Now, some letters about living situations gone bad (#451) and very, very bad (#452).
I need some help with relationship ambivalence.
It’s been 3 years and we live together. This is going to sound awful, but I recently has the thought that I am better than him at almost everything. He is extremely unsure of himself and is very dependent on me. He needs help/frets about making even the tiniest decisions. His indecision about inconsequential things used to be something we joked about, but now I just feel very smothered. He often makes his problems/feelings my problem or responsibility. I have had the occasional moment of, “this is definitely right for me”, but more often I have had doubts about whether I really want to be with him.
Here’s the wrench: My whole life has been in a shake-up recently. In the past two weeks, I found out I am losing my job (a job I REALLY love), found out I didn’t get accepted into grad school, then, last week I witnessed a stranger’s death. I was one of the first people to stop and help him. I stood over him as he died, before medics even arrived. The experience has really had a profound effect on me. I was very disturbed by what happened. BF knew I had all this going on though that didn’t stop him from wanting to have a big relationship talk about feeling that we’ve been in a “rut” for the past week. This was two days after the stranger’s death.
On one hand, I feel like I should not make any major life decisions in such a period of upheaval. On the other, I get the feeling I am being tested and have a gut feeling towards making changes in my life.
I have a gut sense telling me to end it, but I can’t *rationalize*why because everything seems fine between us. He is a very kind person, intelligent, insightful, sweet, cute, great sense of humor and he loves me very much. We live together very harmoniously. On the downside, he has depression that he has never attempted to do anything about. Recently, on my urging, he agreed to talk to a psychiatrist and then asked me to give him the number to a psychiatrist. Later, he blamed me that he hadn’t called because I never gave him the number. This is the kind of responsibility-shifting that really upsets me and makes me sad.
In my society, there is a slavish devotion to “rational” thinking and I doubt many of my intuitions. Then here I am being the one who is indecisive and generally at-sea!
I have no idea what to do and could use a little wisdom!
Dear Private Secretson:
Your vague gut feeling that you want to end it IS the reason.
You don’t actually need a reason other than “I am not so happy here with you.” In fact, hanging out waiting for (or looking for) a clear, incontrovertible reason is going to destroy any and all affection you have left for this person. So your letter doesn’t sound awful to me. You’ve been through a traumatic experience, and you have a partner who is making that harder rather than easier. You are living with someone who makes you stressed out and tired. It’s okay. You can go!
Look at it this way:
You could break up and move out now, while you still have *some* affection for each other and can hopefully be kind and respectful throughout the process.
You could wait until you detest him and are fleeing the relationship like the scene of some horrible crime.
Someone doesn’t have to be objectively awful for you to not want to be in a relationship anymore.
Intern Paul is handsome, and smart, and funny, and will get you Gatorade and Cheez-its when you’ve been sick, build you a computer from scratch, and take care of your cat when you go out of town.
We dated for a few years, and then lived together, and we found out that we made each other less happy. We were in the exact state of ambivalence that you describe – I like this person so much! But I am not sure I want to be here for the long-term! So I am looking for a reason to end it, or a reason to stay! Everything that happens between us takes on a larger significance because it is part of a decision matrix! Am I happy? What is happiness, anyway? How much happiness does a person really need? Surely this is good enough? Moving in and then out again was an expensive and heartbreaking lesson, but we learned what we were supposed to learn from the experience, namely, “Do not marry.“
It’s really, really hard when things don’t work out like you planned. But it is okay to want and work for and change things to get happiness.
So I suggest that you reach out to your support network. Talk to someone about the death you witnessed, talk about your job loss, do everything you can to take care of yourself. Spend a little time looking at your finances & figuring out where you will go if you leave. Call your family, call your friends, work on your resume, find someone’s couch or guest bed you can sleep on for a little while, and make a solid landing for yourself. And then sit down and have the hard conversation.
“Partner, I am so sorry to have to say this, but I have decided to break up with you and find another place to live.”
He may ask why. This is natural and should be expected. People have a right to ask why, but they don’t have a right to know why, or be convinced about why. They don’t have a right to have why proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
What I suggest is that you not use this time to name things about your partner that you dislike. Once you’re done with a relationship, you don’t owe him an exit interview/life-tutoring session, and it’s mean to turn it into a list of reasons you don’t love him anymore. A good script is “Partner, I’m not sure I can articulate a good reason. But I know that my feelings about the relationship have really changed and it is time for me to end it.”
The question “Why did your feelings change?” is a hard one, and not one you can ever really answer to another person’s satisfaction when you’re trying to get out of a relationship. If you’re getting broken up with, you’re not stupid or weak for wanting to know that. What makes love stay? What makes it fade? We like to think that if people gave us a list of concrete things we did wrong we could know what to improve to guarantee that this pain of loss and rejection will never happen to us. But it doesn’t work that way. Closure, self-awareness, self-improvement, self-forgiveness come later. Those are things we give ourselves when some time has gone by, not something someone can give us on their way out the door. We think we want those lists of things we did wrong in the name of understanding, but hearing them during a traumatic moment means they tend to stay with us forever as “things that are true” about us that we can gnaw on in our most vulnerable moments. But we are changeable beings – what makes us a bad fit for one person might fit beautifully with another.
Hi there Captain, Sweetie and Commander!
I have a seemingly simple breakup question. I am in a relationship with a kind, caring, gentle manchild and I am sick of it. I want OUT. I can’t even imagine that there is a single thing that could happen that could change my feelings about this. We have tried, but he has never lived outside of home before moving in with me and I can’t stand his lack of independence, motivation, hobbies, interests, job, and friends.
