#723: “Am I immature if I think my boyfriend is too intertwined with his ex?”

Ahoy, Captain Awkward!

Looking for some relationship advice and hoping you can help.

Background: Boyfriend and I met through a mutual friend, I’m in my mid 20s(first serious relationship) he’s in his late 30s(and been around the block a few times, though never married). It’s been an awesome two years and we’re looking into moving in together(though for the record, I haven’t slept in my own bed since March and it’s now July). I’m excited about the whole situation save for one major issue; his ex, M.

M and boyfriend basically grew up together and have always been very close. They dated for a couple years but broke it off because (according to him) it was too much like siblings dating.

She has a history of serious panic attacks and boyfriend seems to be the only one who can calm her. She was suffering so badly at one point that her baby daddy got boyfriend a job in their state(2 states away from where boyfriend was living) to help calm M down. While this was all before my time, it always struck me as odd that they were all so close.

M has always had constant contact with boyfriend the entire 2 years we’ve been together, whether it be emails, FB posts, texts, calls, kissy emoticons, etc. And now with another wave of serious panic attacks brewing, the phone calls are getting more frequent and the visits more lengthy. I’ve talked to boyfriend about maybe suggesting professional help for her as M’s constant contact is taking its toll on him(to the point where he says he’s exhausted and he’s starting to freak out a bit just listening to her freak outs). But he brushes it off with “People who’ve never suffered don’t understand” and “She’s family. I can’t just ignore it”.

Don’t get me wrong, M is super sweet but it also feels like she’s co-dependent on boyfriend and he either doesn’t see it or just chalks it up to being “family”. M, baby daddy and co have since moved back to their home state (5minutes away from boyfriend). And having been here for 3 or so years, M has yet to make any friends of her own, hence the tight hold she appears to have on boyfriend to help her deal with things.

All that to say, what do I do? I love boyfriend and I’ve always heard you marry the man, you marry the family, but am I wrong in thinking this is too much family? I want to build a future with this man but I don’t know if I’m ready to build a future with him AND M. Previous relationships he’s had he said “worked” because the women were “mature” enough to understand the relationship he and M have. So am I not being mature enough? Do I try and make some sort of ultimatum? Break it off til he gets his priorities back on the relationship?

-Sidelined In California

Dear Sidelined,

I don’t know if this will solve the issue long-term or answer the question “should I move in/forward with this person I love?” but I have some short-term suggestions for you. More here, if you’re interested.

1) Admit to yourself that you don’t like M. at all right now. That doesn’t mean “be rude or mean,” or “share every thought you have about her with her/your boyfriend.” It doesn’t even mean “don’t have empathy for someone who is obviously suffering” or “be unfriendly when your paths cross.” It just means that it’s sometimes easier to be polite and behave kindly toward someone you don’t like if you aren’t also tying yourself in knots to make yourself feel a certain way about them. You think M. should leave your boyfriend alone and handle her shit better. Admit it to yourself and to us.

2) Admit to yourself that M. is not your real problem. You’re absolutely right that she most likely needs professional help to manage her anxiety. The good news here is also the bad news, in that you already have all the information you need about how this is likely to go in the future. Your boyfriend sees M. as family, as a priority, and his way is to drop everything when she needs him. He has straight up told you that this is how it will always be and that if you don’t like it it’s a failure of “maturity” on your part.

3) A thing you can control: Make M. and talking about M. a very boring part of your life and very boring for your boyfriend. M. calls for a 4-hour long phone counseling session that your boyfriend wants to recap for you or commiserate with you about? “Hmmm interesting”

“That sounds really hard to deal with.” + [SUBJECT CHANGE]

“Well, that’s M. in a nutshell.” + [SUBJECT CHANGE]

“Heh. I hope that all works out.” + [SUBJECT CHANGE]

“I hope she can get some help. Panic attacks are no joke.” + [SUBJECT CHANGE]

Express empathy, and then ask zero follow-up questions about M. Stop being a place where your boyfriend comes to process things that go on in M.’s life. In the best possible light, he is being a true and loyal friend to someone he cares about in the best way he knows how, and he has failed to see that his caring is not a substitute for the professional help that she most likely needs. In a weirder, less flattering light, something about him feeds on the drama of being needed so much and feeds on the drama of your & past girlfriends’ jealousy. “Jeez, jealous much? There’s nothing SEXUAL going on, she’s just, like, my SISTER, my ex girlfriend/sister who happens to NEED ME WITH HER ALL THE TIME and who can express herself only in TYPED INTERNET KISSES and CONSTANT CONTACT. I don’t see what the BIG DEAL is or why you would be annoyed, unless of course you are a JEALOUS PERSON who LACKS MATURITY.

Double Extra Bonus Points if the above all gets delivered as a backhanded compliment to you, like, “she is so weak whereas you are so great and strong and you don’t need me like she does, baby, which is why I like you!

If you can disengage to the point where your boyfriend bringing up M. and whatever is going on with her today gets a flat “That sucks, I hope y’all work it out” or a “I want you and M. to have whatever friendship you want to,” it won’t magically make him stop running to her rescue, but it will stop feeding the FEELINGSBEAST so much in a way that gives you a break.

4) Choose your battles. Stuff about M. that only really affects your boyfriend = the most boring topic in the world. Stuff that affects you directly? Not so. Like, if boyfriend is flaking out on stuff he planned with you to go hang with M., or if she’s always around when you’re together, that is a different thing, and you don’t have to be detached about it.” Script: “I’m sorry M. is going through a hard time right now, but we had plans, and I am annoyed when plans with you get hijacked by M.” Don’t get sucked into a discussion of her exact issues du jour (i.e. an excuse to center M.’s feelings in all things), just say, “Well, you do what you feel, but this is the third time recently I’ve sat in a restaurant watching your food get cold while you’re outside on your phone. That does not count as a fun date in my book, so I’m gonna peel off for the rest of the night and let you give M. your full attention.”

It’s more than okay to ask your boyfriend to:

  • Turn his phone off during date times with you.
  • Talk about things other than M.
  • If he seems to not be able to do that, say “I think M.’s emotional state is occupying your thoughts to a point where maybe YOU need a pro to help you process everything. I can love you, but I can’t process it with you.”
  • See also: “I’d like M. to get some help, but that’s not really my business. But when you tell me you are exhausted and freaking out about her, I feel bound to remind you that there are people who are specifically trained to treat symptoms like the ones you describe.
  • Understand that if he gets drawn into a conversation with M. while you’re spending time together, you’re going home.
  • Ask him bluntly to not invite her over when you are planning to be over. When it’s “friends all hanging out together,” she is invited. When it’s date night, she is NOT invited and perhaps DISinvited.

4) A thing you can control, Part II:

It’s time to start sleeping at your home again sometimes.

It’s time to call up your friends, family, and/or other people who delight you and who make you feel awesome and do stuff with them.

It’s time to cook yourself a meal, or go dine out by yourself with a book, or go to the movies alone.

It’s time to feed your social self with companionship that is not your boyfriend.

It’s time to come up for air.

That doesn’t mean you break up, that doesn’t even mean you disengage emotionally from this guy that you love or that you won’t eventually set up house together. It means: you are a nifty person on your own and you need to kind of fall back in love with yourself and your own life, so that you can make all decisions about whether to combine your books with someone else’s books from a position of strength. I think you need a reminder that there is a corner of the world that is not consumed by M. or the drama of M. Spend some more time in that corner before you make any big decisions.

I say this partly because one of your questions was “Am I not being mature enough?” and I have to tell you that an older man talking to a younger woman about her “maturity” when he’s trying to get her to endorse something that makes her uncomfortable sends a red flag up in my peripheral vision and causes immediate and severe side-eye. Your boyfriend may have good reasons for behaving as he does with M., given their history, but the “I thought you were more mature and could handle it” defense is straight out of the manipulative asshole playbook. If you need a tutorial on how to appropriately react to such patronizing bullshit, here’s Prince:

Prince gives the side-eye and the fuck-you stroll.

If you decide to learn to live with this whole M. package, that’s one thing. If you decide that it’s not for you, that’s also legit. Your maturity level is not a factor, and it’s not in question here.

320 thoughts on “#723: “Am I immature if I think my boyfriend is too intertwined with his ex?”

  1. I agree that the “mature enough” argument is complete BS and is actually only cropping up because M is a woman and former ex of the BF. Say M was an old bro-friend/brother/whatever of the BF… who, say, was an addict. Or had anxiety issues. Chronic money problems. Or (insert codependent issue here)… would the “mature enough” phrase come up? Nope. That M is a woman is what is getting in the way of the real issue: not that “M needs to get out of my rightful place as BF’s only focus”, but rather “can I accept that BF is enabling behavior of a friend and will continue to do so without directing M toward professional help?” (and at the expense of your relationship, mind you).

    Therein lies your answer. I think the whole thing sucks and I personally wish that M would contact a professional vs. your BF… but you can only control what is in your power to control. I think CA’s #4 hits that mark perfectly.

    1. I think that ‘could you/do you want to delve into a relationship if your partner has strong commitments to someone with a serious mental health problem’ is a question all by itself. He says ‘She’s family, she needs my help, she is my priority’ and you get to decide whether you can/want to put up with that.

      This isn’t a question of maturity, and your boyfriend questioning that is pure gaslighting. Booh.

      1. Replace “serious mental health problem” with “serious xxxxx problem.” Being too invested in someone else’s issues isn’t unique to mental health issues.

    2. I don’t recall where LW ever identified their gender, but if they are female, I’d say that the ex’s gender matters less than LW’s. Sadly it is all to common for dudefolk to put the burden of “being mature” onto ladyfolk, which includes not raising a fuss about their skeevy or creepy dudefriends, family members, etc.

      1. “She has a history of serious panic attacks,” “She was suffering so badly at one point,” “She’s family etc.” It’s established in the second paragraph of the letter.

        1. “She” = M. Not LW.

          Everyone in this thread is assuming LW is a she and for the life of me I can’t find where in the letter states that.

          1. “Previous relationships he’s had he said “worked” because the women were “mature” enough to understand the relationship he and M have.”

            All BF’s past relationships were with women. People are assuming his current one is since LW doesn’t state otherwise.
            Also CA addressed LW as female, and she often has information about LWs we are not privy to (like e-mail addresses).
            Apologies to LW if we are incorrect

  2. I often think that when an older guy plays the ‘you are/are not mature’ card, he’s really trying to mark his “I’m the one that gets to be immature here and I expect you to put up with it, no complaints’ territory. And I find that tiring.

    1. This kind of thing is why I uh….generally am not super thrilled at the idea of dating older men, especially the ones who tend to pull the maturity card on you like that. When really it boils down to “if I date a younger woman, I can snow her on shit that older women would know better about.”

      1. “if I date a younger woman, I can snow her on shit that older women would know better about.”


    2. I definitely think the age difference isn’t helping, but I think a bigger part is the fact that this is the LW’s first relationship. It’s hard to know what is suppposed to be normal if it’s your first rodeo.

      1. I think this is definitely a big red flag for me. I have been in a slightly similar situation. It did not end particularly happily.

    3. Thank you for this comment, because it sparked an association for me.

      I’ve been had hook, line and sinker by this sort of thing when I was younger, and you just helped me figure out the reason: because the phrasing and circumstance are almost identical to my parents telling me to “be mature” about something. When really of course they meant “calm down and put up with it while I continue getting angry and unreasonable whenever the universe does not arrange itself to my satisfaction”.

      I’ve heard lots of parents do this, and now I worry about it (actually, I worry about a lot of the ways we treat kids, and fail to teach them that their consent matters and how healthy relationships of all kinds should go, and this is another example I’ve just thought of).

      Sorry for the derail, I just thought this might be helpful to someone.

      1. Oh, totally. I’ve reached the point where anytime someone says the word “mature” or “immature” in its socio-psychological sense, I assume there’s a manipulative agenda being either advanced or bought into. (My instant response to the LW when I heard this part was DTMFA. Glad the Captain gave more nuanced advice.) This way of invoking maturity as a vague, ineffable Good Thing To Be when it actually means “put up with my shit/needs/reality and don’t make a fuss” gives me the creeps because it’s so, so commonplace and so, so undermining of all the things we’d probably really want to be as sane, sensible adults with strong boundaries and self-worth. Not to mention generically disrespectful toward young people and children, all of whom are immature by definition. It’s a value-neutral trait being used to control and condemn other people. Uncool.

        1. I don’t think it’s exactly value-neutral, but it’s way too complex and loaded to be thrown around. For instance, a kid can be mature *for their age* and that’s good–to a certain extent–although there are some very unhealthy ways of being that, so it might be even better to be the exact maturity that reflects your age. Way too complicated to just throw around as an easy term of approval!

          When I arrived at college the day I turned seventeen (having skipped a grade somewhere back there & being born just before the cut-off as well,) whenever I told someone my age they told me how mature I was. I assume because I was pretty well-spoken, I mean these were virtual strangers. It became a big part of my identity for the next couple years. I ended up dating a guy six years older than me, who, when we first met, told me “You’re not seventeen, you’re twenty.” He didn’t exploit me–for one thing this was a highly religious environment and we didn’t have sex–but it wasn’t healthy, all the same. We were in different places and I was the one under pressure to change. In a bitter talk after I broke off our two-year relationship (partly as a result of a faith crisis he had not been very cool about), he told me scornfully, “For the last two years you’ve been drifting.” The comeback I came up with days later was, “When you met me you told me I was twenty, but *I was seventeen.* I’ve been doing exactly what you’re supposed to do from seventeen to twenty, thank you–growing up.”

          So I guess there’s for the dangers of telling someone they’re mature, even when you’re just innocently saying what popped into your head as a supposed compliment.

        2. I’m appreciating this convo because I’m having trouble getting over the anger I have at a recent ex for throwing words like “immature” and “irrational” into our last few conversations for many of the reasons you describe here. When two people are communicating, both have to be willing to recognize that the other can have an opinion that’s different, but still valid. And both have to be willing to make some effort to understand where the other’s coming from – or communication fails. Calling someone “immature” is another way of saying “I’ve decided your opinion/feelings are invalid and therefore I don’t have to care about them.” It stops communication and makes it impossible to move forward unless you choose to accept the worldview they’re putting forth and start doubting yourself and the validity of your own views. I’m not sure if there’s ver a situation where it’s not a fucked up thing to do to somebody.

    4. In that same paragraph, he mentions the other relationships “worked” because the other women were “mature enough”. Um, then why are you not with any of those people if it “worked” so well?

    5. Oh yes, indeed. Been there with an older BF, got the crappy t-shirt. There area where I was too inexperienced was not in “maturity” but in not knowing how to deal with older BF’s manipulative bullshit.

  3. YES to the red flags and side eyes. Heather Corinna’s essay Why I Really Dislike Your Older Boyfriend at Scarleteen was ringing in my ears, maybe that could be helpful extra reading?

      1. That article is amazing. I sometimes wish all teen and twentysomething women (including my former self) would collectively embark on a Lysistrata-style strike, and refuse to extend any love, affection or intimacy to terrible older men. I feel like it’s the only language those creeps understand, and once it was clear that they could no longer keep replacing a girlfriend who got wise to their crap with another young woman, they might actually stop their abusive behaviour. Sure they wouldn’t have learned anything, but at least they wouldn’t keep getting ‘rewarded’ for being jerks. But obviously the only way that could work would be if we could undo the system that teaches young girls that they should tolerate this crap, and that requires smashing the patriarchy.

        ETA: Obviously I don’t think that the women in these situations are remotely at fault,
        just that patriarchy creates the framework in which they can be exploited

        1. hooo boy. I remember when I first read that I recognized my 30something self, involved with a 50something dude. I mean, I was a grown ass woman falling for the same dumb shit. At 30+, I kind of had to side-eye *myself*!

        2. indeed, to the 1,000th!! Saving for my daughter, who is only 11, but…. time moves quickly!

        3. Yes. I was seventeen when I started dating my asshole ex. The emotionally abusive one, not the rapist. He was nearly 22, which isn’t that huge of a difference (my husband and I have the same age difference, now), but it makes way more of a difference at 17 than it does at 27. (We were in a state where 16 was the age of consent except in the case of authority figures.)
          We broke up when I was 22 and he was 26; the age difference had ceased to matter to either of us, but I had learned a lot of things over the course of those four years that cast every little thing he did in a rather disturbing light. (And yes, he did sometimes accuse me of immaturity…which was pretty rich, given some of his behavior.)
          I worry sometimes that he’s found another teenager or young college student to grab onto; someone as naive or damaged by a different abuser as I was back then.

      2. Scarleteen is a treasure. I’m really glad that I stumbled upon it as a teenager, because it was a far better sex-ed resource than anything that we went over in my actual school.

  4. “An older man talking to a younger woman about her “maturity” when he’s trying to get her to endorse something that makes her uncomfortable sends a red flag up in my peripheral vision and causes immediate and severe side-eye.”

    Thaaaaaaat. Mature people do not necessarily accept uncomfortable things. Sometimes maturity is recognizing that something does not work for you and setting limits appropriately.

    1. Also, it’s interesting that the M. situation has been enough of a sticking point in past relationships that other partners have departed because of it. I don’t think all those people were “immature.” Interesting….

      1. Yeah, that got me. “Previous relationships he’s had he said “worked” because the women were “mature” enough to understand the relationship he and M have.” Except they didn’t really “work,” did they? Because they’re exes? I mean, MAYBE M isn’t the reason those other women aren’t his girlfriends anymore, but…

        1. This is exactly what I was thinking. How, exactly did is FORMER relationship “work” in this context. If they are former relationships, they obviously didn’t work or stopped working.

          1. Right? Unless all his former partners died, something there wasn’t working…and if all his former partners died, LW should check to make sure she isn’t a character in a melodramatic novel about a modern-day Bluebeard.

        2. Ha haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa, score! Yes, those relationships still aren’t going. Wonder why? Hmmmmmm.

          Really, the issue with M is that she is Boyfriend’s Girlfriend in every way except officially and sexually. And presumably the LW didn’t sign up for this sort of polyamorous relationship, with extra bonus points of “but why u jealous? I’m not fucking her” in there.

          1. Going to report that it’s not super-fun when you ARE polyamorous, either — this kind of dynamic sucks whether or not there is a sexual/romantic element to your partner’s relationship with “M.”

            I laid down similar boundaries to the Captain’s, and it all worked out for the best — but the “M” in our case was eventually open to seeking out counseling/medication (and wasn’t quite such an extreme case — nobody moved states!)

          2. The other submerged ice floe is, he doesn’t want her to get better. And will resist it. Shes’s drive-thru dopamine.

          3. Really, the issue with M is that she is Boyfriend’s Girlfriend in every way except officially and sexually.

            “Officially and sexually” is kind of an important element in being someone’s girlfriend or not …

            I mean, it’s why I like the thought experiment various people have been suggesting of considering what if M was LW’s boyfriend’s biological relative. Twin sister, say. Or twin brother. Or his oldest and best male friend.

            Their relationship as it is would still be co-dependent as hell, and LW would still have every right to say “hey, I am not signing up for this package of you-plus-M” or “I am not signing up to anything unless I know I will come first in your life”.

            But some of the comments seem to be veering dangerously close to saying “you only have space for one significant person in your life, who is your Girlfriend/Boyfriend, and any time/energy that goes into other relationships is ’emotional betrayal’.”

            Even people who are monogamous to their core have siblings, parents, children, best friends, etc..

            The fact that M’s an ex is not really relevant, the fact that she’s female is not really relevant, even the kissy emoticons are not really relevant.

            As the Captain says, getting sidetracked into the drama of jealousy may actually be playing into the boyfriend’s hands, if he gets off on feeling that the women in his life are competing over him. Or if it’s convenient to him to dismiss objections as jealousy — “You’re just so immature and jealous you can’t appreciate the depth of our platonic friendship!”

