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Now to today’s question, which involves some mentions of hoarding behaviors.
I have been seeing this guy for the past 6months long distance. We visit every few months. This past visit was the longest we’ve spent together (3 weeks) and it was somewhat a rollercoaster. A few things went wrong here and there of course that was bumpy. Overall I felt disrespected, confused, and disgusted. I told my partner that the state of his apartment made me feel uncomfortable (he’s a borderline hoarder w/ no access to his kitchen, getting electricity off the grid, walking space is lessening) and he responded by saying it’s related to my trauma. I understood that, yet he did nothing to increase my comfort while I was there. The mess continued to be an issue while I was there (losing things, bugs, mice) and finally before I left I told him that I felt like my feelings weren’t being taken seriously. He didn’t take this well and acted standoffish towards me afterwards. I’m back home now, and I’m feeling much better to be in a de-cluttered space. It’s been a week and I’ve asked that he take some space for himself and get help. We chatted briefly about it. I tried to check in today and got no response. I only know that he’s alive bc of his social media postings (some of which have been passive aggressive) I don’t know what to do at this point. I’m ready to give up and call it quits……should I give him more time? If so how much time is enough?
Did he say that the behavior is related to “my trauma” as in his trauma or as in your trauma? Because if it’s this:
You: “Partner, I am uncomfortable with x…”
Him: “You’re just saying that because of your trauma!”
Then he is trying to convert your discomfort with his environment and behavior into discomfort with yourself, which is what broken glass guy does.
And if it’s about his own trauma, that sucks, and is very sad, but either way, you still need what you need, which is not to be grossed out and uncomfortable in a space where you’re staying. You need him to make an effort to make you comfortable, and if he won’t or can’t (which, maybe he can’t, and I hope he gets alllllll the help if so), you need to not be in that space and maybe need to not be in the relationship anymore.
Either way, I’m sorry but it’s probably time to ride away on your nopetepus.
Not all romantic relationships can or should develop into permanent ones or involve shared living spaces, but if that is the kind of relationship you want in your life, keep in mind that the early stages of dating are for figuring out if that kind of compatibility exists. Six months in, it’s not looking good. Here’s what we know:
- The way he arranges his living space does not indicate long-term compatibility with you and how you like to live. It makes you actively uncomfortable when you stay there in the here and now.
- He won’t or can’t take steps to make it more comfortable for you when you are a guest.
- He blames you and your history for that discomfort.
- Longest visit so far = unhappiest visit so far.
- You feel disgusted, disrespected, and are “ready to call it quits.”
- Discussing your feelings honestly and giving him space isn’t bringing you closer together. He’s avoiding you but posting passive-aggressive status updates where he knows you’ll see them.
No doubt he is experiencing some shame and distress right now, and I feel a lot of sympathy for him. Hoarding behaviors often ride sidecar with serious mental health conditions and a ton of shame, none of which I am qualified to address, though one thing I can tell you is that making sustainable changes is a very time-consuming process. You asked “how much time is enough?” and the answer, really and truly, is probably years, plural, at which point this still might be a struggle and a point of contention between you. Note also that he has not said “I have a problem, I want to get help for it, please be patient with me while I do that and I will do my best to make sure it doesn’t impact you when you are here with me.”
Look at it this way: You are only six months in. You are long-distance and nobody has pulled up stakes and rearranged their whole lives for the other partner…yet. You can have empathy for someone’s feelings and their struggles without opting into those struggles “for better or for worse.” It is absolutely okay to date someone for a while and then decide, oh wait, now that I know them a little better I can see that this person is not for me. It’s okay to not invest more time and work into something that isn’t working.
Here’s a gentle, clean breakup script: “After our last visit, I realized that things aren’t working for me, and I’ve decided to end things.”
My advice: Let his silence & avoidance be a gift to you for right now. Don’t do any work on the relationship (like checking in) until he contacts you, and when you are ready, end it.
I wish you both well.
175 thoughts on “#820: “Six months in and things are not good.””
Ahhhhh great advice yes. I can see him becoming defensive/guilty about being exposed as a hoarder and pushing someone away but dismissing “you have bugs, mice, & no kitchen access” as “YOU are the one with issues not me” is too far. His treatment of you & your needs is alarming.
I dated a man like this, we met at a random trivia night , sparks flew and our table won! He asked for my number and called me the next morning. I was flattered and intrigued, and we quickly started going out. Looking back, he wasn’t over his last girlfriend (they’d broken up about three months before). According to him, his last girlfriend had been controlling, demanding and he’d never been able to please her.
Well, with me he went the other way. Compromise wasn’t in his vocabulary, and any request to change things (or even discuss them) was met with either a flat no, or ‘You’re the one with the problem, so I’m not going to change!’. A great example was his snoring. He suffered sleep apnoea and housemates had asked him to minimise the noise by moving his bed away from walls, moved out, etc. I didn’t know this at the time and after a few weeks of sleeplessness, I tried to broach the subject by gently asking him if he was aware that he snored. He completely denied it. After saying he didn’t snore for about 20 minutes, and how DARE I suggest it, etc, he acknowledged that he snored. I asked him to see someone, he replied with that classic line ‘YOU are the one who has a problem with my snoring, not me’. So I slept in the spare room.
A few days later, I asked him to brush his teeth before he came to bed, as he was a coffee drinker, and after several cups kissing him wasn’t too nice, I tried to make it flirty and cute, but once again I got ‘YOU are the one who has a problem with my breath, not me’. Eventually, I only had to start a sentence with ‘do you think you/we could…’ and he’d say ‘no’, before finished I even finished the sentence! Didn’t matter what the question was. It was everything from ‘can we sit in the restaurant tonight, rather than getting take away?’ to, ‘your car smells like petrol and I don’t think it’s safe to drive, can you get it checked out?’
Stupidly, I stayed in that relationship for 18 months – I’d been single for a long time and was lonely. Now, older and wiser me would never put up with a relationship where my feelings and needs were totally discounted.
Jesus, what a giant snortnoodle.
What do you want to bet that you are now starring as the recent ex who was “controlling, demanding and he’d never been able to please”?
Yeah, chances on that one are exceedingly high
I bet ten eclairs his ex girlfriend was fiiiine. Also, holy schnikes Batman! Cutting you off midway through a sentence, all the time? Get out the glue and paste him into your verbally abusive scrapbook.
According to him, his last girlfriend had been controlling, demanding and he’d never been able to please her.
Ahahaha. Based on what you’ve described, I suspect his last girlfriend set boundaries, had and expressed reasonable needs and desires, and was unhappy with his refusal to compromise on anything.
Hi LW here- Thanks for answering my questions. I ended things with him last week. My therapist agreed with many of your sentiments as well. All of the comments have affirmed my feelings.
To clarify- when I told him that his hoarding made me uncomfortable he said that it was because of HIS trauma not mine….(he was abused in past relationships)
I’m really sorry he was abused in past relationships. I’m *really* glad you were able to see that he wasn’t for you. I’m sure you’ll find someone awesome with a clean kitchen. 🙂
ahaha you’re right & thanks!
Thanks for checking in! I’m glad to hear you’ve moved on.
Hop on the bus, Gus.
Horray for Paul Simon!
Make a new plan, Stan.
Just get yourself free!
No need to discuss much!
Slip out the back, Jack.
Drop off the key, Lee.
Don’t need to be coy, Roy…
Get away from the hoard, Gord!
Back away from the mess, Jess.
Escape from the pile, Kyle
I don’t wanna see mice, Bryce!
Letter writer, if he isn’t willing to consider trying to clean things up even the tiniest bit for the short duration of your visit, he’s not going to change this behavior anytime soon. Probably ever.
I grew up in a hoarder house that sounds similar (trash everywhere, rotting food everywhere, animal waste everywhere, flies everywhere, paths marked as areas with only a couple of inches of crap piled up on the floor, versus a couple of feet). The only difference between that house and the apartment where my mother lives now, at age 60, is that her apartment is much smaller, so it’s easier for her to pay someone to come over and make it not quite so disgustingly filthy every few years.
Take this as your partner helpfully stapling a “run the fuck away and don’t look back” sign to his forehead, and take his advice to get the fuck out before you waste any more time on someone who can’t be what you need.
This seems like yet another in the series I’ve mentally nicknamed, “If a relationship isn’t working, you do not actually have to feel like you’ve exhausted all other possibilities before you consider breaking up.” Too often I feel like CA (and other advice columnists) are getting letters that raise massive red flags of incompatibility and basically saying, “I feel [mistreated/disrespected/abused/ignored] in this relationship, and everything I am trying isn’t making it work. Am I allowed to break up?”
Breaking up with someone isn’t a “last resort.” It’s a healthy and natural thing for a person to realize they’re not happy or compatible with some and to end it. Treating a breakup like a concession of personal failure and not a legitimate option only does you more harm, and means you spend far longer miserable in a relationship that does not work for you.
It’s especially alarming to me when a LW writes in and says these things in addition to the fact that the relationship is relatively new and young. If you can see all these red flags early on in a relationship, all the better! It is a big glaring red alarm light complete with accompanying alarms and aoogas that says “this is not the right relationship for you.” Please don’t think you’ve failed or that you need someone else’s (like CA or another advice columnist) permission to end it when this happens.
If in order for you to continue happily in a relationship your partner would have to make major changes to themselves, that is a sign you are dating the wrong person.
That’s true whether those changes would be for their own good or not. Personal change is a long hard road, and it needs to be self driven. Anything else is unlikely to succeed.
It reminds me of this song from Rent: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Il8icgtuqqs
If you’re not happy with who someone is, it’s time to move on. There will be someone else, who will be what you want.
Gosh, yes to all of this. And also, something I have had to explain to parents and exes alike: if I am an adult, I have to be allowed to decide what’s best for me. You can think I’m wrong, and you can even be *right*, but it doesn’t make it your decision.
Still trying to explain that to my parents. Ugh.
“Breaking up with someone isn’t a “last resort.” It’s a healthy and natural thing for a person to realize they’re not happy or compatible with some and to end it.”
