#568: My fiance finds my anxiety and dream to live “anywhere but here” extremely inconvenient.

Dear Captain Awkward,

When I was laid off from ~the first job I ever loved~ earlier this year, it caused me to put every aspect of my life under a microscope.

I graduated from my small town university about two years ago, and this job was one of the most wonderful things to happen to me. My boss was a wonderful, inspirational person who gave me the opportunity to be creative within my position, and I felt valuable and needed. She had become like a mentor to me, as I had also studied her native language in college, and we shared many interests. Completely out of the blue, I got the word from her husband that they decided to sell the small business I worked for. I had no idea that this was even a possibility, and they didn’t even give me a heads up. I got a new job less than a month after they sold the company, which was a small relief. The new job is okay, but since I live in an area where there aren’t many jobs for young people, I had to settle for lower wages and a monotonous work environment.

When I was laid off, I was more depressed than I had been in years. Although I knew the selling of the company wasn’t my fault, I still felt like the entire world I’d built up wasn’t what I’d made it out to be. While I’ve recovered a bit, in my recovery, I started to wonder that maybe my life is going in a direction that isn’t really making me happy, and I’m not sure what to do about it.

This brings me to my next point. The man I’m engaged to (I’ll call him “T” here) is a wonderful, adventurous person, but we also still live in our small hometown. I feel like part of the reason my anxiety has been off the charts lately is that it’s a toxic environment for me to live in. Many people we know have gotten into drug addiction, have committed suicide, or get married and have children very young so we don’t see them often. Every time I travel, I notice that I feel so much happier in places that are basically anywhere but the place I attended high school and college in. I was also diagnosed with PTSD as a result of my previous boyfriend’s car accident that gave him permanent brain damage, so that memory still haunts my hometown, even if I’ve moved past my former boyfriend in a romantic sense.

I keep hinting that we could find a new town to live in, but T seems set on making our hometown work, since it’s cheap to live here and we’re doing okay financially with our current jobs. The thing is, while he has a few close friends that live near us, almost all of my friends live over an hour and a half away from me. I feel lonely, even though I have T’s company (we love to go hiking and camping together, he’s all about discussing feminist issues with me, and we’ve even has a great time traveling to another country!), and not having a support system outside of my fiance, dog, and parents has been difficult.

Then, an incident happened last week that made a side of my fiance come out that doesn’t show itself often, but isn’t pleasant when it presents itself. Driving tends to trigger panic attacks for me, and it took me years to be able to ride in a car without picturing my former boyfriend’s accident (we don’t have public transit where I live, unfortunately). I’ve since learned how to drive, but it is still difficult for me. When I was in a stressful driving situation last week in which I had to drive myself, T became frustrated and snapped at me. He thinks that telling me to drive myself *every time* is making me “strong,” but I explained that when I feel prone to an anxiety attack, me being on the road is not safe for anyone. While T is usually empathetic, sometimes the way he acts toward me when I’m having my panic attacks shifts dramatically between cold, confused, and supportive rapidly, even when I try to explain to him rationally what is happening, and what he can do to help. He works with children on the autism spectrum, and for some reason, I feel like he is trying to “condition” me the way he does his students, and I’ve tried to tell him “please don’t do that. I have a therapist who helps me with this just fine. I am able to help myself, and all I need is your support.”

Most of the people I know see me as a happy, outgoing person, and even my closest friends wouldn’t be able to guess that I’m going through a crisis. I’ve internalized most of it and don’t really know *how* to speak about it without melting down, because there’s so much conflicting within me. My therapist has been great when it comes to my anxiety attacks, but I also think input from someone else would be helpful. I’m trying to get my life in gear and figure out what I even want to do (I want to get into a different career, but I have no idea where to start, since I can’t afford grad school), but I am worried my life is going in a direction that doesn’t leave me a wide variety of options.


Quarter Life Crisis

Dear Quarter Life Crisis:

I want to trust that your fiancé is not a total tool and that his incredibly tool-ish behavior the other day was an outlier.


Was it really an outlier?

What other stuff is T. automatically always right about? In what other ways does he set himself up as an authority and your teacher? He’s the authority on where you should live, apparently. And also on how to manage your anxiety about driving. I just…hrmmmm…I think there might be more things where you want x and he wants y and he reasons you into wanting y (but you still want x, despite his very cogent arguments) so you resort to “hinting” about wanting to live elsewhere because the emotional transaction costs of saying “I want to move to a place with more economic diversity and good public transit that is still near enough to wilderness that we can camp and hike on the regular” are high and asserting “I would like us to save up together and try to make that move happen within the next year” is too scary. So what would happen if you stopped hinting and said “I understand all of your arguments for wanting to stay here, but I feel disconnected and unhappy here, and I want to at least try living somewhere else for a while. Can we talk seriously about what that would entail?

You say “Every time I travel, I notice that I feel so much happier in places that are basically anywhere but the place I attended high school and college in.” That is a good enough reason to  play the Anywhere But Here game. “We live too far from all of my friends, so I feel very lonely and isolated” is another good reason.

We talked a few weeks ago about looking for ways to connect with others in a small(ish) place. If you’re not already making an effort to meet more people where you live I want you to try going to a local Meetup of some kind in the next month or so. Even if you end up leaving, practicing the art of making new friends and finding some people to make your current situation less lonely will make you feel better overall. And I want you to try to go alone, without T. (even if he ends up giving you a ride).

I also want you to think about going down to visit your friends who live an hour and a half away for regular visits, and if possible, go without T. This doesn’t have to be something you’re doing Against T. or At T., but I think you would benefit from cultivating a support system and social life outside of him that is just your own. I think you would benefit from seeing your friends and having a long catch-up session with them where you can talk frankly about what’s going on in your life without having to edit what you want to coincide with what T. wants. You can love someone to bits and have a relationship that works very well and still benefit greatly from  require social interaction with other people. Spending all of your social time only with T. and with T’s friends is not good for either of you. It’s too much pressure!

We’ve also covered some ways to regroup after a setback and plan for a future move, when love is involved. There are lots of ways to handle moving somewhere new without grad school or a highly paid job, especially for a young, educated person with some work experience who is willing to try new things. The dream situation is that you have a highly paid job all lined up and that employer pays for your relocation costs. That is unfortunately not a common scenario for entry level employees in the current economic climate. But it’s far from the only scenario:

Method #1, or, How I Moved To Chicago With Two Suitcases and 1 Cat And $3500 in the bank during a recession:

  • Pick a place with good public transit and fairly inexpensive rent.
  • Find a cheap short-term sublet with roommates to get your feet wet for a few months, something in an established group house where you just need to bring clothes and very few household items.
  • Research the job market there heavily before you go. Maybe look for businesses similar to the one you used to work in!
  • Sign up with temp and staffing agencies in the city, look for jobs until you find something.

I’m not going to lie and say it was easy, but I did it and many of my friends have done it and it worked out fine in the end. If you couldn’t find work and needed to move back to your hometown, it sounds like your family and T. would be a safety net in helping you get re-established there. I have married friends who are doing exactly this: She went to dream new city to stay with friends they had there and try to get established, while he stayed at his steady, well-paid job. If/when she finds full-time work, he’ll follow. If she doesn’t find anything within a certain amount of time, she’ll come back and they’ll try again another time, maybe with him going first. Would T. be up for something like that?

Method #2: Volunteer

Apply to a volunteer service agency and get placed in the region where you want to be. If you’re in the U.S., Americorps has rolling placements in all kinds of agencies. If you are religious, The Jesuit Volunteer Corps (and other organizations like it, this is just one I know because friends have done it) can place you in communal living situations and set you up with work. Get work experience, feel like you are making a difference, be connected with other young people, have a roof over your head and food on the table. Again, it’s not easy, but it is possible.

Method #3: How Far Do You Want To Go?

I don’t have the direct experience to recommend or endorse a specific sponsoring organization, but what about teaching English abroad? It’s not for the faint of heart, but you sound like a born traveler with an adventurous heart. There would be steps in terms of training and red tape, but a round-trip ticket, pay, health insurance, housing, and time off for regional travel, etc. could be yours as well.

I put these out there to get you thinking and imagining. And maybe even planning. Because knowing how to drive is great, but I am 40 and I have never lived in a place where you must own a car as an adult. Lots of people want to use public transit for environmental or economic reasons, but those aren’t the only reasons. You could live near friends, in a place where public transit is common, where there are businesses like the place you loved working, for real.

Even if T. is a great dude and will be a great fit for you, if you are making your dreams smaller to conform to what you think he wants, and you don’t feel like you can even bring up the things you want without “hinting”*, there is some serious work to be done here before you pick a place to settle and before you marry anybody. Stop hinting. See what happens. Start researching places you might want to live. See what happens. Stop pretending to your friends and the other people closest to you that everything is great and you are happy where you are. See what happens.

The story where you feel like T. is trying to retrain you out of your anxiety is not a feel-good story. It’s actually a scary story, and the fact that you wrote to us about it means that your instincts are in good working condition and you know that it’s really, really wrong to behave that way. So I want to be sure to say, if that WAS a one-time thing and he really IS a great dude and a good fit for you, he will:

1) Support and encourage you in making new friends in your town.

2) Support and encourage you in visiting your old friends.

3) Listen to your hopes and thinking seriously about relocating without automatically shooting them down. He may have very good reasons for staying, but they are not automatically better, more logical reasons than you do for wanting to go. You should be able to ask for a periodic schedule of discussing the idea of moving without pushback.

4) This should have been #1: He will knock the pressuring you about driving thing RIGHT THE FUCK OFF. 

Edited to Add:


The above is what a good reaction from a partner looks like. The below paragraph is what a bad reaction would look like. After reading a bunch of comments, I realize that was far from clear. For the record, I do not think T. will necessarily do any of these things or is doing anything of these bad things. I do not necessarily think that breaking up with T. is the answer or even my recommendation, just, don’t marry someone you are afraid to talk to about big stuff with until you figure out how to have those conversations and make sure you are actually on the same page. The stuff in the letter where the writer feels like T. might be “conditioning” her the way he does his students made me want to put the warnings about what controlling behavior looks like in my response.

IF T. reacts badly to you making new friends, going places without him, or bringing up even the idea of moving, please know that </Edit>…someone who insists on not letting you out of his sight, is threatened, hurt, and sulky when you want to see your friends without him, someone who makes talking about relocating feel like the “WHAT’S YOUR PLAN, SKYLAR” scenes from Breaking Bad* is very, very bad news. If pregnancy risk is a factor with the kind of sex you guys have, double-check your birth control, because a man who behaves like this is also someone who will help a woman who he is afraid might leave him “accidentally” get pregnant. I hope this is all an extremely laughable funny joke and not an overreaction on my part, but the guy who wouldn’t let his girlfriend pee had good feminist credentials, too, and “we can have feminist conversations” doesn’t mean shit if he is controlling the trajectory of your life or patronizing you about a reasonable anxiety about driving in the wake of a traumatic experience.

This is big stuff. It’s okay not to have it all figured out yet. It’s okay to listen to that part of you that wants to live somewhere else for a while, and the part of you that misses your old job and wants to get back into that field. Good luck.


*In general terms it involves a wife saying ‘I am not okay with what is happening and want us to change it’ and the husband looming over her and making fun of her for not having thought through every single step of the plan because she can only change things if she can logically ‘prove’ her case to him. His extremely logical plan is to make illegal drugs and murder people, and her illogical, emotional, stupid ladyplan is that he should stop doing that. The scene perfectly encapsulates why dudes who set themselves up as The Only Rational One fucking terrify me.











224 thoughts on “#568: My fiance finds my anxiety and dream to live “anywhere but here” extremely inconvenient.

  1. The amount of letters I read here saying “my husband/boyfriend is a great feminist but sometimes he does [HORRIBLE ABUSIVE THING]” make me so sad.

    1. “Great feminist conversations” is not quite the “here there be bees comma evil” shibboleth that “It just feels like destiny” or “My wonderful partner” is, but it’s gaining. It’s gaining.

      1. I’m wondering how many of those great conversations involve these dudes playing devil’s advocate. I’m thinking a lot of them.

        1. To be fair, not all mARRGHGHGRHGUWGBNRBUNB FZZZZZZZT

          [This commenter has been consumed by a targeted plague of locusts. Please continue about your business and have a pleasant weekend.]

          1. (sigh) That was meant to be me writing ‘wild applause’, but I put it in triangular brackets and WordPress probably thought it was a spam website or something. Oh, well, it can be me falling silent in awe at the awesomeness of the comment.

      2. ‘Can produce feminist sounding words’ does not mean ‘couldn’t possibly be Darth Vader’. I think lots of people who write in have a question about a dude behaving badly, and want to emphasise that they didn’t chose one of “those” men. Like, he’s a feminist and everything! They have standards! Because we all like to think we would never pick an abusive dude, and getting over that is step one to realising that actually, yes, we have accidentally picked one. Also people have this inaccurate image of what abusers and other toxic people look like (hint, it’s a really classist image), so they feel that good qualities in their partner mean that the bad stuff couldn’t possibly be abuse. He loves animals! And is a feminist! And he has great taste in books!

        And the sooner we all realise that dodgy people also have good qualities and that’s why we fall for them in the first place, the better off we’ll all be. Also the sooner we realise it’s easy to get sucked in by an abuser and it can happen to anyone, the sooner society can move away from victim blaming.

        1. Hopefully this isn’t too much a dog-whistle, but — I think it’s valuable to remember that *anyone* can act in an abusive way, much like *anyone* can do or say something racist. All human being have intrinsic value, I think, even the monstrous ones; but you don’t actually have to be monstrous to do something abusive.

          I think that many relationships, if not MOST, live on the continuum between “perfectly respectful” and “abusive” — “Well, my mom doesn’t respect these boundaries I have about not talking about weight/dieting, but she’s my MOM,” “My boyfriend does this thing that upsets me, but it’s not like he’s YELLING or anything.” “Abusive” has to be considered as a sliding scale, because it depends on who you are interacting with! If it is a behavior directed exclusively at you, it hurts you, and it continues even after you ask it to stop, it’s possible it doesn’t matter so much what the behavior is when deciding if it is abusive? If I dated a guy who harassed me constantly about going to the gym, that would be abusive for me. If someone else who loves the gym dated that guy, maybe it could work out!

          Much like people have an on-off switch for “is this person racist or are they not” I think they have an on-off switch for “is this person an abuser or are they not.” And both of those switches are coded just barely beneath the surface with “is this person evil and devoid of human value, or not.” Which is really frightening and painful to assess when you love someone down to your bone marrow.

          I don’t think it’s a particularly useful way to think about things, and I think trying to define the exact line between “this is a person who does abusive things” and “this is a person who is categorically abusive/an abuser” takes a lot of time and guilt when really a better question is: “Can I live with this person’s actions? Are they hurting me, right now?” (Now, I see the pressure to categorize someone, because people get in your fucking face if you dump someone without an airtight reason, and it’s great to be able to say THEY WERE ABUSIVE, SHITWAD, SO LEAVE ME ALONE ABOUT THIS. And if that’s true it’s true and you say it. But in a situation where you love someone and it hurts like hell to call them an abuser and you feel like you must be such a fucking jackass yourself for picking someone who does this shit in spite of all your great knowledge about how healthy modern relationships are supposed to work, it’s okay to pull back to just: “Can I live with this? Does this match with what I want for myself?”)

          And then you act according to the answer to that question, and do it without guilt, because you are doing your damnedest to be true to yourself.

          1. While I see your point that we’re all capable of doing hurtful things in a relationship, I don’t quite agree that there’s no clear definition of ‘abusive’. Abusive people engage in a pattern of behaviour designed to manipulate, control and intimidate their partners. It’s in the long term repetition of behaviour and unwillingness to address problems with how they treat their significant other. And it’s fundamentally a lack of empathy. Non-abusers do something hurtful and then *feel guilty*, they actually see the harm they’ve caused and try to not do that thing again. Abusers, in my experience (and reading on this topic) don’t empathise with the harm they’ve caused. They sometimes make the right noises to indicate that they’re sorry if they feel they have to to defuse criticism, but their actions don’t match up. Abusers do not think their partner’s wishes and feelings (and often physical health and safety) are important, or at least not as important as their own convenience.

            We’re all selfish sometimes, but the lack of empathy that abusers feel is on a whole different scale.

          2. Anisopera, I couldn’t articulate what bugged me about this argument. Thank you.

          3. Again, I would argue that it’s a spectrum of empathy to not-empathy, and I think it’s very dangerous to say “the difference is how they feel about it.” I have habitually behaved in a manipulative, scary fashion toward certain people or groups of people, and I felt bad every. single. time. But I don’t think you can categorize habitually manipulative, scary behavior as something other than abusive because the person feels bad. I think habits and patterns of behavior (as you said) are more important than the feeling motivating it.

            On the other hand, I have found that there are particular people I *don’t* have empathy for (usually people who I perceive, accurately or inaccurately, as having social power over me), and people I don’t necessarily feel bad about hurting. I don’t think I’m a habitually abusive person, but there are people I choose not to be around because I don’t think I can easily behave well toward them.

            On a larger scale, it seems to me that people are generally trained early on to pick out which groups are people are deserving of empathy and which are not — which is why you have many more men abusing women, white people abusing non-white people, abled people abusing disabled people, etc.. But many of those people who do not feel empathy toward one group are capable of it toward another group, and while they may respect boundaries or take criticism from people in their “worthy” group, they won’t from people who are outside of it.

            Maybe this view comes of being from a family that’s fairly racist, but I know that just because certain members of my family can act in a respectful, non-abusive way toward me, doesn’t necessarily mean that they could do so with someone who they had mentally categorized as not worth empathy — a poor Black woman, for instance. And even if how their behavior is rude, belittling, unkind, or what-have-you is pointed out to them, I doubt it would change, because their world framework is already set up in a way to exclude those people from truly being people. I think this behavior set repeats across many power differentials, which is why you get things like “normal” parents who murder their disabled children.

            I think you are right that there are people who are abusive in *all* of their interactions (coincidentally, I suspect many of these peeps are white cishet dudes — nobody can be as human as they are! /sarcasm), but I don’t think you are right in saying it is a clear-cut distinction between them and the rest of us. I think many, many people have habitual behaviors designed to control and intimidate that they are unwilling to change (see: groups of friends who save all their racist jokes for when the one black friend is present); it is just that if it is aimed toward a person or group of people that many others agree are not worth empathy, they are not called out on it. Abusers are people who aim that lack of empathy at YOU.

            Argh. Again, maybe I feel this more strongly because my emotional configuration is such that I can *feel* justified in hurting someone until they do what I want. I have to have a backup framework for ethical behavior that is *not* based on empathy because I can’t trust myself to feel empathy in all situations for all people.

            In this particular case, where there are loads of red flags, I stand by my statement that it may be more useful to the LW to concentrate on whether the behaviors of T are okay rather than whether T is an abuser.

          4. What Anisoptera said. We all say or do things that hurt others sometimes. The difference is in the intent. When a non-abuser realizes they’ve hurt someone, they feel bad about it, and they do their best to not do it again – in public or private. Not so with abusers. Abusers systematically test and break down boundaries over a long period of time. They’re very careful to only say or do abusive things in private, and gaslight the heck out of you to make you believe you did something to deserve it. If an abuser is caught they will make the right sounds about feeling sorry and making an honest mistake, but then as soon as they have their victim alone again they’re right back to the same old behaviors.

            It can be reaaaaaallllly hard to recognize and admit that someone you love is intentionally hurting you or someone else. We’d much rather believe that the person just made an honest mistake, and abusers will take advantage of this assumption. They’re often quite charismatic, and put on a good show for outsiders. But abusers really are a fundamentally different group of people. Lundy Bancroft’s “Why Does He Do That?”, which has been mentioned a lot around these parts, is a great source for learning about how abusers think and operate.

          5. Bancroft and Patrissi’s Should I Stay or Should I Go has some really good discussion of not-abusive-but-still-destructive relationships. Just because someone’s not acting from the desire to control you and feels really bad about the ways they keep assuming that they are the important one in the relationship doesn’t mean it’s not harmful and can’t have effects on you that are similar to intentional abuse.

          6. Jane – I don’t for a moment think abusers are abusive to all people. You are 100% correct that they dehumanise their victims, often along cultural lines, and then treat those people like non-people, all while treating other types of people quite well.

            Intent is also not enough (and hard to know, because abusive people do a lot to hide it) – it’s about a pattern of behaviour over the long term, that *shows* a lack of empathy. It’s worrying that you say there are groups of people you don’t feel empathy for. Or that you could consistently treat certain people badly even though you felt guilty afterwards – IMO if you kept doing the bad thing, clearly it was more important to you to be able to do the bad thing than to not hurt those people. I suspect there are many reasons that could happen and I don’t know the circumstances, so I’m not judging you here, just pointing out that in as much as our mental health allows behaviour is a choice.

