#922: “Is it selfish to break up with this person even though he’s not doing too well right now?”


It might be selfish, but I need to break up with this guy. We’ve been going out for just about 4 months, and for over a month of this time, I have been on the receiving end of hearing about how terrible this guy’s life is and how I’m the only thing that makes him happy.

I have listened, I have offered advice when asked (and I have been asked a lot), I have…probably put up with this for longer than I should have. I am no longer having fun with him.

He goes on and on about how his ex (with whom he has a son) is working behind his back to take their kid to live abroad without his “permission”, or how his work is so hard and he just doesn’t want to go in any more.

On the rare occasion he does ask how I am, he makes it about him again (“I get you. That’s like when I…”). If I try to take a night off to just do me, I get a barrage of messages asking “Did I upset you? What did I do wrong?”.

He admits he’s depressed…and he refuses to get help because he doesn’t “believe in therapy, because therapists just sit there and nod”. I actually find this a little bit insulting, because I’ve had therapy. He keeps telling me that, no, I actually just worked it out myself because I’m so “awesome and strong”.

…No. I worked with a qualified professional for over two years, and I have worked hard to get to the stage where I realise that this relationship isn’t healthy, and I probably need to get out.

I need to break up with him, because on a good day I have just about enough mental health spoons to deal with me. But…I feel bad because, well, I’m his girlfriend. Should I be able to deal with some of his spoons, too?

I know I am not responsible for his emotional well-being, but…how do I tell him nicely that I can’t be with him because I don’t want to go into a spiral myself, but without feeling guilty about him maybe not sorting himself out?

Kind regards,

I’ve Been Through This, I Can’t Do It Again

Dear I’ve Been Through This:

You ask if it’s “selfish” to break up with this guy.

I say, you say “selfish” like it’s a thing you shouldn’t be when it comes to taking care of your time and your heart and your own well-being. If you are unhappy, if you are not feeling like you’re doing an equal share of emotional labor, if you aren’t enjoying your time with this person, if you feel drained and annoyed by your interactions, if you feel like you need to break up or even if you just want to break up, those are all really good reasons to break up with this person. He doesn’t have to be an objectively terrible person for you to not want to be with him anymore.

It sucks to feel like you’re bailing on someone in their time of need. However:

  • It’s not your fault this guy doesn’t think therapy is useful.
  • You’re the only thing in my life that makes me happy” isn’t actually a compliment.
  • It’s not your fault he hasn’t found or doesn’t think he has other outlets for happiness, or work fulfillment, or dealing with his emotions.
  • He coped with his life somehow before he met you and most likely he’ll keep doing that after you’re gone. You can encourage him to seek mental health support but you can’t make him go or do it for him and you can’t be his mental health support like you’ve been doing.
  • You’re not responsible for shining a light into all his dark places or standing by him through this time. Don’t fall for the “all relationships take work” trope. Y’all just met a few months ago, and it already feels like the kind of work that you don’t want to be doing.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to break up with this person that won’t make him sad or hurt his feelings. What he wants (you) and what you want (not to be with him) are incompatible, and you can’t really control how he’ll feel about it or how he’ll react or whether he’ll sort himself out in the end. All you can control is your own behavior.

So, how can you be as kind as you can possibly be when initiating a breakup, especially of a pretty short relationship like this one?

  • Own the decision completely:My feelings have changed…” “I have decided to end this…”
  • Reasons are overrated. If they ask you to tell them the reasons or start suggesting reasons, proceed with caution! The least awkward way to deal with stuff like“Tell me what I did wrong so I can improve,” “You don’t love me because (of thing I hate about myself)!” “You’re really in love with Mystery Other Person, I knew it!” might be to disengage from the specifics of what they say in favor of something like “I’m so sorry, I know this was all really upsetting for you to hear, and I really don’t know what else to say except that I know that ending this is the right decision for me.
  • Be clear and direct about what is happening: “I want to end our relationship” not a vague “I need some space” or “I’m thinking about breaking up” that keeps the person hanging on thinking that there’s still a chance.
  • You don’t have to be friends. You don’t have to be friends even if you kinda got pressured into reassuring the really sad person you just dumped that of course you would be friends in order to end the conversation, or if you thought you wanted to be friends but you changed your mind later.”I’d love to be friendly someday, but right now it’s too hard/it doesn’t feel right and I need a clean break.
  • Don’t say “You’ll find someone” or “I don’t deserve you.” In the first case, you don’t know that. In the second case, it’s shitty to turn the moment when you’re dumping someone into a thing where now they have to reassure you that you DO in fact deserve them!
  • Plan how you’re going to actually leave the conversation. Are you going to go to a friend’s house right after, or break up in a quiet but semi-public place that’s easy for everyone to leave? If you’re able, I encourage you to do some planning so you’re not in the position of having to urge or kick someone out of your living space after you break their heart.
  • Other logistics can (often) wait. If the person tries to immediately and clumsily initiate The Returning Of The Stuff during the breakup conversation, in many cases it’s okay to say, “Hey, don’t worry about it right now. Tomorrow I can drop off (stuff of theirs that you have) and pick up (stuff of yours that they have).” Or make arrangements to use the Postal Service or Mutual Friend Courier Service Or Whatever. There are always exceptions to this, of course, like if you really are trying to never see this person again and need to take self- or expensive stuff-protective action, but if you generally trust everyone to behave themselves in my experience this might be best handled separately.