            It’s clear that the relationship’s co-dependent and unhealthy, but IMHO *that’s* the problem, not that it’s sort-of-kind-of maybe somehow like “cheating”.

          4. What Ashbet said, and yeah. Same (poly) situation. It worked out because (a) our M was also open to seeking help for her anxiety, and also (importantly!) (b) the common sweetheart shared by my and our M started laying down heavy boundaries where she was no-longer available as an on-call 24/7 therapist/crisis-counselor. I cannot stress the importance of (b) ENOUGH here. It’s what lead to (a) happening at all.

        3. The Captain’s advice is pretty spot on as always, but am I the only one feeling a bit put out by all the comments saying “well, obviously his past relationships didn’t work because they ended”. I find that really dismissive of a lot of really positive and successful relationships I’ve had which weren’t permanent.

          1. Ditto. Sometimes relationships end because someone gets a job offer and moves, or because people decide that they’re more “friendship” compatible than “dating” compatible, or because of any number of non-terrible things.

            Although I think people may be picking up a “boyfriend is comparing you to overly-idealized previous girlfriends” vibe.

          2. In principle I absolutely agree with you (I feel kind of weird referring to certain former boyfriends as “exes” because those relationships ran their course and ended in positive ways), but in this case I’m not sure the guy deserves the benefit of the doubt. Based on what’s in the letter, the guy is clearly a gaslighter and a manipulator (intentionally or not), and he’s comparing the LW disfavorably to previous girlfriends as a way to get what he wants. I don’t think it’s a huge leap to assume that many of those relationships didn’t “work” in the way you mean.

          3. It sounds like “M” was a common thread in how & why things ended. Not all ends are a bad thing or a failure, but I don’t think it’s a bad idea to look for patterns when someone is comparing you to past partners. If it’s not about you, then it’s not about you.

          4. Yeah, same. “Previous relationships worked, why you can’t you be like those other, better, more mature girls” is creepy as hell, and I’d be super sceptical about his definition of “worked” in that context. But “relationship ended with both parties still alive” is not the same as “relationship failed”.

          5. Ditto–a relationship ending is not a failure. Relationships can fail, and they can end, and sometimes these things happen at the same time, but not always.

        4. The fact that a relationship ends doesn’t mean it was unsuccessful or that it didn’t “work”. I think this is a kind of fantasist attitude: that the only successful relationships are the ones that last until one partner dies. In reality, people can have a very bad relationship and stay together until death, and people can have a very good relationship and still decide to go their separate ways.

          1. I agree, and I have had relationships that ended perfectly happily, but I don’t think it applies in this case, based on the letter. The guy is obviously gaslighting her by comparing her unfavorably to his previous girlfriends.

      2. I’m not seeing anywhere in the letter it says that previous partners departed because of M? In the letter he specifically says previous relationships did work because they were ‘mature’ and accepted her. What am I missing? It seems obvious to wonder if she was a factor in previous breakups, but boyfriend at least is making the claim that it wasn’t.

        1. I mean I’m not saying he sounds like a trustworthy source or that I’m sure I believe him, but people break up for so so many different reasons, and he claims M wasn’t a problem in previous relationships. What specifically are people going on to claim that she was? Just common sense that ‘of course’ it would be if he was asking like this? Are you assuming that his comments about maturity must ‘obviously’ be a defensive offense based on some past experience he’s had?

          My gut feeling is that she was a problem, but that’s just based on my feeling that it would be a problem for most partners – I don’t think there’s actually anything in the letter to base it on.

        2. My reading is like the Captain’s, but I think it’s not a direct reading of the letter, but more of a feeling. When I read, “Previous relationships he’s had he said “worked” because the women were “mature” enough to understand the relationship he and M have.”

          I’m picturing a number of prior relationships, some of which worked, some of which didn’t. And Paul is identifying that the “working” ones were the ones where the woman was “mature” enough. Which does imply that the significant problem with the non-working relationships was the woman’s “immaturity.”

    2. Yeah. LW has a perfectly valid complaint. It may or may not be a deal-killer for her, but this is not a situation that every person is going to want to be part of. Saying that accepting this situation is a sign of “maturity” is a way of dismissing the complaint. It’s saying “this is the only reasonable way to have a relationship, so if you’re not into it, you’re unreasonable.” It feels gas-light-y to me.

      1. “this is the only reasonable way to have a relationship, so if you’re not into it, you’re unreasonable.”

        As someone who dated a person who was a lot older than me with a lot more dating experience than I had, I definitely feel this. It took a while for me to see that the things my ex expected of me were things that he specifically wanted, not things that people should automatically get from their partners because that’s what being in a relationship means.

        1. Third.

          I’m currently working with my partner and a therapist on not translating when my partner says “you’re too ________” as “you’re doing it wrong” but instead as “I prefer/want something else.” It’s a hard trap to climb out of, even when you have a healthy relationship.

  5. This is actually…. really relevant and timely to me and I don’t want to hijack this post too much, but…. CA: do you have any bonus advice for a situation that’s similar to the above, but the “M” in question has been randomly hitting me with full-out Regina George Mean Girl bullying for a couple of years out of territorial aggression, and operates by a code of passive aggressive manipulation (and complete lack of personal accountability for her crappy behaviour)? I’ve been dealing with this as best as I can for a couple of years, but I’ve hit a tipping point where I tried to outline some boundaries but now I’m getting flak for enforcing them.

    1. Short-term: “I don’t want to be around your ex. Period. Ever. We don’t like each other, I’m tired of faking it, and I’m tired of being bullied by her.”

      If “NEVER!” seems too extreme, say “I need a 6 month break from hanging with Ex.” (You can always renew!)

      If your partner can’t understand that, is enabling/ignoring bullying, or worse, giving you flak for standing up for yourself, I don’t see a healthy future here. So long-term, see Prince walking away?



      It sucks to think of the bully “winning”, but what prize is a person who won’t stick up for you?

      1. “but what prize is a person who won’t stick up for you?”

        Exactly. If your boyfriend won’t respect your boundaries against someone who is bullying you, he’s not long-term material.

      2. “What prize is a person who won’t stick up for you?”

        Sometimes, I read a line or a paragraph that straight-up stops me in my tracks and makes me take a deep breath and look around me with suddenly renewed focus.

        1. That’s awesome. And feel free not to disclose, but I have to wonder how this situation has gone on so long? Does Boyfriend excuse or ignore or tolerate or blame you for his ex’s bad behavior? Are you being pressured to just let it slide so as not to make things awkward? Because if things are bad for you, they are already awkward. This is not a good Price of Admission to dating this guy.

      3. well, this smacks of ’emotional betrayal’ which can be worse than physical betrayal.

        My ex did this with a step daughter who worked for him and hated my guts for some unknown reason.
        This sort of manipulation and emotional betrayal gets worse over time, not better, unless the boyfriend changes his priorities.

        He is not marrying material because as a couple, YOU should come first, not an old friend, not a step daughter, not kids- (because this screws up kids more than anything I can think of) and not an ex girlfriend or ex wife.

        You should have first place in the life of your significant other or it is not a good relationship imho. Letter writer has been more than kind, more than understanding, more than ‘mature’…..she is setting the wrong boundaries for this relationship.

        And if she does not set up some firm boundaries soon about this ex girlfriend/family friend it is going to wreck her self esteem and this so called relationship.

        1. I disagree with you about kids – I think kids (and that may include step-kids) should absolutely come before partners – but if you don’t agree about that, then the relationship is not right for you so the net outcome is the same.

          1. The relationship with the kids is not more important than with a spouse. Kids who are elevated in this way get totally screwed up, they learn to use their leverage to destroy relationships and this damages them as well. Of course, the life and health of kids is so important. But when a spouse puts kids ahead of the partner, it creates a terrible dynamic of manipulation by people who have not reached the age of reason or to have the mature judgement of the consequences of their action. Sorry, but most councilors will tell you the same thing. Sure, a spouse has to put some needs the kids may have ahead of the spouse, but when it becomes 100%, the kids then know they can ‘win’ any conflict that may arise with the parents current spouse and that gives them way too much power for their maturity level. People who think that kids come before a spouse deserve all the problems and conflict that this causes.

          2. I also agree with Mary that kids should come before partners – but that doesn’t mean having no rules or boundaries. And of course where they “come first” is going to be in different areas of your life so it’s not exactly a linear relationship, but “kids come first” means things like prioritising time with them/their life milestones, not allowing them (or anyone) to treat your partner badly.

          3. This is not specifically for you, Hrovitnir, but for all involved in this subthread. Can we close this side-topic discussion of “do kids come first or do partners?” here?

            The LW doesn’t have kids and the back and forth is tedious for me to moderate.

        2. Ummmm…..well, I guess I can accept that you think partners should matter over kids, but I have to say, neither I nor pretty much all the parents I know disagree, and will straight-up not date anyone who their kids reject. So it sounds like an issue of fundamental incompatibility.

          1. I think shano is talking about partners, not potential partners, or someone you’re thinking of dating, or the person you had one coffee with. Partners already in an established relationship with kids in the equation. I agree with shano, parents/partners putting kids above everything, including their own relationship, is miserable for kids. It was made very clear to me that everything they did, every fight they had, had to be resolved because what about yoooou, the child!! We endure this suffering for you, small, totally dependent person! You are responsible for each of our feelings, and the health of our relationship, which you depend on for survival.

            That’s pretty much what is was like for me and all my friends that “came first.” Wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

          2. I think there’s a misunderstanding here?

            Like, by ‘put first’ I mean ‘the health, happiness, and well-being of the kids is a higher priority than my partner, because partners are adults who have a *far* greater capacity to take care of themselves and cope’. Like, if I & my dad were sick, my mother would take care of me first, because my dad can take care of himself better than I can. When all of us got sick once, my mother focused on the youngest kid, who was then a baby, and then the rest of us, and had very little left over to help her husband, because again, sick everyone. I think this is a normal & necessary part of good parenting–not to take care of kids to the exclusion of self, and not to NEVER support/be there for your partner, but when it comes to crunch, you have to put your kids first until they are settled adults that have every resource to put themselves first.

            I don’t mean ‘make your kids the crux of every argument/make them responsible for your feelings/make then emotionally substitute for your partner’–that stuff is emotionally abusive and screws with kids.

          3. yes, thank you NOLAroll, kids absolutely learn how to manipulate a parent who puts them on an unnecessary pedestal, and an inappropriate pedestal for their maturity. Parents have to be parents, not cowering to the every desire of the kids- that fucks them up when they have power way over their understanding. And in blended families, of course the kids (baring abuse etc) have a strong allegiance to biological parents- not the significant other of one parent- no matter how nice they are. To give these kids power over an adults exclusive personal relationship is really inappropriate.

        3. Hmm. I kind of understand what shano is saying about kids, though, in that zie said “as a couple, you should come first.” I figured what zie was getting at was that there’s specific ways that your kids should be prioritized and ways that your partner should be prioritized, and making your kids carry the emotional and psychological weight that a partner should is a Bad Scene.

          As a partner of a person with a narcissistic mother who had an inappropriate emotional relationship with her child, I can verify that yes, that fucks you up.

          1. yep, parents who use their kids as a judge and jury for personal relationships of adults is wildly inappropriate and fucks up the kids! Don’t do this parents! Do not use your kids or step kids as a relationship counselor- they are not qualified obviously, and have definite conflicts of interest and have no deep understanding of real life implications. They should be free to explore their kid relationships, not expect to have control over adult relationships..

          2. Sorry to double-post but I find “[using] kids as a judge and jury for personal relationships” as the go-to interpretation of “putting kids first” really odd. That is indeed a totally unhealthy dynamic but isn’t putting kids first, it’s, as you say, putting them on a pedestal. Which is bad for everyone.

            To me I think of the natural conflict that will arise with new partners where kids do eat into a lot of time and it can be hard if you’re the childless half, but children need that time and energy and it isn’t (or shouldn’t be) taking away from your relationship. I think new partners expecting parents to significantly cut back on their relationship with their kids is almost as common as kids dealing badly with new relationships (something that can definitely be difficult to navigate), hence my bemusement at the vehement reaction here.

    2. 1. The house is full of bees
      2. Your partner is either actively their beekeeper or at the very least refusing to call an exterminator
      3. Walk away.

      1. “Your partner is either actively their beekeeper or at the very least refusing to call an exterminator”

        Love this – stealing it.

    3. I’ve been in… a similar situation in the past, and I discovered at one point that part of the reason the ex was so angry at me so much was because *the boyfriend was lying to her about me*, telling her I was doing horrible abusive things. if I’d been doing the things he said I had, she’d be fully justified in hating me! instead, he was enjoying playing us off against each other. oh, and she was only an “ex” when he was talking about her to me. when he was talking to her… he “wasn’t really” dating me anyway, we were “just friends,” and she was the important one. I’m not suggesting that things are that bad in your situation, but this is definitely a situation where that humming you hear might be a beequake hiding just under the surface. beware, beware.

      1. What is it with these people who have to play others against each other? gad, it is maddening. And it is a horrible situation to be in especially if it is a significant other. Its all bullshit, it is all pandering for ego strokes by the person who has to do this to lift their self esteem. It ends up wrecking relationships all around, until the next player comes along.

      2. This. Happened to me.

        Her: “I’m coming to your area soon, to see this guy, we’ve been having Internet sex & hopefully we can get it on for real!”

        Me: “that sounds fun! Who are you staying with, then?”

        Her: “Oh, I think you know him. It’s C—-.”

        Me: “C—-? As in, my boyfriend C—-?”

        Her: [vanishes]

        Beware, OP. Beware very hard indeed.

        1. LOL, yup, I had this happen too.

          Guy started chatting with me online about what was a legitimate mutual interest, mentioning that he was coming out from Large Midwestern City to my small upstate NY college town to spend time with his fiance and maybe he’d like to say hi to me while he’s there. Then showed up on my doorstep all upset because they “broke up”. (Guess what? They didn’t.) And that it was at least in part supposedly because she had said mean things about me (she was a close friend of someone that I didn’t get along with very well for reasons that are a very long and mostly irrelevant story, and the “mean things” sounded like they could have come from that other person, so I believed him) and he didn’t think they were fair.

          Then he came out to visit me again a few months later, hit on friends of mine behind my back, went out and got high on shrooms that I didn’t know about and spent the night hallucinating (or else did not actually do shrooms and made the whole thing up, which I would not put past him), and pretty much all my friends were “WTF, poor Cheshire, why is she with this dude?”

          I went to visit him early on in the summer, which was mostly about our mutual interest that started us talking in the first place but then he started pressuring me to get engaged to him. Which I said “nope, not ready yet” and he sulked a lot and decided that the real problem was I was in love with Cute Gay Housemate. (Which, in a way, was almost accurate – for those who get the reference, the two of us WERE Mona and Michael Mouse right out of Tales of the City – but not in the way he thought.)

          I finally dumped his failtastic ass when on a phone call he started asking if I was dating anyone else, I told him no, he said “really?” and I said “YES REALLY.” And the very next question was, “So, how’s [Cute Gay Housemate]??”

          NOPE. DONE. I hung up on him and never looked back. And shortly thereafter, his ex-fiance and I became good friends by way of comparing notes about what a horrible partner he was and the “mean things” each of us supposedly said about the ohter, and then discovering we did have a lot in common other than the misfortune of having him for an ex.

          1. I just don’t get this kind of thing, especially in the age of internet connectedness. Do they think that the assorted recipients of their lies will never have the opportunity to communicate when every social media platform is constantly suggesting that you connect with every extended connection possible like a “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” role-playing game?

          2. >>Do they think that the assorted recipients of their lies will never have the opportunity to communicate when every social media platform is constantly suggesting that you connect with every extended connection possible like a “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” role-playing game?

            Just wanted to say that I love this and it made me laugh.

  6. LW, the Captain has excellent advise, as always. I especially like the part about sleeping at home, doing stuff with other friends/by yourself, etc. Essentially, take your own life back. A lot of times with romantic relationships we can get into a kind of inertia: Dating for x amount of time means it’s time to get engaged. Sleeping at the other person’s house x times a week/for x duration means it’s time to move in together. Culture dictates us a pretty tight script for how a relationship should go, such that when things start to get hinky we wonder how we can manage BOTH the hinkyness and the next step (or, worse, think the next step is going to solve the hinkyness), rather than stepping back and thinking about what we actually want out of the relationship. Unless I’m misinterpreting your letter (which is very possible–I’m just some rando on the internet), it sounds like you’re sort of in that space.

    Taking time for yourself and intentionally existing in the parts of your environment that DON’T include your relationship might really help you see what makes you happy about your boyfriend, and what doesn’t, and what you really want your life to look like going forward. You don’t HAVE to move in with him, and not moving in with him doesn’t mean you HAVE to break up with him (but you can also do that, if you ultimately decide it’s what you want). You definitely don’t have to put up with his condescending dismissal of your concerns and feelings. Seriously, anybody who pulls the “maturity” card to get what they want in a relationship at the expense of the other person doth protest too much.

    1. “or, worse, think the next step is going to solve the hinkyness”

      Oh so much this.

      1. As I was reading this letter, all I could hear in my head was Hardison from Leverage saying “hinky”.

    2. Taking time for yourself and intentionally existing in the parts of your environment that DON’T include your relationship might really help you see what makes you happy about your boyfriend, and what doesn’t, and what you really want your life to look like going forward.

      So much this. It’s true for any romantic relationship. Not just relationships with people who are still with their ex.

  7. I am actually surprised by this response, because I don’t think it goes far enough. It doesn’t matter whether he no longer has pantsfeels for M, IMO. What I think matters is that M. comes first. And that is really not okay (in the monogamy world, at least.).

    It isn’t just about whether or not he will cheat with M. physically or emotionally, it is that he is spending so much time and energy on someone that should be spent on his girlfriend. He isn’t her therapist, and even if she were family he would not be qualified to do what he is doing. M. needs help, and the boyfriend needs to learn a thing or five about his savior complex, co-dependency, and boundaries.


      This whole situation reminds me of a Darth Vader ex of mine who was so committed to keeping his version of M in his life that he set her up in a secret apartment and did not tell anyone he knew. He was flying cross-country to see this woman while lying to everyone around him about it. And the reason he did this is because his spouse (not me – looong story, but I didn’t know about her either!) had asked him to break it off with this girl, and he decided the right option was Lie to Everyone, Create Double Life, Be Permanently Bad At Committing to Anyone Else.

      It sounds like the LW’s boyfriend is at least being up front (ish) about his commitment to M, but my point here is that someone who is this old and is in this deep (he moved states for her!! WHAT) is not likely to change his ways anytime soon. He may be wonderful, but I dunno, this is sending up a TON of red flags to me. What is it the Captain is always saying–when someone tells you what they’re going to do, believe them? He’s said M is family and family comes first; I don’t see that changing, though I feel bad saying so. ://

    2. I recommend watching the Grace and Frankie episode, “The Earthquake,” because this whole thing is reminding me of how Frankie’s future ex-husband comes running when she starts hyperventilating under tables during earthquakes.

      1. I have opinions about Grace & Frankie and one opinion is that Sam Waterston’s character should have researched polyamory.

        1. SERIOUSLY!! To be fair, I did love that show. Such great actors. But I can’t believe they managed to make the whole thing without *once* using the word “bisexual”.

          1. I think Netflix doesn’t believe in bisexuality. See also OITNB and Sense8, both shows I love, but, come on nao. We are real.

