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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.
237 thoughts on “#894: “My boyfriend broke up with me and I think it’s all a huge mistake. How do I process this?””
Oh hon. I have been there in a breakup where I thought the other person was making a huge mistake and couldn’t quite let go of the belief that sooner or later they’d wake up and realize they wanted me back. Don’t be me. Don’t put yourself through a year of agonizing and hoping and trying to figure out how to fix things – believe the break up even if you don’t understand it and do your best to let go.
This. Four years for me. Not worth it.
When my wife and I met and decided to really be together, we talked for a long time about expectations. The first, foremost and most important was, “allow the other to grow, even if that means they grow away from me.” It’s been a wonderful, terribly hard 30 years, but we keep coming back to this.
LW, I have to tell you that absolutely and definitely nothing good will ever, ever come from trying to make Bob see How Wrong He Is. For one, it’s a rude af thing to do to him, and we here are generally pretty against ignoring what people tell you in service of all the wishful thinking you’re doing. But the second one is that it’s demeaning and belittling TO YOU. When you cling desperately to a lost cause in the hopes that you can make things be other than they are, it demeans you and makes you less.
I’m not saying don’t be sad or grieve, of course, but I am saying not to beg/plead/”convince” Bob to take you back. Take some time and really grieve–I got through my last breakup with a month of hysterical crying in the shower. Grieve the future you had. Grieve the Bob you hoped you’d be dating. But don’t humiliate yourself on his behalf.
another “me too” post here: the road to hell truly is paved with good intentions. please try not to put yourself through hell in an attempt to keep him – no good will come of it, and many many bad things can, and it’s pretty certain to push him away and destroy any chance of someday being even just friends.
I’m reminded of a song, actually: http://www.jonathancoulton.com/wiki/When_You_Go/Lyrics
Don’t destroy yourself to buy time. it sucks. it makes everything worse, no matter how much part of your mind is insisting that it’ll Fix Everything. It’s really embarassing to wake up and realise you’ve been spewing ugly FEELINGS everywhere. Especially on the internet.
Oh, and keep an eye on that part of your mind, and be very very skeptical of any other suggestions it makes. it is *not* acting in your best interest. I’m glad mine mostly just tries to talk me into One More Little Snack these days. There’s a new anime, Re:zero (TW: probably everything), that illustrated rather graphically how unstable that little voice can get when it’s indulged (and how hard it can be to let go of it even after it’s failed repeatedly).
Ooh, I’d love to see a list of great songs to get one through a breakup, for Reasons. Mods, treat the comment as spam if it would be too great a derail.
What got me through the end of a 17 year marriage:
Alison Krauss, “Deeper than Crying”
High school breakup soundtrack was mostly Suzanne Vega:
The most comforting song at the end of my marriage was Nick Lowe:
But the relationship after that was for Alkaline Trio to comfort:
This helped get me through a bad divorce.
Tegan and Sara, “More For Me”
My partner of 12 years left me five months ago. In the first weeks after I moved, this song kept me afloat many times. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fORAPkfVV_A
My friend wrote this six months after we both broke up with our partners within a couple of months of each other, and now I send it to everyone I know when they go through a breakup.
It’s full of Adventure Time references and smashing of gender binaries and utter hopefulness, and I still start bawling half way through every time I listen to it.
When my on-again off-again college-and-beyond boyfriend finally broke up with me for real, a week after I arrived in another country to be with him, for the reason that “I was too open and communicative about sex,” I played these two songs in alternation for about a month.
“Gold Dust Woman,” Fleetwood Mac: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMp57bUzOB8
“Moscas en la casa,” Shakira (which is as much about depression as breakups) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_KiRbcvdUCM
When my partner’s ex divorced him he listened to Barbra Striesand’s “Free Again” over and over. A year later he met me and we’ll have been together 30 years next month.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJ-wI0xhges Woke Up New by the Mountain Goats
also the entire album ‘tallahassee’ by the mountain goats…so good!
Everybody knows- Trisha Yearwood
Oh, perfect! I haven’t heard that song in years. Very apt.
Thanks! It’s a good song for reminding you that you get to process things in your own way and at your own speed. It’s also fun.
TW for domestic violence in the lyrics, but If Work Permits by The Format is one of my go-to songs for breakups. This is a song about a breakup where he clearly still has love and sympathy for his past partner and her struggles, but he realizes he needs to treat himself well too.
Luke Doucet’s album “Broken (And Other Rogue States)” is fantastic, but the song “Lucky Strikes” has the single truest bridge of any song ever written.
The thing about escape is that you must go all the way
You keep on running till you find a home
I look across the prairies and I’m watching you for days
You’re getting smaller but you never fade away.
Bonus points if you’ve actually lived on the prairies and know just how literally those last two lines can be taken…
Almost Doesn’t Count- Brandy. There’s also a country version by Mark Wills.
I used to just play Kirsty MacColl albums on repeat. Her stuff is way underrated, her lyrics kick so much ass and she wrote loads of witty songs and moving songs about guys who hurt her. Like the one she suddenly realised had been emotionally abusing her all along (All I Ever Wanted) or the guy whose friend casually brought up the wife and kids he’d never bothered telling her about (England 2 Colombia 0).
Songs to get through loss / break up -great idea, should be a post all of its own!
I tend to use songs to get my anger and frustration out, so I’ll listen to something like Nine Inch Nails’s Hurt, or for a song where I know I’m not alone and others have been there too, James Taylor’s Down In The Hole.
However, I never end my music session on a down note. I always end it by playing One by U2, as I find it uplifting. Even if I’m still feeling down, I force myself to play it, I try and earworm myself to death with Happy. Find your happy song and have it handy. End on a happy note, it’ll help you get there in the end.
For the whole process in one song, I recommend I Grieve by Peter Gabriel. It’s clearly about a death, but works for other losses such as a relationship breakup. It begins with the shock, the sudden loss and disbelief, and works on through the feelings until it ends up with life going on… It acknowledges that you’re grieving but you have to carry on. It’s quite long (7 minutes?) but worth it. I’m planning for it to be played at my funeral in the hope that it will help anyone present in the way it’s helped me through loss in the past.
Ooh, this question definitely deserves its own thread. Here’s a whole TUNES OF EMPOWERMENT playlist from Gloria Gaynor to Stevie Nicks. Hope this link works (I don’t really understand the Spotify privacy settings, feel free to correct me). There’s so many tear jerker songs out there I thought we needed all the anthems together!
One song that really got me was this one – made me think about everything Yoko Ono’s been through, you can really hear it in her voice, and the lyrics:
Or you could just put Liz Phair’s Exile from Guyville on repeat.
Generally (all on Youtube):
Kelly Clarkson, “Because of You”
Kelly Clarkson, “Stronger”
“Without You” from My Fair Lady
Coldplay, “Fix You”
Vienna Teng, “Antebellum”
Connie Lim, “Some Loves Are Meant to Be Wasted”
Connie Lim, “Walk On” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_L10yTkIPMQ)
Rachel Platten, “Fight Song”
Madilyn Bailey, “Titanium”
G.R.L., “Ugly Heart”
Molly Drake, “Never Pine for the Old Love”
In specific situations:
All of Beyonce’s Lemonade except the last bit
All the Taylor Swift
@Tonks, Antebellum got me through some really tough times! I think of it as the opposite of Sara Bareilles’s Gravity (a song about not really wanting to be with someone anymore but also not being quite able to leave), because it’s clearly about great love and understanding for another person she just can’t be her best self with, and has to limit access to.
These people are all so classy. Mine was tATu All The Things She Said. In my defence, it was January 2003.
Ooh ooh, I just thought of one: Carolina Chocolate Drops doing “No Man’s Mama”:
My personal favourite is “It’s my life”, by Bon Jovi. It’s not about breaking up, but I find it very empowering. I’ve been known to shout-sing it in a karaoke bar as a form of catharsis.
Others I like include “I will survive”, by Gloria Gaynor, and “Me cuesta tanto olvidarte”, by Mecano (best translation I could find below).
! delurking because i can’t not reply to this thread. there’ve been a lot of songs, but these are the ones i played on repeat through the most emotionally gutting breakups:
for the “getting unengaged” breakup: victory at sea, “to you & me”: http://youtu.be/7KILGRP0zV4
for the “first time anyone physically cheated on me” breakup: stars, “bitches in tokyo”: http://youtu.be/2DIsxR33mK8
for the “but you were my only friend in this terrible, god-forsaken state” breakup: ms. pigeon, “two weeks & a day”: [bloody hell, not on the internet—but the album is here: https://www.amazon.com/Standard-Ms-Pigeon/dp/B000VX6VKY ]
I don’t think anyone’s posted these yet! I love metal, and Krypteria is a fantastic band with awesome breakup songs. (Also if anyone’s cautious about listening, they’re not a screamy band, they’re more melodic and have a female lead singer. Who is GREAT).
1 (for happiness about being single, also this one’s pop). ‘Sexy, Free & Single’ by Super Junior https://youtu.be/gWIkiI_UmeE
2 (SUCH A GOOD BREAKUP SONG). ‘Too Late, Game Over, & Goodbye’ by Krypteria https://youtu.be/7raCJSKwRRI
3 (also SO GOOD, one of my very faves, warning for some violent imagery but it’s very hyperbolic and also metaphorical). ‘You & I’ by Krypteria https://youtu.be/52T-4CFccJk
+1 to shower crying!
LW, the Captain knocked it out of the park on this one. Please believe me when I say that if you bargain him out of this breakup somehow, what you’ll have from there out will be so fragile and doubt-ridden that the second-guessing you’ll always be doing will damage you more as it goes on than the breakup will now.
Put yourself first, financially and emotionally, spread out your needs over all of your Team You, and know that the good wishes of this internet stranger are with you.
This. I did this once: convinced a guy to take me back after he said he broke up with me (claiming the classic: “I need space.”). The relationship that ensued was a wreck. His heart wasn’t in it, but he was trying to be nice, I second-guessed everything and was an anxiety ridden mess for the next nine months until we both just called it quits. That relationship was so unhealthy! Our (second) break-up was one the best things I ever did for myself.
Please gather your Team You. They are the best thing for you right now. And yes, you have the sympathy and compassion of all of us internet strangers. We’ve all been there at one point or another!
I, too, successfully convinced a guy to stay with me! It made the real end a million times more awful, do not recommend.
Me three, or however many. Would have taken less time and pain if I hadn’t talked him out of it the first time.
My story has a different ending: my attempts to convince him he’d made a mistake were astoundingly successful at pushing him further away. If I’d given him the space he wanted, the “break” might have just been that.
Been there, done that, really wish I hadn’t. The hurt I still carry from that relationship is not so much about him anymore, and all about how I didn’t value myself enough to say much earlier: if he’s not sure then I don’t want this, I want and deserve to be with someone who is sure.
Turn to your team you LW, and take care of yourself!
Sorry for your situation LW, it sucks. I’ve been in a very similar situation that really involved a Darth therapist playing mind games. I even got to meet her, we “accidentally” and “coincidentally” were in a quiet coastal town, some thirty miles from home, and guess who we “bumped into” on the beach? I was homeless two weeks later.
I had to leave/get rid of a lot of stuff, including my dignity and (what felt like) half of my heart. I never went back after that, never saw her again despite all the feelingsy letters, texts, emails etc. I cried like a baby for about six months, whole sleeping in a seemingly endless parade of spare rooms. I got better, and so did my life. I couldn’t ever trust someone who fucked someone over after 15 years, and hrew out a penniless, chronically ill person literally onto the streets, as a “test” suggested by a Darth therapist.
I wish you all the best.
Stages of grief? Nonononono. I have a lot of respect for this blog but the stages of grief is bullshit, pleas don’t spread it.
Looks like you’re right. https://www.minnpost.com/second-opinion/2012/12/time-bury-five-stages-grief-myth
And yet what the LW is doing resembles the “bargaining” that Kubler-Ros’s describes, can you help me phrase it better?
Psychologist here – the “myth” thing refers to the fact that not everyone goes through all of the stages, and not necessarily in that order. But as a list of the most common elements of grief it’s still OK to reference.
Yes, and it’s possible that you repeat some of them, so you might move away from “bargaining,” and then move back to it. It’s not as organized as it seems, but I think the stages are still somewhat valid as processes.
*disclaimer – I’m *not* a therapist, just someone who’s done some reading on it.*
Yeah, Kubler-Ross was describing common trends many of her research participants went through. That’s scientific data. It’s just that people took that and tried to apply it to EVERYONE.
And tried to apply it as a straight line, and not a plate of spaghetti-feelings.
As with many things, a perfectly acceptable descriptor of common behavior becomes ridiculous when people try to use it as prescriptive of how you *should* behave.
One of my favorite maxims in: healing is not linear.
Rationalizing really bad ideas?
sorry, my words might sound worse than I intended; what I’m seeing is the first step on a very dark path, and I want to put up big warning signs in the hope that LW is still capable of seeing them and turning around, but at the same time I don’t want to condemn or judge LW at all, or others who might find themselves already on that path – it’s very human to be tempted or tricked in that direction. Heck, LW might not be on that path at all, I might just be overreacting.
It’s just so hard to believe in the moment that one little step could be bad… and then one more… it’s like thinking that one little chocolate will make you happy, and when it doesn’t, you have another, and another…
” what I’m seeing is the first step on a very dark path, and I want to put up big warning signs in the hope that LW is still capable of seeing them and turning around, but at the same time I don’t want to condemn or judge LW at all, or others who might find themselves already on that path”
For me, this is one of the best arguments for no-contact: it’s a lot harder to act out your feelings in inappropriate or potentially harmful ways if you’re not in contact anymore.
Recent Ex and I were friends for over a decade, then dated for 11 1/2 years, imploding slowly over the last three as he decided he needed to date other people. Recent Ex really wanted to be friends, and kept telling me stories about Cool Poly People who hung out with their exes and OSOs the day after breaking up, like that was the one decent way to be. He didn’t want to deal with the possibility that the way he’d acted in the last three years had hurt me so much that I wouldn’t want to be friends anymore, not now. All the time post-breakup we spent together felt like
(1) pressure to be like his Cool Poly friends, though I am neither cool nor poly.