Hurt feelings and awkward words are gonna happen and at the end of the day there’s no perfect way to do this. Being dumped sucks. Dumping someone that you care about but know isn’t right for you sucks. Being free of a relationship that’s a bad fit is sooooooooooo good and there’s no way to that good feeling except through the temporary suck. If you’ve owned your decision and your feelings, delivered the news as directly and gently as possible, done your best to let the other person save face and deal with the aftermath in peace, that’s the extent of what you can control.

Let’s get that breakup mixtape started, shall we?



163 thoughts on “#922: “Is it selfish to break up with this person even though he’s not doing too well right now?”

    1. Not gonna lie, this was the first time I’ve, uh, _actually listened_ to the verse lyrics.

      More though, I love the idea of a CaptainApproved breakup mixtape!

      1. More for sad break-ups, I think , but this thread has some great ones, starting in the first few comments: https://captainawkward.com/2016/08/28/894-my-boyfriend-broke-up-with-me-and-i-think-its-all-a-huge-mistake-how-do-i-process-this/

        Possibly not as helpful: for sing-the-angry-out, alone-in-the-car-on-a-road-without-other-drivers-on-speed-traps/ purgative-violence video game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-24X5Aqobs

        If you know Spanish, or are willing to look up the translation, this is great for all-out diva-ing your heart out to:

        There’s also Stars, “Your Ex-lover is Dead,” if it’s not too soon, and the Mountain Goats’ entire Tallahassee album. Various shades of Patsy Kline and Nick Cave go here, too, I think.

    2. Anyone who likes this video might also like Ingrid Michaelson’s “Hell No” video — very different, but about relationships ending.

  1. The Captain didn’t mention this, but given the comment about how ‘you’re the only good thing in his life’, it’s entirely possible that when you tell him you’re breaking up with him, he may make noises about how he can’t live without you or actually threaten self-harm. I hope not, for everyone’s sakes, but the possibility exists. You are not in any way responsible for his behavior or if he does something like that. It’s totally on him to get the help he needs (from someone NOT YOU). Also resist the urge to give in to any arguments like ‘well, at least stay with me until I’m through this rough patch’. Staying once the relationship is over (and it is over, you’ve decided that and that’s totally a decision you get to make) will only make both of you miserable.

    So glad you’re being awesome and working through your own issues. Please feel free to help yourself to this box of Jedi hugs if you want~

    1. Good call. “I can’t keep going without you” is NOT a reason to stay. It’s okay to say “please talk to a mental health pro, I can’t be the one to help you through this” if he says that.

        1. I certainly wouldn’t start there.

          There’s a difference between manipulation and threat and it’s really specific to the person and the situation, so I don’t feel comfortable making a blanket recommendation.

          911 is for when a threat of violence to self or others is imminent. “If you leave me I will kill myself.” “You can’t leave me, I will kill myself (to hurt you/punish you/make you feel guilty/make you stay.” I have recommended it in the past when people are trying to get away from abusive and controlling partners who are using it as an extreme manipulation tactic, especially in reaction to a person cutting off all contact after a pattern of stalking behavior. I did call 911 when a former friend was stalking his ex and threatened to kill himself if I did not give him her contact info. He was being scary and violent. (And he is white.) That is not this situation, in my reading of it.

