#846: A romantic partner is not a pacifier, part II.

Dear Captain,

I’m in an extremely delicate situation that I don’t know how to navigate – I hope you can help me.

About a year and a half ago, I realized I was neither in love with nor physically attracted to my boyfriend any more, but being afraid I’d hurt him, I put off breaking up with him for another six months. By the time I mustered up the courage to talk to him about this, feelings had been hurt, he had got depressed and failed his thesis twice. He told me that I needed to stay in the relationship for another semester until he tries to graduate again, to undo the damage I had done, otherwise his life would be ruined. Knowing that I had made a terrible mistake by stringing him along, I agreed to it, but I now really wish I hadn’t, because the mess is bigger than ever. (Since I’m no longer attracted to him, sex feels bad and I turn cold whenever he touches me, which he is upset about and we argue all the time; I’m emotionally distant but he wants me to be loving and supportive, and while I’m nice and generally friendly towards him, it’s clearly not enough, etc.) The current situation is terrible for both of us, but especially for him – he’s going to fail his thesis again due to my insufficient support, he’s worse off emotionally because, as he said, “my life was fine until you entered it – now the train has gone off the rails and everyone on it is dead”. His career-to.be is the only thing he’s good at carreer-wise, and now I’ve taken that away from him. Had I known this was going to happen, I’d not have hesitated about the breakup.

I still care about him, and I don’t want his life ruined, but I don’t love him as a girlfriend any more, and I feel like pretending just hurts us. On the other hand, he insists I should stay and try harder. He doesn’t accept it when I say that I’m no longer attracted to him – I should either get into specifics / “be honest and say the real reason”, or it’s only a “politically correct bullshit excuse”. (I feel like we are not compatible emotionally, and my feelings have changed towards him – that is all to it.)

Captain, what is the right thing to do? I don’t want to bail on him because he does need help, and I want him to have a good life. On the other hand, this relationship is becoming extremely toxic (to which we both contribute), and I’m scared this thing will end with him dead/ruined. I feel like the honest thing to do would be breaking up and offering my help as a friend, but I’m afraid he won’t accept that because I haven’t paid him back for my past mistakes. I’m also the only person in his life – I have read your post about this kind of situation, but I feel like it doesn’t apply here because I’m at serious fault in creating this mess.

How do I “unruin” his life? How do I help him without draining him at the same time? How do I give him a reason to end a relationship that he can accept? Please, help me. I regret having been a coward so much.

Train Wreck

Dear “Train Wreck,”

Your boyfriend has spun a story where you are the remedy for all his ills (but also the cause of them?). There is no way you can win this paradox he’s set up for you and himself. I hope that you can get to a space where you can no longer hear his voice. Talk to friends. Talk to a counselor. Talk to your family. Do what you can to get physically away from him and block all forms of communication with him. Talk to anyone BUT him about this.

Your boyfriend’s repeated academic failures are not your fault. Maybe he keeps failing his thesis because he is not good at his chosen field. Maybe he needs to study more, or consult his advisors, or hire a tutor. Not your fault and not your problem. I mean, look at it this way – he got you to stay because he was convinced that it would help him pass this time, but he still didn’t pass. His faulty logic was proved to be faulty. EXPERIMENT OVER. DO NOT REPEAT. ABORT.

You don’t have to keep reluctantly fucking him or reluctantly shoring up his ego or reluctantly being his partner. You don’t have to “pay him back” for “your past mistakes.” He needs to figure out his own life, without you. You are not helping him by staying. He needs space from you to build his life, even if he doesn’t think so. If you need to see this as you still taking care of him somehow, maybe that will convince you.

The relationship is over when you (& you alone) decide that it is. You don’t have to give him “a reason that he can accept.” Howabout “I don’t love you anymore.” Howabout “I have decided that it’s over, and I don’t feel like giving you a reason.” Howabout “I find it creepy and awful that you keep trying to keep me here even though you know I want to be gone.” Howabout “stop blaming all your problems on me and actually study and do your work.” Howabout “It’s okay if you hate me and blame me, as long as you leave me the fuck alone.” Howabout “We tried that and it didn’t work and it’s really time for me to go. I wish you well, but I can’t be your partner anymore.

Howabout “Here’s the number for the school counselor (any counselor), please go there. I can’t listen to you talk about this anymore. We are broken up.

I don’t know what I can say to make you believe me.  He is going to force you to ruthless about it, he is going to draw on every bit of your compassion and guilt and every thing that makes you a nice person who once loved him to try to get you to stay, he is going to push you to be a version of yourself that you are not comfortable with, the one who says “NO, AND ALSO FUCK YOU” and runs off screaming into the night, the “mean, selfish” person you swore you never wanted to be. But you can still leave. You can say, Ok, I’m selfish, and we’re still broken up. I’m mean, and we’re still broken up. Everything wrong in your life is my fault for not loving you enough, cool, let’s break up then. You can still kick yourself free. You can leave even if he fails his courses 1,000 more consecutive times. You can “un-ruin” your own life by getting away from him and his life will be what it is, what he makes it. Nobody can do it for you. I can’t convince you.

The power was always with you.









313 thoughts on “#846: A romantic partner is not a pacifier, part II.

  1. LW, if your effect on his life was the problem he had the power to leave you at any time. You are not to blame.

    I hope that you get free and that in a few years he is a distant nightmare rather than a source of guilt.

  2. Oh my… LW I had an experience similar to yours and let me emphasis GET OUT NOW, don’t care how you do it GET OUT NOW. This is classic manipulation and abusive as hell. I think once you get some space and start getting your life back together you will see just HOW manipulative and shitty this was of him.

    I met my ex online, he moved to my city and while we were good friends I never felt any romantic attraction to him and he would not accept this. And you know how that ended up? With a restraining order because he would not let me break up with him and kept saying, ‘I won’t let you push me away’ and ‘Well, you HAVE to feel something for me, we dated didn’t we?’ and not only that but immediately after I broke up with him he demanded a TWO PAGE ESSAY detailing why I should break up with him and where he went wrong. I didn’t comply. No reason will be good enough and he will twist your words around to suit him.

    He turned to stalking and even now TEN YEARS LATER he will pop up on my social media lamenting ‘why aren’t we friends??’

    You can’t help him, you can’t make him see differently, you can only take responsibility for yourself and yourself sounds pretty miserable. GET OUT NOW, burn and salt the fields, cut off all contact. I absolutely felt guilt because I was ‘causing him so much pain’ and years later I realize that was bullshit, he was doing it to himself.

    Get out of this relationship, TODAY.


      Just… boggling at how anyone gets to thinking of being in a relationship with them as an academic commitment, with coursework and deadlines. I’m really glad you’re out of that awful situation (and sorry you’re still getting messages from him). I hope the LW can get free too.

      1. At least in my case he was a… benign stalker? He isn’t violent, doesn’t call me horrible names, he just… doesn’t see reality the same way other people do.

        1. That’s actually true of a lot of stalkers, and it doesn’t necessarily make them less scary or malign. I am very glad if you are not too freaked out or bothered by this guy! But a stalker doesn’t have to be obviously violent or nasty to be scary and intimidating, so if you do (or did) feel freaked out by what he was doing, you definitely don’t need to downplay it.

      2. Yes. This is the emotional equivalent of being held hostage by human traffickers who insist you have to “work off” the costs of your smuggling/food/clothing. Your account will never balance. LEAVE.

        1. This is such a brilliant and cutting analogy.

          People write their thesis all the time without your support, LW. If he failed his thesis twice, it’s not on you. (Were you deliberately interrupting him? Did you unplug his computer at a critical juncture? Did you steal his library card? Pour ink all over his reference books? No? Then it’s not on you, and dude who tells you otherwise is a lying liar who lies.)

          He failed his thesis because he didn’t provide good enough work.

          You are not his tutor or his support system. You were his girlfriend, you don’t wanna be his girlfriend because he is making you miserable, and he’s ignoring what you want because of what he wants.


        2. That’s exactly where my brain went too. It’s even got the coerced sex and victim blaming, it’s appalling and abusive.

          ‘Train Wreck’ – get away from him ASAP, because this will never deescalate. He’ll ramp his demands up, the abuse will worsen and, honestly? I don’t know you, but I’m scared for you. You’re being psychologically terrorised and, in my opinion, sexually abused. Please do not blame yourself, this is not your fault. I hope you have somewhere safe you can get to.

          Oh, and always have a friend/family member with you when you go to collect your stuff. Never go alone, never see him alone, be super careful because he cannot be trusted.

      3. I can understand some of the stuff people do to keep you from breaking up with them (Like wanting a reason. You don’t need one beyond “I’m done with this” but I can understand why they think you need a ‘good enough’ reason). An essay though? I can’t figure out how you get to the point of thinking THAT’S a reasonable demand during a breakup.

    2. I was in a similar situation, one that ended with the FBI contacting ME about my rape. The person in question is now in prison for a very long time. As nearly as I can parse it, his affection was not for me, but for his hope of beating his [triggery, harmful, and very illegal paraphilia redacted].

      I will add that I think his pain was genuine, but made much, much worse by my hanging around and trying so hard to be what he thought he needed— when what he really needed was exactly what I needed, my complete and utter absence in his life.

      LW, Devicat26, and all commenters who have been there, my sympathy. This is such a shitty position to be in, the more so because you got there from a place of compassion. My Jedi hugs are weird and awkward, but if you want, I will Jedi put-away-your-laundry.

    3. TWO PAGE ESSAY????

      …how about FUCK and YOU in 200 point font, one on each page???

      …Sorry, I should not make light of a truly awful situation but OH MY GOD my brain cannot compute, holy shit. I’m glad you are out and safe now!

      1. Oh no, that’s why I included it was because of how ludicrous it was. I actually found myself sitting down with a pencil then had a ‘wait, what I am doing?’ moment because I NOPED THE HELL OUT.

        1. I’m so glad you’re out, but at least(?) you win all weird-break-up-demands contests.

          Demanding for a two-page essay detailing why you should break up is probably statutory grounds for breaking up.

      1. In giant Impact font letters in bright red with triple underlining, sent to his printer via wireless every half hour.

    4. “‘Well, you HAVE to feel something for me, we dated didn’t we?’ ”

      “Loathing” didn’t count, huh?

  3. LW, you don’t owe him anything. Everyone makes mistakes; you don’t have to “make up for” them, and him demanding that you do is weird and creepy. Who determines when you’ve “paid him back” enough? I’m guessing it’s him, and that that won’t ever be something you actually manage to do to his satisfaction. He’s getting something out of this, so he has no reason to change the situation.

    He created this situation, especially with his thesis and whatnot. It’s not you. I hope you put yourself first and get away from him.

    1. And while you’re busy “paying him back” you’ll also be racking up more “debt” by not being a “good enough” girlfriend. You will never, ever, ever finish “paying him back”. Your “debt” will only grow, because he’s the one that sets the rules and that’s how he wants it.

      1. Yes! Trying to love someone enough to compensate for inadequate self-love is like trying to pass the speed of light: all the energy in the universe will not get you there: your burden will only increase and you will implode.

      2. Yes! You can’t actually win here, LW. The game is rigged. REPEAT: The game is rigged! The only way to win is to stop playing.

        1. Yes, “Loanshark of Love” needs to be a country song with plenty of twang.

          1. # Mah L-O-A-N-S-H-A-R-K got paid of with interest today.
            Not with L-O-V-E but with a B-A-T
            And a steel-toed boot to his knee.
            Ah looked in his eye
            As he started to cry
            And said:
            Ah never owed you nothing,
            You can’t make me stay
            Love ain’t transactional
            There’s nothin’ there to pay.
            And I walked out the door
            While he rolled on the floor
            A Loanshark of Love no more.

            Or maybe less violently:

            # He thought Ah owed him lovin’
            ‘Cause I loved him no more.
            His mind is like a pretzel
            That Escher would adore.
            This would almost be funny
            If he warn’t such a booooooore.
            He thought Ah owed him lovin’
            ‘Cause I loved him no more.

        2. Besides seconding just about everyone, I’d like to reiterate the warning about being *very, very* careful about birth control (not that he should ever get to sleep with you again). Getting you pregnant, LW, would be a great strategy for keeping you connected to him.

          My best friend is almost done (in legal terms) with her divorce. In the early days, she kept repeating what her Loanshark of Love had told her: “I’m a failure. I can’t keep a job. I ruined his life.” She knew these statements were wrong (respected professional, kept getting hired into better jobs, gave him a home life until she escaped) and tried to sound as if she was just quoting him ironically, but her voice would crack as she said them. Your letter, LW, had me thinking that you were doing the same thing. I hope you don’t believe them entirely.

          After a few weeks, I asked my friend to add the phrase “he claims” every time she repeated one of his criticisms. She resisted, I insisted, and it became a little thing between us like that fortune cookie game where you add “in bed” to every fortune.

          It would have been much easier — fun, in fact — if the phrase we added had been, “the Loanshark of Love claims that . . .” (Or “Mr. Pooproomba claims . . .” ) I suggest you try that, aloud when you can and mentally when he’s near. Repeat as needed until you get the habit of assigning his BS correctly to him and not to yourself. Best wishes.

          1. Sorry, meant previous comment for much later in comments. Would edit its placement if I could.

      3. Yes. And it’s a particularly ridiculous and awful form of “debt” because at least when you go into debt with, say, a bank, and pay interest on it, you got something at the start. But he’s not giving anything. He’s telling you that you owe him for not giving him something (the magical ability to finish his thesis?) earlier.

        It’d be like if you never took out a loan with your bank, but they started direct debiting your account for repayment on your nonexistant loan anyway. It’s not only that you will never, ever pay him back, because he gets to set the interest rate to 1000% compounded hourly if he wants. It’s that he’s charging you 1000% interest compounded hourly on a loan you never even took out.

        1. The place you have to stay until you pay your debt is called prison.

          Best luck, LW.

          1. Succinctly put, Charybdea! LW, you do not need his permission to end the relationship. It’s already over, because you decided you were no longer in a relationship. All done except for hopping on your Nopetopus and noping the hell out of Dodge.

      4. I mean, if nothing else–if he’s right, if LW is a terrible girlfriend, if she’s actually making things worse for him–is this not a reason to accept the breakup?

        Right now dude is sitting there screaming “You gave me food poisoning! You always give me food poisoning! You can never leave my kitchen and never stop cooking!

      5. And now I’ve just got “16 Tons” stuck in my head. No relationship should be summarized by the chorus of “16 Tons.”

    2. Also, LW, in what way had you done something wrong? Your feelings for this person changed and you decided to stop dating him. That is a totally normal and okay thing. It’s sad, but it’s no one’s fault and you have done absolutely nothing wrong. You’ve got nothing to “pay back” (wtf???) and it is seriously so creepy and gross and manipulative that he thinks you owe him anything for not feeling about him how he wants you to feel. This is not a good person; this is not someone with whom you will be able to build a respectful or healthy friendship any time in the next decade, or probably ever. Get far far away from him as soon as you can, and stay gone.

      1. Totally! And even if the LW has done something ‘wrong’ (e.g. if she cheated or some other thing that wasn’t great on her part – it’s not so clear from the letter whether the self blame is because she did something or because the awful boyfriend is telling her it’s her fault) then it STILL doesn’t mean she has to ‘pay back’ anything or that she has to stick around. Even if you fuck up, you still have the right to leave.

  4. LW, please, please leave. A person who shames you into staying to pay them back for past mistakes (wtf?!) is not a safe person, and totally does not understand consent or healthy power dynamics. Reasons are for reasonable people.
    Get free, and then if it’s affordable for you please get yourself some one-on-one time with a counselor because I think this might take some time to untangle, you know?

  5. >> By the time I mustered up the courage to talk to him about this, feelings had been hurt, he had got depressed and failed his thesis twice.

    LW, this means that at some point the relationship wasn’t working for him. He could have chosen to break up with you. He didn’t. You don’t bear sole responsibility for the relationship continuing: at every point, he has also had the option of ending things if the relationship is making life harder and he’s chosen to stay in it.

    Don’t believe for a second that you are solely responsible for the decisions that he has made.

    Much sympathy to you! By the way, when you break up with him, you will feel guilty for a very short time and then FURIOUS and also AMAZING, because life without this rock around your neck is going to feel like flying.

    1. Sorry, I’m double-posting, but I just cannot overstate the amazingness of not having to have pity-sex for the sake of someone else’s thesis. It really is the most fantastic thing.

      1. Gah, I have to stop reading these comments now because so triggering. Pity/obligation sex is the worst in retrospect. LW reads like me five years ago. Nope times infinity.

    2. One of the lines that really jumped out at me was when LW said The current situation is terrible for both of us, but especially for him and like… LW, are you suuuuure this relationship is more terrible for him? In your heart of hearts? Because he’s not the one looking for an escape hatch here.

      Conversely, if that were true (and I am side-eyeing it p hard!) then that is all the more reason to GET OUT OF THE HOUSE because you are not doing dudebro any favors by sticking around prolonging a miserable situation. Get out, change your phone number, don’t tell him where you’ve moved to so he doesn’t have to “accept” anything and you’re just gone into the night from whence you came. He’ll figure himself out, or he won’t, and it isn’t your responsibility.

  6. Oh, LW. What this guy has done/is doing to you is SO WRONG, on SO MANY LEVELS. I can tell from your letter that you are a wonderful, caring, compassionate, empathetic person, because you still care about this guy’s happiness even after the horrible way he’s treated you. He does not care about you. He does not have your best interests at heart. If he did, he would not want to keep you trapped in a relationship where you are supposed to carry all of the burden for no reward.

    I hope you can hear this wonderful advice from the Captain and accept it as truth. You do not owe this guy one more second of your time, your attention, your emotional labor. You do not owe him a thesis. You do not owe him ANYTHING. You don’t love him anymore. The relationship has run its course, and it should end. Please, get as far away from him as you can. Block him on all social media and from your phone. Do not listen to his anger, his blame, his pleading. He needs to deal with that and get over it on his own. I wish you all the best, LW.

      1. Jeeves, please saddle up the Nopetepus. I feel a need to ride that noble beast.

  7. LW, I would like to suggest a mantra for you to use in your head / to friends / to boyfriend if you don’t manage not talking to him. It goes “this isn’t working, and I don’t think it’s going to get better”. Repeat it to yourself and to others as much as you need to. Forget the past for now. This is all the reason you need to break up.

  8. Hi LW,

    You seem to be saying that your past mistake was staying with him, and you owe it to him to make amends by … staying with him more, even though neither your feelings nor his wellbeing have changed.

    Yes, it was probably a mistake to stay with him before, but the reason you made that mistake is not that you’re a bad person who needs to make it up to him. You made it because he put you under a ton of pressure. You gave in because you’re a nice and responsible person. He has not made good use of that niceness: he’s still as much of a mess as ever.

    You say, ‘He’s going to fail his thesis because of my insufficient support.’ That’s him talking. I’m not calling you stupid; we all take on our partners’ ideas to some extent. But that, I would bet a small amount, is something he’s persuaded you to believe, not something you reasoned out for yourself. And you know, it’s just not true. If he fails his thesis, there will be one of several reasons:

    1. He never had the talent and intellect to do it.
    2. The thesis was misconceived – which might be his fault, or it might be the fault of bad academic guidance – but whatever the reason, the thing was broken from the outset and nobody could finish it.
    3. He’s suffering from a mental illness which requires medical attention.
    4. He’s not prepared to put in the appropriate work – either in terms of hours, or in terms of mental rigour and questioning his own plans.

    You did not create any of those conditions, and you cannot fix them. You aren’t the academic authorities he answers to. You can’t cure a mental illness. You can’t make him smarter or harder-working.

    You can’t save someone. All you can do is be there while they try to save themselves.

    And he’s not trying to save himself. What he’s doing is using you as a very convenient excuse for not facing his real problems. It’s a big-time temptation for someone in his position. Acknowledging that there are serious problems in his future career is scary, and it involves grappling with a lot of stuff that involves public admissions of problems and situations that he can’t control. You, meanwhile, he can harry in private, and he’s doing a pretty good job of trying to control you.

    As long as he can tell himself, ‘If only LW was a better partner, everything would be better,’ he’s not going to do what he needs to do – academically, medically, or personally – to fix his actual problems.

    And none of it is your fault.

    You gave him the benefit of the doubt. You tried to help him. He’s demonstrated that he doesn’t use your help; he just slips right back into the same pattern that he was in before: don’t fix thesis, blame LW.

    If you need to feel you’re acting in his best interests, hear it from me that it’s in his best interests to have his excuse removed. And yes, maybe he’ll turn you leaving him into his new excuse, but that won’t leave him any worse off than he already is.

    If there seems a genuine risk of him hurting himself, you need to bring in the cavalry: you aren’t qualified to deal with a suicide risk. That’s not being a coward: that’s being realistic about what is reasonable to ask of yourself.

    You didn’t stay with him because you’re a coward: you stayed with him because he made an overwhelming case. It made you miserable, and it didn’t make him happy. You yourself are saying that things only got worse when you stayed with him after it was break-up o’clock. That’s hardly likely to change. You gave it a shot, and you’ve done everything you can.

    He’s having serious problems, but burning yourself on that pyre is not going to put out the flames. That’s on him to do, and whoever can help him right now, it has to be someone he can’t use as an excuse for not facing his real problems, and that can’t be you.

    You didn’t ruin his life, and you can’t unruin it. That’s on him. And if he can’t, you can’t do it for him.

    Leave him with warnings to academic advisers, friends, family, whoever you feel comfortable telling that he’s in a crisis. But leave him. And batten down you hatches, because after you leave him, it’s very likely that he will chase you.

    I’ll put it this way. He’s trying to view you as a medicine. Right now, he’s using you more like off-label substance abuse. You probably are good medicine for anyone who actually follows the directions on the packet, but giving him more doses of you is not going to cure his problem.

    Best of luck. Don’t blame yourself.

    1. Good comment!

      LW, you can’t control how your soon-to-be-ex writes his post-relationship story about you. If he’s telling a distorted story now, one where you are to blame for all his problems and yet his problems are also somehow magically going to be cured by you (this is logically inconsistent, as others have noted), and telling it while you are right there and able to push back and argue that his story is a fairy tale rather than nonfiction, it is a sure bet that he is going to tell an even more elaborate fairy tale once you are free of him. But here’s the thing: it won’t matter. It doesn’t matter NOW that he is telling you porky pies about your relationship and using weapons like guilt and shame and blame (note that these are not loving actions!) to your face and repeating the lies so often that you’re starting to believe repetition is truth (it isn’t).

      1. His opinion of you is none of your business. You can’t fix it, he’s not going to be completely honest with himself or you about it, and it doesn’t change you in any way. So let him think what he wants.

      2. You are not responsible for another grown adult’s academic achievements or failures. If he aced his thesis, would he credit you with that success? Probably not, unless it was in some way a placating / patronizing gesture or designed to manipulate you. But he failed. More than once. So why is he crediting you with that failure? To manipulate you.

      3. Don’t throw good money after bad. Once something goes sour, no amount of love, time or money is going to make up for those sunk costs. You can only get further in the hole or further in debt or suffer a longer amount of time.

      4. While you are in the dark room, the exit can be hard to see. But once you find the exit and use it, you can look back from outside the exit door and see the dark room for what it is: confining and no longer suited to your needs. If you can get a friend or family member to prop the exit door open a crack, by accepting their assistance to get out, that will make your exit door easier to find, too.

      5. I’m reading a book about hoarders and one thing many hoarders share is situational blindness and an intolerance of emotional pain. They are like the old fable about the frog in a cookpot that slowly boils to death because he doesn’t notice the stove burner’s heat has been turned up by tiny, tiny increments over a long period of time. They don’t see the mess as mess, they see it as an extension of their memories and their safe home space and their mental image of themselves (as a person who reads, so gotta save every newspaper and magazine forever, or a person who does art, so gotta save every art supply even if the paint dried up ten years ago, or as a person who finds good bargains and dresses well, so clothes that are 6 sizes too small can’t be given away, or a generous person who gives good gifts, so all these trinkets that were collected because someone else might enjoy them can’t go anywhere, etc., etc.) and they believe they could not bear the pain of parting with a single hoarded object. But when a patient therapist works with them, sometimes they experiment and find that they vastly overestimated how painful it would be to do without certain things, and that they were not diminished by the loss of those things, and their environment gradually improved all around them. Maybe your soon-to-be-ex is the personality type who eases off Band-Aids rather than ripping them off in one go and getting the discomfort over with, but you’re not a Band-Aid (or a pacifier), you’re an autonomous, separate human being who wants to leave. He thinks he can’t exist without you and dreads the emotional pain that he expects will follow, but, honestly, he is making both of you deal with extra emotional pain over a longer period of time, and the wound is getting infected.

