Dear Captain Awkward,
I’m a white ciswoman in my late twenties living in the Midwestern US. I’ve had a free online dating account for a while, having marginal success with short term dating but nothing that’s really led anywhere. My only *serious* relationship ended five years ago, after less than two years. I’ve come to terms with being choosy, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but more recently I’d started to wonder if I was being too picky or not patient enough or something. However, this latest guy has me all excited and fluttery! However, he’s got some baggage that has me confused as to how best to behave.
During our back-and-forth he was friendly and engaging, we got on quite well, and even realized we had a female friend in common (which was like an instant recommendation). We’ve only had a few dates so far, but we seem to be clicking really well and it feels like I’ve known him much longer. I was already be a bit nervous about too-much-too-fast (scaring him off?), when he told me (over a few conversations) that he’s in the process of a divorce that’s ending a marriage of mutually-destructive maybe-verbal-abuse and disillusionment over their shared religion, and the split was less than 6 months ago.
(I know that some cheaters use “getting divorced” as a cover, but given our mutual friend, his social media profile and his dating profile, as well as my gut, I believe him)
I am not sure what I should be doing given his situation. He’s voiced worry he might be using me, and while I don’t feel used, I worry he might mean using me emotionally as a rebound (is a “rebound” even a real thing?). Ideally, I would be there supporting him to help him work through what he needs to work through for us to have a great and fulfilling relationship that lasts for a while and leaves both of us happier, but how wishful is that thinking? I worry that being in too much of a caretaker role would get in the way of being seen as a romantic partner, but should I worry? And mightn’t moving too quickly romantically lead to relationship collapse if he’s not as ready as he thinks? Can you help me balance my desires and his potential needs?
Wishing it would just work!
P.S. I don’t think it matters to him, but he’s in really good shape compared to me, so I also have that frustrating but common worry that he’ll suddenly notice and not find me attractive anymore, which is definitely contributing to my fear about coming across as too much of a shoulder-to-cry-on or too maternal.
If he’s “worried that he might be using you” and expresses it as such, he’s worried that he might be using you. So, are you okay with that?
Sometimes people say that to warn people not to get too attached. It’s a way of clearing their conscience and getting to feel like the Good Guy when things fall apart. “Well, even though I acted like I really wanted to be your boyfriend, I warned you that this was a bad idea on some level, so I don’t have to feel guilty if you are hurt now!”
Sometimes people say that to get reassurance from the other person. “No, I don’t feel like that!” “No, I don’t think you are!” Low Self-Esteem Guy, whatever, it’s possible, given how you describe his marriage.
I would generally rather pull my fingernails out with pliers than validate this trope, but I’ve met the dude who loves to have sexytimes and intense conversations with big girls but only “really” dates thin girls and I’ve also met the married (or just separated) guy who comes on way too strong and intensely because “Are you my mummy/soulmate?” is the only speed he knows. And, again, sad to say, those are the dudes who say stuff like “I’m worried that I’m using you” because they know what they are doing is not cool and they feel bad (but not bad enough to stop fucking you).
Whatever is going on, in my experience, nobody says that in order to communicate “I can’t wait to find out what our limitless future together will hold! FULL STEAM AHEAD!” At very least, it means slow down. Evaluate.
A rebound thing can absolutely turn into the real thing. Not every relationship ends cleanly before the next one begins, whether it does isn’t an absolute judgment on its future potential. And I don’t fault this guy at all for wanting to date new people even during a messy time. When you’re leaving a bad relationship, the reminder that other people are out there and that human connection is possible can be a lifeline. I’ve been on both sides of this one, so I send all the love and none of the judgment his or your way!
But I have personally spent way too much time living this paragraph from your letter:
“Ideally, I would be there supporting him to help him work through what he needs to work through for us to have a great and fulfilling relationship that lasts for a while and leaves both of us happier…”
In my 20s? Fat, lonely, shy, awkward and overflowing with love to give away? I could have made a living offering being the Rebound Girl who will fuck you and listen to you and support you until you feel ready for a relationship….with someone else. Tell me all about your ex (or…current!) squeeze and let me analyze the ins and outs of your relationship as a way to know you better! No one will ever understand you as much as I! Emotional support is just what good partners do for each other, right? Whatever you need, no problem, my door is always open, my fridge is always open, my heart is always open, my wallet is always open, my schedule is always open, my legs are always open….
The movie of that period of my life would be called How (Your Name Here!) Got His Groove Back And Then Disappeared Forever Into Graduate School or the Peace Corps and/or Married That Hot Girl Who Was Not Me.
They weren’t necessarily bad people and I don’t regret that things didn’t work out for us, but I do wish I’d put in less effort wooing people who were not so much wooing me. And, I’m not saying it will be true for you, but I am saying this was absolutely true for me:
- When I drew a bright line about such things (Separated = still married. Getting a divorce soon = still married. “It’s complicated” = too complicated for me, kind sir!)…
- When I decided that after sex, I did not want to listen to or help my partner process his feelings about some chick who was not me….
- When I decided, that in the middle of my workday, I did not want to email back and forth with some dude about the latest thing his ex was doing to his fragile psyche now….
- When I decided, in fact, that such conversation was the most BORING and IRRITATING topic in the world….
…My life, my self-esteem, and my confidence and security within my relationships got approximately 10,000 times better.
If you enjoy this dude’s company and want to keep seeing him, then enjoy yourself and keep seeing him. But “supporting him to help him work through what he needs to work through” isn’t your job. And if that’s what you spend your time together doing? Like, the dates always come down to him talking about his feelings about his ex and why his marriage ended, etc.? The details and the emotional recovery after an important relationship ends is not for hot new potential girlfriends, that’s for friends, therapists, spiritual advisors, LiveJournal, PostSecret, family, a journal, writing bad poetry or music, internet advice columnists, or, literally, anyone but you. Not because you’re unworthy, but because of boundaries.
Emotional support is what good partners give each other. But a few dates in? Emotionally rehabilitating someone to the point where they are ready for a relationship again isn’t remotely your job! Even if you offer an ear voluntarily, it’s not cool for him to put that stuff on you, and it leads to all kinds of boundaries being muddied and you using words like “maternal” to describe how you’re worried you are coming off. If that’s how you see your potential role or value to him? I have trepidation about that, honestly. If even you see yourself that way, how is he supposed to refrain from joining you?
If he wants you, being “too nice” is not going to scare him off. If he doesn’t want you, being the nicest and most accommodating person isn’t going to convince him that it’s a good idea. If your relationship is solid and great, hopefully one cranky advice writer isn’t going to tank it. One of the things that’s telling me “Go slowly” is you framing the issue as something you could do or be differently to make this work. Be you. He’s into it or he’s not. He’s the one who is married to another human being. You’re not the one with the most stuff to prove right now!
You’re the one who is actually living out this story, so listen to yourself. “Ideally I would emotionally support him until he’s ready.” “Maternal.” “Caretaker.” “He’s worried he’s using me.” Three(ish) dates in? I’m totally happy to do the “You’re only a few dates in, everything is fine, you must chill” reassurance from time to time, but those aren’t sexy, optimistic, “I’m so happy and excited!” kind of words you’re using.
My concrete advice?
Keep that dating profile open and keep meeting folks. You don’t have to date someone else, but keep it there as a reminder you have options.
As you continue dating this guy, evaluate:
How much of your time do you spend listening and comforting vs. having fun times?
Do you feel like you spend a lot of time with him as a coach, cheerleader, Reassure-r In Chief? How much time do you spend talking about his stuff vs. your stuff? If you are playing therapist/cheerleader more than a fraction of the time, I gotta tell you, that sounds unsexy to me.
Is he respectful of your schedule? Is the “work” of maintaining the relationship equally distributed? Arranging dates in advance vs. just dropping by at the last minute, doing his share in planning dates and finding cool stuff to do, who calls/texts who, etc. If he breezes in and out, and meanwhile you do all the work while reassuring him that it’s “no big deal” or “I like taking care of you,” yeesh, I gotta tell you, again, that sounds unsexy.
Does he introduce you to the important people in his life – friends, family? You have that mutual friend in common, which is good, but does he mention you to other people and introduce you and show you off, or do you feel like a secret? Does he enthusiastically want to meet and spend time with your friends? If your relationship feels like it takes place inside a hermetically sealed capsule, here be the Emotional Vampyre. Run.
When you talk to your friends about him, do you find yourself editing out things that are going on and striving to present a rosier picture than there really is? Bad sign!
Are you making lots of Pro/Con lists? Bad sign!
If he says the thing about “using you” again, ask him what he means. “You’ve said that a few times now, and honestly, it feels like it’s code for something I don’t understand. What are you actually trying to tell me when you say that?”
- If, shortly after this conversation, he breaks up with you “for your own good,” BELIEVE HIM. Run.
- If he says a brief, “I’m sorry, that’s kind of a shithead thing to say!” and subsequently stops saying it, maybe it’s not a big deal.
- If this question is the prelude to Self-Loathing Hour, where he explains how terrible and unworthy he is of you? Believe him! Run!
- “You’re the only person I can really talk to about this.” This is not a compliment, and is more of a statement on him than on you. I would be leery.
- Please, for the love of all that is holy, treat any iteration of “I’m just not ready for a relationship right now” as “I do not want a relationship with you.” If it really is a timing thing, he will come back and see what’s up when the timing is right for him. People you want to be with don’t keep you hanging on while they make up their minds about you.
Ooh, also, you sound not all that up for casual dating. If you know that about yourself, embrace it. It’s not anything you have to apologize for, but it might make this guy, on whom so much speculation rests, a bad fit for you right now.
You signed yourself “Wishing it would just work.” There’s nothing wrong with that. You’re allowed to want getting to know someone to feel easy and fun and uncomplicated. You’re allowed to say, Dude, you seem great, but this is too hard right now. Come back if you want when things are easier and you know your own mind better, and if I’m free we’ll go grab a pizza somewhere. But until then, I’m not feeling it. I’m not ready to put in the work. That doesn’t make you a bad person, or unworthy of love, even though there are a million cultural messages that will try to guilt you into thinking so. There’s a common trope in onscreen and literary romances that “All good love takes work” and “You have to work at love to really make it!” and “The harder you work, the sweeter it is in the end.”