          I don’t think the cops are the best people to deal with suicidal ideation, sadness, depression, mental health in general. Would I call 911 on a person of color in Chicago who was talking about suicide or who seemed troubled and risk getting them shot by cops? No. “If you leave me I will have nothing to live for” without a threat or an immediate plan to self-harm is probably 98% more of a “Dude, I am so sorry, if that is really how you feel it is time to get some mental health help from a pro, please call this hotline now” response. And calling mutual friends/family to get them to check on the person, like, “Dude and I broke up, he made some noises about being very depressed and hopeless, someone (not me) should check on him.” Or asking him if he wants to check himself in somewhere.

          1. The only caveat that I can see about contacting mutual friends or family is that you might want to be sure said friends and family will agree that his despair and actions in response to the break-up are his responsibility. Calling a mutual friend or family member to have them check up on him, only to have that person turn around and shame you for “causing his distress” by breaking up with him, would be most unhelpful.

          2. Resolved: There’s no awesome or painless or risk-free way to deal with someone who is expressing suicidal thoughts after a breakup. If you call a friend of theirs and the friend is like “YOU CAUSED THIS!” you can say “Ok, sure, bye” on your way out the door. You’ve done your duty even if it doesn’t feel awesome or if people behave badly. I’d still start there rather than emergency services unless there is an immediate threat or plan.

          3. Agreed. I certainly didn’t mean to imply emergency services was therefore a better solution. I apologize for coming across that way.

          4. I’m from the UK, and over here we have what is known as a crisis team (mental health pros who can make referrals and call round to individuals who are expressing suicidal ideation, not sure if there’s a similar system in the States?). Anyway, a several years back a friend of mine was in an abusive relationship. Her partner would frequently threaten suicide as a way of having her over a barrel. She decided to spend one Christmas period with friends who lived around 6 hours away from her. Lo and behold, when she was over there Partner called her up threatening suicide by jumping off the nearest bridge. By this point, she was seeing through his BS. So rather than running back to him, she called the crisis team. In her plausible deniability, she was 6 hours away and wouldn’t have been able to get to him in time if he was genuinely suicidal. Alas, they called round to find him in the warm with his feet up in front of the telly. When she got back and asked him what the CT said, he mumbled something about them advising that he “sounded a bit depressed and to make an appointment with the GP”. Apparently he looked as sheepish as hell!

        2. Yes always. Even if they are being manipulative worst case is that they end up in ER, best case emergency services bust into their house and lecture them on the irresponsibility of faking emergencies.

          1. I think the worst case is far worse than “they end up in ER” — this thing can be literally or figuratively life-ending, depending on where the cops or psych ward staff decide to take it.

          2. If you are in USA, no, you likely do more harm than good by calling 911 unless the pal is there in front of you with the gun in hand.

            Phone a friend, some relative of the friend, anybody BUT law enforcement.

            Someone called 911 on me for suicide, once. I was in a big city. I assume most cities in USA are the same.

            I also assume that most western countries that are not USA actually have a reasonable and compassionate and effective mental health practice that isn’t based on the belief that Depression Is For The Weak.

            EMS guys took me to the hospital. There was little to no questioning of me. The person who called 911 was assumed to be some authority. I regret to this day that I did not sue her into hell where she belongs.

            EMS were pleasant. I was frightened, in shock, could not remember words, but somehow remembered ASL so could spell my name. Why didn’t they ask me to write it instead of saying DO YOU KNOW YOUR NAME 20 times??? Yeah, hmm. funny that.

            Once in the ER, things got hellish fast. I saw no kindness. I was treated as scum. I actually had insurance, but was still treated deliberately meanly. I was addressed as “The Other Suicide”. I was ignored for hours but handcuffed to a bed. I got attention by threatening to pee on the floor when I was refused a bedpan.

