either of us any favors. You can’t cure mental illness by loving someone. At best you can sort of push beneath service for a little while, while everyone is all trippy-happy-new-relationship-in-love. But even as I started to realize that, I still felt like my future was written: I Loved Him, therefore we would be together forever…and I resigned myself to trying to figure out how I would manage my future with him, loving him, miserable, a motherfucking martyr for love. Because he would totally be a Love Martyr for me too, right? Because that made it okay?

        1. Holy shit, are you me? (Hint: if, when you came home and found him naked on the couch playing video games, dishwasher not run, he complained about what a mess the place was, you are in fact me.)

          1. Possible you are both also me. Martyr to love is for the freakin’ birds, but god is it hard to realize that at the time.

        2. Yes, yes YES. My Davette said she needed unconditional love, by which she evidently meant a theory basically like your guy’s: love means total self-abnegation, do not ask for anything, do everything you can to satisfy a person who it is BAD to try to convince to satisfy you.

          The thing I didn’t find my words for until she stopped calling (and I stopped calling to get her to call) was, if one gives everything to make the other person happy, how did that end up being MY JOB SO OFTEN even though I was miserable doing it, and she knew I was? What aside from minor saying-goodbye (“but it UPSETS me to make myself realize you’re really going!”) and similar stuff had she Given Up to make me happy?

          This is a theory not about mutual love, but about one person loving and the other one being loved, which is not a relationship but a crush that the other person exploits.

  16. As someone who was once horrible with my personal finances, (my handle is true, I am a CPA, Dr. heal thyself and all that) it is PROFOUNDLY uncool to heap that crap on your significant other.

    My now husband helped me overcome my massive debt and spending problems with appropriate levels of support, encouragement, and butt-kicking. If I had SECRETLY spent $33,000 (wait, EUROS! So like $50,000 depending on the timeline) while he was supporting (emotionally, not financially) me to get through that rough patch and help me become better at finances… I’m sure he would have left me. WITH 100% A-OKAY CONSCIENCE.

    LW 310, your husband may be great in many ways, but he screwed you over and he knew he was doing it, and that is NOT COOL.

  17. I know a woman who’s been parenting her husband for… oh, the last fifteen years or so of their 25 year marriage. He’s brought in a paycheck (thank goodness!) and she has done literally everything else, from house work to raising kids to having actual emotions and attachment. It blows chunks. She’s staying put for her kids’ sake, which has been the right choice for her particular situation, but I’m betting she’ll be out of there within six months of the last kid leaving home. She’s not happy, and hasn’t been for a very long time.

    Don’t get stuck there. It isn’t worth it, I promise. When you parent a kid, they eventually grow up. When you find yourself parenting an adult… usually not.

  18. I don’t know what makes us double down with people like Dave

    I think it’s because we want it to be true that love can make someone better, because we feel so hopelessly flawed and we can’t intellectually grasp how to “fix” those flaws to make us worthy of the love we want. We assume the solution exists in someone else. So we figure, if I can help him through this rough patch, it means there is hope for me. I’ll help him, and then he’ll see how amazing I can be, and he’ll help me. So we give the deep care and forgiveness to others that we are starving for ourselves.

  19. I feel a bit weird because my current boyfriend is a bit like #309’s boyfriend, though not to that extreme. The problem is that I organize everything out of necessity – we live 45 min apart and it’s just easier to do things where I live than where he lives because of driving times. Because I know where things are and he doesn’t, we just got into this habit of my finding things to do. It doesn’t help that he doesn’t like to ask for things that he wants. We’ve talked about it, and he’s getting better at asking for what he wants, but it’s hard sometimes and I totally get the whole “but doesn’t asking for things mean that I’m controlling things?” thing.

    1. What if you said “Hey, I want to see you on Friday, but I don’t feel like making the plan. Could you scope out a restaurant or something else you’d like to do? I’m up for whatever.”

    2. It took a very long time and a lot of conversations before my boyfriend was able to explain that he never suggested anything, never planned anything, and never expressed any significant wants, because he had found the many disappointments in his life so painful that he couldn’t bear the thought of inflicting disappointment on me by something he suggested not working out.

      During this time he did force himself to take the initiative every so often, despite finding it very stressful, because I was very clear it was important for me. This made all the difference, and I made it clear how happy his efforts made me.