No. Just no. I mean, every relationship takes some maintenance and involves some logistical effort in order to stay healthy, but if it feels like work? A few dates in? If your plans for a Friday night are “Gotta pick up milk and then go home and work on the relationship/work on helping my boyfriend be ready to be a good boyfriend/helping my boyfriend leave his wife some more” maybe it’s too much work. Definitely don’t work at someone who isn’t working at you.
I’d love to be proven wrong! I’d love for this to be the beginning of something great for you. And I wish you nothing but happiness however it goes.
tl;dr Do less work.
154 thoughts on “#551: What does it mean when a dating partner is “worried that they might be using me?””
If you pass a man’s “girlfriend-worthy screening”, he won’t give two fucks about “using you”. You’ll be his.
I don’t want to be too harsh, but this dear woman is encountering something called “low interest”. Life is too short to waste time on dating prospects that aren’t high interest.
Maintain your dignity and move on, sweet heart.
Thanks, Kind Bros!
Am I being entirely oversensitive here, or does this read as incredibly condescending to anyone else?
I don’t disagree with the advice, but this is definitely me disagreeing with the presentation.
Yeah, I read it the same way.
As a guy, the first paragraph is what bothers me the most. Yes, you’ve caught us; we’re actually all the same on the inside and we all process relationships in the exact same way (sarcasm alert). That stereotyping just really really bugs me. And that’s not even touching the problem of “you’ll be his”–that sent shivers down my spine, and not in a good way.
Also, as a guy who used to be read as a girl, dear god the phrase “sweet heart” makes me want to punch hundreds of pillows into submission. I’m kind of shocked to see a comment like this getting posted here, actually.
I couldn’t tell if it was a joke or not when it came through, so, “Hrmmm, let’s see what happens.”
Now we know what happens.
Yes. The “dear woman” and “sweet heart” bits definitely contributed to me feeling this way.
You are not the only one.
We have three prior comments saying otherwise. You might want to reevaluate your approach. We take these things fairly seriously here, and words like “oversensitive” are generally not viewed with great fondness.
Alternatively, I could stand by my opinion, as you and other blog users all do. Have a great day.
Farewell forever, Bros!
Yeah… going by the content of their blog, they were either trolling, or very, very lost.
Maybe don’t lead us into temptation I.E. give their website airtime? It’s still in the first comment.
Is this new relationship set up the way you want it to grow and continue? Does it have all the ingredients it needs to grow and is it shooting straight up and putting out lots of bright green leaves?
Or do you have to shelter it from the rain that comes in every afternoon? Are you propping it up with a stick because otherwise it falls over and buries itself in mud? If you are doing those things then your relationship is going to grow wonky, if it grows at all. And yes it’s true that a big strong relationship with deep roots and a solid trunk could weather harsh conditions: but that isn’t what you have right now. You don’t want a relationship that is like one of those trees that grows sideways because of the wind, or a plant with a kink in it because it was angling itself toward an insufficient light-source.
❤ for this analogy!!!
Thanks for appreciating it! I just… really love analogies.
It kind of amuses me because aside from regular gardening I also do bonsai, so I actually sometimes do want trees with kinks in their trunks. I don’t want a bonsai relationship though. That sounds like a very bad thing. :-O
OMG BONSAI RELATIONSHIP! PUT THIS ON A T-SHIRT!
BONSAI RELATIONSHIP! YES! (and NO.. GOD NO)
Bonsai relationship. Wow. I…think I kind of have a couple of those actually, it’s working for me.
KINKY TREE RELATIONSHIPS, eh heh heh
This analogy is going to keep me smiling all weekend 🙂
Jennifer thank you so much for telling these stories of your past – it’s so reassuring to know that plenty of intelligent and awesome women have done the exact same stupid stuff I did. I used to feel like I could have won gold for Australia in the Worlds Most Understanding Girlfriend Who is Totally Cool With Everything olympic event, but after hanging around here for a while it seems there would be stiff competition.
LW, I think all this advice boils down to taking care of yourself and your own interests. You deserve a lover who’s cool enough for you *right now* and not maybe eventually when you’ve helped him through all his issues. I can’t recall where I read this, but there is a quote somewhere that abusers will tell you what they’re like up front, and it’s best to believe them (anyone remember where this is from?). This seems to be true, and goes for all manner of people you shouldn’t date and not just the dangerous scary abusive kind. If someone tells you they’re worried that they’re using you, take that at face value and believe them. It means they have doubts that they’re really interested in you as a serious girlfriend. That’s not something you should try to fix with your awesome powers of caring and concern (trust me, the trophies for best Therapist Girlfriend aren’t that great) – it’s something you should react to. It’s a sign you should put *less* into this guy, not more. If he comes around and works his own shit out and is all enthusiastic later, then OK, it might be worth revisiting. But think about what *you* want from *him* and then decide if he’s going to give it to you. A great minimal standard is someone who’s as into you as you are them, you don’t ever want to be feeling like your lover has settled for you because they couldn’t get someone better.
I’m also not sure where that quote about abusers telling you what they’re about up front comes from, but goddamn did it ring in my brain like a bell when I was watching Frozen and Hans said to Anna literally moments after they met, “I’d like to formally apologize for hitting the Princess of Arendelle with my horse…and for every moment after.”
Someone at Disney knows exactly how this shit works.
I think it’s the Captain quoting Oprah? Or maybe just the eternal being that is Oprah, beaming it straight to our minds.
When someone tells you they are bad news – or are using you or will turn you into a hollow husk of a human – believe them.
Yep, Oprah. It’s not just abusers, too. A few I’ve encountered and dismissed, that turned out to be prophetic: “I’m not really a relationship person” (and therefore will refuse to cuddle with you because that would be feelings-y!), “I’m sort of a basketcase” (who will use my anxiety as an excuse for jerky behaviour and blame you for it), and my personal favourite “I just don’t feel things very deeply” (so after a year I’ll cheat on you and then admit that I don’t love you after all).
The rule doesn’t work every time… but in retrospect? It works a large proportion of the time.
A brief Googling leads me to believe that it’s Captain Awkward quoting Oprah quoting Maya Angelou.
Blarg. Sorry for the google-fail Dr. Angelou!
Thanks! Yay for correct attribution. 🙂
Right – Oprah of course. I think I’ve encountered it in a few places. Anyway – it is so true. I once had a boyfriend tell me he needed a girlfriend with a mind like a ball bearing – who could just bounce off stuff unharmed. Translation, he didn’t give a crap about anyone’s feelings and it was my job to just cope. That was an LDR that didn’t last long thankfully.
If a person apologises in advance for future shitty behaviour or says they think they’re a scumbag in relationships, don’t reassure them they’re not. Believe them.
Does that still apply if they have anxiety and/or depression telling them they’re a scumbag and nobody should ever be with them because they suck?
the invisible one, I think early in a relationship it at least means they have some serious issues that maybe they should get some help with before you start dating them?
My husband told me he wasn’t a good boyfriend way before we started dating. What he meant by that was that he’s a bit difficult because he has Aspergers. I wouldn’t call that abusive. Although it IS useful information. While I didn’t mind, I could understand potential partners to take that as a hint not to date someone (he is, after all, a little difficult).
@the invisible one – context is everything. My partner suffers from depression which will sometimes lead him to express sentiments like that. But he’s a totally loving, caring partner who supports me and makes me feel amazing, and so I can discount those sentiments as jerkbrain speaking. If being with him generally made me feel shitty, I’d have to take those sentiments a lot more seriously.
As other people have also said, it’s also worth taking account of that information in terms of understanding the price of admission.
I asked because all the messages in this post that end in “RUN” are kicking me right where Jerkbrain tells me I don’t deserve to have a relationship because I’m broken. On the one hand I know it’s probably Jerkbrain and/or anxiety speaking; on the other hand I was dumped not so long ago because I’m broken and the other person couldn’t handle it.
Hey invisible one – I definitely don’t mean that we should kick people with anxiety or other such mental health issues to the curb. I think the statement actually kind of still applies – if someone says they have trouble with relationships because of anxiety you should believe them as much as the guy who warns you he has a temper. But, believing it says nothing about how you choose to react to it – it’s not wrong to think “this person has mental health issues, and it impacts their relationships, but I’m OK with working around that”. My best friend has an anxiety disorder, and it does sometimes make things hard, and I try to be patient and understanding and to help him as much as possible, and find ways to still be his friend. It’s difficult but worth it.
I think the thing that quote does for me is to cut through the haze of wishful thinking that often surrounds relationships at the beginning. You hear what you want to hear, and even giant red flags are reinterpreted as that person being hard on themselves, something to reassure them about. Certainly not statements of truth. But for our own health and safety it’s best to try to be clear eyed, and to listen to what they say about themselves. That’s information you want to have. Then you decide how you want to react to it, and if it’s a deal breaker. It doesn’t have to be a deal breaker – “I have anxiety and this impacts my relationships in the following ways” isn’t the same as “I think I might be using you” 3 dates in.
Anisoptera: yours wasn’t one that specifically said “RUN” but I think by the time I got to it I was wound up pretty badly — such that when you mentioned somebody who thinks they’re a scumbag in relationships to believe them, that hit close enough because that’s about what I was feeling like at that point.
I’m sorry I triggered that for you – people are really shitty about mental illness. For the record, I don’t equate anxiety or depression with scumbag status, and it sucks that some people have made you feel that way. 😦
@ Jake – I don’t think you meant it to be, but I actually find your comment to be pretty insensitive to people who have the sorts of struggles the invisible one is talking about.
Sure, in a perfect world, people would have these issues sorted before they started dating anyone, but we don’t live in a perfect world, and sometimes relationships don’t start out with everyone saying completely ideal things and keeping completely ideal boundaries. It’s certainly indicative of a potential problem, but that isn’t the same thing as “Oh my god, run!” – it has to be taken in the larger context.
In the LW’s case, that context does not seem to be good. In the invisible one’s, I’m not so sure.
@ the invisible one – I’ve had the same reaction to a lot of the comments to this post. I think people have been looking at this from one perspective (things that jerks say) without considering other possibilities, because they’re probably not true in this case, based on the rest of the letter. Still, right there with you.
If it makes you feel any better, I told my boyfriend about my mental illness on our first date and pretty clearly expressed that I was terrified of commitment by the second or third one. He expressed that he was not good at relationships early on as well. We both decided that it was worth going ahead based on the broader picture. It’s been well over a year, and this is by far the best relationship I’ve ever been in.