            Some sullen teenager then sat near me with a magazine and spouted religious condemnation and hatred. I couldn’t make her leave. She micro-critiqued my every move, threatening to call the nurse if I sat “wrong”. If I moved the IV. Eventually I was handcuffed to a cop and taken to the nearby looney bin where I was thrown in an empty holding cell for hours. Finally interrogated with numerous odd questions that I think were designed to just trick me so they could justify the cost. (Oh, also… if you are sent to the loony bin, the state has to pay for all costs… but they issue YOU a bill at the end anyway and get real snotty when you somehow do not have a credit card on you… because they confiscated EVERYTHING on arrival, including your clothes). All my scrip pills that I could name were ignored even when quitting cold turkey would be VERY bad news. I named my current MDs but they were never notified. I was issued pills in a cup daily and ordered to take them. Nobody would tell me what they were or what they were for. Conspiracy theories abounded. The place was jail with carpet except that I did a weekend in jail and jail was nicer. I am truly amazed that I was not raped by staff, who dripped contempt for every patient. I did not actually see a real MD for days. When I finally got permission to make a phone call, friends and family were going bonkers… no one knew where I was, called around, hospitals and cops denied any knowledge. I got out after 3 days exceedingly angry at the asshole who had recently found Jesus and had called 911 out of an abundance of caution.

            The alleged counselors and therapists never showed up. Instead it was mandatory 12 step meetings 2 or 3 times a day, then coloring. Then reading. But there was only bibles or the Left Behind drivel available.

            If I had been suicidal, genuinely, that experience would have ruined all hope and wish to live I had.

          3. Nope nope nope. Even outside the US where police are less likely to kill someone, worst case is a lot worse than them ending up in ER – in the UK people (particularly people of colour) could well be sectioned unnecessarily and then have a hell of a time getting out again.

            Being sectioned is violent and traumatising and you do not do that to a person unless you are Very Fucking Sure that there’s a serious risk of harm – this isn’t a game.

          4. Unfortunately, experiences from me and my friends in Canada have made it clear that our country is just as bad as the US when it comes to dealing with mental health crises. For context, most of my friends are trans people. Whenever they have tried to access mental health crises intervention, they have been forced to have police involved. One has been driven out of the ER without being admitted on at least two occasions without any help because the lead doctor kept intentionally misgendering her and mocking her for feeling suicidal, very loudly so other patients would be sure to overhear. Another tried to voluntarily commit themself and had the cops called to take them into the station instead.

            Most recently, a misguided friend in the US called 911 on my former roommate because they were talking about feeling suicidal. The cops who showed up on our doorstep were two men, one of whom is a known domestic abuser whose wife left the force after her fellow cops supported her abusive husband over her when she filed against him for domestic abuse. When my partner tried to relay to the cops that our roommate (who has been abused by the police in the past) did not want to speak with them and tried to close the door, the domestic abuser forced the door open, badly bruising my partner with the doorknob. They then forced their way into our home and proceeded to try to imply that my partner was abusing our roommate and that is why she was trying to stop roomie from talking to the police. We asked for a female cop to be called over, but she was just as bad as the men. All three of them insisted on being alone with our poor roommate to badger them with questions about our living situation and whether my partner was being abusive to them. They didn’t give half a crap about how roomie was feeling or that they’d been called to help with a potential suicide threat. Their supervisor refused to take a complaint from us about the cops’ conduct and told us we’d have to come down to the station to pursue anything. We were all too scared to go to the cop shop after how they’d acted. So we didn’t pursue it. And yes, the domestic abuser is still on the force.

            These are not uncommon stories for trans people in Canada. And if the person is in any way a visible minority, the treatment only become worse.

            Everyone I know who has actually been admitted to the ER or the hospital for mental health concerns has been treated as poorly as Louise speaks of being treated in her comment, including the cis people. I think the only exceptions are friends who’ve been admitted to inpatient programs for very specific illnesses like anorexia. I very much advise AGAINST calling 911 in a situation like this unless it’s the last possible option. As numerous other people have advised, it’s more likely to do harm than good, and possibly even escalate things after the cops have left.

          5. No. Please don’t call 911. I had the police called on me when my depression was at it’s worst shortly after my divorce got started. The end result of my involuntary commitment is that I now suffer from PTSD in addition to depression. Now I can’t even talk to a doctor without panic attacks. I was fired from my job, and ended up homeless on the street when no one wanted to hire “the crazy guy.” Eventually I managed to get back on my feet, but that path was pure hell, and I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy.

            And my story isn’t even the worst case scenario. Even in Canada, 40% of all police shootings of civilians are people suffering from a mental health crisis. So please, unless they have a specific plan and the means to carry it out, DO NOT call 911.

          6. I’m not normally one to comment here (or anywhere) but I want to chime in that I had a very similar experience to Louise’s. It was a few years ago, and I’m still dealing with the aftermath. If it’s not a true emergency but you still want to help someone, you should make damn sure you know EXACTLY what that “help” will entail before throwing someone into it.