SO much this. I think my most stressful breakups were ones where I stayed, hemmed/hawwed, wrote lists, and struggled for far longer than I should have. I hate this ‘I am miserable most of the time but relationships are work..’ narrative that lurks in the social consciousness. When the relationship is limping along and only provides brief moments of happiness vs a sustained peace, the sooner and kinder you end it the better off everyone involved it. The prolonged, let’s work through it breakups hurt both/all of you far more than a simple, ‘I love you but this isn’t working..Wish you the best.’
Cleanly ending things now, before you accumulate resentments and stress may leave you more room in the future for a friendship or reconnecting if his living situation improves and you both still feel a connection.
LW, even if he does take steps to improve you can still look at the situation and decide that it is unlivable for you. Personally, I’ve learned that a clean, pleasant home space is essential to my mental health. I’ve ended things with perfectly nice people because I know that I cannot come home to a messy, stressful place nine times out of ten. If your end goal is a cohabitating life partner, then the point of dating is learning more about the person to decide if you are happy and compatible. You don’t have to stick around and fix their life, there be dragons.
This works with platonic friendships as well. When o was in college I fell into a friendship with a young woman that I came to regret later. I had no idea, in the beginning, that she was such a toxic person.
Over time, it got to the point where I noticed I was happier when she wasn’t around, and began connecting the clues, with the help of some other friends, who hearing my complaints, encouraged me to break it off.
I learned the same lesson you did and have practiced it since. It’s better to cut your losses at the first red flag(s). Don’t wait.
Yes, exactly. I spent YEARS longer in a friendship than I honestly should have because I got caught up on nostalgia and “but what about all those important moments we shared when things were better?” when I honestly should have ended the friendship, and I ended up suffering mightily for it. It took her being downright cruel to me for me to realize that I was not in a healthy friendship. Getting hung up on the “am I allowed to end something I’ve invested time and energy into” thing was awful. Lots of Nerd Social Fallacies involved in our group just made it harder, but I’m better for having gotten out of there.
I hate this ‘I am miserable most of the time but relationships are work..’ narrative that lurks in the social consciousness.
YES. I was in a mostly not-great nine year relationship because “relationships are work.” There was no single awful incident that ever pushed it over the edge, but I spent way too long thinking that we’d been together so long, so I owed it more work, and do you see how that perpetuates itself?
“Relationships are work” is true ONLY in the sense that it won’t be perfect and easy literally 100% of the time. But we all as individuals have to stop comparing ourselves to the idea of a universal relationship work standard that doesn’t exist. Every person gets to decide for him or herself how much work is too much work in a relationship and adjust or end the relationship accordingly. And if you are the person that feels like your partner has adjusted his/her willing workload such that now you shoulder most of it, then that’s a great moment for you to also evaluate if the amount you are now doing is too much.
Absolutely. And, people should not say, “marriage is HARD” to other people unless they are very sure they understand someone’s history and background. 19 years of marriage, the last 7 of which were abusive and miserable, and because “marriage is hard” (and my benchmark was my parent’s hideous, miserable marriage, which was marginally worse) I kept on working harder and harder and harder, and it only got worse and worse and worse, and I constantly re-normed on the new level of sick and bad and wrong and adjusted, bless my poor suffering heart. Happy ending: I woke up. I saw the abuse cycle for what it was. We divorced. Years and year pass. And now I’m happily married. Turns out? Marriage takes effort, like friendship takes effort, it requires maintenance, and a big-picture mentality. But if you are hanging on by your fingernails, and daily dying to self, and sucking up hard, and pasting a big, fake smile on your face, and that is your life because that is what it takes to stay in the relationship, that is not a relationship to stay in. That is the definition of slavery, where one person has all the rights, and the other person, all the duty.
I try to tell people that relationships take work, but it should mostly be work you like doing. It takes work like how a passionate hobby, or a dream job, or an intelligent pet takes work. If you’re really committed to, say, cosplay, there are going to parts of putting together those amazing costumes that are frustrating or time-consuming or even a full-on slog, but on the whole you will enjoy the effort and the accomplishment and end one project excited for the next. That’s what the “work” part of a good relationship should generally feel like.
This comment was a lightbulb moment for me. Thank you. I’d never thought about it like that.
Filing this away …
Wonderful way of putting it. Thank you so much for that.
Holy cats, Batman. That was less a lightbulb moment and more the Regent Street Christmas lights going on. Thank you.
I’ve always (despite my relationship history, which is one small step up from atrocious) said that relationships should be hard work, but both people get out more than they put in. I’ve never *thought about* what that hard work should be like.
You’ve made me think about being told “Well done – you worked really hard for [x], you deserve it” when I really didn’t feel like I’d worked at all. THAT WAS BECAUSE YOU ENJOYED IT SO MUCH, SELF. Work does not have to be miserable to count as work.
Yikes. Finally an analogy that makes sense! Thank you!!!
Agreed. My analogy is gardening, but the same idea. It can take a lot of effort to produce a good garden that is a joy to look at and to walk through, that pleases all the senses. If you’re breaking your back and still all you see are weeds, it may be time to put your effort someplace else.
Marriage is “work” like taking care of a glorious garden is work.
Marriage is “work” like knitting blankets for the babies is work.
Do you like the results you have at the end?
If not, find another form of “work.”
Agree. Also, the penny drop for me was that “relationships are work” means work the ACTION, not work the PLACE. I suspect for a long time I thought “work” referred to that awful soul-sucking place that you show up to five days a week, do a half-assed job and then stagger home from. My 10 year relationship sometimes felt like that, and I would say “oh that’s normal, relationships are like work”.
It took me a long time to realise that you’re actually supposed to DO the work to FIX the problem and STOP feeling like that.
Incidentally, I love my job, and my actual work rarely feels like that. Only my bad relationships 🙂
Ugh, sunk-cost fallacy strikes again. I’m glad you figured it out!
“I hate this ‘I am miserable most of the time but relationships are work..’ narrative that lurks in the social consciousness.”
So much. I am perpetually confused by people working so hard to keep relationships going when they’re ultimately unhappy in those relationships. See also: “Something is wrong if you don’t fight with your partner.” This BS serves primarily to enable abuse, as we too often see on this site.
“Something is wrong if you don’t fight with your partner.”
Oh yeah, I remember that one and the six years of mostly-misery that it enabled. I’m constantly amazed by how many otherwise smart, loving people subscribe to that toxic fallacy.
“Something is wrong if you don’t fight with your partner.”
Oh, ick. I’d say that something is wrong if you and your partner never, ever disagree about anything, because that sounds like someone is being super-conflict-avoidant. Mr. OtherBecky and I don’t really fight, but we disagree about stuff. Some of that is intractable — I only listen to the Pogues when he isn’t around, and we’ve long since agreed to disagree about whether Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon is a) a masterpiece or b) in dire need of an editor. In more serious realms, we have different thresholds of acceptable tidiness. But we mostly accept and honor our differences and work around them.
Nodding. Any two people are going to disagree on SOMETHING at some point. How you communicate about and deal with those disagreements means everything for the relationship. (Also that they’re not disagreements about, like, major things that are going to affect the future of the relationship, like the big-picture lifestyle you want together.)
I’m glad you pointed that out. I say that all the time because whenever I have been in relationships where we aren’t “fighting” it’s been a toxic abusive relationship where I am twisting myself into pretzels to deliver what I think the other person needs while completely ignoring my own needs. Also my idea of “fighting” is: any expression of a conflict of interest. My parents never disagree on anything because my Dad does the same pretzel acrobatics for my mom (and trained me in the ways of co-narcissism) so I interpret any level of disagreement as a FIGHT. [case in point: last night my husband asked me to keep the cat’s food dishes separate from our food dishes because cat food grosses him out. I said sure, we kissed, and he continued washing dishes while I watched the Great British Bake-Off. To me, that was a fight].
Either way, I am removing this adage from my vocabulary.
The overarching conflict in my most recent relationship was about my finding out that he had been concealing his real feelings about things from me, because he wanted to like or want what he thought I wanted him to like or want. I can look back on this and see that it was due to his abusive childhood. It was a whole toxic thing. It was incredibly frustrating for both of us because I essentially thought I had been dating a completely different person, and then whenever I did find out how he really felt about something I would express anger that he had hidden it from me and he would hear that as me being angry about the way he actually felt. Like, I didn’t actually care that he didn’t like to do the dishes, for instance, but the fact that he insisted for the first six months we were together that he loved doing the dishes and i would never have to do them if we moved in together, only for the dishes to suddenly (and secretly) become My Job with a lot of passive-aggressive sighing when I didn’t do them on his schedule, was pretty annoying.
I get conflict avoidance, I do it myself sometimes, conflict is stressful and scary. But it super undermined the trust in the relationship that I could ask him what he wanted to do that afternoon, or what flavor ice cream he wanted, and in his mind this was somehow me testing him to see if he was the Ideal Boyfriend and there was a right or wrong answer and he had to pick the right one. I dated him for three years and was married to him for four and a half and I’m really not sure I ever actually knew him.
off topic, but I use disposable stuff for the pets. Especially the spoons/forks/whatever you’re using to dish out their food since delivery always comes with plenty. Keeps down the number of times I have to soak pet food off a dish I want to eat off of later.
Platitudes like that are the worst. Like, define “fight”, please? Disagreements happen, but DISCUSSION needs to follow, quickly. Discussion that involves both people talking, not yelling, not lashing out; no belittlement or intimidation, no trying to “win”. Discussion that involves listening to the other person, sincerely trying to resolve or at least understand the problem. Discussion that involves sincere apologies if things were said that weren’t okay. Discussion where one party isn’t constantly walking away afterwards feeling unhappy, hurt, and unheard.
I argue with my partner sometimes. But we have never had something that I would call a “fight”… and if that ever changes, that is one scary red-flag that something is Deeply Wrong. Because our current “fighting style” is all about resolution, soothing, understanding, and concern for each other and our relationship quality. If it ever became about nastiness — if we’re more willing and eager to hurt each other or tear each other down than work things out, what is the point?
“Something is wrong if you don’t fight with your partner.”
Ugh – that. I think OtherBecky makes an important distinction between never fighting because someone is conflict avoidant vs. occassional disagreement that does not escalate to a fight. My guy and I don’t argue – we are both freakishly easygoing and tend to see things the same way anyway. We have both been married to people who did not treat us very well and it taught us 2 things: 1) how we want to be treated by a partner; and 2) perspective.