(2) running face-first into how besotted I was, and how unready I was to be without him, even though the last few years had been hellishly painful.
Also, it was a net good for Recent Ex to keep seeing me– he got really nostalgic about our relationship once it was over and wanted to talk about what he missed, and he clearly got some ego strokes out of having a person who wasn’t dating him but wanted to be with him. He was in no hurry for me to move out, and he would have been happy to keep having me make dinner and sharing cuddle time and sex– basically, everything he’d once had, except without having to exert any emotional labor. Needless to say, that was not a net good for me.
I’ve been the girl sitting on an ex’s doorstep waiting for crumbs of attention before. I’ve been the woman who had an ex talk scornfully about me to other people, in front of me, because I wanted to see them more than I wanted not to hurt. And I’ve been the bystander who’s seen all the effort and investment I made in Potential Version of Person pay off swimmingly in the next relationship they had.
None of that was respectful of what they wanted, which was Me Backing the Fuck Off. And equally importantly, none of that was respectful of my own well-being. It was important to me not to behave that way again.
It’s been eight months, and it still hurts not to see the person with whom I thought I was going to grow old. It also hurts less than anything else I tried.
for me, recovery time was measured in years. and I still have the occasional dream that reminds me I need to stay far away from him for the sake of my own sanity. (oh, another one for the song list: Last Christmas)
even Cool Poly People need time apart.
I am a BIG fan of no-contact. I know *some* people are capable of being friends in the aftermath of *some* relationships, but I’ve always felt either 1) anger or 2) longing that made it really difficult for me to interact healthily with a former lover. I’ve had past SOs get sour about the fact that they aren’t allowed to be friends with me, which only validates my “I don’t want to be friends with you” instinct. Taking care of yourself is not a disrespectful or immature action, and your exes get to feel how they feel about it in the absence of your attention. There’s a big difference between abusive silent treatment in a relationship and saying “I need space to heal” and taking it after a relationship is over.
The “stages of grief” are bullshit in the sense that not everyone goes through all or any of them, and not in any particular order if they do go through any. However, they do catalog some common responses to grief, and the use here seems reasonable enough to me.
Please listen to the Captain. Your ex (he is your ex) may still love you. Possibly he may be miserable without you. His shrink may be a monster who gets their jollies from ruining living relationships. He might be objectively incorrect about everything he’s reported to you.
Even so, you will be happier if you take him at his word. Consider yourself single.- – Find yourself a good place to live.
– Hang out with people who think you’re cool (I think you’re really cool)
– Devote yourself to your wishes, your feelings
– Go out to dinner
Make a life that’s fun and doesn’t have hours and hours and days and more hours devoted to teasing out everything someone else feels.
Devote yourself to you.
Also, find something physical (as opposed to intellectual) to do. Many of us who have geeky interests spend lots of time in our heads. If you can find something that your physical self can do your endorphins will surge.
If your body doesn’t do stretches or swimming or walking or martial arts or line dancing, maybe it looks at flowers. Maybe it pats horses or goats. Maybe your arms are strong and you knit.
I can’t know what will give you joy, but I promise you, there is joy waiting for you.
That’s so beautiful, Mrs Morley 🙂
Thank you 😀
This is so spot on. I’ve always been a dancer, but in recent years I had kind of let it drop. After my breakup I threw myself into it and it has been wonderful. Endorphins from exercise, spending time with people who like what I like, and just the joy of using my body for a thing I love doing with it. I feel like I’m really me again after a long time of hiding myself.
It’s great that you’re finding yourself again!
LW, I’ve been through this with my own version of Bob. I know it hurts and the Captain’s advice is going to seem very difficult to do. What I can tell you is that in my own experience, I didn’t realize how much work ‘Bob’s’ feelings were until I was a long time out of the relationship, and then I was very very glad that we weren’t together. Be well!
“Bob & his feeling sound like a fucking LOT of work.”
This. I’m so sorry, LW, but I have been in an eerily similar place, and this is what I happened to me. I convinced my Bob not to break up, but then I found myself in the exact same position when his jerkbrain kicked back into gear a few months later. The let’s-break-up-but-no-I-can’t-tell-you-why speech hurt just as much the second time (and the third, and the fourth). And soon, even when things were going well between us, I’d find myself walking on eggshells and waiting for the Jerkbrain Bus to pull back into the station so we could do the dance all over again.
The lesson for me was that bad decisions that are fueled by bad brain chemistry have a habit of recurring when the brain chemistry does. You may love Bob deeply, but unless the situation you’re in now is one you’re willing to repeat again and again, it’s best to let go now. I’m so sorry for what you’re going through and the relationship you’re losing.
Oh, god, yes. I was in a relationship with a woman who had untreated bipolar disorder (she went off her meds and quit therapy a little while after we met). Every single time she had a depressive spike, she’d dump me. I finally dumped her (she started withdrawing in the way the way she always did before “the talk”). We didn’t speak for a while, but after she been back in treatment for a while, she found me and we got back together. And everything was a thousand times easier, but if we hadn’t had that long break, I don’t think anything would have ever changed. We still aren’t together now, but we ended things on good terms when she moved to another country.
LW, think about what will happen if you do have a long talk and get back together. Yeah, you won’t be broken up, but how secure will you feel exactly? Don’t you think you’ll be extra sensitive and anxious for a while every time he “acts weird”? And don’t you think you’re going to feel taken for granted after you’ve put all this work into helping him, and he responds by dumping you? Even if you guys get back together, things won’t ever be okay until he figures himself out, and (I mean this in the kindest possible way), he’ll be better able to do that without you doing all of this emotional work for him– he’s going to have to figure out how to do some of it himself.
Maybe someday you two will get back together and have a secure, healthy, adult relationship. Maybe. But the way to get that to happen is to let him go now, really let him go.
But you need to do that anyway, because that ^ probably isn’t in the cards, and the sooner you let him go, the sooner you can be happy without him.
LW, Bob sounds like a lot of hard work to me; from what you’ve said about your relationship everything was about his feelings, his anxieties, his depression, his needs. I think you need, want and deserve a lot more from a relationship than he was ever going to provide, and he’s done you a favour by ending it.
I got the same impression. The focus of the relationship was on developing “Potential Bob” – listening to him, pushing him to get therapy, sympathizing with and working around his depression and anxiety and withdrawal and silences and low sex drive, having long and exhausting conversations to work out misunderstandings and figure out what he is thinking, waiting with bated breath for the day that Potential Bob would emerge from all this. It sounds exhausting.
And once you’ve put all that work into a project, it’s natural that you want to enjoy the return on your hard work and patience. And yes, it really sucks that you were finally getting to a point where you could see glimpses of the relationship you wanted, only to have it all come crashing down.
And you might never find out exactly why Bob needs to break up – it might be the depression talking, it might be the therapist, it might be that he needs to be single to work on his own issues, it might simply be that he doesn’t want this relationship anymore. But ultimately, it’s Bob’s decision.
I do think it’s important to respect someone’s decision when they want to break up, even if it’s entirely one sided and totally unexpected, because of what it’s like to be on the other side of that situation. When you’ve thought hard and decided that you need to end the relationship, but the other person refuses to accept it and keep demanding answers and explanations, and wanting to meet to talk about it, and pushing to be “just friends” in the hope that you’ll change your mind, and guilt tripping you about how much they’ve done for you.
Take some of the hard work that you’ve been putting into Bob and redirect it to yourself. Spend time with friends who are low drama and don’t need your emotional support. Explore new hobbies or spend more time on an old one. Talk to your own therapist. Pay attention to eating and sleeping properly. Do your favourite relaxation activities – go out dancing or for a hike, or start a new video game, or design D&D dungeons, or curl up with a favourite book or movie.
I’m just chiming in to say I think this comment is incredibly thoughtful and wise 🙂
Word. During this post break-up time, try focusing on all of the things you can do now that you aren’t worrying about how Bob and his Bob-feelings are going to react. I’m going to guess that there is a lot of yourself that has fallen by the wayside in the last year and a half because all of your time and spoons were going towards Bob-related problems
i’ve dated more than a couple “bobs” in my lifetime, & the conclusion i’ve come to is this:
in part, i’ve a tendency to fall into relationships in which my partner+my partner’s issues are a full-time job because of [socialization factors]—sometimes i take on a disproportionate share of emotional labor without even realizing it, because i’ve still got internalized stuff about how women demonstrate love rattling around in the dark corners of my emotional cellar.
but that said, there’s another reason—& that’s because, for whatever reason, i often find even sisyphean attempts to deal with Someone Else’s Stuff to be vastly, vastly preferable to dealing with *my own* stuff.
that might just be my weird thing, but perhaps it’s worth asking: among all the You Things you’ve shifted to the backburner in order to devote your time/effort/attention to Bob Things, is there something(s) you feel particularly anxious, overwhelmed, or powerless about?
if so, it might help to ask whether some of your apprehension about being without bob is really apprehension about being left alone with your own deferred, unfinished business. (i know that one’s gotten me more than once.)
and in any case: i’m sorry for all the pain & distress you’re experiencing right now. all the empathy to you.
loxocele, that is definitely *not* just your weird thing. I myself have always been drawn to Complicated People, in part because as a Complicated Person myself it makes me feel understood, but also in part because other people’s Complications make a nice break from handling my own. But! They always come back, usually when it’s least convenient for them to do so, because someone else’s Complications are combining negatively with them, and I feel responsible for both those sets of Complications even though that is not how it works.
Aww, LW, this just sucks! I am so sorry. Bottom line, you can’t make someone want to be with you when they don’t, even if their reasons seem dumb and weird. But the flip side of that is that you deserve to be with someone who is excited to be with you, who wants to be with you, who loves you without a giant BUT hanging over everything like an anvil suspended on a rotting rope. It sucks to live that way, and you do sound cool and fun and what I wish for you is that you find other cool and fun people to be around, who don’t have as their price of admission for friendship/partnership that YOU to spend so much of your time and energy taking care of their feelings.
Captain, as an asexual person, I’d just like to mention that your apparent bafflement over Bob’s lack of interest in sex is both hurtful and erasing to asexual people. Some of us are not interested in sex, and there is nothing wrong with that. If one partner is unhappy with the amount of sex in a relationship, that doesn’t mean the other partner has a problem, or should be having sex more. It simply points to a sexual incompatibility between partners that is no one’s fault.
If you could please remember in future that some people might be asexual, rather than exclaiming in disbelief over someone lacking interest in sex, that would be helpful to the asexual community. We are still often erased, discriminated against and coerced into sexual situations by our allosexual partners, because they assume we’re broken if we don’t want sex the way allosexuals do. It would do a lot to cut down that stigma if voices like yours remembered to account for the existence of people like me. Basically, I suppose I’m asking for your allyship as an allosexual who gives sex and relationship advice primarily to other allosexuals.
Thanks for your time.
I don’t see any bafflement. I see the Captain not being sure whether “Bob had never been horny before” meant “we weren’t having sex before” or “we were having lackluster sex before”. Either thing is plausible and both are valid.
What you’re saying is true and important, but I don’t think you’re reacting to something the Captain actually *said.*
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.
To me, that doesn’t read as incredulity on the Captain’s part that the relationship might not have previously included sex — it’s unclear from the OP’s letter whether the relationship had previously been romantic-but-not-sexual, or whether it had been sexual but a feeling of “horniness” was new on Bob’s part.
All we know from the exact words that the OP used was that something changed about Bob’s perception and articulation of his libido, and that the OP felt like this was a positive change.
So, “better (any?)” on the Captain’s part indicates that it *is* uncertain exactly what changed, but that the specifics are less important than the fact that Bob has since ended the relationship.
I completely agree with this. I’m asexual myself and that sentence didn’t jump out to me in any way because it was just, hm, factual? Or, leaving room for the LW to insert the either-or situation that was actually applicable. The “better (any?)” part was just a shortcut for “things were just starting to turn around with better sex (or any sex at all? It’s unclear from your letter, so it could be either)” and I don’t see any bafflement in it at all, just the Captain being unsure of whether it was one situation or another.
allosexual… I learnt a new word! 🙂 it sounds so… flowy…
according to wiktionary it’s already got several conflicting definitions, though. >.< Such is english.
I'm… not seeing the bafflement, though.
I’m pretty sure that the Captain is not “baffled by Bob’s lack of interest in sex.” There are plenty of reasons why a couple might choose not to have sex, and I’ve seen plenty of letters to suggest that the Captain is super supportive of couples making that choice.
HOWEVER, the letter writer is SO THRILLED about the return of Bob’s sex drive, and it points to a pattern where the letter writer is giving up things that they want in order to focus on Bob and his feelings. And it’s important for the Captain to point out that pattern, and how sex might be a part of it.
Although I agree somewhat with the folks who suggested that you might have misread the Captain, I think the Captain could have worded it more sensitively and clearly, and I appreciate your speaking up about it. (I’m not asexual, but I’m not in favor of assuming that all romantic relationships have to include sex.)
I don’t read any bafflement in the Captain’s answer? She made a brief reference to what the LW wrote about their intimacy and it wasn’t at all dismissive or erasing. Am I missing something?
The way it reads to me is the Captain acknowledged what the LW wrote, that sexual intimacy is important to the LW and it seemed the relationship was moving that way.
LW here: if clarification of what I meant when I wrote question at 2 am is useful… Bob wasn’t not interested in sex, Bob’s drive was just always lower than mine. Part of that could also be socialization: he always said that sex wasn’t usually an option for him, so he hadn’t adjusted to it being an option. He enjoyed sex, and could experience arousal, but rarely was initiator, and had never before experienced “horniness” as a thing, which I see differently than just arousal.
Also asexual and I was also uncomfortable with the focus on the horniness thing. Even if that’s an important issue to Bob – why do we need to know that about him?
Because it’s a significant aspect of the intimate relationship he’s in with LW, because his sex drive was affected by his untreated depression and ameliorated by treatment for his depression, and because not having sex – or having a low sex drive – can be an incredibly stressful thing in a relationship, such that this is valuable context for how LW and Bob have been interacting with each other? It is also, frankly, important context for Bob’s ability to manage his own mental and emotional health, such that LW doesn’t have to take care of him in ways that are inappropriate for a girlfriend or partner to do?
