#535: Forgiveness, patience, and other traps.

Hey there Captain Awkward, I don’t normally post these things, but I’m taking a big step and reaching out to you in the hopes that I can get some useful (if not probably obvious) advice from you.  

I have been in a relationship with a man 8 years younger than me for the past three years and I have recently moved cities to be closer to him.  When we had talked about me moving closer, we had also talked about moving in together.  He seemed excited at first, but when it became real he quickly backed out and said he wasn’t ready for that kind of commitment.  So I moved into my own apartment and even though I was sad we weren’t making a move together, I knew that this was going to be an exciting new adventure for me.  The summer was great, until he found out that he didn’t pass one of his qualifying exams.   I should mention that he is doing a very stressful PhD program and has recently started on anti-anxiety medication to help cope with the stress he is under.  

A few weeks ago, he out of the blue tells me that he doesn’t want to be with me anymore because I will be too old to give him children when he ready to do so.  I was stunned…literally I had just made this man dinner and we had been watching tv for an hour when he drops this bombshell on me.  I freaked out…rightly so I think!  Anyways, a few days later I sent him a message saying that I needed to talk to him face to face and that I had questions for him about the real reasons he didn’t want to be with me.  So he came over, and within 2 seconds he was crying like the Nile saying that he was so sorry, and that he has been under a lot of pressure and that he felt he just didn’t have time for a gf and he didn’t know what else to do.  Me being the understanding person that I am, forgave him and decided that mistakes are best left in the past and perhaps a fresh start was in order where we give each other more space when feeling pressured by extraneous forces.  

Fast forward three weeks to today…We spent our first night together since our split and everything was great.  It felt relaxed and “real”.  Until he left his facebook open…I should have closed it, but for some reason I got a “feeling”.  Sure enough, he was writing an old flame about “how he was just getting out of something serious” and was making plans to visit a girl in Europe to meet up with her friends in a month.  I’m distraught and feeling so taken advantage of.   I sent him a message asking if he was being honest with me about how he really feels and what he really wants.  He said that everything was great and he’s super stoked.  WHAT AM I DOING WITH THIS PERSON????  Am I wasting my time here or do I give him the benefit of the doubt (especially since I was snooping) and be patient?


Dear Patient:

I have been where you’ve been, namely:

  • The guy I’m involved with gives me A LOT of information, up to and including saying words like “I don’t see a future together,” about his commitment to a relationship. See also:
  • Being really enthusiastic about being with me, talking a lot about stuff like moving in together, and then getting cold feet when it comes down to actually doing it. Like, the time I moved back from New York City to be with someone who broke up with me the very next morning (*after* sleeping with me one last time, of course. Just to be sure!). 
  • Leading me to think it’s a monogamous, exclusive relationship while simultaneously talking/chatting/emailing with future flirtation/make-out partners as if the relationship doesn’t actually exist. 
  • Me having lots of those “feelings,” like the one you had that led you to snoop into this dude’s messages. 

Snooping is wrong, we should respect each other’s privacy, etc., etc.


  • Cheaters are terrible at logging out of their shit.
  • Your instincts told you something was up and when you dug deeper, there was something to find that justified that feeling.
  • Once you snoop, you pretty much lose the moral high ground, because any revealing of what you know and how you found it makes the other person instantly outraged at the privacy violation – legitimately so! If you confront him, he’s going to have an explanation that sounds reasonable + a lot of righteous anger at the privacy violation.
  • However, you KNOW that he was flirting with other ladies and talking about your relationship in the past tense, which is not something that people who are madly in love tend to do.
  • Even if you’d found nothing out of sorts, you are feeling “off” about the relationship enough to commit a major privacy violation. Something is not right here! Your gut is telling you some stuff, so listen to it!

I’m not going to say that people never have second thoughts, that they never flirt with or think about other people, and that relationships are never repaired successfully after trust has been breached, or that people never change their mind about breaking up.

But, I think this guy is giving you a lot of information, and some of those pieces of information tell you that:

  • He is capable of hiding his unhappiness and second thoughts and then springing stuff on you out of the blue when you think everything is going fine.
  • He doesn’t seem to talk over his doubts or problems in a way where you get to have any input or time to process anything, it’s all “YOU’RE THE GREATEST, PLEASE MOVE HERE” “NOPE, SORRY, LET’S BREAK UP.” “OH SORRY THAT WAS AN ERROR, NOW WE’RE BACK TOGETHER!”
  • A setback for him (failing exams) is taken out on you. YOU didn’t fail his exams. The RELATIONSHIP didn’t fail his exams.

So. I’ve been where you’ve been. And my tactic for dealing with it was to become the most chill, patient, forgiving, understanding, laid back, relaxed, cool girlfriend EVER. I will KNIT this thing back together with the POWER OF MY MIND and the STRENGTH OF MY CHARACTER.

I will show you that BEING THE BIGGER PERSON and LETTING YOU BE YOU and NOT GETTING HUNG UP ON PETTY STUFF (monogamy, planning where I will live in the future) is the way to happiness!

And when my needs come into conflict with what is actually happening, I will teach myself not to need those things anymore. I will sacrifice them on the altar of TRUE LOVE. Our relationship will be like a constant audition where I strive only to show the best, prettiest, least messy parts of myself to prove that we should be together! I will also use LOGIC and REASON. Pro & Con lists are romantic, right? Long late night talks with crying are romantic, right?

This kind of shitshow is how, after moving back from New York and getting dumped, I ended up going to his kid’s birthday party – “I want you to meet my son,” he said. “I want to introduce you to my mom and my best friend,” he said. “I want you to meet my actual girlfriend who I’ve been with the entire time we were also dating” and “I will introduce you as the (unpaid) videographer,” was strangely silent.

And I stayed there, and I taped it, because I if I couldn’t have that dude then the award for Most Patient and Accommodating Lady would be mine. I would PROVE MY WORTH.

I hope your dude is not like that dude in my past, Patient, and I hope this was just a momentary glitch on your long road to happiness.

But I do have some advice for you. First, if he makes any noises about breaking up again, BELIEVE HIM. Get out. End it. Get off the roller coaster.

Next, questions of a mundane and practical nature.

Your career/job. Do you like it? Is it what you want to be doing? What’s your plan for the next few years with work (or education, etc.)? Is that plan served by you being where you are, doing what you’re doing? Spend some time thinking about that.

That little apartment you pay for yourself…is it tricked out just right, the way you want it to be, or are you treating it as a placeholder for the place you’ll eventually share with this guy?

This new city you moved to, do you like it there? Do you feel like you know it well? Have you been meeting people and making new friends and building a community and a life there? Do you have friends who aren’t connected to your boyfriend in any way?

Your old friends, your family, the people closest to you – how often do you see them and talk to them? Reach out with a phone call. Make plans for a visit. Remind yourself who you were before you ever met this guy.

Because my advice to you is to bite hard into your life and fucking feast on it. Surround yourself with people who say “hell yes!” to the prospect of your company and who reward your patience and forgiving spirit with steadfastness. Climb every mountain and ford every stream. Put some love into your home and your city and make it a place you can thrive and be at home with or without him.

This guy may care about you quite sincerely. You may have amazing chemistry. You may have many good days ahead.  But he has told you in many ways that he is not a solid foundation for you to build your dreams on, at least not right now. He can be a part of your life, but he has some work to do to show he is serious and can be trusted. You did him the kindness of believing him when he came back, but do yourself the honor of believing in the part where he went away. Love him (it’s not like you can dissuade the Golden Retriever at will), but love yourself more.

And when you want stuff – reassurance, a solid plan for the future, to know what’s on his mind – ask for it without apology. YOU are not the one with something to prove, dear Patient. You are not the one who made this fragile and uncertain.

190 thoughts on “#535: Forgiveness, patience, and other traps.

  1. Wow, am I really first? Anyway, big Jedi hugs to you, LW. So much of your letter, and the Captain’s response, hit home for me in a gut-sinking way. Particularly this: “You did him the kindness of believing him when he came back, but do yourself the honor of believing in the part where he went away. Love him (it’s not like you can dissuade the Golden Retriever at will), but love yourself more.”

    Above all, LW, trust your gut. I didn’t trust mine, over and over. And over and over it turned out to be right. That whole bit about wanting to not be with you anymore–after you MOVED to be with him–and you being too old to give him children was awful and hurtful. You want to forgive him, but please don’t let that desire get in the way of any real need you have for hurting and healing. I once was too quick to take someone back after he shattered my world, and I never asked for the things I truly needed to regain trust (didn’t even know I had a right to ask) and it has haunted me for more than a decade. Your trust was violated, and you do have a right to take some time to figure out what you need to feel comfortable in this relationship again. Your Facebook prowling indicates (rightly so) that you do NOT trust and feel comfortable. That’s a crappy place to be, and you deserve better. So please figure out what it is you really need.

    1. I was talking about this on the forum, and I think it’s relevant here too. If someone hurts you verbally or emotionally with their actions, and then says, “I did it because [other thing going on in my life]”, that might make it easier to forgive them, but it doesn’t necessarily make it hurt less or heal quicker.

      If someone hurts you physically, and you then find out that it was accidental or that they had diminished responsibility for their actions at the time, that might take away some of the anger or confusion you were feeling. But it still hurts, and it still takes just as long to heal! Being told that he’s not ready to move in and being dumped for being “too old” sounds incredibly hurtful, and would really damage my trust in someone. As the Captain says, honour your own feelings. Even if his reasons for saying those things are more about him than you, they still have an impact on you, and you need to give yourself time and space to process those feelings and figure out what effect they have on your feelings for him.

      1. Also, I think people can sometimes say things which have some truth in them when they’re feeling bad about other situations. Speaking as someone else who has done a PhD, questions of how long it will take you to be finished and to get a job and to feel established enough to do things like having kids are genuine issues, and it’s not necessarily wrong to think ‘this stuff is going to mean partner and I are at radically different places in our lives for too long and at too significant points in our lives’. It seems to me the current stress is giving boyfriend “permission” to express those worries in SUPER hurtful ways (HELLO THIS IS NOT OKAY). Strip away the part where he’s being a jerk about it and you’re still left with a potentially real issue that you’re going to have to have some serious discussions about, and which might be a dealbreaker on both sides.

        1. Another thing about the “issues” rather than how they’re handled – if the boyfriend is thinking that “I can only have children once I am professionally established”, then that is not something to entirely dismiss. I dated a guy for years where there was no age difference, but in terms of where we were education/career wise – I was pretty far ahead of him. I’d done some things early, he’d delayed some things.

          What ended up was that when I would talk about exploring potential career opportunities and what that would mean for us as a couple, he began to cling to the notion of “I can’t think of anything like that until I have a career and am established”. Given that I was ready to start applying for those jobs and he had just gotten his bachelors and was floating through temp jobs – it was clearly a way of giving himself an endless timetable. I don’t know if this was because on some level he just wasn’t able to be the partner who followed me (and what that did or did not say about his own feminism), or if it was just a smokescreen. But it was always something very painful that I never felt able to talk articulately about with him. I always was made to feel like when I said “I want to achieve!”, I was being told to cool it until he was ready for me to do so.

          If the OP wants kids and wants them with this partner, then the reality may be that trying to have kids and waiting until the partner is professionally established is not the best plan. Maybe the OP has a life/career where it’s ok to start a family without having her partner 100% established. And maybe to this guy, that does not sound ok. Or maybe it is ok, but with gendered expectations he’s just never allowed himself to think that way. Or other possibilities. Either way, it’s not an issue that I’d entirely ignore.

      2. Yup yup yup. The major breach of trust in my relationship occurred for a reason that then-me found aggravating but sympathetic and ten-years-later me finds completely understandable under all of the circumstances. (Short version: my now-spouse lied to me about his past in order to conceal a psychiatric hospitalization. It eventually became obvious THAT he had lied, but not why. The “why” made perfect sense once I confronted him and he came clean about it, since he was raised in a family that did the equivalent of “blast off the Black family tapestry” a relative who completed suicide, and they belonged to a fundamentalist cult that believed mental illness was either an excuse for sin or *actual demonic possession*…yeah.)

        Still, being lied to about something of significance for the first year-and-some of our relationship hurt, especially when I had defended his untrue stories to friends because hey, some OTHER stuff he told me about himself that seemed a little sketchy checked out as 100% true.

        The good news was that he actually *got* that it hurt and didn’t decide something was wrong with me for being hurt. Big important first step and is a big piece of why we still got married and stayed married.

      3. “If someone hurts you verbally or emotionally with their actions, and then says, “I did it because [other thing going on in my life]“, that might make it easier to forgive them, but it doesn’t necessarily make it hurt less or heal quicker.”

        Yes! But for those of you keeping score at home, nb: “I did it because [thing]” is not, on its own, an actual apology, or even evidence that the doer will do anything different in the future.

  2. “Am I wasting my time here or do I give him the benefit of the doubt (especially since I was snooping) and be patient?”

    LW, do you watch Law & Order? You know the part where someone accidentally or deliberately fails to follow proper procedure, so their search warrant is invalid or non-existent, so all the evidence they found out through their search is now not admissible in court because it’s “fruit of the poisonous tree”?


    You don’t have to strike what you found out from the court record and pretend you don’t know what you know because you found it out by doing something wrong. And you don’t need a court order to end this relationship anyway. It’s enough if you want out. Or if he wants out. And if he’d just told you he wanted out without making up hurtful bullshit about your reproductive fitness, then it would have been a lot kinder to you.

    1. Seriously.

      Also? If you had rifled through your boyfriend’s drawers, found his journal, and flipped through the pages in search of incriminating entries, you could legitimately feel guilty about snooping. What actually happened is that he had his Facebook feed open on a computer that he’d given you permission to use. Did you have to click through to find what you found? That would qualify as snooping, but … what Redgirl said. Was it right there for you to see? In that case, you weren’t snooping. He may have even wanted you to find it.

      1. Is there the chance that he left his FB account open on purpose? Just to force the situation?

    2. Yes! This! You may have lost “the moral high ground” but you know what you got? Information that is crucial. You got the question, “What am I doing with this person?” You got the impetus to reach out and tell someone what had happened.

      I am sorry but in that case, who cares about the moral high ground?

    3. Exactly. This kind of situation can be a gift, odd as it may seem. When my ex and I broke up, any time I wondered whether I was doing the right thing, all I had to do was recollect the unflattering things he’d emailed about me behind my back to his secret girlfriend while we were still together. I never even told him about my snooping, just kept that info in my back pocket on my way out the door.

  3. Patient Griselda is not actually a good role model, although she and her avatars star in a number of fairy tales.

    LW, this guy has been doing this to you for a while, hasn’t he? You moved and he blocked you from moving in with him, saying he wasn’t ready for that commitment.

    Right there he told you the truth: he’s not ready for the commitment you want him to make. You did not want to hear that. You were sad. You’ve invested three years in this guy and you cannot believe he does not feel about you as you do about him. The relationship is over and he tried to tell you so already. No matter what your gut or any other part of your body thinks, the other human being you are involved with has spoken. Listen to him.

  4. I hope this doesn’t come off as glib, because I mean it with compassion and empathy:

    I don’t know if everyone can find a “soul mate” or anything like that, but I do believe we can all find someone who doesn’t make us say, “WHAT AM I DOING WITH THIS PERSON????”

    1. 23 year old me really needed to hear this before I wasted three years on a guy who had to stalk and coerce me (that’s not romance, tell her that too) into dating him In the first place.

      I don’t believe in soul mates either. I believe in partners who love me unambiguously, instead of jerks who make love into a prize to be won and lost and maybe won again if I…

    2. Yeah. It’s a little long to be embroidered on a pillow, but it is a universally relevant truth.

  5. “I’m distraught and feeling so taken advantage of.”

    Are you staying with him now because you want to, or because you want to be reasonable? First, as others have said, you get to leave him if you’re unhappy with the relationship, period. Second, if it makes you feel better, leaving him would not be an unreasonable response to anything that has happened so far. I’ll be shocked if any future commenter tells you otherwise.

  6. Please don’t focus too much on his stated reasons for not wanting to be with you. He is NOT actually backing away because of your age. I’m afraid that you will buy into it, and have this mental roundabout of, “I’m too old, no one will want me any more.” I’m afraid because that would be contagious jerkbrain: HE has a jerkbrain that is like, “Aaah! Make the relationship back off!” and picks a reason he knows that you will accept (because, whether he admits it or not, it can be quite hurtful) because he will throw whatever BS he can reach at the situation to make himself feel better.

    Because, LW, I would hate for you to believe that staying in this relationship is a form of cutting your losses, that you don’t have better options, or that you’ve already put too much in to get out now. This isn’t a “sunk cost” scenario. When you love someone, you give of yourself, and whether or not you get paid dividends is up to Fate, not you.

    There is a better life out there waiting for you. There are people who genuinely want to be with you out there. I can’t promise that you’ll reach them, because I can’t predict the future, but I know they’re still waiting for you to try.

    1. I actually completely disagree, staranise. I don’t think we (or the LW) get to decide what he did and did not mean and what was ‘just him lashing out’ and what was truly meant. He said these things, cruelly or kindly; in the heat of the moment or planned. Let us treat him like an adult and take him at his word.

      LW, it is quite possible that your boyfriend thinks you are too old for him. The key thing here is ‘for him’. Please do not feel like this reflects on you or like you will never find love because of this. Go forth and fearlessly live your life and you will find your life full of love.

      1. Yes, I agree with this. It is very possible that this guy thinks that you, LW, are too old *for him* but that isn’t an objective statement of your worth. I would be too old for an 18 year old high school student. But I–and you–will not be too old for the people who are right for us.

    2. “Please don’t focus too much on his stated reasons for not wanting to be with you. He is NOT actually backing away because of your age. I’m afraid that you will buy into it, and have this mental roundabout of, “I’m too old, no one will want me any more.” I’m afraid because that would be contagious jerkbrain.”


      And in my experience, the contagion can spread to other thoughts about my value as a person, as a partner, my appearance, and so on, especially if the other person’s actions are leaving a lot open to interpretation. They give you an explanation, but it’s not really satisfying or it doesn’t really make all that much sense, so you may be tempted to fill in the blanks.

      Example: Old friend invited me to stay (from out of state), had a wonderful evening on the town followed by long night of fun in bed, to be repeated the next day. Hours later, texted from work with change of plans involving “ex” girlfriend. I have to find a place to stay at the last minute in an expensive city. When pushed for explanation, he mentions discomfort over my having kids.

      Translation in my mind: Who can blame him? Why would he want me when he could find someone younger, without kids, without so much baggage? Plus, the stretch marks…I bet he hasn’t even seen those before. My breasts had to be a disappointment. He waited all those years to see them, only to unhook my bra and watch them droop. Oh my god, maybe he was just being polite, and it’s really because my vagina is too loose. We joked about the change in grooming standards since I was last single and I warned him in advance, but that had to be unsexy in his eyes. The ex is younger, prettier, and Brazilian (of course). He’d be crazy not to run back to her after a night with me.