We communicate well – that is why we don’t argue. I learned from my marriage that people-pleasing and fixing and managing behaviours may be intended with love, but are unhealthy for everyone involved. I used to twist myself into a pretzel to avoid fights, but it never worked. So I use my words and try to keep everything in perspective. Example: I don’t get angry when he leaves his dishes in the sink instead of washing them. It’s not because I am afraid my anger will rock the relationship or anything like that … it’s because I know he’s being lazy (just like me!) instead of being disrespectful, that he will probably do it eventually, it’s not a problem if I bring it up and tell him to do it ASAP and that he has a solid history of forgetting cups and plates on the regular, but surprising me with washing all the dishes (mine too) fairly often. When he did something that upset and disappointed me, I waited until I was calm, explained why this seemingly trivial thing mattered greatly to me and let him know my expectations going forward. I admit that the same issue came up with my ex … but instead of handling it gracefully, I brought it up while I was still upset, we fought, I yelled and screamed and cried, the issue never got resolved in a way that made either of us happy and the subject became quite fraught. Same problem … but talking actually solved it. Sometimes our levels of desire get out of sync – the partner with the lower drive actually now has a higher drive in general than when we started because the higher-drived partner could take a rebuff cheerfully so there is no weirdness or anxiety or FEEEEELINGS about “can we just cuddle?” We talked about it and because we can talk, it’s not something we fight about.
I think the ugliest “fight” we ever had was about the North African theater of WWII – that got heated and I may or may not have let out a victory whoop when Wikipedia proved I was right. I also may have done a very undignified touchdown dance and added in some smack-talk about how he should NEVER doubt me about the Desert Fox! Because, yes … we are that cool …
I’m some 20 years into my relationship, and while my partner and I have had occasional fights (very occasional; fewer than 10 real ones, I suspect), I can summarize the root cause of the fight as “we failed to correctly communicate our actual feelings/we ignored the correctly communicated feelings of our partner.” We’re human; we fail at things sometimes. Sometimes those failures lead to misunderstandings and arguments. We have, however, had a whole ton of disagreements. Some we set aside as unimportant; others we work out. Language is tricky here because sometimes I think people say “well, if you don’t fight, something’s wrong” when what they mean is “If you agree completely with each other, that’s probably a danger sign.”
“Something is wrong if you don’t fight with your partner” is a terrible thing that people say that waters down a truth and makes it dangerous.
It is normal and healthy to have disagreements with your partner. Healthy conflict-management is something you need to have in a relationship; knowing how to navigate another person’s attitudes and behaviors when you disagree is valuable and important, and it is very important in a relationship to know how you behave together when dealing with conflict and disagreement. Two grown adults should be able to manage disagreement in a healthy manner.
FIGHTING all the time, that’s a sign of something else. To me fighting means your conflict-management has failed and you and your partner are at odds, raising voices (or worse) and getting nowhere about the disagreement.
Something is wrong if you and your partner cannot handle conflict with one another. That’s true. But if you’re fighting all the time with your partner, I think that means something is wrong with your relationship. Not that you’re doing it right.
And you cannot be the one doing all of the work. If it’s not a joint effort, it literally does not matter how hard you try, you won’t succeed.
“And you cannot be the one doing all of the work”
OK, this is where analogies to “marriage is work like a garden is work” fall apart, because in a hobby you really are doing the all the work, and the garden or craft is being worked on.
A spouse/significant other is not a hobby. Spouse/SO must do some work, too.
Or they are a hobby that is way, way to emotionally expensive.
The relationship is the garden. You and the other people involved in the relationship are all doing the tending.
You could think of it like rock climbing? Because that generally requires two people to put in work and effort to complete – the climber and the belayer. There has to be trust involved, too, for both. The climber has to trust the belayer is paying attention and is keeping the rope taut in case they slip, and the belayer has to trust the climber is not pushing themself beyond their limits and is communicating whether they’re going to keep going up the wall, if they’re going to come down and if they’re ready be lowered down.
Oh my goodness, I love this comment. Absolutely I’ve felt in the past some kind of moral obligation to keep trying, keep going, make myself smaller just to keep a relationship going a little longer. While part of that is not wanting to be apart from that person, I think you’ve made a great observation that people often think of breaking up as a failure and a last resort after things have completely fallen apart. I know I did–all the stories, songs and movies where the woman (usually) works just a little harder, sacrifices just a little more happiness and magically transforms the guy (usually) into her sweet and loving lifelong partner played through my head until it became a weird moralistic drive.
This is why I think it’s so important to emphasize, as CA has done in this and previous columns, that you are “allowed” to break up with someone for any reason whatsoever. Yes, you can break up with someone because you don’t like their stripey bowling shirts or squishy mouth noises. Or because of their living situation, even where you suspect it stems from mental illness. There’s just no obligation to stay and fix somebody or stay without fixing amid the vermin (or broken glass or other assorted Evil Bees) or stay while hoping that he’ll fix himself for love for you. It doesn’t sound like it’ll make you happy to stay, just like it wasn’t making me happy to stay–I just felt like a failure for being miserable. Unhappiness is not a failure, it’s a very clear signal your helpful brain is sending you!
In sum, YOU ARE ALLOWED. YOU ARE ALWAYS ALLOWED.
“If a relationship isn’t working, you do not actually have to feel like you’ve exhausted all other possibilities before you consider breaking up.”
One million times this. Same goes for bad workplaces, and friendships, and any other kind of relationship. I’m not sure exactly how this blind spot happens in our culture, but it’s a massive blind spot.
Hoarding is one of the most difficult issues to conquer long-term. You could devote the rest of your life to try to help him fix this, and it wouldn’t work. (This is true of any problem, but it’s really, really, really true here.) He’s the only person who can fix this, and right now all signs point to NOPE.
“If a relationship isn’t working, you do not actually have to feel like you’ve exhausted all other possibilities before you consider breaking up.”
I *wish* there had been someone like the Captain telling me I was allowed to break up when my relationships in my 20s were just a series of bad fits that I tried to squeeze myself into like ill fitting clothes that just need to go to Goodwill instead of taking up space in my closet.
Amen a thousand times. I am 45 and happily married, and when I look back on my life the one thing I wish I could have known was to junk crappy relationships – romantic and otherwise – far sooner. There is a LOT of ground between giving up on things without any effort and recognizing that some things cannot or need not be “fixed.”
De-lurking to agree, 100%. I believe this is why so many divorces get so ugly, because people try and try and try to wring every last drop of happiness out of the marriage before they end it. Then when the time finally does come to end the marriage, it gets nasty because…well, because they have wrung every last drop of happiness out of the relationship. I wish there were a more socially acceptable way of starting divorces sooner, and saying “Well, this doesn’t seem to be working, so let’s figure out a way of ending it now while we still like each other.” Gwenyth Paltrow and Chris Martin got a lot of heat for their “conscious uncoupling” a few years ago, but that does seem to be a respectful and dignified way to end a marriage.
LW, I assume you were getting a certain amount of happiness out of this relationship at the beginning, otherwise you wouldn’t have been there in the first place. But it also sounds like you’ve gotten all you’re going to get out of it for now. Good luck for whatever comes next for you.
This is why I had such a bad experience with couples’ counselling. It’s great if everyone is actively trying to make things work and is super-invested in figuring out how to make it work. In my case (both times), one party already had one foot out the door, so the counselling quickly became an expensive referee for airing grievances to make the case why the relationship should be done already. If one person is saying, “I’m leaving if we don’t go to counselling!” they are most likely leaving anyway regardless of what happens in couples’ counselling. Save the money and energy for individual counselling and other self-care during the breakup.
As a former psychologist with a couples counselling practice, I’m alarmed to hear that this was your experience. A good couples counsellor is there to help you with whatever is the best direction for the relationship. The counsellor should be alert for signs that for one or both parties the relationship is done (and also for signs that it’s actually done but neither partner has acknowledged it yet, but that’s a whole other scenario) and if so to help the couple get there with the minimum of anguish. If anyone is feeling in counselling that the only “acceptable” direction of the counselling is towards sticking together no matter what, please please find another counsellor.
Agreed. My one experience with couples counseling was a godsend. It didn’t save the relationship, but I honestly believe that it saved my sanity and possibly my life.
In my case, the party with one foot out the door was really, really good at hiding the fact that they were basically done (which was helped by the fact that they were the one who requested the counselling.) It wasn’t helped by me being in deep denial about the relationship being dead, so even though in my gut, I knew they didn’t mean it when they said they wanted to go to counselling “to fix things,” I couldn’t bring myself to even say it out loud to myself.
We were in counselling for 6 months of weekly appointments before we finally split. The counselor started switching from “ways to work it out” language to “ways to end it language” after 5 months. That 5 months felt like a deep dive into why nothing I ever did was right + a series of Lucy-with-the-football “I need X from you, no Y, no Z” requests on their part.
I wish my mother would go to a counselor. A couples session is impossible because my father thinks therapists are “stupid” (also he’s the kind of guy who talks at people, not with them. He’d spend the whole time lecturing and not let the therapist or my mom get a word in edgewise). Reason alone, imo, that she should just get the hell out of dodge, because he’s not willing to sit down and really commit to working things out, let alone risk someone else tell him how much he is in the wrong. I’m trying to encourage my mom to see a therapist alone though, because honestly… that marriage is miserable. But I think she is afraid to go because she knows she’ll have to confront just how miserable she is. =\
Cut and run.
Break up after two (six, twelve, thirty-six) months guilt-free.
Leave if things are “okay”, or “kinda shitty but they’re not a bad person.”
Learn to paint or some shit,
Hook up with a crush and leave right in the middle of meh makeout/sex because you are amazing, and don’t have time for that. Just excuse yourself to the bathroom, get dressed and go without a word. Their world won’t end, and it’s safer than giving them a chance to coerce you.
All those things are way better than wasting time with the wrong partner. Because they leave you both open to find the right ones.
Let him find the partner whose heart will sing when she sees his home. Let them feel joy that they can go to yard sales and Goodwill together and buy new dishes to add to the giant unwashed pile in the sink. Let them have someone who also needs several drawers of expired condiment packets.
That person is out there waiting for you to break up with their perfect partner. Don’t leave them hanging.
Great comment. Gotta copy it somewhere.
I love this and I think I love you.