          2. Something of a reply to shinobi42 but also in general: so much agreed on the lack of bisexual TV representation (argh, OITNB), and also I recommend Penny Dreadful. I believe the creator once said that every character is pan, and it’s awesome. Incredibly beautiful costuming and sets, and the dialogue is literature-y (perfect, because the whole show’s based on old novels) and amazing. Warning for a pretty decent amount of blood and gore, though.

          3. Yes. I was so annoyed that nobody ever seemed to mention that Sam Waterston’s character might, possibly, be attracted to at least two genders … AND THAT THERE’S A WORD FOR THAT.

        2. Heeee, yes, good point. But that’s assuming Robert would have been down with that officially.

    3. Exactly. It wouldn’t matter if M were actually his biological family — the problem would still be there if she were a bio sister, or a parent, or anything. The boyfriend is waving his hands and trying to distract LW by calling this a jealousy (and therefore maturity, like mature people don’t have certain feelings?) problem instead of what it is, which is a problem with his behavior.

    4. I think it actually is constant emotional betrayal. Sick. Other people have tried and failed to live up to this sick dynamic, why should the letter writer think she will be any different?

    5. I kind of agree, but I also think that if LW follows the Captain’s advice, she’ll get to exactly this point on her own, which will be super empowering.

      1. +1. My every instinct in reading this screams “run,” but if LW’s not there yet, these are some solid steps for putting the problem in perspective and getting to a place in her life where she can be confident “mature” does not need to look like “put your needs second to M’s every single time.”

  8. There are really good older men who like to date younger women, and there are really terrible men who like to date younger women. In my experience, good men who like to date younger women never throw your age difference at you as a reason why you don’t agree on something or an excuse for their behavior. My husband is 13 years older then me and never once has “maturity” or “you just don’t understand” been a talking point except when I ask things like “why did everyone have mullets in the 80s?” So that’s one thing.

    You have every right to draw a line in the sand about what you’re comfortable with regarding your current boyfriend’s contact with an ex. If you’re going to have a romantic relationship that goes the distance, you need to be with someone who puts the needs of the relationship first. Right now you need your boyfriend to back off of his friendship with M, which I think is really fair. But an ultimatum is scary, especially when you love someone and want to be with them long-term, and that’s why the Captain’s advice on controlling what you can control right now is great. His response to that, I think, will be very telling.

    1. Yeah…my bf is 10 years older than me, and the only time the age difference comes up is when we have a pop culture reference mismatch. Beyond, “Oh, you haven’t seen X movie/heard of Y band?” throwing around the age difference just isn’t cool.

      1. Definitely cosigning this! My husband is 8 years older, which doesn’t seem like so much to me but I think qualifies? And he has never thrown my age in my face or suggested I’m somehow immature. The only time it ever comes up is “Were you old enough to see this movie back when it came out?” type things.

        1. Yeah, my big disconnect with my BF is 70s movies that weren’t aimed at kids. Sorry, hon. I’ve seen some of the most iconic ones, but most of them I probably haven’t seen. The Muppet Movie was my speed then.

        2. Yep, yep! My husband is 9 years older, and the only time it comes up for us, really, is when the fall of the Berlin Wall comes up. (We both remember it, but…) Pop culture less so, but that’s because we’re also international so that’s a mismatch for other reasons. Also neither of us grew up going to see movies in the theater. 🙂

    2. Totally agree. I met my husband when he was 31 and I was 18, and my family side-eyed the hell out of him for the first few years until he won them over by being a decent person. NOT ONCE did he use his age or experience as a reason why he was right, or why he should get his way. We were fooling around one time, I stopped, and then apologised for ‘leading him on’ (WTF, 18-year-old self). He looked me straight in the eye and told me that he was responsible for his own actions and I could stop any time I wanted. We’ve been married for almost 10 years now.

      But the more I read about relationships like the LW’s, the more I understand why my family was so worried for the first few years.

      1. similar age gap here, we met when I was 17. (I live in a place where 16 is the age of consent). Both my friends and family and his were understandably wary, mine were very protective, but when it became apparent he loved me, respected me and had no inclination towards moulding me into the perfect girl, everyone settled down.

        I think good age gap relationships have the older partner VERY aware of how their age and experience could be used as a weapon, and willing to talk about any issues it brings up.

        Though, to be fair, 90% of relationships where one partner is in their teens and the other is an adult are seriously seriously gross and awful, so waryness when you see it happen is fine. I lucked out.

      2. My late husband was 20 years older than me. We met when I was 19 and started dating right after my 21st birthday. He didn’t try to mold me into the perfect girl, but he did make it very clear, a few years on, that he was significantly disappointed every time I developed a boundary about his inappropriate behaviours and attitudes. Looking back I see in my memories of our early relationship the seeds of what would grow into gigantic problems, but I was too inexperienced at the time to understand what I was looking at. It was, in my opinion, very much a case of him dating younger and younger (not kidding) with every relationship because women with a little more experience and better boundaries just wouldn’t put up with his behaviour.

        I’m now dating a guy 11 years younger than me. I’m pretty conscious of the mistakes not to make, although the power imbalance when you’re female, in a mixed-sex relationship, and older, is way less than the inherent power imbalance of a significantly older male partner in a mixed-sex relationship. Of course, it helps that I’m not an asshole.

        1. Patterns are also interesting, as in “oh, every woman you love just HAPPENS to be much younger? HOW INTERESTING.”

          1. I have a very good friend who commented once in reference to a mutual grad school acquaintance who was 37 at the time and dating college freshmen, “It says something about a man who only ha relationships with women who don’t know any better.” It was one of the wisest, funniest things I’ve ever heard.

          2. Yeah. I wish I’d been capable of understanding that when I met him. We had a 20 year gap. The most significant woman before me, about 14, the most significant woman before her about 10, the one before her, another 10. When you do the math, well… :/ Let me stop before I say something that really brings down the mood.

          3. Right? Anecdotal evidence feels more compelling than broad patterns, especially when it’s your own anecdote. But since there *is* a social phenomenon of older dudes who serially skeeve on younger women, and since this “your immaturity is the reason you have a problem with my unacceptable behavior” *is* a common tactic of said skeevers, all this Not-My-Nigeling seems ill-bethought. “Stop talking about broad social phenomena that have a serious effect on people’s lives because you’re hurting my boyfriend’s feelings vicariously through me.” Does seriously every single social observation need a #notyournigel disclaimer? If the shoe does not fit, your Nigel is not required to wear it.

          4. The pattern of dating women in a specific, limited age range is INTERESTING as well.

            My first serious college boyfriend and I started dating about the middle of the fall semester when I was a freshman and he was a senior. We split up when I was 21, the summer before my senior year. He was still on campus as a graduate student.

            He spent the fall trying to get me back (and creepily trying to enlist MY mother’s help to get me back–but she shut that shit down quickly.) By spring break, he was dating a freshman girl who hadn’t had a serious relationship in college yet.

            The serious girlfriend he had before me was a gal his own age who he had started dating when they were seniors in high school. They broke up at the beginning of the summer before he started dating me.

            Two is a coincidence, but three is a pattern. Apparently, his target girlfriend demographic was young women between the ages of 18-21.

            It felt even creepier when I saw the gal he dated right after me. We looked enough alike to be siblings. I seriously did a full body shiver when I saw her. It was like he went shopping for a clone of the girl I was when we first met.

    3. My wolf is ten years older, raised by parents born before my grandparents, which really makes him from a completely different generation. And he has never once used that fact as any sort of leverage against me, though sometimes my lack of knowledge about old Westerns gives him a moment’s pause.

      Otoh, one of my Darth exes would continually use the six year difference in our ages to tell me why he knew so much more than me and why I should let him handle all of the important things and why I should just not worry so much about college and just work full time and take care of his home and kids. Yeah, that’s how I ended up broke with two kids before I wised up and kicked him to the curb.

      1. I had an older ex tell me once that he was “further along on life’s path” than me, and so I should try to emulate him so as to “mature faster.” He also had an ex that he idealized and he often mused, out loud, about which of us he would end up with in the long term. Of course, being 18, I did everything in my power to try to get him to choose me. He must have freaking LOVED that. No woman with some life experience under her belt would have tolerated his shit.

        Did you catch CA’s link above about “Why I hate your older boyfriend?” It’s a good read – might be cathartic. 🙂

        1. @ Fishmongers’ daughters: I did. I wish I had read something like that when I was 18…then again, I don’t know that it would have done any good. I was stubborn enough to spend ten years with that Darth. I can’t say they were all wasted–I got two great kids out of it–but man, I learned a lot of lessons the hardest possible way.

  9. Things which are fine, but which may or may not be your cup of tea: he cares about M and wants to be there and help her through it when she’s having a hard time, and that’s not something he’s willing to stop doing in order to please you.

    Things which are in no way fine: he’s using the difference in your ages to try to convince you that he should have more of a say in how this relationship works, because he’s older and so he knows better.

    It’s not immature to have needs and preferences, and if he were eighty he wouldn’t have more insight than you do about what they are. Here’s how adults build good, healthy relationships: they each explain what they want and what they’re willing to offer each other, and then they each get to decide whether they like the deal they’re making. They *each* get to decide. Your perspective on whether or not you like the terms of this relationship is every bit as valid and every bit as important as his is, and he’s trying to convince you that it’s not, and that is so very manipulative and not okay.

    1. I agree. A person’s romantic relationship does not necessarily have to be their most important relationship. It’s the surrounding circumstances here that are the problem, including the boyfriend dismissing the LW’s desires for their relationship as “immature”.

    2. To be clear, I added my own spin on your comment that you may or may not agree with. But I think you have identified the real issue: manipulation.

  10. “Previous relationships he’s had he said “worked” because the women were “mature” enough to understand the relationship he and M have.”

    Except, you know, at some point they stopped working, because they ended.

    LW, I feel more pessimistic about your situation than the Captain. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said “I don’t know if I’m ready to build a future with him AND M.” Because that is what you’re getting into here. Your boyfriend has made this pretty clear. It sounds like he’s also made it clear that M is always going to come first for him. If you ever object to this, he will brush you off as being too “immature” to get it, where “it” is an unhealthy co-dependent drama-fueled relationship built on previous romantic entanglement.

    As someone who struggles with severe anxiety, I empathize with M. But it’s also important to note that people with mental health problems are still capable of being manipulative and possessive, and even using their (very real) problem as a tool for that manipulation. Your boyfriend is not literally the only person on the planet who can calm her down, and his presence is not a magic salve for panic attacks. She doesn’t really need him, but needing him is a great way to ensure that she always occupies a special place in life and will never be pushed aside by a new girlfriend. And he enjoys being needed. They’re both getting something out of this, otherwise it wouldn’t have gone on for this long.

    You can set up the M-related boundaries that the Captain suggests and I sincerely hope they work out for you, but I doubt the core dynamic between your boyfriend and M is going to change any time soon. I think you need to ask yourself is “Will I be happy in this relationship if M is always there to the degree she is now?” To quote the Sheelzebub Principle, how long are you willing to put up with this? Another year? Two years? Five? The rest of your life?

    It’s hard to accept, but you can’t really separate a person from their relationships. Especially the relationships they choose to hold onto of their own free will.

    1. I’m backing tinyorc on this one – even when I was having multiple panic attacks a day, and anxiety seriously disrupted my life, I kept *some* awareness that my support people had other concerns as well. Does your boyfriend even acknowledge that other avenues of support for M might be worth her investigating? Or is he too focused on being “necessary” to her? Is he willing to put the same (or hopefully more) effort into his relationship with you? Remember, if you are not worth someone’s time and effort, then they are not worthy of your time or effort.

    2. “Your boyfriend is not literally the only person on the planet who can calm her down, and his presence is not a magic salve for panic attacks.” Even if he is the only person who can calm M down, it’s still an unhealthy dynamic. A professional therapist would help her develop tools to calm *herself* down or to possibly head off her anxiety attacks before they become full blown.

      1. Yes, this is what I was getting at! It’s probable that M genuinely feels like LW’s boyfriend is the only person who can bring her out of a panic attack, but you can’t live your life with such a huge dependency on one person. With my own anxiety, it sometimes feels like my mother is literally the only person who can talk me down. But when it got to the point where I was calling her every single day on the verge of a nervous breakdown (and panicking more if she didn’t pick up) while she was trying to enjoy a hard-earned vacation, she brought up therapy, not as something I should consider, but something that urgently needs to happen. Which was the responsible thing to do. Because as much and as unconditionally she loves me, she knows she can’t be there for me every single second of every single day. Love should never be a crutch.

        1. First, I’m glad you have such a clear perspective on your needs and your mom’s and I hope your anxiety has abated to the point where you’re comfortable. Second, I think that perspective is one of several things that separates you from M. You cared whether your mom’s life/vacation/routine was disrupted by your calls. You were aware that your calls were causing your mom discomfort or distress. M doesn’t seem to have that awareness and doesn’t seem to have any desire to change the pattern. This is working for her. she has her BF and then she has LW’s BF as a back-up when she needs a boost. As long as she gets what she needs and no one points out that this is inconveniencing and distressing the people around her, she’s not likely to change her behavior.

          In other words, you’re awesome. M seems to lack your awesomeness.

          1. It’s possible that M does have exactly that awesomeness, but every time she brings it up, LW’s boyfriend says, “no, shush, it’s fine, don’t worry! You should always call me! That’s what I’m here for!”

            The problem here is LW’s boyfriend’s boundaries. M may or may not be too dependent on LW’s boyfriend for her own good, but that’s not LW’s problem. Nobody here needs to speculate about what M’s aware of because it’s not relevant.

        2. Also, someone should tell M that your boyfriend will someday die, perhaps decades before she does. Who will calm her then? I bet she will find a way.

          1. I really hope this is sarcasm.

            Because in my parents’ case, it isn’t, and all it succeeds in doing is making me feel deeply shitty.

        3. It’s a little different with a parent or family member, I think, and also with people who are not on the list of people you might become/were romantically involved with, but I can’t imagine calling my ex for help with anything like this. Even my most long-term ex, who was in a relationship when I needed to temporarily re-home my dog, he was my absolute last resort because I knew exactly how it would look to his girlfriend/now wife, and I didn’t want her to think for a second that I was trying to horn in on their relationship. I didn’t want to have to put him in the position of having to feel like he was caught between us, and so that was the one favor I ever asked of him because I knew it would put both of them in a weird place.

      2. I have a friend who’s in an abusive relationship right now with exactly these sorts of dynamics. I sympathize with the mental health and physical health issues that are real and debilitating. But they are also convenient tools for bending people to M’s will right now or else.

        In my friend’s case, it’s “I have to go home to help calm down her anxiety before it spirals out of control. Because of the children.” No, actually, zie doesn’t. Zie has indicated that hir lover has a history of testing people to destruction. So I keep advising my friend to do the thought experiment of hir boss says zie will lose hir job if zie misses any more time (which is a real possibility–they’ve danced to the brink before now), and hir lover insists that zie must come home right now. An impossible choice must be made when zie frames it as such a narrow box of “I have only one choice.” Call an ambulance. Call friends to watch the kids. Whatever. But have a plan for the worst-case scenario.

      3. Yes, but at this point, M has absolutely no motivation to do that, because she has LW’s boyfriend playing security blanket for her. Change would require work that she doesn’t have to do the way things are right now.

        1. Or he wants her to get better, but he wants to maintain the perception that he’s the only one capable of achieving that through their super-special connection even more, and is willfully ignoring the fact that nothing he’s done has had any real long-term success.

    3. Or…

      What will happen if you are in the hospital with previously undiagnosed heart arythmia and she needs him urgently right now?

      Or, if you decide to have kids together and you’re on the first date night you have had in months? Or kiddo is sick and so are you?

      Or you are being given the alum of the year award at your reunion?

      It sounds like so far it’s been Ex’s Emergency vs. Your Fun or Routine Time. And that is a good sign that you can get your shit done on your own. But a lifetime together means you will probably need help, the kind of help one usually gets from a partner, if you have a partner. If you are not okay with BF engaging in this dynamic then, rethink the closer ties plan. I’ll lay odds on if you are in such a situation, *something* will come up with her.

      1. THIS.

        With this dynamic, boyfriend isn’t being a partner. As long as this dynamic continues, boyfriend won’t be a partner to anyone else in his life but M. He is choosing a dynamic where everything else in his life comes second, and it looks to me like his romantic partners are there primarily to provide emotional support to him…so that he can continue to be M’s lifeline. That is unsustainable.

        I don’t know if the house is full of Evil Bees just yet, but I’ll bet that boyfriend has a copy of Evil Beekeeping for Dummies on his bookshelf.

    4. I agree with this, so much. If Boyfriend was truly the only person on the planet who can stop panic attacks, shouldn’t he be studied in a lab so that all of humanity could purchase the magic pheromones he gives off and have their panic attacks dealt with, too? I do not find it a coincidence that these panic attacks are ramping up again as LW is spending so much time at BF’s and they are considering moving in together.

      I also agree with what other people have said about removing yourself from the situation when it becomes disrespectful to you. Your time and energy is just as valuable as his, M’s or anyone else on the planet’s is. If he’s going to be on the phone with M for hours while you binge watch TV waiting for him to finish, uh… you can do that at home. Or go see a friend/family member and do something with them instead. If he’s going to blow off plans to attend to M, that is disrespectful. Surely M has family of her own?

      Also, before you move in with him, you need to have a serious conversation about The Future. Do you want kids? Does he? Do you want to get married one day? Does he? Does he have a “ideal” time or point in life when either of those goals would be something he wants to advance on? If that timeline is “one day” — one day never comes and he’s just looking to string you along. You’ve been dating for 2 years now, which also not coincidentally seems to be the length of time his other relationships have lasted — just to a point when Shit Gets Real. M could be a very convenient way of ensuring he never has to commit to anyone and can just keep dating. If having kids is something you really want, you don’t have all the time in the world to make that happen. Wasting time on someone who isn’t really ready to grow up and would rather play Shining Knight to someone else (who isn’t even the mother of his child!), it’s not going to be a great feeling if 10 years from now, you’re still with him and nothing has changed. You don’t have to give BF an ultimatum, but you can give one for yourself about how long you’re willing to wait to see if change happens. Six months? A year? If you move in and nothing has changed, you haven’t been promoted, there’s nothing that says you have to stay. He isn’t a “prize” that you can claim all for yourself if you stick it out long enough.

      You are perfectly within your rights to ask some pointed questions about how your future with him is going to be, preferably when you are not fighting about M. Such as “If I was in an auto accident and in the hospital and M called you having a panic attack, would you go?” or “If we had kids and you were at our son’s little league game, but M was having an attack, would you pull him off the field and go over to assist M?” “If I was offered a job on the other side of the country that was just amazing, would you go with me?” These are not questions about jealousy, you’re collecting data about who trumps whom. Another one you could ask is “If I had a male friend like M, who had some serious issues, would you be OK with me helping him any time he needed help?” (I will guess the answer would be no on that).

      Because here’s the thing: BF has been dealing with M and M’s issues for so long, I don’t think he’s really planning for the future. I really wonder if he’s ever thought that he would like to follow a dream job that would take him away from M or go camping in the woods for two weeks where you can’t use a cellphone because of M. He’s being purely reactionary and it’s all knee-jerk, she’s family, she neeeeeeeeeeeeeeds me, I’ve got to go! If his child was in the hospital and M called freaking out, would that be enough to tell her no? (for those wondering, no I would not be so harsh if M was an ex-wife and her children were BF’s children, that is completely different and I find it somewhat amazing that a grown-ass man has allowed this to take over so much of his life for so long) Yes, he’ll pull the “she’s family and I can’t abandon her!” card, and if this was his mother who had terminal cancer of course you would want him to spend as much time with her/helping her as he could — you may even go with him. But a terminal illness has an endpoint. M’s untreated condition doesn’t. She is not your family, you don’t owe her anything and if your BF is putting this on you as “you just don’t understand” — he’s right, you don’t, you’re not required to and you don’t have to be a part of it (or him), there are plenty of other fish in the sea.