      As his life has improved he’s been able to plan and suggest more things, and now he is pretty fantastic at it – despite still finding the process a worry. When I want to find out what he wants, I try to do it in a low pressure environment, such as when he’s driving, or when we’re having a relaxed and rambling conversation about nothing in particular. Parenting? Codependent? Dunno. But it does make me happy that because of me this wonderful man is able to express what he wants and have it happen – and very often, what he wants is to do nice things for me.

  20. I wonder how often the (correct!) message of “don’t write people off because they’re mentally ill” gets translated into the (wrong!) message of “don’t reject a current or prospective romantic partner because they have a mental illness that is impossible for you to live with*”. In the abstract it sounds compassionate and accepting to go into a relationship with someone troubled, but the concrete may be different.

    *I’m not limiting it to untreated/insufficiently treated mental illness because no treatment completely fixes the underlying problem instantly, let alone all the missing-stair stuff and other damage from before there was treatment; if the change is slower than you need it to be, you are not obliged to put or keep yourself in that situation.

    1. This.

      I was planning to say this earlier, but you got to it first —

      I’ve seen a bunch of people recently mention (in DTMFA letters) the mental health diagnoses of their SIs — not as a reason to dump them but as some sort of overall excuse for their behavior. And that bugs me.

      Ultimately, you’re not dating a diagnosis. You’re dating a person. And if that person comes with several dealbreakers, it doesn’t matter whether or not those dealbreakers can be attributed to a mental illness. They’re still dealbreakers. A diagnosis is an explanation. It can — at times (though probably not for #310) — be a reason to assume good faith. It might clue you in on why your partner behaves the way they do, it might help you find ways to accomodate them, it might make you be more understanding, it might help your partner know what areas they need to work on — but, if the condition is a permanent one, it doesn’t make a dealbreaker any less dealbreaker-y.

      I have cats. If my SI isn’t willing to live with cats, that’s a dealbreaker. Ultimately, knowing he has a serious allergy may make me feel more sympathetic towards him than just assuming he doesn’t like cute furry things — but being diagnosed with an allergy, even a life-threatening one, doesn’t change the fact that not being able to live with cats is a dealbreaker for me.

      People are the same after being handed a diagnosis. So are dealbreakers. And, while sticking with a partner with some sort of extreme mental illness is often portrayed as heroic, it’s often impractical and painful.

      1. “And if that person comes with several dealbreakers, it doesn’t matter whether or not those dealbreakers can be attributed to a mental illness. They’re still dealbreakers. ”

        This. A million times this. Also, “I’m working on it” doesn’t excuse deal breakers either. If they do get better, you can have a relationship then.

        1. Yeah, if you think “I am working on it” is always sufficiently a reaction you are more likely to fall in the trap that you ‘have to make it work’ or ‘give them another chance’.

  21. LW, both of you but especially 310, you do not have to martyr yourself at the altar of your partner’s inadequacies and difficulties. You don’t. Yes, part of being in a long-term relationship is helping each other through hard times, but even with that, you’re allowed to say you’ve reached the limit of what you can handle. You’re allowed to say that the way someone is handling that hard time isn’t something you can deal with (and it sounds like both of you are very much in this boat). You ultimately have to be the Captain, CEO, and Grand Poobah of Team You before you’re anything on Team Anybody Else.

    Take a deep breath and do what you have to do for you and not anybody else. Quiet the voice in your brain that all of our social programming and sympathy put there and do what’s right for you.

  22. #309:
    I’m sorry you’ve hit such a weird rough patch. That sucks. In my experience, that kind of detachment is usually caused by Just Not Feeling It Anymore, followed by a breakup. But then, the breakups happened a lot more quickly — they didn’t linger for more than two weeks, especially if I said, “Hey, what’s up?”

    You had a good 11 months, and what’s happening now is puzzling, to say the least. If you want to stick it out a little longer to try to figure it out, see if it can be fixed, nobody should judge you. But if you soon end up wanting to leave because nothing’s been fixed … please don’t judge yourself.

    I can’t add much to what everyone else has said. You already know what you want. Good luck extracting yourself with as little angst as possible.

  23. Oh, and this …

    Figure out what made the idea of “fixing Dave” so attractive to you.