The LW did not tell us about how often they want to have sex, or if they are satisfied or unsatisfied with the amount of sex they are having. They told us only about Bob’s horniness. Which is something Bob may not want their ex, who is no longer their partner as they are broken up, telling strangers.
[moderator hat on]The LW told us a WHOLE BUNCH of uncomfortably private information, like, mental health status & recaps of conversations with Bob & his therapist, with a partial (extremely uncomfortable) goal of making a case to invalidate Bob’s decisions. The detail about changes in Bob’s sex drive is notable among all these other details because the LW was offering it as evidence that something was changing for the better* between them, when Bob’s decisions communicate that no, it was not. Would you have shared the same detail? No, and, noted.
Let’s tie this subthread off please. If you want to continue it elsewhere, friendsofcaptainawkward.com has forums.
*The LW’s personal judgment call to make about her specific relationship, not a referendum on asexuality.
And in general…it’s not inappropriate for people who write in about their sexual relationships to talk about the sexual interactions they’re having in those relationships. Dysfunctional intimacy, lack of intimacy, withheld intimacy, lack of sex, abrupt or gradual changes in sexual interest or behavior: all of that stuff is relevant. It’s really very disturbing to see people acting like LW can’t talk about whether or not her boyfriend seems to want to have sex with her – or seems invested in communicating openly with her about sex and physical intimacy in the context of being boyfriend and girlfriend. Or for that matter getting annoyed with Captain Awkward for briefly raising the totally plausible idea that maybe they hadn’t been having any sex at all. Talking about those things doesn’t pathologize or marginalize asexual people – not any more than talking about asexual relationship dynamics pathologizes and marginalizes people who are not asexual.
Jesus H. Christ, seriously. Thanks, piny.
THIS. Thank you.
Yeah–thank you, piny1! 🙂 I’m starting to get uncomfortable with the inevitable comments in any letter that mentions a LW’s sex life.
Seriously. Well said, piny1.
YES. Thank you, piny1, for articulating this so well.
Wish I could like upvote your comment @piny1. Thank you. Exactly. He was never asexual.
100% correct. Is it maybe time for a post on what is and isn’t “anti-asexual?”?
Uh. No. Allosexual people don’t get to decide what is or isn’t aphobia anymore than straight people get to decide what’s is or isn’t homophobia. Asexual people do, and one asexual person does not get to speak for everyone.
Sorry, I know I shouldn’t comment on this anymore, but that’s… an incredibly dangerous idea and kind of terrifying.
No such post is forthcoming, don’t worry.
Pls let this drop now, including Ellie, including Piny, including everyone.
That was just… really scary. Thank you for not considering it.
Truly, you ARE the patron saint of breakups.
My Bob was many, many years ago but I a! 100% better off not managing his feelings, depression, constant doubt, or conviction hat I was going to leave him (spoiler: self fulfilling prophecy). LW, I hope you can find yourself in a better place.
My Bob is so much happier without me around that it stabs my heart to see the pictures of Bob’s joy without me— even though I know, in my head, that it’s not me that was the problem (Until. Oh, OP, that “until), that I was a great catalyst for change and growth for him, and that he very well may not have survived college and his spiritually-abusive family without me. Trouble is, I was a crutch for him, and I hung around “helping” when he should have been learning to get around without help, and I couldn’t see it, so he’d leave, and come back when he felt tired and like he couldn’t do “better,”* and tearfully beg me not to let him go this time, then hate himself and me for us getting together again, and, may the Great Egg help me commend my efforts at boundary-breaking… he was addicted to the cycle of forgiveness, and I was his pusher.His UNPAID pusher, I might add.
He is so much happier without me. I wish that didn’t hurt. I am so much happier without him, and it is SO WEIRD that I occasionally have to remind myself that I am happier without him. I mean, fer cry-eye-eye, I’m a lesbian, and he has the wrong skin texture (among other things) to find him attractive.
Not saying your Bob is better off without you, OP or Southernbelle, but man, should it come to that, beware the Relationship Hokey-Pokey. It will [verb] both of your [nouns] up if you aren’t careful.
*I am Golden-Age Etta-Candy levels of awesome, thank you very much, but he felt that any woman who was attracted to him was flawed, unwell, and dirty.
Ugh. There’s a close quotes missing there and I also meant to say “FOR ME to find him attractive.” I should definitely proofread better, sorry.
I’ve not spoken to My Bob in 14 years and have been happily married to a delightful person for 11 years. 🙂
I actually hope My Bob (and maybe the LW’s too) *is* happier without me because he was so unhappy *with* me. I hope everyone finds a relationship that works (if they want one!) is what I’m saying, not one that sucks the energy out.
Mercifully, I haven’t spoken to My Bob for 14 years and have been happily married to a wonderful person for 11 years.
I hope My Bob, and maybe the LW’s, is happier without me because he sure was unhappy with me. I hope all our Bobs have managed or will manage to work on their Stuff in a way that helps them grow- but I’m also really glad My Bob is Someone Else’s Bob now.
Oh, I am genuinely happy that he’s happy (although some of the conditions he has placed upon me for his continuing happiness have been hard and feel unreasonable— seriously, I can’t talk about comic books on my blog because comic books are HIS and it’s encroaching upon his territory, even though I literally learned to read from a comic book more than twenty years before we met and have always loved comics? Dude, seriously, just don’t read my blog. It shouldn’t be that hard. You don’t even read fiction any more.). It’s just hard for me to see that all my sacrifices on his behalf were just furthering his misery, and the fact that my pleasure at seeing someone I care about do well is not unmixed came as an unwelcome surprise.
My point was that sometimes we are also doing others a favor by being “selfish,” and I don’t think that’s undermined by the fact that I often have to skip “Not That Girl” on the Wicked soundtrack, even if it is a great song.
Oh dude no, what the hell. Is that requirement of your writing on your own (goddamn) blog still current???
Ran out of nest, but his other requirements (including leaving the state and never again visiting my mother at her home) have left him no way to let me know of his displeasure at my callous and inconsiderate continuation of my existence as a thinking human with a voice. So, can’t tell, starting not to care. If my having opinions about the continuing influence of Flash Gordon on modern-day economic theory threaten his concept of self, maybe he has some stuff to shore up on his end?
The relationship was a tire fire in so many ways. We are both so lucky to have gotten out.
Yeah, um, Awe – you’re the boss of your personal life, and I would never tell you that you can’t judge for yourself what feels most comfortable and right to you. But like Novel Device, I’m really troubled by his demand that you give up talking about an entire medium. I think it is unreasonable to tell you that you can’t write about what you want to write about. He really could just avoid reading your blog – and he could also behave as though his happiness is dependent on his own ability to manage his overreactions. You have every right to blog about whatever you want – or not, for whatever reason! – but…well, this does seem like an unfair demand on his part.
He sounds like a real winner. I’m glad you are not with him anymore. And I think you should start a series of blog posts about comics, because I’m petty like that. 😀
Yeah…. I was coming back to say, you do you, but my response to that Bob Request would be to tell him what to do with his feelings.
Ugh! Can you block this control freak from seeing your blog, Awe Ritual?
Screw that guy. You should talk about whatever you want on your blog.
I would mention comics every entry, but I’m not always a nice person.
I… find it quite upsetting Bob thinks it is in any way reasonable you should not visit your own mom in her own home because he needs to whatever. Like, the only circumstances where I can see that being in any way not terrible involve your mom living next door to him, and his having a restraining order against you that forbids you from being within 500ft of his person.
I mean, if you are going to suffer from that kind of controlling behavior, you might as well see if you can get back together and hope you’ll get laid (if you want to) or some other benefit. As it is… Bob sure is present in your life, for not being there.
Unless you don’t ever visit with your mom in her home so agreeing to that was an easy way to aid the transition, in which case, carry on?
Honestly, the demanding you don’t visit your mother at her place and limit what topics you talk about sound like an abusive level of control freak and kind of terrifying.
I’m hoping that you’re ignoring these demands.
The thing is, my Bob has this idea that if you are a victim, it gives you moral license, and if you are the person who caused the victim’s pain, you are like a bad movie villain— everything you do is motivated by eeeeevil, and you cannot grill a sandwich without an ulterior motive and a sinister plot. To be fair, he has reason to consider himself a victim— I did some pretty cringeworthy, stalker-y things the first five times we broke up (he did most of them back, as if that makes it right), and his Christian-cult FOO had instilled some ideas about sex that were so messed-up, looking back, that I think that sex with him could not possibly have been fully consensual, and I even back then I knew that it was that it was irresponsible of me.
I give him a lot of space. We have both earned it. But you’re right, my fellow Awkwardeers, I blog about whatever, because his premise, that I am only blogging to break up his picture-perfect marriage to his jaw-droppingly-gorgeous and emotionally stable wife and reinstall him as my live-in manchild is so deeply flawed as to not merit consideration.
Re: the therapist – the Captain is spot on. One of the inherent difficulties of therapy is that the therapist only has the version of events that the patient provides them with. So if Bob tells the therapist that you tried to stop him seeing his friends, and the there were no signs for the therapist to pick up on that Bob might have been wrong, then the therapist would have counselled Bob as if you were trying to isolate him from his support system. The questions that you mention the therapist asking are actually pretty reasonsable if you’re working off Bob’s story about the D&D fallout… it’s the therapist’s job to be there for Bob, so if the therapist thinks you’re isolating him, the therapist will want to help him see that and get to a point where he can take care of himself.
My dad, who was abusive, did this when he was seeing a therapist – he would come back from therapy and say the therapist had told him he was completely normal, didn’t need to change anything he was doing, and the problem was with us/me. Of course, as an abuser he was adept at coming across as an upstanding guy to those outside the family, and he didn’t tell the therapist about how he’d fly into a rage and hit us or tell us we were worthless…
So LW, I guess what I’m saying is, instead of focussing on the therapist whether the therapist is nasty or misogynist – ask yourself why *Bob* thought and said the things he did about you. Is it possible that Bob’s issues distort his perceptions of your behaviour? Do you really want to be with someone who sees you in the worst possible light? Do you want to be with someone who assumes the worst without so much as talking with you about what’s bugging him? You love Bob, but is being his emotional parent and problem-solver truly what you want from your life?
You sound like an incredibly caring and supportive person… I know your heart is breaking for Bob, but I hope that in time the hurt fades, and that you get to be with someone who can offer you the kind of relationship you so richly deserve. All the best.
YES. THIS. I read the Captain’s hypothetical ‘What if Bob’s stories about you are full of misunderstandings and seeing you in the worst possible light?’ (near the end, talking about the therapist), and immediately thought ‘Why, then, Bob is a lousy fit for you and this absolutely needs to end.’ If Bob is interpreting your actions in the worst possible light without being willing to think of possible better explanations… then here be bees and run, run, hard and fast away from this.
It sucks, I know. It’s awful (ultimately incredibly liberating, but still short-term awful) to have to accept the fact that sometimes the narrative of ‘talk about problem, define problem, make plan for fixing problem, fix problem’ is not one that’s going to happen because the problem is something like ‘I don’t really love her’ that isn’t amenable to fixing. It’s so hard to have to give up on the idea that talking about problems is the ultimate cure for all ills. Sometimes, you just gotta accept that shit happens and move on. Good luck, OP, and know that happiness and love *are* in your future… but that that future isn’t with Bob. I’m sorry.
Also, as a therapist, sometimes the difference between what we think we said, and what the client thinks we said, is ENORMOUS. It’s all one big bad game of Telephone.
That’s a great point, thank you for mentioning it!
Or wants you to have said…
Or says you said!
I wish more therapists could gather data from both family/other people than just their client; for example in abuser programs they /really have to/ get the other person’s side of the story.
I realize that may not be how it’s done but I would think a good therapist takes everything with a grain of salt unless they had outside confirmation.
I know I have to do a lot of this navigating as well for my relatively more physical line of work; usually it’s no issue to talk to family / friends (with the person’s permission), though of course one is always supportive. “Trust but verify” and all that.
I am very sure a “good therapist” is not one who assumes a client is being untruthful about, say, being abused or sexually assaulted unless they have “outside confirmation” of some sort that the abuse or assault actually happened.
I read B’s comment as meaning that the *abuser* is the one in therapy and that the program should get the perspective of the one being abused, that the therapist would take the *abuser*’s word with a grain of salt.
That sounds like a great way to give abusers – people whose playbook includes isolation and gaslighting – a chance to cover up abuse while cutting off yet another support system for victims.
Hey why not go back to the 60s and have therapists call up the client’s husband and tell him everything they discussed? >.>
Um, no. Why not have the therapist just call my husband and tell him everything, while we’re at it?
What a GOOD therapist will do, IMO, is to help the person in therapy see more than one side of the issue and work on establishing boundaries/behaviors that are helpful and positive regardless of whether the therapist has the whole or partial truth.
For example, based on my last therapy sessions, my (amazing) therapist helped develop strategies to promote self-care and establish boundaries before I was exploding from frustration, which helped me professionally, with my mother, and with my husband. Those skills and boundaries were helpful and effective with the information I gave her, but say I’d been hiding information, or if my mother was butting into my life for a reason, or if my colleague was complaining about me because of something professional I’d done… they’d still have been helpful and useful skills, and implementing them would have highlighted the actual issue where it was, rather than in me being walked on like a rug. EITHER WAY, she helped, basically.
Yeah, I agree. You need trust for therapy to be as effective as it can be. I’m glad you have an amazing therapist who is able to help you in your life 🙂
Mine is also amazing, and her constant reminders that my problems are real and matter have been important for me to open up to her and get the most out of the therapeutic relationship (since my jerkbrain tells me I’m making a fuss about nothing and tries to get me to avoid confronting my issues).