      6. You’re not a bad person if you put your oxygen mask on first and GTFO.

      1. Good comment yourself! If you don’t mind, what’s the title of the book? It sounds like something I’d like to read.

  9. he’s going to fail his thesis again due to my insufficient support

    Nope Octopus! If he fails his thesis again, it’s his fault. His thesis is not a two-person task — otherwise his school would award you the degree, too. The thesis is his alone.

    1. Plus, also, he has NO INCENTIVE to finish said thesis, because he can keep “failing” and use that as an excuse to demand you stick around. And if he does finish it, I am 100% confident there will something else for him to “fail” at and blame you for. There will ALWAYS be “reasons” to demand you not break up with him.

      They are not good reasons. They will never be good reasons. I hope you can come to see that.

      1. Yessss. My first thought (well, my second, after “oh gosh LW you need to get out, this is not a good situation”) was that if he does manage to finish his thesis, there will be some other reason you can’t break up with him then. He’ll be starting his job search, and how could you leave him when he has to face so much rejection? And then he’ll get at least one rejection and it’ll be your fault and you’ll have to stay with him until he gets an acceptance. And then, until he gets X publication or Y accolade. And then, tenure. And on, and on, and on, forever.

        If someone thinks that it’s your responsibility to make their life work, then you will never be able to leave because they will continue to have a life and will continue to try to make you feel responsible for making it work.

        But that’s not your responsibility. It just isn’t. It wasn’t back during the first failed thesis attempts and it isn’t now. Supporting a partner is something a person can choose to do. It is not something that is ever, ever owed, and someone trying to make you believe that it is… well, that’s as close to a big red flashing GET OUT sign as I can imagine.

      2. YEP. After the thesis, it will be:

        “Support me until I get a job! Because it’s YOUR FAULT my academic record isn’t that competitive after that I failed my thesis twice.”

        “Support me while I’m moving to a new place for my job! Because it’s YOUR FAULT I don’t have friends to support me, because you made me too depressed to make friends.”

        etc etc etc FOREVER.

    2. Coming here to second that. People without romantic partners also manage to pass their theses.

      LW, you deserve to leave a relationship that is making you miserable. Your boyfriend is trying to make you responsible for things that only he has control over. But even if you set your own well-being aside (which I DON’T think you should do, but just for argument’s sake), you cannot actually give your boyfriend what he’s asking for, because he wants you to be in love with him, and you’re not. You are exactly right that paying back this ‘debt’ is impossible. (It’s also wildly out of bounds for your boyfriend to ask for, but even if you don’t believe that right now, please trust your instincts that this is something you can’t actually do.)

      Honestly, I don’t think you will ever be able to convince your boyfriend that this is the right thing to do. His goal here is to get you to stay, no matter how miserable you both are and how toxic the relationship becomes, and your goal is to leave if that’s what it takes to keep you both from becoming miserable and toxic. (I think you are smart to realize that deliberately staying in a relationship that makes you miserable is a bad idea.) Don’t fall into the trap of trying to convince him that what he wants is bad- you can’t actually convince him not to want it. I think you will have to leave anyway. He will probably blame you (which he already does), struggle to keep his academic life afloat as he deals with his feelings (which he already does), and be extremely angry and sad (which he already is), but you are not actually preventing any of those things by staying, and it’s not actually your job to try.

      1. “People without romantic partners also manage to pass their theses.”

        True story. In point of fact, I managed to pass the independent study that would provide the groundwork/first draft for my Master’s thesis a mere month after my ex cheated on me, resulting in our first breakup (of two, alas – what I wouldn’t give to go back in time and tell my early twenties self, “Honey, no!”). I also managed to pass the other classes I was taking at the same time! What a concept!

        LW, as someone who was sort of in both positions at various times (some of which were simultaneous–long story) on either side of that aforementioned relationship, all I can say is that there is nothing you can do to help your boyfriend get his act together. Even if there were, you would be under no obligation to help, even if he were asking nicely…which he isn’t. Think of it this way: if you stay, you’ll both be miserable. If you leave, he’ll be miserable, but you’ll feel a whole lot better. One of you being happy is better than neither!

      2. “Coming here to second that. People without romantic partners also manage to pass their theses.”

        This. In fact, people with any trauma/grief in their lives are able to succeed. My mother died right when my brother was due to take college exams. He came home for the funeral and went back to take make-up exams and got a 4.0. While I don’t know that everyone could do that, life goes on and we have to move forward with it regardless of what personal trials we face. LW, this guy is just manipulating you. My ex husband tried to tell me I had to stay with him until he got his license reinstated, but he’d been without one for the entire 3 years we had been together and he procrastinated that long on getting it. I figured if he didn’t need it while we were together, he would survive without it. Guess what? He did. Sometimes you have to be put in a sink or swim situation to know your own abilities. In this guy’s case, as well as my ex husband’s, I think they know they can swim just fine without us, they’re just master manipulators.

        1. Or they don’t, and that’s just something that happened. Sometimes things happen that derail your plans (good or bad; getting engaged and planning a wedding slightly changed by school plans) and you roll with it. You take the F, pick a less thrilling elective, get an extension for your thesis. You don’t hold your (ex)-girlfriend hostage because you think nothing should change.

          1. “Or they don’t, and that’s just something that happened.” Exactly what I came to say!

            “People without romantic partners also manage to pass their theses.” and sometimes they don’t… AND THAT’S OK TOO!

            2008 was my last semester of undergrad. I took an Incomplete (extension) in 2 of my classes. I never finished them. I was 8 credits short of my degree. I wanted to finish the entire time. I felt AWFUL about it.


            It was not the end of the world. I got married and found a full time job regardless.

            And, after some serious mental health therapy and serious physical health medication and disability management as of May 2013 I have my degree.

            LW, his life is not ruined. He can still finish his thesis (or not) and have a good happy life. But that is NOT your responsibility. I had to do a lot of work on myself first before I could finish my degree. It was not fun. I didn’t enjoy it. But I did succeed. And it was something only I could do.

            “The current situation is terrible for both of us, but especially for him – he’s going to fail his thesis again due to my insufficient support…” The only thing you can do to make it better is to leave. He is using you as an excuse.

            Leave. Block him on everything. Go cold turkey. With the feelings!bomb attached to your relationship you cannot help him as friend, and you certainly don’t owe him. Wishing you all the best.

      3. Hello LW. I am a person whose boyfriend broke up with her a week before my undergraduate dissertation was due. I passed it. I passed it well. Now I am en-route to my dream career.

        This is not your responsibility. Please get away from him.

    3. Gosh, this. I was reading this letter and thinking, damn, he has made a mountain out of this thesis.

      LW, I don’t know if you have experience of thesis-writing yourself. Even if you do, I want to make a point: people write theses in incredibly difficult circumstances, they might not produce world-changing examples of [field] theory, but they pass and get their degrees. I know a lady who wrote her thesis whilst living with her parents, a three hour train ride away from her university, because the government changed the rules and her student grant got cancelled. I know another lady who wrote her thesis in three weeks flat by working 9am-10pm every. single. day. I myself wrote two theses whilst struggling with worsening depression and constantly fighting with university administration. (I submitted both theses late – though in one case because my supervisor messed up his dates – and I got merits for both)

      Theses are important, but they’re not that much different from the everyday work you do in the other x years of a degree, except they’re on a larger scale and you usually have more creative freedom. Your bf is acting like you’re obliged to treat him like porcelain and protect him from bad things happening in life because he is Writing His Thesis. You’re not. Bad things happen to people writing theses, and if they’re in a program which is working for them and which they are committed to, they either cope and finish the thesis anyway, or they don’t and they work with their university to find a way that they can work differently and get it done late.

      TL;DR: “But the theeeeesiiiiiiss!” is a bad excuse.

      1. I’m not sure my advisor even read my thesis, or she might’ve commented on how similar (read: nearly identical) it was to the independent study write-up I’d done a year prior!

      2. Also many people do not finish their theses. Ever. For many, many possible reasons. And they go on, and get over it, and do something else. I can think of four very influential people in my life (just off the top of my head, I am sure there are more) who never finished their theses/dissertations/etc.

        1. *raises hand* I discovered, after earning my MA, that I had lost interest in the subject in which I had started an MFA thesis. Further, a massive shake-up in the department had all the professors I knew and adored AND my dean leaving in disgust, leaving only non-tenured part-time professors who were mostly rumored to exist–like unicorns, snipes and grues–but rarely seen, and known “problem child” professors who typically clashed with everyone. These were folks I had never had a class with and who did not know me or care about my work. So I took my MA and noped out, saved myself a year of angst and boredom and right now I don’t feel bad about it one bit.

      3. I wrote the bulk of my Masters Thesis while on maternity leave (luckily my kid was 10 days late!) and did all the corrections while dealing with a newborn. And I was accepted as a PhD student. So I’m gloating because I’m proud of this accomplishment, but really saying that the quality of the thesis is NOT an excuse and nothing at all to do with you.

        1. Yes. I was pregnant with my third child when I defended my Ph.D in biochemistry. While doing the bulk of the household work and childcare. With a somewhat unsupportive (now ex-) spouse.

          Not my first choice of how to live my life at that point–but ultimately people do what they want to do. We all make our own choices for our own reasons. if people want to put the work into doing their best at school, that’s what they’ll do, and if they don’t want to do that (but still want the end result of doing that) then it’s on them and nobody else.

          1. LW’s jailer still needs to suck it up, of course, but: hot damn, you two are badasses.

      4. I’m writing my thesis with a toddler and a husband who is dealing with scary and severe depression. I passed my general exam literally one week after having a miscarriage. He can deal with a breakup. Or, you know, he can’t but that is not your problem.

      5. I am close to finishing my thesis and have 3 kids, a sometimes not-particularly-helpful spouse and depression. My first two co-supervisors left my uni with little warning, leaving me to replace my supervision team. My mid-teenage kid also has a severe mental illness which has put the kid in adolscent psych hospital three times in the last 6 months. The kid has been unable to attend mainstream school for a year and needed someone at home to watch them, for safety reasons, for several months last year. The person watching was mostly me. (Fortunately, we have now found the right mix of meds and the kid cooperates and wants to get better.) Stress and fear for the kid led to stress on my marriage. I also work full time (admittedly as an academic who could work from home a lot to be their for the kid).

        Despite all that, my thesis is nearly finished in just over 3 years. My very experienced new senior supervisor is really happy with my draft chapters and can’t see any difficulty with me finishing in a few months.

        LW, I mention all this not to play ‘whose thesis time is crappier,’ but to show that it is possible to forge ahead on a thesis while things are shitty. Your partner may have depression and may not be doing quality work, but that is because of him, not you. He is using you as an excuse for HIS failure and/or using the thesis as an excuse to coerce you to stay. You staying will not fix his thesis. He has to own the work and the problems with it before he can fix it. He also sounds like he is blaming you for his depression. He is the one who has to get treatment to fix it. You staying in an unhappy relationship will not fix his brain weasels. Leave and let him take resposibility for his own work and mental health. It will be better for you both.

    4. My male birth-parent blamed my female birth-parent for all his failed opportunities in life, and for having children that he hated. She believed she had these magical powers he spoke of, and mysteriously no powers to help herself and ultimately this drove her to suicide. I was v happy to write him a letter showing that long after her death, he was still a failure, and that everyone knew it.

  10. Oh, hon. Please leave. As soon as you absolutely can. You are not at fault at this, and you absolutely do not need to be guilted into sex you don’t want to have over this, my goodness! The fact that he is even pushing all of this on you is incredibly creepy and toxic to me, if I may say so. Run now, and don’t look back. You deserve so much better than this.

    1. I can’t even express how much red I saw when I got to the part where he’s “upset” that she won’t convincingly perform love and affection for him when he did everything in his power to keep her in a relationship where he KNOWS SHE’S UNHAPPY. AAAAAARGH WHINGE SMASH.

      1. Yes – it breaks my heart that LW thinks this is a problem created by “the situation”, or by LW’s not breaking up early enough, when it’s 100% created by the boyfriend manipulating them into staying with them so that he could guilt them for not appearing loving and affectionate enough when they’ve literally told him that they don’t feel sufficiently loving and affectionate enough to be in a relationship.

        LW, what if I told you that the second you break up with him, you will never have to have miserable pity-sex “for his thesis”, or pretend to be loving and affectionate? It will be SO AMAZING. Try it!

    1. I’ve noticed my longer comments tend to end up in a moderation queue and then appear a day later when the Captain or someone releases them…

      1. Some longer comments are disappearing outright I think, based on some Tweets and “where is my comment” posts. Not showing up in queue, not showing up in spam trap, not showing up at all where I can see them. Advice:

        Break longer comments up.
        Use a text editor to compose.
        Screen cap any messages you see & contact support@wordpress.com.

        1. Write…shorter….comments. Those words mean something individually but I’m having trouble parsing them as one unit. 😛

          (thanks for all your work on this blog – it is the best and such a valuable resource)

  11. Oh, LW, you did not make a “terrible mistake” by putting off breaking up with your boyfriend for six months. You did not “string him along” and you don’t have to repair any damage. It is perfectly understandable that it took you a while to work up the courage to break up with him. It took me months to get to that place, too. It takes time for most people. It’s maybe not ideal (those months were very hard for me and I’m sure they were very difficult for you, too), but it is perfectly *normal*. You don’t need to do any penance for that. You owe your boyfriend nothing.

    1. I’m guessing that part of the reason why you waited so long to break up with him is because, on some level, you knew what a big whiny baby he was going to be about it. People who consistently react poorly to news they don’t like don’t get to complain when others then put off telling them news they don’t like.

  12. i’m another person who’s been there, a few years ago. i wish i could tell my past self this: cut him off. block him everywhere. never speak to him again if you can help it, once you break it off. otherwise he’ll try to manipulate you more, maybe differently. it may not even seem like manipulation, but it is. you need OUT.

    i wrote an email so it was in writing after breaking contact, saying that it was best for me not to have contact with him at all anymore. this was what i needed for my own mental health. just to make it concise and clear. then i blocked him. he still stalked me. i didn’t respond to any of it. now i’ve gotten away and i’m done.

    you’re a kind person and you want to help him, but you need to help yourself. he doesn’t care that he’s hurting you, and is preying on your kindness. fuck him. there is no way you can help him without it draining and massively fucking up your life. i wish i’d gotten out of my relationship much sooner than i did. it’s really, really difficult to do, and worthwhile in ways you can’t imagine.

    get therapy, take good care of yourself. i’ve found abuse hotlines to be helpful when processing this stuff. it takes time. it’s a lot to process, once you get out. but you will get out, you will process it, and you’ll be damn proud of yourself for that.

    1. Yes… I know LW is still in the phase of “trying to break up but support him” but my vibe is LW’s boyfriend will be incredibly toxic to LW even after broken up. The best end result will probably be avoiding all contact, but I will understand if LW just isn’t even there yet.

      LW, you don’t owe them anything. You’ve already given A LOT, way more than anyone should ever have expected or demanded.
      I hope you break up with them.
      My other piece of advice is, if/when you are ready to break up, DO NOT MAKE ANY PROMISES – I know it’s tempting to promise to be there for them but don’t. Don’t admit to things (you didn’t even do anything wrong so don’t play that game), don’t promise to do this or that… just clean break. Be vague. There will never be reasons good enough.
      I would second actually demanding no contact for a period of time, although I realize that may be a hard thing for you to think about. The distance will do you good and you will see how he reacts to it. If he throws all his energy into harassing you I would advise to not engage him but keep a log, let your immediate friends know what’s up (and not to engage him), and go to campus security etc.

      1. it took me two years to fully disengage after breaking up with my ex-darth, and a long lonnnng while before that to break up in the first place. i feel ashamed about how long it took me to break up with him, but that’s an incredibly common feeling after this sort of relationship. it’s human to have trouble with this! it’s really really difficult. it may take some time to face it. but it’s so worth it.

        it wasn’t til i completely cut off my ex that i realized how incredibly toxic he had been. the gaslighting had been really intense. this letter rang really really familiar to me. (and lots of others, i’m sure!)

  13. LW, hugs. Do you have access to a therapist through your BF’s school? Is it your school? I feel like you need someone objective to talk to. Cap has a great post on finding inexpensive mental health care and right now you need it. (He does, too, but I’m worried about you, not him.) I feel like, if I was with you, I’d do that thing Robin Williams did in Good Will Hunting — It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault — until you believed me.

    I want to say “you both will be better off when you leave” but frankly, that’s not what I need to say. Because taking care of him isn’t your job anymore. He’s an adult old enough to be defending a thesis. Even his mother isn’t responsible for him any more. He’s a grown up and responsible for himself. You’re responsible for yourself and your job is to leave this dude.

    It’s not your fault. Hugs.

  14. Fourthing and fifthing the comments about getting the hell out and that his failure to write a thesis that passes is not the LW’s fault. If there ever was a breakup that needs a Team Me, it’s this one.

  15. LW, I cannot agree more with the Captain and the previous commenters. And in case their strong, right-on, supportive words aren’t enough, feel free to try this bizarre logic for the moment: yep, you were [insert word of choice here]. You shouldn’t have been, but you were. There’s nothing to do about it at this point but remove yourself from this person’s life so they can start over without you.

    I know that sounds like I’m blaming you. I’m not; you are. So use that to your advantage, at least for the moment. This is what worked for me in a similar case, and once I was out, I was able to see things much differently. I saw them for what they were, talked to friends, talked to family, talked to a professional counselor, and felt better (even a little bit) almost instantly.

    The gist of all these comments, and mine as well: leave. Don’t wait another day.

  16. This letter is heartbreaking.

    Dear LW – who gets to decide that you have paid him back “enough”? Him, right? (Spoiler: It will never be “enough”.) Why on earth is it your fault that he’s failed his thesis three times? (Spoiler: It isn’t.)

    Sending you courage and good vibes to break up with him as soon as possible, as soon as you have your ducks in a row eg you’ve got your Most Important Posessions Together and Have a New Place To Stay/Live.

    You can’t be friends with this person. No. Just, NO.

    Get out soon, get out now.

  17. LW I’m going to add something that I don’t think the Captain emphasized enough. If (hopefully when!!) you decide to cut ties completely PLEASE take some safety precautions. Someone who says “my life was fine until you entered it” is NOT making a statement of fact — they are demonstrating that they think that lashing out at and hurting you will get them your continued attention and “support”. Expect him to continue and potentially escalate this behavior! Change the locks on your apartment if he has a key. Change any passwords/security questions/etc that he may have had access to. Please be safe.

    I will also echo the Captain and other — commenters — it may be that you made a mistake by not breaking up with him way back when. But staying right now is NOT going to fix that! Do what you wish you had done originally — don’t put Future!you in the same position that Current!you is in now!

    1. THIS!

      Never see him alone.
      Change all passwords immediately.
      Don’t give him the new address you’ll be at
      Block him on all social media.

      Change your mobile/cell number. Networks will often do it for free in cases of harassment and abuse.

      Write a letter stating “This is over, I am leaving. Someone will be over on [date & time] for my things, and they will leave my keys. Please do not be there.”. Resist going yourself, send some trusted friend or relatives, and you can video chat your way around so that they get the right things.

      Also, photocopy the letter before you send it, then send his copy as recorded/registered/special delivery, something that requires a signature. Post your copy to yourself at your temporary/new address, and keep it sealed. This is in case he tries to claim that Team You Removals have broken in, or that you’ve disappeared and he’s just soooo worried that he just had to call the police. It’s handy to have proof that he was warned, that he signed for the letter that said you were sending for your stuff, and that you didn’t ” disappear”.

  18. Oh LW, this letter made me so sad. You deserve to be happy; you do not need to sacrifice your own sense of safety and joy on the altar of this guy’s needs, or “needs,” not for one more minute.

    One more thing: I promise you that even if you stay and he gets his shit together and successfully completes his thesis, it will not be over. There will be some new crisis or failure or “need” that he will use to try to bully you into staying. There is no way to get out except to get out. You cannot negotiate your freedom, or earn it; you can only take it for yourself, with both hands.

  19. There’s a certain kind of person who decides that instead of developing emotional maturity, coping mechanisms, an independent support system, etc. that it’s much easier to just let a romantic partner handle all of that. And so, in your not-actually-boyfriend’s case (because you broke up with him already, yes? Your heart isn’t in this relationship? I think it’s ok to call him your ex even if HE refuses to believe this), if you the girlfriend-slash-emotional-support-pillar are gone, he can say that EVERYTHING is falling apart and going wrong, and now it’s officially Your Fault.

    But LW, it’s not your fault that he refused to learn how to handle life upsets gracefully, that he’s blaming his academic struggles on his personal life, that he can’t stand being broken up with so much that he’s emotionally manipulated you into staying in a relationship you’re already long past wanting to be in. That’s all on him. It sounds like he’s great at arguing his way, and laying guilt on you, but that doesn’t make any of what he’s saying true. His mental health might not be great right now, and sure, that’s a bummer for him – but it is not YOUR job to fix it. You can’t do that for him. It sounds like he’d rather blame you than take steps to fix things for himself, but that’s his problem, not yours.

    It’s hard to tell from this letter just how coercive he’s being around sex, but that part especially made my hair stand on end. I’ve had my own experience with a partner who coerced and manipulated me into sex I didn’t want to have and it really messed up how I related to consent for a long time – it was quite a while until I really found my voice and felt free to express clear consent either way, after tamping down that part of me and just going along with what was happening because that was easier than dealing with the guilt trip if I said no. I really hope that even if he’s whining and arguing when you say no to sex, that he’s not pushing any more. And if he is, I hope you can get away even faster. Sexual assault through coercion is still sexual assault.

    1. Yes, that part really bothered me too! What sort of person wants someone to keeping having sex with them even when other person is obviously unwilling? NOT the sort of person you should stay another second with. Please get away.

    2. Also, “whining and arguing when you say no to sex” sounds an awful lot like coercion to me. When I or my partner don’t feel like having sex, that is instantly respected and we do something else instead. I would be so horrified if I did something that made him feel pressured to have sex with me, and I know he feels the same way. That’s what good consent looks like.

      LW, you don’t want to have sex with this person. You don’t. And that is all that matters, here. If he’s doing anything that makes you feel like you should be having sex with him even though you don’t want to, that is so freaking toxic and holy shit please get the hell out of there as soon as it’s at all humanly possible.

      1. Yeah, looking at that I think I would have said “sulking” instead. People can be whiny and immature about their partners having sex without laying on a ton of coercion & guilt-tripping (it’s still gross to do!) but honestly it seems very unlikely that this dude isn’t being as manipulative about sex as he is about everything else. 😦

    3. And so, in your not-actually-boyfriend’s case (because you broke up with him already, yes? Your heart isn’t in this relationship? I think it’s ok to call him your ex even if HE refuses to believe this.

      I love this idea. If you can start calling him your ex now, even in your own head, it’s a great way to establish yourself in that mindset, and a great first step to actually making him your ex for real. Best of luck to you.

  20. Oh LW, please listen to the wise Captain! Look at what he’s doing! “You’re a terrible person for finding me it difficult to leave me earlier. I’m now going to make it WAY MORE DIFFICULT for you to do that thing you should have done, in just the way you feared I would (only worse). This remains all your fault.”

    You’ve called yourself a coward — and you’re not a coward, you’re a good, kind, generous person who’s being manipulated! — but think for a moment about what you were scared of a year ago, and what being brave would’ve meant then. You were scared of hurting him. He’s proved you right to be scared of that, because he’s performing Being Hurt relentlessly to make it as unpleasant as he possibly can for you, so that you’ll feel like his being hurt is the Worst Thing In The World — and no one wants to face the worst thing in the world! But you keep saying you know you should have left, even though it was scary, even though it would have hurt him. You’re STILL afraid of hurting him, but what you know about then is still true now: you should do the scary brave thing anyway. In another year you”ll only be looking back at NOW at a missed opportunity for leaving, and he’ll be trying to convince you if you really wanted to leave you should’ve left, and now it’s too late and you’ll have to stay forever. Or instead of a year from now, think of 18 months ago — back then, when you were so scared of hurting him! — if you HAD spoken up, would he have said, “OK, fine, the main thing is that the timing’s right. I will think of you fondly, cheerio?” No. This isn’t about your not leaving in the exact correct way, or at the exact right time, or making it up to him in the exact right way. It’s about you leaving at all and how he’s going to punish you for even thinking about doing it.