      1. “Because here’s the thing: BF has been dealing with M and M’s issues for so long, I don’t think he’s really planning for the future.”

        This is a fabulous point. Maybe BF hasn’t because he doesn’t want to deal with it, maybe he hasn’t because he’s so tired and swept up dealing with M’s drama that he can’t get his head above water. He needs to think on this and LW needs to hear his responses because it will determine to a great extent what LW might decide.

  11. My now-husband had a drama filled ex who called him a lot when we were first dating with various crises and emergencies that she needed his immediate help to deal with. After a lot of angst and jealousy on my part, my mom gave me the advice the Captain gave you– control what you can control. So I started leaving. For example, if they were on the phone for more than 15 minutes while I was at his place, I excused myself and left. (Not in a huff, but just an “I can see you are busy now, goodbye” kind of way.) If it was at my place, I said that he clearly needed to deal with this, so goodbye. And then I made other plans and did other things and hung out with other friends and enjoyed my life.

    What happened in our case is that my then-boyfriend missed me, ended up becoming a MUCH better partner, stopped with the drama, and we’ve been happily married for almost 10 years now.

    I don’t want to call our staying together a ‘happy ending’ because I think that misses the point.The point is that if he had chosen his ex, I would’ve been fine. By leaving and not participating in the drama, the only relationship option I removed from the table was the one where we stayed together and had lots of drama (which would’ve been miserable). Does that make sense? Good luck!

    1. I like this a lot. Teaching people what you expect is critical to successful relationships on both sides, and actions speak louder than words.

      I told the hubs in words and actions that I’m not pissed that you’re going to spend your time doing something else right now, but I’m not hanging out here watching the back of your head while you do that something else when there is a big wide fun world out there waiting to be explored. This is what I’m about, and if you want to actively engage and share yourself with me, great, I’m all in. If not, there are lots of other options.

    2. Ooh, that’s a really, really good point: there isn’t just one magical “happy ending.”

      There are all kinds of potential happy endings, some where partners, being the genuinely decent people they are, take a good hard look at their behavior and see that it’s not okay, and work hard to change it. Others where the unhappy person leaves the situation/partner that’s making them unhappy, and then finds happiness elsewhere.

      Lots of options here, LW. You sound thoughtful and mature to me. There’s tons of great advice here, and if you’re already smart and aware enough to realize all the things you articulated in your letter, then you’re in a good place. Best of luck finding a situation (or creating one) that makes you happy.

    3. If M has debilitating anxiety and is choosing to rely on the OP’s boyfriend for support rather than get treatment and OPs bf is ok with thta, that also says a lot about hisunderstanding of relationships. Namely, that he thinks co-dependency is ok and “what you do for family” but like many co-dependents prioritizes certain relationships well over others (including the one he has with OP). Even if he backs off from M chances are he’ll have a new work buddy to take under his wing, or a down on their luck single mom who needs his help, or whatever. The enabler/caretaker identity is not something that just goes poof when logistics change. I would caution the OP against viewing this as situation specific behavior because of his history with M. This sort of codependency is often based on issues that go a lot deeper. As others have said, these issues may be part of why a late 30s dude is interested in a mid-20s partner – it seems unlikely that an age appropriate partner is going to be like “oh you’re totally still enmeshed with your ex’s life, that’s cool.”

      1. “like many co-dependents prioritizes certain relationships well over others (including the one he has with OP)”

        This. It seems to me that boyfriend and M both get a lot out of this relationship that is so full of drama but so lacking in commitment, *especially* since both of them have a “backstop” partner (baby-daddy in M’s case, OP in boyfriend’s case). In addition, a nasty aspect that I have noticed with co-dependent and people-pleasing characters is that they often have someone in their lives that the co-dependents get to “throw under the bus” (by denying that person’s needs, or allowing them to be abused) in order to earn favour from other, more demanding or more fascinating people.

        OP, please be careful that this is not you.

        1. Oh yes, I know this well. I was always the person thrown under the bus in my last relationship. Any new person who came into ex’s life could become the flavor of the month, someone who was above me in every way- which is infuriating when you actually have more knowledge about a project, or finances, or restoration and should have priority over the new flavor in his life.
          Living this way sucks bad, and there is no way to fix this except to leave. These people have a harem they must please, and you are put down, down down at the bottom until the shiny new fascination with the chosen person ends.

          But then it starts all over again with the next flavor of the month, sigh, lather, rinse and repeat. I hated this dynamic and it took me a long time to get over it. I should have left much sooner….

        2. I think the dynamic is more that (1) there’s a strong element of narcissism and control in savior behavior; and (2) saviors are not interested in quotidian problems — just the big, dramatic ones. If you rebuff (even unwittingly) saviors’ interfering ways, resist control, or express a need for normal support and empathy, they’ll move on to people who can provide them with bigger canvases and splashier colors for the saviors’ perpetual work-in-progress: Savior, Saving the Whole Entire World, Which Only the Savior Can Save.

          1. This is a good description of a now-former friend. A large part of why I dumped him was because not only was it impossible to get normal support from him, but he did not like who I am when I’m not in crisis. My baseline anxiety is lower without him, even tho I do miss him a little.

        3. “a nasty aspect that I have noticed with co-dependent and people-pleasing characters is that they often have someone in their lives that the co-dependents get to “throw under the bus” (by denying that person’s needs, or allowing them to be abused)”

          Or simply expecting them to pick up the slack in other areas of the co-dependent’s life. Their story is a grand adventure of going to heroic lengths to save or help someone. Those stories require a supporting cast to do shit like cook dinner, take out the trash and emotionally support the co-dependent when being the hero makes them tired.

        4. OH

          Okay, you just put a whole chapter of my life in perspective.
          I got thrown under the bus by one of those a few years ago, just by virtue of not being needy enough. (She had actually demanded that he stop speaking to me; he and I had dated for years, broke up because of distance and were moving toward getting back together. I was her maid of honor. He was my best friend. And he DID IT. Honest-to-dog he would break off a conversation mid-sentence and wander off if she walked into the vicinity, like I’d stopped existing.) And he was really confused as to why I was pissed, and why I didn’t want to listen to him stress about her issues. I GET IT NOW.

          He now has a collection of constantly-in-crisis friends who depend on him for their emotional well-being. I don’t think he ever sleeps, what with the constant three-am phone calls. There will always be someone willing to the the Victim to his Hero.

          That screwed me up for years. Was I really worth that little? I thought so for a long time.

          1. This is SO helping me explain my father. My expressing a need for normal support and empathy–totally impossible for him to deal with. But someone else needs him to fix an emergency? He’s all over it.

    4. // By leaving and not participating in the drama, the only relationship option I removed from the table was the one where we stayed together and had lots of drama (which would’ve been miserable). //

      LOVE this!

    5. “By leaving and not participating in the drama, the only relationship option I removed from the table was the one where we stayed together and had lots of drama (which would’ve been miserable).”

      This is such genius. I wish I’d done this more and sooner with a guy I dated some years ago. He was chronically late, which I pretty much hated. I like planning and being organized and not being stressed about when I’m going to arrive/whether I’m going to miss the train/etc. I talked to him about it (and he made the same kind of BS argument as LW’s boyfriend that I was trying to control him/invade his privacy and just wasn’t flexible enoouughh whine) but I didn’t do the drama-free boundary enforcement that would have shown him that I was serious about it not being acceptable to me but also not going to make a big deal of it otherwise. Instead I was resentful for a long time and finally broke up with him suddenly when it got to be too much one night. Outcome was fine, plan not the greatest, too much drama involved.

      The fact that all this was about his being late, which might seem very minor, highlights another point I wanted to make – it doesn’t matter whether BF’s behavior with M is acceptable to other people or somehow objectively OK – only whether it’s workable for you, LW. Some people don’t care if other people are late – or are late themselves – and that is fine, if it works for them. But it was and is not fine with me and I was unhappy about it. Likewise someone might think your BF’s relationship with M is OK, but it doesn’t matter, if you don’t think it’s fine for you. There is ultimately no objectivity in choosing a partner – it’s about whether the relationship works for us. The best thing my therapist at the time taught me is that nothing has to be objectively wrong in a relationship to need a change to happen; if it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work for you and that’s enough.

  12. LW, one key point here is that Boyfriend considers M to be “family”. But she’s not YOUR family.


    But if you move in with…and even marry Boyfriend she will be. I agree with Captain that you should spend more time doing your own thing and staying at your own place. Once you move in with him, you’ll forfeit much of your right to refuse to have her around.

    He’s showing no signs of making you the #1 woman in his life and I see your situation as no different than a woman that marries a guy and has to put up with an overbearing mother-in-law. The lovely part about “just dating” is that you can walk away from any situation you wouldn’t want to be in until death do you part. Moving on to that next step doesn’t necessarily make things better. Relationships aren’t magic, they’re work – and this BF of yours isn’t doing his part here.

    1. I’ve seen the Priority Mother-in-Law thing go down, and, just to throw a prophecy out there – quality time with your possible future kids probably isn’t going to trump M’s needs either.

      The situation isn’t necessarily more palatable when it’s family, and not an ex. More easily understood, but… coming in second, always, to the person you put first hurts. Deeply, and for a long, long time. So, if you’re going to commit to this guy, make sure that, you, LW, get to be first sometimes… if not all the time.

    2. Just what I was thinking – if he thinks M is family… or faaaaaaaamily… she will be there as long as you all shall live.

  13. It doesn’t even matter who the other person is. The dynamic that is being set up and protected is “This Other Person needs me and you don’t so you don’t get me, and Other Person does, even when the situation is chronic and unmitigated by professional help. I expect you to be ok with this” This isn’t the same as “omg, Other Person’s basement is flooding, and I gotta get over there and help lift stuff out of the way” or “omg, Other Person’s mom died, and they are going to need some immediate support” or anything else. This is A Relationship, and it’s one that is trumping yours, LW.

    Seriously consider the cultural pressure to keep the momentum of a relationship going towards Endpoint Marriage/Cohab, and shine a very strong light on “Is This A Team Effort?” as well.

    It’s totally ok to end a relationship with someone you love if it isn’t going to be mutually beneficial/acceptable/fulfilling. Love isn’t always enough. In fact, love often isn’t nearly enough.

    Good luck.

    1. Seconding this. It sounds to me like the problem is boyfriend’s current relationship dynamic with M, not the fact that they once dated. And I think the Captain’s advice would fit just as well if M were boyfriend’s sibling or colleague or dude friend or whatever.

      LW, I’m not a huge fan of making an ultimatum because I think it leaves too much room for manipulation on both sides. However, I am a huge fan of making it clear that things aren’t working, and getting out of a situation if no one else seems to want to make it any better. Telling boyfriend that he needs to make you a higher priority in his life or else you’ll leave him will likely end with him telling you he can’t do that, or with him doing it only because he feels an extreme amount of pressure, not because he actually wants you to do it. But spending more time at your own place, doing your own thing, being your own person, so that the amount of time and energy he puts into M has a direct effect on the amount of time and energy he has left for you, will give him the opportunity to show you how high a priority you are for him. How he reacts to the boundaries you set (and enforce) will probably tell you what you need to know about the future of your relationship.

      1. “Telling boyfriend that he needs to make you a higher priority in his life or else you’ll leave him will likely end with him telling you he can’t do that, or with him doing it only because he feels an extreme amount of pressure”

        Or he’ll do it long enough to calm the waters, then revert back to previous behaviour when he thinks he’s been good and appeased LW long enough.

        1. oh yes, this is what happens with these kinds of dynamics. I would walk and not look back.

    2. It doesn’t even matter who the other person is.

      I sort of disagree with this. I mean, the advice works either way, but to me it basically sounds like LW is trying to squeeze herself into a mental parking space marked Girlfriend, except it’s already at least partially occupied by M.

  14. Also, she’s not his ex. She’s still around. They have just shifted their relationship dynamic.

  15. LW, if you have been dating this guy for two years, have not slept in your own bed since March, and the BF doesn’t yet consider you “family” with as valid or greater claims on his time as M’s, what you see is what you get.

    You are virtually living with him already. You are his family already, and he is putting you last. I suspect those previous relationships only “worked” until the other parties got fed up with his drama addiction.

    M is not going to give up, and he has burned plenty of relationships on her altar already. Is he really worth retraining? There are excellent suggestions above. Try it and see, but do not move in with him.

    1. Also – this may not be relevant – why is it always his bed? Doesn’t he stay at yours ever?

      There could be a really ordinary practical reason for this but it just struck me.

      1. I don’t know if this personal anecdote is relevant at all, but your comment reminded me of when I was with a Darth Vader. We *always* stayed at his place – at the time, there were a pile of allegedly practical easons that seemed like they made sense, but ultimately, I think it was some tiny little part of my subconscious preserving my apartment as my own exclusive safe space that wasn’t touched by him (and when we broke up and he tried to stalk me, it helped that he didn’t remember where I lived because he had been there so few times).

        1. “he didn’t remember where I lived because he had been there so few times)”

          The tragedy of narcissism.

        2. That’s interesting! (and indeed tragic as e271828 says). I know it just could be in LW’s case that BF’s appartment is nicer, or larger – he has had longer in life to earn more space – but it looks like she is being incorporated into his life, rather than their lives being integrated.

          1. There are sometimes practical reasons. My last boyfriend lived with his parents and I had my own apartment, so my place was the better option. Currently, I’d go with “whoever has air conditioning” (obviously this depends on where you live, but if I had a partner with AC, you better believe I’d be sleeping at their place!). Of course, there are as many bad reasons as good…

          2. “Incorporated into his life, rather than their lives being integrated.” This is what I have been trying to say for six years about my most recent ex. I have not been able to say it that way yet. Thank you for putting words to my frustration with our relationship dynamic.

        3. I dont’ think sleeping in one person’s bed is very specific for badness… there are a lot of legit reasons, from schedules to more comfey beds. I vaguely recall one former relationship I think I always went to their place, and I’m not even 100% sure why! Maybe because their dorm was a little bigger so it felt less cramped with two people. Maybe because that dorm was better to hang out in overall. (as to the reason it is a “former” relationship; purely jobs/distance related)
          Anyway, just don’t want LW to make themselves crazy second guessing every little thing in their relationship; just the things LW doesn’t like.

        4. Huh, I never thought about that before. I had a fling with a Vader once (knowing that he was a Vader) and we never stayed at my place either. I’m sure this happens for lots of reasonable, non-Vadery reasons – my boyfriend has been coming over to my place almost exclusively since I decided to DO ALL THE THINGS AT ONCE and am having a stressful time – but in Vader Fling’s case I think it was definitely a symptom of his general self-centeredness.

  16. “Previous relationships he’s had he said “worked” because the women were “mature” enough to understand the relationship he and M have.”

    Well, er, clearly they didn’t, since he’s not with them anymore. I wonder why?

  17. To me the problem here is not M, or even the relationship between M and boyfriend. Or rather, that might be *a* problem, but it is not your problem. Your problem is (a) it sounds like boyfriend has a saviour complex and (b) he is using “maturity” as a special codeword for “I expect you to smile and put up with anything I do regarding M, AND I don’t want you to tell me about the ways it makes you sad or uncomfortable because I don’t like thinking about whether what I’m doing is reasonable and I don’t want to deal with the negative impacts of my behaviour on people I love.”

    You know what maturity really looks like? Maturity would be your boyfriend putting thought into how the M situation affects you without you even needing to bring it up, and taking appropriate steps to minimize any adverse effects on you. Maturity would be your boyfriend realizing that his affection for M, no matter how pure and devoted, will not magic away her anxiety, and that by serving as her go-to crutch of a coping mechanism rather than lovingly directing her toward professional help, he’s actually undermining her in the long run.

    Boyfriend said that understanding his relationship with M requires maturity. That’s true, but I think he has it backward: I think your external position allows you to understand his relationship with M better than he does. You see the self-destructive co-dependent enabling behaviour for what it is. He seems to be fooling himself into thinking it’s a deeply complex bond where he’s the magic font of love and patience with healing powers.

    Remind yourself what your own room looks like. Remind yourself how many interesting people there are in the world who don’t have to be the special magical healer of disturbed exes in order to feel good about themselves. Listen to live music, draw, go for walks, have lunch with old friends. Give yourself some breathing room from him, and be the interesting person he fell in love with, and refuse to be drawn in to the drama surrounding M, and see what he does.

    1. Actually I think maturity would be BF acknowledging that he has a significant other, M, but that for Reasons, that relationship isn’t sexual (or maybe it is, who knows?)

      So, he’s not available for a primary relationship with anyone. That slot is take. He is, however, available for romance and affection and sex and even cohabitation with women who are interested in a man whose primary focus is elsewhere.

      I’m not being snarky by the way.

      There are people who honestly state that their priority will never be their romance. Maybe it’s because they have an all consuming job or hobby. Maybe it’s because they’re focused on their children or parents – or their former romantic partner, and current friend.

      Such a person would be a reasonable match for someone who also focused on their own stuff.

      1. Yes, if you’re in this dynamic and admitting it upfront, then you are self-selecting for people who also feel this way, and that’s quite valid. It’s when you do the “You are my top priority- but I will ditch you for my REAL top priority in a heartbeat” thing that it’s a problem.

  18. Here’s the thing, there IS a situation that happens where partners react badly to a reasonable relationship between life long friends of opposite genders. (Or genders of attraction? Is there a term for that?) This is a thing that happens though I’m not sure that has to do with maturity per se.

    THIS is not one of those situations. This is not them hanging out as friends occasionally or him wanting to make reasonable time for her in his life. He is prioritizing her short term needs for his presence and attention very very highly.

    In fact, I would argue he is prioritizing those short term needs, over not only his needs, and your needs, but also M’s long term health and happiness. And what about when he can’t be there for M? Or if he decides he really can’t take it and doesn’t come through for her? If you are having to be on call at a moments notice to handle the same emergency over and over again, isn’t it time to address the root cause of the issue?

    Anyway, you obviously know all this, I just want to agree with you vehemently and in great detail.

    I think a generous interpretation is that your boyfriend is too close and too emotionally invested in the situation to see both how this is impacting your relationship, and how this is not a good long term strategy. And the Captain’s advice is great in terms of setting yourself up as the mature and reasonable party. (Which you are totally being, but might be hard for him to see.)

    1. I wonder if BF thinks his relationship with M IS a reasonable relationship between life long friends. I was thinking he might falling for the fallacy that you can’t be mad at/set boundaries with/cut off a sick person, and he may not have a good model for setting boundaries as a caregiver/friend. This goes along with your generous interpretation where he doesn’t realize that he IS too close and IS too emotionally invested.

  19. I sympathize. I have been in your shoes to some degree. When I first started dating my partner, more than one of hir friends came up to me and said “Oh good, maybe this will sever the cord between [L] and [M].” Their relationship as a couple had ended at least 5 years before, but they still seemed to be the principal support system for each other. The ex, M, did not receive the news of L’s dating again at all well. M tends to be the missing stair, so not just my partner but the whole social circle started dancing around to avoid inviting us as a couple to gatherings. Plus, my partner would drop everything to help out M as well as a few other friends the moment they asked, regardless of any plans we had already made.

    You know, I was patient and empathetic for the first year. I started to get angry after 2 years, and increasingly vocal about the situation in the third year. I don’t mind my partner having close relationships with other people. But it’s not okay to make me bear the cost for M being a difficult person. It’s not okay to make choices to exclude me from parties because that’s easier than dealing with M’s outbursts after the fact. It’s not okay to abandon me on Christmas eve after we’d committed to having an intimate holiday together because my partner is convinced that someone needs help right now, and it can’t wait until Christmas day.