        3. Absolutely not.

          Unless the person was threatening people other than themselves, in which case it really doesn’t matter if they’re mentally OK or not.

          Even if someone does need mental health care, calling the police on them is not the way to go about getting it.

          1. I’m confused. In the US, does 911 automatically = cops? In my country they ask if you need fire, police or ambulance. Admittedly, I’ve never called due to someone’s self-harm, so maybe they do send police then, but I was under the impression they’d dispatch an ambulance. (Not that you should call Emergency Services without a threat anyway, but yeah.)

          2. @whingedrinking, I dunno where you live, but here (in the UK) if you call an ambulance for a mental health emergency the police usually attend too.

          3. @whingedrinking:

            When my baby brother was at the Doctor’s office, and they called for an ambulance, both fire and police showed up first. Despite the Doctor’s Office Staff doing the calling and being, one assumes, totally clear on the not really an emergency, just need an ambulance for transfer to a hospital for dealing with a broken leg.

            Granted, that’s been twenty years, but I’ve seen other situations where the number of emergency vehicles that showed up were disproportionate to the degree of crisis, and if police showing up was potentially a bad thing, I would hesitate to call 911.

          4. @whingedrinking

            ” In the US, does 911 automatically = cops? In my country they ask if you need fire, police or ambulance.”

            I’m getting trained to ride the ambulance right now. We just covered this.

            Any situation that might be dangerous to the ambulance crew means they call for police as well. You can ask for the ambulance, but if you tell them somebody is a danger to themselves, the police will be arriving first. If the dispatcher doesn’t call them, the ambulance will call for them, for their own protection.

            (this was US training, using the national certification curriculum, so this is true throughout the US)

          5. I’m confused, Howard. How is someone talking about or threatening suicide a danger to the people dispatched to try to help them? That seems like a bizarre policy to me, based in ignorance and fear of mentally ill people. :/

          6. I think there is a HUGE amount of ignorance and fear of mentally ill people.

            I think (esp. in the US) there are also situations with suicide threats + imminent danger of said threat being carried out + *guns or other weapons.* Emergency services treats all threats like they might turn into that type of threat. Someone talking about suicide or thinking about suicide and needing help doesn’t warrant police, but the staffers don’t always know what they are rolling into.

            I don’t have a comprehensive solution, esp. not in this thread, but that’s why I think 911 is a last resort and not the first. Whether or not it should happen, it does.

          7. Yes–I’d like to emphasize your note that if you feel like your own personal safety or the safety of other bystanders is at risk, it is okay to call the police, even if it would otherwise be a dubious decision. I would not call 911 on someone threatening suicide themselves, but if they were threatening other people (including myself) I would. Obviously it is a judgment call, and for some people they may choose not to call the police even if someone else was at risk, and that is a reasonable decision to make in some situations–but it remains an ethical option, should you choose to use it.

            This is hard, hard stuff, and it’s difficult to know where to draw the line, but since the “definitely don’t call 911 on a suicidal person” angle has been well-covered, I do want to note that you do not need to feel guilty calling the police if the person is threatening you or someone else as well. There’s no indication that that’s at all likely in the LW’s situation, but it is still important to remember. (This is sadly relevant given that murder-suicides are not all that uncommon in domestic violence situations.)

          8. @Turtle Candle – I had a conversation along the lines of this once:

            Me: You shouldn’t call the cops unless you’re okay with them potentially shooting someone.
            Guy: I would call the cops on someone threatening to kill themselves by running into traffic.
            Me: But if someone was threatening to run into traffic, and the cops showed up and shot them, you would be okay with that outcome because they were a threat to public safety, right? Regardless of if they were suicidal or not?
            He said that thinking about it in that way, it made sense.

            Jumping/running into traffic, while it might not have the direct and intentional result of killing someone else, is still highly likely to cause an accident, and at the very minimum will cause a traffic disruption. In those cases, when the mode of suicide is inherently dangerous to others, I think it’s okay to get the police involved. (By contrast, I would NOT call the cops on a person at the edge of a deserted cliff.)

          9. Also, if the person is your abusive ex.

            I see no reason to go down a chain of What Is Best For Abuser, when Abuser notifies you that your leaving incited self harm.

          10. Calling emergency services for a suicide risk will have cops showing up in Sweden. Ambulance personnel are not allowed to bring people in against their will, but cops are. Suicidal people don’t always want to come.

