This is Captain Awkward Dot Com Pledge Drive Week, as you know. Ways to contribute:
- You can become a patron at Patreon. We just hit the second funding goal of $1000/month, which means that I’ll release a .PDF book of favorite columns later this year, free to patrons, a few $ to download on the blog. THANK YOU!
- When/if we hit $2000/month at Patreon, the blog goes ad-free.
- Monthly contributions not your thing? Paypal , Cash.me and Dwolla also work for a one-time gift. Whatever’s convenient for you!
Thank you so much for reading and for your generosity. It really makes a material difference in my life.
Dear Captain Awkward!
Okay, I want to cut to chase here. For the past year and a half, I have been dating this wonderful, but quiet, introverted, plagued with social anxiety and depression, geeky man, “Bob,” I met through a gaming group. Shortly after we started dating and he opened up about some THINGS I encouraged him to go to therapy and he started. We’ve been living together for a little over a year.
We had a rough July with some D&D fallout and friend troubles adding stress to our relationship but worked through everything. Can go into further detail on this but haven’t included for space.
One of Bob’s main mental health issues has been his inability to recognize feelings which he developed somehow as a coping mechanism in the course of his long-untreated depression (he described having outlooks I would think are depression since high school and we are early 30s). He started anti-depressants this May.
We went on vacation the first week in August, and it was lovely. And, on vacation, Bob was horny FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HIS LIFE. I thought this was awesome, and that it signaled that feelings and things were coming back to him. The next weekend, he was horny again! I was praising the heavens for this.
But that weekend also, he had a “rough” therapy session and spent a day processing his therapy and I asked if I had reason to worry and he said “he didn’t know how to answer that” so I worried. We had a heavy conversation for hours the next day about what he was processing: that he thought, as a result of the D&D fallout, that I had told him he couldn’t hang out with some of his friends and thus lost access to like 10 other friends he made through them. When he finally used his words and got this out of his brain spin, I was shocked and horrified. I had never said or wanted anything like that, and I told him that I was so sorry he spent any time thinking that, that that was not true, of course he can spend time with those friends (I may not for a while). I became dubious of the quality of his therapist at this time, as he reported to me that things his therapist asked him to help him process were “What would happen if she reacted like this to something you did?” and “What other friends will you lose?” which to me seem like questions ANXIETY provides and not that therapist should suggest? We spent the next day talking about our previous lack of intentionality regarding time with friends and discussed making sure that we balance together and separate friend time and his needs for alone time for future.
The next weekend, he had a rough therapy session again, but told me that he was still processing and that I had nothing to worry about. We went to the Ren Faire with friends (3 hour car round trip) and he said he had a great time because we problem-solved stress creating car time well (Hamilton Soundtrack) and going to shows and sitting for longer periods of time made him happier and not as overwhelmed by people. On Sunday we cleaned a bunch of the house, and moved a bunch of my stuff to the attic. He was still processing.
On Tuesday, I got home from work after him and he seemed super weird. I asked him what was wrong, and we sat down, and he told me he thinks we should break up. I have been flailing and I don’t know what to do. We talked for like two hours, he could give me no reasons (I’ve read several of your break-up posts and get that he doesn’t owe me it and stuff), and we agreed to take some space and slow things down for two weeks and re-evaluate.
I love him, and I really believe we are great together and balance each other very well. He says he still loves me. I don’t understand why he shut me out for 5 days and then got to here, and I’m extremely worried that he’s making a mistake based on head-spinning as he hasn’t used his words to communicate any problems and the week before 1 day processing in his head had him believing he was forbidden to see his friends.
I’m becoming more at peace with the perhaps inevitability of this, but the other part: He said that he’s had his feelings coming back and that they’re not all negative (a worry I had), and that he’s felt contentment on our vacation and I don’t understand how things could turn so quickly without any obvious conflict.
I really want to be around when he gets happy back, and if I don’t make him happy, fine. I’ve never experienced a breakup where the problem isn’t known, and hasn’t been discussed multiple times before.
There may be nothing I can do, but if I can help him use his words, or I can ask the right questions about his therapist to find out if bad therapist, or if misogynist therapist, then that would be useful.
We have had serious conversations, and discussed serious concerns, and solved them in every case prior so I just don’t understand not giving me the opportunity too…
We’re almost done 1 week of space and I just want to try for longer.
-Hurt, and about to be Homeless
I read your letter with a ton of sympathy and recognition. I’m really sorry that everything sucks right now. I know that in your heart you wrote to me looking for:
a) Independent confirmation from me & the Internet that maybe “Bob”‘s therapist is Wrong About Stuff and is unduly influencing the situation,
b) Secret Bob-whispering scripts that perhaps you have not thought of yet that will help you convince Bob while also respecting the letter of the agreement that you made about giving each other space.
I, too am going to cut to the chase: The way to make things better is to believe in the breakup and to take care of yourself and only yourself right now.
Drop the end of the rope you’re holding, the one that says “But if we just talk this through I know we could fix it!”
Drop the rope, pick up a notebook, gather the members of Team You, and make a list:
- Where can you live/stay right now? What stuff should come with you? (Important documents, work clothes).
- Where can you move to (medium/long-term)? What happens to the rest of your stuff while you sort that?
- What’s the plan for dealing with pets, if any?
- What assistance with money & moving can you draw on (including possibly financial assistance from Bob, since it sounds like he owns or is primary lessor on your living space) to get re-situated?