    While I’m heartily cheering all the Captain’s advice (“It’s OK to leave! Here’s how!”), I don’t think everybody who gets enmeshed in this kind of thing does it because they love rescuing. Nothing about #310’s letter says “I want to fix him.” She got involved with someone who was a lot more broken than he appeared, and by the time the worst cracks became visible, they were already married. It happens.

    And again, it really is OK to leave. Jedi hugs!

    1. Yes! I think a lot of times more psychologically astute people—or those who like to think of themselves that way—tend to assume that if you’re engaged in an unhealthy behavior, it must have something for you. Sometimes that’s right. But sometimes you stay with the asshole partner because the sex is great, or the shitty-sex partner because they’re so kind, or whatever. There are plenty of reasons to stay when you should go, and loving the dysfunction isn’t necessarily one of them.

  24. So two months ago I was basically LW #309. There were some differences, but, you know, essentially the same.

    One month ago we broke up. And actually I am still not over it, but, at the time, it was actually kind of a relief? Like, at least I don’t have to deal with this constant “why won’t you just HANG OUT WITH ME THAT IS ALL I ASK GEEZ” kind of thing. Like, it used to be so easy, and I didn’t understand how it suddenly became so hard! But it should always be easy, really. And I am glad that I hung on and didn’t give up, because I needed to know, for myself, that I had really said everything there was to say, and done everything I could do, and it still failed. And that was up to him, not me. I feel better knowing I didn’t give up, but the thing is, there is a point where you are just repeating yourself. There’s a point where it’s just, “look I just wanna hang” and he’s STILL blowing you off, where it is like, relationships take two people. Both people have to relate to have a relationship, and if you are not in this with me, then there is no relationship. And no amount of wishful thinking will make it a relationship.

    I don’t want to be sitting here telling anyone to try until they are absolutely sure they tried everything, because I definitely think there is a cutoff point where you just aren’t getting the reciprocal caring from the other person. As the Captain says, people who like you will act like they like you. If they like you, they will want to spend time with you. Not every day, maybe, and not at your whim as if they are automatons, but they will want to be with you. Sometimes I don’t feel like hanging out with my best friend, but overall we pretty much spend time together regularly with fairly equal asking (i.e. each of us asks the other to hang out, it’s not always the one person). So if your SO isn’t doing that, it’s a sign that something is wrong. And if there isn’t an external factor with like, some kind of expiration date? Like, “hey my family member just died, I’m going to be upset for a few months to a year etc”? If it’s just like “yeah I don’t know I just feel kind of ho hum about it”? Then just DTMFA.

    You deserve better. And I know, it is hard to believe. I am still trying to convince myself that I deserve better, when I am still thinking “but it was so good, if only I could travel back in time…!” But this isn’t Back to the Future or Doctor Who and time travel doesn’t exist, and we have to believe that there is someone who will treat us as we want to be treated, because in a world with seven billion people the odds are definitely in our favor.

    Jedi hugs forever, LW’s.

    The whole point of a relationship, whether is it friendship or romantic, is that it makes you feel good and happy. If that isn’t happening? Then definitely time to give it up, no matter how happy you used to be. We can only live in the present, not the past, and definitely not that hypothetical future where that person twisting us up inside somehow gets their shit together and stops hurting us.

  25. I’ve had FAR better sex, but those guys weren’t ‘relationship’ material, so I settled for Dave.

    For me, this is what jumped out from letter #310. Not the sex part, but the word “settled”. I think, anytime you feel you have “settled” for your significant other, that’s a bad sign. Not that you’re bad, or they’re bad, but yeah, the relationship is not really meant to be.

    1. Slightly off-topic because I’ve been preoccupied with this lately, but you know what? Sex is important. Sometimes I think we are socialized to discount the importance of really good sex, because it’s “just” sex and we are supposed be in relationships with people for less shallow reasons, like personality and intelligence and values. But then you realize that having incredible sexual chemistry someone is actually really rare. It’s ok to seek that out and it’s ok to mourn it when it doesn’t work out. If sex is important to you, let it be important to you! Good sex should be part and parcel of “relationship material.” And people have “settled” in relationships for worse reasons than incredible sex!

      1. Oh yeah, I agree that sex can be important (depending on your level of sex drive, whether you’re asexual, etc.) and isn’t a shallow thing. It didn’t seem like it was the main issue in the LW’s case, is all.