Plus-a-million to this. Beautifully said. You do not have to exhaust every option before walking away!
Amen! Think of the time you don’t have to waste.
It’s a menu. You looked at it carefully, and you don’t like cooked spinach, so this is not the dish for you. Find another dish–or, another restaurant.
ITA. I think it reflects a fear of being disliked and maybe setting off an unpleasant chain reaction. Some folks feel like they have to manage the other person’s feelings and need the other person’s permission, so to speak, before they can pull the plug. I see so much social pressure particularly applied to women to be nice and indirect about a problem, in order to spare others’s feelings.
Fuck that, my friends. Seize the day and don’t waste another moment with wretched people like this dysfunctional dude.
“It’s especially alarming to me when a LW writes in and says these things in addition to the fact that the relationship is relatively new and young. If you can see all these red flags early on in a relationship, all the better!”
Yes! A relationship isn’t an apartment where you have to wait out the end of the lease to leave or suffer serious consequences. If the people in a relationship are incompatible, it’s way better to leave earlier on, right when the red flags start popping up, before people get even more emotionally invested (and possibly financially/legally enmeshed with shared living spaces, marriage, children, etc.).
Even in the apartment analogy, it’s worth thinking about what those consequences are. I moved out of an apartment (and across the country) mid-lease a few years ago, knowing that a possible consequence was that we’d be paying rent on an apartment we were no longer in. But the most it could have cost us was money, and we decided it was worth it. (Spoiler: they rented the place to someone else quickly, and we were fine.) Maybe walking out of a relationship would cost you your regular movie-watching group, or your friendship with the ex’s brother; having people to watch old movies with probably isn’t worth the cost if the cost is an otherwise stressful and unhappy situation, with the movie nights as the only bright spots.
I think that some people confuse relationships that have lasted more than a few months with long term commitments like marriage. Sure, if a couple have been married for a number of years and have children, they should perhaps try everything they can – as long as BOTH are willing to try that “everything”. But two people who’ve been dating long-distance for only six months? Sorry, but dating is a trial run, a test drive. If the text drive is not a happy one, bail quickly so that both of you are free to date other people.
I’m not sure when the lines blurred – perhaps it was when living together became common and accepted? Now, perhaps, it’s assumed that every relationship that is started needs to lead to the next step.
I’m adding my voice to the chorus of yeses. Yes! I always felt like I had to be 100% sure it couldn’t work, not just 99% sure. That meant they had hurt me to the point where I really couldn’t take it any more, where I had run out of energy and ability to ‘fix’ the relationship. I couldn’t see their bad behaviour for what it was, and just get out of there.
For me, it was really all about a fear of breaking up and feeling abandoned. The pain of the relationship had to outweigh my own emotional pain I would go through to get out of the relationship, for me to accept it was the right thing to do. I was holding myself hostage in a sucky relationship.
(But not any more! Yay for change and growth!)
This strikes me as a gendered issue. Not that LW here is necessarily a woman, but that dynamic is definitely out there because we’re taught that women *must* put in a lot of emotional labor or we’re shallow (at the same time, emotional labor is devalued and ridiculed) while largely speaking men aren’t frowned upon for wanting out of a relationship early on if he finds flaw with the woman.
I clicked on the Paypal link, but I get a message saying “Sorry — your last action could not be completed”.
Thanks, I’ll fix!
Hi Maia, I did too but the one on the main donate page is working.
Thanks, Embertine, that works!
Dear LW, you don’t owe him anything except kindness and a clean break, if that’s what you want. Whether his issue is mental illness or just deeply ingrained habit, the fact that his response to your statement of what you need was to try and gaslight you into thinking that a vermin infestation is just fine for people who haven’t been TRAUMATIZED, GEEZ tells me that right now his hoarding is more important to him than you are. Maybe you’ll break up with him and he’ll recognize he has a problem and start working to fix it, and then you could, if you wanted to, think about getting back together. But a relationship isn’t a binding contract. To answer the question at the end of your letter, you get to decide how much time you give him.
“his response to your statement of what you need was to try and gaslight you into thinking that a vermin infestation is just fine for people who haven’t been TRAUMATIZED, GEEZ”
Exactly. Guess what? Living in a vermin infestation isn’t fine for anyone [who doesn’t want to be living in a vermin infestation].
Take the information you’ve been given by him, LW, and use it.
If he ever looks for advice or help with his housekeeping issues, you might like to gently point him in the direction of Stepping Out of Squalor.
And, for further background on this, the book “Digging Out: Helping Your Loved One Manage Clutter, Hoarding, and Compulsive Acquiring” is an eye-opening guide for family and friends. The goal of the book is risk-management, such as how to help a loved one reliably keep flammable materials a certain distance from the stove. There are also sections addressing the reader’s (the potential helper’s) emotions, since the loved one’s hoarding often damages relationships; the book details several estrangements, e.g. when people interfered with loved ones’ possessions.
Notably, the book is NOT about how to solve hoarding, because that is not something that one person can do for someone else.
(LW, I’m not posting this book recommendation for you, because learning more about the problems of someone who has been disrespectful to you, whom you’ve known less than a year, is a huge amount of (unnecessary) emotional work. If you’re still considering sticking with him, the book might help you set your expectations. I’m mostly sharing in case those in related situations want need additional resources.)
Dear LW, you have already given him enough time, and he has made his position clear. You have communicated and so has he. He loves his crap more than anything else. No need to continue with this, and ALSO there is no need for you to reach out to him trying to smooth things over or explain or analyze or be friends after one last message in which you write, “Goodbye, X.” Send that one brief message AFTER you unfollow him and block him everywhere, delete his contact information from your devices, and don’t look back.
I’ve had the passive-aggressive communicator in my life and it does not get better. It gets worse. Save your time for better things.
I gotta say, as an anxiety-ridden, entrenched in my ways, borderline hoarder (I work hard to keep my worst mess at a level II in terms of clutter on the official scale, so I’m not technically a hoarder, but I have those tendencies) sounds like problem with this dude has less to do with his hoarding activities and more to do with the fact that he’s a giant asshole. And just FYI, on the scales I’ve seen, when sanitation is an issue and rooms are inaccessible, that is considered a true hoarding situation.
If someone said to me “I don’t think this is going to work with your lack of cleanliness” I would understand. If the person was really important to me, I might even try to change my ways (actually I would probably try to clean, go overboard and then give myself a panic attack from trying to get rid of stuff). I know it’s not a normal level of mess, I know it can get gross, and while I try keep everything sanitary I don’t know that I could reduce the clutter, and that in and of itself is a _TOTALLY_REASONABLE_ deal-breaker. While some people have what I feel like are super-human standards of cleanliness, I would NEVER tell someone that their problem with my mess is because *they* have issues. That is horrifying, hints of emotional abuse/manipulation (my own special trauma) and I am 100% with the Cap about getting on the heck out of there.
Yes! Thank you.
This, yes. The basic problem is a serious incompatibility in cleanliness standards. That’s not always insurmountable, if it’s not a huge incompatibility–if the messier person wants to try to clean up a bit more and the neater person wants to relax their standards a bit more–but that requires both people trying to make it work. It doesn’t mean LW has to put up with a living space that is disgusting and uncomfortable to her because her SO can’t or won’t change his ways.
And frankly, to me, once you’ve got bugs and mice and inaccessible rooms, that goes beyond ‘I hate cleaning and don’t mind clutter, cat hair, and dust’ into ‘unsafe and unsanitary living conditions’.
Haha, I’ve discovered that the key is avoiding resentment build-up. I’ve only been with someone messier than me once and it was … bad. Like mold growing on things bad. And since cleaning is draining for me, I’d get really pissed up having to clean up these truly disgusting messes (there was a lot more going on there contributing to the resentment but that was a real easy thing to argue about rather than deal with the actual problem). All the clean people I’ve been with seem to get something out of cleaning, and so as long as it’s not gross they will happily clean the kitchen including wiping down the oven and all those nitty gritty things I rarely ever do. So then the balance is me trying to contribute more and them not harping on me (which is usually solved by a pre-determined distribution of chores and cleaning together). I don’t think the clean one necessarily has to relax standards, but the compromise comes from realizing that it takes the messy one more effort to get to that level of cleanliness – so socks wouldn’t make it into the hamper at bedtime normally, but maybe if we move the hamper out of the closet and near the bed, its a visual reminder to put the clothes there rather than on the floor.
I feel like I could have written this comment, “me and not you” and just wanted to say I agree. It’s a totally reasonable deal-breaker, especially if the person is in denial, either of the situation itself or of its validity as a problem for their potential partner.
THANK YOU. I’m not sure exactly what I’m thanking you for… but reading your comment just gave me a feeling of, I don’t know, hope? My house is a total wreck (for reasons); it is what it is, and I’ll keep working on it as part of working on the reasons, but in the meantime… it is what it is and feeling guilty about it isn’t going to help at all.
That’s totally not what you wrote, but thank you anyway.
Hah, but ChimeraCat, that’s exactly what I’ve come to! I think of it as, I’ve got more important things to deal with. Serious cleaning exhausts me and de-cluttering gives me anxiety, but there are so many other things that give me anxiety and take up my time and energy that I’d rather focus on those stressful things that I get something out of. It’s better than staring into my closet to try to figure out if I can get rid of the jeans that are two sizes too small but what if I loose weight and I don’t really have enough money to buy a new wardrobe and if I do manage to get rid of it I’ll still be thinking about those damn pants two months later like what if I need those OGODWHATDIDIDO?!! So I do what I can – keep the place sanitary (because mold = ew) and work on re-conceptualizing getting rid of unneeded stuff (someone else can love on it!) – but I don’t hold myself to the expectations that other people have because they do not live inside my head. Someone is always going to be unhappy with my work, and someone is always going to be better at it than me, so I just have to do my best. I like to think of it as not just being happy when you do the work “well”, but learning to be happy with work that you have done.
I’ve found that my stuff almost inevitably falls into three categories: stuff I know I want to keep, stuff that I really don’t want/need, and stuff that I wonder about. The first two categories are easy to deal with. The third takes up 90% of time and mental energy. By just putting those things back into a box and sorting something else, I can go on to make easy decisions about something else instead. And the next time I get to that box, it usually splits neatly into thirds again…
I’ve also found that occasionally I experience a major shift in perception. I used to cut out pictures and keep them as inspiration; and keep a lot of coffee table books and old calendars for the pictures they contained. These days, I have the internet, and if I need visual inspiration, I can just go on Flickr: I do not need these things anymore, they do not need to take up space in my life. It’s worth poking things from time to time.