@ the invisible one
I am bi-polar, with a heapin’ helpin’ of PTSD.
When I realized I wanted to make a family with Spouse, I spent a LOT of time in therapy figuring out how I was going to contribute practically and emotionally to our relationship.
Part of that was learning not to call myself crazy or run myself down to him. Because “I suck.” means “I don’t feel confident in my ability to be a good partner.” and “I will treat you badly and let you treat me badly because I’m not sure I deserve better”
I will never have all my shit together. But the confidence that what I have to contribute to our relationship is important and worthwhile, that’s my minimum. I work to maintain that.
When the brain weasels claw their way up, and tell me I don’t deserve Spouse, that Spouse hates me and wants to leave me, I have evidence they are wrong.
I know why Spouse loves me. I know what I give him that he would not have by himself or with other partners, and I know why those things are valuable to him.
Someone who tells you no one should be with them because they suck has is not ready for a serious relationship.
They may be an amazing person, they may be worth your love, but they have not yet met the minimum bar for being a good partner.
If they are not you, let them go.
If they are, then you need to love you for a while before you love anyone else.
My full answer to this is ridiculously long and complicated, and I’m leery of dumping out my whole life story when it doesn’t relate much to the original letter writer, and when I’m afraid it will make for an upsetting read when you’re already upset. So I’m asking for patience as I try to be coherent…
Depression and anxiety can make a person think things like “I’m not worthy to be with anyone, ever.” The aftermath of being abused can also cause that. The emotional turmoil that follows a bad breakup can also cause that. But the last of those is usually resolved by waiting 3-6 months to let a person’s head clear. In my (admittedly limited) experience, the portion of thoughts due to a bad breakup can often be fully resolved by the passage of time _even when_ a person also has other, less easily resolved issues. That’s why “take a break from dating” is common advice for people coming out of a bad breakup, and why a lot of people are saying things like “tell him to come back in six months.”
Now here’s the messy personal part… please skip it if you think it’ll make things worse for you.
I am happily married to someone with depression and anxiety. We have been together for over 20 years. But… in the past he treated me abusively because of his own untreated depression and anxiety. I don’t want to go into too much detail right now, because I think it would upset me and not be helpful to anyone else. But some of those early interactions involved him saying he didn’t deserve to be with me because part of him still loved his ex and part of him always would, and me trying to pour out reassurance. The fact that he still felt things for his ex didn’t bother me, but listening to him dump on himself upset me a lot. Somewhere along the line things morphed, and in his head I became the one who didn’t really love him half as much as he loved me. This did not come from anything about me or how I acted. It came from his own fears of abandonment. We had about a million billion variations on the theme of You Don’t Really Care About Me: “If you really cared about me you would have made sure the lettuce on my sandwich was dry, because you know I hate damp lettuce! You are secretly losing interest in me, and I’m going to tell you how _you_ feel loudly and at length! I’m not angry! Why do you think I’m angry? I just want to know why I mean so little to you!”
My point in bringing this up is very much _not_ to say that this type of dynamic is an inevitable result of poor mental health. Instead, I want to point out that this blog draws a lot of people who have been through abusive relationships, so in any grey area, people are likely to advise others to err on the side of safety. Also, quite few people have suggested asking him to come back later rather than just bailing out. Six months from now this guy might be in a better head space to start something new. (Also, consider that the guy did not mention any mental health issues. Sure, he could have them and not have talked about them, but _he_ was the one to make the link between ‘I’m in the process of ending an unhappy marriage,’ and ‘I think I might be using you.’)
(For myself, I am happy to say that our relationship has a different dynamic now. One day he actually heard what I was saying, and his behavior improved radically overnight – it was really remarkable. Flipping a toggle rather than climbing a hill. But that still left issues. Further improvement came after he gave up alcohol, and more improvement yet came after he got therapy. I also know I had my own insecurities that made it easier to be on the receiving end of this type of obsessive love rather than in a healthier dynamic. It’s interesting… a lot gets written about how _being_ abused causes depression and anxiety. I have not seen so much about how _having_ depression and anxiety can cause abuse. Maybe I haven’t looked hard enough… because dealing with my own feelings over all this is really new to me. It’s strange because I have all these feelings to process over behavior that he’s not engaging in anymore.)
@ espritdecorps – I also find this unpleasant, judgmental, and trigger-y, for all that you also struggle with mental illness. Your experience is not everyone’s, and it’s really not up to you to categorically tell people that they aren’t ready for a serious relationship based on one piece of information.
I think this gets back to something that came up in a recent letter from the woman who is trans* and worried about dating – I think staranise put it very eloquently. I’m not going to quote her entire comment, but I do want to quote part of it.
>I take direct exception to the cultural meme, “You can’t love anyone else until you love yourself.” Like, nope, sorry, I learned how to love myself after long practice in the art of loving other people, and letting other people love me. It was the last thing that connected. Every time I hear the cultural meme about self-love, I remember that it’s an opinion, not a truth. Standing opposite it is a line I take from the Prayer of St Francis: “It is in giving that we receive.”<
Is it ideal to go into a relationship telling someone they shouldn't be with you because you suck? No. Is it a problematic perspective? Yes. Should it be addressed, because otherwise it could introduce a bad dynamic into the relationship? Absolutely.
But to state in such a blanket way that someone who says "I suck, and you shouldn't be with me" is not ready for a serious relationship is really unwarranted. That is your opinion. It is not a fact. What you read into the statement is your personal interpretation. It is not universal.
What you describe may be the ideal way to handle a mental illness, but life is not always ideal. Sometimes it can be messy. You don't have to have all or even most things sorted out before you are a worthwhile partner. That doesn't mean that there aren't any standards, but people get to decide their standards for themselves.
My boyfriend, for example, seems to feel that my worth as a partner is not defined by the fact that occasionally I tell him that I feel like I suck and don't deserve him. We seem to be muddling through the "serious relationship" thing just fine despite those significant transgressions, which apparently eclipse everything else about me as a partner.
I don't mean to bite your head off, but there's something about telling another person that they're not ready for a relationship or worthy of being loved until they've got their mental illness all sorted out that's deeply disturbing to me, and something that I'm frankly surprised to see here, of all places.
More thoughts on this…
Consider two statements: “I feel unworthy, please hug me and hold me,” and “I think we should break up because I suck so much.” The former is a straightforward request. The latter carries an implicit threat. Getting dumped hurts. Having someone threaten to dump you also hurts. The difference is, when it’s just a threat and not a decision, it can happen over and over, night after night. Plus the dynamic becomes “I think I should dump you, maybe not tonight because I suck so much that I can’t manage without you, but maybe tomorrow. Now hug me and hold me and tell me you love me. If you say hearing this hurts you, that just proves you don’t love me, which proves my original point about how much I suck and drives home the fact that I should dump you just as soon as I get my act together. Which could happen any day.” The latter dynamic involves deliberately hurting someone over and over, on purpose, demanding to be rewarded for it with extra big helpings of love and attention, and if the other person protests against being hurt, making them feel guilty about how much they didn’t Love You Enough. Which was the defining conflict of my marriage for years, so I am obviously biased here.
So my advice to others would be that the minimum bar for starting a new relationship is the ability to say “I feel unworthy” rather than “I should dump you.” The minimum bar for working through an existing relationship is the ability to say, “It’s not okay to threaten to dump me night after night. I love you and I can listen to you about many things, but not about this. You need to talk to a therapist, not to me.” Obviously younger me did not follow current me’s advice… but I hope that future me will.
I know we’ve drifted very far away from the LW’s situation… but a lot of people get value from the comments besides the original LW’s…anyway, I hope this is helpful to somebody; trying to articulate it has probably been helpful to me.
I have posted before, and very much do not have all my shit together. That’s why I’m here.
I will hold to my belief that there is a minimum amount of shit-togetherness that is necessary for a healthy relationship, and if you have known issues, a moral obligation to work on the things that can be helped.
If your partner has mobility issues, it is reasonable to modify your home with accommodations to that. It is not reasonable to be on hand to carry them around 24/7 for the next 50 years.
It’s reasonable to reassure each other when your jerkbrains strike.
It’s not reasonable to depend someone’s constant reassurance for your self-worth.
It sounds like you have a keeper, which is awesome!
Anisoptera: it wasn’t that people were equating anxiety with scumbag status, it was that people whose anxiety makes them feel like scumbags were sort of lumped in with people who are jerks and told that they shouldn’t be in a relationship.
Zillah: while I understand on one level that the current post’s topic is more people acting like jerks than people who have a jerkbrain making them feel crappy, yeah. Jerkbrain doesn’t distinguish and uses it all as ammo.
h: yeah, I had the anxiety thing telling me I didn’t deserve the relationship when I was in it. Now I have that, layered with dealing with being dumped.
espritdecorps: what Zillah said. I don’t currently have the wherewithal to express what distressed me about your post myself, except to say, “what Zillah said”.
Anyhow. This has been a really crappy weekend, and I appreciate those of you who have participated in this side conversation. It’s helped some, to explicitly separate jerk from jerkbrain, and RUN from “believe them”.
The invisible one, I apologize to you as well.
I realized that I was not responding to you and Zilliah.
My friend has split up with their partner of many years because the partner’s issues with depression and anxiety had taken over their home, and their children were walking around on eggshells trying not to upset partner (and still are when they visit partner).
I took out my anger and sadness about that situation on this thread, and I am sincerely sorry.
Oh my gosh, a million yeses on the “I just don’t feel things very deeply”. My personal unfavorite was “Well, you know I’m pretty stubborn” = “I won’t actually ever apologize for hurting you and will try to change the subject”. Been there!
This is all happening after THREE DATES. Run don’t walk, he can get his rebound pity sex from someone else.
That was my thought. It’s only 3 dates. Holy Rushing to Commitment, Batman!
“Worried I might be using you,” rings to my ears an awful, awful lot like an old friend/vaguely but not really romantic partner’s “afraid I’m not being honest with you.”
It meant “too afraid to tell you that *I* in fact do not want this for *my own reasons,* a perfectly valid one of which is simply that *I* am not feeling it.”