    His academic problems are not your fault. Plenty of people who are single or in less-than-ideal relationships manage to complete their theses successfully, without the “adequate support” of their perfect partner. If he sensed something was off, and if this was seriously getting him down to the extent it was affecting his work, he didn’t have to wait for YOU to raise the courage to bring it up. HE could have talked to YOU. He could have LEFT YOU rather than stay in a relationship that was keeping him from focusing on his studies. And even if you now WERE somehow the problem with his thesis. 1) OK good let’s remove the problem, then 2) even if you were magically both problem and cure, you’d still have the right to leave in search of your own happiness, even if you were taking his PhD chances with you. Really, I promise!

    Finally, you’re so wrapped up in the idea of how you make amends for the “damage you’ve done.” What does he owe you for the damage he’s done YOU? He’s kept you trapped in a miserable relationship for a year, he’s pushed you into sex he knows you don’t want, he’s guilt-tripped you to bits for a very normal human set of conflicted feelings –he’s made you feel, from the sound of it, awful, for months. I’d say the least he “owes” you for that is his immediate absence from your life. Fortunately you can claim this with or without his consent.

  21. My comment seems to keep going awry, so I’ll do a shorter version and hope to be forgiven if it starts popping up like mushrooms:

    LW, you are a nice person. You’ve let him talk you into thinking you can fix something that you can’t fix. But you yourself know that last time you overstayed this relationship, things only got worse.

    Your partner doesn’t need you to finish his thesis. He’s using you as an excuse for not finishing his thesis. He’ll blame it on you if you leave him, but he’s already blaming you while you’re staying. He’s blaming the relationship rather than facing up to whatever uncomfortable truth is keeping the thesis from passing, and stay or go, you can’t do anything about that.

    He’s treating you like a medication, so let’s try it: think of yourself like a medication. For a person who reads the instructions and uses as advised, you can do a ton of good. Your partner has slipped into substance abuse of you, and is suffering inevitable ill effects, and now he’s just bashing the bottle to see if he can get any more out of it.

    The answer to this problem is not to give him more doses of you.

    Much strength and support, because while I’m sorry for him, you’re the innocent victim here and you don’t deserve this.

    1. “now he’s just bashing the bottle to see if he can get any more out of it.”

      this is possibly the best metaphor ever. I’ll have to check with the officials though.

      1. [holds up placard] 10.0

        (and, b/c I’m a footie fan) Goooooooooooooooaaaaaaalllllll

    2. “Your partner doesn’t need you to finish his thesis. He’s using you as an excuse for not finishing his thesis. He’ll blame it on you if you leave him, but he’s already blaming you while you’re staying. He’s blaming the relationship rather than facing up to whatever uncomfortable truth is keeping the thesis from passing, and stay or go, you can’t do anything about that.”

      Oh my god yes. I mean, everything about this comment is true, but especially this. Half lying to himself, half manipulating you. Any way you slice it, this is not. your. fault! He’s the one Please find your way to a situation where you’re not letting people touch you when you don’t want them to!

      (Seriously, you will feel so much better. I’ve been there, in a semi-similar situation (in this case, he wasn’t the one making the case that I needed to solve his problems–that was my family). The problem is inside him, not with what you did, and you will feel SO VERY MUCH BETTER when you don’t have to wonder when somebody you’re repelled by is going to touch you next.)

  22. This is absolutely horrifying to read. If you’re having sex with him because he wants to and you think you “owe” him but you hate it and don’t want it, that’s rape. This wonderful, sensitive guy who just can’t live without you is happy to guilt you into allowing him to rape you whenever he wants. This is not love. LW, he does not love you. He does not care about how you feel about anything. He does not respect how you feel. He does not listen to how you feel or what you think or want. He runs roughshod over your feelings and wishes becuase he does not care abuot you. He blames you for his failures. What can you possibly “owe” someone who thinks that way? Run, please, run now. Get out, get out, get out. Get friend to help you get out and help you keep him away. He is a manipulative monster.

  23. He doesn’t get to decide when is or is not a good time for you to break up with him. There will never be a good time! It is always a bad time to be broken up with for the person who doesn’t want to break up! Fortunately, you do not need the permission of someone you don’t want to be with in order to not be with them any more.

    LW, he’s emotionally abusing you. I don’t have the words to soften that. I also don’t have the words to properly address the fact that he expects you to feign enjoyment of sex to his satisfaction on the basis that he thinks it’s your fault he failed his thesis. That’s. NOPE run for the hills territory even if his other behavior wasn’t, which it is.

  24. Another person to whom this exact thing happened. This exact thing.

    My ex decided to go back to school to finish his degree. He was a brilliant manipulator. Nothing was ever his fault.

    Somehow he failed his coursework, not because he A. Didn’t go to class B. Didn’t bother to do his homeowork…. but because I WAS NOT BEING SUPPORTIVE ENOUGH and had maybe once or twice expressed admiration and a bit of jealousy that he got to go back to school, because I thought going back to school would be fun.

    Somehow it all became my fault that he wasn’t doing well in school. He dropped out and wasted the money we had paid to enroll him. All my fault.

    Run the tape forward six years. I was putting up with all kinds of unreasonable crazy stuff that everyone could see but me, because he made me feel guilty and I bought into his twisted interpretations.

    In his world, if he wasn’t happy or successful, it was my fault. All my fault. And I owed him.

    I spent nine years in his miserable world, being blamed for everything. I so earnestly wish I had not been hooked by his manipulations. When I finally escaped, it was sweet, sweet freedom. But my sense of how relationships worked had been so warped by then. I needed, and thankfully got, therapy.

    Dear LW, as others have said: First of all, his schoolwork does not and cannot depend on you. That is just plain not true. Second of all, everyone does agree that if you hurt someone you should make amends. EXCEPT for when you are hurting them by leaving them. In that situation, you can’t leave and comfort them at the same time. It’s absolutely impossible.

    He wants a relationship and you don’t. You do not “owe” him a relationship. Especially one that you do not want to be in. Relationships are not about obligations and guilt. Relationships are not supposed to make you miserable and trapped.

    The other thing I want to tell you is that it’s very hard to break up knowing that you and the ex will probably never share a coherent story about what went wrong, whose fault it was, etc. You will probably never get him to agree with your versions of events. And THAT’S OKAY. His interpretation is not some Ultimate Reality, and you do not have to convince him you are right in order to “get” to leave. And you have to know that even if you hurt him by leaving, that is still okay. Staying in a relationship based on guilt, where everyone is hurting all the time, is my idea of hell on earth.

    I wish you all the best and I hope you can get over feeling responsible for his life very soon. Because HE is responsible for his own life. Take care.

    1. Yes! At the end of a relationship, you each get full custody of your version of events and you get to raise your little version exactly as you wish with no interference. You it to be a nudist vegan? GO FOR IT. Just realizing my ex might be saying things about me I did NOT AGREE WERE TRUE or that might be partially true but you needed the whole story to understand or that … hey, it was not my problem anymore was such a burden lifted.

  25. It sounds so logical, that you caused him to fail and so you should pay him back because it’s your fault, and none of this would have happened to him if it weren’t for you. You owe it to him. Even though you’re probably well on the way to hating him, or at least, I was with mine.

    It is not logical. It assumes that you are somehow responsible for a thesis that you have nothing to do with. It assumes that you are a magical band-aid, and as long as you’re there things will be great. Except they’re not, because you’re fighting all the time and depressed and having sex that you don’t want to have, which is particularly not cool.

    Get out. I know that the voice in your head that sounds like him says that you’re betraying him, and that you’re terrible and a coward and all sorts of things, but really, you’re not, but you won’t even find that out until you’re much, much farther away from him.

    Never ever give him “reasons”. He will twist them. There will never be a reason that is good enough and so precisely worded that he can’t twist it. That you don’t want to be in a relationship with him is a plenty good enough reason. He doesn’t really get a say.

    Also, you mention that you’d like to break up and offer your help to him, as a friend. Do not, I repeat, do not do this. He will draw you back in and play on your heartstrings because you left him, and he’s still so upset, and he needs you, why can’t you see that?

    Really, all this comes down to getting out, and quite probably cutting off contact. You cannot fix him, and it isn’t your job. It’s not your job to fix his life, either. He’s a grown up, not a toddler. He’s a grown-up who seriously needs to work on his own life, on his own. It will not fall apart without you. And if it does, it still isn’t your fault.

    Jedi hugs, if you want them. This stuff stinks to deal with.

  26. LW, when you say you put off breaking up initially because you were ‘afraid [you]’d hurt him’, was part of you also afraid he’d hurt you? So much of what this guy is doing – verbal abuse like ‘My life was fine until you entered it’, pressuring you for sex even though your body language is clearly showing you’re not into it, the fact that you fear he’ll die if you leave (which suggests he’s threatened to kill/ hurt himself) – is abusive or a warning sign of abuse. You do not deserve to be in a relationship which makes you unhappy and scared. Your boyfriend (or ex-boyfriend – I like accidentalbeard’s framing that you’ve already tried to end the relationship, so he’s your ex) does not get to tell you you can’t break up with him (!) and does not get to make you stay. If he cared about you, why on earth would he demand some bizarre display of Perfect Loving Girlfriendness that he must know on some level your heart isn’t in anymore? You sound like a good, caring person who’s done all you can for him, but please believe us, his problems are not your fault and it is not your job to fix his mistakes. If he fails his thesis again, it is not your fault. If he hurts or kills himself, it’s sad but not your fault. You don’t owe him your friendship and it would probably be best if you cut off contact completely. Please, look at all the advice on ending relationships safely on this site and elsewhere online, get all the support you can from friends/ family/ a counsellor and, if necessary, a domestic abuse support service and/ or the police, and get out as quickly and safely as you can.

  27. LW I want to echo everything that is being said and also add something that I don’t think the good Captain emphasized enough. If (hopefully when!!) you do decide to cut ties and GTFO, PLEASE take some safety precautions. Someone who says “my life was fine until you entered it” is showing that they believe that the best way to get your continued attention is to lash out at and hurt you. Someone who says “now the train has gone off the rails and everyone on it is dead” is showing that they will believe that they have been wronged no matter what you do, and is showing that they feel entitled to hurt you to “redress” that wrong! *Expect that behavior to continue and possibly to escalate*. Change the locks on your doors if he has at any point had access to a key. Change any passwords or security questions that he might have had access to or that he might know the answers to. Please stay safe!

  28. LW, let’s play pretend.

    Let’s pretend that your partner is right that everything is your fault. It’s not, he’s wrong, and it’s shitty of him to even say it, but let’s think about it for a moment.

    So he’s saying that his life was great before you, that he’s failing his studies because of you, that he’s not going to get to have a career in “the only thing he’s good at” because of you, and he is miserable and sad and lonely and unloved because of you. So, why does he want you to stay, again? You, the person who apparently descended upon him like some netherworld trickster deity to upend his world. Wouldn’t the kindest thing, then, be to free him from your terrible embrace?

    Here’s the truth, LW.

    When he says “don’t leave me”, what he’s really asking is for things to magically go back to the way they were before you stopped loving or being attracted to him. He’s asking you to *unmake* yourself for his happiness. He’s asking you to take all the happiness and freedom that belongs to you and gift it to yourself, while taking all his sadness and discontent in return.

    That’s selfish, self-centred, and cruel. What he’s asked for is cruel. That he’s asking for it a second time over is even worse.

    1. *himself*. He’s asking you to take all the happiness and freedom that belongs to you and gift it to *himself*. I really need to proof-read my comments better.

      1. “He’s asking you to *unmake* yourself for his happiness.”

        This sentence made chills run down my spine. So horrifyingly accurate.

        LW, please, please, please choose yourself. My experience is that this person will never allow you to love or trust yourself as long as he is in your life. You deserve so much better. You deserve to love yourself. That part of you that is crying or screaming or silently curled up, believing that you are to blame for all these awful feelings, deserves to hear from YOU – from the part of you that decides what thoughts you will think – that you are NOT to blame, that you have done your best, that you are a good person, and that you are going to choose to love and support your own self.

        You have all my love and support. I know it is the hardest thing, and you have to keep making the choice over and over again. For me, it helped to remind myself that I deserve to love myself. Even if I didn’t think I deserved anyone else’s love, my ex had no right to try to make me hate and doubt myself. I hope you find what you need in order to have your own back.

        You deserve to love yourself. You deserve to love yourself. You deserve to love yourself.

    2. +1 Forever. “You are a terrible person who is ruining my life” should logically be followed by “so go away post haste,” not “therefore you’re obligated to do penance by not leaving me until I say so, and pretending you want to stay.”

  29. Whaaaaaaaaat. Everyone else has already said substantially what I’m going to, but I’m commenting because this one really hit me in a visceral WTF way. LW, he did NOT fail his thesis because of you. That is its own issue and there is no way your presence can magically write his thesis. And those words you quoted from him – “my life was fine until you entered it – now the train has gone off the rails and everyone on it is dead” – send chills down my spine. That is some A+++ emotional abuse right there and you should feel no compunction about bailing asap.

    Good luck, LW! I hope you get to enjoy being free of this dude very soon.

    1. Yeaaahhh, I indulge in cynical hyperbole the way others might indulge in shoe purchases or cupcakes, but that particular analogy made me wince. Though if it’s helpful to the LW, if the metaphorical train has already plunged to its destruction, then what good does it do to stick around? You can’t help those who are already dead.

      1. Also (and if this is too morbid, particularly in light of current events, please feel free to screen/delete), in a battle of train vs. person, train generally wins. If your presence alone was enough to upend everything he is and has been working toward his whole life, then there was already some kind of structural or mechanical issue or some other problem your boyfriend should be examining instead of blaming you.

  30. Just in case there’s any lingering doubt, as a person doing a thesis right now: IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT HE FAILED ACADEMICALLY.

    A thesis is an incredibly difficult thing that takes years to do, and yes, having a life outside of it is vital for the candidate’s wellbeing, but the only way you do your thesis is by showing up and doing your bloody thesis. And you pass your thesis by showing up and defending it. You can’t make your partner do the work for you. You can’t make them make you do your work either. You are responsible for your own wellbeing and your own work.

    Blaming his failures on you is a manipulation tactic and a really shitty one, because his success depends not one iota on you. Best/most generous case scenario, he’s using you as an excuse to keep procrastinating/deny that this is not for him/avoid the scary job market of whatever his job will be once he’s done. Worst case scenario, this guy is using you as an excuse not to get help. In both cases, RUN AWAY NOW! You deserve better than that.

  31. LW, please, please run. Scoop together anyone you know who can be a Team You, and get their help. You deserve so much more than this. Whatever mistakes you may have made, no one gets to decide that you have to stay in a relationship that you want to end. This whole dynamic sets off terrible alarm bells for me. You are not responsible for another grownup person’s success or failure; you are responsible for you. What if you gave yourself the kindness and caring that you’ve been trying to share with him? What might your life be like then?

  32. “He told me that I needed to stay in the relationship for another semester until he tries to graduate again, to undo the damage I had done, otherwise his life would be ruined.”

    And right there is where he lost any right to even minimal consideration on your part. You don’t “need” to do anything for him, you didn’t do any damage as far as I can tell, and you’re not even in a position to ruin his life, short of something like framing him for plagiarism or subjecting him to sleep deprivation torture so he could never function.

    “The current situation is terrible for both of us, but especially for him – he’s going to fail his thesis again due to my insufficient support, he’s worse off emotionally because, as he said, ‘my life was fine until you entered it – now the train has gone off the rails and everyone on it is dead’.”

    This situation is much worse for you: you have done nothing wrong, but your ex-boyfriend is manipulating you into feeling responsible for his failings. He’s going to fail his thesis again because he doesn’t have his shit together – I don’t know whether it’s due to a medical condition or something over which he actually could exercise more control, but either way he needs to solve his issues himself (perhaps with the assistance of trained professionals). Further, as the Captain notes, even if you were the cause of his problems (you’re not), the solution would be for you to leave, not to stick around.

    This situation sounds like it could rapidly become dangerous for you – indeed, with what I think qualifies as emotional abuse, it is already. You need to leave ASAP, cut off contact, and leave your ex-boyfriend to clean up the mess he himself created instead of coercing you into an unwanted and wholly inappropriate role managing his life for him.

    “Had I known this was going to happen, I’d not have hesitated about the breakup.”

    Again, not your fault, and I suspect you hesitated because you had already subconsciously identified red flags that let you know he would react to a breakup with controlling, abusive bullshit.

    “I feel like the honest thing to do would be breaking up and offering my help as a friend, but I’m afraid he won’t accept that because I haven’t paid him back for my past mistakes.”

    Cut ties completely – delete contact information, block him on social media, etc.

    1. I was also floored by the line about her entrance into his life and now everybody’s dead.
      That is such a strange comment, LW, you might want to read the Captain’s great advice elsewhere on this site about getting away safely. It is really setting off alarm bells for me when combined with the other behavior you describe.
      Be safe and take care of yourself.

      1. Yes, it’s one of those odd / bad situations, where he can say, ‘oh that’s just an expression”, except, well in this case the real expression isn’t that violent or strange in the first place, and, also, words mean things even when they *are* inside of expressions.

        LW, this person is making you feel like you “caused” all this, but, you did not. Sure, you were there, you had a role to play in the overall relationship, but, things seem bad and there is no way for you by yourself to make them better. I know you want to get out of this situation with him thinking that you “did enough”, but, as someone who has been there and that’s one of my big internal things too — this is not possible. Not becuase it’s impossible for you to be that good — you are good! but because it is impossible, he will never grant you that, and he doesn’t have the power to grant you that, it’s impossible and if it were possible he wouldn’t do it because he’d see something else that was not good enough. Sometimes the problem is not you, it’s in the eye of the beholder. I’m sorry, but it could be that he may always think you “failed” him and “ruined” his life, but, that is objectively not true, it is not reality, and he can think that and you can still be a good person who lives a good life, away from him and whatever unhealthy thing he thinks. Him thinking it does not make it true. You have a hundred people on this thread who think you are worthy and good and are a positive thing in people’s lives.

  33. You cannot “unruin his life” because you did not ruin it. If you cannot absorb ANYTHING else the good Captain said, please believe that with your whole heart.

    “Captain, what is the right thing to do? I don’t want to bail on him because he does need help, and I want him to have a good life.”

    Maybe start by rejecting his narrative that a good life for both of you involves each other? Maybe accept that walking away – rather than continuing to lie next to him and letting him complain that you’re not faking it hard enough – is actually the best and kindest thing you can do for both of you?

  34. I want to say that people often struggle to identify how to break up because there is no right time or way to instigate a break up. Many people, myself included, have avoided a break up or not followed through. There is a lot of pressure on women to summon up physical affection and sexual intimacy. But reality check; a mistake is a well meaning attempt, it isn’t the sort of destructive, massively awful betrayal you describe.

    Maybe one thing you could do is to sit quietly and give yourself the validation that it is ok to fall out of love. It isn’t a failure or a sin. It is ok. It happened, you handled things as best you could. You have hung in a lot longer than you should and you can let go of all the guilt here because you know what needs to come next. You are a good person because you care enough to want to end it in the kindest way you can. If you weren’t a caring person you wouldn’t have misguidedly given him so much of your time.

    Give yourself the support and care you need to do what you need to do next. Come rejoin the rest of us who live in a world where people fall out of love and split up and no one needs to pay back or punish each other.it is sad to disappoint someone but life is full of disappointment.

    Your partner is not owed a forever after with you or anyone else. You don’t owe him. It is ok to walk away.

    1. “I want to say that people often struggle to identify how to break up because there is no right time or way to instigate a break up. ”

      This really stood out to me. I am recently out of a (thankfully far less terrifying than LW’s) relationship that lasted a good 8 months past when it should have ended, simply because the timing never felt right/I never had a good reason/something bad had JUST happened to him and I didn’t want to pour salt in the wound. But at the end of the day, staying was making BOTH of us miserable, so I just did it. Picked a day, rehearsed my script in the shower, and made plans to go over to a friend’s house afterwards.

      LW, so much love and compassion for you. You can do this. You are strong enough to have carried the (unfairly apportioned) responsibility for a whole other adult life on your shoulders for this long. But the truth is, he will never be a successful and happy adult until he learns to carry his own life. If you did everything for him, and did it PERFECTLY, he still wouldn’t be happy. He would still feel like a failure and an impostor, because it wouldn’t be HIS life; it would be your shitty second life that’s sucking all the joy out of your real, actual life. You have been strong enough to try to carry him, but he doesn’t need to be carried. He needs to learn to walk on his own. You can be strong enough to give him that, and to give yourself the freedom to follow your own path without dragging dead weight behind you.

      1. Thirding the theme of “it’s completely normal to struggle with the ‘right time’ for a breakup.”

        Aside from societal pressures on women to provide affection, intimacy, and emotional labor; aside from the fact that some partners actively make it difficult by always having some sort of reason why now would be a terrible time (and boy howdy, does your not-really-a-boyfriend-anymore sound the type for that!), aside from all that – even when none of that applies, it’s still always hard to find the right timing for a breakup.

        Life doesn’t provide us with a bright clear line where we suddenly know it’s time to break up. You don’t wake up, look at the relationship-o-meter and go “oh no, it has flipped to ‘relationship no longer working!'” This stuff happens gradually, and it’s normal to not want it to be true, to try and fix it at first.

        You wouldn’t want to break up at the first small sign of any trouble. It’s often normal and healthy to try and work out problems in a relationship. And you can’t know from the get-go this will end up being a problem that cannot be fixed, that it’ll be better to break up. You’re not clairvoyant. So it naturally takes some time until you realize that nope, this cannot be fixed, you should break up. And once you reach that conclusion, of course you’re going to look back and see that this problem has been building up for a while.

        But, short of immediately breaking up at the first inkling of a problem, there will always be such a time period of “I should have seen this coming, maybe I should have broken this off earlier” to look back on! That is completely normal, it is a feature of just about every breakup I have either experienced myself or witnessed with my friends.* It is not some sort of horrible failing! And it boggles my mind that your not-really-a-boyfriend-anymore is telling you that it is, and that it is indeed such a massive misdeed that you owe him indentured girlfrienditude as penance for your supposed heinous wrongdoing.

        (*Sure, in some cases people do draw out a breakup well past the point when they are indeed 100% certain that they want out of the relationship, and in some cases they handle it in pretty objectionable ways. But given what you have told us about your not-really-a-boyfriend-anymore, not only is it likely [as other commenters have already noted] that you had plenty of good, valid reasons to be hesitant about speaking up and breaking up; I also find myself suspecting that he may be actually reframing a perfectly normal “period of slowly figuring out that the relationship is no longer working for you” as “moths of evilly stringing him along.”)

      2. There’s never a GOOD TIME to break up. After months of being miserable in a relationship that had run its course and was no longer working for anyone involved, I seized a moment and calmly said “here are the things you left at my house, I don’t think we should see each other anymore.” It did stick in my craw a bit to get back “I think we all knew it wasn’t working, but there could have been a better time”– if you knew it wasn’t working, why did you wait around for me to pick a time you could complain about? Do something or leave it in my hands, are your choices here.

        But that breakup went way, way, way better than LW’s, so my perspective goggles are on.

  35. LW, speaking as someone who is currently dealing with some thesis struggles of my own YOU DID NOT CAUSE your ex to fail his thesis. That is not a thing that was ever in your power. I promise. You are not a source of thesis-failure, you are a kind person who deserves better than being used as someone’s excuse.

    1. Want to cosign this, as someone who did succeed in the end but struggled quite a bit along the way. His thesis is his business and it is his job to finish it. If he’s having mental health problems that make that difficult, he can damn well talk to a therapist or university disability services or the like. It is not yours or ANYONE’S job to be his thesis muse.

      (Also, I wish to offer Jedi hugs and cheerleading to you! Theses suck, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s only sometimes a train.)