            Anyway. On the one hand, I think that if someone isn’t comfortable defining their partner’s behaviour as abusive (even if it is) but is happy to think about whether it’s right for them or what they want, then go for it. However they need to think about it to keep their priorities straight and protect themselves is fine. For me, really understanding that certain patterns of gasslighting and manipulation and passive aggression are really genuinely *abusive* and a sign of lack of empathy for me rather than just a series of clueless accidents was really helpful in letting me see that person’s behaviour clearly and start protecting myself and setting boundaries.

            I don’t think abusers are aliens and not people like us. There are often reasons for their behaviour. And certainly there’s a continuum of behaviour. I think it’s possible for someone to be abusive in some contexts and not others (though some of them really are self focused and lacking in empathy with everyone, and their behaviour is only limited by what they think they can get away with). But there is an identifiable pattern of behaviour common to abuse in intimate relationships.

            Of course none of this may be relevant to the LW and her fiancé. It sounds a bit red flaggy but I don’t have enough info to really know either way.

          7. I’m uncomfortable with an abuse framework that seems to imply that abuse suffered at the hands of someone with bad intentions is somehow different than abuse suffered from someone who meant well. I know too many people who suffered what I can only characterize as severe and unrelenting emotional and verbal abuse from parents and relatives who genuinely believed they were helping the person they were abusing. Intent is also very hard to determine in many cases. Other people in this thread have mentioned that habitual abuse can come not necessarily from a desire to hurt but from a desire to control, and I would lean more toward that interpretation.

            To be clear, I absolutely do not doubt that there are habitual abusers who abuse based on a wish to hurt. But I think it is completely possible and even likely that people with very good intentions and high empathy in certain situations can also abuse.

          8. @Anisoptera — Sure, it’s worrying. That’s why I’m in therapy. That’s why I read websites like Captain Awkward and books by people like Brene Brown, so I can do something with my anger/hate/bad emotions besides (metaphorically) punch people with them.

            But that’s also why I’m pointing out that, for me, the line is not “bad intent.” That is one specific kind of abuser. There is another kind of abuser, which the kind that I would be prone to be, that primarily wants to be able to control other people. I see those tendencies in myself and I am admitting to them, because I think it’s important that people recognize that good intentions do not prevent you from being someone who habitually hurts other people.

          9. I am someone who stayed with an abuser longer than I should have because of the idea that abusers are bad. That they’re less than fully rounded, complex people. That abuse is a clear-cut phenomenon.

            I lived with my ex and knew that he was hurting me emotionally, scaring me, making me unhappy with myself. But I married a full human being, complex and flawed and way too complicated to put into a box. And when I started looking at his behavior and thinking, “Is this abuse?” — I had so many people ready to jump in and tell me, “YES. I see what’s happening here. I know what he is. He fits into this Abuser box, the end.”

            And he didn’t. He didn’t fit into any box. He remained a person. And I heard what People said and told myself, “Well, none of that sounds familiar. The man they’re describing, the situation they’re seeing, bears no resemblance to what I see.”

            I kept waiting for him to turn into a cartoon cutout of a human, The Abuser, the one everyone told me I was married to. But he kept looking like a complicated, flawed, dysfunctional man capable of good and bad and everything in between. “Well,” I said, “this can’t be abuse, then.”

            It was, though. Because that’s what abuse looks like. It looks complicated and flawed and human. I didn’t get this until I threw away the conventional wisdom I was receiving and told myself, “Okay, fine, I’m wrong. I still need out.” Once I left him, all kinds of things became clearer to me. One of which was, the cartoon cutout picture is misleading.

            It’s risky stuff, really risky, because no one wants to acknowledge to an abuse victim that their abuser has decency in him. I get that, I really do. Abuse victims are so often telling themselves, “He’s a good man, I deserve this, people don’t understand him, really I’m the only one who gets him” — and staying in the abusive relationship.

            And because of this I don’t know what to recommend. Should we say “He’s an abuser, period” in the hope that’ll get victims out? Or should we acknowledge that abuse is only one facet of him, in the hope that THAT will get victims out? I don’t know. I am uncomfortable, however, with continuing a picture of abusers as people who’ve given up nuance and complexity; it simply doesn’t fit reality (at least it didn’t fit mine). Perhaps more to the point, I’m uncomfortable with telling abuse victims who say “But you don’t have the whole picture” that they’re wrong.

            A related point for me: When I heard things like this — “How can you even hesitate, he is an abuser” — what I really heard was “You, Ibbie, are WRONG. Your instincts are wrong. Your insistence that there is more to this picture is wrong. YOUR JUDGMENT IS RUBBISH. Take MY judgment — he’s a bad man — and live by that.”

            And, well, no. My judgment was not rubbish. More to the point, anyone who says to me “Disregard what you’re feeling and follow MY feeling” — is inching over that line into controlling (maybe even abusing) me. I mean, I grew up with a mother who disagreed with my every thought. My ex picked up right where she left off. “No, you’re wrong, do X” was the consistent message from him. “No, you don’t see the truth, *I* see the truth.”

            But the people who wanted me to leave him said the same thing. “You’re not seeing the truth, Ibbie, WE are.” There was nobody to say “What do YOU think? What do YOU want? Tell me YOUR story.” My feelings were dismissed.

            I’ve no idea how true this experience I’m describing might hold for other people. I’m well aware how abuse victims are being gaslighted and controlled by their abusers. I have no interest in excusing any part of abuse. Which makes this all sooooooooo complex.

            I just — I dunno. The conventional wisdom failed me, and I wanted a chance to say that. I wouldn’t throw away the conventional wisdom, but I am uncomfortable applying it across the board. Because I’m here too.

            The best I can come up with? I would like to see the conventional wisdom applied by people who at the same time hold back a tiny corner of their brain that says “But I could be missing something.” I’d like to see it applied without absolutism. In a way that gives victims as much agency as possible.

            I’d like to see it acknowledged — somehow, I have no idea how — that evil does not always (or often) look Evil. That just because your abuser remains a complex human being does not mean it’s not abuse. Evil people abuse, but so do complicated, troubled people. It’s all abuse.

          10. Ibbie: I’m approaching this from the rather different perspective of being in a marriage that I don’t think I’d call abusive, but that is still not good in fundamental ways. As such, I’d agree with Jane’s original comment – the issue needs to be not so much ‘Is this abuse?’ as ‘Is this something that’s upsetting to me, and how do I feel about that within the context of the relationship generally?’

            I know that a huge problem I had in articulating the problems within my marriage was my feeling that the two options available for me for categorising my husband’s behaviour were ‘Abusive’ or ‘Not Abusive, Therefore Perfectly OK And I’m Making An Excessive Fuss About Things If I’m Not OK With It’. When I finally came to realise (thanks almost entirely to Captain Awkward and the Awkward Army, so THANK YOU) that there existed a category of ‘Upsetting To Me And Not Something I Can Feel OK Living With’, it was *such* a freakin’ relief.

          11. I am not saying that intent is all important in defining abuse – I absolutely believe behaviour is most important regardless of intent. I have not said otherwise.

            People can seem to have good intent and still be abusive. “S/he meant well” is not a reason to say abuse isn’t occurring.

            On that we are arguing a point on which we all agree.

            However, the thing I’ve discovered reading about abusers (especially the Bancroft book everyone is referring to), is that their intent is often a lot worse than it seems. They are very good at creating the image of doing bad things accidentally/because they can’t help it. And they will admit to that when they think they’re among like minded friends.

            I also 100% agree that abusers are complex people with good points as well as bad. That was my original point in this discussion – that abusers don’t fit a stereotype of Evil Person TM and understanding that helps us identify and escape from real abusers with all their charm and complexity and good points and excuses.

            There have been times in the past I would have argued vociferously that my emotionally abusive partner was not like that. That it wasn’t deliberate. That he had issues and meant well and didn’t fit in an “abuser” box. And that is *exactly* what an abuser looks like to their partner. Like someone with good aspects as well as bad and like someone who isn’t doing anything deliberately to hurt us. That’s why we stay!

            But. When you look at the actual pattern of behaviour, it becomes clear that to an abusive person controlling their partner and getting what they want are more important to them than their partner’s happiness. And that the tactics they’re willing to use to achieve that are toxic and hurtful and manipulative. I think really understanding this and seeing it clearly helps enormously to counteract the fog of “s/he’s not like that, not really an *abuser*” that abusers spin around themselves.

            My concern with the “this is not OK for me” framing is that genuinely abusive behaviour is not OK for anyone. This isn’t a matter of preference – basic respect and care for your partner’s well being are fundamental parts of a healthy relationship. Someone who only shows care and respect when it’s convenient for them, and who otherwise pulls out cruel and controlling behaviour to get their way, is objectively a bad person to be in a relationship with.

          12. @Ibbie & everyone

            “But the people who wanted me to leave him said the same thing. “You’re not seeing the truth, Ibbie, WE are.” There was nobody to say “What do YOU think? What do YOU want? Tell me YOUR story.” My feelings were dismissed.”

            This is important.

            It’s reminding me of http://blobolobolob.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/how-to-support-people-in-abusive.htm

            Sometimes, friends and family can plainly see that a relationship is abusive, while an abuse victim cannot. There can be a great temptation to point out that their whole worldview is topsy-turvy … . This would be a really bad idea.

            Abuse victims constantly question their own perception of their situation. They have been conditioned to do so. They have learnt to mistrust their instincts, their recall of events, their very understanding of what’s going on around them. They may have been told that they misremember things, make too much of things, lie about their feelings and demand unobtainably high standards of behvaiour from their abusers.

            My experience was not a particularly extreme one, but my ex constantly questioned my perception of things, my memory, my friendships, even my beliefs …

            Months after I left, he continued to speak as if he knew me better than I knew myself.

            Any statement along the lines of “You don’t realise this, but you’re being abused.” is likely to be about as useful to an abuse victim as the many other statements they have heard along the lines of “You don’t realise this, but you’re broken in all kinds of ways and I’m the only one who can fix you.”

            (whole post is insightful, practical & well worth reading. It has a “part 2” sequel at http://blobolobolob.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/how-to-support-people-in-abusive.html )

          13. unchartedworlds: YES. What you said. [tears up] That’s it exactly.

            I left my abuser a decade and a half ago, and I still get weepy about this.

          14. Anisoptera: I read a lot of detective novels, and one distinction I hear a lot in books about serial killers is that there are “organized killers” and there are “disorganized killers.”

            If these terms could maybe be extended to abusers, it seems to me that the descriptions you’re giving of abusers are “organized abusers.”

            The thing is: My ex was very much disorganized. So a lot of the things you’re saying (and a lot of the conventional wisdom about abuse) just sound a bit “off” to me. It’s not necessarily because I’m under the fog of abuse; it’s because they really don’t fit my life quite right. “Well, sort of, but…”

        2. Anisoptera, I think that kind of attitude would be so incredibly helpful.

          Could we treat dating a creep like eating at a bad restaurant?

          That Restaurant looks perfect on the outside, and smells great when we walk in. The wait staff is a little off, but they’re short staffed, and that’s always stressful. The meal takes longer than we like, but when it comes out, best food ever! So good!
          We go home, happy and content, we can’t wait to go back.

          The next day we get sick. We go back a couple weeks later, sick again. We say, “Too bad” and eat some meals at home until we feel better.

          We know It happens to a lot of people, so we don’t obsess that maybe we didn’t wash our hands well enough, or wonder whether we are capable of picking a good restaurant. No one questions us about how fast we ate, or how maybe we should/shouldn’t have gone for a walk after eating. People bring us soup, and tell their coworkers not to go there.

        3. I’ve been reading Why Does He Do That?, Lundy Bancroft’s book (and seriously, everyone who ever said “read this” was right) and one of the most interesting things he’s said so far is that abusive men, specifically, tend to choose the kind of abuse that’s acceptable within their culture or subculture, and that, for instance, chasing you around a conference demanding that you attend to their sensitive feminist-man feelings after you dump them, or conversely refusing to listen to you if you’re being “too emotional” or “not logical”, are both things that work for certain people in certain cultures when they don’t feel like respecting someone else’s feelings and needs, and it’s that basic respect, not the language it’s wrapped in, that is the dividing line.

        4. I’ve never posted here before, but I’m the LW and wanted to sort of expand on the bits about T and feminism. I admit that when a man says “I’m a feminist/ally” sometimes their actions don’t line up with that statement. It’s frustrating, because sometimes he does act like identifying as a feminist means he doesn’t have to evaluate *his* behavior toward the women in his life as much. Fortunately, he doesn’t behave like this on a regular basis, and I expect he resorts to this behavior out of frustration that he can’t “fix” my anxiety and PTSD issues with ease. However, I’m definitely aware that this isn’t okay.

          I also don’t think he has a complete understanding of the types of abuse that exist beyond physical abuse and that abusers can come from any class background – he’s broken up several domestic abuse incidences that occurred outside in our neighborhood in the last year (we live in the neighborhood he grew up in because housing is cheap, and most of the incidents we’ve seen have occurred between two poor people, so that’s the only reference he has for ‘what abuse looks like’, I think.)

          I think he has it in head that, because he’s fought against physical abuse himself, he couldn’t possibly demonstrate any kind of abusive or unhealthy behavior (which ties back to the feminism bit). His mother actually was there for the incident that happened last week, and she (yeah, his own mom) called him out, but he dismissed her and was v. uncomfortable about it. Since that incident, he’s been more careful with how he acts toward me, but he still has work to do when it comes to addressing this, for sure. I appreciate your response, and it’s definitely caused me to see some of these behaviors from a different angle.

          1. Radio Yerevan was asked: “Is it true that in Moscow, Mercedes cars are being given to citizens?”
            Radio Yerevan answers: “In principle, yes, but it is not Moscow but Leningrad, not Mercedes but Ladas, and not given to but stolen from.”

          2. great feminist cis guy:
            “of course I’m a feminist and against rape. I even joined a group that engages themself against rape.”

            he: “I’m so sorry that I violated your boundaries while fucking. Oh, I forgot – I didn’t actually *assault* you, did I? It was just your PTSD that made you feel bad, wasn’t it?”
            me: “no, you stepped over my boundaries. It was not the PTSD but a violation of my boundaries”
            he: “but how can you say that? Prove me that it wasn’t the PTSD.”
            (some repetitions of long explanations of me, extremely “logical” arguments of him.)

            he: “Do you want some space now? I won’t call you.” (he never called, btw)
            me: yes, I want some space. Please don’t go to [political conference where we both wanted to go]”
            he: “Wow, that’s to harsh. I mean, if I *really* had violated your boundaries, I’d consider not going there, but…”

            (going on for one and a half years.)

      3. Here I’d just like to lay out some things an actual feminist male-gendered partner might do:

        1. back you up when you yell at homophobes at sports games
        2. when you say “hey, can you not leave your Esquires around, I’m not into the kids seeing half-naked ladies on magazine covers like that’s OK” say “yeah, you know what, I’m not going to renew my subscription, you’re right.”
        3. buy superhero clothes for daughters who want them, and fluffy giant tutus for sons who want them.
        4. apologize for forgetting to do the dishes
        5. say “dude, rape isn’t funny” to men who make rape jokes
        6. tell you he will support you in whatever it is you would like to do with your life, even if it makes no money, and even if you change your mind later and want to do something else.

        All the above drawn directly from the actions of my delightful husband, Mr Hypotenuse.
        None of these things preclude “great feminist conversations”, obviously, but the actions are way more important. I’ll take them over the conversations any day.

        1. The thing is, I would never call my SO a feminist. He argues against feminism a lot. But when the rubber hits the road his actions are incredibly supportive (much like the things J. Preposterice lists). We work together and I’m in a more visible, public role. He told me once that he found it a little difficult to deal with that I was more visible than he was. BUT that was his thing to deal with and he did not want me to change anything about what I was doing.

          That’s a feminist. Even though he’d deny it.

        2. Is it actually possible to cancel Esquire? I’ve gotten the magazine for like 8 years now even though I never subscribed, much less renewed it.

          1. I don’t know, but we’re going to find out. I think a lot of magazine subscriptions start with some kind of free-with-purchase deal on a receipt or something, and then just never. end. because most of their money is made on advertisements, and they need circulation numbers to charge advertisers big bucks.

            The slew of strange parenting magazines we get is attributable only to this kind of thing, I’m sure, since there’s no way either of us did it on purpose.

          2. Apologies for posting off-topic, but about stopping unwanted mag subscriptions: Not sure if this will work for Esquire, but it’s worked for other mags in the past. Look at the advertising staff page toward the front of the mag. Find the URL for subscriber services (probably in the fine print toward the bottom of the page), and go there. You’ll need your address label because it has your account number on it, which you’ll need to get to your account online. There should be an option to suspend service indefinitely.

        3. I don’t understand what No.6 has to do with being feminist. It might be what a supportive partner is should do, though I doubt it. If one partner proposes to follow a career that places the entire financial burden for their life on the other partner, I don’t believe it’s fair to say that said other partner is being misogynistic or a bad partner.

          1. they’re examples drawn from my life, not a be-all and end-all, and I’m not about to explain the life & financial situation of that particular discussion in detail. you’re going to have to trust me that it was relevant to feminist beliefs and praxis.

            This is why I said “might do” and explicitly said the examples were from a particular individual, not that these things were some kind of objective requirements list.

        4. Yup. My boyfriend’s feminist credentials are pretty much the same as his decent human being credentials: he listens to women, treats us as the authorities on our own experiences, and respects our autonomy.

          It’s nice that he also recognizes that those are political acts, and is able to talk about that, but knowing the word ‘kyriarchy’ isn’t what makes him a feminist.

          1. “knowing the word ‘kyriarchy’ isn’t what makes him a feminist” [ding ding ding]

      4. To my extreme horror, I found out recently that Rapist Ex has learned the lingo (or at least, is learning it) now that he lives in NYC; he’s saying all sorts of sage things about how we need to support women, how misogynist our culture is, et cetera. It’s just another trap.

    2. Ya know that saying, “A person who is nice to you but mean to the waitress is not a nice person”? A guy who says feminist things but displays misogynist behavior is not a feminist.

      1. Yep. That’s one of my dating criteria, in fact. The guy who is sweet as peach pie to me and nasty to the waitstaff/support staff/cleaning staff just told me all I need to know about his character- or lack thereof.

    3. Do you want to know why? It’s because the LW’s dearly and desperately want fixes for their Situation, and if they don’t start off their letter with a list of how much they love their boys and how much we all should love their boys too, we (the readers, Awkward Army, and the Internet) will all be very mean and not-understanding of these boys that they love so much. We won’t respect their boys, and therefore won’t respect the bond and affection that they have for their boys. We’ll just be like NOPE SOUNDS MEAN BOOT HIM. The LW’s kinda feel like they have to sell their relationships pretty hard for us to respect them as they would like us to. The solution they want isn’t always “DUMP THE BOY” but “It sounds like you’re both good, enlightened, caring people – why don’t you have X talk with boy following Y suggested script and see if he does Z, which he should, if he cares for you and is really enlightened.” It’s really, really hard to hear “DUMP YOUR BOY” even from your best-beloved ones, and reading a CA response that just consists of that, followed by 500 comments about how gross your boy is, would be really hard for these LWs to hear.

      (Also, on the Internet, we can only read a few small passages of someone’s life, and only what they want to tell us – sure, we fixate on the red flags immediately, but only because the LW explicitly wants to talk about the One Weird Thing That’s Making The Whole Relationship Weird. Upfront, many LWs hope that we will first say, “Gosh, what a hard situation, he does sound nice, I hope you can work it out and both be happy.” When you love someone, even if it’s a bad love, that’s what you want the most.) Further, requiring that all Bad Boyfriends be portrayed in black-and-white also makes it harder for us to appreciate the shaded and subtle behavior of abusers – many of whom disguise their intentions with gaslighting, faux-feminism and kindsharking, which don’t seem like HORRIBLE ABUSIVE BEHAVIOR at all up close.

      Stating up-front that this a particularly worthy and enlightened boy who is greatly valued is meant to forestall everyone’s kneejerk reactions of “DUMP THE BOY” and JUSTIFIES the love and care and time and commitment that the LWs have lavished upon these boys.

      By acknowledging that (“He may have great feminist cred, BUT can still be very abusive, just like these other guys”) the Captain can thus respect the beloved boy and the LW’s love/appreciation for him, while pointing out that his value and attractiveness can co-exist with some mean and disrespectful behaviors. Does this boy have a pattern of mean and disrespectful behaviors? That’s a quest for the LW. What we know is that they love this boy and that he has Sketched Most Sketchily.