And it’s a thing that I am perfectly sure I do not have the time or the tolerance or the uncertainty of my own worth for anymore.
It sounds like you’re firmly on Team Him, but is he on Team You? Would it feel weird to ask him to be? It sounds to me like the answers to those are ‘mostly no’ and ‘absolutely’, and that’s a pretty big red flag no matter what the underlying reasons are.
LW, it really sounds to me like “I’m afraid I’m using you” is code for “I’m not ready for a relationship with you right now, and I know it”–in other words, he IS using you. Are you okay with the prospect of being a rebound? I ask because I’ve been in that place before, and I was a rebound, and the other person was mine, and that was okay. But it doesn’t sound to me like you’re in that place, and that worries me.
I’ve been broken up with a guy for my own good. I fought it, I fought it so hard. (Back then I could have used the Captain’s sage advice that a break up is a break up and you can’t fight it.) I wanted to be his caretaker. I have a maternal streak a mile wide, combine that with low self-esteem larger girl issues, and yeah I fit that trope. Years later and I am so glad he ended it for my good. Because it was for my good. Once I got past my OMG heartbreak, I could see some of the major problems in the relationship. And once I saw those, eventually, I found my way into a really awesome relationship. Sometimes I take care of him (he’s had bronchitis this week poor love) and sometimes he takes care of me (midnight runs for medicines and too much listening to work angst) and all the time we take care of each other.
That’s the key, everyone has a time/turn in their life when they need more care, but all the time we take care of each other.
Oh and he thinks I’m incredibly hot and sexy and loves my body a million times more than I ever did. And he’s teaching me to love it too. He also thinks I look super hot pregnant and tells me that every day. I’m not going to tell you that there’s a prince for every woman because that’s stupid, sexist, and wrong. But I knew before I lucked into this relationship that I was better off with my Team Me set of super close friends who took care of me and alone romantically then I was being the perpetual caregiver of someone else who couldn’t take care of me.
YES! He was my second sexual partner, recently divorced, and an alcoholic. Oh, I wanted to help him. I wanted him to love me. I thought if I could just do the right things, and care enough, things would get better for him and then for us.
Spoiler alert: it didn’t work. He moved to another state and broke up with me. I was heartbroken.
But looking back now, it was the best thing ever. I *was* his rebound and his buffer against loneliness, and he told me that in a couple of different ways, that I proceeded to ignore. He didn’t want to be with me long-term, he wasn’t capable of committing, and he was kind of an asshole.
But now I have an awesome husband who thinks I am great. We support each other. I can indulge my maternal streak, but he can take care of me, too. He loves people to know that we are married and he loves my body and my brain. If I had clung to this other dude, if he hadn’t moved and broken up with me…well, I don’t know. I shudder to think of what might’ve been, though. What I might’ve missed.
There are things you learn about yourself and others by being in these kind of bad relationships. But every minute you spend with this guy is a minute you’re not meeting the dude who could be wholeheartedly committed and in love with you.
It sounds to me like he’s using you, knows he is, and thinks he’s being nice and doing the right thing by telling you he may be using you, without actually NOT using you. I would drop this guy like a hot coal, but then I’ve been used enough before that I am very jaded and don’t put up with that stuff anymore. If you really, really like this guy, just try to step back, and look at the relationship objectively and through logical, not emotional, eyes. Is he giving you what you need, or is he just taking? Is this the kind of thing you can deal with long-term, because once you become someone’s shoulder to cry on, it can become an event that occurs every time you see them for a very long time (Trust me on this one, some couch-bawwers take YEARS to get rid of even after you give them polite hints that enough is enough). Can you deal with his emotion dumping for months, or even years? Would he provide you the same?
Yes, this. The very nicest, most generous translation of “I’m afraid I’m using you” is “I know I’m using you, and I feel kind of shitty about that because I’m not truly an awful human being. On the other hand, I also don’t quite have it in me right now to do the right thing. So my solution is to put it out there as a not-really question and hope that you’ll pick up on it, and do the thing I should be doing, ie. breaking up.”
I… Don’t really agree that that’s the most generous translation? I’ve had friends in situations who worried about similar things, and that was definitely not the case. “I’m worried I may be using you” was just code for “I’m worried I may be using you.”
I do not think that this is a good relationship for the LW, based on what she’s said, and your translation may well be true of this guy… But the blanket statement just kind of bothered me, especially since I think it’s especially unfair to people with anxiety or depression issues, who may well say things like that without any awful translation being accurate.
Oh hello we can form a club. The Oh Have I Been There Club.
I have decided “expecting my boundaries to be respected and to not be used, ever” and “believing you when you tell me things because being believed and taken seriously is really important” and “wanting to go do fun things and explore and try stuff and relax and enjoy my time” are all really good kinds of support for most of is. They are support I can offer! I will offer that support. Funny how the “let me use you” types really typically don’t think that is the support that is best for them, though.
This is awesome, and I am putting it in my list of ‘awesome reminders’. *Fist-bump*.
Happily, so far (in the very early stages of maybe dating a person), he seems to agree with you about what good support is, and for now we are going to be mostly just doing fun things and explore the world and try stuff and all that. I hope it leads to a more intimate relationship, but since he wants to get his shit more together first, we’re holding off on that front so far.
‘Getting divorced’ that comes out after a few dates is a huge, HUGE red flag for me. I mean, that means ‘still married’. Which, ok, like the Captain said, all right if he wants to date during that long, painful process! Super not all right that he wants to try to trick women who don’t want to date someone who is still married, in a complicated thing, whatever. Many dating sites have a choice for ‘separated’ or ‘it’s complicated’ or ‘available’ (not single but dating). Hiding his true status means he puts his desire to date women who have this boundary over the, well, boundaries of said women. His desires are not more important than women’s boundaries: a statement I hope we can all agree upon.
Additional thought: would it be okay if he hid his religion from initial daters? What about if he were in prison/on house arrest/ in rehab? What about a kid, would it be okay to pretend to be childless for a few dates, just so he could ‘see where this was going’? What would such an omission say to you about this man? Why am I suddenly creating a writing prompt for first years?
From the letter I get the impression that the guy was pretty up front about his marriage/divorce status. So not a deception or boundary violation, just a potential can of emotional worms.
Not necessarily. Friend of mine had a boyfriend who was “upfront” about getting a divorce.
Except he wasn’t. He was just an upfront liar.
And not necessarily lying either. I’m going to be the warrior-princess-of-honor at a friend’s wedding this summer. The couple met while she was in the process of a divorce as well. Without more information, we just can’t say, and have to trust the LW’s perception.
Well sure, yes, but this dude is not concealing that he’s still married, which is what duck-billed placelot seemed to be concerned about. And there’s a mutual friend confirming his story. I’m not saying the divorce couldn’t fall through, but if it was the kind of “divorce” he hadn’t mentioned to his wife presumably the mutual friend would spot that?
Certainly it sounds like a mess, and perhaps one the LW might not want to step into. But not like the guy was hiding his marital status for an unreasonable amount of time (the LW implies it was on his dating profile).
I don’t think it’s on his dating profile, I just meant that he’s not hiding his face from social media or the dating profile, so he’s not trying to be sneaky online. He also told me during the first date after we’d talked for a bit and were getting along well.
In response to duck-billed placelot’s comment, I think someone of whatever gender lying by omission about any of those things in their dating profile is not immoral and is in fact fairly understandable. No one who goes on any date knows everything about the person they are dating, and many pieces of information might be deal-breakers to someone, but the choice to share it in the profile or share it in person belongs to the person whose information it is, unless their hidden information is that they are literally poisonous and meeting them will cause your death. If the risk they are forcing you to take is that you will go to meet them and find out you don’t like something about them, that is a risk that literally everyone takes.
Was he hiding it, though? It came out “over the course of a few conversations,” and that can mean a lot of things. Maybe he was uncomfortable just saying, “HEY, so I’m filing my papers next week. What’s your fave TV show?” so he brought it up in a manner he felt was more controlled. Maybe the “getting a divorce” part was up front, but he was slower to divulge all the gritty details, which I think is perfectly valid for someone you only just started dating. He may have been hiding it, and maybe she had to pry it out of him over those conversations, in which case you’d be 100% right on, but I don’t think what the LW said necessarily requires that interpretation.
Also, FWIW, depending on where he is in the legal and emotional processes of divorce, maybe the “still married” part is a complete technicality. When I got my divorce I knew I wasn’t married anymore pretty much the second I moved out, but it was another six months before it was legal, because that’s the way the process works in my state. Obviously if someone has trouble dating someone who’s still legally married, just on principle, that’s up to them. But it takes a long time to get divorced, so unless this guy has been “getting a divorce” for five years and isn’t any closer to actually filing, that’s not an issue I personally would focus on.
True, and sometimes people are weird about the process too. I dated a guy once who was married, and had been for nearly 10 years. But he hadn’t seen his wife for the past 8 years. They separated on good terms after being married for a year, stayed friends for a year, and then he moved far away. They “kept meaning to” make it official, but never quite got around to it, because neither of them had plans to remarry.
Now, in my case, that kind of ridiculous laziness was enough of a turn-off that I put my foot down and said I wouldn’t continue the relationship if he didn’t finalize his divorce (which he finally did, at my urging), and that laziness turned out to be a common problem in our relationship (and one of the reasons I eventually ended things), but he wasn’t emotionally hung up on his ex-wife, nor did it appear she was emotionally stuck on him.
Still though, in the LW’s case it’s impossible for us to know how far along in the process he really is, and he could be anywhere between “still with his wife but lying about it” to “totally over it and just needs to sign one last document.” But it sounds like he’s got a lot of emotional work to do before he can fully commit to a new relationship, and it seems like he wants her to do that work for him.
I’ve been separated for three years. We’re still legally married due to financial issues (no lawyer money and DIY is extremely difficult with us living in different states). I’ve been upfront about it with new dates simply because that’s something I would side eye if it was withheld from me. And I don’t hold it against people who don’t feel right dating me because of it.
Right there with you, lauraflute. It’s not the best place to be but it’s moving away from worse. And you have my sympathies on the different states thing. I hope we can get things wrapped up before it goes there.
Agreed. I know in Australia to get divorced you have to be able to prove that you’ve been separated for at least a year. So yes… getting divorced IS “still married” but just those words don’t tell us *how* married.