  36. I believe nobody ever OWES it to another person to be in a romantic relationship with them. No matter what happened, no matter what’s who’s fault, there is nothing that can make you obliged to be in this kind of relationship with somebody. Not even if they’re a lovely, non-abusive person. There isn’t a debt in this world that should be paid back with “okay, I’ll be with you and give you affection and sex even though I don’t want to”. There are things that might be worth doing despite the fact we don’t want to, but relationships are just not one of them.

    All the hugs to you, LW.

    1. Yeah, this. And the corollary is that nobody is a bad person for refusing to be (or remain) in a relationship with someone. No reason, no excuse, no justification, is necessary for refusing it because nobody has the right to demand it of you in the first place. Wanting doesn’t create obligations.

    2. Especially nobody can owe what this guy is demanding — essentially that the LW go back to wanting him, that he is owed this because she didn’t withdraw it at the perfect time. Or that she pretend better. Shudder.

      LW, this man does not love you. I would normally be reluctant to be so definitive about the feelings of someone we only see a report of, but: someone who demands that you stay, and pretend better to still want him, even though he knows you do not, does not care a whit about you as a person, or what this does to you emotionally. He is all about what he wants and feels he is entitled to, and to that there will be no end.

      You are unhappy, he knows you are unhappy, and yet he is still all about himself and what he feels he is owed. Leave this black hole before its gravitational force compresses you to nothing. His failure is not your fault, and even if it were you have no ability to remedy it to his satisfaction, because you feel what you feel (and this guy’s dominating behaviour is rather unlikely to change that for the better). He will always be able to blame you. As long as he does, he will never deal with his shit himself.

      Schools know that life happens, and when it does the best thing to do is often to take a leave of absence, get yourself together, and return when you can. It is not to try to eke out a pass built from the suffering of others. A school that allows multiple failures should have some sort of ability to let someone take a leave and return, I should think. He needs to talk to counsellors and advisors and figure out a course of action that doesn’t involve the sacrifice of another human being. You can’t make him do this, though — you can only reject his insistence at putting it all on you instead.

    3. Also, I don’t think anyone with a healthy definition of love wants to be in a intimate relationship (whether platonic or not) with someone who thinks they “owe” them.
      Honestly, how romantic does this scenario sound? “Hey, love, you like being with me right.” “Well, you don’t kick me or spit on me, so I can’t complain dear.” Surprisingly, a worse love story than Twilight.

      1. Frankly I’m amazed that there’s anyone out there who thinks, “Being with someone who stays out of obligation is just as good as being with someone who loves me!”

      2. It’s even worse than that!

        “You like being with me, right?”
        “Well, as I already told you, no, I wish I were anywhere but here, but you told me I had to stay with you, miserably.”
        “Good to hear — this truly is the romantic happy-ever-after of my dreams.”

  37. Hun, you did not ruin your boyfriend’s life, and it’s shitty of him to tell you you did. I think the fact you stayed six months after you first realized you didn’t want to be with him shows how thickly he was already laying on the guilt. What he is doing to you is emotional abuse. And the sex you feel you have to endure for his sake even though you hate it? The sex he knows you don’t like and tries to guilt you for but still does it anyway? Is rape. I know that’s hard to hear. I know you care about him. I know you’re a good person and want to leave him whole before you break ties. But he is a toxic, selfish, abusive person, and there is no fixing this. Please do the right thing for yourself and leave. But make an escape plan. Just because he hasn’t been physically violent (that you’ve mentioned anyway) doesn’t mean he won’t suddenly do that if you leave. One of the biggest tells that a man will become violent is when the woman he’s targeted feels that he will. So trust your instincts on that. If you feel it’s safe for you to leave immediately, please do so. If not, gather up team you and hatch an escape plan. Good luck, LW.

  38. LW, his failing his thesis is Not Your Fault! Others have already told you this, but I can tell you from personal experience because I’ve been there. Four months before I defended my PhD (and about 6 months after my father’s sudden death) my partner of 2 years dramatically pulled back emotionally from the relationship overnight, while denying he was doing so. I didn’t find out until a year later, but it turned out he started seeing someone else long-distance at that time, but still wanted to keep me around. So I spent four months stressing about what was going on with him while also thesis-writing nonstop, until we finally broke up (at my initiative) the week of my defense. That really sucked, and he should have told me as soon as he started seeing the other woman that we were done. But you know what? I still passed my defense, and even if I hadn’t it would have been my fault, not his. I also could have broken up with him when he pulled back, but I didn’t, and it was on me to get my work done despite this additional stress.

    My point is: even if you did make a mistake in not telling him right away – and, to be clear, I don’t think you did, because figuring that stuff out and having those conversations is hard, especially if you suspect he might act like this. But *even if* you did make a mistake there, his thesis is still his problem and his problem alone. Not yours.

  39. Wait, let me see if I’m following. You did not immediately break up with him when you realised you were no longer attracted to him, therefore things went badly and he ended up depressed, therefore you need to… not break up with him for even longer… because this will somehow make things better? This is not Earth logic. This is abuser logic. Don’t try to engage, get out!

  40. If you want another reason, how about ‘you keep having sex with a person who has made it clear they don’t want to have sex with you anymore, you disgusting piece of shit?’

    Oh, LW, I have been there with that specific thing above and it is a powerful and hard realisation, and you should make contact with a counsellor when you feel ready. But…you don’t want to have sex with him, he knows that, and it is still happening. You don’t have to scream and cry for it to be rape. And this? This is up for you to define your own experience but if you decided to call it rape, or sexual abuse, then I would support you in that and I think a lot of people would.

    I had a similar situation and during an argument he said “will you ever actually want to have sex with me again?” And it all clicked. I hadn’t wanted to for months, and he fucking knew. And yet.

    I am so angry at your boyfriend right now (and yes there’s some projection going on); he is scum, he is emotionally abusing you to stay with him and have sex with him, and you…you have done nothing wrong. You tried to end a relationship and he abused you. You don’t even need to frame this as your right to be selfish, this is about your right to be *safe*.

    Be safe, LW. To hell with this guy. Go.

    1. seconding this. LW, you deserve so much better than this horrifying asshole. So many red flags in your letter, but the awful coercive sex? Which he knows you don’t want but insists on anyway, he knows it makes you miserable & does NOTHING to make it less awful for you, and wants you to pretend that you don’t have any inconvenient feelings & desires which don’t match up to his own wants?

      At the very least that is abusive & coercive in the extreme. That is fundamentally fucked up, and he is a disgusting person for inflicting that horror on someone. You alone have the right to define your experiences, but if you called this rape, I’d agree. You are being harangued into this because he has made clear there are consequences for not playing along – emotional abuse & raging tantrums as you have described, and of course when someone acts like this, there is always the possibility of further escalation. This is not freely given consent by any means.

      One more thing. LW, you mention that you “both” contribute to the toxicity of this relationship. In a word: NOPE. Sweetheart, when it wasn’t working you tried to leave! You tried to leave, with maximum consideration & concern for the other person’s well being! You stayed because, again, you cared so deeply about the other person’s well being! YOU ARE NOT THE TOXIC ONE. This hellpit is entirely of his own making. He is HURTING you & keeping you trapped so he can work out his negative feelings (about work, school, whatever) by hurting you more. Like any living creature enduring agony & distress, with escape routes cut off, you are responding sometimes. That is inevitable, that is not contributing to the toxicity, that is merely you being pushed so far beyond your emotional limits that you experience difficulty playing along with this jackass.

      He is never going to accept even partial responsibility for this mess and it isn’t worth your time to try & convince him that he’s accountable, but I want YOU to know: this is not your fault, not even a little bit.

  41. I agree 100% with all the a advice from CA and the commenters above, but if you need another perspective, try this:

    A healthy relationship requires time and energy from both partners. Writing a thesis takes time and energy. In the most charitable evaluation possible, let’s assume your partner is putting time and energy into your relationship. All the evidence shows that he does not have enough time and energy left over to succeed with his thesis. The best thing you can do here is to give him the gift of no longer supporting your relationship, thereby getting him up to devote himself entirely to his academic career. Keeping him in the relationship is sabotaging his career. Free him up now.

    Alternately, he is not investing in your relationship and is still falling academically. And blaming his failure on you.

    There is no reason to continue harming him academically, or alternately to remain with someone who uses you as a scapegoat for his failings.

    Draft your breakup note (using this analysis if you like, or no reason at all). Tell him you you will accept no further contact. Block him on all email, social media and phone lines. Send the email. Tell any/all mutual acquaintances the you have broken up and you don’t want any contact with him. Treat yourself to celebrate your kindness to both of you.

  42. And since the thesis and career seem to be the drum he’s beating, let’s talk about that.

    Let’s assume he’s more or less telling the truth that his thesis failed because he was depressed about your break-up and didn’t – what, concentrate on it enough? Do a good enough job? Put in enough time? (This is giving him the benefit of the doubt, as ‘Didn’t work hard enough,’ ‘Isn’t able enough,’ and ‘There’s a problem with the thesis concept that needs to be tackled at source, which means he needs to stop blaming you and start some serious conversations with his tutors’ are all other possibilities. But let’s assume.)

    There are two possibilities here:

    1. He was upset, but not clinically depressed.
    2. He was actually clinically depressed.

    If it’s 1, then in blunt honesty, a life in academia is not for him. It’s tough enough even for the people who have their life together; for people whose work falls apart when they’re having personal problems, it’s doomed. There aren’t many jobs in the field, and he’s competing against people who can get their thesis up to scratch even if they do have a break-up. He may be able to control whether you leave him, but he can’t control the whole world. If he can’t do the work unless everything’s fine, he can’t do the work and he needs to find something else.

    If it’s 2, then he needs to be talking to a doctor, not you. But you didn’t cause the depression. Maybe the stress of the relationship failing – and it was the relationship failing, not you failing, and relationships fail all the time – that triggered it. But if that’s what happened, that’s still not your fault. Break-ups don’t create depression in people whose brains weren’t already liable to get depressed – especially a break-up where the breaker is doing their best to be considerate and amicable about it. If you trip over a booby-trap and set it off, that doesn’t mean you laid the trap. If it wasn’t you, it would have been something else.

    Mental illnesses among graduate students are actually extremely common; it’s a stressful and isolated life. Some of them clench their teeth and ride it out and get their degrees despite all the misery. Some of them have to stop and re-think their life, and it’s really, really hard. But in neither of those situations is it normal to guilt-trip your wanting-to-be-ex-partner into staying with you and giving you sex, and insult her by calling her dishonest or a dealer in ‘bullshit’ if she tries to explain that she isn’t happy.

    All this is distractions around the real issue. If he’s a grad student, he’s presumably smart enough to come up with good distractions. But whatever is going on with his thesis, it is no excuse for the very nasty treatment he is dishing out.

  43. Also: you say he’s depressed. I don’t know if that means clinically depressed or not, but if it is…

    Mental illnesses are extremely common among grad students; it’s a psychologically dangerous field.

    Bullying a wants-to-be-ex-partner into sticking around, providing sex, and putting up with insults about being a dishonest bullshitter when they say they’re not happy … are not normal.

    Even if he’s depressed, that is not something you should stick around for. You are under no obligation to go down with this ship.

  44. Oh LW, please listen to the wise Captain! Look at what he’s doing! “You’re a terrible person for finding me it difficult to leave me earlier. I’m now going to make it WAY MORE DIFFICULT for you to do that thing you should have done, in just the way you feared I would (only worse). This remains all your fault.”

    You’ve called yourself a coward — and you’re not a coward, you’re a good, kind, generous person who’s being manipulated! — but think for a moment about what you were scared of a year ago. You were scared of hurting him. He’s proved you right to be scared of that, because he’s performing Being Hurt relentlessly to make it as unpleasant as he possibly can for you, so that you’ll feel like his being hurt is the Worst Thing In The World — and no one wants to face the worst thing in the world! But you keep saying you know the right, brave, best thing to do was to leave even though it was scary, even though it would have hurt him. You’re STILL afraid of hurting him, but what you know about then is still true now: you should do the scary brave thing anyway. In another year you”ll only be looking back at NOW at a missed opportunity for leaving, and he’ll be trying to convince you if you really wanted to leave you should’ve left, and now it’s too late and you’ll have to stay forever. Or instead of a year from now, think of 18 months ago — back then, when you were so scared of hurting him! — if you HAD spoken up, would he have said, “OK, fine, the main thing is that the timing’s right. I will think of you fondly, cheerio?” No. This isn’t about your not leaving in the exact correct way, or at the exact right time, or making it up to him in the exact right way. It’s about you leaving at all and how he’s going to punish you for even thinking about doing it.

    His academic problems are not your fault. Plenty of people who are single or in less-than-ideal relationships manage to complete their theses successfully, without the “adequate support” of their perfect partner. If he sensed something was off, and if this was seriously getting him down to the extent it was affecting his work, he didn’t have to wait for YOU to raise the courage to bring it up. HE could have talked to YOU. He could have LEFT YOU rather than stay in a relationship that was keeping him from focusing on his studies. And even if you now WERE somehow the problem with his thesis. 1) OK good let’s remove the problem, then, 2) even if you were not the problem but the one and only cure, you’d still have the right to leave in search of your own happiness, even if you were taking his PhD chances with you. Really, I promise!

    Finally, you’re so wrapped up in the idea of how you make amends for the “damage you’ve done.” What does he owe you for the damage he’s done YOU? He’s kept you trapped in a miserable relationship for a year, he’s pushed you into sex he knows you don’t want, he’s guilt-tripped you to bits for a very normal human set of conflicted feelings –he’s made you feel, from the sound of it, awful, for months. I’d say the least he “owes” you for that is his immediate absence from your life. Fortunately you can claim this with or without his consent.

    (Sorry if this posts twice!)

  45. This is a generic piece of advice that may or may not apply. I might be being ridiculous and you have no reason to worry. BUT.

    If you can get pregnant and are currently using birth control, and it is the sort of birth control that be tampered with … check that shit out. Be wary of ‘accidents’. Go to the sexual health clinic and get yourself tested for all the things.

    Let people know where you are when you tell that it is over. Please note that you have the full and complete permission of every Captain Awkward reader to break up by phone/text/email/facebook/skywriting.

    1. By postcard.
      By note left on the kitchen counter after you have left.
      By fingerpaint on the mirror.
      By singing telegram.
      By truck with loudspeaker going up and down the street imminent-street cleaning parking violation warning style. (Okay, that one’s rather rude to the neighbors.)
      By dedicating a breakup song to him on a request & dedication hour.
      By ad-libbing a pop song about what a pooproomba he’s being and releasing it on Soundcloud and hoping it goes viral.

          1. OMG I laughed until I cried and couldn’t breathe. Pooproomba. Oh god. Maybe I *don’t* want a Roomba…

      1. If you’re in my area, I can probably get a crew of armored, rattan fighters to deliver your break-up letter to him personally.

          1. And we’ve had some folks from the local group provide “escape services” for a case like this. One of their members was being abused by their spouse. So, while Abusive Spouse was out, a group converged on the house to help pack up their things and bug-out before Abusive Spouse got back.

          2. *waves from the Kingdom of Drachenwald*

            And yes, I had SCA friends lined up to rescue me from Darth Gaslighter, and when he unexpectedly helped me move out a day earlier than planned, they braved late-night London buses to bring me a mug and tea in my new share flat.

            SCA people are the best Team Me ever.

          3. *have run out of nesting – hope this makes sense*

            Damn straight! LW, if you’re interested in history check out the Society for Creative Anachronism. We have a lot of fun together and, at least with the groups I’ve worked with, pull together to help our “chosen family”. Stories of how people helped each other at this year’s Gulf Wars when severe weather nearly blew/washed whole camps away will be retold forever.

  46. “His career-to.be is the only thing he’s good at carreer-wise”

    But he’s not good at this field. At all.

    Look, lots of people fail their thesis the first time. Their adviser tells them to beef it up or sharpen the focus or whatever, they make some changes, and they pass and go on to do great work.

    But he failed twice? He will never pass. Regardless of whether it’s fair or unfair, his professors are saying that he’s no good at this, and should drop out.

    And that has nothing, nothing to do with you. Nothing you have done could have made him pass, and nothing you or any other partner could do in the future will make him pass next time.

    1. I didn’t want to get into this because I’m not sure how much this varies by field, but yeah, I definitely went “whoa, whoa” when LW mentioned failing the thesis multiple times. In my field, it was extremely unusual to fail even once. The idea was that if you weren’t good enough to pass, your supervisor should never have let you get to this point and definitely not let you submit. Failing multiple times is, to me, the sign of either someone really stubborn submitting despite the fact that his supervisor is advising him against it (/advising him to quit), or something terribly wrong in that department. Neither of them are good, and neither of them are in favour of this idea that if you play your role of Romantic Partner-Shaped Pacifier well enough he’ll pass next time.

    2. Hi – I’m the LW. I’m reading all your comments right now – thank you for your support! I may not be able to comment much, but please be sure that I’m reading everything you’ve written so far.

      I’m commenting to say that I’ve realized just now that “failed” doesn’t really say what the problem was. It’s that he never actually submitted what he had completed of the thesis by the time the deadline rolled around. So the problem isn’t so much that he’s not good at what he’s doing (he even has a job in his chosen field), it’s more like he’s not good at thesis writing and managing the pressure that goes with it.

      1. Hi LW!

        I don’t think you’ve been unclear. And honestly, what you say just sounds like further support of what’s wrong with this guy: he’s not taking responsibility. It would almost be more to his credit if he’d submitted his thesis on time and had it sent back. At least then he’d be trying to keep his side of the bargain with the academic authorities. And at least then he couldn’t be blamed for feeling confused and not knowing what to do.

        Instead, there’s a situation with a very clear solution. Not an easy solution, perhaps, but a clear one. He needs to figure out how to deal with deadlines. And he’s consistently choosing not to do that.

        Miss one deadline because of emotional crisis? Okay, it happens.
        Fail to square situation with university while you get appropriate help (i.e. NOT EX-PARTNER) for emotional crisis, and miss a second deadline? Unprofessional.
        Keep failing to get proper help, and stomp around declaring that if you don’t give him the limitless girlfriend experience it’ll be your fault if he misses the third deadline? Time to take back your beautiful life.

        He’s got a problem in his work habits, and he’s not trying to fix them; he’s blaming you for not making him feel sufficiently better that his habits magically change. That’s not how you fix a problem. You can’t be with a guy who expects you to love/serve away his own failures to sort out his own issues, and you don’t want to be, and that’s because you’re sensible.

        Just think how many cool things you could be doing if you took back the energy he’s draining from you and put it towards something better. You are too nice and too great to be wasted in this disaster zone.

      2. And that is not your problem.

        If you were a functional couple who were working as a partnership, the two of you might want to sit down and negotiate shared chores, responsibilities and associated ‘couple activities’ such that Thesis-Writer has sufficient time and space to complete the thesis. However, you are not a functional couple. In order to provide Thesis-Writer with sufficient time and space to complete the thesis, you need to get out of the relationship so he will stop spending time and energy attempting to manipulate you into staying with him, and will maybe spend time trying to finish the thesis.

        Get out, get out, get out.

        This is not a delicate situation that requires negotiation. This is a field of red flags waving merrily in the breeze saying “Run! Run now!”

      3. LW,

        I’m happy to grant that he’s good at his field and lousy at time management.

        That’s still not on you.

        You were his romantic partner, not his therapist nor his thesis committee.

        It’s ok to leave him.

        Jedi hugs if you want them

      4. LW,
        I have considerable experience with thesis-writing students at various levels (in a technical field, for what that’s worth). It’s actually pretty common for people to be quite good at doing the work, even to the extent of having a good job doing it, and yet not be good at writing it up from the perspective of research. And this latter is what you have to do for a thesis, because presenting it as research is key to a thesis. It is also not all that rare for people who are all about the doing to be really bad at the writing-as-research, and at planning this out (because they’re so sure they know what they’re doing but their perspective leads them astray and their brains don’t seem to engage on working out the explanation, meanwhile there are far more interesting things to work on elsewhere). Writing up is not an easy step. I’ve seen some students do almost anything to put it off, even as they assure everyone else that it will be no problem once they get around to it.

        None of that is really anything to do with you, of course, but it’s important to realize that “just doesn’t finish writing up on time” often is a handwaving that masks greater difficulties, and is a longer-term and more significant issue than you may be trying to convince yourself it is. I haven’t yet seen anyone mention the Sheelzebub Principle — how long are you willing to have this continue? Because this isn’t just “provide him with convincingly affectionate sex in the short-term so he can finish”, as horrifying as that itself is. As others have said, there will always be a next thing he will need support with, and that’s even if he manages to get this one done. And if he doesn’t (meaning, he gets a final failure and thrown out for lack of completion) — given that his answer so far is to blame you for apparently failing in your supposed duty to love him, you need to get away from him before that happens.

      5. Dearest TW846, it doesn’t matter what the problem was, whether he only did part of it or didn’t turn it in or wrote it in Klingon. It is not your fault that he failed it. Not one tiny bit. I have been in a relationship where every argument, every problem, every slightest hint of imperfection in life was My Fault, and I am here to tell you that is a shitty way to live. It’s exhausting and it wears you down and it’s just so wrong.

        It will be very hard for you to break up with this guy. He will try to tell you again what you owe him and what you may or may not do and he will tell you how wrong you are on every count. You will have to be strong, and you will have to keep telling yourself you are NOT WRONG for wanting to break up. But maybe it will help a little to imagine the CA Army standing behind you, holding you up, chanting over and over that you can and should get out now. This guy is a douchecanoe, and you need to get out of his boat before you drown.

        Take care of yourself, and please keep us updated. You are strong, and you can do this.

      6. Dear TW846,

        This might be the type of advice that doesn’t make sense or do a whole lot of good in the middle of whatever your relationship with this dude is, but I’ll give it and hope it helps.

        In my experience if you describe a situation to a group of people you’re soliciting detached advice from and their collective and uniform reaction is, “Sweet Jesus, RUN!” with a heaping helping of sympathy, similar horror stories and jedi hugs on the side the problem is almost never that you left out the one tiny detail that will change their collective reaction. You have not explained yourself poorly. Unless you burned his thesis or threw it off a bridge and deleted it from his computer him missing his deadline is simply not your fault. A professional giver of advice and scores of commenters have not misunderstood your situation because of the ineffable quality of personal experience. You are in a worrying situation, and I for one feel like I’m just hoping that a phrase or sentence or paragraph you read here will be what you needed to hear to get out of it.

        If you run a scenario by a few people, hopefully trustworthy and not personally affected by that situation, and they all give you the same answer, perhaps an answer you don’t want or weren’t expecting, the issue is basically never that you can’t find the right words to describe the situation or are leaving out some crucial detail.

        A thought experiment: Imagine if every relationship ended like yours is. Would you recommend or encourage it?

        One or the other person decides the relationship should end and then the couple negotiates who owes who a period of support and sexual access according to a geometry of wrongdoing or whatever. Does that sound sane or reasonable? Would you EVER be in a relationship ever? Would you end your next relationship this way? You can still choose to stop ending this one this way, too. If you are in the middle of something that you would never, ever do again, you can choose to stop doing it now.

        Take steps to be safe and get out. I hope you can see your way to taking Cap’s advice. All you have to do is go.

      7. Hi LW, I’m getting the sense it might be kind of overwhelming to have everyone present such a different viewpoint. It can be hard to try to switch from “I’m the bad one/crazy one” to “my partner is not treating me well.” As others have mentioned, your experience of being pressured to stay in a relationship you no longer want set off alarm bells for me. I recently began working with people who are in or have experienced domestic violence. Your story sounds very similar in some ways to the stories I hear from clients (many abusive relationships do not involve physical violence per se but can still be considered violent). You get to choose how you view this relationship but please know that it does sound indeed as if there are abusive/red flags (e.g. partner not taking accountability, making himself the focus of emotional attention, and making it difficult for you to leave). Please know that these situations are very difficult to leave because the other person is literally taking much of your time and energy in order to keep it that way. You are very brave to ask for help and challenge the narrative that he is telling. As someone suggested up-thread, I would reiterate being strategic and cautious about planning to leave if you decide to do so. Likewise, if you decide to stay for now, I would encourage you to find a trusted person, preferably a therapist, to help you sort this out and be a space for you to process how YOU feel. All the best to you.

  47. “he’s going to fail his thesis again due to my insufficient support”

    No. No. Just No.