    4. Honestly, when my friend was trying to defend her new boyfriend to me (who I met under less-than-ideal circumstances: more male strangers than female friends at what was supposed to be girltime plus Cards Against Humanity with said strangers) by saying that he was really a feminist, my shoulders went up to my ears.

      *Fortunately* it turns out she was right, and after I spent time with him in better circumstances, I learned that he actually is a Really Good Guy.

      But it’s still one of those things for me. If a guy describes himself as a feminist, he *may* be one…or he may *think* that he’s one, and his being enlightened gives him a pass on some things. Learning the rhetoric isn’t hard–putting it into practice is.

      1. “If a guy describes himself as a feminist, he *may* be one…or he may *think* that he’s one, and his being enlightened gives him a pass on some things. Learning the rhetoric isn’t hard–putting it into practice is.”

        Yep, exactly. I think the behavior is the key, and I mean, if people like he-who-shall-not-be-named can say the right things to become Big Internet Feminists, then pretty much anyone can. That doesn’t make it so.

        1. Okay, since he’s not being named, I have no idea which person your talking about. Clues? Hints?

          1. A certain university lecturer (professor?) who tried a murder-suicide on his ex and more recently turns out to have never changed his horrible manipulative behaviours despite talking big, I assume.

          2. Writer for Jezebel or other big feminist magazine. Did bad bad things in his life, “regrets them”, told women that facials are really empowering.

    5. This. Always.

      I had a good whinge about housework which went like this once:

      Me: My partner identifies as feminist, so–
      Her: Who? What?
      Me: My partner. He’s a feminist.
      Her: Right. But he refuses to do the housework.
      Me: Yes, but–
      Her: That is pretty chauvinist to me.
      Me: He, um, he reads lots of books on feminist theory. So.
      Her: …
      Me: …
      Her: That… just makes him an avid reader. You deserve equality in the household. It’s about respect.
      Me: Oh.

      In my partner’s case it was a genuine amount of forgetfulness and a lifelong generalised apathy towards chores, but after talking about it and trying out new housekeeping strategies together he’s made huge changes on his own.

      The core of it is that my dude not only felt remorse; he acted upon it to change his behaviour so it aligned with his values. This is crucial. Lundy Bancroft points out that remorse is often present after abuse incidents, but that feeling alone isn’t enough to alter the core of abuse–namely, the twisted values that abusers hold about gender roles, power, and entitlement.

      I can imagine so many situations where, if sensitive feminist dude was a douchecanoe, pointing out his lack of housework (or whatever) would have been turned into a conversation where I was doing feminism wrong, some evopsych mumbojumbo, omg I don’t love him anymore a thousand sads, etc.

      A key feature of abusers is the double standard they constantly apply to themselves and their intimate partners. For these ever-so sensitive dudes, feminism is great! Except for the parts where they have to stop being sexist.

      1. Pear, thank you SO MUCH for sharing an example of what a good response from a partner who messed up looks like. I have also been reading Lundy Bancroft’s book, and I think there’s a bit near the end that goes into this, but I’m not there yet =p

        And I have also been there, with a partner who did NOT change his behaviour (and actually … mostly didn’t even pretend to feel remorse? It is SO GREAT to be not dating him. Yay!) and every time I read a description of someone’s experience of bringing a problem up with a partner and finding a solution that is actually a fucking solution that solves the actual fucking problem, I feel so much relief that it is possible, and increased hope and confidence that I will be able to a) recognize whether future people I date are good partners, b) bring up problems and create solutions with said hypothetical good partner, and c) experience this thing that other people seem to believe is a real phenomenon, called a “healthy relationship”. Woah.

        In conclusion: thank you!

      2. “For these ever-so sensitive dudes, feminism is great! Except for the parts where they have to stop being sexist.”

        Misogynists! New packaging, same terrible attitude.

        One of the great things about third wave is that we can call this out now.
        Moderately conservative dad who makes dinner, does the dishes, and helps the kids with their homework every night. – Ally

        Ultra-liberal grad student who uses feminist theory to prove empowerment comes from touching his ween. – Douchebag

    6. I see these and I always want to say, “Guys who can talk about feminism are not unicorns! THERE ARE LOTS OF THEM.”

      Sometimes I get the vibe that these ladies think their choices are Guys A-Y, who hate women openly, and Guy Z, who is the only one interested in equality. In reality, there are lots and lots and lots and lots of men in this world who genuinely care about finding ways to respect women.* Your other romantic preferences are going to be a greater limiting factor than that. (And if they aren’t, maybe change up who you hang out with and/or where you meet people.)

      *As in, they back up their intentions with actions and look for ways to improve when they fall short, whether or not they can name which specific feminist scholar came up with the idea they’re going for in the first place.

      1. I will take a guy who genuinely respects and supports me but doesn’t read or spout feminist rhetoric over a guy who says all the right things but clearly thinks that our relationship is the exception and my purpose is to serve him while working 45 hours a week and putting up with his friends getting handsy with me at parties.

        One of my best guyfriends will never be observed saying anything “feminist” but is respectful and supportive, backs me up, and treats me as an absolute equal. My husband was loudly feminist, disrespectful and belittling of me, never did housework, and very abusive toward me emotionally and sexually. I like to think I’ve learned a little something.

  2. As someone who has panic attacks about driving, just reading about your fiance’s behavior with you in the car makes me twitch. I’m glad you’re working with a good therapist and making progress; if you haven’t already, you should probably tell your therapist what your fiance is doing. They might want to talk to him and tell him to knock it off or something too. Does your therapist think that living somewhere with public transport would be good for you? If you’re not sure, ask. Get as much leverage behind your decision as you can.

    I am fortunate to live in a city with reasonable public transportation, and to have a spouse who was totally willing to agree with me that access to public transportation was a deal-breaker last time we moved.

    Ultimately if you hate living in Small Town, and your fiance refuses to leave Small Town, you are totally reasonable and within your rights to say “our goals for the future are not compatible and maybe that means we need to go our separate ways”. Better to find this out now than after the ink’s dry on the legal document.

  3. Was something cut from the letter? I don’t see him positioning himself as the ultimate authority on her life. There are a lot of signs they’re not functioning well as a couple (she doesn’t feel safe talking more directly about moving, he occasionally handles her panic attacks very poorly), but you could just as easily frame that as him ignoring passive aggression and setting his own boundaries.

    Which of course isn’t to say the LW is doing anything wrong, or is obligated to pour effort into making this work. Just that the attribution of malice to this guy seems unwarranted.

    1. Nothing was cut from the letter. If the Letter Writer is afraid to talk to him about real stuff, they shouldn’t get married until they figure that out. It doesn’t have to be malice on anyone’s part, but it’s worth asking the question…is the LW just being passive-aggressive with the hinting or are they holding back because T. has the potential to react the way that he reacts to “I have anxiety attacks when driving.” (Because the way he reacts to that is actually chilling and has impact both for the LW’s state of mind AND physical safety AND safety of other drivers.) This isn’t a court of law where it has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that he’s being controlling (maybe without intending to or realizing it, but, controlling) before we even raise the possibility. The LW might be tentative in expressing their needs because T. has trained them to be that way. The advice about what to do was “Stop hinting and see what happens,” so we seem to agree.

    2. I think the Captain has developed good instincts on this kind of relationship stuff, so the “hints” in the letter make her think that this is maybe what’s going on. She didn’t assert that it was the case

    3. I’m the LW. I cut a few things from the letter that I’d originally had written, because I was worried this would become all about T, or that I’d paint him in a way that was overly flattering or insulting. I’ve never written a letter to an advice column before, but when I did this one, I realized it’s hard as hell to get an accurate picture of the person you love across.

      On moving: I’ve bought it up many times before, and I’m always straightforward, but a major problem with the moving discussion is that his responses vary. A lot. One day, he’ll be like “wow, it would be really cool to live in x state, maybe we should save up and live there” and the next day, he’ll be like “I don’t want to leave my mom, in case something bad happens to her” (he’s lived in close proximity to his immediate family for his entire life, but…his mom is only in her early fifties and hasn’t exhibited any signs of poor health, and she has other family around).

      He also really likes his job and was lucky to get it with just training and no college degree, so he’s hesitant to leave it, even if he wishes we were in an area with a larger social circle. There was a point in time that we could have bought a second house in our neighborhood (he and his family are big on buying old houses for cheap and fixing them), but I essentially said “hey, if we’re a team, I’d like to have input on these things too, and I think it would be nice to try and get a place at least a county over so we could get a fresh start and meet some people we didn’t go to high school with.”

      I should have mentioned that we’ve definitely had the “moving” discussion, and that I have been direct about wanting to move in the next few years, but the message I’m getting is a mixed bag. We’re not awful at addressing important stuff as it comes up, but there are certain topics that seem harder for him to confront, so he sometimes beats around the bush.

      1. 1. I LOVE your username.
        2. I’m very sorry if I read stuff into T’s behavior that isn’t there. I am in the middle of Lundy Bancroft’s book so it’s possible I’m seeing red flags everywhere. It’s not “dump T” it’s “make sure this isn’t what’s happening, please!”

        If you knew for sure that T. never wanted to move, what would you want to do? Maybe that’s the question to sit with for a bit.

      2. This is definitely a letter I read and felt a twinge of “that was me”. I was with my boyfriend in the small city we both grew up for 3 years – and for me finding a plan/path to ultimately leave that city was a big deal. He would be happy to talk about things in the abstract about how it would be cool to live elsewhere – but when it came down to “hey, if I got this job elsewhere – what would it mean for us” he had a litany of reasons why it wouldn’t work for him just yet. (My favorite funny/sad one was “I want to have an established career first” when at the time he was unemployed, 25 and had just finished his BA)

        Had we ever sat down and really discussed “I want to leave this city – how do we do that together” – I’m not sure if we would have reached a different place. Instead it was brought up by me in ways that never really forced him to give a serious answer about what a genuine action plan would look like.

        We broke up seven years ago – since then I’ve lived overseas for 5 years and recently returned to the US and am living in a ‘big and exciting’ city. He remained in the city where we both grew up. All of his immediate family and the vast majority of his extended family live in that area. He’s done well for himself and does truly like to travel (and because he lives in a small/cheaper city he can afford to do it often). It’s hard for me to imagine him ever living elsewhere unless – I guess ironically – he was established enough in his career where his job had him move elsewhere.

        As a boyfriend, he tried to be understanding about my various anxiety/depression issues and sometimes he was good with them and sometimes he wasn’t. But he definitely saw me wanting to move as a symptom of my anxiety/depression, and if I just “got over” the anxiety/depression then I wouldn’t want to leave so much.

        And after writing this very long response, I guess my only advice would be to seriously bring up the discussion where timelines are discussed. And if his response is “I really never want to leave” – what would that mean for you?

      3. Thanks for clarifying. It sounds like widely varying responses is a theme with him- you mention it with his response to the panic attacks too. I know for me that can make it much harder to plan, because of the temptation to wait for the most favorable outcome.

        1. yes, and widely varying responses to the same issue keep a person off balance and even stuck. Just a thought…

      4. Hi LW,

        I was in a similar place as you, once upon a time. I had itchy feet and a desire to travel. And I was dating a farmer.

        When we eventually split up, it was (a) something that was ultimately good for me, and (b) described by the ex-boyfriend as “You are choosing to live the life you want, and I am choosing to accept the life I was born to.” In the years since, I have travelled all over the world, and after a decade of adventuring came back to a city near my family. Somewhat reluctantly, but it was the right thing to do and I am okay with my decision. It’s been fabulous and I couldn’t have done any of that if I’d stayed with him.

        So, for you.

        What I am hearing with the mixed messages is that he doesn’t want to leave. He’s trying to tell you a very non-commital version of what you want to hear:

        “Wow, that could be cool!” …

        …and the next day, he tells you what he really thinks: “I don’t want to go.”

        He’s happy and clicking along, and to some extent a bit afraid of the change which doesn’t change the fact that he’s happy and clicking along. He has his family around, which is important to him. He has a good job that he likes. He has friends around. He’s comfortable. Like my farmer-ex-boyfriend, he is accepting the life he was born to. You are not. You are not happy, and you will not be happy accepting the life HE was born to.

        If I were you, I would start making exit plans now–so you can go live the life you want, which includes not having to drive, a wider circle of friends, and fresh faces in your life. You will need to break it off (kindly) with your partner. Maybe move in with your parents for a while if that is acceptable to both of you, and save up 6 months of living expenses. Travel to the Big City you want to move to at least once, and see how things are there. Get on LinkedIn and put your resume out there for the world to see. Find a Meetup or local club you’re interested in.

  4. Giving T. some MAJOR side-eye here, mostly because of the “driving yourself every time will make you strong” BS. 1) That’s not how anxiety works, much less panic attacks, much less coping with PTSD. 2) The assumption that you are not “strong” for driving yourself after a seriously traumatic experience??!! Like, what?! How insulting and belittling of not only your anxiety, but your past as well. 3) T. – your on-board-with-feminism fiance – thinking that he is not only allowed to contition you, his equal and partner, out of your anxiety, and actively trying to do so at the expense of your mental health, emotional well-being, and fucking PHYSICAL SAFETY is NOT OK. All caps man. This is a giant red flag the size of DaenerysTargaryan’s banner on the Great Pyramid of Meereen.

    I know T. must be loving and awesome and fun in a billion different ways. It’s why you’re engaged to him. But this stuff right here is *screaming* incompatibility and disrespect. It’s making you hurt, sad, and lonely. Do you want things to go on like this for the duration of your marriage, meaning presumably for life?

  5. Please don’t give up your dreams! Those are wonderful ways of exploring a life and career outside of your small town. You have every right to feel what you feel and if someone denigrates you because of it, then you are better off without them in your life.

  6. While I think Captain does make some good points [albeit, not entirely comfortable with the “HE’S BEING TOTES ABUSIVE!” overtones I noticed in the first paragraph], I would like to add that it’s probably not a bad idea to remember that when you’re comparing vacations to where you live you’re doing just that: Comparing day to day living with a vacation. So a lot of the stresses that would be there when you lived there aren’t going to be present.

    Now, I’m not saying this is a sign you shouldn’t move – frankly, the fact you *want* to try living somewhere else is a valid enough reason on it’s own, without anything else. It is something that you should talk directly to T about, and – honestly – it’s probably not a bad idea to consider what would happen if he’s not willing to move/give it a shot.

      1. I got that impression, too, but Feb makes a good point: these places that the LW likes and enjoys have their own negatives that she doesn’t necessarily experience during a visit but would have to grapple with if she actually lived there. How you feel on vacation just isn’t a great comparison to how you feel when you’re home, because they’re completely different dynamics.

        That said, I also agree with Feb that the LW wanting to live somewhere else is a good reason all on its own to do that, especially given how unhappy she is with her home town for a whole host of reasons. T being comfortable in their home town is valid for him, but if the LW is unhappy, IMO she should definitely think about moving without him if necessary.

      2. I don’t think that matters very much. Even if these trips are not undiluted holiday time, they are stil short breaks from everyday life. They don’t really give the LW an objective picture of what living in another place would be like.

        1. but why does that matter? LW knows that they don’t like living in their hometown anymore. Even if the taste they’ve got of other places is only vacation-taste without the struggle-y bits, that doesn’t change the fact that they don’t like living in their hometown anymore. Just because someone hasn’t actually properly experienced living somewhere else, doesn’t mean they don’t get to go and try it out?!?

          1. No one has said that she “doesn’t get” to try living somewhere else. In fact, Feb (and I) explicitly said that the fact that she wants to is reason enough to try it all on its own.

            I think it matters because I don’t want the LW to set herself up for disappointment by thinking a change of scene will fix more than it will or be as fun as vacation. I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking that changing my environment would fix a lot of issues in my life… and while it fixed some, there were others that in retrospect I was really engaging in wishful thinking to believe that it would.

    1. Love these! I’m the LW; I’ve replied on a few other posts and elaborated on a few things, but I thought it was worth mentioning that one of the times I traveled was to study abroad and live in Russia for several months. While this isn’t the same thing as living somewhere else in a traditional sense, I was there long enough to establish a routine and to deal with a few everyday stresses. I was also there long enough that I realized that I liked the variety of options for meeting people, going out to eat, and great access to public transit in St. Petersburg, and I felt the opportunities there were much greater for me than the ones my hometown offered, even if it wasn’t where I wanted to live.

      I certainly know there are going to be jerks and bad stuff to some degree no matter where I go, so I’m looking at moving from a more practical standpoint (what is public transit like? how expensive is it to live here? are there many places to go out and meet people who share my interests and won’t regard me as the person I was in high school?)

      The problem with my hometown is that, since it is small, there just aren’t a lot of options for me to grow and explore. Because of how severe my former boyfriend’s accident was and the way my small town came together around it (which was great of them), I felt like my identity became defined by a tragic event, and most of the people who saw me as someone else have since moved to different towns for work, save for my fiance. I’ve weighed the options a lot, and here, I really to feel like my best option for moving on is to eventually move away. I know it won’t be a vacation, but at least I’ll have some room for growth, and many of my friends who have left seem much happier.

      1. I do think you should move, and probably sooner rather than later. I have (much less extreme) very bad associations with my hometown, and getting out of there and away from all the reminders was extraordinarily freeing. It didn’t fix all my problems and it didn’t prevent new ones from popping up, but it felt really great, and just knowing that I’d managed to get out gave me the confidence I needed to build a new, happier life for myself.

        It sounds like you’re ready to move, and I suspect you’ll feel a lot better when you do.

        A suggestion: You talk about moving “eventually.” Moving is expensive and difficult, even when it’s across town, let alone to a whole other city. So start making plans now. Start saving up money, decide where you’d like to go, and what you’ll do if T doesn’t want to go with you. Maybe even set a date by which you’d like to leave. It can be a while in the future but it’s a really good idea to think about EXACTLY how much longer you’re willing to stay in your hometown.

        I also think having a date will be a good starting point for a conversation with T. “Partner, I’ve decided that I really really need to leave town by X date. Ideally I’d like you to move with me, but I understand that may not work for you. Can we talk about how we’re going to handle this?”

        1. One thing that could potentially help with both setting a concrete date and also with job worries is “I’ve decided I want to go back to school/take this professional certification course/do this kind of internship. It starts This Date so I want to start planing to move to This City by This Time.”

          Then there is something to have a conversation about and start planning and saving for. Will T go with? Will they be long distance? Will they take a break? And once LW is in New City she can figure out things like does she want to stay there or find somewhere else to move, how does it feel to be long distance/living in a new place with T/single in a new place, and what will she or they do when the semester/internship/training is done.

          Basically, something that provides a concrete date and reason for moving to start planning around, but maybe lower stakes than Move Somewhere Forever Must Find Perfect Job Rightaway.

          So much good luck, LW!

  7. i’ve been so worried about the girlfriend who couldn’t pee, did she ever update us??

    1. I don’t think she did 😦 I hope she has unfettered access to her toilet now.

    2. That is the letter I would most love to see an update on. That whole story horrified me, and I really hope that LW has a much better living situation now.

      1. Yeah, I was just thinking that too. That story…it just kinda *stays* with you, y’know. It’s so bizarre and so genuinely horrifying. I really hope she left that guy and now lives somewhere nice where she has bathroom access whenever she needs.

    3. I think she left a comment in another letter that mentioned her, saying she’d broken up with him (not over the peeing, but some other selfish monopolizing of her time was the last straw).
      I’m pretty sure it was her, I really wish I could remember which letter that was.

      1. I think you’re thinking of the woman whose boyfriend called her up late at night and acted like she was being cute when she got mad at him for waking her up. She eventually broke up with him. We never heard back from Locked Out Of The Bathroom woman.

        1. Ah, we must have crossposted – I have a comment in the spam filter that says basically the same thing because that was what I remembered, too.

      2. For a moment there I wanted to chime in and say that I remember that, too, but then realised that I confused her with the the “Sleepy” LW (whose letter I can’t find in the archives right now for some reason?), who definitely wrote something to the extent of what you say here only recently (the guy would wake her up in the middle of the night to talk or something).

  8. As a tangent, if he helps autistic children by repressing what they want to do, “conditioning” them to do something different, not respecting their autonomy as individual people, etc. then that doesn’t sound so great for *them*, either.

    One thing I have noticed in myself: When I feel extreme relief at being “anywhere than here”, it often relates to what I allow myself to be free of when I am away. If there are things that I really dread, that I cannot escape when I am in town, then going away gives me a reason to escape those. And sometimes they aren’t what you’d initially think, so it’s worthwhile to spend some good time thinking carefully about *what* specifically feels so free when you’re away? (Not answering your phone or email or txts (and from who specifically, that’s the clincher), really feeling free of job responsibilities, not second-guessing others’ comments, not seeing that pile of dirty laundry you still need to do (ha!), or, like, it could be anything, and probably several things.)