Yes! LW, please do get away from this situation where you are so anxious about impression management (that isn’t what I meant, you told the therapist what?, the therapist told you what?, wait that is not who I am….). When my husband was dumping me he really put a lot of work into making sure that I knew that *everyone* in his universe thought I was garbage. Like, he was not doing anything wrong abandoning me and our small daughter because I was garbage, everyone he spoke to agreed about that! This was devastating, like I still feel ill when I think back about that part of my life, how much I wanted to go to each and every one of his allies and convince them that I was not a horrible person and then they would be on MY side and then they would convince him that I was not a horrible person and THEN… (the captain has told you what this ellipsis means. Yes, that is what I was hoping for 🙂
Luckily, logistically I just was not able to do this. Sadly, I did it in my head for months. But then I read a lot of CA, cap’n’ and commentators, and I realized that a huge blessing of a break up is the other person gets to tell their story, and you get to tell your story, and it’s totally not your problem to get a universally agreed upon narrative out to the world. And that, in fact, probably a lot of his friends and family knew he was full of it, but was gonna do what he was gonna do, and so it was not worth their time to argue “my case” (because they knew already, in ways I did not yet, they would be doing me no favours by advocating he stay with me) (this could be happening with Bob’s therapist — he may have a lot information you do not). And just as his accounts to them were unreliable about me, his accounts to me about them were unreliable (one of his siblings has since been really kind in ways that feel like “hey I want you to know I do actually think well of you”).
upshot: spinning your wheels trying to make sure a good story is being told because THAT will solve the situation is looking at it the wrong way. A bad story is being told because the situation itself is a wrong situation. It will take a while but life will get better once you are out of it!
I felt a terrible sense of freedom when I realized that someone who doesn’t like me has just given me the freedom to not care about their opinion of me.
I am not for everyone! That is okay, and indeed good and normal. The people I am not for, however, do not get to dictate how I see myself, because I *am* for *me*, so their bullshit opinions about how I am garbage don’t matter. 🙂
I love this. I am going to start thinking of myself as only findable in certain cheeseshops — not everyone likes the taste, but some people are real fans 🙂
Like a fantastic epoisses, the people who love me really love me, and everyone else thinks I stink. 😀
Oooooh yes. My mother has significant mental health issues, including a personality disorder, and she was so adept at manipulating her therapist and/or using therapy to further abuse us. It was always our fault that she had “nerves” and needed “nerve pills”, and if we were better, she wouldn’t be screaming / hitting us / having loud, public meltdowns. She was really excellent at convincing others that she was our victim, the long-suffering wife and mother, when we used to live in terror of her and her mood swings.
It took me YEARS to realize that therapy isn’t just a tool that bad people use to harm others, but can actually be really wonderful and helpful and NECESSARY.
I am so sorry this happened to you. It sounds like there are some parallels between our experiences… it’s interesting to me to hear that other people have had abusive parents/partners who have used therapy to justify and continue their abusive behaviours.
It’s amazing how abusers can turn even a healing mechanism like therapy into a tool for further abuse. Glad that you were able, with time, to move to a different understanding of therapy 🙂
Okay, I’m someone who literally had a monstrous disaster of a therapist (hereafter Dr. Unethical) who ACTUALLY tried to break up my marriage for what were ACTUALLY self-serving reasons on his part (long story short, he was trying to recruit us into something shady, I saw this for what it was about a month before my spouse did, and that month consisted of Dr. Unethical basically throwing every possible piece of asinine bullshit about me and about our marriage at me and Spouse, separately and together, in the hopes that he could at least recruit Spouse if he’d lost me – at which point Spouse was also ready to NOPE THE HELL OUT and we filed an ethics complaint).
Know why Dr. Unethical failed in this regard? Because despite the reasons Spouse and I had sought counseling individually and as a couple, our underlying relationship is completely fucking solid, we communicate with each other, and regardless of whether Dr. Unethical might be a misogynist (spoiler: YES LIKE WHOA), Spouse is instinctively egalitarian and quite dedicated to unlearning toxic sexist crap. “Break up with MamaCheshire” was never meaningfully on the table because, to be blunt, we’ve never had a relationship problem serious enough to make untangling our logistics seem worth it – including the additional relationship problem Dr. Unethical tried to cause on top of the problems we sought him out for in the first fucking place.
Bob doesn’t have that strength of commitment – to you, to not going-along-with a (potentially bad news) therapist, to communicating in a constructive way that doesn’t leave you in the role of the Evil Queen of No-Funville because he got the idea that you were ordering him to avoid his friends but didn’t actually fucking talk about that to you or anything.
(And yes, me getting stuck playing the role of Evil Queen of No-Funville is part of why we went to therapy in the first place, AND part of what Dr. Unethical was trying to convince Spouse I actually was. So I still have a nice case of brainweasels about that in my own right, but I’m better at verbalizing them when they happen and Spouse is better at reassuring me that no, that’s not who I am and I am still Fun Cheshire Who Is Fun To Be With even if we can’t do Expensive Shiny Thing because well crap the refrigerator died and we needed to buy a new one AND still pay the mortgage. Etc.)
Yes yes yes “strength of commitment.” Relationships is HARD with two people pulling together. When only one person is pulling, it’s too much. Letter writer, eventually pulling for both of you will tire you out beyond all reason. You deserve to be with someone who is fighting for your relationship as much as you are.
Yes, exactly. I think I’ve said it here before, having been there: if you love someone who does not have the tools to love perself, it’s like calculus or passing c— no matter how much you put into it, you can only get halfway there, an infinite number of times, and it will never be “close enough for practical purposes.” It sounds like you have been enormously kind, brave, and wonderful to this man, but he needs to figure out on his own how not to let the weasels drive the brain.
A good thing to do would be to show this man how someone wonderful, kind, and caring, who has been deeply hurt by people who do not set out to hurt her takes care of herself, so do all the things that strengthen your body and soul.
Jedi packing help of you want it, I’m kind of crap at hugs.
The HOW of a relationship is sometimes hard. If the WHETHER is hard, someone is probably just delaying the inevitable.
And THAT ^^^ is what I should have said
I agree that life is more difficult when the people in your life pull in different directions. Nonetheless, relationships, even romantic ones, aren’t intrinsically difficult. We are a social species, and relationships are what we do.
Man, there’s a lot of assumptions in “relationships, even romantic ones, aren’t intrinsicially difficult.” I feel kind of wistful and admiring of this assumption. A sincere non-snark question: What’s your world like? I read sites like this one to try and learn, but you are a mystery to me.
As one on the autism spectrum who was severly abused as a child (sexualized, denied food, left homeless at 13, beaten and raped) the hardest thing about my lack of skills and my life has been meeting others who had it even worse.
I should check my privilege.
I apologize for my carelessness and will attempt to do better.
If you’re serious about my world: I’m in my mid 50s. I am a US citizen and a woman. I have been a software developer and martial artist for 30 plus years.
I’ve made a very few friends, and a larger few acquaintances.
I’ve married and divorced.
My world is small. It contains the people who still loved me even though I permitted an abusive person to isolate me.
I have social skills. I will continue to work on mindfulness.
Thank you for reminding me of the good things I take for granted. I apologize again for thoughtlessness
I was raised in a cult, pretty isolated, never taught social norms in a useful way, nor had them demonstrated to me except as playground dynamics I was exposed to very late and didn’t understand. I taught myself how to have relationships–as I did so many things–out of books, and it was super hard, but got easier as I practiced. In any single instance of a relationship though, as Serin says above, if just the decision whether to keep trying or not takes an outrageous amount of work, that’s usually a sign that it’s not worth it.
I’m so sorry that happened to you, Anne.
I’m kind of spectrum-adjacent, and despite a supportive home environment, I had a lot of trouble developing relationships with my peers when I was young (being academically gifted did NOT HELP) and that WAS hard. It took a fair amount of coaching in social norms and a fair amount of self-teaching as well (Miss Manners books were amazingly helpful, as she’s a keen observer, a great storyteller, and FUNNY, and reading all her examples let me figure out a SYSTEM underlying all this weird social stuff) for me to get to the point where social relationships aren’t automatically a lot of work.
It helps to be at a place in my life where I’m independent, and not under the authority of people who don’t treat me as an equal. Not just teachers but bosses – being self-employed has done wonders.
I’ve been married, I’m divorced, I’ve dated since then but not currently romantically involved with anyone, I live with my 21-year-old son (and we get along nicely!) and I have a strong network of friends. Many of whom are now my clients as well, for my cleaning/decluttering/repairing/assorted chores business which I call General Services.
That’s what my world looks like. Is that the sort of answer you were looking for?
PS Thank you, Mrs Morley. We of the damaged often go to some lengths to keep NTs from seeing the damage accidently caused. But this blog is the safe space for all of us.
Oof. That’s a pretty rough hand of cards to be dealt, Anne. I am sorry.
A sincere answer to your non-snark question is a re-phrase of what Mrs. Morley had to say:
Humans are social beings. We are *so* social, we cannot survive without other people. Literally. There are almost no people who were abandoned outside human communities (like, Mowgli in the Jungle Book) as young children and survived to adulthood. We are so social, that even with a bunch of barriers like the ones you and Novel de Vice have had, we *still* strive to be in and succeed at relationships.
So we might say, “relationships are what we humans do, and they are so necessary we will keep doing them- poorly or well- because our need is so profound.” (This is a reason why prison reform activists say keeping people in isolation/segregation is inhumane punishment.)
The other thing to consider is another reframing of Mrs. Morley’s point. We are not comparing your ability to relate to people against a universal standard of people relating to each other. What matters is, how does one relationship *for you* compare to other relationships *for you?* Novel de Vice’s approach deliberately sets out to develop one’s own facility. All that really is, is giving you more resources to work with when deciding how relationships are working *for you.*
❤ ❤ if you want some jedi loves.
You’re very welcome. You’ve had a tougher time than many, and come across as a wise and good. person
I dunno. I see my nephew learning to walk and grasp language, and that takes a whole lot of work and he gets pretty frustrated sometimes, even though it’s literally what his body was designed to do. It’s obvious that he’ll get there, and sooner rather than later, but I’m not going to trivialize his efforts by saying it’s not hard.
Not that you’re trivializing, Mrs. Morley, you never do and that’s the merest tiny fraction of what makes you so amazeballs, I just like to honor work and hard study.
To The Awe Ritual.
I wish I could express things as clearly as you do. (And kudos to your nephew!)
I think there’s an important difference between “difficult” and “hard”, and I think it’s very easy for healthy relationships/different relationships/relationships that are not like the picture on the box which fed me a steady diet of what-relationships-look-like-until-I-was-X-many-years-old to end up being a difficult thing to do instead of whatever one has internalized as a default.
(If two people have different ideas of what a relationship is, f’r ex, there’s rematching and adjusting that needs to happen right there.)
Oh, wow. That’s a great way of expressing the difference
I have a friend with social anxiety who’s finally started therapy. She’s supposed to be doing CBT. She most clearly *isn’t* – from past experience, I know what CBT is supposed to be like, and what her therapist is doing with her sounds more like a chat over coffee with a particularly toxic girlfriend. E.g. therapist telling her that her relationship is clearly doomed to fail because when she (the therapist) met her now husband she experienced X amount of butterflies, and a lower amount of butterflies = not real love. Therapist lecturing her on how she’s not taking up activities she can’t afford, or which are just not available in this area. Therapist giving her advice that sounds like she picked it from a Cosmo column on how to deal with depression, and doesn’t fit because she’s already doing those things (like, seriously, a session spent lecturing her on the importance of getting up and getting dressed in the morning when my friend *has a job she goes to five days a week*. And no, she ain’t turning up nekkid.) Therapist telling her she’s judgemental when she assesses anything in her life or relationships that is making her unhappy or anxious and she would like to change. Or therapist telling her she should stop talking to friends of family (me included) about the problems in her relationship because we will either force her to break up or stop talking to her altogether if she doesn’t listen to us. Cos, like, what someone with social anxiety needs is her therapist telling her that her social group is totally judging her for her problems and may shun her, so she should suffer in silence.
Rant aside: not all therapists are equal. Some are frankly rubbish. And if they find clients who are too inexperienced or vulnerable to complain, they can seriously mess those people up.
I’m not intending to invalidate Bob’s break-up attempt, not in the least. But I can understand how, as a person who cares and has cared about Bob, LW could legitimately be concerned about the therapist being less than helpful.
Oh wow. I had a therapist like that years ago. I soon began to realize that she was full of it when I spotted a women’s magazine with a title that sounded suspiciously like some advice she’d given me. She was always pushing me to get my nails done and use makeup more, because supposedly if I made myself “gorgeous” I’d have all kinds of self esteem and my problems would go away. She also told me that my father was probably not molesting my sister, that it was likely just a one-time thing that happened only to me. I deeply regret that I never reported her, but I didn’t know how or to whom at the time.
Aaaaaaargh?!?!?! “Just” a one-time thing. JUST.
I can’t even.
I can’t even.
What a lousy excuse for a human being.
I was just reading an article today about how Brock Turner, rapist, finished his 3-month slap on the wrist and is now leaving captivity to go back to his regularly scheduled life. That, and this therapist’s appalling comments on the abuse you suffered, make me despair.
I have three kids… I teach them all “wait to hear yes, not to hear no” (and we talk about why we do that) and I teach them all “don’t touch others without making sure they want to be touched, no, not even your sister, no, not even a hug, and no, you don’t have to let Relative X hug you if you don’t want” but jeez, why don’t more people know these things? It kind of makes me want to cry sometimes when I let myself really think about it.
Respectfully, RunForChocolate, I don’t believe for one nanosecond that Brock Turner did not know that society in general disapproves of unwanted sexual advances. I believe that he believed (or still believes, for all I know) that it didn’t apply to him so it was fundamentally an okay thing to do so long as he didn’t get caught. Somehow part of his emotional development stalled out at the stage of a small child’s: ‘I want it and here’s a chance to get it because no one who counts will ever know’. For small children, not touching without permission first is often an arbitrary rule, not one that grew out of their own empathy and internalised.
I should reveal my own bias here: I was raped when I was 12 years old by a junior high guidance counsellor. I am aware that I am sometimes unduly suspicious of men and I keep trying to overcome it but it may well colour my assumptions about rapists.