            I actually had to call the emergency services on a friend threatening suicide once. This was years ago, and she also wasn’t all that suicidal in the end.

          11. The truth of the matter is that all of these are a case of “I have a bunch of bad options, and I have to figure out which is the least bad.” And what the least-bad option is will vary a lot depending on who you are, who the suicidal person is, whether they’re threatening people other than you, who the people they’re threatening are, where you are, what your status is, what your own mental health situation is, what your relationship with the suicidal and/or threatening person is, what the status of potential bystanders is, and on and on and on. And often you have to do the ‘what is the best of the bad options’ calculus while under extreme stress and potentially under time pressure too.

            I am in a place right now where I would say that 95% of the time, I would not call the cops on someone who was suicidal but not threatening to other people, but 95% of the time, I would call the cops on someone who was directly threatening other people (myself included), whether they (the threatener) were also threatening self-harm or not. But there’s that 5% wiggle room because… I mean… “best of a bunch of bad options,” life is complex.

            But I will say that if someone is threatening people other than themselves, and you call the cops, you don’t need to feel guilty for it.

          12. @MrsMorley, my feelings also. And I mean, I’m coming from the perspective of someone whose ex called threatening suicide multiple times, manipulated me into sleeping with him after we’d broken up using threats of suicide, and eventually showed up at my house with a weapon–he wasn’t threatening to hurt anybody but himself, but I feel absolutely zero guilt for calling 911 on him, and frankly probably wouldn’t feel guilty if he has been injured by the police (he wasn’t). He needed mental health care; getting it for him was not my responsibility, especially since I was like, 16 at the time.

          13. Those situations are what emergency services are for, zero guilt! Abusive people do use suicide threats to keep partners hostage and you basically have to get to “That would be sad but I know it wouldn’t be my fault” to escape the pull.

            Just, I wouldn’t *start* there with someone just because they are depressed and expressing suicidal thoughts (vs. threats/abuse/immediate plans) and I feel an obligation not to make a blanket recommendation or treat it casually.

        4. It looks like everyone else has already covered why 911 would be a bad idea; as an alternate suggestion, maybe a suicide prevention hotline or a crisis center number would work.

          1. Yup-in some areas they may even have actually competent to deal with mental health issues mobile units that can go to suicide threats INSTEAD, and even though that’s not something to count on, they’re still better qualified and even if they can’t talk to the person, a crisis line may be able to help you assess if its serious enough for 911 if you’re not sure.

          2. Unfortunately, even this isn’t always a safe solution. An ex of mine was saying things that suggested they might commit suicide, so I called the mobile crisis unit. This is a unit of the regional health authority that is focused on addressing mental health crises. Instead of showing up themselves in a reasonable amount of time, they sent the cops to do a welfare check, six hours later.

            It didn’t occur to me to make a formal complaint at the time, but in retrospect I should have, because it was a totally unacceptable response. This happened in a Canadian city.

        5. Nope, not unless there is imminent danger, and even then I’d default to calling my local crisis mental health team. That said, I know that my area has excellent mental health services AND excellent emergency services, so I and the clients I occasionally have to refer in that direction are very fortunate.

        6. Everyone else has canvassed why calling 911 in many places is dangerous. I am so very sorry to hear about the absolutely terrible things posters have been through. Jedi hugs to those who want them.

          I wanted to briefly give a better story. This is NOT to refute the very real danger inherent in calling the police in many places.

          I live in Brisbane, Australia. My teenage child has a serious depressive illness. (They are open about this and share their story to help others, where it is safe to do so.)

          Several times, we, Kids Help Line, or my child, themselves, has called an ambulance when they either feared they may seriously harm themselves or had taken an overdose. The police, ambulance and childrens hospital staff were all compassionate and appropriate. My child had several admissions (both voluntary and technically involuntary, but kid was ok with it). They probably saved my child’s life on several occasions.

          The fact we are white and middle class in a state capital probably helped. From observation of the relevant programs, gender and sexuality diversity was no bar to getting help.

          If you think there is genuine danger and can have confidence in your health system, getting help for someone who is genuinely a danger to themselves can be a good thing.

          However, I really don’t think I would call 911 in many areas of the US, or police in many places, including parts of my own country, especially if the ill person was a person of colour or not cis gendered. I really would not wish that threat level on anyone.