      Reality check: THIS IS NOT ABOUT ME. It’s not about my vagina. And it’s most definitely NOT about my kids. It was a great excuse to make this all my fault and deflect attention away from his behavior. After all, no one can blame a single guy for not wanting to take on a prepackaged family, right? But we hadn’t progressed to that point, not even close. He’s known me as a mother longer than he knew me as a child-free single woman. HE invited me to stay. HE lied about his relationship status. He was just too cowardly to own up to his real feelings and take responsibility for his actions.

      Even if it was about me? He lost all credibility when he waited until after he acted like an asshole to mention my flaws. I had the right to be with someone who accepts me as I am.

      1. Reminds me of my ex who broke things off claiming, in part, that “my weight was a concern.” Didn’t seem to be a problem when we were having sex. And it gave me a complex around my weight and dating that (while lessened) has lasted to this day, when I didn’t really have one before I met him. That jerk. I feel like, in those situations, the guy takes all the poison and guilt that he’s feeling and dumps it on you. Then you’re stuck holding it, and he gets to walk away free as a bird.

      2. Your story reminds me of my breakup with an ex, who told me in part that “my weight was a concern” even though he seemed to quite enjoy my body during naked hangouts. It gave me a complex about my weight that, while MUCH less, persists to this day.

        Sometimes I feel like people who do this are taking their pain and shame and confusion over not liking you as much as they think they should, and transferring it onto you. It’s cruel and cowardly.

        1. What a total fucking coward.

          I totally understand how it can be confusing and shameful to realize that you’re not the nonjudgmental, openminded person you thought you were (or could/should be), and that you might struggle to accept someone as they are. But deal with it, own those feelings. Don’t hand the shame over to the other person. More importantly, don’t delude yourself into thinking that your “concerns” are universal and therefore the other person might as well stick with you. There are plenty of fish in the sea who don’t share the same “concern” about weight (or race, or age, or whatever).

  7. Hoo boy, this letter brought back some memories. Crappy memories of 2 boyfriends … thankfully from Long Ago & Far Away.

    (Reminder: I have a Darth Vader family of origin, so I had to learn ‘relationship red flags’ through trial and error & counseling.)

    I was 19, and 29-year old J was my first boyfriend. Why would such a “smooth & sophisticated” guy want me? I tried to be the most chill, patient, undemanding, unjealous, etc., etc., girlfriend evah. I overlooked the mean things he said about my appearance (“you should dye your hair blonde, and get a boob job” – um, no); his obsession with my best friend (who flirted back, and went out with him behind my back & then they both told me I was being ‘immature’ for minding); the way he assumed I was dumb because I was working instead of going to college (I was actually smarter than he was). In return, J dumped me on Valentine’s Day, on only the 2nd formal restaurant date we’d ever had. I’d had a weird feeling that something bad was looming when he “wanted to take me out to dinner for VD”, but my best friend assured me he was crazy about me. He wasn’t. He’d been 2-timing me for months; the other woman knew about me, as did everyone in our circle of friends, except me of course. (The other woman turned out to be a bosomy blonde.)

    G, Jerk #2, was several years later. We worked together (big mistake!). He didn’t *seem* similar to J (except for the meanness). Too triggering to go through why our relationship was such a disaster, but I broke up with him immediately when a mutual acquaintance who didn’t know G and I were together casually told me G had just gotten engaged to his girlfriend in another state. Later I found out that – while I thought we were monogamous – he’d *also* been dating and/or sleeping with every single woman in our office. I wanted to warn the fiance somehow, but didn’t have any way of contacting her.

    Now, Spouse is *nothing* like either of those guys. He is firmly Team Me, and the best friend I’ve ever had (for 22 years).

    1. “his obsession with my best friend (who flirted back, and went out with him behind my back & then they both told me I was being ‘immature’ for minding)”

      Did we date the same guy? My ex used to invite various friends – including a few I had actually cut out of my life – out for “coffee” without me! And then said something to the effect of “I should have known you were too childish/immature to deal with this.” Our age difference was also wide, my 17 to his 23. There’s a reason, folks. There’s always a reason.

  8. Captain, your (unpaid) videographer story is SO PAINFUL, and all the more so because it is so unlike the person you seem to be now. Yay, growth! Boo, awful boyfriends. LW? Everyone here is booing your boyfriend, even you. Because he is awful. He is going through some things, and he is – in contradiction to what we usually say here – going through them AT you. You deserve better, and no amount of snooping could change that fact.

    Hmm, now I am interested in compiling a list of reasons that someone would deserve a terrible boyfriend who cheats and is mean. Like…do you steal from the downtrodden? Do you foment racism? Have you tied up a small child and eaten all his Halloween candy in front of him, just out of reach? (Obviously each offense would deserve different levels/lengths of time with said awful boyfriend.)

    1. Duck-billed, sometimes strong, sensible people with clear boundaries and who give great advice still find ourselves doing things For! Love! that, when we describe them out loud later, sound at least this horrifying. Trust me on this one.

      1. Ha, so true! I also used to creepily leave letters on the pillows of crushes to let them know I’d been Firthing them.

        Everything on this blog = learned the hard way. 🙂

  9. LW I’m sure you love this person, but the way they’re acting is not the way someone who loves YOU should act. You know in your heart that you don’t deserve any of the weirdness he’s been giving you, nor should you take it. Please seriously consider ending this relationship. I wish you the best of luck.

  10. Hi LW,
    I am only a few weeks ahead of you in a similar situation. He was 6 years younger, lots of hints that he wasn’t so much into the relationship/ready for the level of commitment I wanted. Similar things happened in my story – he would talk about big exciting things (like moving in together) but when it became real he just didn’t (i.e. he just didn’t turn up the night he was meant to move in – that sucked big time. He did turn up drunk at my door a few weeks later with a suitcase and moved in without talking to me about it. That also sucked.). He would say things like that he wanted kids in 5 years (definitely not now), but why didn’t I want to have kids now because I’m already so old. He would do emotions at me or our relationship when he was having a bad day and I’d have to placate him and make things better, but my feelings never got air time. I also did an incident of snooping and found that he had indeed been texting old girlfriends as I suspected (and pretty sure he gave me Chlamydia from one of them too. I didn’t know this at the time. Get tested if you question his fidelity in the no pants department!). I put up with it and didn’t prioritise my needs because I hoped that if I was cool, loving, patient and kind enough he would totally be into me and the relationship and it would all be sweetness and cupcakes 4EVA!

    I finally called it quits two weeks ago. He was talking about moving to where I am living and we were having up all night crying talks about feelings and trust and blah blah blah and then he just…didn’t and I didn’t hear from him for two weeks – texts, emails, nothing. When I heard from him (a two line ‘hey what’s up, write back to me’ after I had opened my heart and shared my hopes our future in the previous email) I also saw on his Facebook wall (I don’t use Facebook all that often so I guess he didn’t think I would see it) that he was in a relationship/flirting with someone else during the emotional talks and not hearing from him time. I felt so used – like a back up, not a priority. So I’ve just blocked him and cut all contact.

    That was two weeks ago and it’s been a bit rough. I thought maybe one day he would appreciate me or get his shit together, but honestly the one-day never came and it just wasn’t working for me at all. I was sick of not having room in the relationship, not feeling considered, having to manage his emotions, feeling like I couldn’t trust him etc. etc. It sucks because I put so much effort and had hopes for us. I want to talk to him every day and see if maybe he’s changed his mind, but I don’t think anything is going to change and if I just keep putting myself out there emotionally, it’s just going to keep hurting. I have written an angry list and when I am tempted to contact him I read it and then remember all the shitty things and don’t feel so keen on contacting him.

    I’ve got a great team/plan me. I assembled it towards the end when I knew things weren’t good for me and I was thinking about ending it. I started seeing a counsellor, talked more to my super awesome friends (and they were like yeah we don’t so much like this guy for you, but we LOVE you), signed up to some new classes and volunteered for a new project at work. I’m not sure which direction you’ll take things with this guy, but give yourself some time to think things through, take as much of a break from him as you can, do things to treat yourself and show yourself some love and kindness, get an STI test (seriously!), write a list of all the things you want in partner/relationship and see how these match up to your current situation, talk to your friends, find a counsellor, whatever works for you.

    Getting supports in place was great for me. It meant that when I did throw in the towel I had other things to focus on, but if I had stayed in the relationship it would have meant that my life was interesting and awesome and I was getting out and doing things instead of waiting for this guy.

    You’ll figure out what you want to do but I can tell you that 2 weeks on the other side I am so relieved that I can come home after work and I don’t have to manage the relationship, or how he’s feeling or the fallout of another trust ‘slip up’.

    I can just focus on me and it’s awesome.

    1. *High Fives and Jedi Hugs*

      After I caught Vader Ex using our back-up condoms to cheat with, his solution, rather than stop cheating or buy his own condoms, was to go without. Seconding the STD testing if cheating happens.

      1. “I am too lazy to buy new condoms to cover my tracks when cheating on you” = pretty low on the scale of good people. Holy Jeezum.

        1. It took me a couple of years to trust my judgement about people after him. I was ashamed that I could be in love with someone like that.

    2. Just some other little thoughts. I have been a bit of a together-mess. Like, I’m doing stuff, but I’m crying a lot. It’s ok! I’m not judging me. And if you end up crying heaps too and being a bit of a mess, it’s ok, I’m not gonna judge you either. I found out about the latest Facebook stuff just before a flight back home after Christmas. I was sobbing hardcore on the plane before it even took off! So hardcore that the flight attendant moved me to the back row of the plane. It was a bit out of kindness and also probably because I was a snotty mess and making things incredibly uncomfortable for everyone around me. It’s a bit funny now, but it was awful/embarrassing at the time as I actually couldn’t stop crying.

      One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever had is to do something (not brain intensive) while sobbing. I find crying and housework to be a great combination. That way I can sob my heart out, but after I’m done the dishes have been done as well, so good on me! I like cleaning the shower when I cry because I can lean against the walls, there’s water making it feel a bit dramatic(/funny), it’s also awful and I feel a bit broken but then I feel better for having had a big cry and I also have a clean shower. Go me!

      I have been listening to break up songs (I suggest Beyonce ‘Best Thing I Never Had’ and ‘Resentment (live)’) and singing my heart beak out loud. That might work for you too if you end things with your fella. I think there have been other threads with break up song suggestions on here.

      Whatever you end up doing, take care of yourself and put your energies into yourself for a bit.

      1. Wow, crying and doing housework! That’s a great idea. I usually cry in the shower so I can clean up easily, but that’s even better.

        My post-breakup songs are Madonna’s “Express Yourself” and Death Cab For Cutie’s “You Are a Tourist.” They get me back on my feet again.

      2. ((HUGS)) to you. You sound like you’re doing an awesome job of keeping your together-mess.

        I, too, have found that tears and barely controlled hysteria in public can bring out interesting reactions in others. Some people back away, some people work super hard to pretend not to see, others observe with a sort of fascinated horror, but others are so incredibly kind and gentle and empathetic. To come across strangers who reach out and offer comfort at the loneliest, most vulnerable times in my life has been incredibly reassuring. I always take the opportunity to pay it forward and do the same for others.

        And when it comes to tears, one of the advantages of being an adult with life experience is that I know eventually I will feel better. As a teenager, there were times I was just sure I would die of a broken heart. Once it’s happened a few times, you realize that while you might feel like you’ll die of a broken heart, and the feeling can last for a long time, you will in fact get better. I allow myself to feel it, to cry my heart out, to hurt like hell, while also reminding myself (literally, closing my eyes while I’m crying and repeating to myself) that this will get better, this is not permanent, it feels terrible but there is an end to it.

      3. Did none of your seatmates on the flight quietly/politely ask if everything was OK/if you needed anything? Because if not, I kinda has a sad about that. We have some weird ideas in this society about people expressing grief/sadness in public. Glad the flight attendant was nice to you, anyway.

      4. Oh, Awesomesauce, I so feel you on the uncontrollable crying, jedi hugs offered if you want them. When I first left Vader ex-husband, my first job was night auditor at a hotel, and it was perfect for that. I wandered the halls like a ghost, sitting on the back stairs, crying–by the indoor pool in the dark, crying–folding laundry in the back room, crying. If I had invested in Kleenex, I would have no doubt made a small fortune. Do exercise caution if you do the drive-n-cry, though. For the LW, trust your gut. I repeat: Trust. Your. Gut. The fastest way for one of these gaslighting jerks to get control of you is to get you to switch your intuition off. Your mind already knows, I suspect, what you need to do, it’s just that your heart is throwing a tantrum and going ‘lalalala! can’t hear you!!’ Whatever you do, be safe and be gentle with yourself. You are not ‘too old’ for someone who loves you–WTF is that, anyway? Who the fuck told him to turn this into Logan’s Run? Not cool.

      5. YMMV on not-brain-intensive things while crying.

        Personally I find that housework (and other not-brain-intensive things) will get mostly shoved to autopilot if I do them while emotional, leaving my brain to consciously think about the source of the feelings repeatedly. Sometimes this is useful, and sometimes it is not.

        When it’s not, I prefer highly logical things that give me something to think about and get done, don’t have strict time requirements (so I can afford to stop if I need to), and let me do emotional processing at the same time. (I have done programming while sobbing. I consider it an achievement that the code worked.) If you find that housework or similar isn’t working out for you, this might help.

        I definitely second the advice to take care of yourself though. Best of luck!

        1. Me too, An Anon. The college semester the Love of My Life (At The Time) and I broke up, my GPA went through the roof, because I had all the time in the world to learn All The Things, and it was a great relief from the pain of thinking about him.

      6. omg this is so true! I’ve been going through similar heartbreak, and I am also both a total emotional mess and getting things done (preparing to move to another country to follow my professional desires — woo!)
        It feels a bit weird and paradoxical because I can’t say I’m not ok, but I can’t say I’m totally ok either. I deal with it by granting myself time and space to feel the feelings and cry the tears when they come (or promise myself that after I get back from that meeting I will grant myself 15 minutes to cry my eyes out, which actually helps me with not crying on the way to the meeting), but setting a limit to those times.
        I do like the idea of housework-crying, might start to do that too!

      7. When my dad called to tell me my mom had died, I spent the rest of the day sobbing and CLEANING ALL THE THINGS. Mom was a fanatic housecleaner, so in a weird way it made me feel better. And, since I had to get on a plane in a day or so, it meant things were in order when I got back. Walking into a neat apartment made that homecoming a little easier.

    3. ” I thought maybe one day he would appreciate me”

      This has always been my problem too. I don’t just give people second chances, I give them 3rd, 4th and wait-there’s-more chances. At least I can console myself that once I finally say ‘enough’ I don’t go back on the decision.

  11. I’d be tempted to go into his FB and message those women saying “I’m a great big tosser who hasn’t actually told my serious girlfriend that I’m messing her about”. But I’m not a very nice person.

    HUGE silver lining to this: you didn’t move in with him. You have your own place so that when you dump this idiot, you don’t have to worry about finding somewhere to live, moving your stuff etc. It sucks, I know. I’ve been there. But you are a gazillion times more mature than him, and I don’t mean that in a “you’re old” way. You can have a great life without that millstone of a twatwomble hanging around.

    1. Haha, that would be fantastic because he would not be able to retaliate without admitting that he’s been lying and messing around. Doing some damage on your way out the door is definitely not a good idea, but certainly a tempting one.

    2. I must applaud your use of “twatwomble” – I’ve not heard it before, but it sure did make me giggle.

  12. As always, the Captain’s advice is spot on. Live your life HARD. And if you stay with this man, make all other major life decisions as if you have decided otherwise.

    While the circumstances of my relationship were quite different (friendship-turned-romance-turned-catastrophe), I can relate to the confusion and pain of being with someone whose behavior was bewilderingly selfish. It is a serious mindfuck.

    You mention some imbalances in the relationship: the age difference, or the fact that you’re new in the place where he’s already settled, or his mental health/stressful PhD program situation. He has shown that he is willing to exploit these for his benefit. One of the problems with continuing the relationship is that there will always be something, some excuse he can turn to when he behaves selfishly, and that you will be left vulnerable to his whims. You will be expected to accommodate those whims, which are the only ones given consideration in the relationship.

    My guy had conflicting feelings for his ex (whom he was not honest about to begin with) but I was understanding because he didn’t have as much relationship experience as I did. He was the one who initiated everything at warp speed, but when he backed away suddenly into her arms and only later vaguely referenced my baggage as an excuse (my kids, whom he obviously knew about, being my friend for over a decade) it seemed reasonable since he is deeply attached to his bachelor lifestyle. And when he shut down and refused to talk about serious problems, well, I’ve spent years in therapy and grew up in a loud conflict-prone family, so I’m better equipped to handle such matters. I should have known not to harass him with my questions, not to demand answers from someone in a fragile state. I went into the relationship aware of his feelings-and-conflict-avoidant nature; how selfish it was to try to force him out of his silence, and to violate his need for space.

    I loved this former friend of mine. Hell, I STILL love him and have composed countless mental letters to the Captain about him. I struggled to make sense of his behavior (which was basically a text I received while staying at his place- at his insistence!- during a visit from out of state, saying “I’ve decided to rekindle things with my not-quite-so-ex who is going to be here in an hour. You don’t have to go, but…”) because it went against everything I knew about him. He had been a truly great friend for years. He was the most well-mannered, thoughtful person I knew. Every move he had made, everything he had said in the preceeding hours had conveyed genuine interest in me, attraction to me, consideration for me. Yet here he was, expecting me to move out of his bedroom and into the guest room, and play platonic in front of his ex? In the aftermath, instead of apologizing and filling me in on WTF happened, he held me at arm’s length, refusing to explain what happened or to spend time with me in person to discuss it. I would offer my own explanations, sometimes angrily- “You just needed someone to keep your bed warm”- and he would get upset. OBVIOUSLY he didn’t think of me that way. Obviously he respected me. Obviously he felt bad I was hurt. Except…that wasn’t obvious. His appalling behavior told me that.

    Sometimes the behavior of others will not make sense, no matter what you do to figure it out. You can ask questions, you can plead for honesty, you can promise not to judge, but you will not be able to figure out what the hell happened. How can he be telling someone else that he’s “just getting out of something serious” and was making plans to visit a girl in Europe to meet up with her friends in a month while telling YOU that “everything was great and he’s super stoked”? It doesn’t add up. Or it does add up. He’s a sociopath. Or he’s a really immature,person who doesn’t know how to do relationships or empathy. Or he has some trauma in his past that causes trust issues. Or he’s a selfish bastard. Or- whatever. It’s him. There is something wrong with HIM. Not you. Remember that.