    He is going to fail his thesis because he didn’t do the required work/study/research/communications with advisors/whatever. What’s more, I’ll bet a significant sum that he did it on purpose. When he told you that you needed to stay so that he could try to graduate again, and you did, what he learned was failing thesis=LW stays. He doesn’t want you to leave, so he needs to keep trying & failing on his thesis and blaming you for it. I predict that as long as you stay, he will NEVER finish his thesis/graduate. (I mean, he may not finish if you leave, but you leaving breaks the “I get to keep my gf if I fail my thesis” dynamic.)

  48. I’ll take you at your word that your breakup timing wasn’t ideal. You know what you owe a soon-to-be-ex in that case? A little extra graciousness. Maybe some help with the rent if you’re leaving them in an unexpectedly tough spot, or some time for them to process before spreading the news around. Something to make the breakup a little easier on someone you care(d) about. You don’t owe them months more in a relationship you’ve already decided is over. That is super weird of him.

    And by the way, you don’t owe hm any graciousness at all anymore. Leave however you feel least going.


    Holy crap, this guy is emotionally dangerous at the very least. He is miserable, so he wants you to be miserable too. He thinks that if he can make you soak up his misery then he will feel better (spoiler: he won’t, and he ought to know this by now, so what he is actually doing is taking it out on you). He can’t stand the idea of being a failure, so he’s keeping you around to use as a scapegoat so he doesn’t have to accept that he has indeed failed. He needs this so desperately that when you try to leave, he won’t let you. This guy is bad news.

    You need a plan, dear LW. How easy would it be to get the hell out of there? How much stuff can you leave behind? How many friends can you enlist to help you get your stuff the hell out, maybe let you crash at theirs until you’ve sorted yourself out (I’m assuming you live together, but this might not all apply of course)? You need your friends right now, preferably not mutual friends with your boyfriend. And most of all, you need to cut this man out of your life completely.

    I know you care about him, but at this point you are going to have to cut your losses and run away from it all. Please give yourself at least until he has finished this course he is writing a thesis for OR six months, whichever is longer. AT LEAST. During this time, you need to block him on every possible means of communication. You know this relationship is toxic, but only distance will show you exactly how toxic and dangerous it is. Be nice to yourself. Do things you enjoy; maybe start a new hobby to fill the time you would have spent with him. It will be hard, but sometimes you have to rip that band-aid off.

    Because he has convinced you that you’ve ruined his life, you’re ruining your own to try and “fix” things. This is not how it works though. And it wasn’t you ruining his life in the first place.

    I wish you all the best and send Jedi hugs.


    Holy crap, this guy is emotionally dangerous at the very least. He is miserable, so he wants you to be miserable too. He thinks that if he can make you soak up his misery then he will feel better (spoiler: he won’t, and he ought to know this by now, so what he is actually doing is taking it out on you). He can’t stand the idea of being a failure, so he’s keeping you around to use as a scapegoat so he doesn’t have to accept that he has indeed failed. He needs this so desperately that when you try to leave, he won’t let you. This guy is bad news.

    You need a plan, dear LW. How easy would it be to get the hell out of there? How much stuff can you leave behind? How many friends can you enlist to help you get your stuff the hell out, maybe let you crash at theirs until you’ve sorted yourself out (I’m assuming you live together, but this might not all apply of course)? You need your friends right now, preferably not mutual friends with your boyfriend. And most of all, you need to cut this man out of your life completely.

    I know you care about him, but at this point you are going to have to cut your losses and run away from it all. Please give yourself at least until he has finished this course he is writing a thesis for OR six months, whichever is longer. AT LEAST. During this time, you need to block him on every possible means of communication. You know this relationship is toxic, but only distance will show you exactly how toxic and dangerous it is. Be nice to yourself. Do things you enjoy; maybe start a new hobby to fill the time you would have spent with him. It will be hard, but sometimes you have to rip that band-aid off.

    Because he has convinced you that you’ve ruined his life, you’re ruining your own to try and “fix” things. This is not how it works though. And it wasn’t you ruining his life in the first place.

    I wish you all the best and send Jedi hugs.

  51. To put it in a him-centered way, since that is what your immediate concern is:

    Yes, it was a mistake towards both you and him to stick around (out of guilt) after you stopped loving him. It’s a mistake I have made too. It’s painful and confusing to both partners and it’s not the end of the world. (It also seems quite likely it wasn’t entirely your fault given that he is such a clingy person. I mean, why did you feel all this guilt and responsibility towards him that led you to that decision in the first place? He certainly encouraged you to feel more and more guilt and responsibility towards him once the cards were on the table. It appears to be his current orientation toward life and no doubt you sensed that even at the start.) It’s not the end of the world. What heals it is distance and time. Your head gets cluttered like a hoarder’s house and once you’re living in it alone you can drag all the junk out onto the lawn and sort it and throw the trash away. Until then (breaking up) it never gets done due to the endless arguments about whose junk it is. Distance and time will give him the chance for his own sorting process too, whether or not he chooses to do the work of it.

    What’s really getting me here is… OK, disclaimer, I’m going to come off sounding very different from the other people here, but I hope that they will understand. I want to talk to you this way because I believe you are like me. Guilt is a powerful force in your life, you easily fear you are doing harm, and the question of how to avoid harming another person is the most important question to you. And so I want to address that question, whether or not your boyfriend deserves it.

    Your mistake was staying. Every day you continue to stay is a continuation of that mistake. It has the exact same effect it did from the start. You can’t fight fire with more fire. For his sake, leave.

    I know; you want to leave without guilt, so you want to fix it first. Here is how you can un-ruin his life: *leave*. With you gone, he will be forced to break his bad habit of trying to guilt you into sorting his hoarder junk for him, which you were never able to do anyway because nobody can do that for someone else. Even the professionals can only offer encouragement and guidance for the job. Your leaving will give him his one chance to attempt doing it for himself, with or without professional help. That is the only way to un-ruin his life. There are two parts to the job and you can only do one of them: leaving. It will be hard to accept walking away with the other part undone, but that part was never something you could have done for him.

    Don’t let him try to convince you otherwise. He’s obviously very confused right now. The fact that he thought living for six more months and attempting to have sex with someone who didn’t love him anymore would *help* proves that much.

    Best of luck to you. I really mean it.

  52. as he said, “my life was fine until you entered it – now the train has gone off the rails and everyone on it is dead”.

    Holy fuck that’s a terrible thing to say to someone! If you were really so awful, why wouldn’t he just dump you and like, fake his own death and flee the country? Seriously, it makes no sense whatsoever to accuse someone of ruining your life and insist that they stay part of it.

    LW, it is not even slightly your fault that your boyfriend failed his thesis. My theory is that he failed for reasons that have nothing to do with you, but can’t accept that he isn’t a person who can do a thesis and needs someone else to blame. But let’s imagine that somehow you actually did have anything to do with him failing – let’s pretend we’re in some bizarre alternate reality where you throw loud parties when he needs to study and pick screaming fights the night before an exam so he can’t sleep – if that were true, the very best thing you could do for this guy would be to run and not look back. If you really and truly caused him to fail (not even slightly true) the only way to help is not to be around.

    Or to look at things another way, as long as you’re around to take the blame, boyfriend doesn’t have to learn any real coping skills for when things aren’t perfect. That’s actually pretty terrible for him because sooner or later things will not be perfect (like now) and you won’t be able to fix it for him (….like now) and he’ll have no options besides being miserable and blaming you for it.

    I am deeply, deeply unimpressed with your boyfriend, but I’m going to try to have a tiny scrap of compassion for him for a minute. It really must be terrible to feel like someone else is in control of your life, of whether or not you pass your thesis/succeed academically, of whether or not you get a job in your chosen field, of whether or not you ever get to be happy. That is an awful way to live and I don’t wish it on anyone. I think your boyfriend is thrashing around failing at his thesis and blaming you for it because that’s less hard and painful and scary than growing up. Sadly, growing up is just not a thing you can do for him. Right now you are an excuse for him not to grow up, and in the long run letting him keep that excuse is the worst thing for him.

    I’m sending you all the jedi hugs, LW. You deserve better than a loveless relationship where you get blamed for stuff that is not your fault.

  53. Oh LW I just want to hug you. You are trying SO HARD to be a good person and to be fair and unselfish toward your partner.

    Unfortunately he is using this against you. Whether it’s conscious or not (it may very well be unconscious!) he has seen that keeping you feeling guilty and responsible for his problems is the way to get you to do what he wants. So he is creating story after story where you are the bad guy, you are the one who screwed up and has a responsibility to fix it.

    My ex did the same thing. He used my inclination to apologize and take blame and he pressed on it, making me feel so guilty that I got back together with him and thanked him for taking me back. I felt so guilty that even when I began having suicidal ideation, I couldn’t imagine breaking up with him because I had been so wrong before, and I owed it to him to keep trying to make it work. He used my guilt and my desire to be a good person… he didn’t care that it was making me miserable.

    My ex also wanted reasons, and found fault with all the reasons I gave him. So he got to accuse me of being dishonest on top of everything else, even though I was telling him the truth.

    It sounds to me like your boyfriend has gotten way up in your head and undermined your self-worth in a hundred tiny ways. It sounds to me like you aren’t really ready to contemplate a life with him completely gone. Like the Captain, I can’t convince you how completely wrong he is, and how toxic and full of bees this relationship is. All I can do is hope in that little voice inside you that says this isn’t right, that maybe you’ve given more than enough and you don’t have to listen to his logic or convince him anymore. I hope that you will listen to that voice, and that it will get louder, and that you’ll start to believe it.

  54. Dear LW:

    The Captain’s advice is golden. I nth especially the advice to talk only to not-him about your breakup and feelings.

    Here’s the only the I’d add to it, You’re Already Broken Up, and He Is Your Ex.

    Let that thought float around for a little bit. You’ve broken up with him. He isn’t your boyfriend.

    Welcome to the Fuck-its where the opinions of people who do not treat us well are ignored. You’ll like it here.

    Jedi hugs if you want them.

  55. LW, when I read your letter my heart just broke for you.
    You are not a train wreck.
    You haven’t ruined his life.
    It is not your fault.
    Really, I cannot stress this enough, LW: it is not your fault. It never was.

    Your boyfriend is an adult, and that means that he’s responsible for his actions, and their consequences. I don’t know what went down with his thesis, maybe it was just life being shitty, but if that was the case, well. Sometimes no one is to blame for life’s shittiness. And that means that, if he, who is the one working on this project, is not at fault, *you are definitely not at fault either*, because you’re less involved than him in this project.

    The crux of the matter is, if you feel it’s over, if you want to break up, you don’t need any more reasons. “No” is a complete sentence. Your relationship is not a thesis, you don’t need a board to approve your reasons and confirm that it’s over.
    Right now, your relationship is not making either of you happy. It hasn’t made either of you happy for a long time. Staying in this relationship is going to continue making you both unhappy.

    You’ve ruined no one’s life, LW. You do deserve to be happy. Your boyfriend deserves to be happy, too, but you cannot do that work for him. Happiness depends first and foremost on oneself: love cannot cure depression.

    So, either for your own happiness, or at least to stop the continued state of unhappiness in both your lives, the best course of action would be to break up. As most violent behaviour against women in romantic relationships goes down when or shortly after a woman leaves a relationship*, I think it would be more prudent not to tell him face to face: email, text or letter work great. Just as you don’t owe him anymore time as a girlfriend, or a “correct” reason to break up, you don’t owe him a “correct” way to break up. That said, if *you* want to break up with him face-to-face, do so in a public space in full view of several people, let a trusted friend know beforehand what’s going on for moral support, and make sure you have your own transportation *separate from his* there and back home. If you guys live together, leave first with all your things (preferably to a place where he can’t reach you, say, a friend’s couch) and break up with him later.

    *I’m not saying “your boyfriend is gonna assault you”, I’m saying “better safe than sorry” and “taking care of yourself first is the only way you’ll be able to take care of anyone else later”.

    I wish you all the best, LW, and you’ve not ruined his life. Promise.

  56. I infer from CA’s comments that LW is afraid they will become “the ‘mean, selfish’ person you swore you never wanted to be.”

    Guess what? The “best” way to become exactly that is to stick around.

    Staying with someone you don’t really want to be with because you feel you aren’t allowed to leave (or can’t leave) is pretty much guarranteed to make you not only hate and resent him, but become obsessed with your resentment and hatred of him and anything that is remotely connected with your time with him.

    1. This is so true. I was by any objective standard a *much* worse human being when I was in a relationship with my emotionally abusive Darth Ex–not just to him, but to everyone else around me. Misery, as it turns out, tends to make people act out in fucked up ways. We have this pernicious cultural myth that misery builds character, but it is a lie.

      Also, it is NOT selfish to break up with someone just because you no longer want to date them. Everybody gets to leave relationships.

  57. A little personal story: before my ex-wife and I definitively split, she was coy about what was going on with her – she just said she had some stuff to work out and seemed very unhappy and unwilling to talk to me about it. Eventually, after a lot of mixed messages, she finally came out and stated that she didn’t love me any more.

    My response was “Well, that’s your problem”, and we stopped living with each other at that point. Up to that point, I thought that whatever was going on was something that could be negotiated or worked on together or with the help of a relationship counsellor. Once she outlined what the core problem was, I decided right there that there was no room for negotiation there because it wasn’t down to a problem that could be solved or an emotional crisis that could be worked through – it was about a crucial foundation of the relationship collapsing, and it couldn’t stand after that, and I decided that absolutely nothing could be accomplished by “fighting” for the marriage because there was nothing left to fight for.

    I think when dudes do what LW’s boyfriend is doing, it comes down to a combination of two different things:
    1: They kid themselves into thinking “I don’t love you any more” can be negotiated with.
    2: They are willing to stoop real low when it comes to their “negotiation” tactics.

    It is terrifyingly easy to see those two as good things if you trick yourself into doing so. You just say to yourself things like:
    – “This relationship is too important to give up on!”
    – “I’m fighting for the relationship for the good of both of us!”
    – “I love you too much to quit!”

    Lots of dudes would think that’s an admirable position, that giving up and walking away from a battle is a bad thing, that heroes NEVER GIVE UP and NEVER QUIT.

    I saw where I might end up going if I tried to stay in the fight, and it didn’t involve being a hero. LW’s other half probably sees himself as the hero of this situation, but he isn’t. He’s the Darth Vader in this scenario.

    LW, I don’t know you or your boyfriend, but I would be willing to bet that there will *never* be a “right time” for you to leave him as far as he is concerned.

  58. Wait, so…to make up for continuing to date him even though you don’t love him anymore, he’s…making you continue to date him even though you don’t love him anymore?

    No. This makes no sense. RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN!

  59. I know that many people have already said this, but I think it bears repeating: these things he says are your fault? ARE NOT your fault.

    He says it is your fault he failed his thesis.
    –Did you break into his computer and delete it, or insert “Fuck you, thesis committee!” into every other footnote? (I find this unlikely)
    –Did you keep him up all night and not let him get any sleep the night before his defense, demanding that you go out dancing/clean the fridge/talk about The Force? (I am thinking probably nope)
    –Did you deliberately misplace his supplies and then tell him he was crazy when he could not find his books/data/certified lab goggles? (this classic gaslighting technique does not seem like you)

    Then you were not responsible, in any way, for this failure.
    While sometimes grad students do fail for lack of support, the onus of blame is on the thesis committee and the department. YOU cannot teach him how to write a grant proposal if they won’t, give him more lab access, prevent microaggressions or sexual harassment, or provide mental health care.

    Telling you that this is your fault is emotional abuse, gaslighting, and as many other posters have said, is a way to trap you in a relationship that is toxic for both of you. But especially for you.

    It is okay to break up with someone just because you don’t “feel it” any more. It is more than okay to break up with someone who is actively making both of you this unhappy.

    1. And in the highly unlikely event that you did those things, LW? (Because I do not think the person who would do those things would be writing in, wracked with guilt and concern for her boyfriend’s feelings, and yet only be able to point to not leaving at the exact right time as an example of what she did wrong) But let’s say you set his notebooks on fire and put jam in his petri dishes. These are very bad things to do and you should never do them again. He would, in that case, have excellent justification for being angry with you, possibly forever. But you would still get to leave, and you still SHOULD leave. You would still have the right not to be stuck with someone who makes you miserable. And even if you decided you deserved to be miserable, being with someone who wanted so badly to be gone could never make him happy.

      1. This is SO ABSOLUTELY true. Like you, I don’t think the LW did do these things. But even so? NO ONE is obligated to stay.

        A romantic partner is not an indentured servant.

    2. Yeah, the only way it’s LW’s fault if he fails is if LW is ACTIVELY SABOTAGING him. And they would still get to leave.

  60. I’m leaving the world of lurking in order to write a comment for the first time ever because I am reading these comments trying to convince myself to break up with the live-in boyfriend who I love but also just can’t date anymore. My parents love him, everyone loves him, but I just don’t want this anymore and I feel awful about it.

    I keep returning to this specific letter because I need to hear that I can leave a relationship *just because* I don’t want to be in the relationship anymore

    1. You really can.

      If someone you loved and cared about was miserable dating someone, would you tell them that they had to stay because everyone else thought it was a good idea and there was a committee vote or would you tell them it was okay to leave so they didn’t have to look at feeling small and being miserable for the rest of their life?

      Be that person to yourself.

      1. Or even turn it around. Would you want someone to stay with you when they didn’t really want to be there?

    2. Yes, you can leave.

      If your parents love him, they can still see him now and then. It’s also possible that what they love about him is that they think he is making you happy/taking care of you/good for you in general.

    3. Hugs to you. You can leave, for any and all reasons, but just not wanting to be in the relationship anymore is 100% an excellent reason to leave for both your sakes!

      Everyone loves him? Sure. But everyone loves YOU, too. They won’t blame you. They won’t hate you. Your family and friends value your happiness above how much they might like your boyfriend.

      I mean, I was in the same situation. My family still keeps in touch with him, but not via me. I still keep in touch with his family, whom I genuinely love, but not via him. I wish him well, he wishes me well, we’ll send holiday gifts to small kids in the families on both sides because we still love THEM too, but we’re under no obligation to love one another.

      1. Everyone loves him? Sure. But everyone loves YOU, too. They won’t blame you. They won’t hate you. Your family and friends value your happiness above how much they might like your boyfriend.

        The Bear is wise, dear Librarian.

        I adored DS’s former partner. You know what? I am so glad that they realized that loving each other did not mean being in a romantic relationship was good for them, and moved on while they could still be dear friends. Yeah, they cried and it hurt and was hard — but it’s been two years and they’re griping about their jobs and providing dating feedback: “Wait, he was late and didn’t text, and then was rude to the server? Girl. No”. AND DS was free to move hundreds of miles away for a job he’s thrilled about, without worrying about how her graduate studies fit into the picture.

        So if you want to break up? There doesn’t have to be anything wrong with him. You can just be done. It’s okay. It doesn’t have to last forever to have been good.

        1. Thank you for not being like my mother who was all “I THOUGHT YOU LOVED HIM” and when I explained patiently that yes, we both did love each other but our relationship couldn’t work anymore, snapped at me “If you really loved each other you’d make it work. Obviously you don’t know what love is.” This guy was…well, he was a bit like LW’s boyfriend. There were bees.

          I know she’s a child of her time but “I’m older than you therefore I have more life experience” is bullshit coming from someone who has *never had a romantic relationship end* and is still with the only serious partner she’s had. And I cheer when I see someone as supportive as you 🙂

        2. Thank you so much for all of these replies. I am going to do it tonight and I know it is going to hurt but I know it will only hurt more if I keep not doing it. I’m only 20, I won’t be alone forever, probably.

          1. you won’t be alone forever, *definitely*. you will meet new people, and find people that fit you better. it will happen. I promise. 🙂

          2. Dearest Alien Librarian, when I was 20 I married a man because I thought it would hurt him too much if I broke up with him. Do not be like me. It will hurt, yes; it will be sad to see him sad, it will be hard to follow through and not go back, but believe me with all of your heart and brain, it will be worse if you stay.

            Best of luck to you–

  61. LW, you write “Had I known this was going to happen, I’d not have hesitated about the breakup.”

    If you hesitate about the breakup again, what will you tell yourself in six months? In a year? Please don’t make the same mistake twice, please get out NOW.

    1. This is a fantastic point. LW, if things never change (spoiler: they won’t), in one year from now how much are you gonna wish you pulled the plug NOW instead of digging yourself deeper by “worsening” his life in the intervening year?

  62. LW, I hope you leave. Today would be good. Even if you leave behind some of your stuff.

    I could so have written this letter (well, um, about 40 years ago). First I had to say I still loved him so he would drive me home from the deep, dark woods where his parents’ house was (somewhere out of sight) that I had never been before. Then I had to be nice to his parents so it wouldn’t ruin his race tomorrow. Then I had to stay his girlfriend so he could salvage the semester.

    I stayed to the end of the semester and broke up with him during the week between semesters. It was messy; both the Dean of Students and the police were involved during the next month or so.

    Six months later I learned that the reason he was a year older than the rest of us was that he’d been kicked out the previous year … over a girl … whom he had stalked … and whose father he had attacked.

    Leave. Leave today. Stay on a friend’s couch until you find your own place. Get out now.

    1. “First I had to say I still loved him so he would drive me home from the deep, dark woods where his parents’ house was (somewhere out of sight) that I had never been before.”

      Eeeek – that made the hair stand up on my arms. I’m so glad you got out of that safely, maggiebea!

  63. LW, you must leave him. You are not the help he needs, and you will help him by leaving. No contact.
    What he needs is a lot of time with his thesis advisor.

    Coercion is a word meaning to force another to preform acts contrary to their will.

  64. As an addendum to my comment which is still in moderation:

    Also, I meant to say, even if staying was a mistake, you did not actually ruin his life. My analogy about the junk sorting does not have all the junk coming from your decision—far from it. It’s like, the pile predated you—so you accidentally added a few items, so what? That doesn’t make you responsible for the pile—that’s his misguided hope that someone will fix it all for him talking.

  65. LW, when I read your letter, all I can see is myself. 20 years ago.

    I stayed.

    I’m the one who got ruined. I’m the one with scars from the emotional abuse and manipulation. I’m the one who was used like a stepping stone — the instant he found something he liked better, he went for that person and now he is ruining their life, too, by expecting them to be everything while he is nothing.

    It only worsened. I couldn’t do anything without disappointing him. Everything I did, I was doing wrong, and I should do it his way because it would be “easier for both of us.” If he had an emotional problem rooted in my behavior (that being “Failing to be happy with him at ALL! TIMES!”), I had to deal with it. If I had an emotional problem that was rooted in his behavior (that being “I hate being told everything I am doing is wrong and I wish you would stop browbeating me and start treating me like a person instead of an approval vending machine”) then there wasn’t time/it hurt him too much/I was just flat-out wrong/it was my mental illness and not me talking.

    I was somehow the one who was “high-maintenance” and “demanding” when this faulty motherfucker wouldn’t even let me have a goddamn toaster. (Toast every day now, you son of a bitch. GFY.)

    Do you think his behavior is going to de-escalate somehow? Because it won’t. And it might very well get worse. I’m . . . I don’t think I’m out of line saying that it could get a LOT worse. Like yelling, instead of just whining. Like yelling escalating into physical retribution. Like coercion escalating into rape. (I can’t define your experiences for you, but a lot of people, self included, would already consider it rape if they were in your position.)

    There is no magic formula here. You cannot salvage this for him. He has ruined it. It is not your fault.

    Get out. Run.

    I am going to point you at this letter because it contains a comment by Lucia Mora that I immediately thought of because part of it is so, so relevant. I was not the LW of the original letter, but this comment helped me immensely and I have never forgotten it.


    “You do not have to accept his side of the story here, or try to see things from his point of view, or accept his guilt-tripping and passive-aggressive bullshit. You do not have to pity him for not being able to deal, or help him, or stick around and hope he will change, or wait until things are good again before you leave because leaving someone during a hard time is supposedly totally a shitty thing to do, even if it is often necessary for the survival of our innermost selves. You don’t have to wait for a better time to make the decision. You can make it today.

    You can make it right now.

    There is a door inside you labeled “THE WAY OUT,” and through that door is the possibility of a good life lived with someone who respects you, a life of integrity and partnership. You can decide to open that door right now. You can decide to go. And it will be a hard decision, it will be hard over and over again because it’s real and it must be lived every day, but it is worth it. It is so worth it.