    The reason I bring this up is two-fold. First: because moving isn’t always a magic wand that “fixes” things, if certain things that were unknowingly troubling you become unconsciously replicated in the new place. Second: because once you start to know what some of these things are, then you can help set in place helpful tools and behaviors, no matter *where* you are. And some of them could possibly be easy (turning phones & computers off in the evening, doing/hiding the laundry so you don’t have to look at it every five minutes, practicing not thinking about work when you’re not at work, meeting up with friends every x days, these are all stupid examples if those things don’t apply to you but hopefully it makes sense…)

    We are all of us complicated people, and even during a quarter-life crisis of Career & Life & Everything, there sometimes isn’t just one Huge Answer; there’s a bunch of things that are in the mix. Or you’ll get confirmation that, indeed, it was the big things you thought it might be.

    BUT MOSTLY I want to say that you have lots & lots of options & I support you in whatever you decide to do, no matter how big & adventurous that may be, because you sound really great.

    1. As someone on the spectrum, the bit about “conditioning” jumped out at me, too.

      As long as I’m responding, let me second what you said about thinking about what you’re getting away from when you get out of town. While you may still want to move, getting to the bottom of what changes when you’re not in your home town may help you take some steps to make things easier for yourself until you’re in a better position to move, whatever that might entail.

      1. I was wondering if what changes when she’s away is that she’s away from a person who belittles her dreams and tries to control her panic attacks by “conditioning” her the way he “conditions” children on the autism spectrum (EEEEK).

      1. I agree that it sounds really bad when you say it like that. But, we do condition children, all children, on how they are expected to behave. They are rewarded with attention/praise/food whatever for doing acceptable things, and not rewarded or punished for doing not what we want. (And when parents don’t do this, you notice, because that kid is screaming.)

        We teach them with rewards to behave in certain ways to fit into polite society. And though calling it conditioning seems HORRIBLE and dehumanizing, because it is also what we do with dogs, we are all animals, and we can all be conditioned to certain behaviors. It seems like that is not the case, because humans are so smart, and dogs are just learning to sit on command but smart dogs can be taught very long complicated tasks via a conditioned response to rewards.

        We are all already conditioned to certain behaviors For instance how many times did you check facebook/gmail/twitter/candy crush/words with friends today? We are constantly seeking rewards (via notifications) for behaviors (checking things/ posting things.)

        We all want to believe that we are too smart to be conditioned to do things, but we’re not. We are just smart enough to notice when it is happening in a way we don’t like.

        So I agree, that the idea “conditioning autistic children” sounds really bad, because you are singling out a group of kids, who are struggling with issues and it sounds like you are dehumanizing them. But, it’s not malicious, it’s an attempt to make these kids lives within their families and within society easier for them, and to help them navigate the world. So to do that, (from my limited knowledge passed on from my sister in law) they use a more formalized version of the same kinds of techniques parents use on their non autistic kids. Very directed rewards and praise, and lots of repetition and routine.

        And it really sounds especially offensive if you don’t think of raising normal kids as conditioning, or think of it in the larger context of how we are all conditioned to live within the boundaries of society. So I get why this causes a gross inappropriate that’s mean and offensive reaction (and I’m not saying that reaction is wrong necessarily.) But man, I use conditioning techniques on myself, to make myself do stuff I don’t want to do all the time. It works.

        Now I don’t know if the LW’s boyfriend has put as much thought into the role that reward systems play in our society as I have. So…yeah, I’m not saying everything is fine. But yeah.

        1. That may be, but LW is not a kid. An adult shouldn’t consider it their business to “condition” another adult.

        2. And I’ll take exception to “We all want to believe that we are too smart to be conditioned to do things, but we’re not. We are just smart enough to notice when it is happening in a way we don’t like.” I don’t think we are “smart” enough to notice, though that is not the word I would use. As an intelligent person who was manipulated and abused in a way that was ever so slowly escalated, I don’t think we often do NOT recognize when this happens. It often takes some sort of over the top boundary violation. In my case, and from what I’ve read, usually that thing that causes us to finally see what’s happening is the result of a miscalculation on the part of the person controlling/conditioning us. At that point all those “caring” actions that we saw one way, we may re-evaluate and recognize them for what they are.

    2. I think LW’s got good reasons to want to leave beyond “I just feel better away.” Access to public transportation when driving yourself can give you an anxiety attack? HUGE bonus that not only makes it easier to get a job, but also makes it easier to expand your social circle, go places, and meet people, which can help a few of LW’s other problems. Small town job stagnation is a big problem–there was actually a pretty good article on Cracked about it a couple weeks past. Sometimes a new city is the best option.
      It doesn’t have to be permanent. And yeah, there will probably be things about the new place that aren’t as good, and things to miss about the old, but in the end, you just have to look at it and decide which place will make you happier overall.

      But yes, I side-eyed HARD at the conditioning bit. I’m not on the spectrum, so I could be getting this wrong, but isn’t conditioning something they do to make kids not “stim” so they can behave more “normally” (not necessarily so they can be happier or communicate better)?

      1. Okay, total tangent here, but I want to know where all this stuff about ABA is coming from. When I worked for a company that provided services to kids with Autism, we didn’t give two shits about stimming. ABA, for us, was a means of giving kids with no language the ability to communicate, of teaching self-care skills like using the toilet, and of providing appropriate alternatives to “problem behaviors” like violence or self-injury. The majority of therapy consists of what we call Natural Environment Teaching, which is a fancy way of saying “do what the kid wants to do and find opportunities to use their interests to create teachable moments.”

        The goal was always communication and independence. And yeah, my clients stim less the more I work with them, but it’s not because I prevent them from stimming, it’s because reading a book together or racing hot wheels is way more fun than twirling a piece of plastic against the table.

        Captain, I apologize for the tangent, but I’m sick of seeing the hard work I do and the amazing people I’ve worked with getting shit on as some kind of child abuse.

        1. Briefly, and hoping not to go too far with a potential derail:

          I think the thing about ABA is that it’s a useful tool that can be used or misused. It can be used to teach key skills that will be very helpful to the child, or it can be used to teach a child to act superficially more normal in ways that are ableist and unhelpful and/or excessively stressful to the child (such as getting them to stop harmless stims, which has indeed been something that has often been done by ABA practictioners).

          There have been a lot of genuine problems with ABA. However, that doesn’t mean all ABA should be tarred with the same brush. Sounds like you worked for a really good organisation, and that’s an example of how it *can* be used well.

        2. Okay, total tangent here, but I want to know where all this stuff about ABA is coming from.

          Decades and decades of ABA manuals?

          As an autistic spectrum person who’s worked with severely autistic children, I feel fairly well-placed to say that yes, now there’s lots of cool and fairly person-centred stuff like Positive Behaviour Support (which I’ve used) and Natural Environment Teaching going on.

          But for decades, the official Applied Behavioural Analysis approach to autism was based on “compliance”, getting the “correct” child (or adult client) responses to entirely teacher-directed prompts, and suppression of any “stimming” before anything else, because the official line was that children couldn’t learn anything until they stopped flapping their hands and were forced to make eye contact.

          The more flexible approaches were developed by people who broke away from Lovaas and co., and I believe the more rigid approaches are still widely used.

          So I agree that all ABA is not the same, and there’s lots of great stuff going on. I’ve used behavioural techniques to support kids’ autonomy and enhance their ability to communicate and express their choices.

          In fact, anyone who’s broken a skill down into tiny steps to teach them one by one, with lots of encouragement — that’s “behavioural”.

          But when people have these associations with ABA, it’s not because someone’s been making up wicked libels about ABA out of thin air. I’ve read the older manuals on ABA for autism; that’s what’s in there

          (I went through a phase of collecting secondhand books in the field; I actuallly have some of the really old manuals — “really old” here being 1980s — which recommend things like slapping children for “non-compliance”. )

      2. Hey,

        I hope that this is helpful, but apologies if not. The sense I got from the description of T’s work role was not ‘conditioning’ as such, but that he might be delivering an intervention called ‘Positive Behavioural Support’ which is an excellent approach for people at the severe end of the LD/autism spectrum with challenging behaviour. I used it on my LD placement with non-verbal clients, and it is (done properly and ethically) a very warm and person-centred approach that seeks to improve the client’s life and environment (and reduce the distress that drives challenging behaviour) by identifying the things that trigger an episode of CB, formulating the ‘need’ that the CB is trying to communicate, and trying to address it, in order to reduce the person’s distress, increase their safety and the safety of those around them, and ensure they feel valued and their contribution is valued, that they have a role. So for example a client I worked with was fascinated with anything electrical but would become so hyperaroused with excitement if any electrical items were used around him (eg blender, hoover-there was a sensory aspect to his arousal we suspected, about how he experienced sound) that he would put himself and others around him at risk, either by biting the electrical wires (he had been nearly killed by this is the past) or by becoming so excited/frustrated that it would trigger an epileptic fit. The result was that he was not allowed anywhere near anything electrical by his care staff, which was obviously a loss for him. Using a PBS approach over a period of months we managed to help him to maintain a safer level of arousal so that he could actually start to use the hoover, thus enabling him to have a role and job that he really enjoyed, contribute in his own way to the upkeep of the house, and a safer relationship with something he loved. I’ve put a link here to a website about it if people are interested in reading more:


        I would insert several caveats however:

        1) I have heard that PBS is used very differently in the USA to how we use it here in the UK, and that we have much stricter ethics around it (for example, we would never, ever, ever condone using punishment as part of PBS, although it is effective. It’s also cruel and inhumane). So people may have had different experiences of this approach across continents, and ‘one-size never fits all’ anyway, so I’m not advocating it-any intervention should always be carefully thought about and formulated for the individual and systems around them.

        2) I’m only saying this because I hope it is helpful re the ‘conditioning of autistic people’ concerns that have been raised. It’s posted as an attempt to offer some info that might help with these concerns. It is just a guess at what he might be doing though, so take what might be helpful to you from it, or feel free to disregard completely.

        3) Whatever he does with his clients, there are strict ethical protocols around consent , capacity to consent, and treatment planning. It is NEVER, EVER cool to try this stuff with someone without these in place, and certainly never, ever with someone in your personal life. We cannot be therapists to our lovers, it just isn’t possible because of our own biases, and it is damaging, unethical and disrespectful even to try. So whatever he does at work he shouldn’t be trying it with her. No wonder she feels unheard and invalidated, if he’s taking an ‘expert’ position and treating her like a ‘client’, assuming a stance of ‘knowing better’-this triggers lots of warning bells for me around power and control.

        *steps off soapbox*

        to the LW: the captain’s advice is awesome, and I hope you find your way through.

        warm wishes,


        1. Slightly redacted (x internet stranger should be getting THIS type of therapy = NO).

  9. Somewhat random point, but I thought I’d throw it in, because I don’t know where you are or where you are interested in moving to–

    If you move to a big city that has public transportation, but where many people still choose to drive, don’t let people tell you that you HAVE to own a vehicle without doing some investigation for yourself. I’ve lived in Los Angeles, the fucking capital of “car culture”, for four years, and I have never owned a vehicle. People here regularly express disbelief at the fact that I survive here without a car, and it pisses me right the fuck off….especially given that most of these people are privileged 20-somethings like me to whom earning 25-30k as a single young person makes you “poor”. Yes, that is not a ton of money in a big city, but there are people who support FAMILIES on that level of income… do you think they can afford cars? *fuming*

    Yes, it is frequently annoying, yes, it takes some extra planning, and yes it has limited me in some ways (I can’t live/work in the suburbs, and I choose apartments in part based on what transport lines are close)… but between my bike, buses, and the occasional airport shuttle/uber/zipcar/lyft, I manage to have an active and pleasant life without a car, in fucking Los Angeles. And even with the occasional use of more expensive ways to travel, plus the occasional replacement of a stolen bike light or food item broken on the way home from the store, my way of getting around costs me less than most people my age are spending on maintaining a personal vehicle.

    That doesn’t mean it’s possible for everyone, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t prioritize going somewhere with GOOD public transit if you can. I’m just saying, in any major city, there are people who survive without cars. So you don’t have to assume that just because a place isn’t known for public transit, it is unliveable without a personal vehicle.

    1. Yup. Alissa Walker (awalkerinla.com) Bwrites a lot a lot a lot about living in LA without a car. And I did it for a lot of years by living in a centralized location in a town with good public transport (even if I paid more in rent).

      As a person who had a driving phobia for a lot of years, T is not being very sympathetic or helpful here. He probably doesn’t get what it’s like–god knows most people don’t and act like they’ve been driving from the age of two–but still, it’s not nice of him to act like she’s just gonna get over it. I had to be gentled into the whole process for a long time and it’s amazing that the LW has a license at all given her trauma. Dude needs to shape up a bit, I think.

      And as someone else said above, if T doesn’t want to leave and LW really really does, that’s a relationship ender when you want that different of things.

      1. Thanks for the link to Alissa Walker’s blog… I hadn’t seen it before! Very very cool.

    2. Yep, agreed. I’m also in LA and I do have a car but I still take the bus about half the time (I’m terrified of riding a bike here, though– props to you for doing that!). Our public transit system is absolutely terrible for the size of the city, and there are all sorts of reasons for why including but not limited to “car culture”, and it can be tricky sometimes to get to any random place to any random other place, but it’s doable. And tricky but doable probably also goes in other cities that have strong driving culture and public transit that exists but is inadequate for their populations.

    3. Seconding this: I lived in LA for 7 years, and despite the car-obsession this city has, it is an AMAZING place to bike. Wide lanes, good weather, great bike culture. The public transit is also pretty good. And when you don’t have a car, you have to live reasonably close to the centre (and there are less expensive areas pretty close to the centre), which is always the coolest place to live anyway.
      I hope never to own a car, and this means I always [choose to / am forced to] live close to the nicest parts* of any city I live in.

      * Well, nicest unless you like being isolated from other people, which of course some people legitimately do.

  10. Great advice from the Captain as always. I have one suggestion that I hope might help the LW feel more self-reliant and less anxious in the short term: get a bike (as long as biking doesn’t also trigger your PTSD).

    Biking is a great mode of transportation for people who don’t have access to public transportation and don’t drive. it is amazing how awesome and liberating it can be to be able to get yourself from point A to point B using your own power. Most small towns have bike shops, which are also a great place to meet people a find a new community. They may offer cycling or bike maintenance courses as well, which can help you feel even more self reliant.

    Good luck!

    1. I second the awesomeness of cycling. If you do move, and you’re looking for cities with car alternatives, picking one with good cycling infrastructure can only help give you options.

      1. Portland, Oregon seems like it might be a good fit here. I don’t live there (I’m in Seattle), but my sister does and last year my fiancé and I spent a weekend there getting around entirely via the bus system, which served our purposes well. They also have light rail, and they’re VERY bike-friendly.

    2. I am absolutely seconding this.

      My family hasn’t had a car for six years now due to financial reasons. I live in a small town with reasonably good public transport (it’s the countryside; people usually look at me like they swallowed a fish when I tell them I don’t have a car) but I still prefer using my bike when I only go smaller distances, like to the grocery store or my part time job two towns over.

      I have two baskets on the front and the back of my bike which allows surprisingly much storage if you have to carry things. Not only am I not dependent on train and bus times but it makes you feel kind of healthy and fit, too, even if you – like me – usually ride at a, well, sedate pace. Plus, it just really makes me feel good and happy so maybe that’s something that’d happen to you, too.

  11. I’ve been living in Pittsburgh for four years with no car. Rent is really cheap here, so I can live within walking distance of campus & grocery stores, and the bus system is ok. It’s impossible to get a cab, but Lyft and Uber are making inroads in the city. Pittsburgh is surprisingly awesome: very green, lots of good food and cultural events, friendly. There’s a big grad student population, many of whom are subletting their rooms for the summer, starting now or soon. If Pittsburgh has the sort of work that you want to do, I highly recommend it! Nice neighborhoods to look for housing in: Squirrel Hill, Friendship, Bloomfield, Lawrenceville, Shadyside (although Shadyside tends to be pricier), Highland Park, East Liberty.

    1. Yes Pittsburgh! I lived there two years without a car and loved it loved it. I made very little money and lived in Shadyside and could afford it and it was the best. This was after I lived in Manhattan and hated it, so.

    2. My friend’s boyfriend lived there for college and started laying on the hard sell when I was talking about wanting to move to a bigger city. It’s on my radar, if I ever do leave this town again. Sounds like such a cool place.

    3. If we’re suggesting cities, the Twin Cities (Saint Paul and Minneapolis, MN) are also a place you can live relatively cheaply and car-free. It sounds like this area similar to Pittsburgh in several ways: there’s a major research university and several smaller colleges, so lots of students are looking to sublet or find roommates. We just got Lyft, the bus system is pretty okay, and a new light rail line between Saint Paul and Minneapolis opens up in June! Minneapolis is also a very bike-friendly city, and more biking resources just keep popping up in both cities. Rent is generally cheaper in Saint Paul than in Minneapolis, but you can find affordable, nice places in both cities. You don’t say what kind of work you’d like to do, but if you think AmeriCorps would be an option, we have AmeriCorps programs coming out of our ears (I’m an AmeriCorps member, I LOVE my position, and I’m doing just fine on the very small living stipend). Plus, we have Awkward Meet-Ups! 🙂

      Anyway, my real point is, there are many places in the U.S. where you don’t have to drive to get around, and where you can have great friends and great job prospects. Changing the direction your life is going in is scary, but there are places and people and resources out there to help you — and this blog is a great place to start.

      (Sorry to Lizzie for replying to your comment but talking mostly to the LW. If I ever decide to go live somewhere else, now I know to check out Pittsburgh — it sounds great!)

    4. It’s my hometown and I miss it desperately every day! I’m so proud of the place it’s turned into over my lifetime.

    5. LW here, and I just wanted to say that I’ve only been to Pittsburgh once, but I LOVED it, and Pittsburgh was totally on my list of potential cities (I think University of Pittsburgh has a Library Science program, which is what I’m looking to get into at a point in time when I can afford grad school.) I’m also obsessed with dinosaurs and have been since I was a kid, so I lost my mind when I went to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. I’ve also heard that it’s not a terribly expensive city.

      I also had no information on how do-able Pittsburgh was without a car before reading this, so YES to all of this, and thanks a lot. Without divulging too much except “I live on the East Coast,” Pittsburgh isn’t all that far from me, either!

      1. You want dinosaurs? We got dinosaurs. 🙂 Loads of libraries too. Yes, like Amber said, Pittsburgh is a pretty cheap place to live. And like J. Preposterice said, it’s bikeable too. You do have to deal with hills (unless you live in Shadyside and only commute to Pitt or CMU) and avoid potholes, but it’s totally doable. Several of my friends bike everywhere.

        I just had a look at Pitt’s Library Science Program, and it looks like they offer several kinds of funding and financial aid. The program chair might be able to tell you how many of the students in each degree program usually receive aid, and for how long.

        I’m ticking the “notify me of replies” box this time. If you decide to try Pittsburgh any time in the next two years, drop me a line! 🙂

        1. Thanks for your help! I will say that I’m not too experienced on a bicycle (I uh, fall a lot and am kinda slow), but it might be worth looking into trying to brush up on my skills. I am a master pedestrian, though, if that’s a thing :).

          And I’ll be sure to let you know if I end up trying Pittsburgh! My parents love it there, too, so that’s an added bonus.

  12. OMG the liberal guy erotica! o_O

    LW it sounds like there are some pretty good reasons for you to move from your current home town. There seems to be only one reason to stay, and that’s your fiancé T.

    This is all really huge life stuff, and it has huge consequences for you. It would be entirely reasonable if you decided that moving away was more important to you than staying with T. Enough goes wrong in life without setting ourselves up in a situation we *know* will make us miserable. Such as deciding to stay in monotonous boring jobs for the rest of your career.

    You said you’ve only hinted to T. Definitely tell him outright that this is what you want, and what’s important to you. He might consider it equally important to him to stay where he is, but if he tries to convince you you’re wrong to even want it (as opposed to legitimately wanting something different to him) then here be bees.

    When I was in my early 20s I had a really hard time asking for what I wanted and talking openly to loved ones about my problems. And I had managed to find a dude who liked it that way. Because when I did start opening up and wanting things he didn’t react well when it was not also what he wanted. That’s when the gasslighting and manipulation and emotional abuse really got rolling. And I couldn’t see it for what it was because I hadn’t been allowed to want things in my family life either. So hopefully you can avoid learning these things the hard way – ask for what you want, and know that it’s reasonable to expect people to respect those wishes (even when they disagree). It’s a really good litmus test.

    If you’re only hinting because you *know* talking to T about this stuff will be disastrous and fraught and he’ll react really badly then here be bees.