          1. Oops, should have added: LW, you are in the best position to tell if any possible statements are manipulation or genuine and how safe a 911 call may be.

            Whatever happens, you are NOT responsible for your guy’s mental state, if you need to leave and do so without deliberately being cruel. You do not have to set yourself on fire to keep him warm.

    2. The line “you’re the only thing in my life that makes me happy” is a skeezy piece of manipulation to guilt trip the LW into staying with this guy.

      1. Yeah, my crappy ex started out sounding quite a lot like this guy and it only got worse from there.

    3. Maybe I’ve been listening to too many true crime podcasts, but it might also be a good idea for LW to take some basic safety precautions in advance. Like changing the locks if he has a key to their place. Although LW didn’t say anything about the guy being dangerous, someone who texts you a million times when you’re not around and tells you “you’re the only good thing in my life” is at least obsessive, if not unstable. He doesn’t strike me as a guy who’s gonna take this in stride. es.

    4. I kind of hope this ends up in moderation. And I am sorry if I have brought this up before and it’s like, “Oh look, the Awe Ritual is dragging out her sad little dead-horse story again. Hope I don’t strain a muscle rolling my eyes THIS time.”

      [TW: sexual assault and aftermath, child sexual abuse, mention of suicide]

      I was in approximately the same position as LW, and my ex threatened OD unless I slept with him and “gave him another chance.” I did. My body and mind reacted as if I had been raped.

      Later, the FBI contacted me. I was not the only person he’d had had nonconsensual sex with. I was, however, the first person over the age of eight.

      I believe he purposefully manipulated me into not calling 911 that night. I also do believe that he was quite serious, and if I had not either slept with him or called 911, he would have killed himself.I did not know it at the time, but he had fixated upon me as his only chance to “cure” his paraphilia, which society is deeply unkind to, even if you have no intent upon acting upon it.His family was not an option, he had no local friends, and he was turning down professional help.

      I wish I had called 911, or found some other way to get him emergency professional help. I am sorry that the options we have are so shitty right now, and I actually do wish I had done better by the person who put me in that position, although I am not certain how I would have done so, to this day. But given how completely shitty I was to everyone who knew me after the incident, in the throes of PTSD-induced anger, terror, and paranoia, and given the effects upon my health, career, and life (I lost the job I had for ten years, the person I think of as the love of my life, and I cannot even imagine what my family, including my poor daughter, went through around me), I wish I had chosen to take care of myself, first and called in the pros.

      (Someone wants to say how sorry they are that I went through this. Don’t be sorry that I went through it. Please be sorry that I handled it badly, and that I did not report the assault immediately, because I know that he was able to hurt little girls after me because I didn’t want to ruin the life of a promising young artist with my “personal drama,” and maybe he would have stopped himself if he had gotten a visit from the police, even if a conviction would have been too much to hope for. I do want you to know, o most compassionate and kind of readers, that it is almost a decade later, and I am largely over this now, except that I am stronger and a better listener/ advocate/ feminist for having gone through this and ESPECIALLY for the treatment I have received, when I finally admitted to myself that I was not being weak for seeking treatment.)

      Take care of yourself, LW. Please.

      1. Thank you for telling the story.

        I’m glad that you wrote this because I’ve been getting frustrated with the rabbit hole of Maybe Therapy Doesn’t Work For Him, and Emergency Services Are Bad, So Quick! Come Up With Something Else.

        The experiences you wrote about make clear how high the cost of protecting someone predatory can be.

        Again, thank you

        1. Well, the pain you cause by reporting is legitimate. It does not absolve you of your responsibility to care for yourself, and those who care you, though. There is no “enough” to care for a person whose is listening to his/her/per/xir illness’s attempts to preserve itself.

      2. Not reporting doesn’t mean you’re at fault for what he did afterwards. Sorry if that’s not appropriate to say or verging too close to the “don’t be sorry” disclaimer, I’ve just seen the “didn’t report ergo could have prevented this” line of thinking crop up in different site threads/situations before unfortunately.

  2. it doesn’t even sound like he’s treating you like a person. it sounds like you’re a stress ball for him or a stuffed animal to wine to as far as he’s concerned.
    You’re a person too, you deserve affection too.

    It’s already been mentioned but he will threaten self harm based on what you describe here. you are not responsible for this. It is a bluff. it’s a tactic to make you stay. once you leave block him, block his number, his email, his facebook, his twitter. Block everything.