    1. “You don’t have to go but….” is startling in its perfect depiction of thoughtlessness and entitlement. I am so glad you are out.

      1. I’m glad you shared your story about being the “videographer” (although so sorry it happened to you!) because I still can’t believe I, an intelligent, rational adult woman, found myself in such a surreal, humiliating situation.

        I said I was hurt. He said he thought we were just friends. I said that’s fine, but friends don’t kick friends out of their beds at the last minute and expect them to play pretend around other people known for jealous tendencies. Friends tell friends about girlfriends. Friends tell girlfriends about out-of-town visitors. He said he just forgot to tell her I was staying with him. Then he pointed out that a REAL friend would be more understanding. He was emotionally traumatized! How could I not be supportive as he tried to work things out with her? I told him I did support him, I had even combed the bed and wiped down the sink in the master bath to make sure none of my long blonde strands were left behind. I didn’t want to arouse suspicion as she slept on my pillow that night. He thanked me.

        But I couldn’t “chill out” as I was asked. I didn’t understand why he “didn’t have a choice”, why his ex (-ish?) just HAD to come over that night. I stormed out of his apartment without hugging him goodbye even though he begged me not to leave things that way. He insisted that he wasn’t kicking me out, that I could stay. He so very badly did not want to be the bad guy because HE’S NOT LIKE THAT. I, the Golden Retriever, so very badly wanted to give him what he wanted because I wanted him to be happy, and because I knew he’d hold it against me if I didn’t. But I couldn’t pull it off, I couldn’t bend over backwards and hold steady to accommodate him because I’m just not chill like that.

        And I was right: when I couldn’t pretend that Things Are Fine and You’re A Great Friend!, and I challenged him when he claimed to be “concerned” about getting involved with someone with kids, it meant that we really couldn’t go back to being friends again. My rational self understands that he was the one who ruined our friendship by treating me worse than he would have treated a stranger. I’ve reminded myself again and again that actions speak louder than words. But I still look back and wish I could have been cooler, and I would do anything to get an honest explanation about why he acted the way he did.

        1. Oh man, I know someone like this guy, and his behavior never made any sense to me at all until I read Sense and Sensibility again as an adult. There’s a character in it – Mr. Willoughby – who Just Wants To Be Liked. No matter what (horrible, shitty things) he has done to other people, he has this perpetual attitude that his intentions were never to hurt anybody, and why are the other characters the big meanies who don’t liiiiiiiike him? He is so invested in the narrative of himself as the Misunderstood Good Guy with Good Intentions that he refuses to acknowledge the darker sides of his nature, and resents other people when they try to make him confront the ways in which he’s hurt them.

          I let my Mr. Willoughby borrow my car, so he could take his other girlfriend (who was in the process of dumping him) out on a last ditch romantic date, to make her see how much he loved her. Because he would be miserable without her, and if I loved him, why would I want him to be miserable? UGH.

          1. I had a friend like this once. She rewrote every narrative so that she could be the nice girl. Because if she wasn’t the nice girl she didn’t know who she was. And she blamed all of her bad evil thoughts on others because she was a nice girl and nice girls just don’t have bad evil thoughts and gasp not like everyone!

            Trust me, nice girls and nice boys and nice everyone else can be go be nice somewhere else. It’s too emotionally draining to try to make sure everything is perfect.

          2. MR. WILLOUGHBY!!! I cannot believe I (Austen fangirl/English lit major) did not make that connection before. His name is quite similar IRL, and I’m also quite certain that the gigantic gap between our social classes affected his value assessment- and therefore treatment- of me.

            The building he grew up is the subject of a full-length documentary on power and privilege in America. When we met at the snobby, elitist private liberal arts college where I had landed a full ride, my parents were young enough to be mistaken as students as they walked around campus. Mr. W was extremely uncomfortable talking about wealth and class on a personal level, and always tried to downplay the differences. That was fine, I guess, as long as we weren’t sleeping together and he wasn’t trying to envision us as a couple. He never, ever would have admitted it- because those things don’t matter to him!- but his WASP, society page, Romney-fundraising parents would not have been okay with me for like a gazillion reasons that, like the LW’s age, are unchangeable facts of my existence. And maybe Mr. W didn’t give a fuck about his parents’ opinion, but just wasn’t comfortable with me for the same reasons and couldn’t bring himself to admit that he is a person who DOES care about class.

            The night his girlfriend had to come over/I got kicked to the curb, he managed to pull all of my insecurity triggers, especially the class one. As it turns out, he sorta had plans with his “ex” to go to this thing.

            What kind of thing? I asked.
            Oh, no big deal…just…like, a benefit.
            As in one of those fancy society parties?
            No, it’s not like that.
            Are you going to wear a tuxedo?
            Come on, it’s for an organization I support. I really should be there and I wanted to go, and Ex called saying she’ll come with me after all.
            So, you knew about this event when you invited me to stay with you?
            No! I mean, yes, but I didn’t think I’d be going. How was I supposed to know she’d change her mind??

            I mean, god forbid he take someone like ME to an event like that. I couldn’t bring myself to say it out loud because I was already mortified and reeling, but it hit me hard, the realization that he fully expected me to see the big picture and understand why I could not be part of it. Obviously he cared about me, but how unfortunate that I had misinterpreted that to mean I was, like, on his level or something. He stood there quietly with a pained look on his face as I cried and crammed my shit into my suitcase, and he asked me to understand, because what else was he supposed to do? (That was rhetorical, it turned out. Suggestions for alternative arrangements were rejected as they involved acknowledgement of his role in creating the mess). As I said before, it was a real mindfuck. I must have misunderstood. I had unreasonable expectations. I forgot my place. I was making things uncomfortable. I wasn’t being considerate of his feelings. It didn’t make sense, but who wants to be labeled as the needy crazy obsessed chick?

            He eventually apologized for “being a negative force” in my life. I wrote back and was like thanks for the apology, but I didn’t think of you that way. I mean, you might think of yourself that way, but I don’t. You were an asshole and a fucking terrible friend. There’s a difference.

          3. Yikes. You have just put a name and a trope to someone who has been making my skin crawl for a few months now. She, too, does shitty things to other people all the time, and is free with the truth at others’ expense, but something something meeble something didn’t meeeeeean it! So she’s a good person! And it’s just everyone else all the time with everything! And, man, even without romance in the equation, it is hard not to eventually start to buy the hype and ask yourself whether or not those gas lights really *are* flickering. So thank you for letting me (and everyone else) know that Monsters of Intentions Are Fucking Magic are real, and they walk among us, and it’s not our fault.

          4. YES! One of the reasons I love Jane Austen so much is that I totally recognize some of the people I know in her characters.

            btdthaveshirttoprove, we’ve run out of nesting so I can’t reply directly to your comment about the fundraiser / benefit story, but wow. This is me with my jaw on the floor. How incredibly crappy of him.

          5. This comment is for btdonethat (trying to nest it). My Mr. Willoughby has major class issues too, he’s part European and all I ever heard about was how rich one branch of his family is. The only women he ever introduced to his mother as “girlfriends” were heiresses. Ironically…over the years, I got to know his mother. She is a decent person, she actually liked me very much, and he was using her as the scapegoat for his own insecurities.

            Incidentally, I’ve totally had friends who did this too. IMO, it’s the entire premise for that show, “Felicity.”

        2. Wow, this really resonated with me, especially the part about helping him by cleaning the bed and bathroom. My ex-husband had an emotional affair with a women — well, to this day I’m not 100% sure it wasn’t physical, but I asked him once directly if he was having sex with her and he said “No, but I might as well be.” I knew he could be cruel in the name of honesty so I didn’t think he was lying to protect my feelings. He was correct, he might as well have been sleeping with her.

          He would see her several nights a week. Once early on, I thought I would nip this problem in the bud by inserting myself back into his social life. He told me he was getting together with her and I said “why don’t all three of us have dinner together?” He said no, and told me the next day it was because he wouldn’t have been able to stop thinking about how he’d rather be alone with her. That is the moment when I wish I had end it. But I was trapped, both in my desire to be the “chill girl,” my belief that no one else would want me, and sadly, financial dependance. Leaving him would have meant leaving the state, all my friends, and my entire life, to move back in with my family, with whom my relationship is so bad I’ve thought about writing a letter to CA about it many times. So I stayed.

          Sometimes my ex would make plans with his emotional girlfriend and other friends and have them all meet at our house without telling me. I would walk out into the living room and there’d be a whole group of people sitting there getting ready to go do something fun. I would smile awkwardly, make chit chat for a minute or two and retreat as quickly as I could. The ex had made it clear that I wasn’t welcome at these social outings, but other friends clearly had no idea. As far as they knew I just didn’t like going out with them, or just didn’t feel like it that night, or whatever. I didn’t want to create drama, so I helped him.

          He started asking me to act more like her. For instance, I had toyed with the idea of getting a tattoo for a few years, but had never pursued it because my ex was adamantly opposed. He called tattoos “disgusting” and said that he wouldn’t be able to look at or touch whatever part of my body had the tattoo. But this woman had several visible tattoos, and one day out of the blue he said “You should get a tattoo! It would be cool!” I was tired of arguing and afraid of where the arguments would lead, so I quietly said “I don’t want a tattoo” and let it go.

          The emotional affair finally ended after several months, when he sent her a letter. I found it because we shared a computer, and we both wrote, and used the same word processor, which always showed you recent files when you started it up. I sat down to write one day and there it was, a file labeled with the girlfriend’s name and the date. I read it and it went on and on about his powerful feelings for her, how much she meant to him, what an amazing person she was. It was a love letter.

          I confronted him and the weird thing is, he wasn’t that mad about my snooping. Well, that was the first thing he said, and I countered that he had made it so obvious that I thought he wanted me to find it, and he agreed that on some level, he probably did. Then he asked me to critique the letter. I’m serious. He got this big grin on his face and said “Well, was it a good letter?” The grin is the part that really gets to me. It was as if now that I knew, his problems were over. I was the chill girl and he could not only have me and this woman, he could have my help navigating his relationship with her.

          I wasn’t good at standing up for myself, but I did refuse to critique the letter. Though it was a strangely not angry conversation, we were both calm and acting almost amused by the weirdness of the situation. I guess I was good at being Chill Girl. The letter ended the relationship anyway because the women wrote back and told him never to contact her again. At the time I speculated that she’d been ignoring the signs, telling herself it was just a friendship, he was married, he couldn’t mean things the way they seemed, until his letter forced her to see that he really did mean it all. Of course it doesn’t really matter what was going on with her. My problem wasn’t about her, it was about my disastrous marriage.

          I wish I could say I left him right after that, but I can at least say that was the beginning of the end. Within a year I got a second job and as soon as I was making enough money to pay my own rent, I left. Now I’m married again, to a wonderful guy who always prioritizes our marriage, never makes me feel like an afterthought or an inconvenience. And I have a tattoo. A really big one.

          1. Thank you for your story. I am so, so glad you are free of that guy.

            And right now “Too lazy to buy Affair Condoms, so just goes without!” and “Has party in your house with your friends that you are not invited to/Asks you to critique love letter to Over Woman” are tied for Most Inconsiderate award. A dubious honor.

          2. OOOH I too have experienced the “has a party in your house to which you are not invited.” And also the “Body mods are disgusting – body mods are hot when they aren’t on you – you could be hot if you PERMANTENTLY ALTERED YOUR BODY TO DEMONSTRATE YOUR DEVOTION TO ME… maybe, probably not” Cycle of Inconsistency, which is a special kind of ego-eroding mindfuck. I am so glad you’re out of that situation.

            (now proudly claiming a nose ring, a four-year-old divorce, and an awesome new partner. *solidarity jedi high-fives*)

          3. Jedi high-fives to you, ordinarygoddess! Between your nose ring and my tattoo, I think we look *awesome.* Here’s to body mods that you do for no one but yourself!

            (Really glad you are also divorced and have a great partner now!)

          4. People really need to learn the difference between saying, ‘what’s going on right now is good,” like, “I like your hair like that,” or “you look great,” and “here is what I think you should look like ’cause I would find that hottest.” Telling people they would be hotter if they lost weight/gained weight/got a more feminine haircut/wore more skirts/had tattoos/shaved this or that/plastic surgery etc etc etc is rude when it’s someone you don’t know and maybe closer to abusive when it’s someone you’re dating.

            I’m really glad you got out of that situation : )

          5. When I read the part about asking you to critique the letter I had an involuntary Dick Cheney-esque lip curl. Just…ugh. >:-(

            I’m not judging because wow have I also tolerated some mind bogglingly bad behaviour. Well, not judging you, I’m judging the hell out of him.

            Also – heh. A new red flag. When the proposed other woman/man runs screaming into the night to escape your spouse/lover it’s probably time to take a long hard look at that person. Proposed other woman dodged a bullet there.

          6. @monologue: but “I like your hair like this” can also get annoying if the partner says it every time you’re planning to change your hairstyle. I once haid a relationship with one who did this 😦

          7. @Lily Actually, I think you two are talking about the exact same thing. (Sorry if that’s what you’re saying, I’m not entirely sure.) If you say “But I like your hair like this.” before a hair change, instead of saying it after and without the “but”, it’s actually a way of controlling what the recipicient does with their hair. If someone comes to you with a new hairstyle and you tell them without ulterior motive that you like it, that’s not controlling. In other words: Your ex sounds annoying and possibly controlling.

          8. I felt sick just reading about what your ex husband did to you. It was beyond cruel, it was abusive. And the felling of being trapped…there is nothing like it. It brings out the primal instincts, this frenzied desperation to claw my way out, along with terror about the dangers that lurk beyond my escape. Any partner who takes advantage of that is not a good person.

            I was delighted to hear that your ex was so firmly rejected by his new love interest. It’s quite interesting to see how distorted and one-sided his view of their relationship was. He didn’t care about your feelings, but it sounds like he didn’t seem all that tuned into hers, either. Now that problem is to longer yours to deal with, and you’re obviously much better off for it! Glad you’ve found the happiness you deserve.

          9. @Lily Yep, I agree that if the “I like your hair like this” comes with a but at the beginning or with an implied so don’t change it, that is 100% not okay. What I was hoping to get at was that any appearance comments should be supportive and should not be expressions of the commenter’s preferences.

  13. If you do stay together (personally I think breaking up would be better, but if you do), it sounds like you need to discuss the situation about kids properly, otherwise it could just come back as his go-to easy breakup line. You need to have a calm and frank conversation about whether each of you wants kids, and how you see them fitting into the future, how strongly you each feel about your position and whether any differences are a dealbreaker. Tbh this is probably something every couple should discuss when things get serious. Lots of couples seem to just kinda muddle along, each hoping that the other person will change their mind, before either going in a direction that makes one person miserable or breaking up when they realise they’re never going to agree. If he’s definitely not going to be ready for kids before you’re 50, but definitely wants kids, and you want them sooner or not at all, then this is a problem that needs to be discussed. (Don’t get me wrong – the guy’s a jerk for bringing it up as a way to break up with you.) It also demonstrates how well he deals with serious relationship negotiation. If his response is ARGH I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT THIS NOW then say “fine – when are we discussing it? Let’s set a time” and put it in your diary. If he tries to wriggle out of the conversation altogether, you have a pretty good indication that this is an issue that will never be properly resolved.

  14. As usual, the Captain’s answer is so, so spot on. I’ve recently gotten out of a situation in which I, too, was asking myself “WHAT AM I DOING WITH THIS PERSON????”; not exactly the same situation as yours, but I was definitely ignoring clear signs that this guy was not down for the same relationship that I was, and I was also putting up with a huge amount of umming and ahhhing on his part about whether or not he even wanted the relationship.The message I took from this experience, and one I want to offer you, is: there are people out there who will be incredibly happy and thrilled and excited to be with you, whether romantically or otherwise, and you’ll feel the same about them, and I believe you should save your energy for these people. Maybe they’ll take a while to appear in your life – fine! In the interim, love yourself, make your life fulfilling, and don’t compromise yourself for people who you like/love a hell of a lot (and who may indeed feel the same way about you, or think they do) but who are showing you that they can’t give you what you want. I really hope things work out well for you, whatever “things” may end up being!

  15. Oh what awful experiences. What’s with the sleeping with you one last time thing even though they know they’re leaving? Don’t do that. It took me a long time to purge one of those awful last shags from my mind, and wow did it mess up my self esteem and mind generally. Shudder.

    Anyway, LW, I’ve been in a long term relationship with a guy who lied, and who could hide what he was feeling pretty well, and say everything was fine and wonderful and he loved me while clearly on hindsight harbouring and acting on huge doubts. A guy who was quite happy to build alternative relationships while I was being patient and kind and understanding. Please believe that if you’ve caught him in big lies like that once, the odds are that he’ll keep lying about big things in the future – even if he was lying to the woman on facebook and not to you that says something about his willingness to bend the truth, and your ability to tell. It sounds like your gut can tell, but it also sounds like he’s been pretty convincing face to face.

    It’s so easy to compartmentalise the bad things people we love do, and see them as the potential person they will be if you can just get past this one bad thing that they’ve apologised for. It’s much harder to see the person they actually are rather than the person you wish they would be, or thought they were when you first met them. Decide whether to stay with this person on the basis of what he actually does.

    About the line that you’re too old to have his kids. He was saying one of two things there – either he was trying to hurt you, in which case ick what an ugly personal attack. Or he was saying that he doesn’t intend to have kids for years and years, but he does eventually want them, say maybe when he’s 35 and you’re 43 (just a guess). And if that’s what he’s saying he’s retracted it because he likes being with you right now and doesn’t want to give you up just yet while the kids thing is in the hypothetical future. It’s just, that guy? That guy may well dump you down the track when he’s ready for kids and you are actually too old to have them any more. Probably you don’t want to invest any more time in a guy who’s just told you he’ll eventually break up with you to pursue a younger woman to have his babies.

    Do you want to have children? I don’t think all women should have children or want to have them – I’m not super attached to the idea. But there is a window during which you’re the right age for that, and if your future plans do include having children this guy is telling you that he won’t want them until you’re older than that. It’s not an invalid question to consider when deciding if you want a long term relationship with someone. I don’t have kids, and probably never will (36 and single), but I’m slightly ambivalent about that, and feel like probably I spent a lot of time (more than 10 years) with a guy who said he wanted kids eventually and dumped me shortly after I tried to have a serious discussion with him about if we really wanted to do that in the actual near future. It’s not wrong to think about that, either for him or you. If you do stay with this guy, I would strongly suggest you actually raise that with him again and have a real discussion about what each of you wants and plans around procreation.

