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.
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.