    It took a few years, and lots of conversations, some angry ones, pointing out that it’s not okay to treat me like that, that there are other helpful options that can be considered, that taking time to think about requests is not some sort of failure or betrayal of friendship, and that it is not feasible to keep playing the helper role long-distance and these people need to start figuring out alternatives. Now my partner and M still keep in touch, but instead of being daily, it’s more like every few weeks, I think. And M rarely if ever asks my partner for help. M now no longer tries to arrange things for my partner either. Saying no the first time was very hard, I imagine, but after a few no’s things got easier.

    It also took lots of modeling for my partner, reminding hir that when I asked for something, zie doesn’t have to give an immediate answer, that saying no is okay, that we can discuss possible options that maybe I didn’t think of, that saying yes doesn’t mean do this thing immediately, etc. Frankly, I need the practice too as I sometimes am really bad about such things. In fact, we’re taking a time out from living together right now so that I have space to work on my own shit instead of constantly turning to hir and hir needs and neglecting my own.

    Basically, it sounds like your boyfriend has been trained not to have boundaries. Show him what good boundaries look like. Encourage him to have his own boundaries with you and others. It takes time and compassion and persistence. And maybe therapy too. If he’s open to it, maybe he should consider finding a therapist to help him balance the relationships in his life instead of endlessly bending to M’s anxiety.

    Good luck. You may ultimately decide to walk away. Or you may decide that it’s worth the continuing struggle.

  20. It sounds like BF is very aware of what a messed up situation he’s in with M, and has chosen a younger, less experienced partner because he wants to play the “older and oh, so much wiser” card. A woman his own age might be more comfortable calling him on his bullshit and probably wouldn’t take, “Oh, you’ve never suffered, you sweet, untried flower, so you have no empathy” or “If you were more MATURE, you wouldn’t have a problem with this.” as a justification for his behavior. I’m not saying the LW is immature, but when LW is clearly concerned about the appearance of being “cool” and grown up.

    The truth is this situation is beyond the bounds of screwed up. M may very well have anxiety issues, but it sounds like she also enjoys having BF dance whenever she pulls his strings. I get very suspicious when someone claims that only ONE person can calm them. Especially when that person is not their romantic partner/FOO member. Translation: “Calming” them involves drawing their security-touchstone-person out of their daily lives/home and creating chaos, but the anxious person is not doing anything to change the pattern. So they’re comfortable disrupting their “security person’s” life/family/relationship without any real concern of how it affects them.

    And it also sounds like BF enjoys being needed. It seems he’s addicted to being M’s touchstone. It’s a huge rush, being someone’s rescuer. The question is, LW, are you comfortable coming not first, not second, but third in your relationship? (M comes first, BF’s need to be needed comes second, you’re third.) Are you comfortable with the idea that your partner is willing to make you uncomfortable and unhappy if it means keeping M as a priority in his life? Are you OK with the idea that any plans you have will be subject to change/cancellation if M needs him.

    PS, that line about how you’ve “never suffered” and therefore lack understanding is some of the patronizing, backhanded, belittling crap I’ve seen in quite some time. He doesn’t know you well enough to know whether you’ve suffered. Everybody has issues and invalidating you because you’re not having easily visible episodes is not the mark of a generous loving partner.

    Bottom line, you’ve only been in this relationship for a couple of months and this is a significant enough speed bump that it would have me reconsidering investing emotionally in this person. I would not be planning long-term with someone who doesn’t seem to have so little regard for his partner’s feelings. He’s OK with sleeping with you every night, but the minute M needs a fix of comfort, he’s up and running whether you like it or not? That is not acceptable.

    I definitely agree with CA about withdrawing and re-establishing your own life, friendships, hobbies, home base. You need to worry less about BF and M, and more about you. Part of M’s appeal may be that she withdrew, while you are readily available. Some people get bored with what is available to them and want to chase that which alludes them. I’m not saying that makes BF an awesome partner or that you’ll have a happier relationship if he do have to chase you. But at the very least, you won’t have lost friendships and interests in the name of maintaining a relationship with this person.

    1. Exactly, if he wanted someone “mature,” he had the option of dating someone his own age or even older. Even the most mature person in their twenties is still not going to be as mature as someone in their thirties and forties.

      But since he is concerned about maturity, one of the hallmarks of a truly mature person is recognizing when “you are in over your head.” I used to have a “friend” who treated me as a free psychologist. I realized that I was not qualified to help her and asked her to stop. She ignored my requests and even admitted that she knew that she was making me uncomfortable, so I ended our “friendship” and suggested that she seek professional help.

      While he doesn’t need to end his friendship with “M,” he does need to face the fact that he is in over his head. What is he going to do if she “gets worse.” A trained professional can help M in ways he can’t help her. For example, if she needs medication, a professional can prescribe it or refer her to someone who can. A professional therapist might also be more willing to say things that are necessary for M to hear even if they hurt M’s feelings.

      And if the letter writer wants to continue her relationship with this guy, she should suggest couples counseling to resolve their issues before she moves in with him. As a mature person, he should have no problem with such a suggestion. Right?

  21. And one more thing:

    Picture this relationship as a bank account that you share with BF. You’re putting a certain amount of love and attention and energy every day. BF is putting in a little bit, but expects you to understand a good portion of his love, attention and energy is being re-directed to M’s account because she “needs it more.” In fact, M occasionally makes large withdrawals from this account, claiming love, attention and energy from BF, without you signing off on the withdrawal. In fact, if you object to the withdrawal, BF calls you immature and says you lack understanding. He’s totally OK with you propping him and funding his reserves of love/attention/energy when he’s freaking out over M’s stress, but you seem to be getting very few benefits from having this account.

    If we were talking about money, I think you would be a lot quicker to tell BF, “Hey, this is bullshit, stop handing M money that should be going to me.” But because it involves intangible emotions, it’s harder to voice these concerns. You’re not being selfish. You’re not being immature. You’re simply asking why you’re not being considered a full shareholder in your account. And that is a reasonable question.

        1. Wow that is a great article. I think I need to leave a bill in my neighbour’s box, the one who comes over to give me “handyman” tips unsolicited all the fucking time and to which I then have to spend my precious time nodding and smiling and nodding and smiling and thanking and ignoring. KA CHING.

        2. No kidding! I would be a rich woman if I charged for all of the emotional labor I do.

      1. Whoa – this is highly relevant and amazing.

        I am also feeling this so hard on a personal level:

        “Incidentally, women of color should probably be getting recompense from men and white women; emotionally pampering white people while living within white supremacist culture is just as much of an effort if not more, and they’re doing both.”

        If I charged for all the emotional pampering I’d done and probably still have to do, I’d be SO DAMN RICH.

  22. One of my very best friends is a man who is married, and I have known him for a long time, probably 10 years longer than he has known his wife. A eons ago, friend and I did have relationship weirdness (unrequited crushes, awkwardness about the romantic relationships of the other person, unacknowledged flirting,etc.). And then that weirdness hit a boiling point and we stopped speaking for a year, in which time we recalibrated our friendship and subsequently went on to be Friends without Nonsense. And by that I mean, I adore his wife and have a real respect for her, I do not compete for his attention in any way and I would not ask anything of Friend that I would not be comfortable with his wife knowing, because that is how friends should relate to friends in relationships. I relate this story because there was a time when I was an unhealthy third wheel in my buddy’s romantic relationships (ugh, so mortifying to think about) but we each did work on our own to fix things. Had he met his wife while were were still in weirdness zone, I shudder to think about what might have happened. Being ‘family’ is no excuse for the kind of shenanigans LW rightly feels uncomfortable with. Sending thoughts of healthy limits to all those involved.

  23. LW, the Captain’s advice is spot-on.

    Be careful the language you use when you’re talking about and thinking about putting that action into play.

    You are not “making threats” or “issuing ultimatums” or “demanding” anything. You are setting boundaries for yourself.

    You are not starting to “break it off”. Don’t use the word “break” in any context, not “break up” or “break off” or even “taking a break”. Don’t say it, and I wouldn’t even think of it in those terms. This is not ending the relationship, it is not starting a slow-fade of the relationship. Again, you’re setting boundaries.

    As a recovering manipulative S.O.B., I can say that back in the day, I would have responded to boundary-setting by using framing language to make it into a hostile act. “You’re pulling away from me, punishing me, when all I’m trying to do is bla bla bla”. If someone had pulled back, I might have accused them of “breaking up” or “trying to break up” with me, just to put them on the defensive and give myself position to erode the boundary they were trying to set, making the act of simply making time & space for oneself equal to a hostile end to the relationship. And if the terms “break up” or “taking a break” were uttered, I would assume that’s an open opportunity for extra-relationship shenanigans with other parties. (“Why are you mad I slept with my ex? We broke up, remember? OK, so we weren’t broken up, but we were on a break. Isn’t that what taking a break means, that we’re not together and not exclusive?”) After the fact, I would have even tried to use that semantic ambiguity to try and force my partner into accepting and forgiving my actions. I was a right real bastard back then, and the only good thing to come of it is that I’m pretty good at spotting other bastards in the wild.

    LW, I genuinely hope your partner reacts in exactly the opposite ways. I hope they react to you setting a boundary by stopping the behavior, apologizing, and changing the subject. I hope they respond to you pulling back a little with support and encouragement, and if they feel nervous or panicked, that they either keep it to themselves or express those concerns in a calm, respectful way that acknowledges its their feelings, not your responsibility. Good luck, and don’t let anyone pull you off track by putting words into your mouth.

    1. Wow, I would love to see you do an AMA-style question and answer session about Assholes And How To Spot Them and Deal With Them.

    2. Also, if you read any of this and think, “Hm, yes, this advice is very useful because I think he /would/ react in those ways”, skip the middle steps, and just get the hell out of there. There is no need to negotiate with an asshole!

    3. This was really upsetting to read, as it has firmly disabused me of the notion that the men who have argued like this with me weren’t just hapless dudes who hadn’t yet learned to fight fair. Thanks for the insight; I’m going to find the calming manatee right now.

      1. Sorry to trigger upset, hellodangergirl. Never my intention, but intent isn’t magic. I’ll start adding trigger warnings when I write from the perspective of manipulative men going forward.

        For what it’s worth, a lot of men who argue like this are hapless dudes, in that they aren’t self-aware and don’t know any better ways to communicate. They’re like the audience volunteers at a hypnotist show who stand up or sit down or open umbrellas when key words are spoken; they’re reacting to something but they have no idea what it is or why. That doesn’t make their actions any more acceptable or any less harmful, and does not absolve them of responsibility for the harm that they do.

        They haven’t learned how to fight fair, mostly because the only ways they know how to fight weren’t so much learned as unconsciously cobbled from trial and error, and personal experience. They’re interacting with their romantic partners like they were Skinner boxes: do this to get that. Try this to see if you can get that. Once more, with feeling, these shortcomings do NOT make their behavior acceptable, they actually make these men more dangerous, because when those tactics fail or are refuted, all they can do is escalate and double-down on the manipulation.

        Yes, these men can learn some self-awareness and grow and change. (I hope) But that’s not anyone else’s responsibility but their own, and possibly the responsibility of trained professionals engaged with enthusiastic consent. It’s definitely not the responsibility of their romantic partners. Once identified, it’s best to treat these men like wounded, feral animals: cute, and somewhat predictable, but capable of lashing out with terrible fury doing great harm, and to be treated with the appropriate caution.

        1. I love this post so much. Thank you.

          For the tiny fraction of the population like me and benefit from active rephrasing:
          Just because she’s a woman, or they’re genderqueer, doesn’t make her immune to doing these shenanigans. That includes both cis and trans women *equally*. Some people through random chance just treat other people like Skinner boxes, and while that might be gender-correlated (due to differences in social programming), its not gender-causal.

        2. Well, the other thing about manipulation is that it works. A really depressingly high percentage of the time, it gets the manipulators exactly what they want. In fact, the percentage may be so high that when someone doesn’t follow the script, the manipulators may genuinely believe that it’s because that person is defective in some way.

          Like: When I overreact and claim you’re breaking up with me, it makes you panic and reassure me and calm the fears I can’t express directly and stop asking me to do things that I would find uncomfortable to do. That’s the way it’s supposed to work! That’s the way it’s always worked for me, and that’s the way I saw it work with my parents! If it doesn’t work with you, you must be broken!

          1. I’ve also seen the stunned confusion from someone accustomed to manipulation working finding that its not working today. Its like gravity just failed them. Its not actually enjoyable to watch; who knows how someone will react if gravity just failed them and they have every reason to blame it on you.

  24. But he brushes it off with “people who’ve never suffered don’t understand.”

    The fuck kind of thing to say is that? ‘You haven’t had the same life experience as M, so you can’t really know what it’s like to be her’ would be a fine, reasonable thing to say. But completely dismissing you because you’ve – according to him – never experienced comparable pain, trauma or difficulty? Never experienced anything that could be considered ‘suffering’.

    The guy is a dick, LW. Do what you want etc., and love it very powerful but I seriously think you should get some space to evaluate before you move forward with any commitments, because, essentially, he sounds like a patronizing jerk who doesn’t respect your feelings or needs.

  25. LW, my friend has terrible panic attacks and for whatever reason I genuinely am the only person who can calm her down. Unlike M and your boyfriend, she understands that this doesn’t obligate me to be on-call 24/7. If I can help, great, that’s the fastest way to handle it; but if I’m not around she (sometimes with the help of her partner or therapist) figures out some other way to cope. You aren’t being immature or unkind for thinking their dynamic is probably unhealthy for everyone involved.

    1. Dear heart, can I just whisper to you that your friend chooses to calm down with your attention.

      1. You can whisper whatever you want, but that’s a really condescending response to a comment about how I’m able to help my friend but also maintain boundaries that are healthy for both of us.

        1. If she can figure out other ways to cope, then you are not “genuinely the only person who can calm her down.” That’s what Myrtle was getting at I think.

          1. This kind of relies on the assumption that “calming down quickly during a panic attack” is the only way of coping. (I.e., Anya’s friend will calm down quickly with Anya’s help; Anya’s friend has other ways of dealing with a panic attack; therefore, Anya’s friend’s response to these other resources is obviously the same as her response to Anya’s help[1], and we can generalize that other resources will produce in her THE EXACT SAME RESPONSE as Anya’s help.)

            That’s not a good assumption to be making.

            [1] Uhm, no.

        2. You are justified in being annoyed at my comment. I pointed it at you but it was about my own version. What I meant to say was, when I was M, I had to see how manipulative I was being and to own my state- and my wellness. It’s a process. I’m sorry I upset you. Thanks for the lesson.

      2. It’s also possible that Anya makes her friend feel safer than anyone else does, and that the terrible panic attacks are a relatively new thing which the friend is still learning coping strategies for. That the friend has a partner and therapist she is willing to reach out to and is working with speaks well of her, as does the fact that she does not rely on Anya as the sole giver of Cope and Calm.

        1. Thank you. There’s a ton of background/context I left out because it wasn’t relevant to the LW’s situation, and if I’d known someone would try to “halp” I wouldn’t have said anything.

          1. Understood.

            Incidentally, I take my hat off to your friend for recognizing that you are a person with your own life who will sometimes not be around, and for developing other coping strategies. I hope she does well with things.

        1. So erasing of the fact that Anya’s relationship with her friend might actually make a difference, and so heavily implying that Anya’s friend is just CHOOSING not to feel as safe and calm around other people.

          In the absence of any information about the cause, recency, treatment (okay, we know there’s a therapist), or progression of learning of coping strategies to deal with said panic attacks; and in the presence of an ability and willingness to cope without requiring Anya to be the one true holy support; can we maybe stop piling on the friend?

          1. Agreed. I declare that the subthread of picking apart Anya and her friend’s dynamic closed.

  26. As others have said: M isn’t the issue- your boyfriend is.

    She may be crazy or demanding or whatever but who cares? Not you. BF cares. He cares more about her than any other relationship.

    Are you ok with second fiddle?

    For him that’s what you’ll be. Always

  27. As I understand it, people can start having panic or anxiety attacks at any time. What happens if you have one, LW? do you get to be the priority then, or are M and your boyfriend annoyed?

    LW, you might want to attend a couple therapy sessions, alone or with your boyfriend. Carefully vet the therapist if you do. You might also find some 12 step meeting useful, not that there is a traditional addiction here, but they are good for seeing the patterns of codependent behavior in relationships.

    Good luck to you, and if you feel like it, I’d be interested in an update down the line.

  28. Mmmm. MMMM. Oh dear.

    I apologize in advance if this isn’t the best worded comment, because this makes me INSTANT RAGE BLIND, but I went through this with a now ex not that long ago, and LW, I have to say, I do not think this is a healthy dynamic at all, I do not think this is going to make you happy, I do not see a positive future for this relationship, and I 100% endorse the Captain’s advice and I think you need to put the brakes on moving in together. And I mean slam on those brakes, girl. I would not be comfortable with a friend having this type of stage-4 Klingor relationship with someone I was dating, much less an ex.

    My backstory:

    After being single for about a year and a half, I met someone I liked and we started dating semi-seriously (I say semi-seriously because he was trying to shove me into girlfriend-dom faster than I was willing to go there, but that’s a story for another thread). When we met, he had a SERIOUS case of mentionitis of his last girlfriend. I mean, every single conversation referenced her in some way, every other sentence included her name, etc. etc. I assumed they must be fairly recently broken up for her to be on his mind so much.

    They’d been separated for two years.

    I found out that not only did he, who had literally zero money most of the time and 80K in student debts and dental problems that had gone unaddressed due to money and a car that was falling apart and back taxes that were owed, regularly buy her stuff like expensive concert tickets, etc., she also demanded that she have access to his apartment (and by access I mean sleeping in his bed) when she visited DC. They texted each other constantly, and one night when she was in town and he was at my house, she engineered getting ‘locked out of his apartment’ in a way that isn’t actually possible to blow up his phone at 3 in the morning in hysterics so he would drive across the city to let her in.


    Our relationship, surprisingly, didn’t last. They are now going on three years of being ‘separated,’ and he’s still doing the same thing. It was clear to me that my emotional needs, etc. would never be prioritized as highly as hers. She was the primary relationship in his life…which would have been fine, had he not been pursuing relationships with other people while their relationship torpedoed any new romance he was trying to form.

    It sounds an awful like like what your boyfriend is doing. I can’t really add anything to the Captain’s advice other than to say this entire dynamic sounds entirely awful, and I would apply the Sheelzebub Principle here. Imagine you are living together, five years have passed, and this. is. still. happening.

  29. I was once in a situation like this and it hurt so much. And then I read the Brave Little Toaster blog post (http://www.polyamorousmisanthrope.com/2007/08/19/the-brave-little-toaster/), which although it deals with polyamory, is very relevant regardless of your relationship style. The money quote is: “I am a brave little toaster and will soldier on through the mistreatment and drama that my partner(s) dish out, because of Love. I love them and know that someday, if I am Very Good, I will get my reward and things will be happy.”

    That resonated for me so hard. I cried and cried and then I moved to the Fuck Its, and only then, with solid boundaries, did things get better. Does that quote resonate for you, LW?

    1. I love this blog post *so much.* It points out a general belief that the universe is a big fairy tale and that if you are an amazing partner for someone who sucks, that someone will magically become the prince(ss) you wanted them to be at the start of it all.

    2. This is a great blog post. As the Captain has pointed out elsewhere on this blog, the reward for Putting Up With This Bullshit is Yet More of This Bullshit. You don’t need That Bullshit.