  16. From the description LW has given, I’m actually not 100% sure that the bf really wanted to get back together, or at least if he agreed to go back to the way things were before. Has he actually explicitly said “I want to get back together with you”? Maybe since there was talk about “giving each other more space” he is telling himself that the terms of the relationship have now changed. Or he may think they’re in relationship limbo land and then the facebook messaging would not clearly be cheating. (I’m also kind of getting this vibe from the fact that there seems to have been a 3 week break between the 2nd talk they had and them spending the night together. Maybe I’m reading wrongly but it seems weird to reconcile and then wait 3 weeks to spend the night). I’m not saying this to blame the LW- and I understand the place she’s at, I’ve been there – but it’s so easy for confusion to arise around a painful break up, and it’s also easy to interpret the bf’s sad feelings about the break up as actually wanting to get back together.
    I’m also pretty close to believing in a blanket rule that once a break up has happened, it’s very hard to go back. Especially reversing the decision to break up quickly seems fishy to me. I read somewhere – can’t remember where – that breaking up and then taking the person back is like firing them and then offering them the job again. It’s pretty obvious that doing so would undermine trust and create angst on the employee’s side, even more so when they don’t know what the firing offense was in the first place.

    1. Yeah. It sounds like there is a lot of wiggle room in how the relationship is defined now.

      Lots of space for him to take her energy and time without feeling guilty about not returning it. Because his cowardly ‘unintentional’ insults and ‘accidental’ reveals of his cheating absolve him. “She has to know…”
      Lots of space for him to put that energy he’s not giving her into other people. “I’m getting out of a serious relationship…”
      Lots of space for him to make her feel like the unreasonable one. “You know I care for you…”
      Lots of space for him to be ‘shocked’ that she is angry and betrayed when he gets (or already has) a new girlfriend. “But we’re broken up…”

  17. This guy has offered you a way out of your awful relationship! For the love of all the gods TAKE IT. Look at this as new adventure, new start. And the fact that you have your own place is a wonderful and glittering silver lining. Dazzling, even!

  18. Ach, too much truth! Oh LW, I too have been there and when it went sour I couldn’t believe this girl thought it was okay to just totally neglect my needs when I’d been putting myself second to her various stresses over the years. And then I stepped into her shoes and realised she’d never seen it that way. What she saw was this laid back friend who didn’t mind being walked over, who enjoyed helping out in a crisis, and whose main positive attribute wasn’t being a caring person but not having any actual needs of her own.

    So when I finally spoke up it wasn’t met with, ‘Of course! You’re right, I can’t just treat you like you have no say then expect you to care for me,’ but, ‘How dare you cause trouble for me at a time when I’m clearly stressed?’ Like you, my living arrangements and future depended on her, and I was living my life in limbo, unable to make decisions because of someone who didn’t demonstrate that much commitment. And every single one of my reasons for staying were to be the patient, caring person. The one they’d refer to as their rock during the awards acceptance speech. I think now it seemed so important because it was the only thing I had control over. When everything depends on their mood swings, in a funny way demonstrating that your moods won’t get the best of you can become a kind of dig. Like okay yeah you control our whole relationship with your moods, but I can actually CONTROL MY EMOTIONS. Ha?

    “Surround yourself with people who say “hell yes!” to the prospect of your company and who reward your patience and forgiving spirit with steadfastness.” That’s the best advice you can take with you now. And as has been mentioned a few times on this site, there’s no prize for being the most patient. xx

    1. “Oh LW, I too have been there and when it went sour I couldn’t believe this girl thought it was okay to just totally neglect my needs when I’d been putting myself second to her various stresses over the years. And then I stepped into her shoes and realised she’d never seen it that way. ”

      Oof, yes.The last real fight my Ex and I had was around this – we had broken up but we were in the middle of negotiating the separation of all of our stuff and our apartment and whatnot. And of course, he was being just as thoughtless towards me as he had been during our relationship, except now I wasn’t ignoring it. I have never been so thankful that there is a vacant floor in my office building, so I could pace the halls while we screamed at each other on the phone.

      What hurt the most was being slammed in the face with the understanding that it had always been this way. I had never felt like my ex did a good job of showing he cared for or valued me, but while we were together we could talk about it and I could believe him when he said he would try harder and I could hope that, eventually, I would be rewarded. And now I deeply understood that this would not happen and I felt like a fool.

      It was painful, but it was an important moment. And, bonus pretzel, that clarifying moment on my end helped clear the air of resentment I felt towards Ex which I think is valuable. Even if we weren’t still friends I wouldn’t personally find it helpful to go through life carrying that bitterness.

      1. “What hurt the most was being slammed in the face with the understanding that it had always been this way. I had never felt like my ex did a good job of showing he cared for or valued me, but while we were together we could talk about it and I could believe him when he said he would try harder and I could hope that, eventually, I would be rewarded. And now I deeply understood that this would not happen and I felt like a fool.”

        Yes, and also to that last paragraph yes. Very wise

  19. Oh, LW, I feel you. I’m dealing with about the same thing right now (Husband broke trust; I accepted his apology and didn’t make a big deal out of it even though it WAS a big deal; now I’m trying to decide if I still want to stay in this marriage) so I don’t have a lot of advice, just Jedi hugs.

    I wonder if some other commenters could help with this: How could you tell if your partner really is sincere about wanting to continue the relationship after breaking trust/ending the relationship then reinstating it/etc? What would the relationship-continues-healthily-and-we-live-happily-ever-after scenario even look like?

    1. This is non-comprehensive, but one thing people can do to *show* they are sincere:

      Support you reaching out to your support network. You need your friends, maybe a counselor, maybe your family. Supports you in having time to think – a weekend (or even more time) away, whatever you need. You need that time with others outside of this little hothouse of drama. Anyone who pouts about that or puts up roadblocks in your way around that = run.

    2. *Jedi hugs* Marie J, I’m so sorry you’re going through this, it really sucks. Having been through something similar myself (my partner broke trust) and fortunately made it out the other side, I’m happy to tell you about the things that worked for me/us.

      (Gonna use male pronouns for this since in my story it was also my husband who broke trust, but I recognize that all genders are capable of cheating/breaking trust.)

      –Husband has to be willing to LISTEN to how his actions have made you feel, and not get defensive about it. You get to be angry at him. You don’t get to be abusive, but you do get to express your hurt and he doesn’t get to flinch away from it or dismiss it. If he does, that relationship is doomed. Any attempt to play the “But I already feel terrible, you don’t need to rub it in!” tune should be met with appropriate contempt. Husband made a choice that had consequences; he gets to deal with those consequences.

      –You get to set terms surrounding Husband’s behavior for a while that allow for you to feel safe in the relationship. Yes, these are likely going to seem horrifically controlling, and for a relationship that is healthy, yes, they would be too controlling. But in a relationship where there has been a breach of trust (such as infidelity), trust needs to be rebuilt. Your husband doesn’t get to decide what you need in order to be able to trust him again, YOU do, and for the immediate aftermath the things you need from him are likely going to be pretty stark.

      Your harsh terms don’t get to last forever, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable for you to, for example, demand that your husband come straight home after work each day (if he works an 8-5 job, say, he has to be home by 6 pm at the latest, or something–this is just an example) for 2-3 months following the fracture of trust. For me, I said point blank that my partner wasn’t allowed to have any more contact with the other woman he had developed feelings for. No IM chats, no texts, no calls, no coffee, no lunches, and they were not allowed to be connected on social media, period. I personally deleted her information off his phone and watched as he blocked her from his Facebook. If my partner had refused to do that, our relationship would have been over.

      –Emphasizing what the Captain says: Husband does not get to deny or begrudge you your support network. You get to talk about what a shithead he’s been and how much you’re hurt and how tempted you are to empty the bank account and go on a world tour alone before you divorce his dumb ass, etc, to your Team You with impunity. Husband does not get to whine to you about his “reputation” with these people in your life. Again: his choices had consequences; his loss of face is one of them.

      Caveat to this: he also has a Team Him, and if he genuinely is in a place where he wants to rebuild this relationship, he’ll need to be able to talk to his Team Him with impunity as well, because chances are he *does* feel awful about what’s happened and he needs someone to remind him that he is not a lizard-like subhuman. Note that the person who helps him remember this fact SHOULD NOT BE YOU. As a wronged party, it is not your job to make the perpetrator feel like a worthy human being again, that is for other people.

      –Find a couples’ counselor. I emphasize couples, because getting therapy for yourself will be no good if Husband won’t engage. It might be a good idea for each of you to have individual counseling sessions as well, so you both have safe places to discuss your feelings with an impartial party, but it is imperative that someone hold you accountable to each other in some capacity. Your respective Team Yous might not be able to do that because they are not impartial–they are the people who are On Your Side. You need those people, but you’ll need someone else who can really dig into the marrow of your relationship and who isn’t afraid of facing some hard truths.

      Because it’s almost always the case that, in relationships where a serious breach of trust has occurred, something was off about the relationship for a good while prior to the breach. Kind people in happy relationships don’t just suddenly do things that seriously hurt their partners. So either your husband is just unkind and doesn’t care about your feelings (in which case the relationship is doomed no matter what and you should leave and take care of yourself), or he was unhappy enough in some capacity for long enough that he finally broke under the pressure of pretending otherwise and did something monstrously selfish as an attempt to make himself feel good.

      Assuming that latter option is in fact the case, that will almost certainly be the hardest bit for you to face, because it does mean that something about your relationship wasn’t fulfilling his needs, and that he didn’t feel he could use his words with you to address that (for whatever reason–his silence on this front may not actually have anything to do with you, but then again it might, so you need to steel yourself for that). That means that *you* will have to work on changing how you behave in the relationship as well as him. The previous relationship model may have been fine for you, but it didn’t work for him, and to move forward you’ll need a new model that works for both of you–the old one is permanently busted. Again, that’s the hardest part, because you have legitimate righteous anger about his dishonesty and the LAST thing you want to hear about is the work you need to put into the relationship going forward–after all, you didn’t do anything wrong! But it will, at some point, need to be faced, so you might as well get comfortable with that idea now so it doesn’t blindside you later.

      In summary:
      –You get to express your hurt and anger to your husband; if he refuses to listen or listens only begrudgingly: red flag.
      –You get to set some parameters around his behavior that allow you to feel safe in the relationship; if he is outraged about this or fights it: red flag.
      –You get to talk to your Team You about what has gone down, and express the full force of your feelings in a safe place; if he tries to discourage or prevent this: red flag.
      –You should do your damndest to get couples counselling (there can be barriers to this, such as lack of insurance or finances, unfortunately, but if you can swing it, I HIGHLY recommend it); if he balks at this idea or refuses to even consider it: red flag.

      Phew, this got really long, and a little off-topic, sorry about that! But I hope it helps, and gives you some outline on how to approach the next few steps, and what to look for in order to evaluate whether or not your husband is genuine about wanting to fix your relationship, or whether it’s even fixable. I’m so, so sorry that you and the LW are going through this. It’s a horrible experience, and the wounds can take a long time to heal. Good luck, I’m wishing you all the best. ❤

      1. I think this is mostly great but disagree with the dismissal of individual therapy. Individual therapy for both parties can be really useful for both the individuals and the relationship. It’s someone on team you, it’s a place to work out your feelings without having to consider the other person’s feelings or What This Means For The Future. For the trust-violating party, it’s a place to figure out why they did what they did and address the underlying issue, without putting an additional burden on their partner.

        I think couples therapy is a wonderful idea, and I’m sure there are situations for which it’s the highest priority thing. But if we’re making a play book, I’d like to have “each person goes to therapy individually” in there do.

        1. I did mention that looking into individual therapy for both of them would be a good idea. What I wanted to specifically highlight is that individual therapy for her and ONLY her, without her husband getting any kind of counseling/therapy, is unlikely to help save the relationship. It will very likely make her feel better and give her better insight into her own situation, but I seriously doubt it will help them move forward *as a couple* if ONLY Marie J is getting counseling.

      2. Oh dear lord. I love your suggestions. I think they’re great! But I just realized that in my Analogous Relationship (see below), 3 out of 4 red flags’d’ve been raised. (He didn’t restrict access to my Team Me, not that I had much of one, but that wasn’t exactly his faulat but he had already told me that he thought therapy was stupid and would never work for him multiple times and he refused to listen to me talk about my problems with his actions or stop doing things like sleeping over at other girls’ houses.

      3. Reading that gave me insight into my separation from Spouse last year after a major breach of trust, and why I feel confident in our relationship now.
        I couldn’t put it into words, can I use yours when people ask me about it?

        1. Yes absolutely! I’m so glad they’re helping people, and I’m really happy to hear that it worked out for you two in the end, as well.

      4. Wow, Anothermous, thank you so much for the detailed reply. I’m really touched that you took the time to be thorough.

        One of the things that’s making my decision harder is that Husband did almost all of the red flags in the first three months following the Event. If I hadn’t been deep in Please Love Me So I Feel Lovable Again Land I would have divorced him during that time. In November, right around the time that I got my self-esteem under control enough to think “WTF am I still doing in this marriage?”, we had a talk where I really seemed to get through to him that these behaviors were completely unacceptable. Since that time, he’s shown a definite change in behavior pattern and we’ve begun couple’s counseling and he seems to really be trying. We still hit bumps in the road, usually where he says/does something mean and we spend two hours fighting until I finally manage to convince him it was mean and he apologizes, but for the most part, the trajectory is upward. But it is MADDENINGLY SLOW progress. I don’t know how long is a reasonable amount of time to give him to get his act together. I don’t want to divorce him if it really is going to be good again, but I’m also not willing to wait forever for him to try.

        Another thing that troubles me is that now that I’ve started to really consider divorcing him, I come up with reasons to left and right, not all of which are his fault. Ex: he’s in the military, and none of the military-related reasons are “his fault,” and I did sign up for them, but damn being a mil wife sucks and it would be a perk to leave all that crap behind forever. I don’t know if being angry with and hurt by him has made me have unreasonably low tolerance for the things I used handle just fine OR if the Event just opened my eyes to how unhappy I really was with all the things I used to put up with.

        1. *more Jedi hugs* I’m glad you found it useful, and I’m so sorry you had to go through 3 months of red flag behavior before things started to improve!

          WRT your mentioning the maddeningly slow progress–oof. That’s a cruddy situation for you to be in. This might be a bit presumptuous of me, but I’ve got some thoughts on that, as well.

          I think it might be worthwhile for you to (privately–this is not something your husband needs to see) make a little timeline for yourself. A technique the Captain has discussed before in letters is the thought experiment of “how long am I willing to live with [thing or behavior X]?” (The “not his fault” items such as military stuff are worth considering here, too–just because you willingly signed up for it however much time ago, doesn’t mean you’re obligated to continue to sign up for it from now until eternity.) I think that might be useful for you here. Because there is progress, as you say, but it is slow enough to still be making the relationship difficult for you. I have no idea how far things have come since they started improving, but you might want to look at the trajectory it’s taken so far, and project how long it seems that it will take until the relationship will be healthy and happy for you again, and then really have a sit down and think about if you’re willing to invest that kind of time and work into it.

          I know it seems crappy to consider leaving someone who’s clearly working on improving things, but the reality is you’re his partner, not his parent, and it’s not your job to hold his hand and stroke his hair while he figures out how to not be horrible to you. He’s not a child anymore and he doesn’t deserve the same indulgence you’d give a child who’s just beginning to realize that other people exist and have feelings, too. I think it would be 100% valid for you to look at the way things are going and decide that it’s not good enough, and you’re not willing to stay, despite the work that’s already been done. It’s equally valid to decide that it IS worth staying, and you’re ready to commit to the long haul.

          Also–I think “unreasonably low tolerance” is an unfair term to give yourself here. First of all, anything is allowed to be a deal breaker. As Dear Sugar said, “wanting to leave is enough.” Second of all–of course we’re willing to put up with certain crappy things if other things make it worth it. I was happy living in Small Town Uber Red State US because I had an incredible group of friends–a Team Me! Otherwise I’d have been miserable. If you have great coworkers it can make a shitty job feel less shitty. If you’ve got a great marriage of course it will soften the hard edges of being a military spouse. But if that marriage isn’t so great…then the sucky things about being a military spouse become harder to ignore. It makes you ask the question of whether that not-so-great marriage is really worth enduring MORE not-so-great stuff. So maybe be easier on yourself for suddenly not being as willing to put up with stuff you were willing to put up with before–things have changed, the old model no longer applies.

          Marie J, I sincerely hope things get better for you, and that you are able to find happiness no matter what you decide. Any decision you make here is totally valid–you can decide that you believe this relationship is worth fighting for and stay, or you can decide that you’ve given it all you’re willing to and it’s time to forge out on your own. Good luck! I’m sending good thoughts your way. ❤

          1. *hugs back* All I can do is reiterate how much your replies have meant to me. Thank you for being caring and for giving me such valuable advice. I’ve seen this community help so many people but I didn’t know it felt so good. ❤

        2. If I may say so, I’ve got the impression you’re logicking your way through a lot of questions you already have a pretty clear feeling about; You are not satisfied with the speed of his progress, but you think you have to give him a chance. You are also not satisfied with being a military wife anymore, but you think your dissatisfaction has to be tied to the other problem to be valid. I believe that it’s okay to listen more to what you feel about the situation instead of “shoulding” you. You know “I should wait how this turns out.” “I should accept these terms because I was okay with them before.” (No.)

          What came to my mind was a strategy proposed in the comments somewhere before: Would you stay for another year, if the progress didn’t pick up speed? Would this situation still be tolerable in 5 or 10 years? Sure, he could be a totally good guy, if you give him enough time, who you don’t have to argue with for 2 hours to get him to agree that what he said was mean. But you are also allowed to quit and have him figure that out on his own and get a life free of (these) troubles. Not saying you should or that I think that’s the best course of action. But if that is what your feelings are actually nudging you to do, you can totally do it.

          1. Thank you for saying all that, Erin. Sometimes it’s really hard to figure out what I’m feeling about a situation vs what I’m reasoning about it. I think I feel like I want out but I’m scared of so many things (will my family accept me?, will I have given up on my one shot at a ltr?, will I change my mind and decide I want him back after the divorce is final?). This community has helped me so much to get to the point where I can even consider leaving. You are all awesome. 🙂

          2. Erin, sorry for the late reply. I composed a reply two nights ago but must not have posted it properly.

            I think your perception of the situation is right on. I do have a gut feeling about our relationship, and it isn’t an optimistic gut feeling, but I’m trying to make sure I dot my logical I’s and cross my rational T’s before I do anything as drastic as serving him with divorce papers. It’s valuable to hear you (and Anothermous and atma) say that my unhappiness with my marriage doesn’t need to be backed up with Reasons to be valid. Thank you, and everyone else, for taking the time to respond and help me out with this. ❤

        3. I think it’s perfectly fine to wake up to being unhappy, analysing what makes you unhappy, decide to stop with the unhappy-making things in life. Even if you signed up for them, even if you didn’t mind before, even if it isn’t his fault!