        1. Haha, sure, it definitely isn’t the major issue in this relationship. I just thought it was telling that she chose to mention that she’d had far better sex, implying that sex is at least somewhat important to her but is mutually exclusive from “relationship material”! But yes, in conclusion, settling = bad!

  26. Oh man.

    Dear LW #309 – firstly, tell your friends to stick a sock in it. They aren’t dating this guy, you are – maybe they’ve bought into the Better With Ted Bundy Than Alone!! mentality, but I wouldn’t continue bringing your relationship issues to them if all they’re going to do is tell you to settle for being with someone who makes you unhappy.

    My Darth ex pulled similar crap. We lived about an hour away, and because he had his own place and I didn’t, I did pretty much 100% of the traveling – only to show up at his apartment, and we’d sit together on the couch. Because although he had a pretty active social life otherwise, apparently he just couldn’t manage to plan something as involved as walking 400 feet to a restaurant or whatever. After a while I got sick of it and told him he needed to put in more of an effort, which – cue relationship unraveling! I guess it was a combination of laziness, entitlement, and selfishness, but it’s really not worth the time and energy to be with someone you have to browbeat into wanting to spend time with you.

    Your boyfriend is sending you a pretty clear signal when he ignores you, doesn’t initiate contact, doesn’t plan stuff for the two of you, etc. He may be trying to pull the slow fade, or doing the I’ll-be-so-awful-she’ll-have-to-dump-me! thing. And yes, maybe he legitimately has other stuff going on that is making it hard to devote attention to your relationship, but there are ways to handle that (as in, maybe Using Your Words and telling your partner this?) but he’s choosing not to.

    Listen to what he’s telling you. His claim that he’s not talking to you because he “knows you’re upset” is pure, grade-A bullpucky. It’s bullshit behavior because 1) he’s throwing the responsibility back on you, with a heapin’ helpin’ of It’s All Your Fault!! on top and 2) you have asked him for The Thing You Need, and he has responded with You Will Not Get The Thing You Need From Me.

  27. Dear #309,

    This sounds like Suckville.

    I’ve been in a spot like that. The relationship worked out just fine as long as it was a secondary to my marriage and for quite some time after I left my husband (for unrelated Reasons). Eventually, though, I noticed that he never called me about spontaneous dates, and if I didn’t call him to make a plan for our Date Night, we didn’t have one.

    I was in my mid-thirties and thinking “kids soon or will I will be too old AAAA”, and we had some conversations about that. He said he was happy to keep our relationship the way it was “for the foreseeable future”. But I loved this guy like crazy so I stayed a bit longer. A few months later, I had another freakout about kids and marriage and we had another conversation and I finally asked him what “dating” involved to him.

    Turned out his “dating” was my “friends with benefits”.

    It was finally really clear to me that what we wanted, no matter how much we loved one another, was fundamentally incompatible.

    Breaking up with someone I still loved deeply was pretty … hard. It was wretched. I spent a few months being depressed and unhappy.

    I mentally tallied everyone I knew and ticked them off as “not dateable for me”, “attached”, or “been there, not again”. I threw myself into a new social group. I spent a good bit of time thinking about what it was I *really* wanted in a partner. “Partner” was item one on that list. It was followed by a whole lot of other things, and at the end I said “I’m never going to find all of THAT” and threw up my hands. That was four years ago.

    Got married last week to the guy who is my partner (and a bunch of other stuff from that list).

    Good luck and jedi hugs to you.

  28. As a person who is not “dating material” (…yet?) I want to thank you for this post, CA. There’s a reason I avoided dating for so long, even though I was often lonely and almost touch-starved. Even though I am at an age when relationship building is supposed to be the focus of my personal life. It’s because I’m living a clusterfuck and I don’t want to drag someone else down with me. It’s also because I don’t want to be someone’s broken doll. It’s also also because I don’t need someone to “hold” or “contain” my fear and anxiety, I need to hold them myself.

    Daves don’t need or even want someone to be their combination mother, therapist, personal assistant and housekeeper. That is some pernicious Sherlock Holmes style bullshit. We wouldn’t let our friends do that to themselves, and we shouldn’t do it to ourselves. Or, in my case, to others.

  29. This is a great answer and it is true x 1000000. Dear letter writers, I know how hard it is to be in your spot and I know how bad you probably feel about wanting what you want. I’ve been there. But it really is okay to want something better than what you’re getting and to break up if the other person can’t/won’t give it to you. I’m sorry.