  30. My take on this is that LW and boyfriend have hit a major turning point in the relationship – can she and bf grow the relationship from “two individuals who really dig each other” into “a unit/team/partnership”? She has rightly noticed that something is wrong here, and that thing is that boyfriend is failing this challenge. There’s only one correct course of action for bf here: he needs to 1) face the issue and not try and please everyone while hoping the problem just goes away, and 2) consciously CHOOSE to make his girlfriend his #1 priority. Plans with her come first. He backs her and honours her needs. He doesn’t let her be undermined by anyone else in his life. He makes it clear to everyone that he considers his relationship with her to be the most important one. This would apply whether the “third wheel” were a clingy ex, a moochy dudebro friend or an overbearing mother-in-law. If boyfriend can’t do this, there’s not much hope for him and LW, or him and anyone else for that matter – a relationship can’t last in the long-run if both partners don’t commit to establishing a sense of “we-ness”, of being a solid team that works together (not against each other) to deal with outside challenges (like an intrusive ex). It’s appropriate timing that this is coming to a head right when LW and bf are considering moving in together. LW, you should make it clear that your bf has to take the steps outlined above. If he mans up to the challenge and starts putting in the effort to make you feel like you are unequivocally person #1 in his life, then move in together and best of luck to you. I would strongly advise against moving in together and making yourself a team until the relationship genuinely feels like one.

    1. “I would strongly advise against moving in together and making yourself a team until the relationship genuinely feels like one.”

      IMO, that is the most important takeaway. Your reservations about this step — hell, about the whole relationship — have nothing to do with your supposed “immaturity” (and, FWIW, you don’t seem immature to me) and everything to do with Partner being unable to tell M, “Sorry, you need to work that shit out on your own. I’m busy right now.”

      I suspect Partner’s take on what is going on is, “M and I broke up but we’re still friends and I am always there to support my friends, particularly the ones who have accused me of being cold and unfeeling when they were going through their previous bad spells.” (I may have extrapolated a bit here.) Partner may require a clue-by-four of the “Y’all stopped dating for a reason. I’m glad you’re still friends, but if this relationship is going to continue to get more serious, I need to know that you aren’t going to let M’s needs take priority over ours. Otherwise, I can’t move in with you” variety.

    2. Yes to the feel like a team before you commit to a team. Cohabiting before marriage makes a fair amount of sense, but that doesn’t mean we should all just rush into cohabitation without thinking about why people didn’t do it before marriage back in the day. (Yes, most of it was due to men owning the sexuality of women) But, it was also a way to make sure that you’re both committed to working together. For all its baggage, marriage does have the benefit of being the ultimate commitment.

      i do NOT think you have to wait until marriage, or even wait until you’ve decided “Hey, I wanna get married to this person!” But I do think waiting until you feel like this person and you are a team, and a good team at that, is crucial. Just because you haven’t signed paperwork making it legal doesn’t mean that disentangling from a shared living space is a walk in the park. and if anything, sharing living quarters only ups the difficulty, team-wise. You wanna have all your conflict and priority ducks in a row before fights get the backdrop of overflowing toilets, empty fridges, and no separate bedroom. Doesn’t mean you won’t fight once you move it, but I would highly caution against living with anyone as a partner who doesn’t clearly think of themselves as Team Member first and foremost.

      1. Thisitty this this. I have major side eye for people who say things like, “It’s just living together.” No. Marriage adds another layer of cement to the commitment, by making it more inconvenient to bail, but on a functional day-to-day basis, getting married will not change your relationship nearly as much as moving in with someone will.

  31. Okay, first up, you’re in your twenties and in your first relationship, he’s in his late thirties and isn’t, and that’s a bit of a warning flag to me to begin with. You may well be mature for your age, but you’re inexperienced (as in, you haven’t done this before; experience is something which comes with age and practice) and I have no doubt your guy is counting on that to a certain extent.

    Let’s be honest: by the time most people have hit their thirties, they’re starting to settle down – marriage is usually on the cards, and if it isn’t, there’s usually at least some opinions as to why not on their part (as in, they’ll be able to explain to you why they don’t want to get married in clear sentences which usually state a clear belief or position). If he’s in his late thirties and has never married, never had a serious engagement, or anything like that, what you have there is a confirmed bachelor. Take it from a woman in her forties – by the time you’ve hit about the late twenties, you’re starting to settle into life habits, and the longer those habits stay settled patterns (such as riding to the rescue when a “family member” has a panic attack, or being the only one who can “save” someone), the harder they are to break.

    Your bloke is behaving in a manner which is very atypical for someone his age. If things are unusual, there’s usually a reason.

    Second up: people don’t do things for no reason at all. People do things because they’re getting something out of it. So your boyfriend is getting something out of his role as M’s white knight and “the only person who can talk M down”. M is getting something out of the whole business, too – she gets to have emotional intimacy with two different men, and she gets to be a priority in their lives (ask your boyfriend, if you have the time, who broke off the relationship between himself and M – five gets you ten it was her). M’s current partner gets something out of it – he gets to slough off his care-taking responsibilities toward M onto someone else, at the (minor) expense of finding them a job in his state. (From the way you describe M’s partner, it sounds like there’s a child either in the picture, or soon to be in the picture. I suspect the Captain or someone like them will be hearing on a regular basis from this kid in the future). Either way, they’re all (except possibly the kid) getting something out of the whole mess, and they’re not going to stop Any Time Soon unless the reward structure gets fundamentally warped in some way.

    Your boyfriend, strange as it might seem, actually prefers the way things are at present. If he didn’t, he would have made efforts to change it. He’s certainly old enough to have figured out the existence of trained therapists who can do work on things like anxiety problems by now, and to have suggested them to M. Neither M nor your boyfriend are going to get therapy at this point – she’s not, because why take the risk when she has things set up to her apparent satisfaction; he’s not because doing so would take away his excuses for playing a leading role in the drama.

    Third up: his previous relationships didn’t “work” around M and her drama, or he’d most likely still be in one of them (inertia is a powerful force in relationships as well as physics).

    As someone else pointed out, the Sheelzebub principle applies: how long do you think you’re willing to be putting up with this on a full-time basis if nothing changes? One more year? Two more years? The rest of your life?

    It’s up to you. But quite honestly, I get the feeling this guy isn’t going to change his behaviour regarding M, because he’s getting much more of an emotional charge out of that than he was out even the newest of New Relationship Energy with anyone else.

    1. Solid advice toward the end, but not so sure about all the “this is how things are supposed to go at ages X, Y and Z, if that’s not happening in the exact way I’ve outlined for you, then you are dating someone defective” stuff to kick it off. See fair number of comments above re partnerships with age differences that have worked. Stereotyping only goes so far.

      1. I agree with you that there’s no reason to apply this as a blanket idea to every unattached 30something, but in this guy’s case I think it’s a fair assumption that part of the reason this guy is single is because he’s always made M a priority.

    2. Sometimes not being in a relationship means you didn’t find the right person; not that you’re not relationship material.

      1. I quite agree. But sometimes not being in a relationship means you don’t want to do the things which will make a relationship work, and I think this is far more likely to be the case here.

    3. Well, I’m a late 30-something and haven’t yet had a serious, happy romantic relationship in spite of trying,so I’d also quibble a bit with the age expectations as such. Because? I’m a heterosexual woman in a culture that’s unforgiving of women aging, and the curious in my case is that the older I get,and the more I’m TOLD I need to put up X kind of bullshit, because….”I’m not getting any younger.” (Translation: you’re lucky if anyone will love you, at all, ever.) Now, that’s worked in the opposite way for me, as your comment suggests, because the older I get and the more I’m told I’m worth a little less because of my age, the less I believe it. Even “inexperienced” people like me, like the LW, and so on, do live in the world and have friends and family relationships in which we try to set similar boundaries and teach others to treat us well, and we also have observational skills with regards to others’ bad relationships. I have quite enough friends who’ve dated versions of the LW’s boyfriend to be able to spot him at 50 yards. Or much older permutations of him – my own brother dated much younger women in his late 30s simply because he felt they were easier to manipulate. This didn’t always work in his favor. Like anyone of any age, it’s easiest to tell when it’s not your relationship, regardless of how old you are.

      Now, of course I can’t say I wouldn’t get caught in some Golden Retriever of love situation in the future, but just dating for years is enough to know what I’ll put up with and what I won’t. Same with having platonic friends, familial relationships, and the like.

      Tl;dr: I agree with you, but I don’t think the boyfriend’s age is the issue as such, just that his behavior and treatment of LW should be evaluated on its own merits in spite of how old he is.

  32. I haven’t read the other comments, so I’m probably retreading, BUT.

    Once upon a time, I was a 19yo who met a fascinating, intelligent, flattering older man. We were “friends” for a few years and a few weeks after I turned 21, we started dating. Six weeks after that he told me he loved me. I moved in with him a couple months later.

    Please, don’t move in with this dude. Keep dating him if you want, but the second you give up your place, you are STUCK. If you really, really, really want to move in with him, first have six months of living expenses and a security deposit/moving expenses/first month’s rent saved up, in a bank that isn’t your normal bank, in an account that you never, ever, ever touch. Then, when it all goes tits up, you can call the movers in the middle of the day and just moonwalk on out of there.

    Oh, and from bitter experience: keep your finances strictly separate. If possible, don’t bank at the same bank as he does. Don’t link your accounts to his. Don’t make him a signatory to your accounts. If you really need a joint account, have an entirely separate account and only put money in it right before rent or whatever, and DO NOT get overdraft protection on it linked to any accounts of yours.

    1. Yeah, Minister of Smartassery did a really good job of using the bank account as an emotional metaphor above – but it is worth considering that if his approach to problems that affect both of you is to dismiss your concerns or declare it not actually your problem and do what he wants because he’s the only one who knows what’s best, that probably doesn’t just apply to M.

      1. Yeah. This is one of those things that I often find very hard to write about sort of first-gasp because it’s so bound up in a lot of my past history, but this paternalistic and dismissive attitude that is–not universal by any means!–but so common in age gap relationships, especially those where a male is older almost always ALSO extend to money. If you combine finances with someone who doesn’t respect you and your decisions and your personal priorities, that person WILL spend your money, because to them your reasons for saving or the things you do decide to spend your discretionary income on will never be as important as their own priorities around money. It might be less damaging in the short run if their priorities are on the stingy side, since rather than spending your money like water when theirs runs out, maybe instead they’re questioning every expenditure you make, but in the long run it’s just as destructive, not only to your own ability to save and spend according to your own inclinations, but to your psyche, because being run down constantly by someone over spending money is as wearing on the psyche as constantly being afraid that your partner just spent the money you’d budgeted for new work clothes or a car repair.

        1. Thank you for saying this.
          For the first years of our marriage Spouse’s obsessive thriftiness was a virtue, and my buying clothes twice a year for the kids was a ‘shopping spree’. See also purchasing vitamin supplements recommended (not prescribed, “If they needed them it would have been prescribed”) by their pediatrician or therapy aids recommended by their OT or shoes and clothes for us when ours got holes in them.
          We would have had no money problems without my ‘impulsive spending’.

          Part of our couples therapy involved looking at sample budgets for families, and explicitly putting clothing, non-prescription medications, toiletries, and recreation into our budget, as well as deciding on how much a month went into savings and capping it at that amount, rather than him continually trying to increase the amount we saved.

          1. I’m glad to hear that your couples therapy didn’t just reflexively greenlight his obsessive stinginess; I think that money hoarding is often seen as a positive behaviour simply because the idea that saving is better than spending is so ingrained in our culture (I assume you are N.American, if not, I apologize). But when someone saves to the point where it is clearly something they are to some extent not in control of, to the detriment of their dependents, it’s stopped being something positive and become literally a hoarding behaviour.

            I’m sorry you went through this.

  33. The ‘you’re mature enough to accept this’ comment jumped out at me too. In addition to being controlling and manipulative (basically a way to shame someone into acting a certain way, since the unspoken but inescapable logical corollary to the statement is that if she doesn’t accept it she’s immature), it also makes me think he may be using the fact that M is an ex-girlfriend to reframe any objection to his relationship with her as romantic jealousy, which he can then discount since he’s not sleeping with her and therefore any jealousy is ‘obviously’ unwarranted and ‘immature’. Which allows him to keep missing the point.

    FWIW, even if it WAS his sister, you still have every right to figure out what you can handle in a relationship or not. Would you want to date someone who had such an unhealthy, obsessive, and all-consuming relationship with their sister? And likely will forever? Some people can handle that in a partner, but you don’t HAVE to handle it. You have the option to leave. You also have the option to let him know you can’t handle it, and let him decide for himself what he’s going to do with that information (change his relationship with his pseudo-sister? decide he can’t be with you if you can’t accept the status quo? Etc)

    1. Sounds like we already know the answer since all of his old girlfriends left him because of this emotional betrayal with M.

      yea, DTMFA.

    2. Yes, I think that’s exactly it. Because she’s an ex, all objections become “You think I’m sleeping with M! That’s ridiculous! You’re just being [choose your own adventure: immature, insecure, irrational], and I can prove it: [REASONS].” Which handily redirects the conversation from “You’re spending too much time and energy on M and neglecting me, your supposed partner” to “Well, I believe you that you’re not sleeping with her, so… never mind, I guess.” But whether he’s sleeping with M is beside the point; the real problem is that he has another relationship that’s his first priority, and that’s a problem whether that relationship is sexual, romantic, platonic, familial, or what.

      1. this ^ why consider yourself to be in a significant relationship when you always come in second, or third, or fourth? Nope rocket to hell..

    3. I have a friend whose ex-boyfriend had this kind of relationship with his actual sister. It wasn’t any prettier, from what she tells me.

  34. Story time, LW!

    When I was a younger me, I got into my very first serious in-person relationship with a dude who had been very open about the fact that he was polyamorous, and was actually in a live-in relationship with another woman, who we will call Serene, mainly for irony’s sake. Dude was actually very considerate, good at discussing boundaries, and took all my concerns seriously; when I reacted with jealousy he listened to me and took my concerns seriously, and helped me figure out ways that he could modify his behavior to not aggravate my first-time-poly feels. Dude and Serene were pretty good about planning, about divvying up time, about sharing, all those good things that we tell ourselves we will do in poly relationships.


    Serene had a variety of health issues, both mental and physical, of the “profoundly upsetting but resistant to specific diagnosis” variety. She would react to upsetting situations or upheavals of her physical health with serious crying freakouts. Dude would have to help her, of course; so he would hold her hand or talk her down or spend twenty minutes trying to convince her to eat something so she could stop her blood-sugar crash and get in the cab he called her to get her to her job.

    The thing I immediately learned from this was that the only way that I could get Dude’s attention was to have my own ugly-cry meltdown freakouts. Oh, brother, did I learn this. It was terrible. One of the reasons I’m glad he dumped me was it allowed me to unlearn that behavior, because it was exhausting.

    Long-term, as he dated other women, Serene’s health problems got worse and worse–even as Dude and Serene stretched their primary poly bond to the point where they weren’t really each other’s partners. But every time Dude went on a date, it was good odds that Serene would suddenly have to get driven to the hospital because she couldn’t drive herself because some of her issues were flaring up.

    Do I think she was deliberately making herself sick? Not really, but it was a cinch that some kind of mental stress was reflecting itself in her physical being.

    The part of your letter that caught my attention was when you said, “And now with another wave of serious panic attacks brewing, the phone calls are getting more frequent and the visits more lengthy.” And I’m wondering if this has to do with you moving in. Scratch that. You’re moving in, and M is reacting by freaking out and demanding more of his attention. It probably sucks for her, just like a zillion ER trips probably sucked for Serene. If your relationship does deepen and strengthen and get more serious? She will probably continue to react by stressing herself right into an endless series of panic attacks.

    My story has an eventual happy ending, but only after Serene left and there was some serious emotional damage. I don’t know what is in store for you and your dude and M, but I would listen to everyone here and make sure you have an escape plan. It doesn’t look like either your dude or M has one.

    1. This hits on another possibility for the LW — if she stays with the dude, there is a risk he will turn her into an M. I mean of course from her perspective dude is great, M is a mess. But there are dudes who are good at turning people into messes. In your relationship, Aris Merquoni, you got out and then figured out what had been happening to you — being trained to be a “drama queen” just like the other one in his life. And this happens a lot — say, all of the married dudes who are married to frigid sourpusses ha ha ha ha ha ha yes. Their next wives with surprisingly frequency turn into frigid sourpusses too, of all the rotten luck! Some men actually like having a madwoman in the attic. Some men are really really ready and waiting to be disappointed in what phony bitches women turn out to be. Beware becoming an understudy.

      1. Drama-one-upsmanship is the game that nobody wins. I was trying to keep Dude’s attention by having more acute crises, but that just meant nobody had free time. Major bummer.

        I do want to put in a word for my dude in that once he and Serene were no longer a couple, his partners have been grounded, level-headed, and low-drama. I think I wasn’t the only one tired of that level of stress. So… it’s possible that LW’s boyfriend will come around, but she’s not living with boyfriend-minus-codependent-relationship-with-M, she’s living with boyfriend, who has a codependent relationship with M right now. How long is that sustainable?

        LW, please do not get sucked into the Scylla of “I am the coolest girlfriend, if I put up with everything my reward will be the best relationship” or the Charybdis of “I will make my problems more important than M’s problems! ALL THE ATTENTION WILL BE MINE!” Either one will leave you shipwrecked and exhausted.

        1. Yup. It’s like a nuclear arms race of emotional outbursts. All it gets you is mutually assured destruction.

  35. This was Exactly the issue I had almost two years ago with a guy. And I kept thinking “This is my perfect relationship IF ONLY she was not here.” Fantasy. She was first. He said he was single and she was his married just super good yummy friend, who he sent declarations of love to a couple times a day on FB. She controlled him and he drove across two states to see her and gave her money and went on long road trips together- but they dont have sex so everything’s fine! I said, congratulations on your married GF and I play second fiddle to NO ONE and then I hiked myself to AA and Al-Anon, where I have remained.

  36. Anecdata: I have a friend who was in a remarkably similar situation, only her boyfriend was also the baby daddy. After five years it ended when he had his ex and kid move in with him weeks before my friend was supposed to, without asking or warning her. Good luck, LW! I really hope your situation is fixable.

  37. “M is super sweet but it also feels like she’s co-dependent on boyfriend and he either doesn’t see it or just chalks it up to being “family””

    A point of pedantry here, about the definition of the word “co-dependent”, which might nonetheless illuminate something:

    M is just plain dependent. LW’s boyfriend is the “co-dependent” one here, the one who’s burning himself out trying to “fix” and rescue her, while refusing to point her towards any kind of professional help.

    LW can’t do anything about M (unless she wants to sign up to be yet another person trying to fix/rescue M, which would be a really bad idea for everyone involved). Her problem is her boyfriend’s behaviour.

    “M has yet to make any friends of her own, hence the tight hold she appears to have on boyfriend to help her deal with things.”

    LW’s boyfriend is a grown adult capable of making his own choices. M doesn’t have some secret “hold” on him which enables her to control him (assuming she’s not actually blackmailing him or practicing sorcery). Yes, it may influence him if he feels that poor little M has no other friends and he’s her only support in the world, but he’s still the one making the choices about how he acts.

    1. Yes thank you! I was coming in to say this. The boyfriend is co-dependent, meaning he is dependent on her being straight-up dependent on him (or not; people can be co-dependent with people who don’t actually need them to be.)

  38. Wow, this is a really unpleasant situation. I’m sorry you’re in it.
    This may not be a popular point of view, since nobody else appears to have made it, but: are you SURE there’s no pantsoff stuff going on between them? BF seems extremely keen to emphasize that there isn’t, which strikes me as suspicious. I don’t want to make you paranoid, but you may want to make sure your health is protected, just in case.