          (Although, I’d say military things are his fault, sort of, He made a decision in his life, to be military, and it is directly impacting your life.)

          In a sense that’s another faulty thinking: he is trying. I’m still unhappy, but if he is trying, it’s unfair to leave. We don’t live in relationships to be fair, we live in them because we want to.

        4. ” I don’t know if being angry with and hurt by him has made me have unreasonably low tolerance for the things I used handle just fine OR if the Event just opened my eyes to how unhappy I really was with all the things I used to put up with.”

          I would look at it as, “I am willing to put up with some things because I believed our relationship was fundamentally sound. Having discovered that it’s not, my tolerance for Him-related crap has tanked.” That is not unreasonable in the least.

          1. Okay, Aurora, I just have to say I love that summary. “I am willing to put up with some things because I believed our relationship was fundamentally sound. Having discovered that it’s not, my tolerance for Him-related crap has tanked.” Perfect, thanks.

    3. For what it’s worth, 10-ish years out the other side, here’s what mine looked like.

      -Major breach of trust occurred (as explained upthread, I caught my then-fiance in a massive lie about his past).

      – Big ugly confrontation happened where I presented evidence (no snooping required, completely stumbled upon both accidentally and unavoidably, but made the whole thing unravel) and he admitted the lie and the reason for it (mental health stigma for the lose here, folks).

      – A whole lot of me saying things like, “I love you very much and I want to work through this BUT HOLY SHIT FUCK I AM FURIOUS WITH YOU RIGHT AT THIS MOMENT and no these two things are not mutually exclusive!”

      – A whole lot of him asking, sincerely, what he could do to make it right.

      – Me making some requests that were obvious and directly related to the situation (such as him coming clean, personally instead of through me, to the close friends of mine who had been saying, “Wow, something about your dude doesn’t add up”) and some that were less so but I needed to see as proof that he was willing to Adult in the future without making up elaborate stories about awesome shit he’d done in the past except it had really never happened.

      – Me re-reading Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay, going through the questions (which correctly pointed to JUST BREAK UP RIGHT NOW PLZ with Darth Ex) and realizing that a month after this all blew up, we were already at the “the odds are good if your relationship has re-stabilized at this point a year after the breach of trust” point. Because Team Us is actually that damn awesome.

      – A failed attempt at counseling with a counselor we just didn’t have any rapport with.

      – A later, successful start with counseling once I was Extremely Pregnant and no really he needed to get his head together because it clearly wasn’t and I didn’t have time for that and a new baby.

      – YEARS of therapy and meds and more therapy, for both of us, separately and together.

      – Both of us getting kind of activist about how mental health stigma is a really bad thing. In some ways, that’s been the ultimate in good to come out of the whole mess.

      – And you know, around all that, we have had a really awesome relationship through it all. Team Cheshire – the household that now consists of me, Spouse, FirstKid, and SecondKid – does great things. Everyone IN Team Cheshire does great things, and we come home and crash out together and have lots of silly time and cuddles together and Spouse and I get our not-safe-for-kids snarky chatter time on when Kids are in bed or when we are carpooling after dropping Kids off.

      In fact, what a healed-after-Bad-Stuff relationship looks like, years later, right now? My bad leg was acting up, and Spouse helped me stretch it (which works faster than any painkillers I can take, but only with an extra pair of hands involved) and then threw a blanket in the dryer so I could have a giant heatpack on it. He just came back with the blanket. And I was happy and grateful and he said, “Well, why wouldn’t I do that?” And now he’s running around doing the “getting ready for tomorrow” stuff I *could* do if I *had* to but that would put me in more pain, so I can be in less pain instead. WIN!

      1. Thank you for the book recommendation, MamaCheshire. I will buy/borrow it immediately. Is it the type that can be easily read as an ebook or is it one of those that definitely needs to be paper?

        I’m glad your relationship worked out so well for you and thanks for sharing your story from 10 years out. What a valuable perspective.

        1. I have the paper copy (newbie social worker who might want to do couples counseling someday) but see no reason it wouldn’t work as an e-book. I think that the list of questions exists around the Internet if you search on “too good to leave questions” or such, but the context the book as a whole gives can be a useful one so I recommend reading the whole thing if feasible.

    4. The one thing that makes the dreaded inevitable NOT happen is the right person doing the work. That would *not* be you. If the partner who has been phoning it in and being a burden, who has strayed without permission, or lied with consequences, or failed at being a partner, wants you and wants the relationship, they will get on the freaking phone themselves and arrange for counseling. They will sell the gaming console, cut off the abusive MIL, start picking up groceries on the way home, make their phone and email transparent to you, spend time every day being your friend again. THEY will do that.

      If you have to beg for couples’ counseling, or be ‘less sensitive’, or trust them just because they’re just so very, very sorry, and it won’t get better until YOU get off your high horse and start trusting them again — the road to break up/divorce has been paved.

      Women are traditionally expected to deal with all that ’emotional stuff’. They’re also usually expected to do the spade work for their partners. Too often this makes us feel that there is something happening, we are paddling our relation ships single-handedly into improvementland, All it usually turns out to be is busywork. So don’t do that. Get a cat. At least they are masters of their domain.

      1. Mostly agreement here. With counseling specifically, sometimes the process of setting it up can be so overwhelming that if there is a lot of hand-holding to get it started, I don’t think that’s always a red flag. Failure to show up, lying to counselor, obviously phoning it in during the sessions – THOSE are red flags. So are things like lying about taking prescribed medications.

        And sometimes there is that weird limbo for the wronged person of “you need to do something to make it right, and I don’t know what it is, and I can’t come up with it because I know that part of what I need to see is something that comes from YOU that I did not prompt.” The piece of making things right that Spouse ended up coming up with that fit that in our situation was starting college after having said some unkind things regarding its supposed irrelevance earlier in our relationship (which had also fed into the lie, so this was something that actually made logical sense as a way of making things right).

        But yes. The person who did the wrong should be doing (the lion’s share of) the fixing. And should be accepting that the wronged person is probably angry and/or hurt and/or scared, and that the process isn’t linear. Because it’s not.

        Biggest red flag of all: “Well, why are you so upset about this? It’s not like I [did other bad thing]!” (Darth Ex liked that one, in the form of “At least I never cheated on you!” – others have claimed similar stakes in the moral high ground for never physically abusing a partner.)

        1. And sometimes there is that weird limbo for the wronged person of “you need to do something to make it right, and I don’t know what it is, and I can’t come up with it because I know that part of what I need to see is something that comes from YOU that I did not prompt.”

          Thank you for saying this. During the time when I still believed my marriage could be fixed, I had no way of articulating this to Darth Ex, and he used that as a wedge to convince me that *I* was actively attempting to emotionally abuse *him* (gaslighting, playing the cliched “if you don’t know what’s wrong I won’t tell you” game)*. It messed me up for a long time and left me with very guilty and complicated feelings about desiring unprompted expressions of thoughtfulness or partnership-solidarity of any kind, that Current Partner and I are still struggling with. It helps a lot to hear someone else say that this is a normal and appropriate need.

          1. But it’s NOT the “if you don’t know what’s wrong, I won’t tell you” game.

            What’s wrong is that the partner who has done-wrong needs to Adult Up and voluntarily and unprompted actually do something about the making it right.

            Or, sometimes, it’s that there is an Obvious Problem, you’ve articulated what the Problem is, and the Problem does have multiple solutions – you’re not invested in a specific one, but you ARE invested in not spoon-feeding potential solutions one-by-one to Partner while running the risk he will a) reject them out of hand, b) yes you half to death and do whatever it is half-hearted and half-assed, or c) happily agree to one potential solution and then be all “what more do you WANT you unreasonable creature?!” when the solution you suggested to Obvious Problem doesn’t solve every last thing that was wrong in your relationship forever and ever amen.

          2. YES. Every word of this. I know this now. (Well, I knew it, intellectually, but the time the marriage ended, but I hadn’t internalized it. I’ve begun to internalize it at this point, four years on, but there are still triggers. It’s a work in progress.)

            “not spoon-feeding potential solutions one-by-one to Partner while running the risk he will a) reject them out of hand, b) yes you half to death and do whatever it is half-hearted and half-assed, or c) happily agree to one potential solution and then be all “what more do you WANT you unreasonable creature?!” ”

            I had actually done the spoon-feeding of solutions in the past and gotten EVERY ONE of those responses at various times, which lead me to “I need something that comes from you and shows me that you want to be in this relationship and are thinking on your own about what you want it to look like.” It’s incredible, in hindsight, how predictable this type of manipulator is – so many Red Flag patterns, so many similar stories.

          3. Yes indeed. And my Darth Ex was also insistent that I was emotionally abusing him. Because I expected him to do things like, oh, STOP LEAVING ILLEGAL SUBSTANCES IN MY CAR or ACTUALLY SHOW UP TO HIS JOB instead of getting fired for no-call no-show and spending the day driving to the state line and back because he didn’t want to admit he wasn’t working. And then there was that thing where I was taking on volunteer roles in a hobby group we were both part of, and we’d drive to out-of-town gatherings and he’d start “feeling uncomfortable” and sit in the car for hours and be all, “Oh, no, it’s fine, do what you need to do” but I felt like I was damned if I left and damned if I stayed.

            Why did I ever do this to myself? Oh right. Because my way of dealing with a date rape became “can’t be raped if I don’t say no,” so I was somewhat promiscuous for a few years, and at the time Darth Ex came into my life I was going back and forth between two guys who both liked sleeping with me but didn’t want a serious relationship with me because Reasons. Suddenly Darth Ex wanted a monogamous permanent commitment, first by convincing me we were destined soulmates (and getting engaged two weeks in, BIG MISTAKE) and then by telling me in ways both over the top screaming and subtle insidious passive-aggressive statements that I was a [insert various slurs for women who sleep around here] and he was my last chance for commitment because I was That Damaged. Besides, I PROMISED to be with him forever and I’d better keep that promise.

            But *I* was abusing *him*. Uh-huh. 😦

        2. Oh jeez. Your comment hit home. I had an ex who routinely ignored my emotional and physical needs/baited-and-switched me/refused to talk about problems unless drunkenly ranting/had a substance abuse problem/refused to take prescribed meds for psychological health. And we were talking about this one night, and his response was, “You think I’m a bad boyfriend? It’s not like I beat you.”

          I stayed for about six more months and I get so upset at myself for wasting that time on him.

          1. GAH. My Darth Ex had almost the same line, except it was, “At least I’ve never cheated on you!”

            When things were close to the point where they all blew up, I finally snapped, “That’s because you don’t have the guts to ask anyone else to sleep with you!”

            Darth Ex is one of the reasons Spouse and I have the catch-phrase “On drugs they shouldn’t be or not on drugs they should be, not sure which.”

        3. “Biggest red flag of all: “Well, why are you so upset about this? It’s not like I [did other bad thing]!””

          My parents did this to me a few months ago. Gee, what a great way to convince your daughter — and YOURSELVES — how much you love and care for her…by making a list of all the horrible things you manage to not do.

      2. Bingo! This is so important. In the case of me and my husband, HE was the one to state flat out that he wanted to go to counselling, either as a couple or by himself, because he recognized that he definitely had some underlying issues that needed to be worked through–and he did arrange it, although we both discussed what therapist to ultimately choose. Even in the midst of my hurt at his infidelity, I remember recognizing his initiative on this front for the positive sign that it was, and it gave me hope. It was a really important gesture that demonstrated to me how committed he was to making things right.

        Haha, and I also like your assertion that it’s just better to get a cat if your partner’s going to leave you to do all the emotional legwork of the relationship. When my friends and I are being tongue-in-cheeky about emotionally vampiric relationships, I like to say that a dog is ALWAYS happy to see you and if it really pisses you off, you can always stick it in the backyard for a couple of hours (assuming the weather is okay, of course). 😉

    5. My husband and I were on the bleeding edge of breaking up at one point, years ago, and one thing still stands out from when we decided to make it work: we showed up.

      We still yelled, stormed out, said unacceptable things, whacked each others’ buttons with big sticks, did all sorts of messy shit for awhile, but we kept on being *present*. We learned to listen, we learned to communicate better, we learned to treat each other better, we made all kinds of incremental improvements in our individual AND collective lives, but that was the start and the core of it: we kept showing up and being not just physically but mentally and emotionally present in the relationship. Everything else (unless and until things cross the line into abusive) is a judgement call, I think, but if one or both of you is finding reasons not to be there, you probably can’t make it work, and if both of you keep coming back and trying again, given that you’ve managed to be married for awhile so there probably aren’t serious compatibility issues, you will probably be okay. I wish you both joy, either way.

      1. >>> whacked each others’ buttons with big sticks

        Read that as “whacked each others’ bottoms with big sticks” and was torn between, “bzuh?” and “well, as long it was consensual, whatever works for you…”

      2. This was really encouraging, Marna Nightingale. Thank you.

        We’re definitely still both showing up, so maybe there is still hope for us. It’d take a incredible change from the status quo but it could still happen at this point. I followed Anothermous’s advice upthread and gave him a deadline of May 1. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect but if that day comes and I’m still being hurt by him regularly then I will start the paperwork. A lot can happen in three months, though, so here’s to hoping I get Nice Husband Who Cares About Me back.

    6. As the partner who broke trust, I needed to be super honest with my sweetie and also to change my behavior, seriously, a lot. I needed to have his back, to be Team Us, and make that my biggest priority.

      In my case, some of the behavior change had to do with addiction & that has been a long process, but I’ve been hard at work on it. Although I can’t say I never hurt him again, it was never as bad and I DID apologize & mean it & know it to be a big deal. (We have never had a 2-hour argument about anything so it may not be comparable, but that sounds awful to me. If what he said hurt you, then it hurt you! How is that even debatable?)

      We did not do couples therapy, but I am in individual therapy and sometimes I bring talking points home. Also, therapy has been HUGE for me in the self-esteem repair work, so I highly recommend it whether your partner goes or not!

      1. Thank you for giving your perspective from the other side, peregrin8. I really appreciate it. 🙂

        Re: “If what he said hurt you, then it hurt you! How is that even debatable?”

        OMG, I KNOW RIGHT?! I say that and it means nothing. I just get the, “Well, I’m sorry you felt hurt.” Which is, of course, a non-apology a la, “I’m [maybe] sorry for your feelings but not sorry for my actions which caused them.”

  20. LW, what are YOU getting out of the relationship right now? And I do mean right now, not years ago, and not some sort of measure of the combined years you’ve spent together. You seem like a very caring, considerate person, so answering this question honestly may be hard and make you feel selfish, but I think it will help clarify your feelings about this relationship. Because yes, people have bad times, and healthy relationships involve give-and-take, where sometimes you’ll have to give more to your partner than they’re able to give to you, emotionally. But that should be a temporary situation with a clear end in sight, and you should be able to answer this question with something that’s actually coming from HIM, not just “feeling like a compassionate person because I’m putting up with all his stress and emotional uncertainty” or something similar.

    It’s really, really tough to walk away from someone we love, but we all deserve someone who’s willing to give as much as they take.

    1. Actually, let me rephrase that. We call deserve someone who WANTS to give as much as they take. “Willing” is too passive a word.

  21. As always, the Captain’s advice is spot on. Live your life HARD. And if you stay with this man, make all other major life decisions as if you have decided otherwise.

    While the circumstances of my relationship were quite different (friendship-turned-romance-turned-catastrophe), I can relate to the confusion and pain of being with someone whose behavior was bewilderingly selfish. It is a serious mindfuck.

    You mention some imbalances in the relationship: the age difference, or the fact that you’re new in the place where he’s already settled, or his mental health/stressful PhD program situation. He has shown that he is willing to exploit these for his benefit. One of the problems with continuing the relationship is that there will always be something, some excuse he can turn to when he behaves selfishly, and that you will be left vulnerable to his whims. You will be expected to accommodate those whims, and to do so without reciprocation.

    My guy had conflicting feelings for his ex (who actually wasn’t so much of an ex after all) but I was understanding because he didn’t have as much relationship experience as I did. He was the one who initiated everything at warp speed, but when he backed away suddenly into her arms and only later vaguely referenced my baggage as an excuse (my kids), it seemed reasonable since he is deeply attached to his bachelor lifestyle. And when he shut down and refused to talk about serious problems, well, I’ve spent years in therapy and grew up in a loud conflict-prone family, so I’m better equipped to handle such matters. I should have known not to harass him with my questions, not to demand answers from someone in a fragile state. I went into the relationship aware of his feelings-and-conflict-avoidant nature; how selfish it was to try to force him out of his silence, and to violate his need for space.

    I loved this former friend of mine. Hell, I STILL love him and have composed countless mental letters to the Captain about him. I struggled to make sense of his behavior (which was basically a text I received while staying at his place- at his insistence!- during a visit from out of state, saying “I’ve decided to rekindle things with my not-quite-so-ex who is going to be here in an hour. You don’t have to go, but…”) because it went against everything I knew about him. He had been a truly great friend for years. He was the most well-mannered, thoughtful person I knew. Every move he had made, everything he had said in the preceding hours had conveyed genuine interest in me, attraction to me, consideration for me. Yet here he was, expecting me to move out of his bedroom and into the guest room, and play platonic in front of his ex? In the aftermath, instead of apologizing and filling me in on WTF happened, he held me at arm’s length, refusing to explain what happened or to spend time with me in person to discuss it. I would offer my own explanations, sometimes angrily- “You just needed someone to keep your bed warm”- and he would get upset. OBVIOUSLY he didn’t think of me that way. Obviously he respected me. Obviously he felt bad I was hurt. Except…that wasn’t obvious. His appalling behavior told me that.

    Sometimes the behavior of others will not make sense, no matter what you do to figure it out. You can ask questions, you can plead for honesty, you can promise not to judge, but you will not be able to figure out what the hell happened. How can he be telling someone else that he’s “just getting out of something serious” and was making plans to visit a girl in Europe to meet up with her friends in a month while telling YOU that “everything was great and he’s super stoked”? It doesn’t add up. Or it does add up. He’s a sociopath. Or he’s a really immature,person who doesn’t know how to do relationships or empathy. Or he has some trauma in his past that causes trust issues. Or he’s a selfish bastard. Or- whatever. It’s him. There is something wrong with HIM. Not you. Remember that.

  22. You “sent him a message asking if he was being honest with me about how he really feels and what he really wants.”

    Why? You already know he’s a liar so his reply to this question will definitely be another lie.

  23. First up, jedi hugs and also props to you, LW! You made significant, courageous changes to your life in order to pursue this relationship. You moved city! That’s amazing. You’re amazing.