I’m also working on seeing things less as things and more as experiences. If I buy myself a meal out or a cinema ticket, I spend the money, and enjoy it or not, and the money is gone. If I buy myself a book I don’t enjoy (or don’t finish), I used to have a lot of FEELZ about that. By treating everything as ‘it filled a need at the time, I spent the money, the money is gone’ there’s no guilt attached to evaluating what role something is playing in my life NOW. I don’t want to be tied down by choices my ten, twenty, thirty-year younger self made on what to buy and what to keep.
It’s a work in progress. But if you’re keeping your place clean and doing some decluttering you’re moving in the right direction. That’s sometimes hard to see when you’re facing mountains and mountains of STUFF. Next year, there’ll be less.
Haha, yeah the move to get rid of stuff is in the these tiny little increments. If there’s a thing that doesn’t really have a home but isn’t used, or is taking up the space of something more useful, I may be able to talk myself into getting rid of it. This goes into a box and into a corner of the bedroom or in the back of the closet or something. I “rediscover” said box at some point in the future, and it’s either, DAMMIT that’s where that went! or O wow, I didn’t use it and didn’t even miss it. And if I didn’t miss it, it goes into the trunk of the car, which will at some point make it to the resale shop, where it can be loved by someone else.
My biggest problem is that I’m very materialistic in the sense that I am both very tactile and memories will be wrapped up in physical objects so I will become attached to useless junk because I like it’s color/shape/heft/whatever or because it triggers memories that I wouldn’t otherwise remember. I can’t use normal people’s metrics like “is this useful, does it bring joy?” because yes, I love this little purple avon box thing from before I was even born and even though it doesn’t do anything I like holding at it and the warm fuzzies it gives me from growing up. And then it’s not one or two items like that, it’s literally everything I own.
I’ve been like that for my entire existence – as a toddler I would cry when my parents cut off tags from clothes because I liked the characters on them; when I got old enough to cut off my own tags, I would keep them if they were pretty or interesting, and then hide them because my mom would throw them out if she saw them in my room. I figure if I’ve moved from having difficulty getting rid of actual trash to being able to get rid of clothes that don’t fit I’m doing AWESOME, even if I have WAY too many pie pans.
“problem with this dude has less to do with his hoarding activities and more to do with the fact that he’s a giant asshole”
YESSSSSSS. Being an asshole knows no bounds. Anyone can be an asshole. People with mental health problems can be assholes. Traumatized people can be assholes. Disabled people can be assholes. As a former believer of the All Struggling People are Saints ideology, I can testify that it’s super easy to justify/excuse/ignore/rationalize asshole behavior in an attempt to be “non-judgmental” and “supportive” and “halpful” of a marginalized person with real struggles who also happens to be giant, flaming asshole.
I’m a congenitally messy person, too. I fight it every day that I have the spoons for it. But yeah, my place occasionally gets pretty gross.
(Trigger: attempted animal abuse)
Now, I DID have someone whose problem with my messiness was her problem. She lived in my place rent-free for several months, and desperately wanted to be the hoarder savior like on television. Not joking, this woman threw out my file of award and acceptance letters AFTER the house was cleaned and seriously tried to poison my cat. Not “I’m sorry, this cat is so miserable in the conditions you force it to live in that we’re going to have to have her humanely put down,” but poured roach poison into the scoopable litter as part of a bizarre plan to bring me to Jesus. This was not someone caring for me and going about it in a way I did not appreciate; this was the sort of person who gives mental illness a bad name and preys upon the mentally ill herself. (She currently runs a ministry for the homeless.)
And you know what? I am so. much. better. off without her in my life, and she is happier and better off without me.
It sounds like you were able to save your cat?
Yes, thank heavens! She is currently suffering from The Wrong Flavor Canned Food and would like everyone to know that she hasn’t eaten in MONTHS. Or, you know, minutes.
I had a roommate who kept throwing out my fancy cream liquor that I kept in the fridge “because it was open”. That shit stays good for months and is expensive! That was infuriating but at least he didn’t touch anything that was truly important D:
But thank god no one has ever tried to hurt my kitties. That’s horrifying.
I just want to give you all the hugs, or some equivalent-there-of!
I am so glad your cat is safe. My cats are currently suffering from “having to share the human with the other cat” and “not being allowed to beg for food from neighbors”. They would offer to unionize except the one hates other cats, and the other is in a constant state of trying to get her to play with him.
As someone with hoarding tendencies who is also a caretaker for someone in full hoarding mode, I just want to endorse CA’s answer. I wouldn’t trade my SO for the world, but if you aren’t looking to deal with this guy’s mess, it’s time to move on. It sounds like the cost of this relationship includes that mess in his apartment, and possibly similar messes in future living spaces, and if he could/was willing to clean it up on his own for you, it wouldn’t have been there when you arrived in the first place.
You’re not being mean if you dump him for this.
TBQH even if you were willing to help him work through the hoard, his reaction to all of this sounds like an issue to me as well. SO and I are both embarrassed of our hoarding tendencies and both have triggers related to that that can make us say ugly things in the moment, but what you’re describing sounds like someone who is having trouble getting past his own emotions about it (shame, defensiveness, whatever) to even start to consider yours, which is no good. That might well carry over into other parts of the relationship too.
I haven’t read the other comments, so I may be retreading with some of this, but I WAS YOU. I met a guy I really liked. We lived a little distance apart. He seemed initially great, we really clicked, I felt like there was something there…and the first time I went to his place, it was literally the filthiest human habitation I’d ever seen. I stayed with him. Let me tell you what happened.
It was a huge mistake. His hoarding behaviours continued to worsen. When we moved into a house together, knowing he was awful and being a superhuman 22 with boundary issues, I rashly promised to keep up the house if he would do all the yard work and vehicle maintenance. I worked 45 hours a week at a job that was physically and psychologically demanding. He mostly worked from home (contract programming). Within a year we began getting citations from the city because the yardwork wasn’t being done. He refused to do even the smallest task to help me out. The best our home ever looked was when he was travelling 95% for business and was never home long enough to destroy anything. Then he stopped travelling.
Eventually, I simply gave up. You know how you watch Hoarders and the spouses who stay are living in filth and looking totally beaten down and like they probably cry all the time? And maybe you judge them and say “I would /do something/!” and “How could they just give up like that?!” I’ll tell you how. It is exhausting mentally and physically to try to pick up after a grown-ass human who refuses to do anything at all. Your second shift is another full time job. Plus you are being passive-aggressived at, berated, their friends are mean to you for not being an appropriate hausfrau, your support system starts to drop away because you can’t have them over and you don’t have time to go to theirs or go out, and every attempt to buy a labour-saving device or a cleaning product is nixed because “that stuff isn’t any fun”. When I got my first solo apartment, when I could buy storage solutions and furniture and cleaning products and appliances…it turns out I am VERY TIDY. For thirteen years I was told I was a disgusting slob or I would have managed to compensate for my husband’s hoarding and filth. After he died, I continued berating myself, living in an apartment shared with strangers who were also filthy. Then I moved out, and my apartment looked fantastic. And I stopped berating myself and started feeling 100% better.
You are never going to make him better, and he has already told you how he’s going to act about your attempts to tell him that his living situation is untenable for you. He is going to be mean, give you the silent treatment, AND STILL CLEAN NOTHING.
All unwitting, he has given you an AWESOME GIFT by refusing to speak to you. Take the gift, run away, and find a man who knows how to clean.
I was in hell for thirteen years. You have an opportunity here to save yourself. Please take it.
Wow, this is the best advice ever from someone who has lived your possible future, LW. I hope you take this advice. And, Novel DeVice, I am sorry for your 13 years of hell but glad you have discovered yourself to be a very tidy person.
It’s okay. I’m pleased to be out of the situation. I have a fantastic boyfriend who cleans and brings me breakfast in bed and compliments me.
This…this is my life, right now. I’m at the give-up stage, where scrubbing dried chocolate syrup off the floor at 11pm is easier than confronting the shame and self-loathing and anger and despair. It’s the “ok dear, you slide that plate full of chicken bones under the dust ruffle of the bed. I’ll find them eventually!” stage.
LW, you don’t want to be here. The Cinderella story is bullshit; you *don’t* get to be the princess if you sweep all the ashes.
@noveldevice, thanks for letting me know I’m not the only one. I’m sorry you had a rough time, and I’m so, so pleased that it’s better for you now.
Hey. I have my own horrible stories like that, so many of them. It’s better because he’s dead, because I couldn’t bring myself to leave him while he was alive. I was working myself around to it but he died first. I had already moved out.
The give-up stage is totally a thing, and it’s kind of the worst thing because you’re like “how is this my life? How is this the thing that my options have narrowed to?”
You know you don’t have to stay. I give you permission to leave.
I’m so sorry. That sounds incredibly hard.
I hope you find a way for things to be better for you.
LW, just let this fish go. There are other fish in the sea. You’ve only invested six months. Plus, he lives far away, so just cut all ties. There are too many strikes against this relationship. It’s only been six months, and you already feel disrespected and ignored. You suggested that he get help with his issues. That’s all you should do. Don’t make his problems your problems.
What the Captain said.
should I give him more time? If so how much time is enough?
Time by itself doesn’t do anything but let you get a better assessment of things, and it sounds like you’ve got a pretty good assessment for your needs right now.
If you want things to change, you need time plus something else. You need time plus external supports like counselors or organizers, you need time plus external pressures like health & safety inspectors or the threat of losing a relationship.
“Safe & comfortable” are my baseline standards for interpersonal interactions. If someone says “I feel uncomfortable” in response to something I’ve said or done, that’s a red flag that I need to stop, apologize and/or reverse course. Even more so if they say they feel unsafe.
LW, you said to this person that you felt uncomfortable, and got a non-response. Not an apology, not an explanation, not an attempt to soothe you or ease your anxieties, but a non-response, an indifference towards your distress. For me, that’s reason enough to bail, and I don’t believe you owe this person any explanation. What conclusion would they jump to? “It’s because my house is so messy”? Well, that would be true. “It’s because they’ve got trauma”? That would be a deflection they would believe regardless of if it were true.