Yes and if you have to go to court for any part of the process (parenting orders, property settlements) you are looking at 2+ years before you are legally not-married.
Monica, if you are talking about Australia, kids and property issues are separate to the divorce. You can be divorced after a 12 month separation, whether or not you have final orders etc about property or kids.
Yes, the technical-spouse is definitely a thing.
I live in New York, where (until very recently) the process of getting divorced in any but the most obviously at-fault situations in existence would always, always go at the pace of an unusually slow snail. And sometimes that means someone becomes unfindable before the legal divorce could go through. From what I understand, this was also a thing for a slightly older-than-me generation where someone who came out and left to be with a same-sex partner might not bother to go through the formality of divorcing a previous opposite-sex spouse since it wasn’t like they could marry the same-sex partner, after all.
I once dated a lovely lady who was in that position, in fact. Throwing the money at the problem of tracking technical-husband down to try to get him to sign the papers and then pay for filing the papers to get them unmarried was not at the top of her things-I-must-do list with the limited resources she had. (Maybe two years after she and I broke up, when she started dating a lovely gentleman from somewhere not the United States and realized he’d need immigration paperwork, she actually DID finish getting divorced from technical-husband.)
Not the same situation as “well, I’m, um, getting a divorce! REALLY!” – THAT richly deserves all the side-eye it gets. But I can see where, “Oh crap, right, I’m still technically married to that person I haven’t seen in four years, even though we were only together for eight months after the wedding and I totally do not think about this in the day-to-day…” might not be top-of-mind material when connecting with a potential new partner.
You have to have lived apart for four of the preceeding five years to get a divorce in ireland. So separated can be very definitely that here.
Mind you as a veteran of internet dating, my personal rule (forged through very bitter experiences) was that I would never date anyone unless he had been living apart from his wife for at least a year.
“four of the preceeding five years”? I’m just imagining “yeah, we lived apart for 18 months, then decided to move back in together for a year, but that actually did turn out to be a bad idea.” Bleah.
I’ve also dated a “technically married” guy. His wife had left a year before, moved to another state, but they’d never finished the paperwork for various reasons. And then it took almost 3 years to finish it because she kept just never doing her half of the paperwork (plus she’d moved to the middle of nowhere, so even express mail took forever to reach her).
I think the difference is, we didn’t spend so much time dealing with his divorce as we did dealing with the new relationship. There was great enthusiasm for this new thing from both of us. I’m just not hearing that enthusiasm here.
I’m not saying it can’t work. Technically Married Guy has been my Mr. Bells for 10 years now. But this particular case … just does not seem like it is working.
It sounds like the ‘still married’ was clear quite early on, and I’m honestly not convinced it’s necessary to share that information immediately. Early on, yes; in the initial contact, no. I also feel that way about religion, rehab, and having a kid.
Prison and house arrest are a completely different story, both because they have strong moral implications and because they have very practical implications. The others, though? I don’t think it’s necessary to disclose right off the bat that you’re waiting for marriage, recovering from an addiction, or have a child… or, for that matter, that you struggle with a mental illness, have massive amounts of student debt, or still live at home.
It is information that probably should come out sooner rather than later, because for some people, those will be dealbreakers. However, I don’t think that it needs to be the first date, and I don’t think that people who choose not to immediately disclose very personal information are putting their desires before other people’s boundaries in a deeply wrong and unacceptable way.
Yes, yes. Are these things large parts of my life, and is something wrong if I never mention them? Yes. But you’re not dating my religion, you’re not dating my kid, you’re not dating my sponsor.
Can I just say that “you are not the one with the most stuff to prove right now” is something I probably need to be reminded of before every date?
That part really really resonated for me too!
Those kinds of lines make me wish fervently that I could go back in time and give CA columns to my younger self.
Seconded. Me circa four years ago is saying, “PREACH.”
This sounds almost exactly like my current partner. We’ve been dating a year and have just moved in. Its the healthiest relationship I’ve ever been in.
That said we were friends while he was still married, and my bullshit detector is pretty finely tuned. Ultimately you have to go with your gut.
Also I think its cynical to an extreme to say that he hid his marital status for a few dates. Thats not something you put in you OKC profile because what reasonable women is going to go out with a married man before she knows the circumstances?
But “supporting him to help him work through what he needs to work through” isn’t your job.
Spot on advice. It doesn’t mean you have to leave the guy! But your relationship is so young and it’s just too early for this. Ease it back sweetpea, and good luck.
Thanks. I think some of the advice is coming from an incomplete picture (it was hard to fit this into 450 words!), but that was an especially useful reminder as it’s a pattern I fall into a lot with a lot of people in my life when I’m not looking out for it. Most of the time we’ve spent together has been very nice, fun and makes me feel really good, so I’m going to just try and control the emotional comfort-bot part of my personality, pay attention to helpful boundaries, and have fun 🙂
Sounds like a good plan 🙂
Hey, LW. I’m about to engage in a bit of extrapolation and projection, so if none of this applies to you or the situation (you know what’s happening better than I do!) please ignore me.
I think one dangerous thing about the “put yourself first! don’t put yourself out for this guy!” is that it’s so easy to hear just “put yourself first,” and think, “Well, what I WANT is to be with this guy, so I will put myself first by doing whatever I have to do to stay with him.” So, with that in mind, I want to try another tack: and that is, LW, that you may not even be helping this guy you like by being his emotional support.
At the end of the day, he has to learn how to cope — with being alone, with the end of a relationship, with his fears and broken hopes and abbreviated dreams — he has to learn to cope with all of that BY HIMSELF. Because even if you are the most giving and loving and most compassionate and fiercest girlfriend ever in the history of girlfriends (and I pretty much think you would be!), and even if he is really the super awesome guy who is not being manipulative or weird and is just injured, there will come a time when you cannot be there. And then instead of standing shakily on his own, which is what you are probably expecting, he is going to reach for you, and fall. And holy fuck, he will fall hard. And he will blame you for that fall, because as far as he knows you being there to hold him up, to support him, was not the above-and-beyond that you understood it to be — it was the new normal for him, and you suddenly yanking something out from underneath him seems not your right but cruel and withholding. You can see the problems with this from your end, I hope! But also: this is not going to help him. It will take him so much longer to really heal, because instead of doing the requisite labor, he was relying on someone else to do it.
I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, so I am on Team “Dude, I’m not feeling this right now — look me up in six months if you’re still interested/around.” Because even if he’s amazing, he needs to get his shit straight, and you need to be spending your time with someone who gives you no doubts about how amazing YOU are — and maybe that person is yourself.
This whole comment, YES. But especially this part: “And he will blame you for that fall, because as far as he knows you being there to hold him up, to support him, was not the above-and-beyond that you understood it to be — it was the new normal for him, and you suddenly yanking something out from underneath him seems not your right but cruel and withholding.”
YES. Too much care taking leads to too much dependence leads to too much expectation leads to being taken for granted in very painful ways. In my own version of this dynamic, when the shit hit the fan for me and I was unable to care taken/needed some care taking in return, I was repeatedly told I was selfish and that being around me was exhausting because I asked so much of him. NEVER AGAIN.
Aw, thanks. Sadly I’m not speaking from the support side, but the side who was supported. I went through a bad spell last year. The (weirdly emotionally intimate) friendship that bit it during that time was the one where (so far as I could tell — not exactly an unbiased observer here) the guy tried to be all things at all times for me, but he burnt out really suddenly. For me it was like hitting a brick wall — to go from having him accessible by text and email all the time, doing one or two things with me every week, to suddenly having him totally cut me off.
Seriously, LW — for your sake and for dude’s sake, be very, very cautious about the expectations you set up for how you will support him. It feels much less harsh to be pretty reserved at the beginning and slowly commit a bit more to his needs, as opposed to throwing your whole self behind him and then having to violently extricate yourself when his problems get to be too heavy.
Reading your blog is more rejuvenating than splashing water on my face. ❤
Chiming in with my experience:
In the past, relationships always felt like work to me. Listening to someone talk my ear off about the most inane things. Managing my partner’s moods. Putting up with a myriad of minor insults and injuries, and not speaking up for fear of being the uncool one who gets upset about little stuff. For all that codependency is an easy trap to fall into, it’s actually a lot of effort to keep up. I was convinced that this was just the way relationships work.
Looking back on it, a red flag I’ve noticed is when a lot of issues seem to be cropping up at the beginning of a relationship, but you tell yourself: I just have to support this person through these difficult times that just coincidentally are happening right now, and then things will be back to normal, and normal will be better…
Nope. You’ve just walked in on “normal.” Get used to it! It didn’t just happen by coincidence that their life turned messy the minute you walked in with a mop.
Now, after taking some time to heal, I am with someone new… and I am SHOCKED at how easy it is. Absolutely flabbergasted. External circumstances might be challenging, sure, but the dynamic between us is peaceful and easy with a natural give-and-take. I never thought this would be possible!
I had to go through a lot of bad matches before I found someone I could be like this with. What I’m trying to say, LW, is that you don’t have to stop seeing this dude altogether if you enjoy his company, but if you find yourself having to ask “is this really working?,” that means it’s not working. When it works, it won’t feel like work.
Ditto on the flabbergast. That first healthy dynamic was even kinda frightening. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop because how was it possible for things to actually be that easy?
Yes! Me too.
I let a terrible ex-friend try to goad Spouse into bad behavior so we could see “how he handled his anger” (firmly and politely).
Because lovers are only nice to you until they know they ‘have you’.
“It didn’t just happen by coincidence that their life turned messy the minute you walked in with a mop.”
Heheheh. Excellent phrasing.
Same! My husband and I always talk about how bewildered we are when we hear people talking about how “marriage is WORK” and you have to “work at it every day.” Umm… no? We’ve been together going on nine years now and it has never felt like “work.” We have disagreements and problems to deal with, sure, but being together and loving each other is so damn easy.
Yes! Marriage is “work” because we are humans and sometimes we argue, and sometimes we really want to be selfish, and sometimes we have to make imperfect compromises, and those things can be hard. But my daily life with my husband doesn’t feel like a chore or a job and loving each other is not something we have to put on the to-do list.
Hearts for this!