    However, I think maybe the relationship you’re in is- not as amazing as you are, or as amazing as you deserve. I get that moving in with someone might seem scary once it stops being an abstract and distant event and is instead five feet away with a massive gaping maw of deathteeth and an ominous soundtrack playing in the backgr- No, wait, that’s Jaws. My point is that I can understand that your boyfriend might be scared and uncertain within relationships; God knows I often am! But, from his subsequent actions, he seems to leave it to you to make every single move, both physical and emotional, in the relationship while he decides whether or not he’s in it. (Plus the ‘I was super emotional!’ defence is good for two uses before I start treating people like they’re cranky toddlers who needs a nap and a juicebox.) Your boyfriend’s focus doesn’t seem to be on you or the relationship you have with him but on himself: in ten years with his hypothetical children, or with the old flame, or hanging out with girls in Europe. It is always and forever your decision as to whether you should give him another chance and persevere with your relationship, but I think you deserve better than someone who always has one eye on the horizon (and not even for a good reason like ginormous killer sharks).

    (P.S. I am also doing a PhD. I am not unsympathetic to your boyfriend’s problems with anxiety but stress is the price of admittance for a doctorate. You don’t get to repeatedly take it out on other people. (You just grit your teeth, get an ulcer, drink too much, cry, miss your deadlines, debate dropping out to live on an emu farm in Sussex, and store up vast amounts of bitterness against academics with tenure. Oh, academia.))

    1. “Your boyfriend’s focus doesn’t seem to be on you or the relationship you have with him but on himself”

      I want to bold this and put it in flashy text. For Reasons (peripherally personal), this really struck me. All the actions of the boyfriend in this scenario are for his benefit; he doesn’t even seem to consider whether other people HAVE feelings, except when they impact him and are inconvenient that way.

      (Or possibly I am reading too much into this for Reasons, but still.)

      I also wanted to say something about the “moral high ground.” The moral high ground is a rhetorical device designed to make people vulnerable (you are vulnerable when you have it, because you have to not defend yourself or else you lose it; and you are vulnerable when you lose it because you don’t DESERVE to defend yourself). Forget the moral high ground. What you have here are two people doing relationship things; are these things mutually compatible? If you give both LW and Boyfriend the benefit of the doubt and say they are doing the best they can, is this best for both of them?

      I would say that if LW is unhappy and if LW cannot trust Boyfriend to not say hurtful things (or tell the truth) then this is pretty telling. Also, Boyfriend seems unhappy, too.

      (Re: P.S.: You get to have all that AFTER the Ph.D. too, because job hunting in academia is at least as stressful as shark punching without a cage and you don’t get nice chainmail like the Mythbusters did. However, one should not take it out on other people, as shevek gracefully notes. That’s not a tenable relationship. I think partners should be willing to deal with variable income or crying jags, not being punched because they have been mistaken for sharks, or because the sharks dodged today and Dr. Somebody needs someone to punch.)

  24. Oh man, this letter and the response hit me like a punch in the gut. I’ve been where both LW is and the Captain was, and it SUCKS! In my case, I was both the dumpee and the PhD student under a tremendous amount of work/life stress (good times!).

    My ex spent the first half of the last year of my PhD telling me he wanted to be with me, causing me to put less effort into job and grant applications because I wanted to stay in PhDCity with him. I was so determined to make it work, and to be the perfect girlfriend (ugh!). Then he suddenly disappeared during the last few incredibly stressful months of my PhD, when I desperately needed – and practically begged for – his support. I knew something was off, and – like you – started checking his phone, something I’d sworn I’d never do. I never did find anything, but sure enough, the **week of my defense** he said we were over because he “can’t live with anyone.” But he still wanted to keep hooking up as long as I was in town (which I was stupid enough to do, for a while). I was now stuck in a city I didn’t want to be in with no job or funding. A few months later, he MOVES IN with another woman and her child (he hated kids) who he had been dating since long before we split up.

    The Captain is right. Believe him when he says it’s over. Even if he says otherwise at other times. Even if the sex is out of this world. Even though it sucks that you just moved cities to be with him. Leave now, before it gets even harder, and do what you need to do to take care of yourself. I’m so sorry, sweet pea, I know this isn’t what you want to here. But trust me, it’s for the best, and you’ll be much happier when you get far, far away from him. I know, I’m there now!

    1. “**week of my defense** he said we were over because he “can’t live with anyone.””


      Kudos to you, Peregrinations, for getting through that week. May I offer you a fistbump of solidarity and admiration?

    2. Seconded. Given his general flinchiness and backing out and how he’s already fishing for another girl…. I think you know what you need to do here. For whatever reason (fear of commitment, the baby thing, whatever),he is backing the hell out of commitment. And as the Captain said, cheaters are terrible at logging out of their shit. Probably for *cough* a reason. As in, he’s not 100% quite sure he wants out, so he’ll just happen to leave Facebook open so you can see it. The passive-aggressive “please leave me so I don’t have to sack up” thing.

      I’m sorry he turned out to be like this.

    3. OMG I feel you, peregrinations. The week I was attempting to finish my comprehensives for my PhD, my boyfriend was in a horrendous war with our roommate — who I later found out was his actual boyfriend at the time, and they were breaking up messily (involving thrown furniture, flung pizza, and fisticuffs) all around me as I was desperately trying to write a mock grant proposal. Was it really a surprise when I failed comps and had to retake them?

      I also had those feelings, and I got really, really, REALLY good at snooping. The problem was that the situation was so abusive that I was dissociating when I was snooping, and I was in denial when I wasn’t dissociating, and the few times I confronted him about what I found (very early palmtop with dates marked with initials of people I mostly knew and transparent abbreviations for… let’s just say “things he was doing with those people”), all I got was righteous indignation derailing and more abuse.

      LW, when they start leaving their crap out for you to see, it’s an assive-aggressive message. Run, run for the hills, and take the Captain’s excellent advice: live the hell out of your life. It’s YOUR life, and you don’t owe him any more brainspace or emotional energy — he’s not giving you any back.

      1. Heh. Pretty sure “assive aggressive” was a typo, but it’s remarkably apt and I think I’m gonna steal the phrase.

        1. Actually, it wasn’t — rather, it was originally a typo some years ago, but I’ve been using the phrase ever since.

    4. The week of your defense?!?! That is some pure, unmitigated evil right there. I am so sorry! UGH!

  25. “Fast forward three weeks to today…We spent our first night together since our split and everything was great. It felt relaxed and “real”. Until he left his facebook open…I should have closed it, but for some reason I got a “feeling”. Sure enough, he was writing an old flame about “how he was just getting out of something serious” and was making plans to visit a girl in Europe to meet up with her friends in a month. I’m distraught and feeling so taken advantage of. I sent him a message asking if he was being honest with me about how he really feels and what he really wants. He said that everything was great and he’s super stoked.”

    LW, I have *so* been here, and I want to share what has become, at least in my own experience, an unfortunate truth. Once, when I thought I was being cheated on, I did a google search on my conundrum, and one of the pages that came up told me that, unless confronted with undeniable proof, most people will not admit to cheating. And, unfortunately, I’ve personally found this to be true. And it’s awful. It’s a genuinely awful truth, because it leaves the victim of the cheating in the position of having to either do the (usually unethical) things required to obtain proof–snooping, etc.–*or* just live with the lies, one way or another. By “live with the lies” I don’t mean that you can’t get out of the relationship, but I *do* mean that you often are faced with the choice of either staying in a painful relationship or deciding to leave the relationship *without* the moral certainty that you’ve been wronged. If your partner admits to cheating, you can leave the relationship with a sense of righteousness. It’s hard for people to blame you, when you’ve so clearly been wronged. But if you leave your relationship because you believe that your partner is cheating, and your partner consistently denies it, no matter how much pain it has caused you–no matter how deeply you’ve *felt* the betrayal–there will be people (usually your partner and partner’s family & friends–many of whom you may have developed your own relationships with) who will forever view you as the bad guy. And there’s nothing you can do about it. Nothing at all. This can be very difficult to swallow, especially when you feel certain that you’re the wronged party. I personally find this extremely difficult–I have a “thing” about being falsely accused (seriously, I couldn’t watch “The Flintstones” as a child because of that episode where the evil double Fred kept going around doing awful things that the real Fred got blamed for–it *scarred* me), but it’s an ugly fact of adult life.

    The other potential side-effect of this truth is that it leaves room for us to deny reality, even to ourselves. “He *said* he was happy and that everything’s fine… maybe *I* made the mistake. Maybe I misunderstood what I saw. Maybe I’m crazy.” This is an unpleasant road, and I’ve spent a lot of time on it. I’m pretty sure I’ve worn down my own personal footpath on that road. It’s hard to act when you’ve begun to doubt your own eyes, especially when the stakes are so high. But most of the time, you’re *not* crazy, and the only way out from under your partner’s lies is to just remove yourself from the situation. That truly sucks, and it’s a level of suck that your partner *could* save you from, if only s/he’d just tell you the truth. But if s/he cared that much about your pain, s/he wouldn’t be lying to you in the first place.

    So my point is… unless you’re willing to lose your moral high ground by admitting your own transgression or you just happen to innocently walk in on something he can’t explain away, don’t expect your boyfriend to admit to his cheating. If you want out, you’re going to have to live with his lies continuing, even after you break up. And that’s okay. It really is.

    1. I just wanted to add that I also have a really strong fear/problem with being falsely accused, or having people tell lies or getting the wrong impression of me! I mean, no one LIKES this, obviously (except for con artists, I guess…?), but it’s really been a big issue for me, and one I’ve had to learn to deal with in order to detach myself from bad situations. I’m so much less bothered by people saying bad things about me–as long as the bad things are true. But if I know that lies are being spread about me, even if they’re not harmful or born of honest misunderstanding? Oh man, it drives me up the wall. Fortunately I’ve gotten to the point where I can allow myself one big moment of “IT’S NOT TRUE, AAUUUUGH” and then take a deep breath and let it go, but it’s still hard. I’m glad to learn I’m not alone in this!

  26. As a corollary to “you get to leave if you’re unhappy” (and it’s cousin, “you don’t have to have a good reason for wanting things in the relationship to ask for them”), you can act on the information you gleaned without having to allude to the fact that you have gleaned it, let alone mention how.

  27. From my experiences, when someone breaks up with someone else and then very quickly undoes it… they didn’t truly want to get back together. I’ve been both on the receiving and giving end of break-up-no-wait-please-come-back, and it REALLY sucks and REALLY hurts. But when it happens so quickly, it’s often** more because they’re feeling guilty/hurting so much and just want to make it stop/lonely/scared of being alone/all of the above.

    And I was especially struck that LW’s bf said, when apologizing, that he doesn’t think he has time for a gf… that seems pretty telling, no? Why would he say he doesn’t have time for a girlfriend and then immediately sign back up for one? And then they both (wondering how equally) agreed to give more time and space in the relationship?

    It really sounds to me like he doesn’t want to be in a committed relationship but is too scared of being single, so he’s agreed to vague terms that he can tell himself maybe he isn’t really cheating because what does “more time and space” mean exactly anyway, and he also gets to have the safety net of a relationship while not having to really commit anything real.

    Or, giving him the benefit of the doubt and knowing how I felt when I did the signing-back-on-even-though-I-wasn’t-so-into-it***, maybe he’s hoping against all odds that if the terms of the relationship have changed he’ll magically feel so much better about it and it’ll all be fixed and he will be comfortable and he won’t have to hurt your feelings and we all live happily ever after, the end.

    Either way, he’s signed back onto something he pretty clearly doesn’t really want, and LW, YOU’RE not getting what you want (or deserve) out of this either. So it’s clearly time for some serious talks and/or decisions. (personally I’d vote for deciding that this guy don’t deserve you, but hey, that’s up to you 😉 )

    ** not ALWAYS, as my parents did this like a year into their relationship and are still together… 40 years later. And not dysfunctional, might I add 😛

    ***Though, there were some major differences between me and LW’s boyfriend — I WAS, very clearly, in love with my boyfriend, he was just a huge asswipe that made me feel shit about myself so I’d have these “darn I don’t like this anymore, I’m going to break up with him… BUT WAIT I LOVE HIM (AND HE’S KIND OF CRUSHED MY SELF-ESTEEM SO I’M A BIT CO-DEPENDENT)” moments.

    1. This is incredibly insightful. The person knows they want to break up, so they do it, but they can’t sit with the loneliness and guilt and other negative emotions afterward, so they go running back to the person and say “PET ME AND FORGIVE ME.”

      This is one of the reasons I’m leery at being friends or spending a lot of time with someone right after you’ve broken up, even if you want to be friends down the road. You need time and space to sit with the grief and loss and anger and clear your own head.

    2. Yes to this a Ton. A dude broke up with me when I made it clear I wanted to get busy, and when he saw me the next day all sad-eyed and withdrawn, went into full I-wuv-attica mode. But it was only because he couldn’t see himself as the bad guy. He had to win my adoration back.

      Sadly, all I wanted was to adore him, so I believed the walk-back instead of the breakup. Error. So much error. He broke up with me for good when I grew out of my adoration and I wanted something grownup, ie: reciprocal.

  28. LW, I know that this is not what you want to hear, but I really think this relationship is over. I don’t think there’s any amount of giving him space or being patient–even if you were willing to do those things, and I’m not sure you are or should be–that is going to result in this guy wanting to continue a monogamous long-term relationship with you.

    Your letter is a little vague about the details of the getting back together, but it sounds like you understood that conversation to be “I’m sorry I broke up with you, I do want us to be together, I just want to have more space to spend time alone when I’m stressed out.” And it sounds like, from his subsequent actions and words, that this guy understood it more as “I’m sorry I broke up with you because that was painful and now I’m sad, and I don’t want to commit right now to the idea of us never spending time (or the night) together again, so I’m going to soft pedal this breakup and make it more confusing even though in my mind us being a couple has an expiration date on it.” You may not see that message from the way he’s acted (or things he’s said) to you, but I think the fact that he told a friend that he was in the middle of ending your relationship makes it pretty clear cut that that is what he is actually doing here.

    He is not being fair or kind by soft-pedaling things and saying everything’s great. That’s shitty and even if it’s intended to minimize pain, it actually causes more of it. I don’t in any way mean to defend him.

    But the question now is: what are you going to do about it? You have power here, too. You don’t have to exercise patience and wait for him to tell you what type of relationship, if any, you’re going to have. Do you want to be sort-of dating a guy who will spend the occasional night but who also flirts with other women and drops out of sight when stressed and who isn’t honest about how he’s feeling and what he wants? Do you want to hang around for a few months waiting to see whether (potentially after sleeping with some other women) he decides he wants to go back to you guys dating? Do you think you’ll ever really trust him again, when you have indisputable proof that he would rather lie to you about everything being great instead of having a difficult but honest conversation about how he feels?

    Maybe you want to give this some time and see if he comes around, and maybe you think you can trust him again if he does. But frankly, I don’t think he’s going to change his mind, and I don’t think you should waste your time waiting to see if he does.

    1. Second this comment.

      The statements from the original letter that keep rewinding and playing back in my head are:

      1) he was writing an old flame
      2) about how he was just getting out of something serious
      3) and that he was making plans to visit a girl in Europe

      In my world, these are not the actions of someone who has any intention of committing to the person who is the subject of point #2.

      I suspect that he considers you to be broken up and that any involvement you are having now is casual ex-sex.

  29. “Am I wasting my time here…”

    “… or do I give him the benefit of the doubt (especially since I was snooping) and be patient?”
    It sounds like you’ve already been really patient and understanding with him. You don’t have to tell him you read his Facebook to leave him, and you don’t owe him any such generosity after the way he’s treated you and the things you’ve read. If commitment and being totally psyched to spend time with your are things that would make *you* happy in a relationship, you deserve them and you don’t have to wait for your partner to get there too.

    All the *jedi hugs* if you want them LW.

  30. LW (and others), I’d like to share what I’ve learned (the hard way, naturally) about keeping score in relationships.

    Keep score by what we do, not by what we say. What we say is at best a placeholder until we do something to follow it up.

    LW, you said you wanted to be with this person, and you moved cities to back that up. That’s pretty clear messaging on your part. If we’re keeping score, you’re 1 for 1 in terms of “I want this relationship to work”.

    The boyfriend said he wanted to move in, but what he did was not move in with you. The boyfriend said that he cares about you/values you/loves you, but what he did was wait until after you cooked him a meal, after he was done eating, and broke up with you. The boyfriend said he “didn’t know what else to do”, but what he did was to start hitting on women through Facebook. If we’re scoring “I want this relationship to work”, he’s 0:3.

    Now, he’s not totally inconsistent. He said he was under a lot of pressure, he said he feels he doesn’t have time for a girlfriend, and he did try to break up with you, so if we’re scoring “He doesn’t want a monogamous, committed relationship with you”, he’s 1:1

    I’m so sorry, LW. This is a tough, hurting situation. Remember some of the Captain’s other advice: break-ups are not negotiations. Break-ups can be unilateral, and without explanation. Nothing the other person says or does can give you closure; closure is a gift you give yourself. Resepect and honor the feelings of your partner, and trust them to be honest: if they say “I don’t want to be with you”, you either need to accept that they’re being honest, or give them the freedom to make what you think is a mistake. If this person says “I don’t want to be with you” again, please believe him, respect his wishes, and give yourself a nice cooling off period of no contact whatsoever.

    1. Definitely, but I don’t think she should wait for him to repeat his request that she go away. Twice was probably enough, it’s time for her to go.

  31. I just want to point out a small thing from the first sentence of your post: “I’m taking a big step and reaching out to you in the hopes that I can get some useful (if not probably obvious) advice from you.” What was that “obvious” advice you expected to get? This phrase made me think that you already had strong feelings about what the wisest course of action here would be, and that you were seeking affirmation or encouragement in that direction.

    I’m not sure whether the advice you got from the Captain was the “obvious” advice you expected or not, but that’s not really what I wanted to raise. If you feel, on some level, like the right thing to do here is “obvious,” or would be “obvious” to a kind, objective outsider–I think you should listen to that feeling. “Obvious” is a pretty strong word. It suggests to me that there’s at least some part of you that’s 100% confident about what the wisest and most proactive course of action here would be. If that’s so, I think you should take care to honor that confidence. Probably you should go ahead and take that course of action. But at a minimum, you should articulate this course of action to yourself, and be 100% clear with yourself about why you are not taking it at this time. That’s my two cents.