Considering his father’s letter to the judge, it isn’t too difficult to see that Brock Turner is an apple that didn’t fall far from the tree. Fortunately, the judge won’t be able to get his scholarship back nor will Turner ever be able to represent the US in swimming competitions. If he had a head stuffed full of dreams of athletic glory, too bad, so sad, those dreams are pretty much impossible for hm now.
Bless those Swedish grad students! Not only did they notice, they cared enough to intervene and then to catch Turner as he tried to escape. And hey, look at that: for the one rapist in the attack, there were two men who stood up for what is right and took action to help the victim. Research and personal experience both indicate to me that rapists are less than 1 in 10 men.
There are so many terrible therapists out there. And if you don’t know what therapy is supposed to be like, you just kind of assume “ah, so this is therapy. This sucks.” My good friend went to a couple’s counselor with her [horrible, no good, very bad] now ex bf and the therapist told her she is too high maintenance and needs to be more chill. I wanted to drive to his practice and leave Gone Girl on his waiting room table with the “cool girl” passage highlighted and earmarked.
From my understanding, therapists aren’t supposed to give “advice” at all. They should be reflecting your feelings, validating those feelings, asking thoughtful questions, addressing toxic behaviors in a compassionate and empathetic way. So many therapists seem to act more as judges than therapists – judging your behavior and feelings and then telling you what *they* think you *should* be doing to *fix* your life. In those cases I smell co-dependency issues . . .
There’s advice and advice. I had a therapist who gave me some techniques for reducing anxiety, and from a certain angle that could read as her saying “you should do this thing” or even “you should think in this way, not that way.” (This was cognitive-behavioral therapy, and we were discussing ways to banish repetitive or intrusive unhelpful thoughts.) But I had asked her for that shape of help; she didn’t listen to me talk about something else and say “you just need to make your jerkbrain shut up.”
I think it’s a common story. Person A comes into person B’s life at a time when person B is needy and depressed (or poor and at a loss career-wise, or anxious and having issues around food, or . . . ). Person A listens well, gives good advice, and helps encourage B to see a therapist or a career coach or a psychiatrist at an eating disorder clinic or . . . And Person B does the work. And then just as B starts to get better, they break up with A. They do this even though they still love A and often cannot articulate why they need to break up.
A lot of times, it comes down to the fact that strong, healthy people want to enter relationships of equals, and the history A and B share is that A came along when B was weak and suffering. And that history will always be there if the relationship continues. In these cases, B needs to be alone, and A needs to accept that. It is not unheard of that once the dust settles, B may find themself able to re-engage with A more as an equal than as a project. It’s also not unheard of for that history to be too much to allow a good healthy relationship between A and B.
In either case, you move on and see what happens next. And if this is not the story in your case, then moving on is still the best and right thing to do. For yourself. And for Bob. I’m sorry.
And then, in future, you aim to date people who you are happy with now, rather than people who you can see potential in if you both put in the work like a junker car.
I have fallen for so many “Bob’s with great potential” it’s my Achilles heel.
I called them “diamonds in the rough.” It was so liberating to learn I didn’t have to put up with that since I thought I was just not a talented diamond polisher.
Yes, this! I don’t know why I had so much trouble recognizing this pattern from the letter itself, but now that you point it out, this looks very much like the genre of thing that is happening to LW and Bob.
“. . . strong, healthy people want to enter relationships of equals” – YES, this. Strong, healthy people are not interested in “potential.”
Person A revolves the relationship almost entirely around Person B, not because Person B is bad at feelings and “needs” it. It’s because Person A has some unhealthy dynamics in them, drawing them into a relationship where they can fulfill the role of The Halper. I have been Person A. To the point where when CA talks about dividends – that’s pretty much the *exactly* language I used about a previous relationship. It look A LOT of work and uncomfortable self-reflection to realize my role in a relationship that was always “going to get better when . . . ” And I had no idea how condescending and controlling (and co-dependent) I was behaving towards my partner. Or how much it hurt him to be constantly treated like wounded bird rather than a regular human.
Though I would argue in these cases, Person A and Person B are equals in terms of their emotional growth. So when Person B gets help and starts down a path of making healthy changes and Person A does not, B may move away from A, who is still stuck in “but let me help you” and “please function as the thing I can distract myself from” unhealthy dynamic.
LW, you mention several times that you are concerned that Bob is not “using his words”, and that if he would use his words, the situation would be resolved/the breakup would be more acceptable for you. (I didn’t get a clear idea of which, sorry if I am putting words in your mouth here.) Bob telling you that he wants to break up IS him using his words and communicating his feelings about the relationship, if not as extensively/satisfactorily as you need.
I’m sorry it’s come to this for you, but now is time to focus on taking care of yourself and disengage from Bob, as the Captain said.
I recoiled from the “use his words” motif. It’s a bit infantilizing.
I admit that on a visceral level I had that reaction a bit too, though I’ve also seen that language used sometimes in mental health/self-care-related Internet circles in general.
To expand on my first comment a bit, I think that even though LW and Bob have had issues with communication and misunderstandings before, and even if LW encouraging Bob to talk things out more has worked for them in the past, under these particular circumstances trying to push for more talk, no matter how well-intentioned, feels like it could get dangerously close to trying to reason a way out of the breakup pretty easily. Better for everyone to take Bob at his word for now even if it’s painful.
I’ve also had abusive partners and abusive metamours use “use your words” to manipulate me into doing what they want. This letter was so eerie because the voice sounds just like my most recent ex-metamour (who was the catalyst for the breakup, although there were certainly problems between ex-partner and I that preceded his dating ex-metamour and were unrelated to her meddling), and a lot of the details are very similar, except in my case we were all poly and no one played D&D.
“Use your words” is a great thing for people to live by for themselves (or if you’re explicitly asked for advice it’s excellent advice to give!) but it’s kind of not fair to force it on someone else. My read is that there are three most likely scenarios: Bob is using his words and they just aren’t the words LW wants to hear, Bob is intentionally choosing not to use words because he’s done some mental calculus and decided he doesn’t want to get caught in a trap where the person he wants to break up with argues with all his reasons and tries to logic him into staying with her, or he’s got something going on preventing him from using his words (like depression, or maybe being socialized male and thus unaccustomed to talking about feelings, or whatever). In the first two cases, it’s boundary pushing and borlerline red flag territory to keep pushing. In the latter case, honestly, Bob needs to sort out Bob’s own shit with a therapist. It’s fucking exhausting and demoralizing to be in a relationship with someone who can’t communicate effectively and is choosing not to work on their mental health issues. (And I say this as someone who has diagnosed PTSD and major depressive disorder; it’s not ableist to assert your own needs in a relationship or to ask that your partner seek treatment for their illness.)
Also, that bit where the LW wants to know if they “should be worried” every time Bob has a therapy session.
I read that as “should I be worried that Bob’s in a bad place emotionally after difficult introspection and might need some extra TLC”, but I can also see several other, less supportive interpretations
LW here: I have my own anxiety to manage, and found that when he would return from therapy in a funky mood I would automatically worry. Started literally two times ago trying the “should I worry” question as a way to manage my anxiety.
While if you read this blog “use your words” has a meaning and is a specific bit of advice, not infintalization, it doesn’t help here. The breakup is using his words. He said what he wanted. I have asked for details beyond that exactly once because once you have those details, what are you supposed to do with them? In my case “if I met someone hot and funny, I don’t trust myself not to cheat on you.” I can’t change my entire personality, so what now? A good enough reason is not going to be helpful to the lw. Or any other breakupee.
LW, there are two possibilities here:
(1) You and Bob will not get back together.
(2) You and Bob will get back together.
If (1) is the case, the best thing you could do is take Bob at his word, consider yourself broken up, and set about making your life awesome.
If (2) is the case, the best thing you could do is ALSO take Bob at his word, consider yourself broken up, and set about making your life awesome.
Either way, your life will be more awesome, and Bob will respect you more for it.
Yes. LW, when I went through my breakup last year, I wrote lists of Acceptance Actions, small or not-small things I could do that would be playing as-if this was final, that would nudge me towards feeling the acceptance even though I wouldn’t feel it at the time of the action. Little by little things changed. Some on my list were reorganize, redecorate, plan social outings, make spreadsheets of joint assets, divide up digital assets, cut tiny little connection cords here and there like shared Netflix accounts, put away reminders of the relationship, tell people we’re broken up, sign up for classes, etc. Your list will be different, but “tell friends” is likely to be helpful for you.
I grew up without a map of how relationships work. I spent a lot of time salving the painful need to belong by trying to intellectually hack relationships I was in; I was convinced that if I could elicit and corral all the feelings Into the shape of true love, then I’d be happy. I am naturally a compassionate nurturer/rescuer and a lot of nice but troubled dudes were drawn to that. And many of them were lacking a model for relationships and were also desperate to belon
Eventually, I felt empty and broken hearted and like a failure. Good friends convinced me to stop Project – Manufacture – True – Love and just be. There is a saying, no man can belong to another until he belongs to himself. So I made my life as good a I could for me, I directed that compassion to myself. I felt the loneliness of longing and not belonging and having made mistakes. I let myself feel the loss of not having a stable family. I waited until I could own my emotions and I trusted my own estimation that I deserved love.
A while later, I met a man who is a feelings Jedi; who had been doing that same personal work on himself. We found that we could both use the Force of emotional literacy to build a life together. It turns our that in happy relationships, feelings don’t dominate everything with big relationship summits and drama. Our feelings are one part of our life, all our feelings belong. No one has to manufacture anything. No one needs fixing. We have fun, we laugh, we have sex. We live.
It is perfectly allowed to admit that this is not a puzzle you can solve. Your worth is not dependent on your ability to heal Bob. Be part of his story but trust that your story is unfolding and you will meet a fellow feelings Jedi who you can belong with.
May the force be with you.
Long time lurker, first time commenter.
I really feel for you LW. It is so awful because your world that you trusted has been pulled out from underneath you. But in a year’s time you will feel much better.
My husband told me he wanted a divorce after 9 tremendously difficult months of sometimes literally dragging him to therapy for his severe depression. We’d just bought a house together with mortgage and grown up bills. And I was also suffering from depression that I couldn’t spend time in treating because I was too busy being his cheerleader.
It sucked. I was shocked and upset and hurt and then angry. The light was at the end of the tunnel for Good Times and he took it away.
But now it is the best thing ever.
I finally have time back. I got my depression treated, started eating healthy food, took up more regular exercise. Best of all I don’t have to spend hours and hours and hours listening to and working through and dissecting my exes feelings like an unpaid therapist. He is now Not My Problem even when he storms in after work in a foul mood. I can shrug and turn back to the TV. I joined some clubs and made new friends. Reconnected with old ones. My whole family (even the off with the fairies, elderly Aunt has commented) has seen a positive change.
Now that you and Bob have split, use this extra time to start to do the things you’ve always wanted to try. Make those changes. Even if he decides he’s made a huge mistake and you get back together, you’ll be healthier and a more interesting person. He also needs time to finish his treatment and be in a better place so you can be a couple and not an emotional blanket to always take care of his needs.
LW, by trying to compete with Bob’s therapist to be the Best Bob Whisperer, you’re teetering on that line between being a caring and supportive partner, and trying to be Bob’s life-coach. You want to convince him that he shouldn’t break up with you, because somehow you know what’s best for him and his progress.
Even if his feelings are confused and his decisions are being guided by brain-weasels, you need to just treat Bob like the fully competent adult that you always hoped he would become, and let him manage the rest of his stuff without you.
You may be right – that he’s not in a good place to objectively and fairly assess situations like the D&D thing without getting a skewed filter over everything, and that he’s not learned to communicate well enough to resolve those mis-matched perceptions with you.
Guess what – that is all the more reason why you should not stay together, because nothing undermines a relationship quicker than misalligned interpretations compouned by lack of communication. Taking that premise to its absurd conclusion is the formula for every sit-com drama.
Trust Bob to continue making the progress that he wants for himself (as opposed to what you want for him to be a good partner for you), and see how much free energy you have when you’re not life-coaching Bob. Put that energy into taking care of yourself, and maybe you’ll find someone who is already in touch with their emotions and well-versed in healthy relationships. Maybe Bob-in-five-years will be that guy, but don’t hold your breath waiting for him to reach the conclusions that seem obvious to you.
Breaking up always sucks, LW, and it will hurt a lot, but I think it will do the both of you more good in the long run.
This. (INCOMING NOVEL!)
Not too long ago, LW, I was a Bob. I was the one in the relationship who had unresolved mild-to-moderate brain gremlins, while my much-older partner was the competent, confident adult who dealt with his shit (along with my own). There were long points, particularly early on in our relationship where I had a hard time accessing my feelings and communicating. When this happened, I was roundly criticized for not being willing or able to share them (because to him, openness was the key to a good relationship), and praised for being super emotionally forthcoming or asking for his advice.
I had a therapist that didn’t think very much of my partner’s approach (I was presenting in her office once a fortnight with complaints like “Partner and I fought over _____ this week”). Partner did not like this, since he was fed up with my weird anxiety habits and thought my therapist was “not being hard enough” on me.
Not saying you’re doing this, but in hindsight, I think Partner liked how my opening-up and treating him like some kind of expert made him feel better about himself – it was part of his own brand of insecurity and neediness.
It took a few years and thousands of hours of fights and anguish and crying in public before I realized that, despite how much I loved Partner, I had to carve out a universe in which I was accountable only to myself in my growth. (Within reason. I mean, like the human contract of Not Being A Terrible Person still applies.) I needed to fix my own stuff, for myself, by myself. No using Partner as a crutch, no having someone standing over my shoulder telling me what recovery and confidence and adulthood should and shouldn’t look like. No handing me a bill for emotional services they felt had been rendered.
It was painful on my end, but it was doubly painful for Partner, who did many of the exact things Cap is telling you not to do – “I want to talk stuff out”, “we left it in a weird place”, etc. etc. He got used to the idea of being needed. He wanted to see the on his time investment.