  30. So hilarious: “Congratulations, you’ve unlocked the Boyfriend Achievement on your way to First World Female Adulthood!”

    It’s nice to get the reminder that this kind of attitude is ridiculous. Unlocking the Boyfriend Achievement (or the Baby Acheivement, or the House Purchase Bonus Points) is not the only true path to happiness.

  31. LW 309, are you me? Because I am pretty much stuck in this exact situation and I’ve Used My Words and things are still not happening.

  32. I started a part-time degree so I could get a better job. After six months Dave told me he was tired of me studying all the time, and pressured me not to study at home so much. I went out more to study, he complained he never saw me. The arguing and stress made me decide to give up the course, and I kick myself for letting it happen.

    I feel like an idiot for working to pay our bills for several years while he was out drinking lattes all day. He wasn’t deliberately using me… but that’s how it feels.

    Dear LW’s,

    Captain’s advice is excellent!

    And you also need to read this and
    this to get the full truth picture that no one anywhere will tell you.

    1. Captain’s already clashed with you elsewhere, and I know this is a bit silly, but I gotta say it.

      You cannot link to a document that provides info that “no one anywhere will tell you”! That is a goddamn contradiction in terms. Your hyperbole is showing.

  33. I really appreciate how the Captain always says “You’re allowed to just leave, you know, for any reason.” It seems like The Nuclear Option for so many of us that we’ll weather almost anything to avoid the dreaded break-up, even when that’s the cleanest and least painful option.

    LW 309, I’ve been your boyfriend. Yeah, I had reasons—untreated depression and other mental whizbangs, past abuse, school stress, family sagas—but they don’t excuse the fact that my girlfriend asked for what she needed over and over and I wasn’t able to provide it. We stayed together for five years, regularly having the same argument while nothing changed. It made her feel crazy, it made me feel crazy, and we were both unhappy but we didn’t want to lose the good times or the previous years’ efforts. I’m sad about the break-up and we still love each other, but now we’re both free of all the unmet expectations. If you had asked me what my vision for the relationship was, “What we have now except for her not being mad all the time” would have been the exact words out of my mouth, yet I couldn’t deliver on the actions that would have made even that low bar possible.

    You really do deserve more, both LWs, and so do your partners. Don’t tear yourself apart waiting for him to be the partner you need. You’re in a relationship to be happy, not training a Pokemon. Your Magikarp boyfriend/husband can only use Splash and it’s not very effective. Sure, eventually he may evolve into Gyrados, but do you really want to delay your dreams for however long it takes to coax him to that point?

  34. One other scenario I haven’t seen mentioned: It’s possible to sink years of your life into supporting someone else (physically, emotionally, financially, etc.), trying to help them through hard times. Eventually they may begin to feel the weight of responsibility, as they recognize how much they owe you for all the support you’ve given them, for all you’ve sacrificed for them, and for how much they’ve neglected you. So sometimes when they finally come out the other side and start feeling better, they decide to escape all that debt by breaking up with you, like filing for bankruptcy. Then they can start a new life not weighed down by the ballast of responsibility. Especially if they’ve met someone shiny and new.

  35. **He may be trying to pull the slow fade, or doing the I’ll-be-so-awful-she’ll-have-to-dump-me! thing.** I’m with Commander Banana on this one. LW 309’s Dave triggers my suspicion that he’s just not that into her or the relationship, or has maybe even met someone else, but is too much of a wimp to actually initiate a break-up. And having been on the receiving end of the Boyfriend Thinks Emotionally Withdrawing Is How Nice Guys Do Breakups routine, I can tell you there is nothing nice about it. Good lord, the time I wasted wondering why he had turned so mopey and unenthusastic, and worse, trying to fix it!

    That’s why I am becoming such a fan of the Captain’s advice about being direct and honest about your needs. I’d have a lot more respect for my ex if he had just told me flat-out, “This isn’t working; I’m leaving,” and gone. Instead, he fucked with my head for months in ways that, in retrospect, are unforgiveable.