This also strikes a chord with me. All my impressions of what dating “should” be like were formed from pop culture (rom-coms, chick-lit, women’s mags, Sex & The City etc.) where it seemed like relationships required you to sit around with your best friends analysing what he REALLY MEANT when he replied to your long message about meeting up that weekend with a text that said “:)” and then you didn’t hear from him for a week. My friends and I went over every communication from a date like we were like a bunch of amateur archaeologists decoding the Rosetta Stone. I found myself practising a war of attrition with whomever I was dating. If he contacted me on Tuesday, I would not reply until Wednesday. If he didn’t reply to that until Friday, then I wouldn’t get back in touch until Monday. In my head I called it The Battle Of Who Could Care Less after the Ben Folds Five song (I have no idea if this is what the song is actually about – the title just fit!). I spent my dating life in a constant state of feeling like I was in competition with the person I was seeing for the coveted You Need Me More Than I Need You title, and I thought this was normal because all the magazines and the books said it was and I was young and inexperienced and had nothing else to compare it to.
Then I met someone who really liked me. If I texted or emailed him, he replied quickly. He rang me just to talk to me. If he saw me on Friday, he would still want to see me again on Saturday. He didn’t care who was the last one to make contact – he just got in touch. The Captain once wrote People Who Like You Will Act Like They Like You, and he acted like he liked me and wanted to spend time with me. It was SO EASY, and I was totally shocked that it could be so straightforward. We’re broken up now for differing-life-goals reasons, but we were together for four years and he never once acted like there should be a “winner” in the way that we communicated. Yes, we had to work at the relationship in other ways, but it was never a competition about who needed the other one the least. It’s the first thing I look for now, and it seems so obvious in retrospect, but I had to learn it the hard way.
Dear thegirlfrommarz, today you are apparently me, and I ❤ everything you have said here. Theseadays I jump on the NOPE rocket at the first sign of shenanigans like this, but boy did I learn that lesson the long way round, and holy moly am I grateful to the man who showed me that genuine mutual respect completely destroys any need for mind games. We are also broken up now, but after a several month breather he became one of my best friends, and this is one of the many, many reasons why.
This is so weird. I don’t remember writing this, and I’ve never used “lightstheway” as a username, and yet there is my relationship history, right there in front of the world!
It’s kind of heartening to know I’m not the only one who thought and behaved this way, but also sad how much so many of us have suffered just by trying to do the right thing and trying to be worthy of love. I hope the LW takes all of this to heart and avoids that.
I used this line once when I meant “I’m afraid you might feel used.” But there are many differences. One of which – an important one, I think – was that it was called out immediately, giving me a chance to rephrase and reassure.
Mr Goldfish and I were best friends when I broke up with my violent first husband and within a few days – certainly before I had a chance to leave the marital home – Mr Goldfish and I declared our long held romantic feelings for one another. Life would have been far far simpler if we’d avoided this, remained friends and then got together six months later – at least when the worst of the PTSD, harassment and actual danger had passed. But the love cat was out of the bag, so to speak.
As it was, for much of this early period, while we were getting to know one another in sexual and romantic ways, our lovey dovey happy times were interspersed with my extremely needy, stressed, scared and angry times. I didn’t share it out, either – I should have spoken to friends and family as well as Mr Goldfish, but I was ashamed and afraid of judgment, so most of it fell on him. It felt like I was doing all the taking and none of the giving, thus my feeling that I was taking advantage – even though my feelings for Mr Goldfish rendered all previous romantic feeling inconsequential.
*But*, we continued to behave like the friends we were – if anyone isn’t treating you at least as well as you’d expect from a friend, they’re not partner material. Our time together wasn’t even mostly about my problems, and I wasn’t the only one allowed to have problems. You say,
“Ideally, I would be there supporting him to help him work through what he needs to work through for us to have a great and fulfilling relationship that lasts for a while and leaves both of us happier”
This almost sounds like, “I’ve met this nice guy who has surprised me with his marital status, but I think if I am good enough, patient enough and work hard enough, I will be rewarded with a great and fulfilling relationship.”
You’re not saying, “I have a great and fulfilling relationship – if something very casual so far – and hope that this new information doesn’t throw a spanner in the works and kill this excited fluttery thing I’ve got going just now.”
There’s a limit to how much work a relationship should take, but there’s a much smaller limit to how much work it should take before it’s even really started.
The entire unedited summary of my feelings right now would be something like: “I haven’t gotten on so well with someone I just met in a while, who is smart and nice and funny, and who makes me feel smart and nice and funny. Darn it, I wish there weren’t these emotional clouds lingering from a previous relationship that he’s trying to move on from, since it’ll probably be hard for him, and how does that affect this maybe relationship and how nice it feels?” It feels like a jinx to call it great and fulfilling, since we hardly know each other, but it seems like it could be?
Just a few words of caution to those saying “OMG not divorced yet??” – you are likely speaking from the privilege of living in a country or state where divorce is easy, cheap and quick. The fact of not yet having filed the papers does NOT necessarily mean that the relationship is not 100% over, or that deception is afoot; it could just be that the still-technically-married party has not had the spare $$$ for the legal proceedings yet and views it as a rather cosmetic box-ticking procedure, rather than The Most Important Thing. In the UK, for example, there is no no-fault divorce option so it can take up to five years after separation before a divorce is even legally possible, by which point a lot of people would be wondering why they’d even need to bother. Absent joint financials to extricate oneself from or new partners that might need marrying soon, it can seem like rather a waste of time and money.
Personal experience: I’m separated for two and a half years now and would be baffled if someone thought that this meant I wasn’t “available” simply by virtue of still having a marriage certificate rattling around in a drawer somewhere.
Very true, it does have a legal and cultural context.
Some of my dearest, most happily married friends got together before one or the other partner’s divorce was final. This isn’t “poop on not-yet-divorced people day.” If it’s so not an issue as to not be an issue, then proceed!
But for the LW, it IS an issue. And it’s okay if that’s an issue. It’s okay to be “unfair” in choosing a partner.
Yeah, I read it that way too – a lot of people are assuming he was being deceptive, but we don’t know that. My ex took forever to file the papers. By the time we were legally divorced, I’d had a few lovers and started a couple of important relationships. They knew I was still legally married, but it honestly wasn’t particularly important to any of us. The paperwork lags behind sometimes.
It does sound like the LW’s fella is in a rather freshly not-yet-divorced place, though. Which matters a lot more than the legalities.
My ex waited until the day before I would have gotten the divorce by default to show up with a lawyer and begin foot-dragging procedures. And he did that every time a deadline approached. And that divorce still didn’t take as long as Mr. Bells’ did, where his ex just kept losing paperwork even though she was the one who’d left him for someone else.
Agreed. When I met my husband, he and his ex had been separated for several years but had not had the divorce finalized yet. The divorce happened about two years later and he and I got married three months later.
While you are 100% correct that there are completely legitimate reasons someone may be not-divorced-on-paper…..there are reasons that aren’t about privilege or legal entanglement.
I really appreciate people bringing in the non-U.S. perspectives on this because it wasn’t even something I considered. I can see where having to wait 5 years for paperwork to come through would seem unreasonably long to wait to start dating. On the other hand, it sounds like for the LW, this guy isn’t emotionally past his marriage, either, and he really ought to work that out for himself before getting involved with someone else and dumping that on her.
And as the Captain said, if it’s an issue for the LW, it’s an issue. I am sitting here next to my husband of more than 16 years. I started dating him while he was still married to someone else. Obviously that marriage was over, emotionally. He had moved to another state from her before I even met him. But the hell of his divorce was hell on me, too. His ex used all kinds of threats and manipulation to get him to do what she wanted (“If I find out you’ve been sleeping around, I’ll make sure your children never see their father again,” etc.) She dragged things out extra long (they had to file in her state because she had the kids). If I could do it all over again, even though I love my husband very much, even though I want to grow old with him, even though I love our life together, I would tell him, “I really like you, and I want to date you, but I need you to be not-married before that happens.” I would never in a million years do it again the way I did before.
Clearly, other people have experiences dating married folks that differ substantially from my own, but I would urge the LW to be cautious.
My parents stayed legally separated for 10 years so that my mom could benefit from my dad’s health plan while she was very sick. Both of my parents felt that they were basically divorced. They had a legal settlement on paper with the help of lawyers and had no desire to resume their relationship. For their potential new partners though, that was sometimes a sticking point. It’s definitely something people have to talk through carefully that’s tied in to trust issues. I think a lot of people feel like their partner isn’t fully focusing on them in that situation, and that’s really up to each individual whether it’s fair or not.
Oh gosh, I am seeing a different red flag in this letter that no one has mentioned yet, and I’m pretty worried about it. When the LW describes the guy’s marriage as “mutually destructive, maybe verbally abusive” – I am not sure whether the “mutually” was meant to apply to both parts of that construction, and I am scared that it was. Studies have shown that there is almost never such a thing as “mutual” abuse – sometimes both people do things that are not ok behaviors, but there is one person who is using that as a pattern of coercive control. If this guy is telling the LW things that indicate to her that the relationship may have been “mutually” verbally abusive, I am very concerned that that may mean that *he* was abusive of his wife and his cover of it is to claim that it was mutual. When this is combined with the other red-flag things in this letter…well. Be careful!
Oooh, good point.
Yes, that set off the warning sirens for me too. Mutually abusive = she defended herself when she was abused does not equal his claim of “mutually abusive”.
And even if she abused him as much as he abused her…he STILL abused her!
I missed this as well. Interesting point. Do you have info about the people who did these studies, name of a study? I’d like to learn more about this.
I know that Lundy Bancroft discusses this in the book “Why Does He Do That?”
I was really trying to read that charitably – mutually destructive, but verbally abusive only on one side – but you’re right that that’s a possible reading of it, and honestly, after re-reading a few times I’m having trouble reading it charitably. If the relationship was “mutually abusive” then I think the LW needs to get the fuck away from this guy ASAP.
Ok, I didn’t want to chime in on this, but as there are several comments now: It can mean three things, actually: He was abusive, she was abusive and he does take on the blame or both of them were in a very bad dynamic and he hasn’t worked through it yet. Only LW can tell which one it is (and if in doubt, I recommend Lundy Bancroft’s “Why does he do that” too, because it will help you suss out whether he is treating you ok or there’s something else – apart from the problems raised in the letter – going on).