But in a weird way: I think my leaving was exactly the return on investment he was waiting for. I was strong enough to know my own mind. I was strong enough to make a decision for myself that I felt was right, even if it was going to be painful. And I miss Partner, terribly – but I also know that the version of myself in that alternate timeline when we were still together might never have fully grasped her own power.
I don’t mean for this to sound harsh – you’re a person with a huge capacity for love and empathy, and you gave this person everything you thought you could give, and there’s nothing in this world more admirable and beautiful. But now is the time for you to take an even scarier leap: You gotta trust Bob, LW. You gotta trust that he knows that this is the best move for him. He’ll be better off for it in the long run, and so will you. I promise. ❤
(“return” on his time investment – whoops)
Oh LW… I’ve been in that exact spot! Whats more – I’ve gone both ways with the same dude!
After about a year of having a long-distance relationship I asked him to move to my country but for some reason he seemed to think I want to lock up his freedom for ever and ever and… I don’t even know what else. He also isn’t very good at using his words when it comes to feelings, since he wasn’t brought up to do so. In his culture men just suck it up and brood. I was having my own issues (long-term depression and anxiety, untreated) and so all this ended up with him dumping me. Completely out of the blue for me.
First I tried to talk him into continuing the relationship. That worked for a few weeks until he dumped me again. After that I let myself grieve and accepted that it is Over. Nine months later the guy had a Revelation (in his own words – “oh shit what have I done!?”) and tried to get in my good books again. Initially I didn’t want to let him but I also didn’t block him because a tiny bit of me still craved for his continuous attention. He apologized profusely and wanted to be part of my life again. I was quite suspicious about it but he kept insisting that he has thought about things that went wrong and has changed his point of view on several issues that were problematic before. And in the meantime I also went to see a psychiatrist and am now on antidepressants. The quality of my life has dramatically improved, I must say.
We were apart for about two years, we both grew in our own ways (I’m in early and he’s in late thirties) and have been together again for seven months and this time we’re going along at the same pace. I’m not saying “keep hoping and he will return” – far from it! While we were apart I dated other people, made new awesome friends, had new experiences and had completely accepted that we will not be together again. But this time apart gave us both an opportunity to figure out what it really is that we want and it just so happened that our goals matched.
I’m sorry your situation sucks so much right now but it will get better! Either you will find someone else who is even more amazing or Bob will come to the conclusion that he wants to be with you after all. Or maybe both, in which case it’s his loss.
I agree with the gist of your advice here, but could we perhaps not imply that mentally ill people (or those who aren’t made all better by therapy) are, per your link, “manbabies” (yikes) who aren’t worthy of being in relationships because they’re too much work to bother with? I’m sure that wasn’t your intention but that’s how it comes across, and that has really messed up implications. adults who need different/more support than others because of their disabilities aren’t infants, or burdens, or projects, or failing to live up to their duty to become NT, or emotional leeches on whatever poor soul is near them, or whatever. which i’m sure you know!!
also, this letter is about a Bob-problem, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the emotional work was all one-sided; it’s possible that Bob helped LW with their emotional stuff too, but that it wasn’t mentioned in the letter because it wasn’t relevant. (Not saying that’s necessarily /probable/, but I don’t think the assumption is fair.)
anyway you’re probably right about the way forward from here. good luck, LW, I hope for nice days in your near future
The Captain is not saying people with disabilities are babies.
Did you read the linked article beyond just the headline? Have you ever observed the dynamic it discusses? Because it’s really, really common for dudes to expect whatever woman they are in a relationship to just do all the emotional work of regulating his emotions and keeping him on an even keel and functioning in the world. Maybe he also has some kind of disability, maybe he doesn’t; I’m sure it happens both ways. Either way, disabilities or not, it’s all of our responsibility to be responsible for regulating our own emotions and to get help with it if we are having trouble. And “getting help” does not mean just expecting our partners to do it for us. That’s not fair or right. And when it’s men dumping that work on women, there’s a nasty streak of sexism twisted all through it.
I think it’s totally fair to assume that Bob was probably not helping the LW with emotional problems on a similar level because (1) LW would have mentioned it — actually, the focus of the letter would be entirely different, and (2) it’s extremely common for this dynamic to play out in exactly that way.
It sucks when disabilities make our relationships harder. There are many generous people out there wiling to work with that for the right person. But dumping one’s problems in someone else’s lap and expecting them to all be taken care of is pretty antisocial behavior.
If a title is triggering enough along my lines of oppression (disability, mental illness, autism spectrum, poverty, fat, LGBT, trauma/abuse), I generally don’t read further, because self-protection. What I mean is that I get hit with so many unavoidable slams on my worth each day, I can’t afford to voluntarily subject myself to more.
I am a shy but faithful reader; Jennifer’s voice is one I really respect. Commenting for the first time because there’s a thing that’s been happening in the comments lately that is really bothering me. A member of a marginalized group (asexual, disabled, etc) will very carefully, gently address a problematic thing, making it clear that they assume all the good intentions and want to … help us avoid inadvertently hurting/alienating people like them?
This is a risky, costly gift, y’all. You only do it in places you really care about, and where you’re reasonably sure folks mean well and are trying to do right. Still, no matter how carefully you frame the comment and how friendly the audience is or should be, people are prone to defensiveness. You are likely to get burned, and your place that was so special and important may be wrecked for you.
The couple of times someone has tried to do this lately, a bunch of commenters have immediately jumped in to defend the Captain’s intentions (which were explicitly never in question; we’re all here because we love the Captain!) and ‘splain to the marginalized person how they got hurt because they misunderstood what was being said. And sometimes people with similar marginalizations have jumped in to say it doesn’t bother THEM, so the first person’s concerns are invalid — which isn’t how it works.
Can we take a step back and remember that people who are intimately familiar with the oppression in question, the subtext, and the history are going to call it out sometimes when others “don’t see it” (because they haven’t had to)? That “I don’t see it” doesn’t mean it isn’t there — and that metaphorically, finding one woman who laughs at rape jokes doesn’t invalidate other women’s reactions? Can we try to avoid reflexively dogpiling (politely, but still) marginalized people who point this stuff out?
That’s my novel; thanks for reading.
I also make decisions about whether or not to read articles from the titles. I think this a completely reasonable and 100% fine thing for anyone to do! In asking “did you read the article?” I did not mean to imply “if you didn’t you are bad and stupid” or anything like it. I just meant, “did you read the article?” I wish I could have thought of a way to put that question that wouldn’t seem to some people to include the other thing I wasn’t saying. But I couldn’t. So, I’m sorry about that.
But look, though, to the point: if someone didn’t read the article, and then objects to it being linked to because of some incorrect assumptions they made based on the title, I… I don’t think that objection can be treated as reasonable. How can it?
I’m not suggesting that means we should be mean or rude to the person who objected. But, to me, it is completely within bounds to say “actually, your assumption about the article’s content is wrong, it’s QRS, not XYZ. And QRS is relevant and important because of JKL.”
I can totally see how the misunderstanding (probably) occurred but misunderstanding it was, because the Captain did not say or imply that disabled people are babies. Neither did the linked article. That just… didn’t happen. So saying that it was a misunderstanding isn’t oppressive, it’s just the truth.
I think you are absolutely right, bluefynch, that it is very important to be deliberate about making space for marginalized people in our discussions. But there’s something else that is important too. In order for all of us, no matter how we are marginalized (and I’m guessing probably most of us here are one way or another and probably multiple ways) — in order for us all to feel like commenting here is a safe and constructive thing to do, we need to be able to feel confident that our words will be taken in good faith. That we will be treated with kindness and respect by other commenters.
And part of kindness, respect, good faith, is that if someone says, “Hey, don’t say blah blah blah because that’s hurtful” there is room for the response to be, “actually, I didn’t say blah blah blah, I said this other thing.” Sometimes, when an exchange goes like that, the person being addressed did say something hurtful and are trying to paper it over. But other times, they really didn’t and the person doing the addressing really did misunderstand.
I’m going to be direct in my next paragraph. Please don’t read that as unkindness because I don’t intend it that way, I just have a hard time communicating any other way.
One thing about the way you have constructed your comment is there is no room in it for me to be correct in what I said. Even though I read the linked article, and both the commenter above and you may not have — if I summarize what it said and how that is different from what the Captain was accused of saying, I am “splaining.” If I don’t have a disability, I “don’t see it (because I haven’t had to).” If I say that I spoke as someone with experience of a mental illness, who has fallen into the trap of expecting others to manage my emotions for me in the past (which is the truth), I’m “metaphorically, one woman who laughs at rape jokes.”
I’m actually just a person who cares about this blog and the captain and the issues raised in that article and I wrote some words that were real. One of the awesome, amazing things about this blog is that it’s a space where commenters can engage with people in a much more human way than is usually possible on the internet. I don’t want us to lose that and I worry that if we get bound up in a bunch of rules about what/how we can discuss, we’ll lose that human thing. The human thing, it requires us to be open to one another– so if this becomes a space where people can be accused of erasing others or oppressing others without any real justification, we will definitely lose it, because who can be open in that kind of space?
The human thing, the open thing, it does mean that sometimes we will say the wrong things and upset one another, but — that is a thing that happens in life, and if we are as kind and generous as we can be and apologize when we’ve hurt someone, usually things turn out okay.
Seconding everything human said.
The reason I’m replying to your comment is because there’s a huge difference between being mentally ill/disabled/having needs that the average person doesn’t and pressuring or guilting your partner into doing all the work of living for you/managing your emotions for you, while not providing any reciprocal support.
I would really like to reiterate that they are not the same thing! The first option is fine and does not make anyone a bad person, less of a fully fledged human, or a bad partner; the second option is shitty, manipulative, and not okay regardless of one’s dis/ability.
I have been on both sides of the depression coin. I myself suffer from serious depression and moderate anxiety, and my now ex-husband did as well. I know for a fact that Depressed!Jiggs is VERY hard to live with, and for a long time I did not pursue treatment even though my ex begged me to on several occasions. I was a jerk. And yes, it was very hard to conquer the jerkbrain for long enough to get better, but I did it. It was slow and awful. But during that horrible time, aside from bringing me tea and being nice to me, my ex-husband did not do an intense amount of emotional labour in making me not-depressed. Nor should he have, because why throw yourself against that wall?
On the contrary, when he was suffering from a bad episode, it was on me to pull him out. He sat in the basement smoking weed and did nothing, quit jobs – leaving me to shoulder the financial burden of our household, made up fantasy worlds in which his severe lack of ambition was my fault for not supporting him enough, made me the sole decider of whether he had fun (I was always ruining things what with my being there!). It was the exact teeth-pulling madness LW describes to get him to talk about anything and I felt more like his therapist that his wife. He got some treatment but somehow it always seemed to make things worse, not better.
So yes, when he was ‘sick’ I was reduced to being a caretaker. It was exactly like having a baby, except the baby was giant and made your house smell like weed. Having depression doesn’t exempt you from being a manbaby. It’s not like Bob is incapacitated by depression. By all accounts, things are going well. And yet LW is the scapegoat for all his issues, which require two day fucking marathon talking sessions around some D&D drama (I almost fell asleep typing that.) Bob sounds exhausting.
Thank you. All too often, the burden of emotional labor is thrust upon women, many of whom have ALSO dealt with mental health issues or who may be disabled in other ways. I didn’t have anyone to pick up the slack for me when I was depressed but Christ on a cracker was I ever called upon to be the caretaker during times of deep depression–and I was the bitch for not being understanding towards a man during his time of need (and being selfish that I had needs because fuck my personhood). Yes, the dude who demanded that was being a fucking manbaby and I make no apologies for calling him that.
I see you’ve met my ex-husband.
Responding to LW, I learned the hard way to never, ever argue with someone who says they want to break up. You think we should break up? You say you need space? Byeeeee. Let me know if you change your mind.
Ironically, my Bob got back to me about ten years later and we had a nice talk where he basically thanked me for all that I’d done because pretty much all that he was right now was based on what we had done together. And he seemed sort of regretful that we’d broken up, but, you know, water under the bridge and all.
He’s just not that into you. Accept it and move on.
I honestly feel like comments like this, that just are intended to score meanness points, ought to be deleted (not to tell the awesome mods how to do their jobs!)
I am the sole mod right now, and sometimes they sneak through. You’re not wrong, though!
Just wanted to amplify that by accepting the breakup with kindness and gentleness, you are very likely doing Bob a tremendous solid. It is possible that Bob has done enough work on himself to realize that it is nearly impossible to continue to genuine self-acceptance and self-realization and self-actualization while involved in a deep love-partner relationship (even a good one). And even if he doesn’t realize this, it’s true. And by embracing the breakup, you are helping to create the conditions that will best enable Bob to keep growing. So think of it as an act of love and generosity you are performing, and take solace in that.
Right! And from what LW described about Bob’s behaviour immediately prior to the breakup, it’s quote likely that this was a VERY hard decision for him to make and he probably did a lot of work thinking about what was best and then coming out and saying it was probably very difficult and painful for him.
I totally feel for LW because I’ve been there, but after Bob (probably!) did all that hard work thinking about what was best for him and building up the courage to cut the cord, it would probably be incredibly demoralising and upsetting to be told that his feelings are somehow wrong.
A thing I don’t think I’ve seen before: LW, as you’re working out the logistics, I’ll bet you $3.25 that at some point Bob will turn to you to do some of his work for him. He’s going to expect you to do the emotional labor or the logistical labor or manage the break up in some way. Please don’t let him do that to you.
Everything is much easier without a Bob around your neck. When my Bob (who was named Stephen) broke up with me, I got really sad but…. I noticed I could move through the world much more lightly. I could go to sleep when I wanted, not after his nightly break-down. I could study for classes when I needed, not working it in around all the time I spent his processing heavy stuff.
Nonetheless, when he came to me during the break up to help him, I did his work for him (and slept with him) and…. that was not good.
I’m sorry, LW. I hope you get a great apartment and a great therapist and have a great post-Bob life.
@DameB This is LW. Okay, if you are willing to explain more, I am happy to take your advice. I know that I do probably too much emotional and logistical labor already so I want to, if I can, not do that as you advised. But I have never been dumped before also, and other times I’ve cohabited and dumped people I moved all of my stuff out when he was at work and then dumped him, or second time was fed up and spent two weeks both looking for new places to live before figuring out who was moving out.