Saddle up the Nopetopus and ride on out.
“If you want things to change, you need time plus something else. You need time plus external supports like counselors or organizers, you need time plus external pressures like health & safety inspectors or the threat of losing a relationship.”
Said so well!
If things are going to change, I don’t think it’s the LW who needs time plus all those things. I think it’s the guy who needs time plus all those things.
And since the guy’s given zero indication of wanting to use time to make changes, I am concurring that yes, the Nopetopus is calling.
LW: He invited you over and brushed off your concerns about sharing a house with mice and bugs for nearly a month, and is now doing the passive-aggressive sulk dance.
You mentioned you’ve been together six months – that means you started the relationship in August. Imagine what a summer visit would be like in his place, with lack of cleanliness and bugs and mice and summer heat. Imagine not needing to wait around to see whether your summer will involve dealing with that.
Run. Run away.
No electricity, paths forming through the hoard, no kitchen access(?!) and uncontrolled vermin doesn’t seem borderline to me. It seems like a severe problem.
On top of that, him wanting the problem to be located in your head is such a bad sign…it’s not even that he wants you to fix it, he wants you to change so it’s not a problem. I mean, if he were saying “If you think it’s messy you clean it up,” that would be very unpleasant, but still more hopeful than “Stop seeing a problem here.”
Yeah. Run. You don’t have to get into why.
It scares me how many of these gaslighting letters I see on CA and elsewhere. Is this a deeply ingrained part of patriarchal culture…? It also scares me when I read these kind of letters how long I stayed in my last relationship beyond the point (like here, for this LW) when clearly I should have got on that bus with Gus. I remember at one point being in a room with my ex and the world’s most incompetent couples therapists, being told by all three of them that my having a problem with him and his friends smoking pot in our house after promising not to do so (I am a recovered addict) was an over-reaction due to ‘my history’. I left him (a year later) when he told me that it wasn’t him who had the problem with gambling, drugs, illegal behaviour, lying etc etc, it was my problem for being ‘intolerant’. That his friends ‘couldn’t understand how he didn’t mind that I didn’t drink.’ Ergo, ‘it’s not my problem I’m an addict, it’s yours for being in recovery.’ Leaving was still heartbreaking and I’m only five months down the line and still angry and sad, but at least I’m not losing my mind
I was just going to post about how it seems like many of the letters to CA stem from women being socialized to always be nice/helpful…often to our clear harm.
I’m interested in what comes after, “I’m sorry, but,” because only then am I hearing the speaker’s truth.
Mmmhmm. That bugs the crap out of me, as well, that we’re socialized to never offer our opinion, etc.
Gaslighting relies on the gaslighter having more presumptive authority to define meaning/reality than the target. Without that preexisting power differential, there’s no way to convince someone else that their experiences are wrong and one’s own narrative is right. So gaslighting operates along the existing patterns of power within a society. In patriarchal societies, it operates along gender lines (in addition to the more personal examples we see on CA, there are institutional cases like the cultural narratives “women are crazy” or “women are emotional”, undercutting the experiential narratives of ALL women collectively). In plutocratic societies, it operates along economic class lines (for example, selling people on trickle-down economics – and even capitalism generally – was a successful gaslighting project on a national and even international scale; we see individualized examples like wealthier people berating poorer people to manage their money better when in reality being poor is more expensive than being rich thanks to institutional problems). In racist societies, it operates along racial lines (examples are people internalizing negative stereotypes about their racial group that are defined by the racially privileged group; institutional narratives disparaging the intelligence of marginalized racial groups are extremely common). Etc. We actually have lots and lots of cases of women gaslighting men, but that depends on some other kind of power differential – here I think we most often see such cases when it’s female family members with more power or status gaslighting male family members with less (who may also be legal/material dependents in the case of children or other legal wards – that’s a HUGE power differential). Between otherwise-socially-equal partners, we’re likely to mostly see men gaslighting women, but we’ll also see cases of women gaslighting men who, for example, have mental illnesses or are otherwise neuroatypical, as such conditions can make it more difficult to trust one’s own experiences over someone else’s narrative.
Anyway, you’re totally right about it being part of patriarchy; it’s also part of a whole bunch of other aspects of kyriarchy.
This is such a great explanation. Thanks for laying it out so clearly. I will definitely be referencing your comment the next time I attempt to explain gaslighting to someone!
Very nicely put! Thank you!
The intense anger I felt at reading how your boyfriend treated you… I cannot put it into words. He was wrong. His friends were wrong. That damn quack of a doctor was wrong.
It is not at all unreasonable to not want to be around illegal substances.
It is not at all unreasonable to not want to be around your addiction triggers.
You were 100% right. It would be one thing if you had asked him to help you ease slowly, very slowly, into being around it again until you can handle, but that isn’t what happened. I’m so sorry he, his friends, and that damn therapist all did that to you. You were right and didn’t deserve that.
There are some therapists I think could be effectively replaced by a purring cat. This one could be replaced by a rock and their clients would be better off for it. They’re supposed to support people in recovery who are trying to stay clear of drugs, holy crap. SmudgelySmythe, I’m so glad you’re out of there.
One therapist I saw actually did have her cat attend the sessions when she was working with me. She was not that highly qualified but I think she was one of the best therapists I have seen. Her cat was brilliant too. He was enormously helpful.
I just want to say that as someone who has worked in addiction recovery, boooooo on the therapists. We always would encourage family support /sideeye any SO who refused to stop keeping (alcohol, other substances, etc) around in the face of their SO being in recovery. Gently in person, in private it was like “What the @#$@#$@#”
From some of the stories I read I feel like couples therapists are designed to see EVERYTHING as some kind of compromise between two people, even when it really shouldn’t be? Bah.
Overall I felt disrespected, confused, and disgusted.
LW, if that is your overall impression from your stay with this person, then the hoarding issue is almost incidental. I don’t think you should invest more time in a relationship that engenders these feelings.
This person could have the cleanest, most sparkling house in the land, and I’d still advise you to walk away if you were feeling disrespected, confused, and disgusted. In a healthy relationship, you would not be feeling those things, or, if you did, you would be able to discuss them with your partner and feel heard and respected.
This past Christmas I put on my stubborn person boots and told certain relatives that the only way we would be doing Christmas as a group was if it was at my place. They didn’t like this. They wanted it as theirs. Fair enough said I. Have it at yours. But I won’t be attending. I’ll have Christmas at mine with you or without you. But I’m not going to yours for Christmas.
So I’m now both a meanie and making completely irrelevant statements on this thread. Well not entirely. You see the last time I went to their house i scrapped my leg on a poorly placed piece of furniture walking into the living space, after having to shuffle through boxes in the hall, and then needing to wait for a place to be cleared before I could sit because there wasn’t anywhere clear. This relative might not be a hoarder but they managed to move house and not unpack from the moving in…a while, and while their space functions, I find it deeply difficult (from a practical point of view and an emotional one) to be in. I can’t stand the chaos. I can’t stand the lack of letting me help when I am over there. I can’t stand the comments of how of course it’s not better they have no help.
There was no way in hell I was spending Christmas Day – a day where there’s lots of bustling and moving and cooking – in a claustrophobic, untidy space with no room to move where getting to the other side of the house makes me feel like Bear Grylls.
You DO NOT have to put up with being in other peoples crappy unkempt spaces. You DO NOT have to put up with their excuses and deflections and complete lack of understanding (or caring) about your needs to be able to oh, I don’t know, MOVE PHYSICALLY WITHIN A LIVING SPACE. if it makes your feel heeby jeeby ish (and it sounds completely reasonable given your description which, fwiw, when you loose access to whole rooms and have more than a minor vermin issue I would class as hoarding of the non boarderline variety), you can make the choice to never go back.
This kind of poor space keeping goes hand in hand with a lot of crap. And you are not required to be a saint while they take (years at least for something that far gone) time to recover and improve. And think about this as well – if you did hold on, past the disrespect for your needs, past the passive aggressive sh**, past the “you’re the one with a problem for having a body which needs to move in physical space omg”, think about what this relationship would mean for too long time. That living space. That living space would be yours to deal with, one way or another. Either you would be constantly trying to maintain a decent space or you’d have that. For possibly ever. Seriously, watch hoarders. Most of them find it extremely difficult to let go of any of it. One episode featured a family where the wide fell down stairs and broke a bone because of the mess, and that STILL wasn’t a catalyst for change.
May you find your way through this whatever you decide.
I really like CW’s advice that his silence and lack of contact is actually a good thing. And as you said: “I only know that he’s alive bc of his social media postings…” Sounds to me like y’all are already be broken up! Like CW said, you don’t actually have to “do” anything except inform him if he contacts you. If he doesn’t contact you, so much the better.
Exactly. Stonewalls make lovely borders to build your garden against.
I have to second everything the Captain has said here. I speak as someone who was too naive to see the warning signs you have described here and as a result did *not* nope out. Although I love my partner very much, the hoarding has been a real nightmare, and it is my number one life stressor.
I’m so sorry.
I want you to know that a comment you wrote about your late husband, maybe it was a couple of years ago now, really helped me. It helped me to feel less alone. It helped me to see that I was not miserable and isolated by this because something was wrong with me, but because *he* has a problem. It just *helped* me.
My partner’s hoarding is similar to what you described with your husband: less collecting of things, and more “garbage everywhere and a general refusal to clean anything.”
For some reason, the comment you left was the thing that turned a switch in me and made me start talking to people about this thing that I had hidden before. I always felt responsible for hiding his hoarding, for protecting him from the consequences, and for protecting ME from the embarrassment of having a partner who was a hoarder and living in a hoarder house. Now that I have stopped hiding it, that’s a huge weight off me.
I was very cluttered when we first got together, so for years he blamed me for the hoard and mess. But I moved out for a few years and found that like you, when I’m not surrounded by messes I cannot possibly clean, and also living with someone who is always making more and more of them, I have a clean house.
I’m actually in tears right now thinking about how much it meant to me to see your post and know I wasn’t alone. People in communities to talk about hoarding routinely tell me that my partner is not a hoarder because what he hoards is trash, and the way he hoards it is by refusing to throw it away. So I don’t really get support there.