In any case, it is important information insofar as he is not only in the middle of a divorce, but the emotional baggage is potentially much bigger than “I feel bad because I loved someone and it didn’t work out”. It could be “I don’t respect my partners and I’m using you right now.” It could be “I was in an emotionally abusive relationship, but I’m not ready to face it.” Or some of both. And no matter the actual situation (who abused whom), LW shouldn’t have to be his therapist, that’s really too much to ask (and potentially dangerous if he was the abusive one).
LW, I think it would do some good to take a break and ask him to get back to you in 6 months and reevaluate whether you still want him then. Maybe he doesn’t agree to or doesn’t respect the break = run. Maybe you’ll find out that you are not as emotionally drained when you don’t have to work at this new thing all the time = stay single/date someone else. Maybe you’ll feel that something very important is missing in your life if he isn’t there and he’ll be in much better and giving shape then = maybe try again.
(The reason why I’m not outright saying that he was probably abusive is that he said “mutually abusive” while abusive men often scapegoat their ex partner in the worst way, not thinking for one second that they could be at fault.)
Agreed, this one stood out more than any of the other signs as something to possibly run, run far away from.
Someone else mentioned that it could mean one of three things (he’s abusive, she’s abusive, bad dynamic) and I agree.
Abusers are often very charismatic, generous, and popular people… in public. They offer compliments and favours and puff themselves up as impressive people, and will often pretend to be more skilled/popular/busy/insert favourable trait here/ than they really are.
They are also incredibly skilled forced teamers – their problem will be your problem if they have any say in it, but it will be your responsibility to make it right and your fault if it goes wrong (even if there is literally nothing you can do about it!).
They can be the missing stair in their group of friends (and if it is a long-standing friend circle, they probably are) and they will take advantage of it; bad habits become cute quirks, and I’m such a good friend are you telling me you can’t handle this one tiny habit you don’t like even after all I’ve done for you?!
Depending on how this abusive relationship went on, this guy might not even really know which side he’s on. If he is the abuser, he will deny it until he is blue in the face and his story will probably shift to, ‘But it was actually her doing all the bad stuff!’. Coming to terms with his ex-wife being abusive and admitting that fact is one thing, but denying he ever did anything bad and it was all her fault anyway and being really really defensive is a sign to stop and ponder if there are any other red flags.
If he is the abused, he may very well be convinced that it was partially his fault and could parrot this rather than have to do the hard thinking to come to another conclusion. ‘I made her do it’, ‘This wouldn’t happen if I just did X better’, ‘She’s really short tempered and it’s my fault I make her explode’ are pretty common feelings, and I know from first-hand experience that it can take a long time of processing and distance from the relationship to really understand that no, it was never your fault.
If the relationship was either She’s the Abuser or Really Bad Dynamic, there’s also a chance that this is the only relationship dynamic he knows and even if he’s really a good guy, he may have very bad habits that will stick around until he has the time and energy to sort through all the mess that leaving a bad relationship leaves you with.
Regardless of who is abusing who, or what the situation really is, in my mind this one detail is a giant flashing neon billboard of Slow Down.
This was honestly the most red-flaggy thing about the guy to me, too. Even if he wasn’t abusive, somebody just getting out of a relationship that’s destructive, toxic, and abusive is not necessarily a great person to be getting involved with, particularly if you’re going in with a “I must be your moral support!” mindset.
I read that as “the relationship was mutually destructive; also, it may have been abusive,” and assumed LW meant “and she may have abused him,” a reading which is much more favorable to LW’s boyfriend.
I commented below, but I probably should not have used the word “abusive.” They said things to each other that were hurtful, which is one of the things he is dealing with with a therapist, but he is sometimes caught by surprise when I say nice things about him or offer to be supportive in what to me seem like very basic ways, like going to a thing he cares about because he cares about it, and I guess she never went to that thing?
@ fluffyspectacular . . . and I second that.
I third, when I was divorcing my ex he told everyone I abused him, nothing could be further from the truth. I defended myself from his abuse, his version was that I was controlling and abusive to him, that I had anger management issues. 3 dates is not enough to have full trust in the guys stories. Action matters way more than the narrative. I have a dirty lense, so caveat.
comment didn’t post, I agree it’s something to consider – short time knowing the guy, no trustometer established.
OH HAVE I BEEN THIS PERSON WHO HAS THESE THINGS JEN IS DESCRIBING HAPPEN TO HER. AND I DO NOT INTEND TO BE THIS PERSON AGAIN YES THAT IS MY INTENT. PURSUIANT TO THAT GOAL:
I have a handy list of things that are emotionally supportive and emotionally good for a lot of people a lot of the time, and that are rarely the kind of support I was thinking about when I had the EXACT SAME SELF-CONVERSATION many, many, many times:
1) Being around people who expect to have healthy boundaries and who hold you to them. Letting you share your EXFEELINGS with me practically while making out? Not real good for people a lot of the time.
2) Being around people who help you relax and have fun and try cool things and go neat places? Really good for most of us a lot of the time.
3) Being around people who discuss expectations when it’s time to discuss them? Yep. Really very good. If you can’t answer “well what level of interaction WOULD make you feel like you’re not using me? Let’s dial back to that for the duration of your period of doubt?” with a real answer? Hm.
4) Being around people who aren’t willing to invest too much of themselves in you when you’re not sure you can give them what they want in terms of a relationship? Who don’t think of it as “I support you know and you in reciprocity will give me a happy relationship later?” Yep.
5) Having partners you are proud and excited about and aren’t your secret preference/ springboard to better things when you are worthy of something better? Yep yep yep. Super good for us, I would expect.
6) Being with people who want to have their time and energy respected and respect and appreciate yours? Yep! That’s a good environment to be in.
7) Being with people who tell you “this isn’t acceptable I need something different- a change in our relationship or the end of it will both be options if they have to?” because sometimes stuff doesn’t work? Alas, that’s probably really good for us even when it suuuucks.
8) People who believe what you say? Yep. You say you are afraid you will use me? Then you need a plan to demonstrably not use me. It’s really important to have people take you and the things you have to say seriously. If you don’t mean something serious like that? Don’t say it. Because I believe you! It’s important!
9) Being with people who can (to carry the tree analogy above along) grow their own love-sapling and know that the best support you can give is the support that creates an environment where you can grow yourself, too? Where you are held to a standard of good behavior and treated with compassion and kindness and respect and have fun and learn cool things? Many people often find that very useful.
That is the kind of support I can offer to partners. The fact that the support for them is also support for me is… not even a little bit of a coincidence, let’s be honest here. If that’s not the support you need from your dates? That’s okay. I understand. But I am not the person for you right now.
i just wanna say this is a really good list! I’ll bookmark this comment for future reference 🙂 It seems like numbers 2-9 naturally flow out of number 1: having healthy boundaries & expecting others to have the same. I would maybe add an 11: a partner/potential partner to be able to recognise when they need help & support that you can’t provide [because it would be incompatible with point 1] & putting in the effort to get that help. As a partner [or close friend or whatever] there are things I can do to make this easier [encouraging, “you can do it-ing”, being extra sensitive around difficult appointments etc] but it shouldn’t have to be at the expense of point 1, especially not in a new/newish relationship. Maybe point 11a: would be something like being able to recognise that only THEY can work thru their own emotions, not you.
This is a very good list and I plan on using it now and forever. Happily, I think this is the kind of support he wants and I want, so if we can both actually follow through with this kind of behavior, I think things will be alright.
I… had a comment disappear into the ether (spam filter? I dunno, it was long) but the PS is a standalone:
If the kind if support someone needs in the moment is the kind that takes this much work because shit is happening and it’s really hard?
That’s a good time for them to get support from a person who already loves them a whole lot and knows they will benefit when their good friend is sparkling self. But as starting points go? It is a really big gamble on distribution of future support resources.
I totally agree with this. LW, I do not mean this in a mean way to you – but I get the impression from your letter that you’re kind of looking at this guy as a fixer upper. Just because you put in the work – and it could be a LOT of work – of putting on a new roof, re-doing the kitchen and painting the walls doesn’t mean this guy will be yours. That’s not a fair expectation to place on him.
In my humble opinion, when forming a relationship, it needs to be based on the person as they are now – not on the potential you see.
I think trying to be this guy’s white knight is a disservice to both of you.
I have nothing to add, really, to the Captain’s advice, other than a wish I could print it out, go back 25 years, and save myself a lot of heartache.
I say this with almost every Captain column. Sigh.
I am dating a fellow I met right after he split with a long-term toxic girlfriend. LW, your situation involved pretty much everything that would have been a big red flag for me when my BF and I first started seeing each other.
In my situation, BF was honest from the get-go that he had just come out of a serious relationship that ended on bad terms. No further mention was made of it until several dates in, when the topic became impossible to avoid (she reacted poorly when she discovered he had moved on.) Only then did he detail anything to me, and he was 100% clear how embarrassed and mortified he was. Even when we got more serious, and even though the ex kept attempting to reinsert herself into his life for a little while so we’d talk about her fairly often, he avoided dumping FEELINGSBOMBS on me. I later discovered he was in therapy for a little while to help him deal with that breakup and the aftermath. So he was dealing with plenty of emotions, but he kept me out of it because I was not his therapist, I was the new girl he really liked and didn’t want to use as an emotional garbage disposal. I didn’t get pulled into the gritty details of how she was abusive, how much she messed with his life, how terrible she was to him etc until *months* into our relationship, when we’d become close enough to share that kind of deep emotional stuff with each other.
I really mistrust how this guy is dumping so much on you three dates in. It’s exciting to meet someone you click with, I know. I’m a twenty-something who rarely dated too, so I understand the butterflies. But for your own sake, don’t give this guy any allowances just because he’s THERE. If your gut says something is off, and if he keeps iterating how he feels he is using you–listen, and maybe don’t stick around to see if it’ll all pan out.
from my experience ..part of the problem in being the caring, nice, nurturing I’m-going-to-listen-to-all-your-problems and be uber understanding, is that it is exhausting
it never ever leaves you space to have a problem, or even vent about your shitty day, because your partner is going through such a tough time. It also makes it really hard to ask anything of them because they are going through a tough time, and if they behave like an ass, it’s difficult to call them on it, because the are going through a tough time..
those ‘tough time’ restrictions can choke out any fun, liveliness and spontaneity from the early days when it should all be about the fun and joy.