I can’t tell you what Bob will do, of course. I can tell you what Stephen did do, though. It was 25 years ago, so it’s kinda fuzzy. And we were in dorm rooms not living together, so the untangling was HUGELY less complex than what you’re going through.
He (desultorily) apologized for cheating on me and then tried to get me to apologize… for forcing him to cheat on me? I’m sure there was some logic at the time. He made me bring all his stuff to his dorm room and then made me come back when he had time to gather up my stuff. He showed up at my dorm room, sadface one day, to tell me how much he missed me after the breakup> he sobbed and told me again about how sad he was and I petted his head and helped him through his crisis and we had sex and then he told everyone in our friend group that I’d seduced him. And then again the next week.
I wish I hadn’t gotten back together. Either time. I wish I’d had the good sense, when he knocked on my door with sadface for another heavy talk, say “That sounds like a thing to say to your therapist. We’re broken up.” I wish I’d never slept with him after the break up (and again). I wish I hadn’t played the social friendgroup drama blame game and tried to manage the fall out.
I’ll not that I did NOT apologize for making him cheat on me and that’s when, btw, the break up finally stuck. When I stopped doing his work for him. It was hard and sad and I had my only bout of depression ever afterwards, but it was much much better.
Good luck. You can do this, because I did it. It’s much easier to repair your life than to coach some man through repairing his.
“the break up finally stuck. When I stopped doing his work for him.”
Oh man, so many echoes of a near-year after my Bob dumped me for the woman he cheated on me with and we kept trying to be friends (and he kept trying to get me to keep sleeping with him; he wasn’t cheating on her if HE made the first move, see?), and it ended when he tried to blame me for the break-up by saying, “You could have fought harder for us.”
I looked at him and said, flat-out. “You cheated on me, destroyed my trust, and threw me away.”
He got quiet and sullen, like he used to when he wanted me to hurt and apologize and beg him to just be nice again, but this time I wasn’t following the script. I knew I was right. And he left, and we never spoke again except to agree that I would reach out if I wanted to resume contact.
I’m glad we never got back together. I wish you all the best, LW, and I think it’s not with him anymore.
LW, as a fellow emotional-labor-doer, I think one phrase you should familiarize yourself with is, “I’m sorry you’re going through that, but I can’t talk about it with you. You might want to bring it up in therapy.”
From the way you’ve described your relationship, it sounds like Bob has two outlets: therapy, and you. You’ve both helped a lot, but it sounds like there’s a pattern of you helping him process his feelings, both as they relate to therapy and in general. I don’t know if that’s from him asking you to do it, or you seeing a need and jumping in to do it (or a combination of both). But by breaking up with you, Bob has relieved you of that duty — whether he realizes it or not. And he may not. (My closest match for this situation didn’t. A stipulation of our breakup was “but I can still call you when I need to talk, right?” “Of course!” because I loved him and also because I was 22 and didn’t know how to create boundaries yet.)
So there may well be times, especially while you’re still stuck living together, when he turns to you for comfort/help processing/because he’s generally upset/whatever. And because you’re an empathetic person who loves him, your immediate reaction will be to try to help him, as you always have.
I know that will feel a little heartless and probably make you feel guilty and uncomfortable, but aside from being the right thing to do *for yourself* – Bob is not your responsibility! – it’s also the right thing for him. He needs to find a coping strategy that is *not you*. Maybe that’s therapy, or turning to friends or family, or something else entirely, but that’s on him. It may be hard to watch him struggle, but it’s his struggle.
And after awhile, probably not that long, you will start to say “I can’t discuss that with you, it sounds like something for your therapist,” and feel SO GOOD about it, because you are no longer taking on the full emotional work of another human being. When your dynamic is as skewed as it sounds like yours with Bob had become, it is LIBERATING to leave that behind. And it is a good, necessary thing to do. The longer you keep doing emotional labor for Bob, the harder it become to disentangle. That emotional wall you put up is so you can disengage and stop worrying about him. He is a grown up, he has Team Bob, and you can’t both be his ex and be on that team.
(I’m sorry that has basically no physical logistics help in that.)
I broke up with my now-ex earlier this year. We’d been dating/coupled for 10 years. I recognize some of myself in your story. My partner had lifelong mental health issues, largely severe depression. During our time together, some of what he described feeling sounded much more like anxiety and PTSD than depression. I encouraged him to seek help, and after many years, he finally did. He now has a therapist and medications and diagnosed PTSD, He’s now working on a sleep regimen and a routine. He now makes more effort to communicate in the moment when there’s something wrong/bothering him and work through it. But it took years, and LOTS of emotional and logistical labor from me for him to get to that point. Yet despite all of the progress in terms of getting some professional members of Team Now-Ex, our living situation didn’t really improve.
I moved out for a trial separation last year. It was the best thing I ever could have done for myself. It gave me space and perspective. It immediately reduced my stress and workload because I was now only responsible for cleaning up and dealing with my own stuff, not his and mine. So my frustration, resentment, anger, and other bad feelings largely dissipated. I had hoped that we could still salvage a relationship. But finally realized that I wasn’t enthusiastically consenting anymore. That wasn’t fair to him or me. So I ended it.
And yet, it’s not over. We bought a house together. Our finances are still tangled together. I still do way too much emotional and logistical labor for him. But I am making progress in disentangling myself. After 5 months of weekly trips to the house, all that’s left for me to deal with are odds and ends and commitments that I have agreed to honor in terms of specific maintenance tasks, all of which I hope to wrap up by the end of the year. It’s a long, slow slog that is working because the break-up has been amicable, and my now-ex has been willing to be supportive and accommodate my needs and defer to my choices in many cases.
So how can you do less of the emotional and logistical labor for your now-ex?
1) First, concentrate on finding new housing for yourself. Both short-term and long-term. Can you find a sublet? Couch surf for a few weeks until you find a place for yourself?
Can Bob afford the place on his own without you? Not your problem. If any utilities are in your name, make sure that your name is removed by your move-out date and let Bob know. It’s not your job to make sure he then sets up those utilities in his name. Don’t offer/agree to help him find roommates or set up utilities or whatever. If he tries to rope you into it, broken record some version of “I’m sorry to hear that. It sounds difficult. I am sure you’ll figure something out.”
2) Second, concentrate on dealing with your stuff. Start packing it. Can you stage your packed stuff safely at Bob’s? Do you have a friend who has garage space (or wherever) for temporarily holding your stuff until you find a long-term housing situation? Can you afford a short-term storage unit? This is an opportunity to down-size, if that’s something that interests you.
What about stuff that is jointly yours and Bob’s? Do you have an amicable working relationship? Can you discuss and assign what goes with whom in some form of equitable fashion? If so, great–make those decisions and move on. If not, it’s often easier to let something go than to fight over stuff. Don’t offer/agree to search for replacements for Bob of items that you are taking. Not your problem. See above refrains. If he sighs and talks about how much he’ll miss item X, or how much he loved using item X, ignore it. Not your problem. But also, don’t give up essentials that you need, concede too much to Bob because feelings. You deserve to walk away able to live independently without huge replacement costs, if it’s possible to arrange.
3) Third, don’t hold his hand through this process. It’s not your job to reassure him, listen to his feelings, help him make appointments, remind him of whatever, ensure that he’s eating/exercising/sleeping/taking his meds/whatever. It’s okay to worry about him and how he’ll cope. But don’t express that to him. This is where dumping out to your Team Me is invaluable. And again, broken record response to Bob.
4) Fourth, redirect yourself away from Bob. He is not the person to share your thoughts, feelings, events of the day, etc with. You need to start breaking those daily habits exactly because they are so easy and comfortable, but keep you engaged with and focused on Bob. Again, dump out to your Team Me. Find other people to share the silly jokes or outrage or cool thing.
I say this as someone who continues to struggle with all of these. I still tend to confide to my now-ex before anyone else. I still too often hold his hand while he makes difficult phone calls, or when he calls me to check in about how his day is going. I no longer follow through when he asks me to remind him of something, and usually remember to tell him to set an alarm instead of relying on me. But I am slower than average in many things, and so it goes with the breakup and disentangling process. And yet, progress is happening.
And I feel you on the if-onlys. Even though I am the one who dumped my ex, I still struggle with the maybe we can make it work. Maybe it’ll be different. Maybe down the road we can try again. But those feelings do weaken over time. And I am thrilled with being the boss of me and not having to deal with him, and his needs and his priorities at the expense of my own far too often. Even as I am filled with yearning and regret.
This sounds like some really excellent breakup-disentanglement advice!
I’m sorry you went through that, solecism, but really glad it sounds like you are happier and less stressed.
This is excellent. Do these things. I still have to remind myself sometimes that certain things with my ex are in the Land of Not My Problem.
Oh, god, I’ve been in that relationship. The break-up was… long, and drawn-out, and I wanted SO MUCH to be the ‘cool chick’ who could manage everything that I somehow turned into a doormat (may I never be naive and 21 again…)
” It’s not your job to reassure him, listen to his feelings, help him make appointments, remind him of whatever, ensure that he’s eating/exercising/sleeping/taking his meds/whatever.” THIS so much this.
I’d also add that, after 6 months of dragging it out, my ex blamed me for him not getting something done, and I instinctively responded “yeah, that stopped being my problem when you broke up with me”. More blunt than I’d ever managed to be before, but WOW was that effective in getting me to realize that, actually, carrying 2 fully able adults on 1 back was more of a burden than I wanted, and kthxbai. Reaching that realization: worth the previous 6 months.
“But I have never been dumped before also”
Breaking up feels different when you are the dump-er rather than the dump-ee. What you should NOT to is try to get un-dumped in order to alleviate those awful feelings. The relationship is over just as surely as if you had told Bob you were over him.
When my husband and I split there was a little while (a week? three? I just don’t remember) before he moved out.
One day he dumped his clothes in the hamper (that I used). He apparently expected me to do his laundry.
Don’t do Bob’s laundry, literal or figurative.
Haha! I really hope you dumped them out on the floor and left them there?
I asked him what I was supposed to do with his clothes in my hamper. He removed them.
My point though is that he didn’t consciously think “Mrs Morley always did laundry and will always do so in future”: he fell into the pattern of the previous 12 years.
That’s an easy thing to do. There was a fraction of a second I considered not calling him on it too. Patterns.
Oh. That is both kinder and more direct and probably the best course of action!
The day I realized that I no longer lived in the place I’d shared with Recent Ex was when I returned to the place formerly known as home, found a pitcher of water on the bedside table that used to be mine, two breakfast dishes smeared with the marmalade I’d made, and a handful of condoms on top of the trash that I’d promised to take out when I returned.
It was turf-marking, plain and simple. And I washed their dishes out of sheer habit before I had a chance to think, “What the fuck? I’m not your designated dishwasher anymore. You and your friends can clean up after yourselves.”
Just ever loving wow.
Out of nesting, but– I should clarify that Recent Ex and I had already broken up. I was still living in our shared apartment, though I’d been out for the day, and he purported to be in no hurry for me to move out. I took a serious bath financially when I left, as the rent hadn’t been raised since we’d moved into it together 10 years ago, but I couldn’t live in a place where an ex I wasn’t yet over was *showing off* how happy he was to be having sex with other people. (And when I suggested that he be the one to move out, because he is a senior engineer and can afford non-rent-controlled housing, and I was unemployed, he said no.)
Thank you for the “Wow”– he acted in the run-up to the breakup and immediately after as if I was being unreasonable in finding his behavior gratuitously cruel, which makes it feel pretty validating when other people say, “That was a shitty thing to do.” I have had better years.
whollyword, I am so sorry your Recent Ex decided to nuke your relationship from orbit. It sucks, and you deserve so much better. He was and is acting like an entitled shit.
I think one of the things Bob is going to want you to do is manage his discomfort with ambiguity and difficult interactions. You’re going to be mad at him, to not want to talk to him, to spend time away. He will feel doubtful, guilty, and the other things it’s normal to feel if you’ve caused someone pain even if it was not malicious and was the right decision. I suspect he’s going to want absolution, for you not to show him difficult feelings because they make him feel bad, for you to take the lead on any hard conversations, for you to make negotiating shared social situations easy, to make any transition to friendship painless and immediate so the change doesn’t feel hard…The Captain’s advice is a very excellent way through it because it helps you focus on you, your feelings, your needs, your next moves and then to instrumentally interact with Bob to move forward as necessary rather than to take on Bob’s reactions here. It’s harrrd with someone you love, especially someone with whom you’ve taken on such a caring role, but getting in touch with Team You is a major part to staying responsible for you and letting the grown man on the other side of this collect his own resources.
This is so utterly brilliant. LW, listen to DameB, don’t do Bob’s work, move through the world lightly.
From my experiences in therapy for anxiety, LW, I want to respond to one thing you asked. You noted that some of the questions the therapist is having Bob ask sound like the anxiety talking. I cannot speak for Bob or Bob’s situation or the therapist’s schema. However, in my own path, my anxiety likes to be very amorphous and incoherent, so my therapist has been working with me to be able to vocalize what’s triggering me at any given time, so that monkey brain (or even human brain on the good days) can override the lizard brain. It does seem counterproductive, in that it’s giving the anxiety a voice instead of just ignoring it, but it seems to be making me more aware of the larger issues and addressing them directly, rather than fingers-in-ears. (At times, it sucks like all hell, though, along the way.)
It’s also possible (sad for the OP, but possible) that with the absence of “helping Bob improve his mental health” as a focus of his relationship, he realizes that there are other things he wants from a relationship that the OP is not well-equipped to provide.
Oh, this is such a lovely response! What wonderfully empathic advice. I hope it helped OP. On a personal level, I’m in the process of getting over somebody I can’t have so this is well timed for me. Also, no feelingstexts is GOOD ADVICE! I think love just hurts so badly sometimes, and it’s human nature to respond to pain by trying to perform actions to relieve it. Just letting yourself feel is the hardest thing.