    And if you’re not saying it just because you know he doesn’t want to move, and you do, and the only real answer to that is to split up because your life plans are incompatible – Jedi hugs for you. Know that while it’s tempting to put off really thinking and deciding on that, the sooner you do it the better. Because your lives will only become more entangled.

    And finally compromise is possible – a move doesn’t have to e forever. It can be “hey T let’s move to [major city with opportunities] for a few years while I kick start my career and then we can revisit it then and see how we both feel”. You can try out different places and ways of living. Maybe you’ll find one you both love equally. Maybe you’ll change your mind and both want to move back. Maybe five years from now you’ll have the qualifications/experience to get your dream job in your home town, and driving will have become easier for you. I’m not saying promise him anything, just that you can go into this without knowing if it’s a forever move.

    It’s OK to prioritise and pursue your own dreams.

    1. I want to second this! I’m very, very attached to my hometown and wouldn’t actually want to move somewhere else. There are some places not far from here I could compromise on, but generally, I’d really want to stay here. So I’d probably rather break up with a partner than move and that is an okay decision because it is my decision and I want to be where I know I’m happy. It’s your right to be where you’re feeling good and you shouldn’t have to limit yourself on that front for the sake of someone else.

  13. Oh, LW.

    I am in a situation that has a lot of similarities (and also a lot of differences. Living in a small town 200 miles from all of my friends. Working at a job I used to love, but has over time become a trap and a hell, partly because of a boss who has spiraled down from “difficult” to “abusive, paranoid, and dangerous” over a several-year period. Working in an industry I love but which has three employers in the county, and they all have very low turnover, so getting out of said job is challenging. Living six blocks from abusive ex-husband. Do not drive because of an anxiety disorder. (Not accident-related PTSD.) With a partner who is resistant to changing jobs or cities.

    Here’s the difference: Partner knows, and acknowledges, that this is a toxic environment for both of us. He knows, and acknowledges, that his own change-averse temperament leads him to stay in unhealthy situations, and that that is his shit to deal with and work on. He knows that it is unreasonable for him to be comfortable at my expense. He knows that his discomfort is short-term and illusory (the current situation may be comfortable, but it’s also unhealthy, and once the move is done, and we’re settled on the other side, he’ll settle back in and be happier than he is now) while mine is not (I will NEVER feel safe or comfortable here). When he gets upset or anxious during discussions about moving and jobhunting, he reminds me – and himself – that he is not having these emotions AT me, and actively tries to manage them. He actively encourages me to jobhunt in the destination city, although he’s not yet to a place where he’s ready to do so. He takes on the lion’s share of driving, and does so without complaint, and helps me connect to public transit when I need to travel independently, and also does that without complaint. (Up at 7am to drive me to a connecting bus an hour away, and come pick me up again at 9pm, so I can go into the city for a job interview.) He never, EVER mocks, shames, or teases me about the driving anxiety thing, EVER.

    THIS IS HOW PARTNERS ACT. It’s a hard and sucky situation, sure. It’s going to get harder before it gets better, but we’re both committed to getting to “better,” and we’re both committed to being honest, kind, respectful, and supportive toward EACH OTHER through it.

    Look, I don’t know WHY T. is acting the way he is – maybe because of his professional background he really believes that he knows best how to help you despite being told that his actions aren’t helpful*; maybe his resistance to moving is grounded in anxiety, like my dude’s is; maybe saying a lot of the right stuff in big, abstract, theoretical conversations but seemingly uninvested in immediate, practical, personal conversations about your life and your agency and your hopes reveals and underlying difficulty expressing intimacy – but it doesn’t really matter, does it? What matters is that his BEHAVIOR is actively undermining your mental health and trust in your own perceptions and that needs to stop.

    (*AIEEEE big “run like your hair is in fire” red flag – my ex believed he knew best how to help me too, because of his professional background. Which was in military interrogation. He, no shit, flat-out TOLD me he was gaslighting me. Because I could not be trusted to interpret my own emotional landscape. Anxiety issues: SO MUCH WORSE after a couple of decades of swimming in that nastiness.)

    As the Captain says – your instincts are in good working order. Listen to them. This is bigger than “I think I want to move, and he’s not sure.”

  14. Oh, LW, I feel you on this one! I also had a bad experience with driving when I was younger, and because I don’t drive often, I feel cut off and lonely in small towns. I also had some career setbacks after college and felt aimless for a while.

    The difference: my partner was supportive of my desire to live in a city with a good transit network, and he helps me out by paying 50% of the rent for an apartment close to the city center. It would be easier for him to in a less safe or in a connected neighborhood, but I wouldn’t be as comfortable there, and so he makes certain sacrifices for me because I made some for him. The city we live in wasn’t my first choice, and like all cities it has its problems, but now that I’m here I love it.

    You have the right to live in a place where you feel comfortable, and you have totally valid reasons for not feeling comfortable where you are now. There’s a stigma against laying down an “ultimatum” in relationships, but it’s up to you to say, “I am going to live in a city in X amount of time.” And then you can talk about what that’s going to look like for your relationship: will you be in a long-distance relationship? Will you move together? Will you go first, so he can follow once you have a job and a place to live? Will you break up?

    The answers to those questions aren’t things you can control, but where you live is.

  15. There’s a lot of great advice from the Captain and other commenters. One thing I’d add is that it pays to do a lot of research. The internet can provide a lot of useful data on areas: availability of public transport, employment statistics, climate, cost of living, exercise/entertainment, and so on. Where do you want to be, based on that? Maybe your big move might be as close as a city an hour away, or maybe you want to go clear across country. List up your friends, family members, former schoolmates, old teachers, etc. Who do you want to be near? Who is supportive and loving and someone you would enjoy seeing more often? Also, even if you’re not very close, if you know someone in Ideal Area X, you can talk to them about what it’s like to live there. As an above commenter said, part of the joy of a vacation is the escapism; with a move, you’ll be relocating some of your inescapable stresses (like housework, taking care of pets, recycling, shopping, etc.) But your research will hopefully be able to suggest ways those things might change for the better as well: for example, being able to cycle to a grocery store or farmer’s market might be less stressful than having to drive 30 minutes to Wal-Mart. Having that information at hand can help you to be able to know what you want and how to attain it, even make a countdown schedule.

  16. Ah, LW, I feel so deeply for you. I have a deep set phobia of driving on highways, bridges, any road with more than two lanes…basically all the roads you need to take to *go* places.

    And I know that this can be very inconvenient for the people around me. I recently started seeing someone who lives an hour away, and who also very much enjoys activities that require traveling in some fashion. But as inconvenient as it is for HIM, it is far, far more inconvenient for ME, and that is what your boyfriend doesn’t understand. If it were as simple as just doing it, you and I already would have, because it is a shitty, life-limiting thing to have going on in one’s head. I’ve had tell people tell me the exact thing, and my answer is “Gee, why didn’t I ever think of that?! To think it was that simple this whole time!”

    I drove on a highway by myself for the first time in my entire life a few weeks ago. That was almost entirely due to my new guy’s belief that I could do the things I said I could do. Basically, I told him right up front that this was going to be a thing, but also said I could almost always find another way to get to where I needed to be, it would just involve lots of back roads and more time. My entire life that has basically been code for “don’t make me actually do that, just come pick me up.” Instead he was pretty much “Okay, great, meet me at X address on Tuesday.”

    …and I met him at X on Tuesday, and realized I COULD navigate long distances with my handy GPS. And then I started to realize that we were meeting at X because it was halfway in-between our two locations, yet it was still taking me a full hour to get there because I insisted on taking the back roads. So one night I decided screw it, it’s late, there won’t be too many people on the road, let’s give it a shot.

    Point being, at every step, *I* was the who decided to progress. He was there telling me I could do it without immediate fiery death, but *I* was the one who got to be in control. When the occasion did arise when a location was very far away and even the back roads involved an interstate and a bridge, I was able to comfortably say “Look, I feel like I’m come pretty far, but that’s really pushing it at this stage.” And he backed off immediately and everything was fine.

    Your guy needs to realize he is not qualified to handle your case. His job is not to fix you. It is to support you in taking steps to fix yourself…when, how, and even IF you want to take those steps. If you decide NOT to take any steps, he has the right, as we all do, to leave the relationship. But he NEVER has the right to FORCE you to take them on your behalf. This is YOUR dance, not his. When you’re ready to Rhumba, you’ll do it your way and to your own rhythm, and it’s going to be a solo performance. His job is to pick you up if you twist your ankle, dust you off, and then stand by applauding his heart out while you rock it.

    1. “His job is not to fix you.”

      THANK you. I couldn’t put my finger on precisely what about T’s attitude bugged me, but that’s exactly it. You say it so eloquently.

  17. I just wanted to add that another way to find a way to move/live somewhere new and exciting is to become a caretaker. Not of people, but of a house/farm/museum/location/island, etc, in a situation where you can live rent-free. I lived in a museum for two years while I worked on my graduate degree.

    You can generally find out about positions here: http://www.caretaker.org/ . They have a newsletter that lists various caretaker positions around the world – you have to subscribe, but it’s like $20/year. (I’m no longer living in the museum, so the price may have gone up a bit).

    The positions vary – sometimes it’s something like, “Live on this island off the coast of Ireland.” Sometimes, it’s farmers who want to take a year off but want someone to manage the property – if you have livestock experience, it can be helpful.

    Most of the positions are not paid, so it can be tricky, especially if you are required to be on the property a certain number of hours or are not from the country in which the property is listed and don’t/can’t get a work visa.

    Some of the positions that are paid are kind of old-fashioned – sort of live-in maid or butler positions. But they are paid, and they often are in interesting places to live, such as major cities with great culture.

    The positions vary widely, some are great and some not-so-great. But it could a great way to move somewhere and to build a community while figuring some stuff out.

  18. Dear LW:

    Maybe you’re happier on vacation because of vacation, maybe it’s because of other things you let go. The commenter who advised investigating that was right.

    And at the same time, you don’t have to know everything nor have a complete and fully logical explanation and plan.

    It’s enough that your job and your town leave you unfulfilled.

    Take time to see your friends, try something new and wonderful. The Captain’s suggestions of ways to give yourself adventures are great.

    In a sense, it doesn’t matter if your fellow has the best of intentions, as it stands he’s not giving you much support.

    So please, LW, give yourself an adventure. Maybe after that you’ll realize just how big and beautiful you and the world can be together

  19. LW, I’m sorry. That sucks. People have suggested a lot of things, but something else you could consider would be a shorter term internship somewhere. This can be a good way to test things, since an internship will have responsibilities attached that vacation doesn’t.

    As far as T goes… I have no real advice/words of comfort. Hopefully it’s something you guys can deal with. If you haven’t sat down and talked about *why* you have your anxiety and how his actions don’t help (and why they don’t help), that could be good. Otherwise, maybe consider looking for some sort of counselor for the both of you, if it remains an issue. Sometimes it takes hearing something from a third party before a person will accept it.

  20. Delurking for the very first time because this letter resonated so much with me.

    First of all, LW, while you probably already know this, I think it helps to reiterate this: it’s okay that driving makes you anxious. You didn’t do badly on some Adulting Test by not being the world’s most competent, calm driver, or not learning how to do it right away, or not always feeling up to doing it. Not being able to drive everywhere is okay. Knowing that there are some days when you’re too anxious to drive is self-care, in addition to just being responsible.

    I have a driving/car phobia as well, and it’s bad enough that I’ve never gotten my license. For years my parents would try to “encourage” me to try it again, or acted like my future success in life hinged on me learning to drive. They finally laid off a couple years ago (they’ve “given up” that it’ll ever happen), and the constant pushing was so draining. Even though I could articulate that they were wrong – I don’t plan on ever living in a city without public transit, it’s cheaper in the long run, and hi, having a panic attack behind the wheel is a DISASTER IN THE MAKING – I still internalized that shit. It made me feel awful, useless, and destined for failure because I had failed the First Step of Becoming a Responsible Adult. Meeting other people who have similar fears around cars was liberating because it meant I wasn’t fundamentally broken. Like I said, you sound like you have an awesome handle on this stuff, but I think it helps to be reminded.

    And funnily enough, my older sister taught autistic and other non-neurotypical children and also tried to manage me out of my anxiety! And sometimes she’d just make bizarre comments like how I was screwed up because I liked anime, which she knew because her students liked anime. Or something. I’m still not sure what point she was trying to make, but I’m pretty sure it was fucked up.

    Tangent, sorry. I’m glad you can recognize what he’s doing and know that it’s wrong. I’m not sure it clicked until I read your letter that she had tried to do that to me a few times. We don’t see each other often, so it wasn’t ever an on-going issue; I can’t imagine how that must be with someone you live with. Even if it doesn’t happen often, for me, just worrying that it might happen is enough to my anxiety spike.

    I could be projecting here, but he sounds kind of like a “fixer” to me – as in he’s trying to “fix” your anxiety. In my experience, it’s incredibly difficult for a fixer to unlearn the urge to solve people. I’ve also noticed that tendency stems from two places. The fixer wants to help you feel better because they don’t like you seeing upset, but it’s also a knee-jerk reaction to how uncomfortable/upset/anxious THEY feel watching you go through difficult emotions. So not only are they trying to “fix” you, they’re trying to fix themselves. So he’s trying to manage your anxiety as well as his own emotions. And I’m sure he thinks he’s helping. Because if you just did this thing then OBVIOUSLY the anxiety would be magically better. That’s how emotions work, right?

    (Dear Entire Family and Also Self: Emotions do not actually work like that.)

    1. “And sometimes she’d just make bizarre comments like how I was screwed up because I liked anime, which she knew because her students liked anime.”

      Suddenly T and his “conditioning” seem almost okay by comparison. I hope your sister manages to hide the contempt she feels for the students she’s being paid to help.

      1. She doesn’t work there anymore, and though I have never admitted this before, I thought it was for the best considering.

    2. I’ve never had a driver’s license, and I grew up in the rural midwest where driving is the only way to get anywhere. I was in college before I found out that carsickness = nausea, and that the sick feeling I get in cars, like an iron band clamping down over my sternum and forcing the air out of my lungs, is a panic attack. I’ve gotten them, just as a passenger, since I was at least four years old. It’s not PTSD because there was no triggering trauma. It’s not a phobia because it has nothing to do with fear: I do get irrationally afraid riding over high-arched bridges; I get rationally afraid riding over slick roads in fog. But I get panic attacks most often when riding at moderate highway speeds down long, gentle curves that intersect low hillsides.

      Since I figured out– well into my thirties– that this was the thing that set them off, I’ve gotten much better at dealing with the attacks. I can usually feel when I start to hyperventilate and breathe through it without going into full-on panic. I’m more comfortable than I’ve ever been with riding in cars, because I know what’s happening and I know the worst thing that will probably happen is that I’ll have to put my head between my knees for a while and concentrate on breathing from the diaphragm.

      I’ve also stopped berating myself for not having made another attempt to learn to drive. The thing that sets off my panic is so ubiquitous, and so unconnected with any actual danger or sense of control, that there’s nothing I could learn or get over that would help. It’s some sort of balance issue– probably the same thing that’s kept me from learning to skate or ride a bicycle and that keeps me off carnival rides– and not something I can fix through willpower.

    3. The “fixing” urge can also come from, a place of privilege/power. If I am in a position to give you help that you need, that puts me into a position of power over you; I can choose to help you or not, but you need the help and are not really in a position to turn it down, so the power is all mine. Even favors done freely and, apparently, in good faith can originate from this position of wanting to feel powerful, and can invoke that feeling whether the favor-doer necessarily wants the feeling or not.

      Someone who is accustomed to being in a position of privilege/power can be accustomed to having that privilege/power feeling, and not give it up willingly. So if you have a problem, this person will want to fix it for you, because fixing = power, and failure to fix = lack of power. It’s not even necessarily required that you ask for help; very privileged people will sometimes step in and provide unasked-for help, even when they aren’t actually in a position to help and their attempts to help make things worse.

      I’m not saying that this is the LW’s or T’s situation, or that this is the case in all “fixer” situations, but IMHO it’s an important dynamic to know.

      1. That’s a really great point and one I hadn’t considered before. I’ll have to ruminate on that one for awhile.

      2. As a fixer, from the other side it also feels rooted in inferiority and inadequacy (which is what lack-of-power looks like from the inside). Sitting with someone and not fixing them triggers feelings of worthlessness or invisibility, so fixing/helping gives a sense of adequacy and belonging. It doesn’t feel like a power play, but it totally is.

        Which is what you just said, Dante, just rephrased in a way to make it more recognizable to people who might be on this end of it.

    4. I’m an inveterate “fixer” so I absolutely see what T does here. I’m also paying my bills right now by looking after autistic children! And I identify SO HARD with your second-to-last paragraph. That is 100% what happens. When I’m watching someone else struggle, I have to sit down hard on my desire to jump in and make the discomfort stop.

      It’s especially hard when I’ve got my job, because it requires a level of emotional bluntness to the kids’ emotions. If I’m driving a kid to school and we need to take the short route, but he demands we take the scenic route and screams when I turn down the “wrong” road, it is explicitly my job to remind him of the car rules and keep on driving so that he doesn’t learn the way to delay going to school is to pitch a fit over our route. I have to sit through tantrums and insist that yes, we really are going home now that it’s sunset and no, you really aren’t allowed to play with the gas fireplace.

      Which means I have to be the bitchy aloof know-it-all on my job sometimes. (And, I just, my formal training as a counsellor is so so counter to that, it hurts. I’m looking for another position, it hurts so much.) When I notice myself using “job voice” on my friends or family, it horrifies me. It’s so hard to keep those two personas separate.

      So as a T-like person: T needs to learn to sit on his anxiety about the LW’s anxiety. She is a grown adult able to make decisions about her life, and SHE can make the decisions about when to use coping skills or emotionally self-regulate. He does NOT need to make them for her. Shift’s over.

      1. Yep, SO MUCH SAME. I don’t work with kids or in caregiving (at least not directly), but I am a caretaker by nature, was raised by a nurse, and have tons trouble separating other people’s emotions from my own. Which of course means I want to jump in and fix everything! all the time! for everyone! But that is impossible (and at times, like with T and the LW, the *opposite* of helpful).

        I’ve been in therapy for the last few months for a variety of reasons, and am finally starting to see some of these bits and pieces of myself clearly. One major thing I am learning is how to sit with discomfort – both other people’s, because I can’t fix everything so sometimes, yep, other people are just going to be upset and handle it themselves; and my own, because no, I can’t fix everything, and I need to get over my feelings that I *should*.

  21. Thanks for pointing out the controlling aspect of T’s behavior around panic attacks and anxiety, Captain. I recognized myself in it, unfortunately, in that when I don’t know what do in similar situations I sometimes fall into MY TRAINING WILL FIX IT! LET ME FIX IT! WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON’T WANT TO USE MY HIGHLY EFFECTIVE TOOLS THAT DON’T WORK FOR YOU AT ALL?

    Whoops. Gonna think about that.

  22. I’m sure this sucks of me, but as an autistic person, when I heard that T is one of those people who works with autistic kids and “conditions” them (probably ABA therapy or ABA-esque), I started mentally recoiling. Behavior is communication, and too many teachers focus on “training” kids like animals instead of trying to figure out the root of the problematic behavior, and I know from my experience and that of people I’ve talked to that that attitude has so many negative mental health side effects, especially down the road when these kids are adults. It’s not at all hard for me to believe that someone who’s okay with doing that and doesn’t question it could be controlling or even abusive in other areas (obviously not everyone in that profession is, but yeah).

    1. If mentally recoiling from that is a sucky thing, then we can both suck together. People who talk about ‘conditioning’ autistic kids or NT kids send my anxiety levels through the roof and set off all my red flag alerts.

      1. Yeah, my vehement reaction to people talking about ABA ansd stuff can seem unreasonable – and I’m sure there are cases where it’s used in an OK way. But for me the associations will always be similar to that of Just Stimming’s ‘Quiet Hands’ post. (if you go over there, TW for ableism, abuse…)

  23. I just want to throw a thing out there: You don’t actually have to marry T.

    I am NOT saying you should not marry him. I am NOT saying you should break up with him.

    What I am saying is that marrying him is a choice, a free choice for you to make (or not make) and that is as true today as it was before you became engaged.

    A relationship in which everyone engages freely is different from a relationship in which one or more parties are obligated to participate. A relationship that you “have” to make work has a different dynamic than a relationship that can be broken up if people aren’t into it anymore.

    When you have discussions with T, remember that this is a choice you can revoke at will. It may help you to assert your needs. It’s harder to stand up for yourself when the relationship is one of obligation (you have to make it work) and the other person is not open to negotiation at all. If you’re chained to a brick wall, there’s not a lot of point in yanking and fighting it.

    But you’re not actually chained to this brick wall. You can walk away if you decide that’s what’s best for you. T can remain a brick wall if he chooses, but you’re not actually required to accommodate that – any accommodation on your part is entirely voluntary.