Thank you. I’m grateful.
I’m so glad. I am really so so glad. It took a lot of courage for me to start talking about it, but if it helped you to see you aren’t the problem, it was definitely worth it. 🙂 I too felt so isolated and so alone and so *defective*, like how could I have let this happen, but the truth is, the non-hoarding partner is NEVER to blame. I too have seen how people with hoarding disorders have started sorting themselves into “good” hoarders and “bad” hoarders, and that really doesn’t help anything except how the “good” hoarders feel about themselves.
If you ever want to talk, let me know–we can connect on some other platform.
I went to an online hoarding support group and several people suggested that I am somehow to blame for his hoarding. They said things like that I should be cleaner to “set a good example” for him. It was so disheartening and hurtful and frankly misogynist.
I would actually LOVE to talk because there was more I wanted to tell you but not publicly. But even if you don’t want to connect elsewhere, it was really important that I let you know somehow that your comment really helped me.
Do you have twitter? If you do, you can find me at this username. 🙂
And if not, there are other ways! I just don’t want to be too open about contact methods in a visible place! 🙂
Assuming the trauma he was referring to was yours, LW, I find that to be a particularly unhelpful response on his part. Because, even if it were true that you reacted in that way for that reason, that’s effectively saying “Oh, something in my home environment reminds you of your terrifying past experience? Well, tough, because my house is TOTALLY NORMAL.” Even if his home environment were pristine, if it did genuinely cause an issue in that way then surely the appropriate thing to do would be to see if a compromise could be reached that wouldn’t be triggering for you; or at the very least, not to invalidate your feelings about it. So, even though I’m wholly unconvinced that your dislike of his mouse-and-bug house is a response to trauma, I’m more concerned about the fact that his response to you experiencing any feelings regarding to trauma would apparently be ‘meh’.
My gut suspicion is that he also blames the LW for their trauma. As in, “The state of my house is only a problem for you because of your trauma, which you would get over if you really wanted to because it’s all in your head, just like your problems with the state of my house.” It’s possible I’m wrong and being uncharitable, but that’s a little how the LW’s description read for me.
“Overall I felt disrespected, confused, and disgusted.”
LW, you’re six months in. Six months is still in the early phases, when you two should be cooing and making googly-eyes at one another. He should still be trying to impress you, not head-tripping you with implications that you’re Kardashian levels of high maintenance for wanting a path to the bathroom and a vermin-free house.
If you feel disrespected and disgusted at six months, it won’t get any better. It just won’t.
I want to second what the Captain and other commenters have said about the cultural narrative that relationships are hard, and breaking up being a last resort only once you’ve dutifully checked off all the “tried everything” boxes. You can leave at any time, for any reason, without being a “bad” person. But even if leaving did somehow make you “bad,” (it doesn’t), what is the reward for being “good”? A weird, sad relationship with someone who both expects you to pick up after him and berates you for doing so? Staying in a place where you feel gross and unsafe? With someone who disrespects you?
I was stuck in that cultural narrative about trying Every Last Thing because Marriage is Hard Work, and I finally got out when I said to my (grown-ass, chronically unemployed) ex-husband “I don’t care what I promised, I can’t live like this anymore.”
And I left. And i wasn’t a “bad” person, and my life is so much better now. So much better, in fact, that if I had to live with being the world’s worst person every day for the rest of my life, I would still have left him.
LW, there are no cookies or free airline miles for “good people” who Try Their Hardest and know that Love is Hard Work. At the end of the day, there’s just… more hard work.
Let me not just second that whole-heartedly, but extend it a bit. You’re entitled to leave even if you can’t explain why to the other person’s satisfaction, even if you can’t even explain it clearly to your own self (which is often the case when you’re perceiving a lack, rather than reacting to an aggressive action). Feeling icky is all the justification you need. No, just not feeling ecstatic is all the justification you ever need. Relationships need to be joyful. Then you can also work at them, occasionally painfully if necessary, as long as the base feeling remains joy.
(yes, this is me talking to my 18-year-old self, why do you ask :-)?)
But now that I’m older, I also see that hoarding is often a lifelong problem, that gets much worse with age. So LW I too urge you to run, chances are it can get much worse, even if you can’t imagine it.
My thinking exactly.
The hoarding issue is bad enough, but the fact that he doesn’t care! is the biggest red flag to me.
Adding my voice to the chorus:
– he’s not ‘borderline’ hoarding. He has limited access to his living space and it’s not just temporary _and getting rapidly better_. That’s hoarding.
– mice can happen to people living in old houses (the apartment I had next to a stable was the worst, much as I like horses); but so can mousetraps and meticulous mouse-protocol living (food only in sturdy, sealed containers; surfaces kept meticulously clean; frequent vacuuming under furniture…)
– disrespected, confused, disgusted: nope. NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE.
– gaslighting is all the nope with a side order of GET OUT OF THERE.
– it sounds as if he’s broken up with you already; take this gift and move on
There are many different ways in which clutter problems manifest, and many different reasons for them, but not attempting to keep minimum standards of cleanliness (food, animal waste, vermin control) are a dealbreaker, because anyone who does not acknowledge those things as problems needs more support than you can give them. Best of luck.
LW, you say that you felt “disgusted” by this visit, and much better when you got home–right there, that is a sign that there should be no more visits to this guy’s house. Disgust is a short trip away from contempt (dictionary.com defines contempt as “disapproval tinged with disgust”). Contempt is the death knell of any relationship, romantic or otherwise. You can’t be in a relationship with someone you don’t respect, and who clearly does not respect you. Whether it’s due to mental health issues or something else, cleanliness is not something that dude is able to provide for himself or his house guests, and the fact that he blew you off when you said you were uncomfortable, made it about your trauma (WTF?), and decided to passive aggressively snark at you on social media after you left, says that he does not have the mental maturity to handle being in a relationship, where BOTH PEOPLE MATTER. After visiting for only a short time, you came home and, no doubt, breathed a gigantic sigh of relief to be out of his mess of a home and into a clean, well-ordered space. You were relieved to be out of his house. Clean, well-ordered spaces clearly matter to you. Being in a relationship with someone who doesn’t care if you are uncomfortable and isn’t capable of having a mature, level-headed discussion about it, is a level of hell bordering on abuse. Let this dude and his mess go. Send the Captain’s script for a final email, block him on the Book of Face or wherever you see him online, and enjoy your clean, sanitary living space.
“LW, you say that you felt “disgusted” by this visit, and much better when you got home–right there, that is a sign that there should be no more visits to this guy’s house.”
I second this completely. In my mind, he’s have to perform a pretty huge turnaround in behavior and stick with it for an extended period of time before I’d even CONSIDER moving in with him at any point. (And by “extended,” I mean probably like another 4+ months at least.) Feeling relief at being away from a loved one is not really a good sign.
You are a kinder person than I. I would never move in with him, EVER, regardless of progress, because my threshold for cleanliness is in a different orbit than this dude, and I would inevitably be the one doing all the cleaning before it even registered in his head that it needed to be done. If his current behavior is anything to go by, this guy does not handle conflict well at all and acts like a total jerk when someone states their needs and boundaries. There’s nothing here worth trying to salvage.
Yeah, she should definitely not move in with this guy. Chances of it getting better are very slim.
So much love for dictionary use!!! There’s way more power in this, than is revealed at first glimpse.
Oh this one is hard for me. I’m coming up on the second anniversary of my sister telling me that her husband — a lovely, lovely and profoundly damaged man — is a hoarder, and begging me and our brother for mutual help to get her and her kids (then 2-1/2 and 6 months) away from him and to safety. He always had these tendencies. Becoming the stay-at-home parent for the children — one of THE toughest jobs I can imagine — completely knocked him for a loop. My brother and I had to enter the house, while they were away, to retrieve clothes and childcare items, and then meet her at a distant location with the kids. That house … oh my god, that house. I wept at the thought of my sister, and my niece and nephew living in that.
They are back together again. She tells me he is “better.” But she lives hundreds of miles away from family, and none of us can just drop by to check.
This. Will. Not. End. Well.
End it now, before you are in even deeper. You cannot carry the weight of his illness for him.
It’s only six months in. Please consider breaking up.
I say this because you’re describing incompatibility.
Yes, he’s a nice fellow.
Yes, you like him.
Even so, you’re not required to stay where you’re unhappy.
My LDR boyfriend has depression, which also means that he has problems cleaning his living space. It’s somewhere between “the bathroom is okay, the kitchen could be cleaned sometime soon” and “all the dishes are molding happily in the sink and the toilet hasn’t been cleaned since last christmas”. Due to health conditions, bad experiences and personal preferences, I have some standards how clean an appartment has to be that I don’t feel terrible in it.
This is how we/he handle(s) it:
– we talked about standards, problems, and what part of the appertment is a priority when I’m visiting and he has not enough energy for all.
– when he can’t clean enough before I visit, he calls me and updates me on the status of filth.
– he apologizes when it’s “borderline terrible”
– he makes it clear to me when it’s so filthy that I would suffer from it and we arrange some other place where I can sleep (Best Friend lives in the same city). Means that I often sleep somewhere else.
– when I’m there and it’s “almost okay”, I ask him to please hoover/take the trash out/whatever makes it more comfortable and he *just does it*.
While we plan to live in the same city sometime in the future, we don’t plan to move together (which is unrelated to this issue, but makes the cleaning issue more acceptable for me.)
While the discussions about this problem were shame-filled and complicated, he never accused me of being unreasonable and he always knew that it is a problem which is his to solve.
TL;DR: LW, your boyfriend might be a hoarder, but the bigger problem is that he is an ass about it.
I’m sorry LW, as others have said above, the hoarding is one thing but the utter disregard for your feelings is the big red flag here. You were uncomfortable in a space he controls and not only didn’t he care to do anything about it, he blamed you for it. I don’t think there’s anything there you can work with. You shouldn’t have to ask a partner to respect you. You shouldn’t have to ask ANYONE to respect you. You’ve only been together six months, you’ve been long distance. This should be the honeymoon phase, where you guys woo each other. Imagine he had come to visit your space and something made him uncomfortable, what would you do? You deserve better.
I’m not clear if you are considering giving him time to work on his hoarding or to work on his treating people with respect. Maybe he can do that on his own time and not at your emotional expense.