The Captain’s advice is 100% spot on, and I say this as a lady who’s about to marry her own Bob.
Sweet Fanny Adams yes!
As a person who deals with clinical depression, I will say that during major episodes, I often self-sabotage my life. (The two jobs I was outright fired from were both casualties of my depression) All the objective measures of contentment in my life (having a job, a supportive partner, a nice home and few external stresses) were in conflict with how I felt (awful, all day, every day) and blowing up parts of my life gave me the relief that at least my feelings of dread and misery were “justified” by these bad situations.
I bring this up because, LW, if you were somehow to succeed in persuading Bob not to break up with you, he might very well find a larger, more destructive way of ending your relationship as a way to alleviate his cognitive dissonance. Not consciously, not with explicit intent, but nevertheless, maneuvering himself and/or you into worse situations.
Thank you for sharing your experience. I have a family member who goes on what I think of as “self-sabotaging rampages” during his depressive episodes (and he doesn’t want to talk about them after the fact), so I’ve often wondered why they occur but haven’t been able to have him explain. Not to assume that your reasons = his reasons, but it helps to know that there *are* reasons why people self-sabotage.
It’s very possible your family member *can’t* explain why. There are always reasons, but a person doesn’t always know what they are. The “why” is often the million dollar question in therapy.
I’ve been struggling for decades to understand why I self-sabotage when I’m depressed.So far the best explanation I’ve come up with is, to punish myself because I don’t like myself…because I self-sabotage. Yep, to punish myself by doing the thing I’m punishing myself for doing the thing. Which is not a whole lot of help, but it’s better than “because I’m an asshole.”
If you do try to talk about it with him, may I suggest that your question be “do you know why?” rather than “why?” because if he’s flailing like I am, “why?” is a crazy-making question that only makes things worse, since *obviously* only someone who’s an *asshole* or *idiot* or *both* regularly shoots themselves in the foot and *can’t even* come up with a plausible reason like “fear of failure” or “to ‘justify’ my feelings” like rodeobob suggests. [insert sneer]
Self-sabotage and lies are the tools depression uses to keep you under its control.
I just try to avoid “why” questions in general, because they sound judgmental and automatically put the other person on the defensive.
Yes! I hadn’t thought of that explicitly, but you’re right. Even if you know the other person is not being judgmental, you end up judging yourself because what kind of asshole/idiot/etc…
“do you know why _____?” implies it’s okay if the answer isn’t known.
ohhhh. that’s why I’m on the internet right now!
I still don’t seem to be escaping the internet. fuck. there are lots of things that I’ll wish I’d done instead. I don’t want to play the panic card, that’s even worse (long-term). I could escape for a minute by walking away, but jerkbrain’s telling me not to bother because I’ll just come back again later. because I’m overwhelmed and all out of spoons. I need more spoons. it doesn’t want me to remember that sleeping and meditating and such can provide them. aand now it’s threatening to play the panic card *itself* if I try.
fucking bees in my fucking brain. ugh. 😦
last time I escaped, it had something to do with an illusion… all the threats were taking their power from my belief that they have power. sadly, not believing in something doesn’t always work, but I could try to try it, and see what happens if I get up now… maybe it’ll break the spell and I’ll stop wanting to be in self-destruct mode. or at least it’ll give me some information. maybe wanting to be in self-destruct mode *is* the illusion. 🙂
bees: “you want to read more… waaannt… reeeeaaaaddd…. and caaaaaaannndyyy”
illusion confirmed. 😛 I started doing something productive instead, yay 🙂
Wow, thank you. That’s it, exactly.
LW, in my situation, where I was left pining for my partner (That Person) to return, had an ending that surprised me. First, that looking-back thing poisoned my life for years afterward. Every new partner was carefully measured against the memory of That Person and found wanting. Eventually, I thought I was being clever, methodical and sensible. I wasn’t listening to who I was or what I wanted, and entered into a loveless marriage so ill-fitting that my spouse (whom I’d say I coerced) wasn’t even attracted to my gender. Being a sexual stand-in was humiliating.
Somewhere along my journey, I picked up “Don’t cry when the lover leaves. Cry because they’ll be back.”
That Person found me, ten years later. Said all the things I’d once dreamed of hearing. Their tendancy to “play to the back of the house” that had once amused and charmed me, now just looked like a cheap trick. The badly acted, overblown protestations of love -I wanted to turn and see whom they were talking to. It was so sad to see that this great love had all been an act. The fact that they were now married to someone else and had several children, -while asking me to mail a nude photo!- angered and nauseated me. How had I ever been so attracted to someone of such low character? The only person I’m interested in fixing, is me.
LW, you know you didn’t isolate him. This is not the reality, so don’t worry for that. Bob is projecting on you all of his problems, because he can’t handle a relationship now. This is the easiest and first thing someones does when in emotional pain. He thinks that being single will allow him to find himself. Perhaps he is right, perhaps not. It doesn’t mean you were bad for him. It means that the relationship you both had doesn’t work for him now. I wonder though why you thought it worked for you? He seems quite difficult. By the way, you are not his therapist. Let the therapist do their work. If Bob broke up with you, this was his decision, not the therapist’s. A professional therapist won’t make such choices for their patient. They will allow their patient to be in a better place emotionally to make their own decisions, grow and lead their life for the best in their own way.
You are now an ex-girlfriend, and be sure that later Bob will be able to see the reality in a better perspective, to acknowledge all what you did for him, all the good in your love story. The only role you could have is to be a girlfriend, not a doctor. But it doesn’t look like that in your letter. And he can’t be a good boyfriend. Let him go, and don’t try to get back with him. Try to see what it brought you: make your own review on this relationship in your own life journey. Now starts a new era for you, a more constructive one.
Aww, I have all the Jedi hugs for you if you want them. I’ve been in this situation so many times minus the extra awfulness of disentangling from someone you live with, and even without that it’s super awful.
I don’t think anyone who’s ever dumped me (and there have been a lot) has ever given me a coherent reason. This sucks so much and you will spend a long time dwelling on the BUT WHYYYYYYs and it hurts. But the thing is, even if you did know exactly why he was breaking up with you, would that do you any good? What if it’s something you can’t change or something that would hurt you because you just can’t understand why it’s such a deal breaker for him?
Most likely, though, it’s something he can’t even articulate the WHYs of, but he just doesn’t want to be in this relationship. You know he doesn’t owe you a reason, but remember also that he doesn’t even need to give himself a reason. Feelings and logical reasoning are not good friends. I used to hate drinking tea and now I love it and I’ll be damned if I can explain why, but luckily for me nobody cares so I don’t have to explain anything. Similarly, if Bob loved being with you for a long time but now wants to be on his own, maybe there’s no logical reason for that. What he needs is space and not to have to figure out a way to articulate what’s going on in his mind.
I think the key thing here is that if Bob is indeed making a terrible mistake, only he can realise that. But the fact is, if he wants to not be with you right now or ever, even if he isn’t quite himself at the moment, he’s still a better judge of his own feelings than you or anyone else is. Obviously if YOU had broken up with HIM then it would have been a mistake, because of how you feel right now. But sadly that does not mean the reverse is true.
Please don’t do what I did when a man I loved beyond reason told me he was breaking up with me “for now” and tell yourself he’ll realise one day and be back. Just don’t torture yourself like that. The captain is right and you need to take the breakup at face value. I’m sorry. I really am. But I promise that accepting this will hurt less than dragging things out by trying to reason away Bob’s feelings (you can’t) or hanging onto the hope that he’ll realise he made a mistake and come back. It may feel like it’s worse because you need some sort of closure, so you will have to give yourself that closure. How you do it is up to you. I once did it by writing down everything I loved about the person I loved, allowing myself to cry my heart out over it, then burning the paper I’d written on and imagining the feelings I’d poured into that very paper were burning with it. Another time I wrote a goodbye poem as if he’d died, tied it to a helium balloon, went to a beautiful place where we used to hang out and let it go. Whatever works for you, works for you.
You deserve all the love and TLC and you deserve that from yourself. Do what makes you feel happy and relaxed. Take a bath, bake something, go swimming: whatever makes you who you are, cherish that.
I love the analogy of walking your Golden Retriever of Love. A long time ago, Elodie Under Glass wrong (on her other blog, Oh, Sweet Cleo! which is sadly now private) about a Grey Dog of Grief, which always resonated with me. And of course there is the traditional Black Dog of Depression.
Sometimes my life feels a little too much like I am a volunteer dog-walker for these pups, but sometimes it is necessary.
Oh jeepers, LW. There are 163 comments already on here, from wise and lovely people, so you may not ever get to this one.
Bob sounds very troubled, and I am sure (from the way you write about him) also utterly lovely.
I have literally nothing to add from the wise Cap’s advice, but I took a photo of my kittens, and this photo is not anywhere else on the internet, and i am sending it over with JEDI KITTEN HUGS and I hope you will do awesome things and be very true to yourself and access all the TEAM YOU goodness.
Edit: Oh buggerdly buggers, I cannot post pics. That makes sense actually. Please imagine kittens!
Thank you. Both imagined and photographed kittens are better than real kittens (soooo allergic).
He is otherwise utterly lovely. That’s what’s hard. I didn’t think of him as a project. We started dating. He said things. I said, ummm, maybe you should try therapy? Loved him every step of the way for who he was. For the lovely puns, and the sheepish smiles, and the kindness, and etc.
But maybe I needed this to finally learn this lesson about other’s friends, and maybe he needed this for all the other reasons.
More about cat pictures (powering the interwebz):
This story just won the 2016 Hugo for short story.
Sorry to hear you’re allergic to the fluffy critters. Hope you are able to snuggle other furry friends for comfort.
(TW, suicide) LW, notice how much of your letter is about Bob. “Yes, yes” you might say, “that is the point; the story is about Bob.” I’ve also done this, and thought I was very clever to hide my flawed self under a blanket of Other Person. It didn’t work for me any better than it had worked for my mother, who’d had to ask my stepdad for help when she got ill and after he’d shrugged in boredom she suicided. So, this behavior has a dark side as it puts trojan horses on one’s Team You.
I know you were writing to get your letter under the word limit, but I’m calling shenanagins on how you are missing from your life story. I challenge you to sit back down with the letter and write yourself into it. Double the word count. What did you think, what were you excited about while on vacation-what was your favorite non-Bob part? What are your goals, what do you want in a partner, what brings you joy?
Oh LW, I’m so sorry. When I was dumped by my Bob the thing that hurt more than all the other things that hurt, and which I hear echoed in your letter, is that I loved him so much I was willing to work, and be patient, and help him when he was not his best self or I was tired or frustrated. And when he found things difficult or the relationship needed a bit of work he was gone. And that was so unfair, I felt so cheated and disappointed and grief-stricken. I put up with all kinds of problems and shortcomings and slow self-development because I was really IN IT, but he would not abide even a couple months where I was harder to be with and had a higher level of need for caring.
In our breakup conversation (which came after a semester where a relative became blind, another had a surgery that produced terrible complications, I did not get my dream job and was crushed, a relative discovered cancer, a friend was killed in a car accident, I was about to graduate and be unemployed, and more things which he would not discuss and did not comfort me through and changed the subject around and felt obviously awkward about) I agreed things had not felt as close as they did a few months earlier, it had been a hard time and we did not do a good job of connecting, and I had been thinking once the semester was over and I could breathe a bit more we would need to talk about what he found challenging about being near other people’s sadness or communicating unself-conscious emotion, and how I could better express my needs in a way that would be easier for him to receive. He said he thought if we needed to talk about it it was probably a sign it was not going to work out. In other words, after a semester where I was totally stranded on an island because he could not show up to care for me, my main priority wasn’t ‘you hurt me when you didn’t show up for all that’ but ‘what do you need to hurt me less?’ and even the idea of that conversation was too much work for him.
I hear a bit of that in your letter, LW, in that you would give a whole lot for the chance to keep caring for Bob, to put more work into Bob so he feels and is better but it’s worth stepping back to ask whether Bob is as excited to put energy into you so you feel better and happier. You have spent a lot of energy caring for him and bringing him into contact with tools that will help him care for himself better but Bob does not seem that dedicated to caring for you and your life in the same way. It is so painful and awful to give up the hope that this person is going to reciprocate the kind of generosity you’ve shown them, but I hope for you it opens a door to a next relationship where you are cherished and invested in and cared for the way it sounds like you’re capable of caring for someone you love.
I would like to cosign what Theaz is saying here, LW.
You deserve a reciprocal relationship with an adult who is as invested in your life as you are in theirs. Bob, for whatever reason, is not that person.
Copious Jedi hugs, if you would like them
The thing that makes me think that LW and Bob are better off parting ways, at least for a while,is that Bob seems to be responding to his/her idea of him/her, rather than him/her. That is a prerequisite to emotional/ verbal abuse like sitting in the driver’s seat is the prerequisite for driving, and being an emotional abuser is actually not a healthy thing to do (if LW is so broken by Bob’s demons s/he is truly only thinking of Bob.)
LW, I’m sure things feel terrible now (or at the time of writing), but hang on and they will get better. I was dumped 2 months ago (the end of a 15 month LTR). It was sort of the inverse of your Bob situation: I was trying so hard to fix myself to be a better partner. I going to therapy and trying to be the bravest, most optimistic version of myself so I could support my ex when his mental or physical health issues flared up. Meanwhile he resented being asked to put any emotional energy into supporting me when my mental health issues flared up. But I had invested a lot of time and energy! We were going to go to couple’s therapy! Things were going to get better!
But he decided that the way things were going to get better for him was by not being in a relationship.
It turned out that was the way for things to get better for me as well. It really sucked for about the first 3 weeks. I was sad and angry, and I really missed being able to talk to my ex about all the nerdy interests we had in common. Then it got a little better for a few weeks, and the last 2 weeks have been great. The thing that helped speed the process along was going to stay with a friend and spending as much time as I could with people who are not my ex, and having as little contact with my ex as possible. It was amazing how fast hanging out with the friend I am staying with started to seem normal. If you can put yourself into a living situation that really works for you and helps you feel good it will be easier to let your past with Bob go.
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