The problem I have however is this; we live together and he has nowhere else to live. This is my house, in my name, and I can’t/won’t leave it. I need it for my kids! So he needs to leave. The trouble is, he has no friends or family and nowhere to go, or a job to pay for a place. How can I do this? Whenever I try to get him to leave he pulls the mental health card, which I understand because I have mental health issues as well but I think he’s doing it manipulatively. Basically I just wish he would pack up his stuff and go pleasantly, but clearly that’s not going to happen.
How can I kick him out when he has nowhere to go?
Fifty Shades of DONE
There are two questions here. One is “How do I break up with this person?”
The other is “How do I get him out of my house?”
Honestly, I think what you need right now is:
a) a savings account for a security deposit and 1st month’s rent somewhere new. Do not tell him you are doing this, this should be a surprise that comes only when he is out of the house or has agreed and is actively planning to get out of the house.
People give the whole alimony thing the side-eye nowadays, but I think it has a legitimate place when people are financially intertwined and are making plans based on promises and assumptions of a shared future. While this is not an obligation, if the person you are breaking up with is financially dependent on you, and you are in a position to create a modest, temporary “If I’d known you were going to break up with me, I would have maybe put a little more in savings instead of buying you that awesome Christmas present/paying off your student loans/buying new living room furniture, Jerkface” fund, I say, do it.
b) Team You: family, friends, a counselor or therapist for you, and an attorney.
c) The beginning of “Team Him”, starting with a social worker who can help him address the mental health issues and maybe find him some housing, even a group home or halfway house situation, and
I would start with the lawyer and do nothing until you have engaged one.
I say this because:
- There are legal implications to evicting someone from a residence, and you should know what they are and make sure that you are following the letter of the law so that it doesn’t come back to bite you. We do not know where you live, we are not lawyers, we don’t know how long you’ve been living together and what your agreements were like. Even if we did know those things, and even if we were lawyers, we would not be YOUR lawyers. Commenters, please do not try to give specific legal advice. The Letter Writer needs to call an actual lawyer where s/he lives, tell that person all the specifics, and work within local laws, and nothing we can say is a substitute.
- Whatever relationship you have had with this person in the past, once you’ve asked them to leave and they won’t move out, this person is now in an adversarial relationship with you. If he were going to cooperate with you, when you first brought up the subject (after initial shock wore off) he would have said something like this: “I am very sad and also very scared about what happens next and where I will live. I feel overwhelmed – can I ask your help in coming up with a plan & a timeline so that I can find a new place to live?”
You could have dealt with that, right? But he is refusing to deal with it at all.
If your employer has an Employee Assistance Program, one of the things they often handle is legal referrals.
Once you’ve talked to the lawyer, I think it might make sense to handle the breakup in two distinct stages.
First, can your kids stay somewhere else for…a weekend? A week or so? Longer? I think your lawyer will have advice that says that you cannot/should not vacate the residence for any reason, but you might want to get your kids out of the way during difficult conversations.
“Partner, I am breaking up with you. Our romantic relationship is over.”
He will ask where he is going to live. You can say “That is a separate discussion, but as of now, you should sleep ______ (guest room, sofa, basement) and store your things in (closet/storage space).”
The breakup is a final decision. Your bedroom? Is closed. Your persona around him? Robotic, detached, repeating statements like “I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that I don’t want to be your girlfriend anymore.” “I realize that this isn’t good news, because (mental illness, worries, etc.) I can’t solve those worries for you, but I do need to be honest about my feelings.”
His attempts to manipulate you are an example of “forced teaming” – manipulating someone by trying to make problems into shared problems. Sounds like you’ve been dealing with a lot of this as your ex tries to make the question of you breaking up about where he will live. The fact is: You don’t want to be with him anymore. Where he lives is a separate issue, and not a precondition.
Your lawyer will have advice on how to officially notify him that he must leave, how to make a timetable, how to enforce that timetable, how to handle finances, your lawyer and a social worker will maybe figure out how involve your city government (access social safety net, mental health care).
This is an honesty zone, so let me say right here: This guy might end up in a homeless shelter. Or, depending on how pronounced his mental illness is, a state-run mental hospital.
And placing him there will seem unbelievably cruel, and he will let you know this every chance he gets.
He may threaten to harm himself.
Do while we’re being cruel and cold, put this in your back pocket.
1. Someone who threatens suicide to manipulate you, is committing an act of emotional terrorism. “I will murder someone if you don’t do what I want.” If he harms himself, it will not be your fault. He will be proving that he is someone that will do violence rather than break up with you in a clean, respectful way. You don’t have to negotiate with (or remain engaged with) people who threaten violence.
2. Once upon a time this guy had enough…intelligence? Charm? Wit? to get you to fall in love with him and want his company all the time. He had something going for him, even if you don’t think so now or it didn’t hold up to further scrutiny. What did he do before he met you? Where did he live? He didn’t spring out of a hole you dug in the back yard like that weird Timothy Green movie, right? It might help alleviate some of your guilt to remind yourself of this. In The Gift of Fear‘s”how to fire people” chapter, de Becker talks about making people feel like they have other options.
This is a really hard, sucky situation and I think it will take some time to extract this guy from your house. Protect yourself, protect your kids, use every single resource that you can find, and stay true to the truth, which is that you don’t want to be with this guy anymore.