    All you have to do with your life is what is best for you. Because if you do what HE thinks is best for HIM, you are living your life for someone else, and that person *does not respect you*. He resents you, he teases you, he resents you some more, he tears you down where you should be strong by telling you that you are not good enough, that he does not trust you. And in what world is that okay? In what world is that fair? HIS. Not yours. Not the one you want to be in a year from now. Or five. Or ten.

    Yeah, you’re making all the sacrifices. Do you want to sacrifice your self to this guy? Is he worth that?

    If you aren’t a selfish bitch, you need to FIND your inner selfish bitch, give her the keys, and let her be the one to hit the gas and give him the finger as you speed the fuck away. You need her. She is your best friend right now. Let her in and let her help you pack your shit up and GTFO.

    Run. Be a bitch. Be *free*.”

    LW, you need to run. Trust me. Please don’t be me. Please be the person who saw the warning signs early on and didn’t wait 20 years to leave a crushing relationship. Please, please, please get out.

    You have all my sympathy. All my love, all my support, all my good hopes and wishes. And from so many others here as well. Please, run as far and as fast as you can.

    1. That was an awesome comment, and I wish for you all the toast you could ever eat. 🙂

  66. My jaw dropped when you said you were still having sex, even when you don’t want to. I just… I… ugh. This guy is a piece of garbage who is trying to manipulate you into being a punching bag/sex toy. You deserve so, so much better than this. Tell him to fuck off.

    Sometimes I understand the hesitation when there may be mental issues involved. But in this case, he is being openly manipulative, and has somehow convinced you that all his problems are your fault, and you “owe” him. A friend of mine deals with panic attacks, depression, insomnia, and a major history of other psychological issues. She got a 2 week extension after a panic attack, but submitted her master’s thesis (and scored 80+, which is extremely high in the UK grading system). You didn’t make him FAIL A THESIS TWICE. He did that. Sometimes I’m guilty of hemming and hawing and trying to let people down nicely. Not this time, friend. Hit the road and flip him the bird.

  67. TLDR: LW you can’t and don’t owe ANYONE love or sex or affection, your kindness and empathy right now should be for yourself not your ex

    Dearest LW,
    I’ve not been in your situation but I think I get how you feel. The pull to make things better, to help people, to care for people… I think you have it in spades. So do I.
    Please LW, care about ONE more person, the person people with strong senses of empathy and compassion and kindness so frequently forget to care for: YOURSELF.

    You deserve to live a life of love and joy.
    You deserve to choose what company you keep.
    You deserve to choose whether and when and with whom to share love and sex and friendship and nurturing. These are gifts you don’t owe to *anyone*. Gifts should be given freely and by choice. Your ex is demanding gifts that you could never, ever “owe” to him or anyone.
    You deserve to be respected and treated like an autonomous human being (and not a live-in life-fixing machine)
    You deserve to be the main character of your own story, not a sidekick in his.

    I know the guilt and the pain of not managing to help someone as much as you / they wanted. I carry guilt and shame in my heart for not loving my exes out of their mental health problems (which was always impossible). You didn’t make your ex depressed and you can’t fake-love him out of it. It’s impossible. It’s completely futile. I think maybe you both know it is.
    Please try and turn that kindness and empathy and compassion towards yourself, LW. What would the most loving thing for you to do for yourself? What would further your dreams and goals, what would help YOU?
    You don’t need or want to be trapped playing house with someone you don’t love.

    I hope you get out, LW. I hope you will be kind to yourself and do things that you want to do. I hope you remember that you are a kind and good and loving person outside of this doomed fake-relationship with your ex and you find ways to expressing your kindness far away from him.

    I hope you write back one day to the Captain or on the forums and tell us how great you feel once you’ve put yourself back together.

  68. LW, you sound like an incredibly kind person. I’m so very sorry you’re in this situation (and even more so that you’ve felt captive in it for over a year and 1/2). I think all of the advice so far has been right on the mark, but I’d love to see you navigate both the (official) breakup and the aftermath/ongoing process with a mental health professional. They’ve seen it ALL before and can definitely help you with real-time scripts, etc.

    It really only takes one party to decide that a relationship is over. Good luck and please check back in when you’re ready to tell us how things went.

  69. “He is going to force you to ruthless about it, he is going to draw on every bit of your compassion and guilt and every thing that makes you a nice person who once loved him to try to get you to stay, he is going to push you to be a version of yourself that you are not comfortable with, the one who says “NO, AND ALSO FUCK YOU” and runs off screaming into the night, the “mean, selfish” person you swore you never wanted to be. But you can still leave.”

    I’ve been here as well. I had to get a toxic person out of my life, even when it was clearly a bad time for hir and doing so made me feel like the world’s most selfish, evil bitch. I’d been trying to pull away for years, and xie had started “hoovering” (see this site for explanation: http://outofthefog.website/top-100-trait-blog/2015/11/4/hoovering) to get me back under hir control. Then hir mother died – for which I was sorry, as the mother was a lovely lady, but my toxic person used this as extra leverage. I mean, what kind of person would walk out on a friend who had just lost their mother? I’d have to be the biggest asshole in the universe to do that.

    Well, I took the hit. I was that asshole. And I’m still glad I did it.

    Just one thought I’d like to leave with you, LW. Would your boyfriend be trying to guilt you and play on your empathy and kind feelings if you *weren’t* a kind, supportive person? Surely, if you were a grade-A bitch, he wouldn’t even try as the effort would be futile. The very fact that he is manipulating you like this shows that you actually are a kind, good person. (And he isn’t. Just thought I’d throw that in there.)

      1. Hey, I know you might not gave been aware, but this link is really upsetting. The writer keeps conflating Borderline Personalit Disorder with an abusive personality, as if the Venn diagram between the two is a circle.

        It could be potentially triggering, so I wanted to let there be a warning comment in case anyone eske is sensitive to people with mental disorders being blanket labeled manipulative.

        1. Seriously. Fear of abandonment may be a symptom of BPD, but people with BPD make up a tiny, tiny fraction of people who let fear of abandonment control their behavior. And as with most mental disorders, people with BPD are far more likely to be victims of violence and abuse than perpetrators.

    1. Thanks for this link. I really appreciated the part about ‘realness’. Not everyone who behaves like in the link is abusive. This part helps someone in this situation to understand what could be going on, and to evaluate what to do next, whether or not personality disorder happens to overlap with abusive (NOT always. Occasionally. Just reiterating.) But either way the person dealing with the situation is being helped. This is one of the most nuanced I’ve ever seen, thank you.

    2. I had this happen with a professional relationship that had become personal (platonic friends). She was toxic and had been for the two years I knew her. She hid it decently at first (aided by my excuses I made for her constantly), but over time it became obvious that she was becoming more toxic and that it would not get better. I tried talking to her about it first, but her behavior and words made it clear that she did not see herself as the problem, so I had to cut her out of my life.

      So, I was “that asshole.” I severed our professional relationship, which meant her having to leave my office space – I did not renew her lease, which expired at the end of the calendar year. So I “ruined” her Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year. Her favorite excuse for her behavior was her physical illnesses (all severe enough to impact her life but not enough to motivate any changes); it turns out she did have a real illness underlying all of her drama – a brain tumor, which was diagnosed about a month or two after I had kicked her out. Of course she turned the guilt up a notch by telling /everyone/ about it and sending me an email about it (she has since had CA treatment – messages filtered automatically into an unread folder).

      But guess what – her brain tumor has NOTHING to do with her being a toxic person. (Speaking as a doctor, the type of tumor she has/had does not affect behavior in any way.) She was a toxic person for YEARS. I have found out more about her past behavior since I kicked her out of my life from other people who did not speak up before, which further reaffirmed my decision.

      And what if I really was an asshole? I’m still glad I did it and I would do it again! I wish I had done something /months/ ago because only after she was gone did I realize the full extent of the damage she caused to my practice.

      It doesn’t matter what other people think of you. Do what you need to do to protect yourself. Eventually they will figure out and understand the why behind your actions, or they won’t.

  70. LW, it sounds like he’s having sex with you depsite the fact that it leaves you cold and is painful?
    I understand you might not want to call it rape, but in that situation a lot of people WOULD call it that.
    That alone is more than enough reason to head for the hills. Not that you need permission or a reason beyond “I want to break up”, but this is a VERY VERY good reason.

    Please, just end it. If he needs help he can get it Somewhere Else.

    You focus on helping you, starting by getting away from someone who hurts you in so many ways on a constant basis.

    Take care of yourself.

  71. LW, my partner of 12 years dumped me three weeks ago. I moved out yesterday. I knew he was considering leaving me for about a year before he actually did, and we did several things to try to work on our relationship, but ultimately he was unhappy in it and didn’t want to be there. There was nothing he could do (or was obligated to do) to change that fact, so he left.

    During the past year a lot of my energy has been focused on that relationship, to the point that I allowed some other things to slip. I’ve felt a lot of anxiety about it as well, and that has made some things harder. I’m not thrilled with my performance at work. I haven’t been keeping in good touch with friends. I’ve let some hobbies fall by the wayside. Some of those things will just be okay, some I need to do some work to repair, and some may be lost causes. But you know whose job it is to make it right? Mine. Absolutely, 100%, no question at all, MINE.

    My ex is not responsible for the choices I made about where to focus my energy over the past year. I made some good choices and I made some bad ones. But they were all mine. My ex’s job, now that we’re separated, is to take care of himself. My job is to take care of myself. Heck, my ex’s job, even when we were together, was to take care of himself. Part of doing that for him was ending our relationship. It was also my job to take care of myself while we were together, and to the extent that I failed to do that, it’s _my_ problem.

    LW, your boyfriend is terrified of you leaving him. I can see it in his shitty, manipulative, clingy behaviour. But that fear is _his_ to manage. I suspect the reality will be more manageable for him that he anticipates, but even if it isn’t, that’s his life to deal with. Not yours. Take it from one who was recently, painfully, and one-sidedly dumped: You get to dump him. Even if it really really sucks for him. You don’t owe him your misery and it’s certainly not a price he should be willing to pay to stay together.

    1. “LW, your boyfriend is terrified of you leaving him. I can see it in his shitty, manipulative, clingy behaviour.”

      Too often, in the attempt to hang onto a relationship that is already over, people will clutch their fists so hard they crush the object of their affection. A situation that was always going to be tough is suddenly impossible, especially for the person being smashed to jam in the hands of someone who keeps insisting that the crushing feeling they’re experiencing is actually love.

      But the thing is–once they start that reflexive clutch, you have to get out, because it goes nowhere good from there. Don’t worry about a graceful exit, just get the fuck out.

      And Jake, I’m really sorry this is happening, and I hope your situation improves. 🙂

  72. Oh, LW, honey. You have a tape in your head right now that’s saying “I was a coward and I lied to someone I (once) loved and that hurt him, which in turn caused all of these other problems, and if the problems don’t get fixed then his life will be ruined and it will be all my fault!!”

    That’s not what I’m getting from your story though. To me it looks like: “I realized that my feelings for someone had changed. I didn’t KNOW what to do and I didn’t want to hurt him, so I handled the situation as best I could at the time. Maybe I made some mistakes, which is unfortunate, but a) that doesn’t make me bad, that makes me HUMAN and b) now that I have more experience with these situations, I can avoid making them again.

    In the course of the breakup feelings got hurt. This was unfortunate but also inevitable. My (former) boyfriend didn’t handle things well and it caused some problems in his life. I have done my best to support him through these difficulties in the way HE thinks best. But I’ve realized that the solution he wants isn’t working, and now it’s time to figure out something else.”

    Basically, LW – what if you reframed the story in your head to view yourself with as much compassion and understanding as you’re giving your (former) boyfriend? What if you forgave yourself for not doing everything perfectly, and gave yourself credit for doing the best you could at the time? What if any mistakes you made were just that – mistakes – unfortunate perhaps, but not an indicator of your badness, and certainly not big enough to ruin someone’s life?

    (I mean – unless you broke into his computer and replaced his thesis with a bunch of LOLcat memes, I do not see how you could be responsible for him failing. I also do not see how a few failed theses = career and life ruined forever. Time marches on, and many things that seemed insurmountable in the moment turn out to have been temporary setbacks.)

    LW, what if you set down that rucksack full of guilt, and put the responsibility for your (former) boyfriend’s reactions and emotions back where it belongs – on him? Looking at your story, what I see is that you did the best you could in a tricky situation. Your (former) boyfriend didn’t handle it well and is now going through a rough patch. That’s too bad, but you’ve tried and seen that you can’t fix it for him. So now it’s time to start taking care of yourself.

    1. Basically, this! It’s unfortunate that this break up was dragged out and maybe the LW didn’t handle everything the best way, but they don’t deserved to be punished for it. Break ups are hardly ever pleasant for anyone involved and people make mistakes, doesn’t take away from the fact that both inside and outside of the relationship all parties are responsible for their own damn lives.
      Really, if the opinions of Internet strangers can help in any way, let them stand as an objective account on how there is no law or unwritten rule against people who are in an unhappy break up. There’s only the suckiness of the moment, the things you should do to take care of yourself and, if possible, what you can do to help your ex.

    2. I mean, even if you DID actively and intentionally sabotage his thesis (via LOLCats or whatever), that STILL doesn’t oblige you to stay in this relationship! Even if you’re the worst person in the world, there isn’t some law that says you have to stay to work out your repentance and make up for the bad things you’ve done. In no universe is ‘stay in this relationship’ a suitable ‘punishment’, no matter what you’ve done!!!

  73. Oh, LW. So many hugs.

    This is not your fault.

    This is NOT your fault.

    Not even ONE TINY PART of it.

    You are not mean and selfish and horrible. You are wonderful, and compassionate, and giving and HE IS USING THAT AGAINST YOU.

    He is coercing you into sex you don’t want. That’s horrific! People in a relationship should only want to be having sex with other people who are just as into and digging it as the other person. He’s forcing you into a girlfriend experience. Yeah, that thing they advertise about, except those women get paid money at the end of the night. He wants you to pretend to love him, pretend you want to sleep with him, pretend you’re never leaving.

    Is this someone with your best interests in mind?

    Is this someone with ANY of your interests in mind?

    I’ve been there. I’ve tried to be the most understandingest, compassionate, tiniest taking-up-no-spacest partner possible. Because my Ex was so fragile. Because it affected him so much. Because he had SAD FEELS and that is apparently the absolute worst thing that can happen to a man (save for unattended boners, apparently).

    I left. It wasn’t until I left that I was able to look back on what had happened and call it abuse. I was in such a bizarro-world of fun house mirrors I thought that’s how things were supposed to be. I believed what he told me because I assumed he was talking IN GOOD FAITH like I was. Like people in a relationship are. It wasn’t ever, ever, ever about me.

    It got scary. I left. It was the best decision I’ve ever made. It was hard, there were a lot of feels (mostly fear!), but as I settled and saw my therapist and leaned hard on my Team Me… there was so much support. NO ONE ever questioned my leaving, only why I didn’t earlier, and NO ONE felt I was selfish or mean or horrible for getting the hell out of there.

    Now when he has SAD FEELS? It’s so fucking not my problem. Work woes? Not my circus, not my monkeys. I don’t have to care.

    And that’s so freeing, I can fly.

  74. HOLY CARP this relationship is full of bees. The idea that it’s your fault that he failed his thesis? Ridiculous. The knowledge that he twisted that into you somehow owing him a continued relationship and SEX???? Nope nope saddle up your nopetopus. He is very, very clear in the knowledge that you don’t want this and he’s doing it anyway. HOLY CRUELTY BATMAN. That is a man who doesn’t care about you, let alone love you.

    Just, there is no part of this that’s worth staying around for another SECOND, let alone all the trying to make it work that he’s demanding. His idea of it “working” is you staying around as long as he wants no matter how it makes you feel. Just… ew. YOU OWE HIM NOTHING. Please, please, get out.

    Sorry for all the caps. Just… wow there is no version of this where he’s not a terrible person. Nothing makes this kind of behavior okay.

  75. (Content warning: brief mention of suicidal intent, exacerbated by emotional abuse.)

    I’ve been reading this blog for a while now, but I’m commenting for the first time here because I can’t bear not to.

    LW, this guy sounds an awful lot like my ex, who said a lot of similar things to me regarding his performance in school and life in general (only he was trying — barely — to get through community college courses, nothing like a thesis). He even said similarly melodramatic things to me about “I” had supposedly ruined his life, like “I’m BROKEN because of you,” “There’s a part of me that will NEVER be like it was, thanks to what you did to me,” and “I needed you to BE THERE for me, and you THREW ME DOWN, TRAMPLED ME, and LEFT ME FOR DEAD when I needed you most.” (In that tone of voice, even — shouting, spitting and hissing his words at me, the whole nine yards.) When I tried to leave him, he bullied me into staying, telling me that the reasons I gave him weren’t the “real” reasons and that I “just wanted to get out of taking responsibility for [my] actions”. That last one, he said to me after I told him that I was genuinely suicidal, that I knew I needed professional help, and that I needed to leave him if he was going to stand in the way of my getting help.

    The thing was, the reasons I gave him were always the real reasons; he, however, was trying to goad me into saying something more hurtful, so he’d have “proof” that I was just being a heartless bitch (the latest in a string of heartless bitches who had ruined him), so he could continue casting himself as the victim. Anything I said that could possibly be construed as having malicious intent, even if only in Opposite World, he jumped on and used as evidence that I was THE WORST GIRLFRIEND EVER and only interested in victimizing him for my own gain. Being a victim was easier for him than confronting his own issues head-on; rather than take responsibility for not having his shit together (whether it was his emotional state, his schoolwork, his finances, or literally anything and everything else), he foisted that responsibility onto other people as much as possible. I was out to get him. All his friends were out to get him. The whole world was out to get him. Everything that ever happened around him, whether it was anyone around him having problems of their own or someone driving their car in a way that even slightly inconvenienced him, was happening to him, because no one cared about him or wanted him to succeed. Meanwhile, he couldn’t be bothered to put in the work required to actually progress in his schoolwork — as in, he often didn’t even show up to class, assuming he could just study the material in marathon study sessions right before a test and get great grades anyway — and then was surprised and dismayed when his singular genius () wasn’t enough to get him through, “forcing” him to drop out of all his classes mid-semester. But of course, that was always because of work, or his friends, or me, “demanding” so much of his time and attention. He once reprimanded me for inviting him to a party I was planning to go to, because “It’s already so hard for me to want to study or do homework, and you’re only making it worse by making me wish I was out doing something more fun!”

    I conditioned myself to want, need, and expect as little as possible from him and became disturbingly self-sufficient in that relationship so I could do the emotional work for both of us . . . and he still found ways to make it my fault whenever he hadn’t gotten his shit together enough to succeed.

    And deep down, I wanted it to be my fault — because if it was my fault, that meant it was in my power to make things better or worse, and if I could just find the winning combination of things to do and say that would fix him . . . but eventually, I had to come to terms with the fact that even if I’d had a rope to throw him, it still would have been his responsibility to grab it — and he was choosing not to, over and over and over again. He didn’t actually want to be helped in any way; he just wanted an excuse, any excuse, to take his pain and rage out on me, because he liked it. (In one of the last fights we ever had, he actually admitted that he lashed out at me and others because he enjoyed it, not because he ever truly lost control of himself.) And then I had to come to terms with the fact that the kind of rope he said he wanted, I never had, because he didn’t need a rope; he needed to learn how to climb. And he didn’t want to learn how to climb.

    Someone who treats you like this guy does and like my ex treated me believes that life is like the movies, where one person can single-handedly turn another person’s life around for them through the power of love. It isn’t, and they can’t. Someone who does this feels so entitled to having everything handed to them on a silver platter that they will never accept that the only person responsible for their failures is them, and in order to never have to accept it, they will do their damnedest to make you believe that the fault lies with you. It doesn’t.

    This may be hard to hear, LW, but it needs to be said: people like my ex and your (hopefully) soon-to-be-ex believe that a desire to possess their partners is the same thing as love. It isn’t. And someone who believes that possession is love is not capable of loving you. He wants to own you and use you as his emotional punching bag so he never has to take a good, hard look at himself and admit that he actually has to work to get the happiness and success he wants. You are a matter of convenience to him, no matter what he says to the contrary. Even if your presence in his life is actively damaging him — and it’s not; it’s just convenient for him to imagine that you’re the source of all his misery — that pain is more convenient to him than the pain of self-discipline, because it requires far less effort on his part. It doesn’t require him to consider that maybe he’s not as good at his chosen field of study as he thinks he is, or maybe the reason why he’s failed his thesis three times is because he’s not putting in the work he needs to, or maybe the emptiness inside him that he’s using you to distract himself from was there before you entered his life and will be there long after you’re gone.

    And you deserve so much more than to be kept around for the sake of convenience. It is patently obvious that you’re a kind, compassionate person who wants to do right by others. You’ve already tried so hard to take away someone else’s pain, for no other reason than because you care about doing the right thing. And thus far, it sounds like you’ve wanted so badly to believe that you have the power to take away someone else’s pain, because you’re the kind of person who can’t bear to see others in pain. You deserve to be surrounded by people who won’t abuse that kind, giving soul of yours. What’s more, you deserve to be loved.

    Please, please give yourself permission to be stronger than I was, to believe in yourself more than I did. Please believe me when I say that not only can your life only improve once it’s yours again, but you deserve better than anything he has to give you. This guy does not love you. He is not capable of giving you what you deserve. And because he thinks nothing of soothing his own hurt at your expense, he doesn’t deserve to have you in his life for one more precious second.

  76. This piece jumped out at me the most, as being really, really squicky:

    “Since I’m no longer attracted to him, sex feels bad and I turn cold whenever he touches me, which he is upset about.”

    You told this dude, from what I can tell, in clear and certain terms that you are not in love with him, and not attracted to him, and want to end the relationship. You are having a clear negative physical reaction to his sexual advances. And yet he is still trying to do the sex to you.

    This does not sound like it is consensual sex. This sounds like he has badgered you into not saying no, and not enforcing your boundaries, and while I understand if you don’t want to call it rape, that’s what I would call it.

    This needs to end ASAP.

  77. LW. Oh, lovely LW.

    This is not your fault. You did not cause him to take a gigantic shitspiral down, and there was no way you being there could have *stopped* him going down the shitspiral.

    To take the train metaphor a little farther – there is a switch (well, lever) on a train. It is called the dead man’s switch. If the operator of the train should let go of this switch for longer than a certain period of time, the train will stop. It is a failsafe in case the operator becomes ill, incapacitated, or whatnot – it must be held to let the train go.

    LW, you cannot pry his hand off the dead man’s switch and stop this abuse train. He has glued his hand to that switch. He has tied a ten-ton weight made of If Only You Were Good Enough Except You Never Will Be to that switch. That switch cannot be released; the train cannot be stopped.

    Jump, LW. Get out of this relationship. I imagine you will feel so much better.

  78. LW, the level of acting he is demanding from you would make a multiple-Oscar-winner blanch. He knows, because you have told him, that you do not love him and are not attracted to him. And in order to somehow balance the scales between you (which, btw, is bullshit), you have to convince him that you DO love him, support him, want to have sex with him, etc.

    Let me repeat that. The acting job he is demanding of you is that you, 24/7/366 (this year), really truly convince him of something he knows to be false. If you fail to do that then everything that has ever gone wrong or ever will go wrong in his life is your fault.

    NOBODY can do that. Meryl Streep could not do that, and she’d get paid a massive amount of money for trying. You, on the other hand, will be paid in guilt, complaining, and coercive sex you don’t want to be having, which will be followed by guilt and complaining.

    Don’t try. Let him believe you’re a heartless, soulless hell-beast if need be. You aren’t. If you feel like finding your way over to the Friends of Captain Awkward forums, folks there will be happy to remind you of that as necessary. Don’t believe any more of his lies.

    1. This. LW, there’s no way for you to get out of this with his good opinion. You are already cast as the Villain in his head, and that’s probably not going to stop. You don’t have the option of having him think well of you, but you do have the option to *leave*, in which case his opinion will no longer be your problem.

    2. Yikes, and suppose you COULD do it, LW? Suppose you summoned the powers of every great actress from Ellen Terry onwards and you *did* convince him you were in love with him?