    Note: avoid issuing an ultimatum, e.g. “You need to move with me to Big City or we’re through.” Nothing good ever comes of that.

    I’m saying that you need to remember that your continued participation is voluntary, and behave accordingly. It may come about that T has to choose between his love for you and his love for being a brick wall. Were you chained to the brick wall, no choice on his part would be required; he could have both. If you make it clear to him that he can’t have both (without ultimatums!) then he may decide that being a brick wall isn’t so hot after all.

    1. I have a slightly different perspective on ultimatums: don’t make them unless you’re going to follow through on them.

      When it comes down to it, an ultimatum is what happens when one person decides that the current situation is intolerable to them–something changes, or they make a decision (such as to leave), and then the other person decides whether avoiding that consequence is preferable to avoiding that change.

      They can be used coercively (especially when someone keeps them hanging over the other person’s head) but sometimes they really are statements of a non-negotiable decision.

      1. Here’s why I said that: an ultimatum is a threat, and people don’t react well to threats. Some people (such as myself) will do the opposite of what you want, just because the threat is so insulting. Others will comply but will resent forever that you threatened them into compliance.

        Instead of issuing an ultimatum, just say what you want, clearly, in non-ultimatum form (e.g. “I really need to move to Big City and I can never be happy here”) and if the other person will not bend, carry through on the ultimatum that you did not issue. Actually saying the ultimatum out loud goes nowhere good.

    2. Just a word about “avoid an ultimatum, nothing good ever comes of that.”

      I disagree. Formulating ultimata can be liberating. You get to express what really are boundaries that mustn’t be crossed.

      But only state ultimata when you’re ok with acting on them.

      1. I would say, Never state an ultimatum, but nevertheless be willing to act on it. It’s possible to express your boundaries without putting them into threat format, and possible to enforce them without turning it into a threat. Formulating an ultimatum can be liberating, I would agree, but stating it out loud in ultimatum form is never going to help you.

        1. I think it’s fair to tell someone how much of a deal breaker something is for you.

          “I will never be happy here how can we move elsewhere?”
          “we can’t”

          So then you just leave? WIthout telling the person that you are moving and they are free to come or not? I think that’s unfair.

          1. I don’t know where you got the idea that I am advocating sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night with a suitcase and hightailing it without leaving a forwarding address. ??? I don’t even know how that would work.

            And I don’t know why it would be difficult to formulate a “this is a dealbreaker for me” phrase without saying “you must do this or else.” In fact, “This is a dealbreaker for me,” perfectly encapsulates the concept of an ultimatum without actually =being= an ultimatum. Not sure why that would be hard to do.

        2. We-ell “never” is a very long time…
          More to the point, in my experience, stating the ultimatum is a big part of why it’s helpful.

          When what I’ve wanted to say is “yes, this is more important than your desires, or even, than our relationship,” then, that’s what I’ve wanted to convey.

          Your comment below indicates that it’s the formula “don’t do this or else” that bugs you. I don’t hear a difference between that and “this is a deal-breaker.” Would you clarify please?

          1. For me, and this may not be the same issue Dante has, I feel an ultimatum/dealbreaker comes off as a lot more respectful if you frame it as a decision you are making, rather than essentially asking the other person to make the decision to break up or not. Someone finally agreeing to do something rather than have their partner leave is seldom going to be a positive thing. Sure, occasionally you’ll get someone with a sudden epiphany that they want to be with their partner more than they want to do X incompatible thing, but usually it’s just going to lead to resentment.

            “I really need to move, and I respect that you don’t but that means this relationship isn’t going to work” puts the responsibility all on the person who primarily needs the relationship to be over.

          2. This is to SarahTheEntwife. because Threading
            Thanks for your explanation.
            You make perfect sense. I get that “Or Else” can sound like “It’s all your fault”
            In my experience, and, anecdotally, that of my acquaintance, it’s always been clear that “Or Else” means, “I’ve decided that X has to happen, and it can happen with or without you. I’m hoping for with you”

            But yes, I do understand that it might not sound like the decider of X owns the decision,.

    3. thanks. just thanks.

      I once was engaged with *abusive ex* and I thought often about breaking up with him, and always came back to “but I promised…!!”. (But, finally, I left him. Yay!)

  24. I’m another person with a driving/car/traffic phobia, though usually I can get by, because:

    1) Spatial stuff is hard for me in general, driving was a hard skill to learn in particular (I was in two car accidents, one of which totaled a car, before I passed the license test), and I still have a lot of nervousness around me-as-driver even though I’ve been licensed for 16 years now.
    2) I was hit by a car as a pedestrian before learning to drive – it’s why I have mobility issues.
    3) Darth Ex liked to pick fights in cars and would occasionally drive in a really nasty aggressive way and generally make me scared that we were going to die.

    Spouse is AWESOME about this and will very gently say, “Need me to get this?” in the sorts of driving situations I have particular difficulty with. If we have to rent a moving truck, he knows he’s the one driving it. Or if I need to be the one driving, he will talk me through the driving tasks I find difficult or understand if I need to do the driving in a different way from what he’d choose, like there is this one interstate merge near us that he’s fine with but I will go another way if traffic is at all busy because I know I will have trouble with it.

    What T. is doing is the opposite of awesome. Now, I understand that sometimes when you are a smart and logical sort and so is the person you’re romantically involved with, sometimes logic-ing them out of a phobia or trigger seems like a good idea. It’s not, because it doesn’t work most of the time, and I’m not convinced it ever works without breaking something else instead. I admit that Spouse and I have both tried and failed to do this with each other at a few points, and I understand that the intent behind trying it is usually good, because anxiety reactions fucking suck even (maybe especially) when the person having them knows that’s what they are, and watching one’s best beloved struggle with a thing that “isn’t even a real thing” is painful and turns into “hey, if I can just get beloved to see this isn’t real I will remove suffering from beloved and from the world and I will be a good person and a good partner.” But it DOES NOT WORK. And he needs to stop trying.

  25. I’m not sure I love how some people here are seeing some things in T that I’m not convinced are true “red flags.” I think there’s value in asking the LW whether T does other negative things, too, but I haven’t seen many comments that really address how the LW can manage this situation other than cutting and running.

    So, LW:

    I do think you should think about 1) whether T behaves in the sort of way you describe him behaving in the car in general, without necessarily being so overt about it, and 2) whether, even if he doesn’t, the two of you are really compatible.

    However, if you feel like the answer to 1) is no and the answer to 2) is yes, I think there are some things that the two of you really need to grapple with.

    First: You are not happy with where you are. I can see why, and I think that a move would do you a lot of good. I think that T needs to see that, too. However, I also think that if you haven’t probed at the issues he has with the idea, you should try to do so. A move would affect him as much as you, and he may well have concerns about moving that some discussion could alleviate.

    You mentioned that you’re doing okay financially in your current situation – might he be afraid of that changing if you moved to a different town? Does he like his job? Is he worried about finding another one, or moving to a place where you don’t both have jobs? Is he scared of leaving behind his closest friends and support structure?

    None of those things take precedence over your issues. I want to be very clear that I’m not saying that. I think it sounds like moving would be right for you. However, if this is a relationship you really want to work, saying, “Well, this is right for me so I must do it” doesn’t really address concerns that T might have.

    My boyfriend wants to move, and he wants to travel. I do, too. However, we’ve had to have a lot of conversations about it, because our approaches are quite different. He can be quite idealistic, where I’m thinking about the logistics of finding a job and supporting ourselves and food and healthcare and other things that he just doesn’t automatically think of. Sure, it can be possible to make it work… but I’d personally be quite reticent to do what the captain is suggesting unless I had no other options, because ultimately, the economy still isn’t great, and while it can go right, it can also go horribly wrong.

    Again: I am not saying that you should not do this. I think you should. But I also think that if your fiance does have some legitimate worries, some discussion could help alleviate them and possibly help you make a better plan that you would on your own.

    Second: T clearly does not understand anxiety or PTSD. This is not uncommon, but I think that it is a serious problem. It doesn’t indicate that he’s a bad person or even that he’s wrong for you, but what you’re talking about is a serious condition, and it’s one that if you two are going to get married, he really needs to understand.

    I’m not sure how much you’ve tried talking to him about it, or whether you’ve given him books on the subject, or whatever. If you have, and he hasn’t tried to listen, that is a major red flag. If you haven’t really sat down to talk about how it feels, though, I’d consider trying that, maybe even with your therapist as well.

    If you do and he refuses to listen, that’s also a huge red flag – but if you truly think that he’s trying and that these outbursts are really uncharacteristic, that might help. I know people who have handled mental illness in those they love very, very poorly, because they’re frustrated and don’t understand. IMO, that in and of itself is something that needs to be addressed, but it is something that often can be addressed and dealt with.

    Again, I do think you should really think about whether T is the right person for you at this point in your life, and if he says that he’s not willing to move, I do think you should go about doing it on your own. If the relationship is meant to be, you’ll find a way to make it work. If you don’t, it wasn’t that important. However, I also think that these might be good steps if you do decide that he’s the right person for you and not throwing up lots of red flags.

    (Sorry for the novel!)

    1. I like this (and the Captain’s advice, although not her framing) because it works whether he’s an abuser or a good guy who doesn’t know how to handle PTSD. If he’s a good guy, things will get better (which may still mean they break up, if the LW wants to be elsewhere more than she wants to be with him). If he’s abusive, she’ll know, rather than wonder. Those are both better outcomes than the status quo.

      1. Or he’ll listen and make encouraging noises, leading her to think that he’s a good guy! And yet, somehow, the behaviors don’t change …

        The kind of people who abuse by controlling are typically smart enough to know when you’re trying to catch them out and deflect/distract/disguise what they’re doing for a while … so you try again, because surely they are a good person and if you could just *explain*…

    2. I like this advice a lot. I can see how the letter would might cause some people to think that T is controlling and potentially abusive, but I can also see a reading of the letter where a lot of what’s going on is that the LW hasn’t sat down and been direct with T about what she wants and how her anxiety and PTSD need to be handled.

      It can be scary to have those kind of direct conversations even if you’re with a lovely person who doesn’t give you any reason to think they’ll be a controlling jerk about it: fear that maybe you’re just not compatible but you’re not ready to face that head on, a personality type or family history that means you just feel uncomfortable having those kinds of conversations, etc. But if you’re going to marry someone and make a life with them, you really need to be able to tell them what you want and need to be happy. If they don’t react well, or just can’t give you those things, then it’s better to know that up front.

  26. I think the most important point here is that you’re not happy. That’s something that should be changed, if at all possible. It’s something you have to deal with, and if you’re in a healthy relationship, it;s also an issue for your partner. I’d be inclined to make that the start of the conversation. You’re not happy, so what can you do to fix that. You have some ideas that might make you happy again, such as moving. He might have some ideas. They’re worth listening to, because he might have some good ones. But the problem isn’t resolved while you’re not happy. And if his ideas don’t make you happy, then the problem still needs to be fixed, so you should try your ideas with or without him. A good partner isn’t going to find it acceptable to maintain a status quo of you being unhappy when you might be able to change it. And you shouldn’t accept a life where you’re not happy when you might be able to change it. But seriously, if he’s a good, loving partner, he’ll want you to be happy. And he’ll want the two of you to work on a plan for changing things until you are both happy (or if it is impossible for you both to be happy at the same time together, then it’s clear you need to break up – it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a bad person in any way or that you are, just that you aren’t compatible). But he should care that you’re not happy. And you two shouldn’t consider your life plans workable as long as one of you is not happy.

    You don’t even have to have all the answers or a guarantee that your suggestions will work. What you have to do is identify the problem of your unhappiness as a problem that needs fixing and expect the two of you to try as hard as you can to fix it. Trying something you think might fix it and it not working out isn’t a failure – it’s progress toward figuring out what will work. It’s totally okay to bring up a problem with some ideas you think might help, but not be positive what will help. If you two do end up moving and you’re still not happy, he should not hold that against you, because you’ll still have done the right thing by telling him about the problem, telling him your best guesses and thoughts for how to fix it, and trying something to fix it.

  27. I am legitimately furious reading the bit about how he insists that he knows better than you when you are capable of driving (which is apparently “all the time). It’s a car. Cars are not toys. Cars can be very dangerous. It is our responsibility as drivers to refrain from driving when we believe our abilities may be impaired–which you, being a responsible adult who certainly knows her own mind and issues better than anyone, even someone close, are trying to do. Honestly, I think it’s also our responsibility as people to do what we can to prevent other people from driving if they may be impaired. Certainly not to to tell someone who has legitimate reasons to feel that Now Is Not A Good Time to just get over it and do it.

    Little side-eye for the autistic conditioning thing, but only because it reminds me of that story about a teacher trying to train autistic kids with a clicker like a dog. But at any rate, no, he should not be doing that with you. He’s your fiance, not your therapist, not your teacher.

    I really do hope y’all get to a point where moving to a better city looks more feasible. I hope you get to go to meet-ups and expand your social circle, and I know how hard that must be in a city without public transportation when you can’t just drive whenever you want.

  28. Wow, Captain Awkward, I am so disappointed in your response to this letter. The way you jumped immediately to ‘your boyfriend is a total tool and setting you up to fail and awful awful awful’ is really kind of disturbing. Especially looking at the actual contents of the letter.

    LW says that last week (once) her boyfriend got frustrated and snapped at her, a side of them that LW rarely but occasionally sees. Obviously we have no way of knowing how occasionally this is, but you seem to have jumped to ‘all the time’ really fast. I personally know that, while I am generally levelheaded and supportive of my partner’s depression, and have a decent understand of it as I’ve been severely depressed myself, all the same I occasionally have a bad day and can’t push it down when i get annoyed at them about something, even if it’s something they can’t control. We’re only human – no one can be perfect all the time when it comes to being someone’s support system, especially when it seems like LW is relying primarily on them and the therapist only. That’s a lot of support to have to give without ever losing it and snapping at someone. Especially if it’s dealing with something you don’t understand and have never experienced.

    Plus, the whole moving thing – I’m not completely sold that moving will make LW that much happier; while this place is obviously not great for them, as much of their unhappiness seems to come from the change of career and having to drive as everything else. Other people have already touched on the whole ‘happier when travel does not equal happier when living in those places’ thing, too. But again, why does it make him such a horrible abusive person for not wanting to move? For him, there isn’t any problem with where he lives – job, friends, history, activities he enjoys – life is good, and moving will change those things, potentially for the worse (potentially for the better, but that’s a harder thing to concentrate on when things are good *now*). Should he be more supportive of LW’s desire to move? Yes, but it’s not horrible or impossible to understand why he might be resistant to it. I’d suggest that LW do some research before bringing it up again – pick out a specific place you’d like to move to, rather than some nebulous ‘anywhere but here’. That way you can lay out things he too might like about that town, job openings in his career that are there, the amount of distance that it will be putting between him and his current friends, how maybe there’s an awesome park for hiking and a good public transport system. Maybe once he sees things that are a plus for him personally as well as for you, rather than just pluses for you and minuses for him, he’ll be more open to the idea.

    1. I don’t think T is necessarily abusive or bad, but I do think the LW is afraid to raise certain issues with him. Afraid to tell him and her friends that she’s not happy. Afraid to do more than hint about wanting to move. So what’s the source of that fear? Is it in her head? Is she stopping herself? Is it something that could be cleared up with a conversation? The way he acts about her driving is one of those things where it legit makes me wonder what else he wants to “help” or “teach” her about and if they’ve fallen into a bad pattern where he is the Together, Logical One and she is the Messy, Illogical, Damaged one so her raising her needs will get shot down if she doesn’t have the whole plan stitched together. Because while doing research and having more of a plan as you suggest is a stronger way of making a case, it shouldn’t be necessary before even raising the issue. I read so many letters like this, where it’s “just one thing!” that’s out of phase but the “just one thing” is really a whole bunch of things. If the LW comes back and says “You’re nuts, T is great, it really is just that one thing” that would be the happiest outcome in the world for me. I’m not invested in a picture where he is controlling, but I think it is a factor in the (admittedly selective) image that the LW gave us.

      As for the actual advice:

      Making new friends = a good idea, will help her state of mind.
      Seeing old friends = a good idea, will help her state of mind.
      Talking honestly about wanting to move = a good idea for the relationship.

      I don’t think that his not wanting to move is wrong and hers is right, but it sounded to me like she was afraid to even raise the topic because she thinks his reasons would trump hers automatically. But they don’t! So I wanted to lay out “this is what supportive looks like” vs. “this is what scary looks like.”

      1. “where he is the Together, Logical One and she is the Messy, Illogical, Damaged one so her raising her needs will get shot down if she doesn’t have the whole plan stitched together”

        Yes — I wondered if that was maybe going on at some level too. It is hard once these “roles” form in a relationship (of course that might not be what is going on here). I can relate to this idea, though, having had a partner who would use the trick of “you have to present me with full, logically thought-out plans with details of how to implement them and dates or I won’t listen to your ideas because I am too busy and I hate wasting time on useless talking around subjects”. Yeah, it was a deflection technique — he actually wanted me to write him a memo (A MEMO) for one idea I had, and that’s when I realized it was evasion. He didn’t want to consider my ideas.

        I’m so much happier without him.

        LW, I really think the Captain’s advice about seeing your friends and meeting new people is awesome — not just because this is fun! and will make you happy, but because being in a relationship should not mean you can’t do what you want, follow your dreams, have a life that is outside of your partner, etc. Suppressing yourself is not loyalty. Like another commenter here said, you have to find out who you are and what you like.

      2. “they’ve fallen into a bad pattern where he is the Together, Logical One and she is the Messy, Illogical, Damaged one”: This is EXACTLY the vibe I got off the letter.

        1. Gah, hit submit by accident before completing comment.

          I’m thinking about several recent conversations here about “abuse survivors are not BIASED by their experience, they are INFORMED by it.” This guy frankly terrifies me. I am not sure that T. is abusive, and I’m not sure that my own Darth Ex was abusive at the beginning, but all of the latent behaviors and attitudes were there. You’re damaged, let me fix you, I’m the expert. “Making it work” in a situation that’s miserable has a higher moral value than changing the situation to be happy. Your sense of physical safety and control over your environment matters less than Learning Skills. Trauma is something that can (and should) be Skillsed and Logicked away, not a part of you that informs your worldview. You don’t actually need to be close to your friends. I can talk about your marginalized experience (back to “I’m the expert.”). In hindsight, every one of those attitudes was present at the beginning of my marriage, which spiraled down into a terrifying, mindfuckery-loaded, soul-killing horror show that I will probably never entirely recover from.

          Hey, maybe they’ve just fallen into this pattern because the circumstances of their lives support it; living in a small town, bored and isolated, having not much of anybody else to talk to. Sure. These things happen. (Partner and I have to fight Teh Heteronormative Smalltown Patterns of Life, which are pretty conducive to gendered control behaviors, all the time and he’s as ACTIVELY opposed to them as I am.) Maybe changing things up – having an open, specific conversation about a move, scheduling more visits with friends, making new friends – will break them both out of a rut they’ve fallen in. And maybe changing things up will bring some of this stuff into focus, escalate it to the point of clarity. EITHER WAY, for the LW’s long-term good, something needs to change before she ties the knot. Because he is hurting her. HE IS HURTING HER. And whether or not he’s technically abusive or just self-absorbed? Really, bluntly, more than a little triggery and victim-blamey.

          1. Trying to use his “work skills” on her to train her when she knows full well what he’s doing and doesn’t like it comes to mind. It has a “let me fix you” vibe.

          2. Oh, yes, and the bit where he seems to think she’s irrational for not wanting to drive when she’s feeling anxious, because he can help(make) her power through her PTSD and be “stronger” (which, again, as someone else said, the heck? To be willing to drive or even get in a car again after that is one heckuva display of strength).

          3. Honestly, I’m as bothered by these two paragraphs (if not more) as by the driving business:

            “I feel like part of the reason my anxiety has been off the charts lately is that it’s a toxic environment for me to live in.[…] I keep hinting that we could find a new town to live in, but T seems set on making our hometown work, since it’s cheap to live here and we’re doing okay financially with our current jobs.”

            “Making it work” is a dogwhistle for “maintaining/enforcing the status quo.” Sometimes just because change is scary and hard and doesn’t seem worth it, but sometimes because the more entrenched the status quo, the more entrenched the power differential and control embedded within it. I always side-eye “making it work,” especially when it comes from the person who will lose power in the proposed change.

            And shutting down emotional, personal-wellbeing-based statements of need with pragmatic, logical arguments devalues the other person’s wellbeing and challenges the fundamental premise that emotional needs have validity. Which undermines the other person’s trust in their own perceptions and needs and is a precursor to gaslighting.