Scanning the other comments, I’m amazed no one has linked this https://captainawkward.com/2012/07/23/309-310-the-broken-record/
TLDR of link: LEAVE THE HOARD, IT’S OKAY TO LEAVE THE HOARD
I kind of get making an effort to ‘get through things’ with someone you’ve married or otherwise made a deliberate decision to be with long-term. Not an infinite amount of effort, there are always limits, but a certain amount, yeah. I don’t really get it for someone you’ve been getting to know and, as far as I understand, _haven’t_ made any committment to at all.
It’s weird, I occasionally feel like I see a phenomenon where, as marriage gets less near-universal as a marker for ‘when you’ve crossed a line from getting to know each other but not being family, into being family and having a certain level of committment to each other,’ (which obviously didn’t work for every couple) sometimes people seem to feel like they need to treat dating like we used to treat marriage, like they’re no longer sure when they’ve crossed that ‘line’. But you haven’t made solemn vows to each other. Some of the point of dating can be to figure out if you _want_ to choose a long-term relationship with someone.
There are lots of benefits to having less strict and universal social mores and fewer scripts to follow, but it does mean you may have to think more consciously about what you want your relationships to mean to you, since there’s less of an ‘automatic’ path or script.
Hoarding and squalor can be signs of/comorbid with a whole lot of issues, including but not limited to: something busted in the prioritization part of the brain, anxiety due to a deprived past, depression, narcissism, and having been raised by wolves.
Blaming you for not being able to put up with hoarding and squalor is a sign of only one thing: Not. A. Keeper.
I’m told one of the more common comorbid things is OCD – both because hoarding is a type of compulsive behavior, and because OCD (or at least perfectionism) tends to lead to the “I can’t do it perfectly so why even try” mentality.
But yeah, being a jerk to you about it: caused by being a jerk.
I knew I’d forgotten at least one common comorbidity! Thanks!
This whole entire thread makes my heart sing. Like so very many of us, I’m in a relationship that’s just not quite working for me. He’s a great guy! In many ways! Important ways!
And yet, there are dealbreakers. I knew they were dealbreakers, and they weren’t likely to change, but… insert social fallacies here. Relationships take work. Sunk cost fallacy. I will never find another so wonderful. You guys know them all.
I’ve been edging closer and closer to breaking up with him for a couple of months, and this weekend (that’ll be the next time I see him) I’m gonna do it. It’s going to be painful and sad and terrible, and also liberating. There is real love and trust and respect on both sides, but overall the relationship makes me feel sad and lonely and resentful, and I don’t have to stick with something that makes me feel all that.
Next week I’ll be free. Lonely, but free. Thank you all.
Good luck! Break-ups can be pretty tough, but when I have been in similar straits, I found breaking up INCREDIBLY freeing. I hope you have the same experience, and that your break-up proceeds as kindly and respectfully as possible.
Thank you. I appreciate your kind words. : )
I wish I’d realized during my last relationship that it was ok to walk away even though nothing horrible had happened. I might have saved both of us some time and some sadness.
I’ve only ever watched one or two episodes of “Hoarding: Buried Alive”, because it was an uncomfortable show to sit through. If there was one thing it taught me, though, it’s that hoarding is very difficult behaviour to change or live with. Hoarders often take several interventions before they change and some never do. This is a serious problem, don’t feel that it’s up to you to fix him. You’ve only invested six months in the relationship, drop it now before you get in deeper.
The TV show isn’t exactly representative (and the way they do interventions is really not effective), but yeah, hoarding is a beast of an illness and it’s exceptionally hard on anyone else who lives in the house if it’s uncontrolled. Even if the hoarder acknowledges the problem and isn’t a jerk about it, which this guy… not so much.
I’ve watched all of both Hoarders and Hoarding. I find them both really good to watch–though the A&E show is better than the TLC one–because they keep me from feeling alone in my experience of being the spouse of a hoarder. It became easier for me to say “this is not okay” when I saw it happening to other people and thought “wow, that’s totally not okay!” The nature of hoarding behaviours is that they are very, very secret and so it’s difficult to feel any other way than isolated in your particular misery. When you see that other people have had their hoarder spouses say the same things to them that yours said to you, and hear how stupid and hateful those things are when you’re not the target…wow. What an amazing feeling, to not be alone. To not be the one with the problem.
Yes. There’s a lot of problems with making people’s mental illness the subject of reality TV, but it is really, really helpful for that. I am glad you don’t feel alone.
Well, I also feel a lot better because I am out of that situation, but it really helped in the years when I was processing to have something there that documented a hell that turned out not to be my very own special one. 🙂
This early in a relationship, things are going to go downhill, not uphill. People present their best face for the honeymoon stage, and long-distance relationships by their nature of distance and relative intermittence are more honeymoony than “regular” relationships.
Maybe you being upset on this visit will be the wake-up call he needs to get help for whatever is causing the hoarding behavior. Stranger things have happened. But I tend to feel like there are too many amazing people out there in the world, and life is too short, to waste time on “maybe the things I can’t control about this person and this relationship will get better”. Because: they probably won’t.
There were bugs in the kitchen? Bugs in the bedroom?
Were steps being taken to take care of that, and prevent recurrence?
Hoarder friend can be a wonderful and loving person, there must have been a reason you hooked up once, but expecting someone to live with bugs is not wonderful and loving*, even without any other red flags in the OP.
If you stay with this person, will you forever have bugs in your life? Color me gone.
* Professional bug-studiers are different. Entomologists are too careful of their precious specimens to let them run around where they can get stepped on.
Yeah- having mental health concerns or trauma related unhealthy coping mechanisms does not render you unlovable, but it does sometimes mean you have work to do before you can be a good partner. It can be important to opt out of relationships for a while to focus on yourself. I do this all the time! It’s also fine to acknowledge that no one is 100% emotionally healthy and perfectly worked out, and being in a relationship sometimes means stepping lightly around certain situations or supporting your partner with their issues and traumas. The deciding factors on that for me are:
A) Does my partner see that there is a problem they have to work on? Are they taking responsibility for its negative effects and taking steps to manage/resolve the issue, or are they denying that there’s a problem/claiming that there’s nothing they can do about it and if I loved them I would understand/wanting me to assuage their guilt and bad-feelings around it over and over?
B) Am I getting more good than bad out of this relationship? Are my needs being met? If not, if there a timetable for when they will be that I’m comfortable with? “I’m being extra supportive this month while partner changes medications” is different to “I live with an untenable situation because partner can’t be expected to xyz.”
LW, your partner is failing pretty hard on both these accounts. You had a totally reasonable concern, he took it really badly, and now he’s giving you the silent treatment while vague-blogging about it. Time isn’t going to do anything for someone who doesn’t want to change, and if this is an indicator of how he deals with disagreements, you’ve got more issues than the hoarding. I’m with the Captain, the commenters, and your first instincts here- nope!
This was why my relationship ended two weeks ago, although in a messy fashion (I got dumped by email by my 35yo ex after being together for nine months). He has untreated anxiety and perhaps depression, and is overwhelmed and stressed by his career. But he was failing on both accounts listed above as well: the email dumping me listed “I really feel you’ve been upset with me the last few times we’ve gotten together and now I’m anxious about spending time with you, and I really don’t like feeling that way” as a reason, even though 1) I wasn’t upset and 2) we’d just had a talk about how to improve communication with each other three weeks prior, and if he’d just ASKED things would have been resolved.
The entire thing had started because I told him I was hurt when he abruptly canceled what I’d thought would be our first holiday together because he didn’t feel up to “social stuff.” At its root, it was a misunderstanding, but it also revealed huge communication issues, which is why we had the talk later. I also pointed out how I didn’t feel like a priority, because he’d spent earlier days with friends, and I’d been looking forward to spending more time with him, since we’d been together for a while and still only seeing each other one night a week. (He’s a fifteen minute drive away, and works in my town.)
My ex beat me to the punch, but I think if things had kept on going like this, I would have left. I’d been bending over backwards to accommodate his needs in the past few months, and making myself smaller so that he could be more comfortable. And he couldn’t even be bothered to uphold his end of the agreement to communicate with me!
The wound is still raw. I’m barely functioning, walking around feeling like I’ve got punched in the chest. But I think this was for the best–I told him to get treatment, but I don’t know if he’s going to change, especially at his age and with the anxiety going untreated for goodness knows how long.
I dated that guy. I asked myself the same questions at six months. Instead of asking the Captain for advice, I dug in, I worked on all that I could work on. I could not fix the relationship. I could not fix him. Things got worse. He become more passive aggressive. I learned more about the depths of his hoarding and mental illness. I broke up after one year. I wish I had pulled the plug after 6 months.
While your story may not be mine, the Captain is right in that dating is often for determining compatibility. He has shown you who he is. Please believe him. If you are qualified to help him, it’s not as a romantic partner.
Please, please, please: run away.
I married a hoarder several decades ago. Back then I didn’t even know what hoarding was. I had no clue that what I saw was what I’d get for the rest of my life. (She was finishing up a very demanding grad school program and I told myself she’d start living “normally” once she graduated.) A decade and three kids later I was describing her behavior in an e-mail to an old friend and he suggested I read up about hoarding… that was the first time I realized what was really going on with my wife.
It has been a nightmare for me and for our children. I stayed with her because I was afraid she’d get the kids if we divorced. But the price the kids and I have paid has been terrible. I’m depressed and beaten down – and isolated, too, as I am too ashamed of her filth and her piles to want to invite anyone over to our home. For the most part, too, the kids do not invite friends over. I assume it is because they are ashamed of their mother’s hoarding; maybe they are also ashamed that their father puts up with it, too.
If I have any guts left I will move out once our youngest child leaves home – and leave my wife to enjoy her piles by herself. (She behaves as if her piles are much more important to her that anyone else. I guess that is part of her illness.)
Please, original poster, don’t let yourself in for a life with a hoarder. Run away now.
Hey, I’ve been there, but we didn’t have kids. I’m so sorry you’re going through this. If the youngest is of an age where they will get a choice in who they stay with, maybe think about leaving now. You could also start documenting the hoard–if the children’s access to beds, clean clothes, bathroom, and kitchen facilities is compromised you can probably make a very good case that the kids will be better off with you. This would be something to talk about with your lawyer. You should get a lawyer.
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