    Diana, Princess of Wales, famously quipped that a marriage with three people in it was rather crowded. That lady could tell you a thing or two about a man who was all taken up by his ex. You’re being elbowed to the sideline, LW. You may have the title of ‘girlfriend’, but you’re not his first priority or his primary relationship. M is his priority. You’re the Other Woman, whom he picks up and puts down whenever he feels like it. Do I need to tell you that you deserve better than that? We ALL deserve so much better than that.

    Aside from that I have little by way of advice to offer, other than to second the advice you have already been given: control what you can. It may be that BF will see the error of his ways, sort out the situation with M, and become the partner you deserve. However I think it far more likely he will simply discard you for someone more gullible, sorry, mature and empathetic. This will be sad and heartbreaking for you, of course. But you are young, strong, and amazing, and you will learn to flourish again. And find relationships with people who adore and celebrate you, rather than making a convenience of you. I wish you all the best.

    1. Enh, the one clear thing about this situation is that the pantsoff stuff doesn’t even matter. I mean, yes, on one level, physical intimacy is important and STIs are a worry, but worrying about whether or not he’s sleeping with M sidelines the major problem that he’s spending all his emotional energy on M already.

      I worry that there’s such a narrative in our culture that “cheating == a breakup is justified” that we don’t pay enough attention to other perfectly good reasons to re-evaluate our relationships. Like, if he’s not cheating, that doesn’t mean this relationship is okay. Changes need to be made.

      1. Agree completely, Aris, and I was in no way suggesting that shagging was a more “real” kind of cheating than emotional abandonment. I was concerned that this selfish, condescending, gaslighting jerk of a man who’s “been around the block a few times” might be putting LW’s physical health at risk, and she might want to make sure everything’s ok on that front, that’s all.

  39. Hey LW, at first when I started reading your letter I was thinking that older people in their late 30s do accrue close relationships with a much weightier and longer history than your relationship with them and exes who are still friends and sometimes kids and all that bagage time brings. That it isn’t so terrible to want to help a friend in need, even if perhaps a professional is sorely needed.

    But then you shared that bit about dealing with it being the “mature” thing to do and like everyone in this thread a giant flashing red flag popped into view. 😦

    So I’ll say this instead. When someone we love and are invested in a relationship with does stuff that hurts us, it’s really really easy to place the blame for that on some third party. Whatever M is like, clearly your boyfriend is interacting with her in a way that’s hurting you. Probably not paying you enough meaningful attention, or dropping stuff with you to do stuff with/for her or otherwise neglecting you. It is possible to want an unreasonable amount of attention, or to be way too possessive. But it’s also possible to be in a relationship with someone where while they keep talking the talk about loving you and seem to definitely want to keep dating you they seem less and less interested in you, respectful of you or otherwise genuinely affectionate. It’s a weird feeling – like eating three square meals a day but still starving because actually those meals are made of cardboard. You can feel more and more like someone who’s kind of kept on a shelf to be fetched out when the other person wants a kind ear, a shoulder to cry on, flattery or sex.

    Except it’s really hard to see the truth of this while it’s happening and really easy to blame it on circumstances. Like if only M would back off things would be wonderful and you would feel loved and cherished.

    Only that’s not necessarily true. Certainly sometimes people go through a hard time, or have to spend a lot of energy on something that isn’t you. But nice people don’t then be manipulative arse hats to get you to not complain, because they’ve convinced you that asking for what you need in a relationship is immature. Good people will be apologetic that the thing has been eating their time lately, they’ll try to make it up to you when they can.

    It’s really hard to think your way passed misdirected anger (if that’s what’s going on) so I advise you to, whenever you feel annoyed with M, to look at your boyfriend’s behaviour. Think about what you want that you’re not getting, and what you need in a relationship that he’s not doing. M could be anything. Trust me a guy who makes you feel rejected and unloved over an old friend with issues can very quickly be the guy who makes you feel rejected and unloved over a video game. And instead of gasslighting you about maturity he’ll be telling you he likes how you’re one of those cool girls who doesn’t try to stop him from enjoying his hobbies.

    You know what’s super mature and really hard to learn? Being open with a partner about what’s making you unhappy and asking for what you need. Being willing to hear a partner’s complaint and then genuinely attempt to resolve it.

    1. But then you shared that bit about dealing with it being the “mature” thing to do and like everyone in this thread a giant flashing red flag popped into view.

      Yup. Having a very close friend and wanting to help support them, even in what sounds like a massively co-dependent way — that’s one thing. People can get sucked into that situation with someone they care about who has major issues (been there, done that). It isn’t necessarily un-manageable, if M can get some proper help and the boyfriend can work on his boundaries.

      But the stuff about maturity and “people who haven’t suffered don’t understand” — OH HELL NO.

      Whatever M is like, clearly your boyfriend is interacting with her in a way that’s hurting you. Probably not paying you enough meaningful attention, or dropping stuff with you to do stuff with/for her or otherwise neglecting you.

      This is super-wise.

      The LW doesn’t actually say whether, for example, the boyfriend’s doing stuff like cancelling plans with her because M’s having a panic attack, or relying on the LW to be his sounding board/therapist when he’s freaked out by dealing with M’s freakouts.

      But as you point out, obviously there is stuff that’s making her unhappy and uncomfortable (not least of which is — or should be — the bullshit about maturity and whatever).

      And that’s the stuff to focus on.

      As the Captain says, M is not the LW’s problem. The stuff to address is the stuff that affects her directly.

  40. Been in a similar situation when my boyfriend and I were having trouble; a “friend” at the time took advantage, wanted him to cheat on me with her, and often called him during panic attacks which she later admitted were only for attention.

    Unlike my situation, it’s possible that M. really does have panic attacks. But as someone who used to have them and is now in therapy, I know that it’s really important for people with anxiety disorders to understand that there’s a point where they need to find a professional to help them. The average person is not trained to deal with panic attacks. While they can often be of help, they also never signed up for being someone’s therapist and it’s not fair to expect that of them.

    In my situation, Girl was partly using panic attacks instead of any other ploy for attention because him being able to help her made him feel useful, gave him a bit of an ego boost at a time where our relationship was going downhill. It’s quite a possibility that that’s part of what’s going on here.

    Regardless of what’s happening, your boyfriend should be taking your concerns seriously and should find a compromise. He should at least be encouraging M. to get professional help, because it sounds like this is going to keep happening forever until she learns to REALLY manage it instead of using your boyfriend as a quick fix all the time.

  41. There was an M. in my now-husband’s life, too. Long story short, I backed off him until he backed off her; turns out she COULD cope with things in other ways. She did, gave some distance, and now 10+ years later, we are all friends.
    It worked out, but THEY had to do it. Not me.

    1. This is excellent advice. When you and your partner can’t agree to mutually satisfying terms and you can’t find a way to compromise, it’s okay to acknowledge that and walk away. If he changes his mind, he knows where to reach you.

  42. “Previous relationships he’s had he said “worked” because the women were “mature” enough to understand the relationship he and M have. So am I not being mature enough? ”

    In the immortal words of Joel Grey in Cabaret: “Do not take my word for it, ask THEM.” He’s telling you about what his exes were like, what his exes were fine with, how mature his exes were? I’d ask for the name and phone number of one of these miraculous exes, maybe all of them, and have a chat. “Boyfriend tells me that you didn’t mind his running off to M all the time. How did that work for you? I’m having trouble managing it, but he tells me that you were more mature, so I’d appreciate it if you gave me some pointers.” No matter what she says, her answer is bound to be enlightening– that’s if it ever gets to that point which it won’t. There’s no way Boyfriend will give you Ex’s contact information. And that should tell you something.

    I have a few exes that I parted with amicably and because things just weren’t working out between us. But I wish them well and never felt manipulated. If his new girlfriend contacted me, I’d be glad to tell her that we broke up because of general circumstances, not because of any major failings on either of our parts. I’d want to be on friendly terms with the new girlfriend. Not best friends with her, but someone I could run into and engage in small talk with. But I rather doubt that’s the situation here.

    I’m trying to figure out how this would go if M really were a sister. Her family would really pawn off all responsibility for her on the brother with no regard to how things were going in his life? I don’t think so.

    1. I’ve often felt that dating resumes might be a good idea, complete with references. =)

  43. LW, the way your boyfriend is relating to M. and the way he’s treating you have so many red flags.

    Things that are not red flags:
    -being friends or not being friends with exes
    -finding exes to be close family OR hating exes with a fiery passion

    Things that are red flags that your boyfriend is doing:
    -prioritizing people who aren’t his partner over his partner, in ways that are generally reserved solely for partners
    -dropping you in favor of always taking care of M.
    -acting as if panic attacks really DO mean she’s dying and he’s the only one who can save her*
    -refusing to take your feelings or concerns on this seriously
    -playing you and M. off each other (or at least somewhat driving it)
    -referring to you as ‘immature’ for having a problem with this (if you’re so immature, why is he dating you?)

    *I say this not because anxiety isn’t a real thing that needs help and is serious. I say this because as someone with anxiety, it’s both really unhealthy to have other people reinforce the idea that anxiety=death and that I myself cannot handle it, and it’s not fair to expect someone else to be my sole lifeline, particularly when I’m not actually drowning to death.

    It seems to me that your boyfriend has this very strange scenario he’s trying to come up with in his head, where he gets to basically have M. as a partner that he rescues heroically even after they broke up because ISN’T HE JUST THE NICEST GUY *and* a girlfriend who loves him and makes sure he can always rescue M. and never wants to actually get any of the benefits a girlfriend is supposed to get.

    Do you want to be the girlfriend in that scenario?

    Also, the Captain’s advice on taking your life back is absolutely the best. One of the best ways to care for yourself is to never expect any relationship to substitute for a good relationship with yourself.

    1. Irrelevant note: probably due to the repeated raising in the comments of the (entirely sensible) point that this would be just as unhealthy a dynamic if M was his sister rather than his ex, it took me four goes to realise that didn’t read ‘ISN’T HE JUST THE INCEST GUY’.

  44. Never move in with or marry someone who is already married to another, be it their friend, or their mother of whoever.

    You’re not married but the relationship ahip seems serious and you’re obviously moving in together. When you’re in a serious commitment and if you plan on possibly getting married, you need to be prepared to make your partner your priority. More often its the mommas boys you have to worry about prioritizing mommy over their wife, but sometimes it can be an outside female or even a male at times.

    It doesn’t mean a partner shouldn’t love their parents or ever see or be there for friends, it simply means that spouses put each other and their needs first.

    I have anxiety too. Yes it’s hell. Yes it can be life destroying and yes its okay for him to talk to her if it helps, but what else is she doing? Has she been to a counselor or seen about getting medication or learning coping mechanisms? Medication helped me in the past. Luckily my source of comfort is my spouse so I don’t have serious issues getting it contained even though the incidents are pretty severe.

    1. This is gonna be your test to see if he is capable of being a serious partner who puts you first. He will either manipulate and gaslight you into believing you’re the oversensitive, emotional, jealous female or he will man up and prioritize and respect your feelings. Be prepared to be accused of being controlling. It doesn’t sound like you’re trying to sever any friendships or tell him what to do. You just want him to behave appropriately with a friend and prioritize you like he should

  45. LW, let me tell you about my friend Sara, who was in the same position as you about five years ago.

    Sara was madly in love with Jeff. Jeff was madly in love with Sara. They had been dating for years and years, even longer than I had known either of them at that time. They just fit together so well, and everyone was sure they would get married someday.

    Then, about three years after I met them, John came into the picture. John is Jeff’s younger brother, and he had just moved to the city we all lived in to start college (John was 18, and the rest of us were out of college already and in our early 20s). Now, Sara had met John before, and Jeff and John talked on the phone sometimes, but there had never been any problems between them before. But John had also lived about a thousand miles away, so there was distance factored in as well.

    As soon as John moved to the city we all lived in, trouble started. Jeff had a big brother complex, and he felt like he had to protect John no matter what. John took advantage of this, and asked for a lot of things that most of us found unreasonable. At first it was little things, like asking to go to Jeff’s place to do laundry (to save on laundry money), or coming over for dinner a couple nights a week (because cooking for himself alone sucked). Before too long, John was spending more time at Jeff’s house than at his own place, which was a huge problem for Sara because Jeff and Sara had been living together at the time. And it put Sara in a really awkward position, because she didn’t want to have someone couchsurfing at her place, she wanted some privacy for her and Jeff. But bringing that up with Jeff always ended in an argument, because ‘family is family’ and he wasn’t about to kick out his little brother.

    Eventually said little brother dropped out of college and moved in with Jeff and Sara. It was just until he got a job and could afford his own place, or it should have been. But Jeff wouldn’t kick out his younger brother, and John knew that, so he did a very minimal effort and spent most of his time playing video games. At this point, Sara hadn’t been able to host get-togethers with our group of friends for about a year, because John took up the living room all the time.

    About four months after John moved in, Sara had a pregnancy scare. When she and Jeff talked about possibly moving into a bigger place (they lived in a one-bedroom, and would need a second bedroom for the baby), Jeff said it would be the perfect chance to move into a three-bedroom place, so that John wouldn’t have to sleep on the couch anymore. That resulted in another argument, which resulted in Sara finally putting her foot down: either John goes, or she goes. Thankfully she wasn’t actually pregnant at the time, so they were able to sever cleanly without having to stay in contact when Jeff refused to kick John out.

    The point of this story isn’t to say that you and your boyfriend should absolutely break up, but rather that if you don’t communicate what you want you could end up stuck in a position that you are really unhappy with, like what my friend Sara had. If you think your boyfriend is someone you want to move in with, or marry, or start a family with, then you need to have these discussions before things get serious and make sure he follows through with what he says he is going to do. Set boundaries and expectations, and make it clear what you are going to do if those boundaries and expectations are not respected. Because even if someone says “it’s only for a month, until they get back on their feet”, a month will quickly turn into six months, and then a year, and then when you and boyfriend are shopping for a house he will insist on looking for houses with enough room to fit M as well.

    (names have been changed to protect the innocent, by the way.)

    1. Glad Sara saw the writing on the wall. A lot of people would have stayed hoping Jeff would get it someday or that John would finally grow up.

    2. *shudders* I feel like I narrowly avoided a similar scenario with my now-husband’s younger brother. They have a very similar dynamic to Jeff and John. The brothers were living together when I started dating my husband, and when we decided to move in together I pre-emptively made my position clear that I was not interested in having a roommate. Thankfully there was no hassle and our living situations have been happily separate, but before speaking up I played out Sara’s situation in my mind and was like NOPE.

  46. One thing that strikes me about LW’s boyfriend, he’s not even taking good care of M. He’s old enough to know people who’ve have traffic and sport accidents or other health problems that have left them temporarily laid up or out of action for significant lengths of time. What if he sprained an ankle or broke a leg or had a concussion or otherwise was immovable or, at least, unable to travel for a couple of weeks or months?

    What Has He Ever Done to make sure that M will be safe and supported when he’s unavailable for any reason. (There’s also being out of cell phone range when going camping or on a cruise or a business training course or holiday in another state or another country that, all or any of them, would mean he was definitely, absolutely, incontrovertibly, not only unavailable but mostly unreachable.)

    Perhaps you could slip in a casual –
    “Good job you weren’t laid up after falling (off your bike/ the roof/ during that silly picnic football game) on the weekend. M’d be in real strife.” + SUBJECT CHANGE
    among the Captain’s options for responding to yet another M emergency.

    Which makes me think that BF is problem number 1 and M is really secondary. If he genuinely thought that her problems were serious, he’d long before now have added other people and services and bolsters and mechanisms into Team M so that she need never fear being left unsupported and unaided in her entirely predictable times of need. When she rings, he’d then be Team Leader marshalling the ample resources he’d arranged to get her the help she needs when she needs it. He would have a handy list of people he could ring or email and things to suggest directly to her to get her on a better path.

    She hasn’t managed this in all these years – but then she’s the one who’s supposed to have the problems. He’s had just as many years to try out all kinds of approaches and avenues of support. And he’s done NOTHING. Instead of being good ol’ reliable long term friend who has an occasional phone call or visit to catch up with how things are going, he’s wallowing in being the prime or the one-and-only resource for a person with near infinite needs. I don’t even want to think about how continuing this arrangement will affect the poor infant who’s been thrust into this diabolical set-up.

    The earlier suggestions to think about the 1 year, 5 year, 10 year horizons in how your own relationship might continue are well worth thinking through seriously.

    1. It’s a very heady feeling to be the only person who can handle problem x. It is also, for mature adults, very tiring and very worrying to be the only person who can handle problem x; you are entirely right in calling out his lack of work to put other support structures into place. He probably, right now, feels like he’s a knight in shining armour, but that stuff gets heavy after a while…

    2. I did suggest that scenario once to a mom I know who insisted her late-teens kid with a totally manageable without constant parental oversight health thing “needed a buddy” because thing I also have is a “buddy condition” and she was that buddy.

      I just asked her if she was going to be kid’s buddy if they got married and had kids with the same issue, while they were being their kids’ buddy. Or, I observed, mom might be killed in a car wreck on the way home from the event we were at, and who would be kid’s buddy then? That kind of dependency is a mom putting her own comfort over her kid’s safety. Under no circumstances is that cool.

  47. Lots has been said about how inappropriate ‘you’re not mature enough to understand’ is; but I wanted to pick up on ‘the baby daddy’. That very much sounds as if someone – LW, boyfriend, M, or any combination thereof – feels that he’s not M’s ‘real’ partner, that he was only around for a certain act. And yet, they seem to be in a relationship – he’s still around, they’re moving together – so there’s a red flag right there of unresolved relationship tangles.

    1. Yeah, that is an excellent point. If he’s cohabiting with M and the child (he does appear to be?), there are very limited ways in which he could legitimately be a “baby daddy” and not a “partner”.

  48. One very toxic ingredient of his whole stew is the myth that a cis-het man who is nurturing and emotionally available is as rare as a unicorn, and must be treasured at all costs – even if that nurturing and emotional availability is not being expended on his “girlfriend.” I’ve made that mistake before. LW, please do not accept this myth.

  49. I don’t think it’s a co-incidence that another wave of panic attacks is starting right when you’re considering moving in with your BF.

  50. Your boyfriend is cheating on you with M. Even if he’s not fucking her, it’s emotional cheating. He’s prioritizing her over you, when you should be the primary human obligation in his life. He declared that when you two entered a long-term monogamous relationship. If he wasn’t ready to devote to you, he shouldn’t be in that situation with you.

    Frankly, I’d say dump him and run. There are so many more awesome people out there that could fill the spaces he’s filling. You could have a much more fulfilling life than simply being second fiddle to M.

    1. I’m feeling really weird about some of the assumptions in these comments about long-term monogamous relationships? I don’t know that long term monogamous relationships do imply that you have to be the primary human obligation in each others’ lives.

      1. Please explain what a long term monogamous relationship where the couple weren’t the primary people in each other’s lives would look like.

        I’m really interested.

        1. Obvious example: say someone has children, perhaps from a previous relationship.

          Would you argue that getting into a monogamous relationship means their partner is now their single “primary human obligation” and they should prioritize their partner over their children in all respects?

          Hopefully, it would never come to a question of prioritizing partner over children or children over partner. Human life isn’t a perpetual game of “Sophie’s Choice”. People can and do have multiple priorities and multiple important human obligations.

          (And the LW never actually says that her boyfriend’s prioritizing M over her, though it may well be the case that he is.)

          As it stands, the boyfriend’s relationship with M sounds co-dependent and not healthy for either of them (moving state because he’s the “only one” who can calm her down, brushing off suggestions of getting her professional help, etc. etc.). And all the stuff about maturity and “people who haven’t suffered don’t understand” is a bright red flag.

          But the fact that her boyfriend has a close lifelong friend who he cares about and wants to support emotionally — that’s not intrinsically wrong!