            (I’m not talking about bringing pragmatic issues into the discussion. Loving responses to “I am really unhappy here and want to move, I know that means sacrifices” are “Wow, you’re really that unhappy? Let’s talk about it. What sacrifices can we live with?” or “I don’t see how we can manage that right now, let’s talk about how we might be able to plan for it in the future and how I can support you being happier in the meantime.” The difference between these and “Fact A, Fact B, Fact C, end of discussion” is active listening and empathy.)

            “Most of the people I know see me as a happy, outgoing person, and even my closest friends wouldn’t be able to guess that I’m going through a crisis. I’ve internalized most of it and don’t really know *how* to speak about it without melting down, because there’s so much conflicting within me.”

            That reads to me like a person who feels deeply unsafe, in deeply nebulous and hard-to-quantify ways that I associate VERY VERY STRONGLY with a gaslighting environment. This combined with the fact that LW is obviously trying very hard (investing a large chunk of the 500-word limit) to cast T. in a good light – which reads like “fine, we’re fine, everything’s fine” to me. Except for that one thing, that was unsettling enough to write to an internet advice column about. That reveals other unsettling things. But nothing specific, you know?

            My first response to your question was “ARGLEBARGLE BEES EVERYWHERE, CAN’T YOU SEE THE BEES?” but sitting down and writing that out actually helped me massage my own nerves and walk back from a triggered state, so thank you.

          4. @ ordinarygoddess –

            Ahh, okay – thanks for the longer explanation, I can definitely see where you’re coming from!

            I don’t know – I see what you’re saying about loving responses and how partners should respond to each other, but I do think that you’re putting a little too rigid a box around approaches that might just differ in reasonable ways due to personality styles.

            I’m a very logistics, bottom-line person. If my boyfriend came to me and said, “I really want to leave, I hate it here,” I’d be sympathetic, but I’d also want something more concrete from him. I don’t think I’d start with, “Well, what sacrifices can we make? We should jump on this.” I’d want to know what was bothering him, and if he had thought about some of the logistics. I’m a big proponent of ‘follow your heart… but also feed yourself and make sure you have a safety net.’ I think the end game would be similar to what you’re saying, but I’d have a very different way of getting there.

            And, it seems like the LW and T haven’t even had this conversation yet. If he responds to her “I feel really unhappy” with “Sucks to be you” or “Be happier now,” that’s a huge problem… but if he’s responding to hints with “Nah, I’m happy here,” but approaches a bigger discussion about it in a supportive way, it’s not, IMO.

            I’ve also been in a position where I didn’t tell the people around me that I was deeply unhappy, even suicidal, so I can see a lot of reasons other than gaslighting and fear to do so.

            I don’t know. I’m not trying to argue that T is the best guy ever – I can just see a lot of scenarios in which what the LW is describing is not a bees problem, just a normal life/relationship hurdle. There are situations I’ve been in where this has definitely been the case. So T may be showing warning signs of abuse… but I think he may not be, and I’m not wild about the fact that very little of the advice here seems to be geared toward working on her relationship with T if he is not in fact a terrible person, you know?

          5. Sure, and I and others have been careful to note that this pattern of Unsettling Things could be a number of things that are not abuse, and his specific problematic behaviors as described could be innocent. It seems to me that the advice is not so much “work on their relationship” as “work on short-term mitigation and long-term remedy of her own unhappiness, some of which directly affects/is affected by him, and oh by the way here’s a big side order of Worst Case Scenario about his possible reactions to that.”

            I, too, sincerely hope that this is just a case of circumstances, mislaid best intentions, and the LW’s own reticence in tackling big conversations and drawing firm boundaries, and T. is really a good guy who will listen to her and meet her where she needs to be when she does jump over that particular shadow. I do. But what matters is that she’s hurting and worried (scared, I think, but I’ll concede and use softer language there) and feels unable to talk to her partner about important things in her life and specific things that he is doing that upset her, and feels unable to talk to her friends and other loved ones about how bad things really are, and that is just absolutely not an okay footing upon which to start a marriage.

      3. Maybe it’s just me, but I really didn’t get the same undercurrent of fear that you seemed to from the letter. For one thing, I didn’t gotten the sense that she’s hasn’t been talking to T about how she feels – if he’s “usually empathetic,” it seems like he probably is. For another, I don’t think that the LW’s friends not knowing she’s in crisis is necessarily indicative of fear, either.

        Similarly, while I can see your point that you shouldn’t need everything mapped out before you raise the issue of moving, I do think that there are legitimate reasons for a partner to feel uncomfortable with “I want to live anywhere but here.” Opening the conversations with some specifics – not an ironclad case, but some ideas rather than a vague “somewhere” – can help to alleviate those.

        The issue with cars is tough, and I think that something really needs to change, because it’s not good for either of them. However, what the LW is describing seems more like frustration to me than anything else, especially she also says that he’s usually empathetic and includes “confused” in the range of emotions that she sees.

        I’m also wondering what exactly happens when the LW is feeling prone to an anxiety attack and so isn’t safe on the road… but still needs to go somewhere. If it then falls to T to drive her (which seems like it might be the case to me), I can see how he might get frustrated sometimes, especially if these anxiety attacks happen regularly.

        I don’t know. I feel like you and a lot of other commenters are reading a bit more into the letter than is really there. I’m not saying you want T to be a bad guy, but I’m just not seeing a lot of the things that you are.

        1. One person’s “reading more into it than is there” is another person’s “this really looks a lot like the beginning of my abusive relationship and the abusive relationships of others I know and love.”

          1. Yes. My stay in the House of Evil Bees gave me a superpower in the form of sniffing out possible abuse early on. Some days I think it’s the one good thing I got from it. If I can act as an early warning detector so that one less person gets hurt, I’ll do it every time. It’s worth the risk of looking like I’m over reacting.

          2. Absolutely. But, I think it’s also valid to say, “this really looks a lot like relationships that I or people I know have been in that were generally healthy, with a couple rough spots that were completely manageable” – which is where I’m coming from.

          3. @ Kellis –

            I am in no way trying to detract from your experience – being abused often makes victims more sensitive to the signs of abuse elsewhere. However, I do think that there’s some danger in jumping to “abuse” while only having a small portion of the picture when the picture is kind of hazy.

            I’m not saying that you shouldn’t raise concerns where you see them. I’m just a little perturbed by the fact that it seems like the vast majority of the advice being given in this thread is from the point of view that he’s abusive… which isn’t necessarily the case.

      4. LW here – reading all of these, including the original response, has been so helpful. Thanks, everyone! I realize I could have expanded on a few things. My bad!

        This right here: “The way he acts about her driving is one of those things where it legit makes me wonder what else he wants to “help” or “teach” her about and if they’ve fallen into a bad pattern where he is the Together, Logical One and she is the Messy, Illogical, Damaged one so her raising her needs will get shot down if she doesn’t have the whole plan stitched together.”

        I reaaaaaally wish this sentence wasn’t as accurate as it was. When I am upset about something concrete and would like to address that something, it’s hard to get him to see that this is something completely separate from my anxiety. So, when I try to address it, he goes into immediate “brace for an anxiety attack” mode, instead of just “sit and listen” mode.

        He has even gone to my therapist with me, and things have been better since, but he does not handle it well when I try to suggest even a small part of his behavior is not working – he thinks he’s helping when he tries to apply things he’s learned in ABA therapy to me, but I’ve told him “that hasn’t worked with me before, and in many ways, it makes me feel worse.” I’ve even suggested to him that the idea of “training” *anyone* is kinda sketchy when he showed me a book he had on getting rid of certain behaviors. He’s not Internet-savvy, so I doubt he knows what “PUA” and “Red Pill” even are, but his response was something along the lines of “well, it works” because that’s what he’s been taught, and I couldn’t help but think “uh, pretty sure a male feminist would not try to train his fiancee to be anything other than what she is” even though he is super convinced that attitude helps me :/

        I told him outright after everything happened that “the support I need sometimes just comes in the form of a hug or an ‘I’ll drive this time,'” but he’s stuck on this idea that lots of exposure to the thing that gives me anxiety attacks is a good idea for some reason, as opposed to me handling the issue at my own pace (which I did and continue to do – I took driving lessons specifically meant for people with phobias, and I push myself when I feel ready to do so.) It’s tough, and I know I’ll have to make some pretty big compromises and have some uncomfortable discussions in the near future.

        1. So sorry to hear that, LW. My ex used the fact that I struggle with depression off and on as a basis to discount every feeling I ever had that he found inconvenient. I hope that’s not what’s going on in your relationship. If it is, let me just say from experience — that attitude from a partner doesn’t make for an egalitarian, fulfilling relationship.

        2. I guess I don’t understand this:

          “It’s tough, and I know I’ll have to make some pretty big compromises and have some uncomfortable discussions in the near future.”

          I understand the “uncomfortable discussions” but what “big compromises” do you think you’ll “have to make”? Why do you think it will be required of you to make them? What big compromises do you think T is going to have to make?

          These are not questions you need to answer for me, but they are questions I would ask myself in a similar situation. Whenever I feel like I have to do a thing, it helps for me to articulate clearly to myself why this is something that is required of me. This may sound silly, but I have a Livejournal, expressly for the purpose of writing these things out for myself in a completely private environment, and having a record of them on the Internet that I can refer back to later from wherever I happen to be. (I set my entries to private, obviously.)

          “I have to do this thing that I hate at my job because I need my job to pay my bills” led me to questions like “Why do I need this job? Is there a possibility I could get a different job? What would that entail?” This sort of self-questioning led me to the conclusion that I needed to go back to school and complete my education, so I could get into a different and better career. That was a big and scary conclusion to reach, let me tell you, but it turned out that this was not an impossible thing, and having my conclusions in writing where I could read them at any time was very helpful to me.

          1. YES. It sounds like LW’s already been making pretty substantial compromises for some time now. It sounds like the uncomfortable discussions are a really good idea to have, but why does she feel like she has to compromise more? After they have these conversations, is T going to be saying “I know I’ll have to make some pretty big compromises in the near future”?

            To LW: I’m going to echo the advice you’ve been getting about setting a timeline. It will help you clarify things for yourself, and it will give T a concrete plan that he can contribute to, ignore, or hinder. As someone who’s just gotten out of a relationship a couple of years later than they should have because their ex-partner kept on agreeing to things in the abstract but never getting around to making changes… I’m getting vibes like that from the way T’s objections to moving keep changing.

        3. “he’s stuck on this idea that lots of exposure to the thing that gives me anxiety attacks is a good idea for some reason”

          He doesn’t need to agree with you on the best way for you to handle your anxiety, he just needs to accept that you’re the one that has the final say. Your mental health isn’t something you should have to make a compromise on. You shouldn’t have to have more anxiety attacks just because doing it makes him feel like he’s helping.

        4. Thanks for expanding, LW!

          That definitely sounds like a problem, and knowing more details, I’m starting to be a bit worried for you.

          It’s one thing to not know how to handle anxiety attacks in someone you love – that’s pretty typical. I can see how someone who doesn’t deal with anxiety might think that pushing past the anxiety is a doable thing. However, it’s really not cool to plug your ears and refuse to take in the guidance your loved one tries to give you, and it sounds like that’s what he’s doing. Everyone messes up occasionally, but what you’re talking about is a pattern, and that’s a real problem, especially combined with him trying to “train” you when you’ve explicitly said you’re dealing with the problem. That’s really messed up.

          *hugs* Are you sure that this guy is right for you?

        5. I don’t know if it’s okay to comment on this – if not, please delete it, Captain, okay?

          I just wanted to point out that PTSD doesn’t work like other anxiety disorders and that it needs different therapy. Confronting someone with PTSD out of the blue, letting them have panic attacks, etc is going to make it *worse*.
          (not that it’s that important – you would be still perfectly within reason saying “I don’t want my fiance to be my secretly self-declared therapist” even if his behavior was helpful. But i wanted to be clear that he is *totally-officially proven-therapist-like *making it worse* *)

          So – does he know it? if yes, why does he do that?
          if not – why didn’t he, as some kind of professional therapist, educate himself about the problem his fiancee has?

        6. “but he does not handle it well when I try to suggest even a small part of his behavior is not working” – Then he is not really trying to help you, LW. He is only really interested in being right. You have flat out told him that his mad fixing skills actually make things worse for you and yet he persists.

          It’s “hard to get him to see” because he does not want to see. What he wants to see is that you will listen to his skilled and wise advice and get better. When that doesn’t work, he has to decide either that 1) what he is doing isn’t working, or 2) you are wrong, and if you just tried harder/listened/cooperated, what he would do is working. Picking #1 means admitting he is wrong. Picking #2 means that he can still think he is right, even at the cost of you not actually getting better.

        7. T is literally GIVING YOU ANXIETY ATTACKS because he thinks it’s best for you, despite the fact that you have repeatedly asked him not to. So he’s making your anxiety worse, and then dismissing everything you have to say because of your anxiety. This seems really disrespectful and really manipulative to me.

          Sorry if I’m reading into your comment too much, but when I read this:

          “When I am upset about something concrete and would like to address that something, it’s hard to get him to see that this is something completely separate from my anxiety.”

          I got a strong vibe that T is treating your desire to move as unimportant because it’s partially a result of your anxiety. Also probably because it conflicts with how he believes you should be handling your mental health, even after you’ve repeatedly explained to him that his methods make you worse.

          Severe anxiety about driving is a SOLID reason for moving somewhere with good public transport. I live in New York and a shocking amount of my friends, myself included, are people from car cultures who hate driving.

          I dislike driving but I’m not particularly anxious about it, and I’ve never had any trauma around it. And, just saying, not one person has EVER questioned my desire to live in a place where I don’t have to drive. My dislike is definitely not more valid than another person’s panic attack-inducing anxiety.

          As I said, I’m sorry if I’m reading into this too much.

          I wish you luck and I hope you get to make the move you need as soon as possible.

        8. It’s sometimes hard to realize that something that you tend to think of as mildly uncomfortable is actually really fucked up.

          Your partner thinks exposing you to driving will make you overcome your anxiety. In reality it GIVES you anxiety attacks. To do it one time could be a mistake based on good intention. To continue, despite seeing the effects, and, ESPECIALLY, after you TELL HIM that it is not working? And that you want him to stop? Disrespectful doesn’t begin to describe it.

          If you had a friend who told you about her boyfriend doing this to her, what would you think about it?

          Also, I looked up your “Red pill”-reference. Now I need to go bleach my eyeballs and brain in acid! Ouch!

        9. LW, T reminds me of a lot of my male coworkers. I’ve got a job right now working with kids mostly with autism. It’s the first place in the helping professions I’ve been in a majority-male environment (and also the best-paid) (!) and a lot of the guys in it… I kinda think they love it because they always get to be right. They are big and benevolent and wise and logical; the kids we work with are tiny and eccentric.

          But, here’s the problem. (Here’s where I’m being biased about education levels, apologies.) There’s this thing I can see, largely because I’ve got my BA in psychology and I’m finishing up my Master’s in counselling psychology. I’m trained to deal with a broad band of people–children to adults, phobias to personality disorders, college kids to criminal offenders. My co-workers mostly have two-year college certificates in Child and Youth Care, which focuses largely on the external needs of children–play, feeding, safety, etc–and not the underlying psychological issues. So what I see happen with them a lot is that they’ve actually been trained to work with a narrow spectrum of society, and aren’t aware of how much their training doesn’t carry over.

          As a PTSD-focused therapist my job has been really hard sometimes because how I have to react to kids in my current job* is not how I would ever react to them as a counsellor. In psychotherapy when I’m helping someone fix a problem, I have to be very gentle and non-directive and let them discover their own way through it. As an aide getting a kid with autism to swimming lessons, I have to be curt, to-the-point, and unyielding. My behaviour in the latter case is not designed to “fix” the kid’s problems–just get them approximating function closely enough to get them through the day.

          *I do modify my job requirements as much as possible? But I also am one person on a team of like ten people who look after these kids, so if I am the only one who acts super different, it’s just confusing and upsetting instead of actually helpful.**


  29. Wow, tricky. There are two separate concerns here, and I think it’s almost easier to deal with them separately rather than trying to draw a conclusion from the fact that they both exist at the same time. On the one hand, we have the issue that the LW and T appear to want to live in different places: LW wants to live “anywhere but here”; T wants to live “here”. That’s one conflict. The other conflict is that T is trying to overrule the ways that the LW manages her mental health. That’s not cool.

    The first issue shows that this is a relationship with a potential deep conflict. It’s understandable that the LW might have had trouble bringing it up directly. “Wanting to be in different places” is a major can of worms to open, particularly when your life is already difficult and a breakup would give you even more emotional stuff to deal with. That said, wanting to be in different places is also an issue that many couples deal with, knowing that it’s a tricky issue, but also knowing that it’s better to have the issue in the open, in a way that respects what both people want from life. Bringing it up is not the same as breaking up, or at least it shouldn’t be. So bring it up! You’re allowed to want things from life, and a good relationship will need to be able to take that into account.

    The first issue is one where neither partner is necessarily in the wrong. You can be a mostly good person and still hope your partner doesn’t mean those hints about moving away because you wish you didn’t have to deal with that, while simultaneously understanding deep down that this is a wish they are allowed to have. On the second issue, however, T is just plain in the wrong and needs to change his behaviour. It sounds like the LW has already told him that she needs his trust and support in dealing with her mental health, and that he has responded by continuing to try to take over on an issue that is not his problem to manage. Not cool, not cool at all, and I second the suggestion that the LW talk with her therapist about ways to manage T’s reaction if she hasn’t already. It’s not fair that she has to deal with this from him, and I hope he comes to realise how far out of line he is.

    I do not, however, feel that I, personally, ought to judge T or make conclusions based on both these issues at once. The LW has a more completely picture, and in the course of dealing with these two (separate, very different) issues, she can decide for herself whether this relationship can work. Those are some rocky things to deal with, each in their own way. Play them out with respect for yourself and your needs, and see where that takes you.

  30. I agree that T isn’t handling the driving issue very well. I’m not sure I understand this part, though:

    Someone who insists on not letting you out of his sight, is threatened, hurt, and sulky when you want to see your friends without him, someone who makes talking about relocating feel like the “WHAT’S YOUR PLAN, SKYLAR” scenes from Breaking Bad* is very, very bad news.”

    I reread the letter and don’t get vibes that T wants to control LW this way. If his goal were to get LW under his thumb, he wouldn’t be employing inappropriate techniques to try to get her to drive. He’d be encouraging her not to. Then she’d be dependent on him for rides, and she wouldn’t be able to visit her long-distance friends without him tagging along.

    Let us know how it’s going if you can, LW. T might be willing to work on changing his behavior, or he might not, but it’s impossible to suss out from a few paragraphs. Good luck.

    1. I don’t think that stuff is going on. I said, if she starts spending more time with her friends, if she starts doing social stuff without him, if she starts talking (instead of hinting) about moving AND he does that stuff, he’s bad news. I also gave a picture of what good responses would be. I think the LW is scared to raise the issue of “I’m not happy” and “I’m not happy here” -she says she’s faking being happy, basically. So, stop faking it, and then see what happens.

      1. “Stop faking it” is an excellent first step. Hopefully T will respond in good ways. But if he doesn’t, that’s valuable information too.

  31. While I don’t have anxiety issues or even panic attacks or PTSD regarding cars and driving, I still don’t really like it. I’ve had a license for over six years now and drove for about two months. That’s actually because my family had to sell our car because of finances two months after I got my license but I actually think I wouldn’t have driven a lot anyway. It makes me uncomfortable and stresses me because I have to pay attention to so many things. Add to that the fact that I may be pretty good at certain aspects of driving (I can go backwards like a pro) but would generally consider myself not a Bad but at least a Not Very Good driver, precisely because of never really being able to concentrate and focus and operate all the required things to do. These issues would maybe lessen with time but I’m absolutely okay with not trying it (isn’t possible right now because the financial difficulties still stand so we don’t have a car, but even if we did), especially since I’m not at all dependent on driving.

    Thankfully, my mother, the person I’m closest to, is very understanding and gentle in that regard – might be because she’s not a super big fan of driving herself or just because she’s awesome. We sometimes rent a car to go to my grandparents’ a few hours away and she never makes me drive because she knows I’d be afraid of doing so, especially after this long absence (and probably also because it’s totally likely I’d crash us after just a few metres; not a thing anyone wants).

    The very opposite of my mum’s behaviour is my sister’s boyfriend’s father (who is an abusive arsecrack the rest of the time, too, but it’s spectacularly obvious when it comes to cars). These kids are 18, bf just got his license half a year ago, and his father constantly pressures him to drive him (!) somewhere or berates him for being afraid of driving into Major Really Big City An Hour From Here That’s Difficult To Navigate Even For Experienced Drivers or calls him a cowardly loser who doesn’t even have the balls to do something like that. I only experience all of this second (or third?) hand through my sister’s and his own retellings but even I am stressed out and furious about such a behaviour, especially because it’s really obvious what it does to bf, who’s constantly in emotional turmoil.