      So… wouldn’t that mean he’d have to genuinely think you’d *stopped wanting to leave*? Wouldn’t it have to mean he relaxed and truly believed your problems as a couple were over, the relationship was in great shape and would continue forever? And if at some point he came home expecting another evening of domestic bliss and you announced “OK, I’ve faked being in love with you for a year, my debt is now discharged, so now I’m leaving,” how would THAT go down? Isn’t he supposedly angry because you spent six months not admitting you didn’t love him? His supposed issue is that you lulled him into a false sense of security, so you need to do it again and better, but this time he’ll be completely fine, someday, with the revelation that none of it was real?

      LW, he doesn’t want you to leave — not at a moment of his choosing, not ever. He wants you to redefine your desire to get out as a mistake you made. “For the semester” … “when my thesis is finished”.. these aren’t timescales for him to adjust to your eventual departure whilst he handles his work issues, they’re the time he’s allotting YOU to *get used* to being miserable, and enduring sex you don’t want, as your lot in life. He’s angry with you when you don’t perform as required because it shows it hasn’t worked yet, you haven’t yet given up and *accepted your fate*.

      1. This, yes. He wants you to get so exhausted pretending to be a human robot who can fake emotions at will that you just give up and give up any dream of someday being a free human being instead of some delusional controlling man’s human robot sex-doll/therapy toy/cuddly blanket.

  79. It doesn’t really sound like you have a boyfriend, LW. It sounds like you have some kind of captor who is holding you hostage while you playact some crude impression of the imaginary fantasy girlfriend in his head, who does not actually exist. There may have been a time when he was your boyfriend, but that time seems to have passed some time ago.

    Please just do what you need to to get out of this situation safely. This man is at best delusional and uncaring of your actual feelings and at best dangerously manipulative and controlling.

  80. It was my responsibility to get myself to school for classes, and the years I had to put in retaking the courses I dropped were due to my not meeting my obligations in the first go-round. The guy in my life only physically prevented me from leaving the house to go to school occasionally, the times he gave me black eyes so I was too embarrassed to go to class notwithstanding. Nothing I ever did was right, not speaking wasn’t enough because then just the look on my face not meeting his expectations would result in him acting in a violent manner towards me. He broke my cell phone multiple times, and bitched at me for not being able to get ahold of me at whatever time he wanted. My responsibility in all of this was ONLY to get myself to school. I couldn’t control his actions, or magically get everything right so he wouldn’t beat or choke me, and the restraining order + criminal charges were because HE chose to behave in the ways he did. It took a while for me to see the escape route was there and that I could go through that door to freedom, I wish I’d done it sooner, and realizing I owed him nothing – not a home because criminal charges cost him that, not my time because for f’s sake I gave him too much of that already.

    He’s the captain of the ship that is his life, his decisions and choices are what directs that ship’s course. You do not have to stick around to be his ship’s crew, you owe him nothing and you deserve your own ship without the horrible anchor that is him.

  81. LW, I was in a similar situation to your partner a few years ago. My boyfriend was clearly losing interest, and while I didn’t order him to stay like yours has, I said some pretty awful manipulative things. Because I was terrified of going through the emotional wringer of a PhD program without his support. And then he dumped me anyway. And I was devastated. And so, because I desperately wanted to stay in my program, I moved on. I reached out to friends I’d been neglecting because boyfriend was an easier source of support. I got my brain meds adjusted, which is known I needed for months but could put off because boyfriend could pick up the slack. Sort of. I went from being on the verge of dropping out to actually having some promise in my program. It turns out that the grudging half-hearted support from a guy who didn’t really like me anymore had been holding me back. So it’s entirely possible that dumping him right now will be just what your partner needs. And if it isn’t, well, it’s not your problem and it’s not your fault.

  82. I’d like to share a story, LW, because I’d have liked to know this back then.

    I dated, and eventually married, a clinically depressed man who couldn’t finish his thesis. In his case it wasn’t lack of effort or intelligence; the thesis was misconceived from the outset and his tutor wasn’t much help, and it was just unfinishable – but the depression certainly didn’t help. The difference was that:

    a. I stayed in love with him
    b No matter how depressed he was, he never, ever blamed me for his career problems

    It’s now about ten years since he quit his thesis. And you know, those years have been very, very hard. He had to step back and completely re-think his life plans; he had to change careers more than once to get himself in a better position; at one point he was doing a full-blown undergraduate degree while also working full-time, while we had a young baby (and he still wasn’t blaming me). Compared to his friends from school and college, he was poor, overworked, and disadvantaged.

    We’re now just – JUST – at the point where he’s clawed his way back to where he would have been if he’d done something other than take that accursed thesis. Ten years later. Ten very, very difficult years. I still love him because he’s still nice to me, and we stuck it out together … but it’s been a long and exhausting decade.

    Your hopefully-soon-to-be-ex is not going to find his problems fixed even if he does resolve the thesis problem. Academia is not exactly an easy field to get a job in. If he can’t finish it – and it looks like he very likely can’t – he’s going to have to do some serious mending of his life.

    If you feel you ‘owe’ him to stick around with the support until he has a ‘good life’, it’s going to destroy you. It’s demanding with a partner who treats you with respect rather than contempt – because calling it ‘politically correct bullshit’ when you try to say you’re not happy is contemptuous. It’s demanding with a partner you love. Thesis pass or thesis fail, his problems are not going to be over.

    He’s been very mean to you, and he has used up any good will you owed him. He’s not going to be out of trouble for a very, very long time. Don’t do this to yourself, or let him do it to you. Get out and start having the lovely life you deserve.

  83. Yes. Coercion is not consent. If someone is coerced into sex, then it is rape.

    I found it most upsetting that LW’s only comment about turning cold when he touched her was “which HE is upset about.” But LW, WHAT ABOUT YOU? If a dear friend of yours told you a guy touched them and they felt cold, I am willing to bet that your response would not be, “Yes, but how did he feel? I bet he was upset that touching him made you feel cold!” What would you say if that friend told you they “had to” have sex that felt bad?

    Of course he is upset. He wants to be in a relationship with you and you don’t want to be with him. That doesn’t mean you ought to stay or do anything to make him happy.

    1. I’m glad I’m not the only one calling it rape. Because that’s what it is.

  84. Wow, I think we dated the same person. Except mine wasn’t in school any more. He had a really demanding, highly skilled job and *he was self-employed.* Imagine how that went down, and you’ll probably be right. I left because I couldn’t be his scapegoat/counsellor any more.

  85. Nope. Nopenopenope. With big shiny bells on. What do you owe him? Not one single second, not one single thing more. Not one. You need and deserve him out of your life. He needs and deserves a metaphorical boot up his metaphorical arse.

    LW, this emotional remora disguised as a human adult seems to find it awfully hard to place even the slightest flicker of blame on himself… For anything. depression, his partner needing to break up with him, he fails his thesis? Quick, it must be someone else’s fault (and therefore their problem to fix, apparently? I thought that was, um, forbidden in academic circles unless he gave you credit on his papers?)

    I would not be surprised if this unwillingness to be at fault has very deep roots in him. It might even be a factor in his academic issues; if he can’t take even constructive criticism, his thesis won’t improve.

    IIn any case, LW, the point I want to make is this: no matter the source of his failures and sadness, you can’t love him out of them. (Even if you still loved him) No one can. He’s clinging to you and the idea that your magical presence in his life is something you owe him, because if he is never at fault, he never has to change. Or develop self awareness.

  86. I can’t even imagine what you go through every time you have sex with him some you don’t want to have sex with. At least hookers get paid, but you only get the emotional damage and indignity of it. Your body is yours to do with. Your life is yours to live. You have done your part, you seem like a good person. It’s time to take care of you. No, you don’t owe him sex!!! This makes me so mad, I can’t even!!

    1. Sex-workers are also very clear that the emotional labour of performing affection to someone you don’t feel affectionate for is really effing difficult and exhausting. The requirement to do sex sounds ghastly, but even if that was taken away, it still wouldn’t be OK.

  87. LW, I’ve been in the same position as your boyfriend claims to be – in that I was going through huge academic challenges and also had a partner who I felt was weighing me down, who was sucking my energy and leaving me unmotivated and exhausted and in much worse shape to handle school. Everyone on my train weren’t dead yet, but it was certainly on its way in a bad direction.
    You know what I did? I put on my big girl pants and BROKE THE FUCK UP.

    Another way in which I resemble your boyfriend: I am currently writing my thesis. It is hard work, and it is frustrating and time-consuming, and I am a worse partner because of it. I also know that some partners can make the process harder (remember my ex? remember the solution to that problem?), but at the end of the day it’s just work. It’s not magical, it’s just sitting down every day and writing – just like you would a real job, just like you would a job hunting process, just like you’re gonna do for the rest of your entire life. If something is keeping you from finishing your thesis, that thing is gonna keep being a factor forever because, again, a thesis is just work. You’re gonna have to keep working almost every day for your entire life, and you’re gonna have to keep doing it through whatever challenges life serves up.
    Which is the long-winded way to say that if I had a partner who I felt was actively keeping me from writing my thesis, I would be running away as fast as I could.

    It speaks volumes that, after expressing his emotions about your relationship, your boyfriend is NOT leaving. Either he is actively lying in an attempt to manipulate you, or he is so broken and immature and cruel that he literally cannot see any options other than dragging you down with him. Neither is good.

    You should run for your own sake. You should be harsh, be mean, be the bitch who leaves him, you should do all that for your own sake because you deserve to breathe freely and to love whomever you want and to have sex however you love, and you should be taking care of yourself first and foremost, always and forever. You should leave because of all those things. But if you need to do it for his sake, know this: Healthy people know that if something is destroying your life, you cut it loose. Your boyfriend hasn’t learned this lesson. Feel free to teach it to him.

    1. And just to clarify: I am 100% sure you have not actually ruined his life. Someone with his level of coping mechanisms does a splendid job of doing that for himself. The two of you might be incompatible in a way that is genuinely bad for him (it is most definitely bad for you), but this thing he’s doing, where he’s spinning a tale where you’re the cause of all his ills yet still need to stay? It is so frighteningly, hilariously out of touch with the way normal, healthy people approach relationships. Call his bluff. And run.

  88. Tried to post a comment twice yesterday — not sure if I did something wrong or if it’s stuck?

  89. LW it took me some time to stop just saying “AAAAAGH! AAAAAAGH!” over and over again while reading your letter. And for some time after.

    I’m making this sound because somehow you’ve become convinced that you’re to blame for all his failings. You. Are. Not. To. Blame. Repeat x1000. You haven’t ruined his life. You haven’t caused him to fail his thesis twice. The sentence “My life was fine until you entered it – now the train has gone off the rails and everyone on it is dead” is so melodramatic that it’s actually *hilarious*. Like, I laughed out loud at how ridiculously melodramatic it is and how wildly unlikely to be true. And his insistence that your reasons for breaking up are just political correctness (what does that even mean in this context?) is just a bizarre message from his denial of reality.

    Anyway. Here is a story from my life that might help you. When I was at uni I was living with a guy who on hind sight I think of as emotionally abusive. One of the things that happened was that if I stopped focusing on him and instead focused on my own goals, and especially if I asked him to pick up some slack in the household chores and be a bit nice to me for a while he would coincidentally have a total melt down that forced me to spend all my time comforting and caring for him. This usually happened at exam time – he wasn’t a student, so I would ask for more help and consideration than usual for a couple weeks, which he would cheerfully agree to, and then when it actually happened he would do *zero chores*, have an emotional crisis and/or tell me he couldn’t deal with me when I was studying and wanted to take a break and stay somewhere else (hah on hindsight that would have been a great idea but at the time it was supremely painful and made me really afraid of asking for anything I needed). This happened like clockwork. Mainly around exams, but he was also great at picking fights just before major music performances or similar high stakes events in my life.

    And you know what? I still passed my exams and got into honours and wrote my thesis and got a PhD scholarship and when I quit that it wasn’t because of my terrible relationship, but because of the circumstances of the PhD itself. Then I did a different course and got fantastic grades and went and got a job. Even though he actually, literally, tried to make me fail at my studies or anything else that distracted me from focusing on him.

    Even if you were actively trying to ruin your boyfriend’s life his personal failures are still on him. Plenty of people manage to live their lives around failing relationships and many worse things besides. And look, in the highly unlikely possibility that you’ve failed to mention a bunch of abusive stuff you’ve done to him, leaving him would still be the right choice. You can’t stay and make up for that with a horrible sham relationship – that would just be continuing the badness. Of course you’re cold! You don’t want to be with him any more! You’ve told him so! What does he want? For you to lie more convincingly? And I don’t actually believe you’re concealing some terrible mistakes. I think he’s convinced you that any sadness or stress he’s felt is your fault and that any actions he’s taken because of that are also your fault.

    You are not a coward. You’ve been manipulated by an arsehole. Leave him. Run. Flee. Be as ruthless and cold as you have to be to get it done and make it stick. You’re right that it would have been better to make a clean break as soon as you wanted to leave, but you didn’t (because he creepily asked you not to) and now here you are. The solution is – make a clean break *now* – you can’t undo this error by staying even longer. Your relationship is poisoning you and I’m hoping you can immediately get far enough away from it to realise how much it’s warped your thinking. What he does when you’re gone is his responsibility not yours.

  90. Oh, LW, I want to give you all the jedi-hugs if you want them!

    I want to make two points and one observation.

    The first is emotional. Reading your letter made cold run down my spine. It is clear that you are a kind, compassionate, caring person. Please direct that kind caring compassion towards yourself as well. It’s ok to want to be kind and caring towards your ex. That does not mean that you have to live with him. If sex feels bad and his touching you makes you cold, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE SEX WITH HIM. He is not entitled to sex with you. I shudder to imagine what it would do to me, to keep having sex with someone month after month under those circumstances. I would feel very violated.

    The other is purely logical. If his problem is that you stayed with him after you fell out of love the best would be to go back in time to break up with him then. Since you can’t do that, the second best would be to break up with him now. If the problem was that you stayed with him when you didn’t love him, the solution is not more of the same. It does not make any sense at all.

    Somehow he has this distorted sense of logic and reality. Please do not internalize his ideas. It is not your fault. And even if it was, continuing on will not solve the problems

    1. Yeah, the sex part is where my heart just… sank. That kind of violation (and it is a violation) really puts a zap on your head that can follow you for a long time. LW, please be kind to your future self. She needs love and safety and happiness. Do you really wanna inflict this dude on her, as well?

  91. LW, is it possible that you hesitated to break up with him because you were worried that he may be violent with you? Deep down inside, were you protecting yourself? I think that may be possible, and if it was true, I understand and think it was smart.

    I am very, very, very concerned about your physical safety when you notify him again that you have in fact broken up. Please call a domestic violence hotline, speak to a counsellor or a trusted friend about how you can protect yourself. He has already decided that your behaviour is responsible for his well-being and has determined he doesn’t have a life without you. He has already been violent with you (sex that you do not want to have is sexual violence). Please reach out to continue to keep yourself safe. You’ve already worked so hard to do so. Jedi hugs LW.

  92. This letter made me cry, because this guy is so awful and I don’t understand how guys like that get this kind of power over other people. It’s as if he has created his own small universe where reality is warped and senseless nonsense seems to make sense, and the letter-writer is trapped there.

    1. I do understand how people can get this kind of power. It’s normal (and healthy) to trust that someone you love and have an intimate relationship will be honest with you and treat you well. If you are a kind, compassionate person, you naturally believe that other people are, too. And most of them are, so when someone actually is manipulative you give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume that it must be you who is mistaken, or being unfair, or whatever. That gives them the in, and from there they keep chipping away at your self esteem and your whole sense of reality, so that you are constantly filled with doubt.

      When I realized I was being manipulated, I felt foolish and weak and humiliated. But I was wrong. It’s courageous to open yourself up to love, with all the vulnerability that it causes. Manipulators never take that risk–they try to control everything. They are the real cowards.

  93. LW: whatever mistakes you’ve made, you’re a good person who deserves happiness and who deserves kindness from yourself.

  94. A few extrication safety tips part #1

    Change all passwords immediately.
    Don’t give him the new address you’ll be at
    Block him on all social media.
    Don’t go back to the house alone
    Don’t meet him alone.
    Change your mobile/cell number. Networks will often do it for free in cases of harassment and abuse..

    1. Part #2

      Write a letter stating “It’s over, I am leaving. Someone will be over on [date & time] for my things, and they will leave my keys. Please do not be there.”. Resist going yourself, send some trusted friend or relatives, and you can video chat your way around so that they get the right things.

      Also, photocopy the letter before you send it, then send his copy as recorded/registered/special delivery, something that requires a signature. Post your copy to yourself at your temporary/new address, and keep it sealed.. This is in case he tries to claim that Team You Removals have broken in, or that you’ve disappeared and he’s just soooo worried that he just had to call the police. It’s handy to have proof that he was warned, that he signed for the letter that said you were sending for your stuff, and that you didn’t ” disappear”.

      You are stronger and braver than you think you are. You are a good person who deserves happiness, companionship, and love. You can do this.

  95. Darling, you wrote in because you wanted a way out. You wanted a path to a place where you can breathe again. You can have that path. It’s right there. All you have to do is trust your inner map.

    I promise, when you leave, you will find yourself in a place of peace. You will know that you are a good person. You will know that you are kind and strong and that leaving was the wisest gift you could have given yourself, or even him. It will take time. (There’s the physical leaving, then a little later the emotional leaving, then a little later the last bit of mental leaving as your brain untangles itself and realizes you were good and honorable all along.)

    You can have that. You can be free and peaceful, surrounded by friends who admire and appreciate you, and who respect your needs, and who trust that you are always acting in good faith. It will feel so good.

    You’re going to be okay.

    1. This comment really resonates with me, because I’m only beginning to peel off the labels that were stuck on me by someone I love, someone I trusted and therefore believed. I’m selfish and unaffectionate and unforgiving and controlling…except, I’m not. Realizing that I don’t have to be the person that someone else says I am has been a revelation to me. Recognizing my own generosity and goodness feels amazing, but it’s also amazing how hard it was to see the real me through the fog of that manipulation. I hope that the LW can find their way to that place too.

  96. I haven’t read all the comments yet, LW, but I have been in your shoes somewhat, and I know how hard it can be to end a relationship with someone like your boyfriend, so I’m writing this comment to share an analogy that helped me a lot when I was getting out of my own bad relationship.

    What your b/f is doing, by refusing to accept the breakup and doing what he’s doing to get you to stay, is refusing to accept reality – he’s trying to recreate the reality he had last year (when you guys still liked each other, when he hadn’t yet failed his thesis, etc.). But the thing is, last year is gone. Nothing he does can ever bring it back. Nothing you do can ever bring it back. It’s as if you and he were living in a house together, and then the house burned down, but instead of rebuilding the house or moving to a new house, he’s insisting that the two of you live together in the burned out wreckage, pretending that the house never burned down and everything’s the same as it was before the fire. And then every time the two of you butt up against something that you can no longer do in the house because of the fire damage, he blames you and says that if you’d only try harder, you two could live in the house as if the fire never happened, and hey, also, you’re the one who started the fire, so any problems created by the fire damage are clearly all your fault and you have to keep living with him in this burned out shell of a house until the destroyed-house-shell feels like home to him again.

    LW, the burned-out shell of your relationship is never going to feel like home again for either of you, and nothing you can do can fix that for him. The only way to take care of yourself is to leave. Leave the burned-out shell, and find yourself a warm, dry, safe place to live, without him. He will find his own way (or he won’t), but either way, you have absolutely NO moral obligation to continue to live with him in this ruined home. Even if you “started the fire.” Even if this is 100% your fault. (It’s not, by the way, but I’m just saying, even if.) Because the thing is, once your house burns down, “force someone to stay in the wreckage with me until it magically becomes a complete house again” is never going to be the solution – all you and your b/f can do is move on from the wreckage, and it’s something you need to do with or without him. Jedi hugs if you’d like them, and good luck – your life on the other side of this relationship will be beautiful, I promise.

  97. ” (Since I’m no longer attracted to him, sex feels bad and I turn cold whenever he touches me, which he is upset about and we argue all the time…)”

    This part made me literally cringe. So, Boyfriend manipulates LW to stick around, expects sex even though she is not interested, then shames her for not wanting it?!

    That turning cold feeling is not because you are not attracted to him. It’s because boyfriend is being a rapey creep and is actively hurting you by ignoring your consent. The fact this is an afterthought in parenthesis shows what a number this guy has done.

    *HUGS* ALL THE HUGS! (Unless you don’t want them. Then I would respectfully not hug you without a fuss. <3)

    1. EXACTLY! This has had me in literal tears today, because he’s cleverly manipulated LW into not only feeling responsible for his abuse of her, but has her feeling guilty about not liking the abuse!

      I don’t even know LW and I’m feeling enraged about this..

  98. If he couldn’t write his thesis because you broke up with him, how is he ever going to work in the field for which he’s training? Do you have to stay around forever so that he won’t mess up on the job as well? If he gets fired, will that also be your fault?
    “He doesn’t accept it when I say that I’m no longer attracted to him – I should either get into specifics / “be honest and say the real reason”, or it’s only a “politically correct bullshit excuse”
    So telling him that you’re no longer attracted is not being honest??? Wow, he must have a tremendous problem with ego to not accept that a woman could fall out of love with him. And how the heck is that being “politically correct”?
    He sounds irrational. The sooner you put him behind you, the better off you’ll be.

    1. The “politically correct” thing almost made me laugh. That phrase doesn’t even fucking have a connotative meaning anymore. It’s sole purpose is to signal that the person using it is the worst and you don’t have to keep listening to them.

      The other option is that he’s such an old-school misogynist that he thinks all this newfangled claptrap about women having feelings and preferences and attractions and treating any of that like it matters is all terribly silly. In which case, if he feels that way about women he can find a nice 19th-century gentleman’s club to spend all his time in, and stop imposing his company upon our gender entirely.

      LW, you don’t owe this guy shit. You wouldn’t owe it to this guy to piss on him if he were on fire. Especially not if he’s set himself on fire on purpose just so he can demand that you take the time to put it out.

    1. Sorry! It’s a WordPress glitch. I’m aware and not at a computer 100% of the time. Please do not resubmit it.

  99. Oh wow, it just broke my heart to see LW taking so much of the burden onto themselves. “My past mistakes” etc.

    No, hon. You told him: “I want to break up.” Honestly, just about everything bad in your “relationship” since then is on him. He’s the one coercing you into staying–and into sex you don’t want to have! Even knowing you don’t want to have sex with him, he still has sex with you! And then gets MAD at YOU for not being into it?

    I’m sorry, that was just going to be an aside, but it just keeps rattling around in my head. This is a guy who knows that you don’t want to touch him/be touched by him/have sex with him. He knows that. You aren’t being subtle or coy–you told him with your words. And you continue to tell him with your body language. And his response to that is to be mad at you and blame you for not being receptive to him.


    I mean, seriously, at this point, he has forfeited all reason for you to be concerned with him or holding his hand. He clearly doesn’t see you as a person with thoughts and needs and emotions–you’re just a comfort object for him, and since you’re not “doing your job” (of being a “good” comfort object), he’s upset with you. He doesn’t care at all about your feelings.

  100. LW, this guy doesn’t want you to break up with him (obviously). He has been informed that you want to break up with him because you don’t love him and want to be in a relationship with him. Instead of saying “I’m so sad about that,” or even “Fuck you, I hate you for breaking up with me!” he’s saying “No, you’re not allowed to break up with me. I am going to force you to go through the motions and behaviors of loving me so that I can have what I want, and every time your acting performance wavers and you slightly behave like you may not love me, I’m going to punish you for doing it wrong.” If you were to go along with this (which is actually pretty impossible, because he knows you don’t love him and can’t really be fooled the way he wants to be), he would have no reason to one day say, “OK, thanks for playing, you can go now.” There won’t be a time when you will get his permission to break up. There is nothing you can say to him to extract this permission, there is no amount of time you can work towards your (imaginary) debt to reach the point where permission will be granted. This is all OK though, because you don’t need his permission to break up with him. You can do it today, without being “selfish” and without “owing” him. It is not selfish to get away from someone who is abusing you, and you can’t owe anyone your presence, body, or love, because those things are not currency.

    1. “I am going to force you to go through the motions and behaviors of loving me so that I can have what I want, and every time your acting performance wavers and you slightly behave like you may not love me, I’m going to punish you for doing it wrong.”