          Being committed to a monogamous relationship doesn’t mean you’re required to sever all pre-existing emotional connections in your life.

          1. That makes sense. I was asking because I was thinking of children ranking first, but wasn’t sure what was meant.

            As far as BF and M are concerned, it sounds disastrous, but mostly because BF doesn’t acknowledge that she’s the most important person for him.

          2. Human life kind of *is* a perpetual game of Sophie’s Choice. Think about all the harsh decisions people have to make as a result of their commitments of really any kind. Do I go to (far away place) to pursue my career and relegate all my friends to long distance communication that may not be satisfying to them, or do I stay and choose a suboptimal but okay job and keep my social life? How much of my very limited time do I give to my best friend vs. my significant other? If my SO has to go to Australia for a couple years for work, do I move with him, thus uprooting my entire life, or do I do the LDR thing, or do I break up and try to find someone more rooted here?

            So on and so on. We have limited resources and limited time. We have to choose what we devote these very limited resources to.

            But this is really not addressing your actual point I think. You don’t have to sever all other emotional connections at all; that’s a serious exaggeration of everything people in this thread were saying. In my opinion, though, you do have to adjust the priority level. M’s incessant need for help is sucking up a lot of time and resources that the LW wants her boyfriend to spend on her. This is going to make almost any SO really feel awful and like they’re playing second fiddle to someone who the LW didn’t even commit to, like no time is sacred and the SO isn’t actually giving a fuck. Many people want to be the Special Person at the top of the other person’s priority chain, and I think that’s both okay and natural as long as it’s done in moderation. At the very least, the boyfriend should have made it very clear that he had a preexisting strong commitment to a person who is going to monopolize his time and effort, because that kind of stuff is something you need to say out the gate of a serious relationship, like having kids already or owning ten cats or having a live-in person for whom you chose to be a caretaker or some such.

            Also, most people’s best friends don’t require M’s level of maintenance.

        2. As mentioned below, children are an obvious example, but…IDK, can’t people choose to prioritize friendships over their romantic relationships? I don’t know why a romantic relationship inherently implies that your partner is more important than your best friend, or your sister, or your niece, or anything. That seems to imply that romantic connections are the most important?

          1. I don’t know that romantic relationships are the most important.
            I was, and am interested in why look for a long term monogamous romantic relationship that isn’t the primary relationship.

            And what that relationship looks like.

          2. We’re out of nesting, mrsmorleystea, but a monogamous relationship just means “We only have one romantic and sexual partner.” That doesn’t mean anything about what other things in your life–work, art, children, parents, friends–are where on the priority scale. Sure, for a majority of people their primary romantic relationship takes precedent over their other relationships, but that doesn’t mean everyone, and it doesn’t mean we ought to be “should”ing those people who don’t feel that way.

          3. mrsmorleytea: I suspect that a long term monogamous but not-primary relationship might look like one of several close friendships, but the only one that involves sex. Reasons for making monogamy an agreement, rather than “right now I don’t happen to have other lovers,” could include either party being prone to jealousy, concern about STDs, or probably several other things I’m not thinking of at the instant.

      2. I agree with this. Never understood the idea that a partner must/should come first before friends, family members, pets (ok, that last one speaks more to my personal priorities).

    2. I’m interested to note that in the original letter, the LW doesn’t say at any point that her boyfriend is prioritizing M over her.

      She’s worried about the constant contact, the frequent phone calls and visits, and her boyfriend exhausting himself trying to deal with M’s freakouts (while not encouraging her to seek professional help).

      But she never mentions any instances where — for example — the boyfriend’s cancelled time with her because M’s having a panic attack or whatever. Everyone’s just assuming that’s happening.

      And maybe it is.

      But building elaborate responses based on something that’s not actually in the letter seems unhelpful.

      1. It’s obvious to me that boyfriend is prioritizing M over LW. He’s in “constant contact” with her, including “frequent calls and visits”–which leaves what kind of time for LW? And the nature of panic attacks is such that this “constant contact” can’t be planned around. Even if he’s not cancelling time or plans with LW…it’s probably difficult to make concrete plans with that hanging over their relationship. And if he’s “exhausting himself” to the point of causing his girlfriend to worry about him, he is spending nearly all of his energy on someone else…and in a way can be stealing energy from LW (with the worry.) BF is also dismissing LW’s concerns out of hand, in a very gaslight-y way, which communicates that M’s needs rank higher with him than LW’s.

        And even if the BF isn’t consciously saying to himself that M is more important to him, his actions are screaming it from the rooftops. And LW feels it enough to wonder if her early-stage plans to move in with him are a good idea and to write to an advice column for help.

  51. LW, I feel for you. I really, really do, because I had a similar situation a few years ago. The Captain’s advice is fantastic. Take back your life with both hands, Girlfriend! Remember how awesome you are OUTSIDE of Boyfriend’s orbit! Why should you EVER come in second to his Ex?!!? Seriously, who does he think he is? In what world is it ok to be the EX girlfriend’s beck-and-call boy? That’s what she really is — his EX, with whom he has shared the intimacy of the bedroom. “But we’re just friends and faaaammiillyyy” — it’s BULLSHIT. You don’t have to put up with it. You Have Power. If I may add a bit of counter-intuitive advice? Give him a very quiet ultimatum. “Boyfriend, the time and energy you spend on M is interfering in our relationship. I understand what it means to “be a good friend” but in this case, TO ME, it’s excessive. If you want to continue with me, you’ll have to permanently shut it down with her.” Then he either will, or won’t. And there’s your answer. You will be Fine and Fierce and Fabulous either way — although I suspect you’ll be better on your own. Good luck!

  52. So, I was the “boyfriend” in a semi-similar situation. I have a friend, K., and we were in a very close non-romantic sibling-like relationship in college and right after. I helped him through his various panic attacks about long-term commitment and other things. But after a while, I developed a more complicated life and it got to be too much for me. Finally, I said, “You know what? I am not in college any more. I don’t have time to sit and hold your hand through hours-long naval gazing sessions. You need a therapist because clearly what I’m doing isn’t helping you actually DEAL, you know?”

    And he got a therapist. And it’s helped him a lot.

    Also, after we stopped having that dynamic, our relationship changed. We’re not so close any more. I realized that a lot of our closeness was less friendship and more… parasitic. I was pumping huge piles of emotional energy into this guy to keep him and his relationship afloat and he was sucking it down while simultaneously letting his own ability to deal with things atrophy. We’re still friends but his relationship with his girlfriend grew a lot (they are married now) once he had to do the work instead of me.

    Clearly, it’s not a perfectly analogous situation. But, in the end, the therapist did more for him in six months than my six years of late night gab fests.

  53. Something to ask yourself, LW, is when you talk about being excited about the relationship, about wanting to make a life with Boyfriend, are you imagining in your head the Boyfriend as he is now? Or are you imagining a future, better, version of Boyfriend?

  54. I wish I could side-eye with grace and elegance like Prince. Imagine being able to flounce angrily out of a room as beautifully as that. When I’m upset I usually get clumsier, red-faced and increasingly goblin-like.

    1. Word. I usually cry, or worse, nervous laugh! “I’m so uncomfortable HAHAHAHARRRR”

  55. I am an M. I have an M. We used to be very dependent on one another but now we’re both (separately) at five years of therapy later, and when I start relationships I’m literally like this person, with whom I used to have sex and now am very very close, will always be the second priority in my world, after me. You will never get to be higher on the ladder of priorities and importance. If a potential partner person isn’t happy with that, it’s not immature; it’s just how they are, and what makes them comfortable.

    I realised this early on, when I said to a partner about 3 months in to our relationship, flippantly, before all the therapy, “I can’t imagine putting anyone before M,” and my partner said, really pointedly, “well, you’ll have to one day.” And I realised I didn’t want to. And that’s okay, so long as everyone knows it.

    You’re not being immature. And you do understand what’s going on. I tell you that as an M, with an M, not that you need my permission. But from the other side: your boyfriend is doing wrong by you.

    1. I’m all about this. I don’t think you have to be polyamorous to learn from the poly community about structuring your relationships and having multiple emotional (not necessarily sexual or romantic!) commitments.

      But yeah, being up front about it==very important. Good for you.

    2. If I were to enter into a romantic relationship, my partner would have to be OK with the fact that my elderly parent is my top priority. As in, I moved 4000+ miles to come home and be with him and am now looking at moving back those 4000+plus miles in an somewhat more northerly direction because he wants to move there. It is something that I’m upfront with- and yes, it makes dating harder. But I’m at peace with that. It’s my choice.

  56. This pattern:
    – Person does thing that upsets you
    – You express consternation about thing
    – Person shames you for your feelings

    …is, in my “learned the hard way” opinion, an automatic no-go. I have had friends do this. I have had romantic partners do this. I have seen this tactic used following everything from a missed commitment to a sexual assault. At long last, I recognize it when it is happening. I leave the situation and, if it happens repeatedly, I leave the relationship (by this time I’ve explained the unacceptability of the behavior to the other person approximately 2-3 times, depending on the severity of the offense).

    I’m all on board with Captain’s wider analysis of the situation, but just wanted to emphasize this bit one more time. Working through boyfriend’s behavior would likely be a complex process involving a lot of “what am I and am I not okay with?” – but shaming you for having feelings/concerns is pretty straightforward, in that nobody who gives a rat’s furry bottom about you should ever be doing it.

  57. LW, I find it worrisome that your bf says you “don’t understand” when you suggest that M needs professional help. I would say you understand all too well, except for understanding his need to be the hero of the piece and have his own needs looked after.

    I have been there, before. In fact, I posted to the forums. In my case, my husband was having his head turned by a beautiful young woman half his age. She wasn’t having panic attacks, but there was always some drama, and it fed his vanity to have her turn to him. So he prioritized. And I objected. And he resisted because he was enjoying having his ego stroked.

    We had 3 separate come to deity sessions over the course of 2 years. I finally realized that my approach wasn’t strong enough, because I didn’t want to sound jealous, and that was a mistake, of course I was jealous, not because I didn’t trust him, but because his behaviour was bound to cause jealously, so I told him very graphically how much it hurt me when he did x, y or z, and how much I needed him to be team me. I also managed to very subtly point out a few ways in which she was controlling him which he would find unacceptable if I tried it. Sometimes, it’s a very careful dance when emotions are involved, but my husband doesn’t call me immature when I have feelings. And he did finally draw a line and start putting me first. You know what happened when he did that? She picked a massive fight and unfriended him. For her, it was all about having him toe her line.

  58. Dear LW: FWIW, I do not think you are being either unreasonable or immature here. I am also validating your instincts and insights–what is going on between your BF and M isn’t healthy and it certainly isn’t a model for a healthy and mature relationship.

    There is so much excellent advice and so many insightful stories here in the responses, I really and truly hope you have the chance to read through them all and consider what next steps need to be taken and what will make you most happy.

    This letter hit me in two places:
    1) I was partnered with a man for a long time, who used his greater experience with relationships as a way to dismiss my objections to and boundary-setting around all sorts of terrible behavior.
    2) I am a person who has a panic disorder–and while access to quality mental health treatment can be spotty (assuming you are US-ian, LW)–there are a variety of treatment options, and the disorder can be managed.

    The Status Quo suits both M and the BF just fine. Neither one of them has any incentive to change and if there is anything to take away from The Captain and all of the folks here it is this:

    There isn’t much you can do to make either of them realize that they are hurting you. And it isn’t your fault. Or “lack of experience”. Or “immaturity”.

    In their narrative, in this terrible drama they are authoring for themselves, you and M’s husband have the role of “supporting actors”. Neither of you will be a central character/protagonist in “The Story of M and BF”. Look at all of the destroyed relationships these two have left in their wake. Look at how M and BF are destroying their current primary relationships. Look at the pattern of BF’s behavior whenever there is an attempt to discuss boundaries and concerns about M. Look at the pattern of M’s behavior whenever there may be an attempt to “elevate” your role in Their Story.

    This will not get better, LW, and I am sorry. And it isn’t your fault.

    Your BF is not arguing in Good Faith.
    Your BF is not likely to change because The Status Quo suits him just fine.
    M is not likely to change because The Status Quo suits her just fine.

    Pulling back and putting yourself first for awhile are top-notch suggestions. Disengaging from “The Story of M and BF” will likely help in unexpected and subtle ways, up to and including finding a new partner who will at least argue in Good Faith and who is vested in building something together with you.

  59. I’m with everyone else, LW. You don’t have an M problem, you have a boyfriend problem. Not necessarily because M is his top priority, though. Because he’s not being honest with you about just how top she is, because he’s expecting you to provide emotional support when he’s tired of dealing with M and because he’s using “mature” to mean “you aren’t doing what I want you to do.”

    I would not be willing to consider moving in under these circumstances. If you want to be your boyfriend’s top priority and he wants that to be M, then you have a fundamental clash of wants here.

  60. LW, my best friend has this friend, A. A is a very sick person right now. She has serious thyroid issues, panic attacks, is probably borderline and might be bipolar as well. Her problems are so many that it’s hard to figure out how to help her. She’s incredibly, unbelievably manipulative, and no one knows why–thyroid? borderline? she would be manipulative regardless of those things? who can say? She’s made a large number of both fake and real suicide threats. She absolutely cannot stand any boundaries on BFF’s part, including “Stop calling me after midnight, I need to sleep.” She reacts to boundary-setting with manipulation, self-harm and suicide threats.

    Now, BFF is very anxious and bad at boundaries, and he’s the kind of person who wants to talk about every. little. detail. Me? I love that. I LOVE gossip, in a way that makes me sound like a huge freaking asshole. Nothing makes me happier than the three-hour conversation where BFF agonizes over every tiny little detail and we try to figure out Why Is She Like That It’s So Weird.

    And yet? Even though I love gossip, even though I really enjoy hearing it, there’s still the part of me that thinks, BFF, you don’t have to deal with this. She’s mean and manipulative to you, and you could just not be her friend. You stress out about her all the time, you spend huge amounts of your mental resources dealing with her, and I don’t think you like her very much? You don’t have to be friends with and the savior for a mean person who is mean to you. And when he tells me that he won’t give up on her no matter what, even though he is very unhappy when he has to deal with her, I get a little bit frustrated. BFF is not my boyfriend. I don’t live with him. We hang out once a week or so. And the amount of frustration I feel when he won’t stop picking at a wound that isn’t healing? It is astronomical. It’s completely and totally understandable that you would be very frustrated at your boyfriend, since he has made it clear that you are not a priority and yet he still wants you to date him.

    A couple of problems jump out at me as I read your letter. The first is that your boyfriend and the baby-daddy are, while well-meaning, making M’s problems way, way worse. Panic attacks are very treatable–a good therapist could fix her or seriously lessen her symptoms with 12 weeks of cognitive-behavioral therapy and maybe some pharmaceuticals. Being coddled and protected and people dropping everything in their life for you? That reinforces the panic because M isn’t learning that while it FEELS like she’s going to die when she has a panic attack, she won’t. Right now, instead of learning that the panic is transient and not as bad as it feels, because she has people who will protect her from her panic, she’s learning that her panic is unbearable and unsurvivable. I’m not surprised that it’s gotten worse over the years.

    You were a kind person to suggest professional help for her. You saw that this problem is not getting better the way it’s being handled. I like how your boyfriend blew you off by saying you didn’t get it–that’s not an asshole thing to say or anything. Coupled with him using his age as a weapon against you by saying you’re not mature enough to understand, this suggests to me that your boyfriend is not a particularly nice person. Maybe he’s overwhelmed by the depths of M’s need, but he’s also refusing to do anything that will actually help, and he’s making you feel like a bad person for setting reasonable boundaries and communicating what you need out of the relationship. It is not unreasonable to want your partner to make you a priority. It would be one thing if he was unavailable because of a transient thing–eventually in everyone’s life someone we love with be very, very sick and need a lot of help–but this isn’t transient. This is going to go on for the foreseeable future. Does he expect you to accept, for the rest of your life, that you will never be his first priority? That’s a very cold thing to expect a partner to do.

    I don’t know if your boyfriend will every quit enabling M or start treating you like you matter. I think that if you stay with him, his entanglement with M is the price you’ll have to pay. So I have to ask: do you want to pay it?

  61. I apologize if this has been addressed – I didn’t notice it in the other comments, but:

    Does M desperately need your bf when he’s with a group of platonic friends, or do her problems crop up mostly when he’s with you? If she does need his immediate and energy-consuming help when he’s out with not-you (at the bar, the movies, the ballgame), does he give it to her? If a friend who’s not M has a problem when BF is with you, does he drop everything for them?

    I agree with the Captain and other commenters that the major issue is how damned manipulative he’s being, but I wonder if BF also relegates you to the bottom of the heap relative to all his other friends, also.

  62. Good advice. My Abusive Relationship No. 1 (yes, they are numbered x_x;) was fairly free of ex related drama because I was his first and he exploited this to the hilt in other ways.

    No. 2 compared me to everything from the weather to dead or fictional people to escape his feelings since his friends thought I was a slut (for things related to No. 1).

    No. 3 was relatively chill about many things. I was his first and he was living in an abusive home at the time. Our actual relationship was not abusive; it mutated as he evolved from Babby Ex to Abusive Billionaire heir to Nazis (long story and I’m sure when he finds this as he’s a compulsive self-googler, hi buddy and don’t text me about it).

    Husband has a lovely ex 25+ years his age who worked for NASA and was otherwise superior to everybody but like, Marie Curie. We’re both friends with her and would have invited her to our wedding if we thought she’d come. She has gone so far as to invite us to live with her and her husband when we were functionally homeless and living with abusive relatives.

    To sum up: Follow your heart and this excellent advice. This dude sounds like an Anakin Skywalker (Darth in training) to me. Good luck!

  63. I definitely have a tendency to swoop in and save the day. Sometimes I’m actually helpful, and sometimes I just end up overbearing. So I can give you that perspective.

    Nine years into my relationship with my boyfriend, I became very close to one of my friends. We talked all the time, I did my best to help her with her (legitimately difficult and awful) living situation, and I took her as a sister. My boyfriend had been the most important person in my life for a long time, and he had to deal with her becoming equal to him. Now my sister’s much healthier and happier, our friendship is very close but not as intense as in the crisis days, and the three of us are really happy together. I’m trying to think of what let us get to this point instead of having a big falling out.

    I think communication was a big part of it. I knew I was doing something that could make my boyfriend feel jealous or left out, so I checked in with him a lot about how he was doing and what he needed. Most of the time he was fine. The one or two times he was jealous, we addressed it together as a couple (like by scheduling regular dependable couple time to hang out). It wasn’t his problem that he had to deal with alone.

    Part of it might be the personalities involved. Boyfriend isn’t the jealous sort. Sister understands that my relationship with boyfriend is important, and she respects that. There was a period where I was on call to talk to her pretty much constantly, because I was so worried about her. But that took a toll on me, and it was bad for my relationship, so we set boundaries around when we would talk and when I’d be unavailable.

    Another part is that the crisis wasn’t permanent. Sister’s life improved, and she didn’t need my help in the same way anymore. It took a while for me to adjust to that, honestly. But I’m happy she’s doing so well and living her own life. That way trumps any need I have to be needed.

    So yeah. For this to go well, I think everyone has to care about everyone else, and listen when the other people have problems with the arrangement. You actively brought your feelings to your boyfriend, and he dismissed them, so that’s a bad sign. And M doesn’t seem to engage with you much at all. It’s hard to tell from one letter, but it seems like she doesn’t really acknowledge you as a part of your boyfriend’s life. Her needs always come first.

    The other two people aren’t doing their part of the work to make this a happy emotional triad. They’re putting all the discomfort on you and minimizing your feelings about it. Unless that changes, I don’t see a happy future here.

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