I used to feel that I had to have a perma-smile on my face, I felt that I had to do everything to make him happy and comfortable, his favourite foods, sex on tap (for his pleasure only,)…everything was all about him…and given that I already had shaky self-esteem all that love and devotion showered on someone else, with little coming back to me..made me feel worse about me.
And as someone said very eloquently further up in the thread, ultimately do don’t do them any favours in being perfect supportive girlfriend. The support that you offer means that they don’t have to go through the wretched grief and sadness of the end of something that was significant..they are not forced to confront the things that they did wrong in the relationship. I believe that we all need time alone after a significant relationship, to regroup, reconnect with ourselves, rediscover what it is like to be alone…in doing this work, we become stronger and hopefully become better partners.
LW I know how soul destroying internet dating can be, meeting so many people that appear nice on the screen, but that are totally different in real life, or the ones that are perfectly nice in realife but there is no click…and when you meet someone who is nice and fits the bill, you so desperately want this one to work out, so you don’t ever have to date again.
someone wise once said to me, the more you keep holding the door open to this one person, the more firmly you hold all of the other doors closed to anyone else coming in.
“someone wise once said to me, the more you keep holding the door open to this one person, the more firmly you hold all of the other doors closed to anyone else coming in.”
Thank you for this, from the bottom of my oneitis-prone heart.
STORY TIME. Relevant, I hope. Mr Hypotenuse & I have been together, um…a long time now, married for almost 13 years. We got together as I was trying, with weird results, to get out of another (serious, headed-for-marriage) relationship. (Like, the guy was not getting that I was attempting to break up with him, and I still don’t know if I was not great at breaking up or he was willfully mishearing me or what?)
Several times shortly after we got together I worried out loud at Mr Hypotenuse that he was more attached to me than I was to him, that I wasn’t into a relationship, etc.
He acknowledged my feelings, but also said that was for ME to decide and ME to deal with and while he could assure me of his own feelings and his own emotional responsibility for said feelings, only I could wrangle my own.
Eventually I got them wrangled, and it was fine, but — I think it’s important that he didn’t take responsibility for my emotional work. He clearly cared, and he communicated that, but also communicated that my feelings and decisions were my feelings and decisions.
I think it’s easier for male-gendered persons to do this than female-gendered ones, because socialization blahblah. But it was REALLY USEFUL and means that I got my head & heart straightened out FOR ME, without using him as a crutch.
What I am saying is, this kind of emotionally weird situation can work out, and work out really well, but it won’t work out if he can’t do his own emotional heavy lifting.
Thanks, that is definitely a relevant story with useful and actionable advice 🙂
Yeah, I would proceed with extreme caution here. I’m not saying that a rebound can’t turn into a good relationship–both my husband and I had just gotten out of serious relationships when we got together. I was still living with my ex at that point, and let me tell you how much fun that was. We’ve been together for eight years. I know that it can work out!
The first few dates, the getting-to-know-you phase? That should be fun. You should be looking forward to spending time with this guy because you have such a damn good time with him, because he cracks you up or does sweet romantic things or just totally gets your opinions on Stargate: Atlantis–whatever your particular flavor of romance is. It should be about you and him. It should not be about you, him, and his ex. You should not be spending your fun date time, at this point, grooming him into the sort of person who’s capable of having the kind of relationship you’re looking for. Either he is, or he isn’t. If he is, you don’t need to ‘fix’ him; if he isn’t, you won’t be able to anyway.
First, the Captain and Army are spot on (as usual) in pointing out the pit falls of this relationship with this guy.
Second, you have time. Please ignore me if I’m wrong, but your letter read as if you felt that this guy was the first since forever and maybe your last chance. He’s not your last chance. He’s not the best you can find.
From what you’ve written, he’s a (maybe) decent guy whose most recent relationship was a disaster. Your friend-in-common didn’t describe him as a louse. But I didn’t note you saying that your friend thought he was the best thing since sliced bread.
Under the circumstances, I’d strongly consider believing that he’s not going to be much fun for you, and to hold out for someone who is.
J.Preposterice makes a great point about how this can be tough for people who have been socialized to perform as women in our society. I resisted marriage for years because I was afraid that if I did, I would be trapped in the role of wife and I would start to perform the wife activities – cooking for him – his favorite dishes! Being available for conversation, sex, comfort whenever he needed it, but never having needs of my own. Arranging my life so that he would be able to live as he wanted and achieve what he needed, regardless of what it cost me.
I did these things even though I didn’t get married; and after I did, ironically, there was less pressure to do them. None of the things I did to prove that I was a good performing woman ever bore the fruit I wanted – I never got a reward for giving good wife. I got no reward for putting my needs aside or putting his first.
I’m not saying that we don’t have a good relationship, that our partnership doesn’t work, or that it’s not worth it to make compromises for your partner(s). We do have all of those things. But the things that I did because I thought I had to do them, those things were never rewarded. Only being real with the actual other person in my relationship was met with answering and complementary care and loving.
Yeah, LW, has anyone else suggested asking Mutual Friend for her take on the situation, especially if they have any significant amount of Friend History? Because that seems like a thing that you could do?
Caveat emptor, if he’s a missing stair, her advice may not be reliable, but if she’s like “yeah we don’t hang out anymore because he turned out to be a jackass” then … well, you have some information.
Some quick notes from work, to address things I didn’t mention in my letter and answer a few questions in comments:
-His marital status isn’t on his profile, but he told me on date one when we were discussing religion and family in a getting-to-know-you context. More information and emotional content has come up from time to time, but he doesn’t talk about her or it too much, and mostly in the context of how he’s trying to become healthier and move on (lifestyle changes, talking to a therapist, etc.)
-Mutual friend is also a former ex of his who squee-ed when she found out we’d met; we’ve since hung out socially the three of us and it was really fun, plus provided fun things to tease him about. I haven’t asked her about his marriage.
-The legal mechanics of getting divorced are in process, but they don’t live together and are probably legally separated.
-According to him, the “using me” comment was out of fear that he’d been too forward and pressured me into some cuddling in my apt, as well as not wanting to move straight into a serious relationship because he’s still getting used to his self as independent from the previous relationship. He’s not using me for sex because we haven’t had sex or talked about having sex. I think I might’ve pushed HIM into the cuddling, but am trying to pay more attention to getting enthusiastic consent before I get cuddles.
-I apparently implied that he was regularly dumping feelings on me, which is not the case; I’m extrapolating the mutually destructive boarding on verbally abusive aspects of their marriage from passing comments on how they said hurtful things to each other (especially in the lead up to the divorce) and weren’t healthy for each other, plus self-esteem stuff that he has only mentioned in passing. Information of this nature has been shared with me in a “you should know I’m acting weird because __” way, not in a “help me deal with my feelings!” way. I maybe should not have used the word “abuse,” since I don’t really know; I meant no disrespect to people who have suffered real abuse, emotional and physical.
I’m glad to read all of your updates. I was more concerned that the “support”/”caretaker” role was how you were already seeing YOURSELF only a few dates in, as we actually didn’t have much information about how he was seeing you, and to be wary offering that without doing a little due diligence.
There’s sort of a delicate boundary, isn’t there, between being a caring person and falling into a “caretaker” role? I think of those sorts of skills as strengths of mine in general and aspects of my personality, but if taken too far they can definitely be unhealthy for me, here and in general. I don’t think this relationship or this guy is making me feel particularly that way, more like past dating experiences making me extra wary. Does that make sense?
As a gay man, I can tell you how I would read from someone saying “I feel like I might be using you,” or what I might mean if I said it–not that I’ve ever said that particular thing, but just extrapolating
To me, this translates to, “I like the attention, sex, validation [whatever he’s getting] that I’m getting from you. As long as you’re willing to keep doing that, great. But really, you’re coming on strong and I’m not wanting to plan our future life together. You’re more of a friend with benefits and an emotional support, but I have a lot of reservations about us being together long-term, at least at this point. As long as you’re OK with that then, cool, lets just keep on doing what we’re doing for now since the fringe benefits are good. This relationship is possibly just a temporary or friends-only, rather than long-term lovers thing for me but it seems like it may not be for you.”
I may be totally wrong since the information you gave is an inkblot test for people to read their own issues and views in. This is my bet about what he means, anyway. Other people have made different bets in the race, and they might be right, but I think they’re long shots.
Given that, I’d try to get him to elaborate on what he means so you can make the decision that is good for you, not just good for him. Sometimes it’s not malice or selfishness, but may be just hard for him to articulate or work through his feelings. You may have to help him and insist that he goes a little deeper in explaining. This may scare him off, but you sound like you don’t want a superficial relationship, so it seems ok to scare him off if he can’t handle a bit of pressure, right?
I agree with Captain Awkward in substance, though not in tone, about this possible warning only being a get-out-of-jail-free card on his part. I don’t really see how it’s all his responsibility to stop using you for sex and support if you’re also perfectly happy to keep using him for your fantasies about your future. It’s also your responsibility to examine what you’re getting out of it and not base the relationship on a fantasy of the future that is based on your wants and needs rather than a reality of what’s actually going on. That’s why it makes sense to find out. You don’t have to be Dorothea from Middlemarch and be a helper/friend/martyr for some guy who finds you convenient. Don’t try to start a relationship that is also based on your fantasy as well as his unwillingness to push his deeper (or not) feelings into the open.
(Really, that book needs to be required reading since it deals with many complexities of life and there is a reason Virginia Woolf called it “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people.”)
My advice is to get more information, and it you can’t get the information, I’d dial the seriousness of this relationship back a notch or two until you hear differently. Maybe it’s fine to date him or talk to him, but I wouldn’t go exclusive with him based on the signals I think I’m getting.
This was so timely. I met a great guy who is eight years younger than a couple weeks before this was posted, and last night he dropped the “You’re fun and hot and a great listener and I like fucking you, but I have more in common with this other girl who is my age who I met after you and never mentioned that I was also dating other people, but I want to keep bringing you my problems and fucking you.” I was crushed. Utterly crushed. I thought things were headed toward an exclusive relationship. Having this column fresh in my mind, and other columns about being The Cool Girlfriend, gave me the fortitude to put my big girl panties back on and break things off.
Long time reader/etc but “are you my mummy” is so perfect. If only I had enough nanogenes to make this relationship work!
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