  32. So Dude had hinted to me that his last girlfriend had been a little bit needy/clingy/demanding/whatever, and I immediately decided I would not be that. And he bossed me around a lot and talked down to me, and had really uncomfortable, non-understanding reactions when I would be upset about unrelated topics (telling me my grandmother would probably die soon after I told him she had breast cancer, freaking out in anger at me when I was venting about the woman who crashed into my car and totaled it, yelling “so just QUIT, then!” when I was complaining about my boss). But I couldn’t confront him, we couldn’t discuss these issues, because that wouldn’t be easygoing.
    Then after two years, he dumped me, out of the blue, with a 1-sentence e-mail about how I was too emotional and overreacted to everything. He refused to explain anything and let me work myself into knots for the next day attempting to explain myself (via e-mail) and then attacked all of my feelings the following evening. Following this was a 2-week period of radio silence during which I could barely eat, was randomly falling asleep at mostly-inappropriate times (but not at night), drank a lot, and basically convinced myself that I was the worst person on earth. Meanwhile he’s on Facebook getting wall-messages (this was 2008) from his new, even-younger female friend who he previously told me has a boyfriend but would prefer a FWB. And this is right in the middle of my finals.
    Then he sends some e-mail saying he misses me or whatever, and we meet up, and he gives me some bullshit about how he broke up with me because he wasn’t good enough for me because he knew he was flunking out. And then he started freaking out because I gained a new male Facebook friend. And it was confusing, and it hurt, and we got back together, but he refused to discuss anything about the breakup and kept hanging out with the new friend, including spending nights at her house.
    And then he continued with his angry, uncaring behavior towards me. And I resumed the “perfect girlfriend” act. And then classes resumed, and one of my professors assigned us some Wollstonecraft, and I learned to argue. And he responded by getting meaner, since that was the only tool he had in his arsenal. And he got less and less attractive to me, and I branched out and made new friends (and he tried to cling on and keep me away from them), and eventually (after a few more bullshit things had happened), I broke up with him.

    1. Oh, crap. Somehow the first few sentences of my response got cut off when I transferred it from the Evernote document I originally wrote it in. It started off like this: “LW, I have totally been there” and then it talked about my ex being a few years older than me when I was 18 and me being determined to make the relationship work since my first serious relationship didn’t.
      Basically, I agree with the Captain’s advice. You have the feeling that something is wrong, this relationship probably isn’t good for you in the long run, and no matter how awesome you are, that is not going to fix a bad relationship. All partners need to be equally invested. Also, investing in yourself is an awesome idea.

    2. That’s so great that you were inspired to change by reading Wollstonecraft. Who says the classics aren’t relevant any more?

      1. Yeah, it was this weird moment when I realized our relationship looked like an unhappy unfulfilled 18th-century marriage, and since I actually WAS the educated woman Wollstonecraft wanted to see, that this was not okay. So I stopped hiding myself.

    3. Oh dear. I have come to the conclusion that the words needy/clingy/demanding are massive red flags. They play on sexist stereotypes and make you feel that you have to be the cool girlfriend.
      I had an ex who called me clingy and yet he’s the one who keeps begging me to take him back.
      If someone calls you needy, then either;
      a) they’re a manipulative asshole
      b) they’re too immature for a serious relationship
      or possibly
      c) they actually have a point, in which case you can still leave them and be less needy with the next guy who actually considers your feelings.

      1. Yeah, “needy” is the worst — to me, that implies “YOU are not supposed to HAVE needs.”

      2. The way to express the essence of “needy” without automatically going into assholedom is to say things like, “They needed more than I was able to give,” or “We had really different communication styles”. One person’s “needy” is another’s “emotionally present”, and one person’s “independent/not needy” is another’s “emotionally absent”.

  33. “Because my advice to you is to bite hard into your life and fucking feast on it. Surround yourself with people who say “hell yes!” to the prospect of your company and who reward your patience and forgiving spirit with steadfastness. Climb every mountain and ford every stream. Put some love into your home and your city and make it a place you can thrive and be at home with or without him.”

    Whatever happens with your relationship, LW, please please please listen to all of this stuff. This is one of the only guaranteed investments you can make! If, somehow, things work out with this dude and you stay with him 4evar, you’ll have that relationship plus the home and city and other relationships. If he is hit by a bus next year, you’ll have it. And if you decide to dump him next month, you’ll have it.

    Spinning my wheels while working on/waiting for/stagnating in a long term relationship is one of my primary regrets.

  34. Former snooper here. I want to second (third, fourth, fifth?) everyone’s comments that things you’ve found out by snooping aren’t magically nonexistent. You should absolutely take them into consideration. Your life is not the Supreme Court. When I snooped I was even less defensible because my sig-o and I weren’t even supposed to be monogamous. But I was defacto-monog and I wasn’t sure if he was, so I snooped and when I found out that he was actually acting on this freedom I had the twin realizations that a) whoa, that was f’d up to snoop and b) I am probably not capable of being casual/non-monogamous with this person anymore. B was no less important because A was true.

    I apologized a lot for that error and had the lucky experience of Sig-O saying “oh, you wanna be exclusive? Sure, let’s do that.” I dated him for 3 years and never felt the urge to snoop again. This story is not to justify what I did, but to say that your gut is a smart thing. I would have been a better person if I’d taken that desire to know his behavior straight to him instead of snooping, but the uneasiness I was feeling was real and important, as is yours. Listen to your instincts!

    And, as I said, your life isn’t subject to 4th Amendment exclusions (and if we’re being technical, leaving his account logged in is pretty much the FB equivalent of a “subjective expectation of privacy” which are often not recognized by courts). The way you got the info doesn’t trump the info itself. If you decide to confront him about it, don’t let him pull you into that trap.

  35. Drop it like it’s hot. Do not waste time on this man. No good will come of it. This ship has sailed. Iceberg approaching. Man the lifeboats.

  36. A few weeks ago, he out of the blue tells me that he doesn’t want to be with me anymore because I will be too old to give him children when he ready to do so. I was stunned…literally I had just made this man dinner and we had been watching tv for an hour when he drops this bombshell on me. I freaked out…rightly so I think! Anyways, a few days later I sent him a message saying that I needed to talk to him face to face and that I had questions for him about the real reasons he didn’t want to be with me.

    I think this is the point at which you needed to let this guy go, LW. I mean, it’s totally totally understandable and human to want closure and real reasons, but… he told you he doesn’t want to be with you. It doesn’t really matter what his “real” reasons are- maybe that was the real reason, maybe it was the stress of grad school, maybe it was that he’s seeing someone else and doesn’t want to tell you, maybe he’s just not feeling it and hasn’t been for awhile (as evidenced by the cold feet about moving in.) He’s told you he doesn’t want to be with you. He’s told *someone else* he doesn’t want to be with you. I’m sorry. It sucks. But… I don’t think this guy wants to be with you.

  37. Oh LW. I am so sorry this is happening to you. And I wish I had happier things to say.

    I have been pretty much exactly where you are. Like, terrifyingly close to “those exact details.”

    In this case I think “the benefit of the doubt” adds up to, roughly, “I am willing to stipulate that he is genuinely being the best person he is able to be, and this is the result.” And there is no reason not to give him that much, but …

    Either this is the best person he is capable of being, or this is the best person he is willing to be FOR YOU. And that person lies, goes back on agreements, lets you down, says cruel things, and gaslights you about why things aren’t the way you agreed they were going to be.

    Maybe that’s not how it looks to him. Probably that’s not how it looks to him. I’m sure his version is a heart-wrenching tale of a troubled, difficult life and his noble attempts to do the very best he can to make you happy.

    I confess to not giving a half-eaten rat’s ass. He’s not writing anyone for advice about how to love and treat you the way you deserve.

    LW, I’m sorry. This is the best he is ever going to treat you. If you stick it out and overcome your doubts and fears and rack your emotions and damage your life to prove your amazing devotion, this, AT BEST, is what you get.

    Because THIS IS WORKING FOR HIM. The more insecure he makes your status, the more you give him to try to give him reasons to be better to you.

    OK, this next bit: I’m not saying that this is what he’s consciously doing, ok? I am only saying that it doesn’t matter a damn what he thinks he’s doing, and that this is a paradigm to consider.

    What you’re getting is Irregular Positive Reinforcement, and it’s incredibly addictive. So long as occasionally a chunk of Love comes out when you press the bar (do the things he likes) you’re motivated to keep pressing the bar.

    At this point, you’ve learned that so well that even when sometimes you get a painful response from pressing the bar, you keep pressing the bar, because SOMETIMES when you press it, a small chunk of love comes out.

    The pattern you’ve laid out suggests that the rewards are getting smaller and less frequent, the painful responses are getting more frequent and more painful, and the amount of time you’re spending pressing the bar is growing.

    I feel like I should be more measured and balanced and “it’s up to you”-ish, but you’ve taken the hard step of asking for advice and help, and this is the best, most honest advice I can give you: you will almost certainly have a happier, better life if you get the Hell out of this and don’t look back.

    1. “Either this is the best person he is capable of being, or this is the best person he is willing to be FOR YOU.”

      such a good way to put it. +1.

    2. THIS IS WORKING FOR HIM. The more insecure he makes your status, the more you give him to try to give him reasons to be better to you.

      Yeah, I think this is the real problem here. This is the way that works for him. Maybe the grinding of his conscience has disappeared under the roar of everything else rushing through his head–but you can’t count on it getting any more audible on its own.

  38. People tend not to accidentally dump people that they want to be with. When you get dumped, it really isn’t time to have a dialogue and have them explain every facet of why they don’t want to be with you/talk through those reasons/negotiate the relationship back into existence.

    This guy doesn’t want to be with you.

    That is tough to accept, and even tougher when you think you “worked through it” and that was wrong, but it doesn’t change that this relationship is over.

    He tried to break it off, let himself get sucked back in, and now his heart is 100% not in it, but it’s easier than having to sit down and walk someone you care about through all of the reasons they need to leave you alone. But that doesn’t make this relationship any less over.

    I am with the Captain: it is time to rediscover your own personal life, because your shared life with this guy is totally done.

  39. I’m a guy who reached 40 years old childless. I know lots of guys who are commitment-phobic-ish… but really… looking back… All my male friends who wanted kids actually went out there and did it. There must be something more obvious about a guy who ‘really’ wants kids and the one that says ‘yeah one day.’
    I was a ‘yeah one day for sure why not?’ guy.
    But really… to be TOTALLY HONEST WITH YOU… I have no children now and I am not at all like any of the guys i know how have them.
    I wasted a couple of women’s time while I faffed around on the issue… buying time. Fear of breaking up etc. Giving up on a ‘good thing.’ At least it wasn’t TOO MUCH time! (A couple of months, say)

    Men who want children and want to commit to the woman they love are out there. I see them everyday.

    But i don’t think it’s this guy.

    The ego has a friend–it’s called “Time.”

    Jump in a magic time machine in your head and go to the future. Your ego is safe there.

    Sorry for the pain he accompanied.

    Everything I know about relationships I learned from watching or hearing about Oprah.

    Almost every relationship disaster on that show had her saying to the guest “But… didn’t you see that as a SIGN?”

    Sex, Money, Children and Spiritual Bonds… the four pillars of hip hop have to be agreed upon.

    How much/what kind of sex?

    How much money?

    How many children, when or at all?

    What is your guiding philosophy when it comes to mental health/relationships/social values rather than do you believe or not believe in the same God? Basically if you’re atheist, both of you ought to be atheist… if you’re agnostic, both of you ought to be agnostic etc…

    After the age of the 30… almost every woman i dated would want to know the answer to these four questions before getting involved. They saved themselves an enormous waste of time!

    There are men out there, and no…this story… it has NOTHING to do with your worth.

    1. Agreed to almost everything else you said, but I just want to point out that lots of people have perfectly functional interfaith marriages and it works out just fine. *is a Hindu married to an atheist*

    2. I would say on the religion issue that you need to have a compatible stance on things. My family consisted of a very Reform Jew (dad) married to a relaxed Anglican (mom) and they never had a problem. But if one person is really devout, it’s going to be hard if the other person isn’t.

  40. LW: I believe you when you say he’s stressed and seeking treatment for it. And stress infects our actions in insidious ways. But stress isn’t making him dump you, then maybe get back together, but solicit other hook ups without telling you. Those are choices he is making. Talk to him about them. If he views them as choices, you can explicitly discuss what led to them and what he is changing that will lead to different choices in the future. If he views them as things that happened to him, then you have to assume this will be the pattern forever.

  41. Forget facebook and what you read there, the relationship is done anyway. That just should have cleared up any doubts that you had about it. I’m not sure why you’re so eager to rationalize it all away to hold on to him, but don’t. You’ll only waste your time and make yourself unhappy.

    And a total yes to every thing Captain said about wanting to be the person to knit the relationship back together by being everything. I did that, and it was a mistake. I wasn’t trying to hold on to someone who didn’t want to be there, but I was convincing myself that I could shore up someone’s confidence and make them be the man that I knew they could be, when in fact, the man he was was right in front of me. There was nothing I could do about it. I wish that I had seen that clearly at the time.

    1. LW wanted to rationalize out of love for this guy. It’s easy from the outside to say, “Well, that’s a bad bet”, but your comment about what the LW “should” have felt sounds kinda blamey. Sometimes we trust somebody and are generous and patient, and it doesn’t work out; it happens. It doesn’t mean that trust and generosity are stupid.

  42. Hope you don’t mind some more perspective from a formerly flakey string-her-alonger. (Now I’m just single flake unencumbering anybody)

    I just remembered (regarding the whole baby/commitment thingy)–around about 32 years old I’d been humming along in a very satisfying (for me) and comfortable (for me) LTR with a lovely woman 5 years older (who was like me–somebody who didn’t USE THEIR WORDS). The most we’d ever said about kids was “yeah–why not-one day” and I snoozily left the subject at bay basically figuring all was well in Securityland.

    Jump-cut to GF coming home from a two week retreat announcing its over; already met new guy; slept with new guy; and even met his folks so calm down why are you getting upset? She says “He wants kids NOW. He has his life in order now. He has a plan. He knows now that he wants to marry NOW. WE don’t have a plan. You don’t have a plan.”

    She was right. I’d been coasting and I put up little fight except some self-righteous indignation that she hadn’t given me a CHANCE to even make a plan. (This is not a workable recovery position)

    So! Ever since I would tell the next two women who became my LTRs of the last 12 years: during the “qualifying” question period about kids (now understand I was in a 30-something paradigm which still had me being “open” to the idea since my career would surely have taken-off upwards enough in due course etc) I would say “As soon as you feel you want kids or get married… Please don’t wait for me to ask. Make a PLAN.” (The logic being we could then take steps toward it or openly back away)

    It worked!

    My first LTR was an adamant no-kids girl. Then 2 years in lotsa people we knew were having them (kids). Then we visited my brother in NYC and his family (who are a TERRIBLE example: picture perfect Labrador family!) Day 2 of visit she announces she envies them. (We’re in the arts–my bro is top executive class) she now wants kids. By the time we got back home (Canada) she was ready to talk about her plan. Her actual plan. No weasel could get out of this talk a liar. 7 months’ time she wants to be pregnant. That’s the plan. (She had great career job/benefits etc so could do no worse… It basically depended on my response)

    I broke up with her right then. Honestly compassionately… I could not fit into that plan! 7 months? From not wanting to all of a sudden? But negotiating the timing was not respecting the plan so really we’d be back to letting it slide otherwise. Negating the PLAN and buying me more time. Which I didn’t want her to waste.

    So… Deal is… At some point make a plan. An actual plan. (I don’t mean 3 weeks into a rello. But at the rapids stage it’s too late.) You’ll at least be talking absolutely and obviously and even the most commitment-phobic will find it hard to bluff through a plan. One with dates and numbers etc. Guys believe in stuff like systems blueprints and draughting diagrams and production flow chartsvwith almost mystic candour.
    It might scare away the pretenders.

  43. WOW. Thank you, LW. I’m not going to go in to my Darth Vader relationship of Y2K, but let’s just say I’m still healing and still trying not to blame myself or him from the wreckage I’m still crawling out of. But seeing all these obviously wonderful people who have been in the same position vis-a-vis the Hedgehog’s Dilemma reminded me of something… Barbies!

    You see, in Christmas season of 1975, I was a very well-behaved four-year-old girl. I was quiet, obedient, I had taught myself to read at three (this was NOT standard the way it was in the nineties and today), I didn’t like to get dirty, I could change the records on Daddy’s expensive and delicate stereo. Maybe those standards are bullshit now, but I look back and I think, “Hey, all right. At this point in my life, if my parents were proud of the job they’d done so far, I cannot blame them. I was good at being me, and that me fit harmoniously into that era’s background. I was fortunate, sure, but I worked hard for the approval I got.

    So that Christmas, my Aunt Cathleen gave me her treasured Barbies from her childhood. My mother did not approve of Barbie, but I went nuts. I loved them. They were beautiful! Look up “1959 Barbie”— so sophisticated! The craftsmanship in that little striped swimsuit! The tucks in the velvet bodice of her evening gown!

    And so _versatile_. Why, if you cocked Barbie’s leg just so, she made a perfect ray gun. You could pull Ken’s head off and pound it back on, and if you dropped beads into his neck, he made a great maraca, with just the perfect shh-shh sound to evoke reindeer swishing over the snow. I didn’t like Barbie’s dark-haired friend’s haircut, so I cut it myself. You had to shake her really hard for her hair to look good after that, but she never complained once. And they sensual joy of putting Barbie shoes in my mouth and sucking them to my tongue, then waggling it around… some things can never be explained if you didn’t live them.

    Were those Barbies a great gift? Oh, wow, on so many levels, they were wonderful. They encouraged creative play, and I love them, and even though Kathleen was as poor as a newlywed tended to be back then, she gave me something that cost her a lot, a treasure to both of us. And look up what the value would have been, had my mother quietly tucked them away and brought them down from the attic today…

    Was I good kid? I was a great kid.

    Did I love them? I valued them above rubies. If they’d been confiscated or lost, I’d have done anything to get them back.

    But I was four years old. I didn’t have the capacity back then for caring for vintage dolls the way they ought to have been taken care of. I didn’t know, and they certainly couldn’t tell me, and the people around them weren’t interested in protecting either of us— my mother was a feminist, and felt deeply embarrassed for letting her child play with something so heteronormative, but was also a southerner, and would never dream of offending someone by saying, “This gift is not for us at this time, thank you all the same,” or accepting a gift and ignoring the giver’s intent. She was okay with me destroying them, although she would never say so out loud.

    Those Bardies were wonderful. I was wonderful. But I was not ready to treat them with the respect they deserved. I feel deeply guilty about how I ravaged those wonderful collectibles, Aunt Kathleen’s dear and pristine childhood friends. Heck, I was young enough that they were probably a safety issue for me. But I can’t take that damage back.