  36. I was having some issues like LW 309 with my boyfriend, suddenly being neglected. He had been stressed by school more than usual, which is why it took me a a month to bring it up, but it was getting better, not worse, and it was stressing ME out a LOT. I followed the same initial step she did: I told him what I was feeling, and offered a suggestion for how to fix the problem. The difference: his turn around. He noticed how much it was bothering me, realized he didn’t want to make me feel that way/break up, and made a change. 10 months later, we’re going strong and he hasn’t reverted. What’s my point? If he doesn’t make the turn around, it’s not worth it. If you are important to him, it’ll show it in his response. It sounded like LW 309 was very reasonable in her approach, and his reaction was not up to par. A relationship is a partnership, and both people should contribute to making it work.

  37. LW309 – I’m 3 months (albeit still hurting) out of a similar relationship, and I only regret I didn’t accept the signs the signs sooner, so I could start these shitty feelings sooner and start getting to the other side sooner. As a smart, kind, articulate bird, I spent my 20s helping my dear boyfriends of the time articulate their feelings and see the potential in our relationship, but ultimately I learned I don’t want to be in a relationship with someone who I have to talk into being there, and that’s my approach today (mid 30s). No matter how much they mumble and have trouble communicating and can’t make eye contact cause of their bad childhood and their ex of 7 years cheated on them, if people want something, they find a way. It only destroys your self-respect, no matter how Right and Sane your words are: if they don’t feel it, they don’t feel it. For me (reflecting on recent break-up) it is interesting to notice I had to draw on the ’mumbling and bad childhood and his ex cheating’ explanations, mainly during the second half of relationship, when his interest was waning. For the first half of our relationship, I was a shiny new thing. It’s really hard to not be enough to hold someone’s interest. I suppose I’m still building myself back, pursuing my hobbies, online dating and kissing some frogs. But it’s nice to get glimpses of how wonderful is life beyond dating someone who can’t be bothered. Good luck LW 309.

  38. 309, this situation is so familiar to me except I was never in a relationship. It’s a big long story, but basically I really liked this guy but he didn’t want to be in a relationship and I was okay with just being friends, so we (I thought) embarked on a friendship. I believed that he liked hanging out with me but he would never initiate ANYTHING. He would send me positive signals that he wanted to hang out or whatever, but I was always the one planning things. The worst thing was whenever I saw him he would be like “we should hang out soon!” and I was always like “THEN PLAN SOMETHING.” The one sided thing gets REALLY old and in my (limited) experience, people who don’t initiate for whatever reason are not suddenly going to become attentive. Finally I decided that it wasn’t working and I was driving myself nuts trying to make it work, so I cut off contact. I’m still disappointed that it didn’t work out, but overall I feel a lot better about the whole thing. It was just such a relief not to always feel like I was coming on too strong, even though objectively I knew that I wasn’t, and to stop worrying like WHAT DOES HE WANT and WHAT CAN I DO TO FIX THIS???

    So actually now that I read it over, the situation isn’t REALLY the same, as I more or less knew what he was like going in, but your letter really resonated with me.

  39. 310, please remember than an ASD is not ever an excuse for shitty behaviour. It may explain some of his difficulties making friends or some of the OCD behaviours, and some people on the spectrum do tend to be quite passive. But nothing about an autism diagnosis* excuses lying, manipulative behaviour like he’s shown you. You said you feel like he has been using you. HE HAS. He has been using your support and giving himself fun times. That isn’t okay and no diagnosis would ever make it okay. Some people might try to tell you that autistic people can’t be manipulative, or that he didn’t know he was doing something wrong, and those people suck and should go away. Either he did know he was in the wrong, or his parents completely failed him at basic how-not-to-be-a-jerk lessons (which sounds possible given they’ve lent him money as well). You are right to get away, far away. Quickly. And don’t let anyone make you feel bad for breaking up with someone who has Issues. Those are his to sort out or not as he chooses. You need to take care of YOU.

    *Documented on paper by a clinician or informal assessment by family and friends, both are okay–I feel you on the adult assessment thing, though. It took a long time to find people to do mine. I’m using autistic as the blanket term, here; Asperger’s has no reliable difference except when we learned to speak.

  40. Maybe we, as a species (meaning this reasoning works for guys and gals), are attracted to people like Dave or Dave-lite because we secretly want a reason for if the relationship doesn’t work out. Something we can concretely point to and say, “See, I’m not fucked up/ even if I did something wrong, it was xyz that ruined our relationship or would have eventually ruined us anyway”. Additionally, I feel that this explains why some people live with their problems in a state of limbo for so long, so that they don’t have to feel too bad when obstacles or situations overcome them. Good luck LWs 309 and 310!

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