    I think what I want to say with all of that is that pressuring someone to drive – which has the additional factor of being something that is ACTUALLY potentially DANGEROUS; sister’s bf already almost got into accidents like four or five times in the last few weeks – is Not A Cool Thing to do and really shouldn’t be anything anyone should have to endure.

  32. This post has made me think hard about how I’ve handled a partner’s mental health flare-ups. I started off with a deliberate ‘training’ approach, mainly due to idiocy and partly due to Hollywood. In each specific situation I stopped it – after causing him a lot of distress – because (surprise!) it didn’t work. Didn’t stop me from trying similar strategies in different situations though.

    I realise now that I was very scared, and felt I had no option other than to try to control the situation. However, I told myself that I was being helpful to him as the Sane Person in the room, rather than simply responding out of fear. Big side-eye on me. I should have trusted him to know the best ways to manage each situation, or at least given him the space to try.

    Luckily I did try more supportive approaches as well, and luckily I did listen and change when he told me to stop doing X. But I rarely asked him how he thought these episodes should be managed. Probably going to start doing more of that now.

    1. That’s actually really an illuminating look at why some previous partners have responded the way they did to my mental health issues. I’m glad to get that perspective, because even though my nowandfuture partner handles things differently, he wasn’t always helpful at first and it gives me a better idea of what his side of things can look like.

    2. But I rarely asked him how he thought these episodes should be managed. Probably going to start doing more of that now.

      This is a magical secret. We often assume that if people knew what they wanted to happen, they’d just do it and there wouldn’t be a problem. In reality, often people who are struggling have great insight into what needs to change, but limited ability to change it.

  33. LW if you want to go, you should go.

    I moved away from my home state after high school. Living in a small town, fit me less and less as I got older. It itched and chafed. There was a sweet man who wanted me to fit there with him, but i would have had to give up large parts of me to stay there.
    I went to the extreme of moving across the country to a large city in a completely differerent culture. My unhappiness was different, but being there helped me understand what parts of my old life had fit me, and what parts were better in the new place.

    I moved to a medium sized city in my home state and have been here for a long time now, with my family and tribe. I wouldn’t have this joy, if I had ignored myself, and hadn’t started looking for my home.

  34. LW, if it really is *just* the PTSD where he’s trying to control your behavior and nowhere else, I might be able to offer some help.

    I also work with kids with Autism and did ABA skills training for a few years. (Just so people don’t jump down my throat, I am also a Montessori teacher, which is kind of the opposite of ABA). ABA, used right, is a powerful tool and lots of younger/newer paraprofessionals are told and believe that it is basically magic. It works, and they get constant proof that it does. Many have it used on them by their bosses, or are encouraged to try it at home. I *still* use it to shut down inappropriate dudes at kink parties and to help my fiancée build habits (and this next part is important) that he’s asked me to help him with. I have used the techniques to successfully break some of my own PTSD triggers. So it can even work for that. Point being, it becomes a knee-jerk response to “run the program” when we don’t know how to handle a situation.

    So there’s the background if what he might be thinking. I can think of two solutions – the first is what everyone is saying, get him to understand that his “help” is inappropriate and not wanted. But you could also turn around the ABA to your advantage.

    I’ll put this in the language that he understands. Right now, the pattern he’s trying to break is: antecedent- LW is afraid to drive, behavior: LW avoids driving, consequence: LW is given a ride, projected future behavior: LW continues to not drive. Also a)LW is anxious about driving, b)LW has panic attack, c)LW doesn’t have to continue driving, pfb)LW continues having panic attacks.

    Which, okay, I get that. But there’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the variables at play. I think he’s seeing panic attacks as behavior instead of recognizing them as SR- (aversive stimulus/positive punishment). He’s also seeing driving as behavior and not a conditioned stimulus. He needs to get that you’re trying to turn driving from a negative stimulus to a neutral or positive one, and that to do so, the stimulus of driving cannot ever be paired with the negative stimulus of panic attacks. Only with many, many, many discrete trials of driving while feeling safe and happy will your brain let go of the conditioned association between car=fearpanicDeath! The behavioral control for this situation is not him blocking the behavior of you not driving, but preventing the consequence of a panic attack by allowing you to drive only when you feel up to doing so.

    I promise, that will make way more sense to T than it sounds like. I hope that you really do have a good guy at your side who is doing his best to help and will hear your words. I hope that he comes to understand that loving you means giving you what you say you need from him, not what he thinks you need.

    1. “ABA, used right, is a powerful tool and lots of younger/newer paraprofessionals are told and believe that it is basically magic.”

      I think that “magic” bit is what he’s hung up on when it comes to me. I don’t know a lot about ABA, so I’m no authority there, but I will say that I’ve never seen him be unethical about it at work (I’ve met a few of the students he works with, and they seem genuinely happy to be around him.) I’m pretty biased, mind you, but he’s good about engaging his students in fun and varied ways and just got promoted to working with helping young adults with life and job skills. However, I think when it comes to him applying things he’s learned with ABA techniques to me, someone he has an intimate romantic relationship with that all kinds of feelings are tied to, things can get sketchy and veer into “not right” territory easily.

      Thankfully, it’s *just* the PTSD and anxiety issues where he’s tried to change any of my behavior. He’s never told me who and who not to hang out with, or where to go or anything like that. If I wanted to take a vacation, he’d probably be like “aw, well, I’ll miss you,” but he wouldn’t actively try to stop me from doing so or begrudgingly tell me to “have fun” or nothin’. That’s where it’s tricky, I guess, because he doesn’t act toward me like this in all ways, but the way he deals with my anxiety/PTSD is not healthy, and even his mother has noticed it enough to discuss it with me in private.

      I think the hardest part is that he really thinks he’s helping, and he feels hurt when I say “nah, that’s kinda making it worse, can you please just give me a hug or drive this time or something? That works better.” Around the house and when we’re out, he’s never tried to get me to do anything boundary-pushing other than in the driving arena, so that’s good, but what you said here about driving being a negative stimulus rather than a behavior is spot on, because I primarily associate driving with car accidents, due to my experience with my former boyfriend’s accident AND being in many accidents myself.

      1. My spouse has PTSD, pretty severe PTSD at that, and I…haven’t always handled it so well, for probably similar reasons. (I finished my MSW last year around a paid job working with programs that served abused kids. Spouse’s PTSD is from severe childhood abuse. I occasionally got a little too into being “helpful” in ways that weren’t.)

        Your fiancé might be a mental health worker, but he is NOT YOUR mental health worker, and trying to treat you is a HUGE ethical no-no.

        One of the ways social work school helped me was to get much more specific about where that boundary is with Spouse. Roughly: I will, if and when needed, follow the same crisis protocol that I use with everyone from family to strangers on the street. I will, when asked to, show up when he is with medical providers and advocate for him to get appropriate care. I will do information and referral type stuff and give my opinion on the relative merits of different types of interventions. I will NEVER EVER EVER actually DO anything that remotely resembles such an intervention. That is a very firm line for me, and sounds like one T needs help drawing. 😦

      2. “Thankfully, it’s *just* the PTSD and anxiety issues where he’s tried to change any of my behavior. . . . I think the hardest part is that he really thinks he’s helping, and he feels hurt when I say “nah, that’s kinda making it worse, can you please just give me a hug or drive this time or something? That works better.”

        Here is a (maybe too harsh) script for you:

        T, you’re my fiance, not my therapist. Please stop trying to act as if you’re my therapist around my PTSD and driving issues. I have a therapist, and it is not you. And you know I *am* working on these issues with my therapist. Please stop trying to act as if you’re my therapist: that kind of thing sets up a bad dynamic in a romantic relationship, and our relationship is important to me so I want to keep it healthy.

        1. This? This is an EXCELLENT script. FWIW, I don’t think it’s “too harsh” – I think it is exactly as harsh as it needs to be for the issue.

  35. Hi LW! I’m de-lurking just to second the Captain’s advice to consider teaching English abroad. I highly recommend the Language Assistants program in Spain. I’ve been living in Madrid for the last 3 years and it’s been the best thing I could’ve done for myself. The stipend is more than enough to live on and you have plenty of time to travel. This program is particularly good for people with little teaching experience, as you work with classroom teachers in bilingual schools rather than teach your own class. It’s also really easy to make friends when you go abroad, because you meet so many people who are sharing the new experience with you. And people who travel tend to be open-minded, adventurous and interesting. Plus the public transport in Spain is among the best in the world! And if you don’t like it, you can ALWAYS go home. Good luck! xx

    1. LW here! Spain sounds awesome, and it’s one of the countries in Europe I haven’t really explored yet. I’m not great with Spanish, but I’m definitely not opposed to studying it more.

      I studied Russian and lived in St. Petersburg for a few months. I wouldn’t say I’m fluent, but I can definitely get around with a little brushing up. My writing is still decent, but I also haven’t been to Russia in 4 years, so my speech isn’t what it used to be. I really, really wanted to go to Ukraine to teach English, but after everything that’s happening over there, I don’t know if that’s in the cards anytime soon, so Spain might be a great option for me, thanks! 🙂

  36. LW,

    You mentioned that you’re bilingual, and apparently quite fluent, as your former employer felt comfortable speaking with you in her(?) native language. I would just like to point out that should you choose to move to a larger city, that fluency may stand you in good stead in job-seeking.

    Good luck,


  37. I’m going to talk a bit about career and possible moving stuff.

    Re Moving. I think you should totally move. I think that everyone ever should live somewhere that is not the place they grew up for at least a few years. It is hard to make new friends in those places (FYI it is the WORST) BUT it is also really valuable in helping you understand what your values are independent of the society in which you were raised.

    I think this is especially true with very small towns, or otherwise tight knit communities. It becomes so easy to fall into the roles that they have assigned you. I think it is just a great thing. And you may move away for a while and realize that home is where you really want to be, or not. But you should try.

    As far as jobs go, do not despair, you will have other jobs in your life. I’ve had… uhh 5 jobs post college, and I’m about 10 years into my career. And they are all different, and they can change as you go. You get a new boss, the company gets bought out. What is important is that you try to learn as much as you can from each job you have. Whether that is how to deal with being bored, and cope with job related depression, or how to do some new fancy software. These are life skills that you can bring to your next job. Which you will have.

    Career path wise, I don’t know where you are now, so it is hard to make suggestions. My blanket suggestion for everyone right now is to look into Data Science, or other data oriented training programs, especially ones with programming. Shit is on fire right now. (But if you majored in like, history, maybe not a great transition.)

    Sometimes it’s not the career though, it is the job. And being somewhere where there are multiple options for the kind of work you do is a big help. That is why I still live where I live instead of my home town. Here I can change jobs any time I want.

    Keep in mind, and this is not what you want to hear, that no matter how much you loooove what you do, you wont want to get out of bed every day and go do it. It takes quite a few years after college to really adjust to the tedium of full time job having. But you will adjust, you will find jobs that you love and then they will change and you wont love them as much and you will move on.

    Here are my tips for surviving your career:
    1. Remember, the company doesn’t care about you. We want to be loyal, especially if we’ve made friends within the company or we like our boss. But, if it helps their bottom line, they WILL fire you. It is not personal, it is business. Your #1 goal in any corporate situation is to take care of yourself, after that, it is to be awesome at your job.
    2. Have a hobby, make it easy to get to, something other than watching TV, something to look forward to at the end of the day/middle of the week. When I first started working I resented anything that cut into my limited free time, but the value of having something not work to do far exceeds that in the long run.
    3. Keep your resume updated, and your LinkedIn Profile. Update them right away when you get a new job.
    4. Keep in touch with old business contacts. The occasional lunch or drink, you never know when ti might come in handy.

    Now, here’s my whole thing. I get that you love your fiance and he’s great but things aren’t perfect. And that’s fine. But what I”m concerned about is that you are afraid to try to get the things you want because you don’t want to lose him.

    But is it really better to be with him, if you are ultimately miserable in a town you hate with a job you hate? I’m not saying you should break up, but just accept that maybe in order for you to be happy right now, this partnership might not be the best thing. And that might change, but ultimately, you deserve to have what you want. It sounds like you don’t have kids right now, or a mortgage, so this is the time when you can make those slightly selfish choices with minimal repercussions.

    It may be that you talk and push for what you want and he is amenable, and that is great. But don’t let your fear of losing him keep you from seeking things you think might make you happy.

  38. Just wanted to say to the LW, in case they are worried about moving without T, that being in a long distance relationship has its challenges but it is doable. What if you did Method #1 but moved to the city your friends are in? That way you’d have a safety net in your new city and it wouldn’t be that far for T to drive to visit you.

    That said, if #2/#3 would actually help you get some work experience in the field you want to change to then might as well take care of two problems with one solution, right? But generally speaking, if job X you want to do professionally is something you can do as a volunteer then that’s a good way to get experience on your resume. Many jobs will let you substitute experience for a degree and many of them are willing to look at you with less experience than they’re asking for. (Caveat: my experience is with applying to tech jobs.)

    Read as much as you can on the career/field you want. The library is your friend. So is the Internet: YouTube, Lynda, free classes on iTunes, etc. If this is a job where people who do this typically have portfolios then make one. Use the Captain’s suggestion of joining a MeetUp to help you solve this problem too and find one that’s about the job you want/industry you want to be in. Find a mentor. Can you contact your former boss? A professor you liked? Look on LinkedIn for someone open to doing informational interviews. Follow companies in the field you’d be interested in working for some day. If there are online forums where people discuss your field, participate. Find your chosen industry’s version of StackOverflow. Follow people in the industry on Twitter. Blog about your experience learning this. You might not be able to say you know X on paper but you can prove your interest in it & your ability to learn online. (Again, this is advice I’ve read about getting tech jobs but at least some of this should be applicable to other fields.)

    I don’t know if this applies to any Master programs but I do know that some PhD programs will pay you to attend if you get in. By ‘pay you’ I mean they cover the tuition and pay you to teach undergrads & assist professors. It’s not a lot of money & it only happens in some fields of study but it’s something to look into. There’s financial aid, scholarships, and grants but I’m assuming you know all about that from being an undergraduate.

    Lots of hugs, LW. Someone said recently (possibly the Captain herself) that many people don’t end up in the field they went to school for. I’ve got my fingers & toes crossed.

  39. Also! Do you think you can get T to go to a therapy session with you? It might help for him to hear from a professional that what he’s doing isn’t helpful.

    1. Hey, LW here. We’ve actually done that before, and it helped *a lot*. He used to get so confused when I had my anxiety attacks that he’d sometimes walk away from the conversation confused, or he’d think the attack had something to do with him (it didn’t) so he’d feel offended. After that appointment. he reacts to my anxiety attacks much better, and he constantly checks in on me and asks how I’m doing or if I’m okay. The visit to my therapist was a while ago though, but given recent events (losing my job and the resulting uncertainly), it might be time to give it another go.

  40. Tangential question here. I’m also in the process of making a big life change, leaving the city I’m in and then… not sure yet. I like the AmeriCorps idea, but I always had the impression that it was for college age, right out of college age people, and I’m 27. Has anyone done AmeriCorps and can comment on that?

    1. My second MSW internship was at an agency that pretty much wouldn’t exist without its AmeriCorps VISTA staff. And they had retirees in their 60s as part of that staff! It’s only the NCCC part of AmeriCorps that is for “young adults” (18-24 I think) only.

    2. I was in the AmeriCorps straight out of college, in a large team-based residential program. Most people in my program were also college-age, but we had a few people in their late 20s to 30s, and one of our team leaders was a retired guy in his 60s. From what I’ve heard the more traditional individual-placement positions are even less biased towards college-age students. I loved my time with AmeriCorps, and highly recommend it!

  41. Sorry if this has been mentioned higher up in the comments, but with regard to his trying to condition you to drive more: a charitable reading of his behavior here is that he has a hammer, the techniques from work, and to him your very different issues are looking like nails. I wonder if, in addition to the “please back off and just be supportive” conversation you’ve already had, you would get better results by a) explicitly pointing out that he may be going into work mode, and asking him to think about the professional ethics there, b) asking how he’d feel if a relation of one of his patients was implementing X conflicting therapy method when he wasn’t looking, and draw the analogy to your situation, c) acknowledging that it can be hard for someone with training in helping people to sit back and Stop Helping, and to trust other professionals, but reinforce that it’s what you need him to do, and d) setting up a way to, in future conversations, quickly point out that you think he is in work mode and needs to context switch to supportive-fiance mode. It may also help to point him to online resources for family/friends of people with PTSD, which I am sure exist, and could help him make peace with backing off. I also agree with the comment I saw above that mentioning his behavior to your therapist, and possibly setting up a chat between the two of them, is a good idea. Note that what you’ve already done (asking for what you need) should have been enough, so this is a get-results suggestion, not a moral-obligation suggestion.

  42. LW, just one further note – I have no idea what the situation is with your ability to find a new job, but if you don’t know it, askamanager.com is a great resource that’s been helping me a lot with my resume, cover letters, etc.

  43. All of my instincts are screaming that the LW’s fiance is, at kind of a jerk (at worst actively dismissive of her/gaslighty/emotionally manipulative) , and that she would be better off finding a job somewhere other than where she lives and following it.

    Beyond that… Not wanting to live in the same place sounds like a pretty big incompatibility. One where there’s really no satisfactory compromise.

  44. I just wanted to comment on the fact that your fiancé seems to change his mind about the idea of moving away from time to time, i.e. sometimes he’ll say that it’s a good idea, and sometimes he appears to be opposed to it. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I had a similar thing happen with an ex a few years ago (when we were still together) regarding having kids. I told him I wanted to have kids, and he would sort of go back and forth on the issue, but I realized later that his positive statements had never really been sincere. He was just making some positive noises about the idea of having kids from time to time in order to keep me in the relationship and stall the issue long enough for me to be fully committed to him (I guess he thought I wouldn’t be able to back out anymore if there was a longterm commitment.) Also, when he was speaking positively about having kids, his statements were oddly general, or he’d focus on how he was happy that I could envisage having them with him. (I only noticed that in hindsight). He never really expressed a true wish to be a father.
    So I’d invite you to consider how your fiancé is speaking about moving, especially whether his positive statements are more general, and his negative ones more personal and specific. Or just ask him more explicitly what it would take for him to agree to moving, and in what time frame he could see himself doing it. If he has NO concrete answers to that or stalls, I think you should conclude that he’ll never want to move.

    1. This is a most excellent comment! I was wondering about the mind-changing behaviour myself, and I really like your approach, 30ish.

      1. Thanks! I feel kind of bad suspecting the fiancé of being dishonest, but after having experienced a situation where this happened to me, I definitely think there are people who believe that if they can wait out certain issues long enough (like until after a wedding!) that their partner will not insist anymore and feel obligated to make things work. So I would definitely recommend sorting this out before getting married.

        1. And also, I think people can do this without consciously being aware that that’s what they’re doing. Especially if they’d rather not think about either a) the issue at hand or b) the relationship ending, at all. It can be hard to notice that you’re kind of being a dick about an issue when you aren’t thinking about the issue enough to notice the patterns in your own behavior until someone else points it out.

  45. LW, I am the opposite of a lot of folks here on the driving thing. I was one of those people who dragged their parents to the DMV the second they were old enough to get a learner’s permit and I put thousands of miles a year behind the wheel. I have no anxiety about driving and I regularly give rides and do driving for my many friends who don’t drive, or who are anxious drivers.

    As such, I think I am qualified to say that T. is being a complete ass about your driving anxiety and as others have said, he is putting you and others at risk with his idiotic, know-it-all bullshit about when you “should” drive. You should drive when you feel comfortable, and only as much as you feel comfortable doing. It may help for you to find a driving course geared towards your needs (often these are aimed toward people who are seeking driving licenses as older adults).

    1. A small comment on the driving aspects…When you feel anxious, it is not a good time for you to be driving. His trying to modify your behaviour ‘while’ you drive is also very dangerous.

      I speak as someone who drives about 3 hours a day on all sorts of roads, from backroads, where you can expect a tractor around every corner, to motorways.. being calm, focused and relaxed is the best frame of mind to be in when you drive.

      as a slight aside…I have been driving for close to 20 years and have driven on both sides of the roads (we drive on the left here, and I have driven across Europe, where they drive on the right, as well as in the USA)…I am experienced (I regularly drive a van and have driven a large truck)…I have found that when you don’t drive for a while, it is normal to be a bit more anxious and to feel that your skills are not as sharp, and that you have ‘forgotten’ how to drive properly….so if that happens, don’t worry, it is normal…..hopefully that factoid might help to relax you just a little when you are back driving after a break.

Comments are closed.