    LW, you’re dealing with a person who is not ready for a beautiful vintage Barbie. If you continue to be wonderful and patient with him, he’s not going to grow up enough to learn to treat you the way you were meant to be treated. The hard truth is, your options are either: 1. stop letting yourself be played with this way. Draw boundaries, make clear rules, and stick to them until they are second nature to both of you. No cheating, no relaxing, no “just this once.” You are a precious work of art that is only going to get more valuable as the years go by— unless you get left out in the rain or chewed on or used as a club, metahporically speaking; 2. You can continue to let this manchild be childish toward you. I am not sure I’ve ever seen this end well for either party. A lack of accountability and imbalance of power in a relationship will turn the best people into monsters. He will resent you for your patience and kindness, even as he craves it like morphine, and he will go to any lengths to push you away and then get you back. It gets old to both of you really fast, but not fast enough. Trust me on this— I _know_. 3. You can walk away, and let him grow into someone who can be decent to a woman.

    They’re all pretty hard choices. I hope you find the one that’s right for you.

    And I hope you get lots and lots of oral sex, whatever happens, if that is something you’re into. It sounds like you’ve earned it.

  44. I can’t see what the up side to this relationship is.

    Not that I’ve never been there, because I stuck with my first boyfriend 4 toxic years out of fear of loneliness. NOT WORTH IT.

  45. This is the first post I’ve replied to, and like many others I can empathize with this situation. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my past two relationships, it’s that you know when it’s over. In both of those cases, I managed to wring out, respectively, six and four relatively miserable months. In the second, more-relevant-here case, I realized that I could potentially yo-yo forever with someone who would break up with me and then take me back and then break up with me.

    Two months in to our passionate, tumultuous relationship, my ex said he “couldn’t take it” and it was “too intense”. We were apart for a while, then just kind of together, then seriously together, then on a break, then committing to the relationship, then broken up while he “figured some things out”. After that he actually asked me to wait three months and then give it another go. I remember, at the time, I thought maybe I could wait for him. After a few good conversations with some of my more brutally honest, no-nonsense friends, I let him go.

    While we’d been together (even when we were “apart”) I couldn’t imagine not having him anymore. I remember the first time we seriously discussed ending things, I felt physically sick. I could barely walk after that conversation. After we broke up for good, I was so angry I almost go into a bike accident. A week later though, I remember waking up and putting on a nice dress and walking to the grocery store. It was a sunny day, people were out walking their dogs, and I had all of this time to do whatever I wanted. I didn’t have to worry about whether he’d call, or text, or decide to take me back, or decide that once he’d taken me back he didn’t want me anymore. A few weeks after that, I realized that because I liked him SO MUCH, because we had this intense amazing connection and because we had all of these “pretend” conversations about the future (as in, hypothetically, what would you name a baby?), I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I kept thinking that there had to be some way to make things work. When it was obvious that they wouldn’t, suddenly all this weight was off my shoulders. I couldn’t believe it – I didn’t really miss him, and I certainly didn’t miss the endless ups and downs and the feeling that I was always the one waiting for him, always the one making a compromise or letting him back in, even if it made me feel totally used.

    So the happy ending to this particular story is that I’ve been seeing someone else now for almost a year, and the thing about my current relationship is that it isn’t really stressful at all. When my friends ask how things are going, instead of launching into an hour long diatribe about All The Drama, I have a few updates and that’s about it. I realized that my relationship with my ex was mostly a constant, low level stress. Sometimes it can be really hard to see that, or to feel like it’s not worth it (trust me, I thought it was totally worth it). But I noticed when it was gone, and it’s been so great to be rid of it!

    Sometimes things just have to run their course – I knew that it wasn’t healthy for me two months in, but things had to limp along for a whole year before I was completely out of it. I don’t really regret that – ultimately it was an experience that taught me a lot, and my ex, although a bit of a mess, was also really great to be around at the time. For a while, the ups and downs were exciting, but once that wore off, they were just exhausting. Good luck, whatever you decide to do. Don’t feel bad for staying, but also just know that if/when you end this relationship, it will absolutely not be the end, and you will absolutely recover and go out into the world knowing more than you did previously.

    1. Oh man, LW, all the Jedi hugs. This sounds like a super-hard, emotional time and I hope you do what’s right by you (whatever that ends up looking like).

      I have experience with a relationship that has survived multiple break-ups — but from the other side of the fence, as they have all been generated by me. I have anxiety / depression and do my best to manage them (including prof. help etc) but in the context of a fairly new romantic relationship, where the guy I was seeing had a totally different lifestyle to me (food, chores, sleep schedule, lived 2 hours away in a different city, did party drugs when I firmly don’t, wasn’t sure he wanted monogamy when I did), I was freaking out in this low-grade, lonely way, especially when we weren’t together having fun times. Like, I freaked out a lot. I just couldn’t see how it would all work out. And I felt like I was communicating my needs and desires! And that they kinda-were-being-met-but-not-really! And meanwhile the guy thought everything was fine. And said he felt totally blindsided when I said that although I wanted to be with him, that I couldn’t see how it would work out and thought it best if we ended things. And then he said he wanted to try again and try harder and we kept doing this dance for ages – and it felt up-y-and-down-y and shitty and tumultuous and anxious. And then, long story short, he gave me gonorrhea (not through cheating – but through failing to get tested before we slept together without condoms despite keeping on promising that he would go do that), I broke up with him, we went through all the medical shit together (after bumping into each other at the STI clinic the same day I ended things!) and we ended up getting back together and getting through it. Some months later, things feel really good right now – I feel like we are on the same page on most things, that my needs matter to him and that he takes my feelings seriously and that we want to do well by each other. He’s also taken observable steps around the cooking, chores, sexual health, party drugs and monogamy to lay my concerns to rest.

      Some things to note:
      – We never got mean to each other. I was so angry with him during the STI stuff and a few choice words occurred, but we weren’t mean and we treated each other in a caring way even when the shit hit the fan. “You’re too old to give me the kids I may want in future years” is so mean and full of crap. You guys may well be at different life stages or have different priorities – but that is not because you are old and past it. I promise. And this guy knows your age and has known it the whole time you’ve been dating, and he throws it at you when he wants to move in on another girl. Right after you made him dinner. No. no. no. Not OK.
      – Anxiety can do strange things to your perspective, coping levels and how you interpret problems (for me, at least). Everything can feel so catastrophically bad and worrying that you are in survival mode, busy surviving all the things you have to survive, and an intimate relationship can just feel like another thing to survive. Doubly so if there are actual issues in the relationship and you can’t tell if they’re just a product of your anxiety or if there’s something wrong and you try to wait it out until you can see it clearer and it ends up that you just cannot deal. If anxiety comes in part from low self-esteem then there might also be a tendency to not speak up / be very passive-aggressive while also believing that you’ve been clear. Anxiety can make romance really hard.
      – HAVING SAID THAT, anxiety (or any other kind of illness, or limitation) does not in my opinion give a person the right to treat their partner badly. His anxiety is not more real and valid than your need for reassurance, peace of mind, honesty etc. Even as someone who is seriously affected by anxiety, I would side-eye a person who tried to say “it wasn’t me, it was my anxiety!” when trying to get out of hurt they’ve caused. It can be part of a context or an explanation, but it’s not an excuse, and you don’t have to put up with bad behaviour regardless.
      – If you guys are going to be together, there are going to be some serious trust issues that he has created to overcome. It’s going to take work and that work is going to have to come from him..
      – People who do work in relationships tend to only be those who want to stay in them. This guy has shown you in word and deed that he might not want that with you. I imagine that that would feel really, really really really really shitty. But nonetheless – you cannot do all the work to piece back together a relationship with someone who maybe doesn’t want to be with you and maybe doesn’t want to change at all to accommodate your relationship.
      – A lot of commenters have said that they think you would be happier if you went, and I think that’s likely so. However, you are the only one who gets to decide that. There may be some amazing value to this relationship that we’re not seeing. But I think it’s fairly inarguable that you deserve to be treated better than you have been by this person, and that he seems uncertain and unreliable regarding the status of relationship and his commitment to making it work. You don’t have to fight for this if you don’t want to. You don’t have to be the one to try to make it work. You can walk away if you want. Or if you want to stay and try, you can do that too. Sometimes from the outside looking in, staying in a tumultuous relationship which has had its issues can seem like a mad choice, or at least a hard one to explain. But it doesn’t mean per se that it’s the wrong call.

      I sincerely wish you all the best, whatever you decide. We’re all here for you!

  46. LW, I keep coming back to your question in my thoughts, and also to a lot of the comments where people shared their own horrible stories. A common theme is that we all get confused about why our various lovers have lied so much (and why we spent so long buying into it).

    There are a lot of reasons why people lie to their loved ones, and moustache twirling villain is only one of them, and probably not the most common. I’ve encountered people who lie because they are absolutely terrified of conflict. They’ll say what they think you want to hear just to avoid your anger or tears. Or they’ll lie to themselves to preserve their self image as a grand and wonderful person, and that means they lie to you too and scarily convincingly (because when they say it they believe it). Obviously lying to avoid hurting someone comes back to bite them if they then have to follow through on the lie in some way, but for people who are dysfunctional enough that doesn’t seem to stop them. And of course it doesn’t matter that lying and saying what someone else wants to hear actually hurts that person more than just being up front about difficult things. Because they’re not actually lying to protect you – they’re lying to protect themselves either from your negative reaction or to maintain their beliefs about themselves. Stupidly, people who see themselves as good people and who won’t ever admit any information to the contrary are actually much more horrible than if they just owned their negative qualities. Because instead of genuinely accepting they’ve hurt someone and being actually sorry, they flail around pretending it’s not true and doing even more hurtful stuff to hide it from themselves. They never really admit fault, and can never change bad behaviour because they don’t even see that it’s real.

    And some people lie because they’re actual moustache twirling villains. But focusing on whether your partner is a moustache twirling villain is a trap, because in practical terms it doesn’t matter. We like to think that we would only fall in love with nice people, so they can’t possibly be evil bad nasty people. We know they’re not! So we don’t respond to bad behaviour because the person we love must surely have good intentions. But otherwise nice people can be horribly bad in their behaviour for all sorts of reasons – someone doesn’t have to be an obvious villain to be someone who hurts you and messes you up and who you should flee from at top speed.

    The other problem with lovers who lie to us and gasslight us is that we want really badly to believe the good story. So if the choice is between horrible truth and pleasing lie that we want to hear it’s really hard to move past it even if it’s an obvious lie. LW this is why you feel confused when you’ve read on Facebook that he tells others he’s leaving you but tells you he wants to be together. You want to believe the latter. We commenters aren’t confused because we don’t love the guy or have anything invested in the relationship and just see a guy lying to you while he continues his break up plans. And most of us I suspect have been where you are, feeling confused because we’re clinging to a pleasing lie. I certainly have.

    LW your guy is clearly the kind of guy who feels like he has to tell you what you want to hear. Such as, he says he wants to move in with you, right up until you show up with suitcases and he has to actually say no to stop it from happening. It’s impossible to have a reasonable conversation about something hard with a person like that because they won’t ever share their actual thoughts, except maybe to blurt them out when angry only to retract them later. It will drive you crazy.

    Finally, this is sort of the flip side of those people who write in asking how to break up with someone who won’t accept their reason for breaking up and keeps arguing them into staying with logic. You asked him for his “real reasons” for breaking up with you. Maybe he gave you the real reason already? Maybe he really does think your procreation plans won’t be compatible. Or maybe he said that because he thought it was a more objective and iron clad reason than his real reason, which might be more hurtful, or really vague and ill defined. Maybe he doesn’t have a good reason and felt like you would want one. In any case, it sounds kind of like the guy broke up with you and you talked him into coming back. And maybe that’s not too hard to do with this guy because for whatever reason he’s really bad at telling people stuff they don’t want to hear. And so he’s telling people on Facebook he’s just getting out of a relationship because he’s literally trying to find ways to make the breakup stick that don’t involve the obvious way of just saying it and then continuing to say it. Maybe he was hoping you’d see the Facebook stuff so that you would leave him and he could stop feeling like the bad guy or failing to work up the courage to have a horrible hurtful discussion.

    Whatever the case LW, I think this guy is breaking up with you, and also that having a sane open discussion with him will be impossible and that he’ll act more and more like a bag of dicks trying to kill your relationship without using his words. I advise skipping the bag-of-dicks phase and just walking away. It will hurt less in the long run. 😦

  47. A few weeks ago, he out of the blue tells me that he doesn’t want to be with me anymore because I will be too old to give him children when he ready to do so… Anyways, a few days later I sent him a message saying that I needed to talk to him face to face and that I had questions for him about the real reasons he didn’t want to be with me.

    As a personal note, I just want to mention that you were willing to believe your partner lied to you right here. Why? You might want to examine whether this was because you don’t find your partner trustworthy (and whether that’s a relationship you want to be in) or whether you would rather your partner be a liar than for you to get hurt (and whether that type of self-lying is welcome in your relationship).

  48. I think I am a much more cynical person than CA. Because my first thought is that Boyfriend is using LW. Right now Boyfriend is not much of a “catch”. He’s busy, he’s cranky, he probably has little money. So LW is not “Ms Right” but “Ms Right Now.” He is happy to share this part of his journey with the LW. While he is climbing this mountain, he is happy for the LW to provide him with sex, food, and non-demanding companionship. LW, are you doing his laundry? His grocery shopping? His housework? I have seen this happen to SO MANY WOMEN. They climb that mountain with a man. Maybe a boyfriend, maybe a husband. They feel they are sacrifcing together for their shared future, and that as they have shared in the struggle, so they will share in the rewards. When he gets that degree or that big job, they will enjoy that together.

    And then that day comes. And “good old reliable” is dumped in favor of some hot hot young thing that wouldn’t have looked at him twice when he was a struggling student. I am sure there are women out there have used a man in this way, but I do not personally know any, while I know multiple women who have been used this way. LW, please read the writing on the wall. He is not interested in building a life with you, just a right now.

    1. Seconded, OpheliaDev. Sadly (and I was one of them, so I am definitely not judging anyone here), a great many women treat relationships as though they were a career with benefits and retirement guaranteed after many years of faithful service. Not so. Thanks to the patriarchy, youth is still considered the coin of a woman’s life, and once it’s spent, it’s spent. Watch where you invest it. There should be an equal level of commitment shown on each side, not just on the distaff half, because the wimminz have the feeeeeeeeelings.

    2. I do agree that this is a thing that happens, and might be happening here though I don’t have enough info to say with any confidence. Just wanted to point out that I do in fact know a man who had this done to him by a women – he was working two manual labour type gruelling jobs while she (his wife – they were married) went to uni, and while he was out working she was seeing a different dude, who she divorced him for once she graduated. I believe she got the house when she left too. 😦

      I suspect it’s a pattern with a gender trend, but it’s definitely not exclusively an evil-using-dude issue.

    3. It’s certainly possible that something like that is happening, but let’s not forget that he broke up with her – unless you think that was manipulation he probably wants out of the relationship. The likely interpretation from my point of view is that he simply has a hard time making the breakup stick. He got emotional when he saw LW again (a meeting she asked for) and may really have thought at that moment that he wanted to get back together.

      I’ve actually been in boyfriend’s shoes or at least in a somewhat similar situation (bit different because I think there was ambivalence about a serious commitment from both sides in my case). I wanted out at some point, but I let my ex out-logic me. He didn’t think my reasons were sufficient for a breakup, and since I still was very emotionally attached to him and sort of doubting my own reasons, I undid the breakup. I’m ashamed to say that this even happened several times – me getting up the courage to say I wanted out, emotional discussion with ex trying to convince me otherwise, then getting back together but under different terms that neither of us was really happy with.

      I wasn’t trying to manipulate my ex, I was trying to leave, but still doubtful. And he clung to me. I’m seeing a bit of that pattern in what LW is describing. To me it sounds like she’s very ready to believe he really wants to be with her when there are clear signs that that isn’t true. Asking for the real reasons when what he said may have been the real reason (certainly cruelly worded) also points to that. But obviously he’s in the wrong for not making the breakup stick.

    4. …Except the day where he dumps her already came?

      “A few weeks ago, he out of the blue tells me that he doesn’t want to be with me anymore […] I sent him a message saying that I needed to talk to him face to face and that I had questions for him about the real reasons he didn’t want to be with me. […] within 2 seconds he was crying like the Nile saying that he was so sorry, and that he has been under a lot of pressure and that he felt he just didn’t have time for a gf”

      I’m not sure what about this, exactly, makes it seem like he is stringing this girl along. She is basically stringing herself along, and he is avoiding dealing with it. Which admittedly isn’t great, but when you’re already totally drained by your life, and you break up with someone in part because of that, I can understand not feeling totally up to expending in a bunch of nonexistant energy to convince this person that your reasons for wanting to leave them are, in fact, good enough.

      He certainly could be handling this better, but hopefully next time someone tries to break up with her, she can take “no” for an answer.

  49. “he doesn’t want to be with me anymore because I will be too old to give him children when he ready to do so”

    Just to add to the comments from others above, I agree this was the red flag flying above all the other red flags. Not necessarily because you two might not be able to get on the same schedule for child-bearing/rearing — that in itself can be a legit deal-breaker on one side or the other, as others have noted. But because of the way you (and, presumably, he) phrased this. So according to him your job is to “give him children” whenever HE’S ready? Uh, no. Children are a thing two people ought to decide on TOGETHER, when they are BOTH ready. If he can only think in his little window about what and when are right for HIM, then he’s not truly committed to you (and has some serious thinking to do about what commitment to anyone really means).

    LW, you deserve a dude who wants to make life decisions WITH you. Not one who has a life timeline of his own and has decided he can’t shoehorn you into it.

  50. My bog standard requirement for romantic relationships is, “Does this person have my back?” It sounds like he doesn’t.

  51. You ladies are far too compromising. The moment “too old” came out of that guy’s mouth, he would have had his butt and suitcase shoved out of MY home and seen MY door slammed in his face. I did this to a guy recently.

    He was penniless, starving, a very mediocre artist in his field of pursuit, and impulsively moved a thousand miles to live off me. I never invited him. He did it, spontaneously, suddenly, just “showing up” one day. While thirstily sopping up the perks of my pretty upscale, accomplished lifestyle with that lamprey-like mouth of his, making comments like “your life is fantastic! You live in a 3000 square foot loft!”, the fellow made the mistake one day of telling me I was good enough to spend the money of and generally use, but not to date. I would have been perfect for him, he opined, if only I were white and blonde. (For the record, I am Asian, and brunette. And I wasn’t into him.)

    I suggested he move in with and live off of the next white blonde he saw on the street that day, and I kicked him out that same morning.

    Ladies: write this in Sharpie pen upon your tender, awesome hearts. The moment a male insults you, right then, pull the ripcord. Push eject. Hop in the nope rocket.


    And if it’s your place he says it in, kick him out THEN, block all phone and social contact, and change the locks. It’s simple, ladies.


Comments are closed.