Be all about the logistics. Make the plan and set it in motion. You need a safe, secure, affordable place to live that is not with Bob because a) you and Bob are broken up now and b) being dependent on him for housing is going to muddy the waters of any subsequent “should we try to make this work?” conversations you might have.
Until you are safely ensconced in at least your short-term housing situation and your plans are in motion, maintain Radio Bob Silence. If you have to interact, like, “I am picking up the cat Saturday, can you please not be home when that happens?” keep it all business. No FEELINGSMAIL, no FEELINGSTEXTS, no gFEELINGSCHAT, no FACEFEELINGS, no SNAP-FEELINGS, no FEELINGSCOFFEE. No rehashing his therapy sessions. No ellipses, either. “I’ve been thinking…” “Can we talk…” “I can drop by later…” Those ellipses in a text message or gChat are ellipses of Hoping For Passionate Makeup Sex or More Talking About Feelings. I know it, you know it, Bob knows it, the cat-that-you-may-or-may-not-actually-have knows it.
“This is not what I wanted at all,” you are thinking. “I thought maybe you’d have a script for when I talk to Bob that would help him reconsider everything. I know he loves me, and he and his therapist totally misread that situation with our friends way back, and if he just thought about it more I know he’d see the mistake he’s making.”
Please trust that I am not making fun of you. You are grieving, one of the stages of grief is Bargaining, and the reason I feel confident about what you are thinking as you read advice like “Believe in the breakup and get yourself gone” is that I’ve walked in your shoes, dumped out of the blue by a partner who was clearly confused and depressed about everything and giving me a shit-ton of mixed messages, and that’s what I was thinking and what I wanted someone to tell me at the time. The heart wants what it wants, and you’re not wrong or silly to want it!
With the benefit of time, distance, and not knowing the smell of Bob’s neck or the adorable way he crinkles his eyes when he smiles, Bob & his feeling sound like a fucking LOT of work. You’ve invested a lot of time and energy in helping him access them and listening to them and giving them a safe place to come out and play, and I understand 100% why you feel cheated now: You put up with a year and a half of angst and things were just starting to turn around with better (any?) sex and the ability to go on vacation and relax together and enjoy each other’s company. It feels like your emotional investment in Bob’s Feelings, Inc. was just starting to bear dividends.You liked this new, more honest Bob. This was the Potential Bob you’d been waiting for!
So, one thing you could do for Bob as a kind human being who loves him is to not second-guess him when he tells you his feelings. When he says, “I think we should break up,” just…believe him? Don’t decide that you know what he feels better than he knows what he feels because Bob “isn’t very good at feelings” and you were the one who had to get him into therapy & teach him how that’s all done. Bob, good at feelings or not, is the boss of Bob. When he says, “We should break up” say, “Wow, that really sucks and I am sad and confused because this seems to come out of nowhere? I don’t pretend to understand it, but I believe you. What do you want to do now?”
Believe Bob as a gift to Bob, and stop managing all of Bob’s feelings as a gift for yourself. How does Bob want to handle logistics and money and the fact that you’re in a shared living space right for the time being? How does Bob envision this all going down? Is there a date he wants you to move out by? Work quietly with your Team You on solving that stuff for yourself, and let Bob do the emotional work of figuring out how he wants this to work for himself. Which means:
- Let him do some of the logistical work of trying to make the breakup non-disruptive/financially catastrophic for you.
- Let him do the emotional work of figuring out how to be kind to you as your relationship ends and you need to find new housing in a hurry. You’re all about taking care of Bob and the Bob-feelings. What’s he doing to take care of you and your feelings?
- IF he’s made a mistake and wants you to stay after all, let him do the work of realizing that and telling you that. For that work to happen, he has to see what life is like when you are really gone. He has to figure out, “What would be different now?” I know you want to stay with him, but it’s important that you don’t let everything just knit back together like a badly set bone that never really heals, or you’ll be here again 6 months from now.
“But what if Bob’s therapist is a misogynist who just has it out for me? What if this IS all just a big mistake? What if it is just the depression talking? ”
What if Bob needs 10,000 hours more work on Bob’s Feelings before he’s cool enough to be your boyfriend?
The therapist gets all the information from you from Bob. What if Bob’s stories about you are full of misunderstandings and seeing you in the worst possible light? If the therapist is a Darth Therapist or just mistakenly working from a narrative that you are controlling & mean, the best way to fight that narrative is to believe & respect Bob.
Maybe it IS the depression talking. That sucks and is unfair, but if Bob is listening to the depression and anxiety more than he’s listening to his love for you to the point that he’s choosing not to be with you, you can’t fix that. Sometimes the answer to “You deserve someone one better than me” is “I hate hearing you talk about yourself that way, but, you’re right – I deserve someone who doesn’t talk about himself that way!”
There are a lot of “what ifs” to obsess over, but the truth is that Bob is the boss of Bob and this is his mistake to make. If his information is bad or his decision is unfair or his therapist is not the best therapist, that sucks, but all of that is outside of your control. What you can control now is:
- Take Bob at his word and let the breakup happen.
- Take care of yourself.
And then? Grieve. Second-guess everything at leisure. Miss him. Cry on some shoulders. Listen to sad songs. Take your Golden Retriever of Love for long walks and let it chew on the plans that you made. Write long letters that you never send. Be really nice to yourself. Let time and distance do its work as you heal. You will be okay. Bob will be okay. You WILL heal.