      That’s it in a horrible nutshell.

      He doesn’t actually want a real human partner. He wants a soul-dead Robot Girlfriend.

    2. THIS. So much THIS. Even setting aside all the crap about making you somehow responsible for his academic setbacks, please look at what this person is saying to you by demanding that you stay. He is saying “I know that you don’t love me anymore and that you don’t want to be in this relationship, but you owe it to me to pretend that you do. You owe it to me to simulate love and affection you no longer feel.” He is telling you that he is happy to overlook the fact that YOU are miserable, and that it is your job to remain trapped in the live action role-playing game from hell, in which your part is to try to convincingly pretend that you still love him and want to be with him–that which you both know to be untrue.

      Please think about this, LW. Here is a person who is demanding a command performance of love, affection, and sex, even though you have told him that you don’t feel any of those things for him anymore. He is insisting that you provide a simulation of a loving relationship, and then punishing you because he can’t un-know the truth–that you do not want to be there with him, in this relationship that no longer makes you happy. He’s angled you into playing the female lead in his terrible Theater of Guilt and Coercion, where the mainstage attraction is a grand guignol of emotional manipulation. I hope that you will exit stage right as soon as humanly possible. Jedi hugs if you want them, LW.

  101. LW, this relationship is toxic, your boyfriend is toxic, and you need to get out.

  102. Oh jeez. I am so sorry you are in this terrible situation.

    Dear LW, you care deeply about this guy, I know you do, and I’m sure at one point he was a good partner and a good friend. He is neither of those things now. He has turned into something ugly, the worst version of himself–and it is NOT your doing.

    Please dump him and run as fast as possible. You’re right: the honest, healthy thing to do–the thing that will make you free–is to break up with him. But please do not offer him any help, not even as a friend. Please do not stay in contact with him. Only he can unfuck his life now. He stopped deserving any help from you when he forced you to stay with him. You can’t ruin his life–he appears to be working really hard to do that himself, and that is not on you.

  103. Long time reader, first time commenter, haven’t read any other comments but felt the need to respond to you immediately because LW, 19 years ago, I was where you are. Trying to break up with this guy who I knew wasn’t good for me, but he was SURE we were Meant To Be Forever. And he Needed Me. I still cared about his well-being, so I decided to stay with him for his final year in school. And it went about as well as your situation is going. I have so much empathy for you right now. I too contributed to the misery, I too made mistakes (big ones), I too felt like I “owed him” some niceness because of my screwups.

    You mention that you feel like you’re at serious fault in creating this mess. I think maybe you feel like it would just confirm that you’re a terrible person if you left him in his “hour of need,” and that you really want to try to undo the damage you’ve done.

    You can’t. It’s in the past and you both have to move forward from it. You’re absolutely right, you’re not doing him any favours by sticking around, you’re just prolonging the inevitable. Breaking up with him for real this time will allow him to move on. It won’t kill him (if you genuinely think it will, give him a list of crisis help lists from other recent posts here). It won’t destroy his career and his life (and honestly if it does, if ONE PERSON can make or break his career, probably he isn’t cut out for that career anyway and the sooner he finds out, the better).

    And of course it will be better for you to be free of him. You know that. Now comes the hard part – doing it and making it stick. Don’t try to mitigate the pain he’s going to suffer by sticking around or trying to stay friends or whatever else. You’ve seen how well that works already – he is just going to take advantage of every little bone you throw him. I can tell that you still care about him even while not wanting him in your life anymore, so please just do the merciful thing and make it a clean break that you both can heal from. It will hurt, probably a lot, but it’s for the best in the long run.

    Honest to god, this is what I’d have told myself if I could go back in time. You know in your heart of hearts it needs to be over. You will still be a basically good person even if you end it. You tried doing what you thought was best, you acted from a place of good intentions, you made mistakes, ok yes you hurt people and that’s terrible, but none of that changes that you’re a good person too, you’re hurting too, and you need to look after yourself.

    I didn’t make a clean break with my boyfriend. We still went to the same school of course, and had many of the same friends. I tried to be cool and nice and friendly and not cause [further] drama. He manipulated me and kinda stalked me (he would come to my place at night to see if my lights were on and yell up from the street). Years later, he found out where and when my wedding was (he was dating a mutual friend) and started making demands to be invited. I had to advise all my male relatives to keep an eye out for him and call security/the police if they saw him. Fortunately he didn’t show up. He left me alone after that. But damn.

    I feel for you, LW, I really do. For yourself, please do what I should have done 19 (and 20, and 21) years ago. Break up with him very clearly and don’t let him back into your life.

  104. Oh, LW. None of this is your fault. NONE of it. You tried to help and it didn’t work, but that’s because he didn’t want the help, not because of any failing on your part. He is lying, and manipulating you, and that is all on him. He is choosing to behave that way. It is NOT YOUR FAULT.

    Also, please think about some of the other people in your life, people who genuinely do love you and care about you and want the best for you. Do you think they would agree with some of the things your boyfriend has been saying? Do you think your mother (for example, and if she meets the criteria of loving and caring about you) would agree that your boyfriend failed HIS thesis is because you didn’t support him enough? Do you have a close girlfriend? Do you think she would agree that you have to pay your boyfriend back for your mistakes? If your girlfriend were in your situation and asking you for help, would you agree that the whole mess was her fault? Obviously I don’t know you or anything about your life other than what you’ve written here, but I’m hoping the answers to all of this is no, and that looking at it from another person’s perspective will help open things up for you a bit.

    Please, please be gentle with yourself as you navigate your way out of this relationship. You don’t owe your boyfriend anything at this point, but I do hope you can be kind to YOU.

  105. LW, what has been fuckled cannot be unfuckled. You cannot help because *you are a problem*, not a solution.

    What he wants is for you to love him like you used to or like he thinks you used to. You can’t.

    Let him hate you. Let him scream and rant and you *get out*, retreat to your friends/family that will unambiguously be on your side, and call it quits.

    He can’t fix himself till you’re gone. He can’t move on. It’s not selfish; it’s a mercy kill of a relationship gone off the rails.

    He’ll be okay, and if he’s not, all the love in the world couldn’t help him,

  106. Dear LW:

    I’m just about two months post break up. The official reason was: I was holding him back from pursuing his acting career and limiting his opportunities for fame.

    And the overarching feeling throughout this time? Relief. Utter and Total Relief.

    I want the same for you.

    Sure, there is sadness. Sure, there is anger. Sure, there are All the Feels in different amounts and sometimes All at Once.

    But, I have me back.

    I can spend 100% of my energy and my time and my money and my resources on me.

    I don’t have someone demanding all of these things for themselves–and then getting downright pissed off when I draw a boundary, set limits, set expectations, and set energy aside for just me.

    It’s a little daunting because there is work I need to do on my behalf.

    And I will do it. And you can, too.

    Choose You.

    1. Unrelated to the letter but as an actor, let me just submit that if someone is pursuing acting in the hope of ‘opportunities for fame’ they really should not be pursuing acting.

  107. I don’t want to bail on him because he does need help, and I want him to have a good life.

    There are a little over 7 billion people in earth right now, which leaves 6,999,999,998 other people who could help him. Almost all of them will be in a better place to do so than you are.

    Set him free to seek their help, and please, *please* do the same for yourself. This dude has been really vicious to you and you might want to get some of those wounds tended to.

  108. LW, even if what you say is true, and that you really are to blame for your BF failing his thesis twice (and lots of other commenters have made very convincing arguments about why that’s not the case), try to imagine what Captain Awkward would say if HE wrote her a letter. Her advice would NOT be “Yes, definitely stay together and force your partner to be a better partner.” It would be, without hesistation, “DTMFA.” If you really are the source of all your boyfriend’s woes, why hasn’t he cut his losses and broken up with you? That would be the smart, reasonable thing to do. That would be the best thing for him. He won’t even let you break up with him! If you’re such a bad partner and are causing him so many problems, why is he so intent on staying together? Hint: it’s because you’re not the source of his problems.

    1. Exactly! He tells you that you are the source of his problems so that you feel bad and will do whatever he wants to “make up” for it. If you were actually causing all his problems he’d have dumped you already, or at least enthusiastically agreed when you tried to do it yourself.

  109. Quick note: … haven’t paid him back for my past mistakes.

    When we falter or fail in our relationships to the point that the relationship ends, that is not a debt we must pay back. It is a debt we need to pay forward, treating our next partner better than the prior one.

    1. This phrasing in the original letter gave me the chills. A dear friend has explained her reasoning for staying with her emotionally abusive husband in the same way, and it breaks my heart. That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.

  110. I only got as far as e told me that I needed to stay in the relationship for another semester before I went “wait, no, fuck that.” LW, straight up: NO ONE gets to tell you what you need to do except YOU! And this next part is not only for LW but also her ex-boyf and also all of us: when one person says they want to end a relationship, the relationship has ended! This is not an episode of Seinfeld wherein if you say “no, I do not consent to this breakup” it does not happen and you get to continue extracting sex and support from someone who does not feel attraction or romantic love for you anymore– instead, you lose their respect and also, frankly, status of Fucking Human Being. Don’t be That Guy: Be a Fucking Human Being and Let It Go, For the Love of All That is Good in This Universe.

  111. Jedi high five from someone who “made someone fail his PhD program”. Fortunately I was already gone by then and he was blaming me because he bombed the semester that started after we broke up.

    I don’t want to go into all the ways he was questionable academically (despite going to HARVARD, which he couldn’t shut up about), but suffice it to say that he failed all on his own. Your partner is doing the same.

    You will be happier elsewhere, if my experience is any guide. Please take care of yourself. Your needs matter.

  112. Long-time lurker finally coming out to comment to say: please get away from this man immediately and very carefully. Do not tell him you are leaving or where you are going. Take anything you can’t bear to part with and leave the rest. Do not give him any chances or ways to contact you. He sounds incredibly scary and dangerous.

  113. Oh, LW, I hope you can hear that you are saying “I waited to break up with him because I don’t want to hurt him and that was a mistake so I agreed to wait longer to break up with him because I don’t want to hurt him.”

    I have been the “but whyyyyyyyyyy????” break-up-ee. It was not a proud moment. I had no appreciation for this at the time but the break-up-er responded with maybe the perfect reply: “The reason is whatever you need the reason to be in order to move on,” and then cut contact.

  114. Oh LW, my heart goes out to you! I’m going to share a few truths that I wish someone had told ME many years ago.

    1. Many, many people stay in relationships longer than they should. It’s pretty common for people to put off doing something they know will hurt another person. You haven’t done anything terrible and there is nothing to “make up for” in your actions.

    2. You did not make him fail his thesis, and sticking around isn’t going to help him succeed. In fact, it’s more likely that he will continue to fail because he can avoid doing the work, or avoid admitting that he can’t do the work, without taking responsibility for either one (because he can just blame you).

    3. You do not have to provide a reason for breaking up that is acceptable to your partner. People don’t get to choose whether or not they want to be broken up with. A wonderful thing a therapist told me was, “You don’t actually have to answer every question he asks you. And you don’t have to defend yourself if he makes an accusation.” You don’t need to make him understand your reasons or see your truth–you can just leave.

    4. With the exception of, you know, committing murder, you cannot actually ruin someone’s life. You do not have that power. When someone claims that you do, they are actually exerting power over YOU, by manipulating you through guilt and obligation.

    5. You cannot create feelings that no longer exist by “trying harder.” You cannot conjure up love, attraction and desire just because someone tells you that you should feel them. Feelings don’t work that way.

    6. There is not actually a rule stating that you can’t break up with someone until you’ve made up for your past mistakes. If that were the case no one would ever break up! Trust me when I say that the longer you stay, the longer his list of “mistakes you need to rectify” will become. I’m also going to guess that whatever it is he needs you to do to make up for these so-called mistakes is very vague, and/or the goalposts constantly shift, so that he will always be able to claim that you haven’t actually paid your “debt.”

    7. Finally, I think it’s a bad idea to break up and try to remain friends with this guy to help him. You can’t help him. First, because it sounds like he actually needs professional help. Second, because if you are in his life, he will continue to shift responsibility for it onto you, which is bad for both of you. The kindest thing you can do for him is to cut off contact. Otherwise he will never deal with his own problems and learn to take care of himself.

    Jedi hugs to you, and I hope you come back and give us an update!

  115. Dear LW, something really stood out to me in your letter. You say that your partner became “depressed” when you remained with him after you realised you no longer wanted to. You also say his academic failures are related to his depression. Assuming this is accurate, imagine the conversation with his therapist (he REALLY should see a therapist):

    Boyfriend: My girlfriend doesn’t love or fancy me any more. It turns out she wants to break up, and only stayed with me this long because she was afraid of hurting my feelings. I feel sad and angry and hurt and betrayed and afraid of being alone. In fact, I think I’m experiencing an episode of serious clinical depression and it’s hugely affecting my schoolwork.

    Therapist: Have you considered using a combination of twisted logic and emotional blackmail to persuade your unhappy girlfriend to stay with you and pressure her into unwanted, dubiously consensual sex?

    Boyfriend (surprised): Why, do you think that would help?

    Therapist: Absolutely! According to the medical literature, coercing your unhappy partner into feeling they are personally responsible for your very survival is currently one of the most highly recommended evidence-based treatments for depression! I’ll write you a prescription for it.

    Dear LW. This is not what his therapist would say.

    The solution to the pain of being in a relationship when one person doesn’t want to be there is to end the relationship.

    The solution to depression-related academic failure is a combination of medical/therapeutic/academic support/treatment/self-care/time off, which you cannot and should not try to provide. You staying in the relationship is not an effective or an appropriate substitute for this support. If for some reason he can’t talk to his GP and academic supervisor (or whatever person in his department has pastoral care responsibilities) about this, his (ex)girlfriend is STILL not an appropriate substitute care-provider, and coercive sex is STILL neither a common symptom of depression nor a recognised therapeutic intervention for his current problems.

  116. I know an awful lot of highly educated people, higher degrees, teaching fellowships, the works. Hell, my father was a University lecturer and he’s not even the most highly qualified in our family. And there’s one thing that sets them aside from people who don’t have that level of education. It’s not supportive partners, home life, money or anything else. It’s the ability to sit down and get on with it, no matter what life throws at them.

    I have a friend who gained her PhD whilst working through the sudden death of her sister and her niece. Another gained her PhD whilst planning her wedding and moving house. Another had two children in the course of working on her thesis, and finished it and graduated with flying colours. My brother got his whilst relocating to another continent. My dad’s suprevisor died.

    The point is, if you are a suitable candidate for that level of education, it is because you find a way to prioritise it no matter what else is happening. And if you can’t do that, you don’t get the qualification.

    He can’t do it. There’s no shame in not being able to – I can’t. Plenty of people don’t have that aptitude. But he can’t do it, and he is blaming you for a lack in himself.

  117. Also LW, I think that because you are basically kind and well-intentioned, because you are anxious about causing harm, because you are (maybe) prone to excessive self-blame and to taking on more responsibility for others than can reasonably be yours, I think you are letting him wear you down, undermine your judgement and convince you of things which probably wouldn’t convince you for a moment if they were being said to a friend instead of to you. I was once, I’m sad to say, in a relationship that had some similarities to the one you describe, and I really recognise that. The fact that he’s messing with your head this way would be a glaring reason to get out – if “I don’t love him”, “I’m not attracted to him” and “we’re not emotionally compatible” weren’t already entirely adequate reasons.

    Boyfriend: Let’s have sex.

    Girlfriend: I really don’t want to.

    Boyfriend: Why not?

    Girlfriend: Because I don’t fancy you any more.

    Boyfriend: That’s just a politically correct, bullshit excuse! What’s the real reason?!



  118. “His career-to.be is the only thing he’s good at carreer-wise, and now I’ve taken that away from him.”

    Quite aside from the fact that you did not take his career away from him (both because that’s not under your control and, according to your update, he already has a job in his field), I see a particular fallacy here, one I’ve seen time and again with struggling students and overbearing (often soon-to-be-ex) partners and acquaintances.

    I don’t know if this fallacy has a name, but it is this: There is a goal that is supposedly absolutely vital to Person X. Yet this importance only comes up in the context of Person Y doing something about it.

    Funny how him meeting this goal, so critical for his career and his life, is supposed to require your sacrifice — and you’ve already sacrificed a year of your life to his guilt-tripping, by the timeline you’ve given — but hasn’t been enough of a lever on him to get his act together and actually finish his thesis. If the person it’s for doesn’t treat it as important, why should you?

    1. That line caught my eye too. Really, it’s the ONLY thing he’s good at? Setting aside for a moment the fact the he does not appear to actually be good at it– okay, a tiny minority of adults have a postgraduate degree. And only a fraction of them specialize in whatever the hell he’s studying. So his ONLY aptitude, his one solitary option in life, the career that he cannot live without, is some one-in-a-thousand position, one apparently prestigious enough to require an advanced degree? Well how on earth did he get so special?

      You know, most of us don’t get our dream job. That doesn’t mean our careers aren’t interesting and worthwhile, it just means that at some point we had to change track. Something wasn’t working or wasn’t meant to be, and we moved on instead of wallowing forever. I wonder if this guy’s vision of a future career isn’t just as unrealistic as his plans for the future of his relationship.

      1. I expect it is just as unrealistic. In both cases, the career and the relationship, he has something that he’s sure is his one chance, even as he destroys it through his own actions and inaction.

  119. LW, you have already given him over 6 months of your life and all the sex that you didn’t want to have*. You are never going to be able to “repay” him, because he will never have had enough of your penitance. He likes having you obligated to him. There is never going to come a point where he will “forgive” you for expressing a completely reasonable desire to end a relationship that is not making you happy. So stop seeking his forgiveness. Stop asking for permission. Run far away from this manipulative asshole.

    You said you wanted to leave, he said “no”. But it was never his decision to make, and he does not have that power over you. Your relationship ended the minute you told him that your feelings had changed. Now he’s just keeping you hostage.

    You have done nothing wrong to him that you haven’t done double to yourself by staying with such a toxic relationship, so just cut and run already. However he chooses to react to your leaving is for him to decide, but for the love of your sanity, stop trying to manage his emotions for him. He deserves whatever Hell of his own making he decides to inflict on himself in your absence. You do not deserve to suffer.

    If he fails his thesis again, it will be because he didn’t do enough work to achieve the grade. He can do his thesis again, without you. If he feels depressed, it will be because of psychological issues that are nothing to do with you. He can get help for that, without you. Whatever he needs to do, he can pull up his big-boy shorts and do without you.

    There is no such thing as a “ruined” life. Especially not while you’re a relatively priviliged and well-educated guy in your 20s – He has another 60+ years to get things back on track or do something else. Even if things hit rock bottom for one reason or another, they can be improved upon with some willpower and determination. Even if he dies tomorrow, his life will not have been “ruined”, as long as there were positive memories.
    There is only 1 person who can ruin his life – the person who is living it. And he’ll ruin it by blaming other people for his self-inflicted misery.

    LW, get far away from this Darth, and take some time to get back to your life. Put yourself first. Let go of guilt. Train yourself out of managing other people’s crap for them. You deserve to feel good, and to pursue your own goals. And I bet whatever you choose for yourself will be a million times better than anything you could ever achieve with this asshole keeping you chained down.

    *Seriously, it made me very anxious for you that even after you had told him you wanted to leave, and that you didn’t want to do sex with him any more, the two of you still had sex that made you unhappy. I hope that with some more confidence, you get to have lovely fulfiling sex with someone who respects you.

    Be free, LW! I believe in you and wish you strength and power in being your awesome self.

  120. Oh, LW, all the Jedi hugs.

    There is a train wreck here, but it is not yours. You just need to jump free.

    Any time you falter, any time his “logic” starts to seem reasonable, any time you start wondering if you should stay, just remember all of us cheering you on. You’re awesome and you can do this.

  121. Amazingly, I don’t think anyone has mentioned this: what would happen if your ex (he’s your ex, you broke up with him, the fact that he is pretending he can control reality is not your problem) wanted, for whatever reason, to break up with you?

    Say he decides “the burning trash pit that is my romantic life right now needs to have 100% fewer girlfriends in it.” Say he decides that he’s been failing to manage his time and turn his thesis in by the deadline because he’s been torturing himself over being closeted. Say he decides he’s met the Manic Pixie Dream Girl who’s going to move in and take care of him and cure his depression and uplift his soul. Say he decides he wants to join a monastery with a strict rule of celibacy more than he wants his PhD. Say it’s Wednesday and he feels like it.

    Bet you a dollar and a package of candy corn he would do it. He would not give a damn about your professional or academic career, he would not stay because you would be sad, he would not permit you to talk him out of his decision.

    You get to do that too.

    1. I love this comment so much, I’m buying you a package of candy corn.

  122. Something I want to say more plainly than I’ve already said: LW, you don’t have to do anything sex-related with this guy. Ever.
    Even if absolutely everything he’s said about you “ruining” his life were somehow true, sex is not a cure for sadness and theses are not written with genitals. Not having sex with you, not having sex at all, wanting more sex than is happening… none of these would harm him. No one dies or sickens for lack of sex.

    Not having sex with him hurts neither of you. Having sex with him when you do not want to*, sex that is against your will and makes you feel awful? Hurts you. If he loved you (he does not) this would not be acceptable to him. If he loved you, he would not hurt you and he would accept that you need to leave.

    He knows that manipulating you into staying is hurting you. He knows that having sex that you clearly don’t want is hurting you and is wrong. If he cared about you, he would want you to be unharmed and he would not harm you. Please LW, get free of him.

    *this could be accurately described as rape or sexual assault, I only hold back from calling it that because I don’t want to tell the LW how to conceptualise their own experiences.

  123. Dear TW846,

    It’s been said before, but it can’t be said enough: DTMFA. You owe him nothing kind. He has been despicable to you.

    Please come back, and let us know that you are safe and away from this Bacon Fed Knave.

  124. Dear, dear LW! I am writing to let you know I’ve been in your ex’s shoes. Some years ago, my first-ever boyfriend ended our 5 year relationship smack dab in the middle of my master’s degree that required a thesis as well. I was so in love with him. I cried almost non-stop for a week. I couldn’t sleep. Food became tasteless. I felt like my world literally fell apart because I honestly believed he was the one and I was sure we’d spend our lives together. It hurt so much!
    I had a paper due that week and I couldn’t work on it anymore because I couldn’t concentrate on anything. Thankfully, it was an assignment for two and I was paired up with a friend who completed all that was left to do. Guess what happened next? Things were really shitty for a good long while. Some major family issues asserted themselves right after the breakup. Yet, I continued my studies, completed my thesis and graduated. About two days into the breakup I realized that, since he no longer loved me as a bf, he did the absolutely right thing. Sometime later I figured out that I didn’t want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with me because we both deserve better. I’ve known for a couple of years now that my ex did me a *huge* favor by breaking up with me. We were incompatible and wanted different things.
    Guess what I DIDN’T do after he broke it off? Try to talk him out of the breakup, try to force him to stay with me on account of my thesis/family issues/other type of crisis, blame him for everything that was wrong or difficult in my life, and for the love of all that is holly, I did not, for even a second, entertain the idea of coercing him into sex with me once he told me he didn’t feel like that towards me anymore. That is rape. It is never ok. It is never excusable. There are *no* attenuating circumstances. Your ex’s behavior is not normal by any standard. You do not owe him *anything*. Please, please leave as soon as you safely can and take all the necessary steps to cut him out of your life completely.
    Be safe, be free, be happy. You deserve all this and more.

  125. Adding my “me too” again so the LW knows that lots of people go through what her boyfriend does and still manage to get on with their lives. The love of my life* dumped me totally out of the blue (and the effect og the breakup on me sounds similar to the above…I couldn’t eat a proper meal for months afterwards) just as I was about to take the exams that constituted 40% of my master’s degree, most of the rest being – you guessed it – a thesis I hadn’t done yet. That week, my best friend moved to the other side of the country, my beloved cat that I’d had since I was seven years old died, one of my teeth suddenly crumbled to pieces leaving me in utter agony and unable to afford treatment and some terrible stuff happened at work (I was working full time). Did I blame my ex for my life falling apart? Nope. I put my tearstained, toothachey head down and told myself to get on with it. I earned a merit in master’s degree and if anything, I credit my ex and his shittily-executed breakup for inspiring me to turn my life the fuck around afterwards.

    *until I met my husband that is…

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