    1. You ask if you are being selfish I think you should ask yourself is your ex being selfish. Because for someone who doesn’t believe in therapy he sure like using you as an unpaid therapist. You know what’s selfish not paying for your therapy

      1. Exactly. All relationships are transactional in one way or another. In the case of friends and family members, everyone offers mutual support. In the case of a therapist and patient, one person offers all the support and also gets paid. It seems like this guy isn’t giving you much of anything.

        1. Indeed! And while it sucks that not everyone has access to a friend, family member, or therapist to fill the “support” role in their lives, it doesn’t mean the LW has to get sucked into someone else’s suck.

          Boyfriend isn’t making LW happier, and (grandiose pronouncements aside) it sounds like LW isn’t making Boyfriend happier either, if every interaction with him turns into a sob session. Who is getting anything out of this relationship?

      2. Except therapists get to set time limits and boundaries, and are allowed to suggest the patient may need a reality check. I suspect that’s a big reason he prefers the LW. Therapists know ‘help-resisting complainer’ is a type.

    2. Actually, he might carry through. I was part of a situation where that happened, and the person threatening the self-harm did die. The point that you cannot be that person’s actual therapist/lifeline is still valid. You can’t do that, because it’s not something one person can do. A team is needed, with some professionals on it. I suggest thinking about it this way, if the depressed person got out of the depression and had success, would you think you did that? Or would you think the other person did that? You are not responsible for his actions, good or bad, if you are behaving as the Captain suggested.

      1. Yes. It’s true that “he probably won’t follow through” is often the case with threats of self-harm–but it is also true that even if he does, *it is still not your fault.* That is vital to emphasize.

        1. Exactly. You cannot make other people take an action, it is totally on them. Threatening is manipulative, your leaving isn’t.

          1. My husband’s own mother would threaten suicide to him. His dad would tell my husband that MIL had threatened suicide. I kept thinking, We are a thousand miles away. Just what are we supposed to do about it?”

            In laws also repeatedly told my husband that he was “their only joy.”

            I am so glad they are not an issue anymore. It is harder to break up with parents.

      2. My sibling had to deal with the death of our family friend, in part because Sib tried to take on the enormous “sole” helper role. Sib did not tap out and push friend to professional help over the year’s time; during which, the crisis was clearly brewing.

    3. I was involved in a situation where the person who said they would self-harm did so and died. It is possible it will happen, but the LW is still not responsible. One person cannot literally be an actual therapist/lifeline for another, just because they are friends. It takes a team, and some professionals, in my opinion. If the person got out of depression and became a big success, you would not feel that was all due to you. Don’t take up the burden of being responsible for bad things.

      1. Sorry for the double post, my internet is not working right today! Really! OK, or maybe I’m not.

      2. I’m so sorry that happened to you, that’s awful.

        I lost a relative to suicide after he was dumped by his partner. No-one in my family holds the partner responsible for my relative’s decision to take his own life. That’s on him and on the terrible illness that is depression.

        It is possible that it will happen, but hopefully LW can take comfort in the fact that in the majority of cases, it doesn’t.

    4. Ooh, great observation. “Treating you like a stress ball” is such an apt way to put it.

    5. It’s good that people are bringing up the possibility that he’ll not only threaten self-harm, but carry through. It’s good to work through strategies in your head before the fact, just in case.

      That said, I’m guessing he won’t hurt himself. He survived the loss of a marriage involving a child. He’ll probably survive the loss of a four-month relationship, regardless of how into it he is.

      1. My take is he may feel the previous trauma may make this current event feel larger. But you and I are both at the same conclusion; that given his view of LW as his One Good Thing, he may self-harm.

        LW may consider calling a crisis center for some pre-event coaching *for LW*. The crisis center may have information on city-specific strategies or agencies, which of course are the responsibility of This Guy, to follow up with, with his own call to the Crisis Center.

    6. I want a stuffed animal to wine with.
      A stuffed animal to liqueur with would also be nice.

      LW, here’s wishing you a glass of the tipple of your choice when you suddenly realize you don’t have to designate X% of your energy to deal with Whiney McSadPants.

  3. LW, you are perfectly within your rights to break up with this guy after four months if you’re finding you’ve become his emotional dumping ground (which, from your letter, sounds like the case). This is not selfish in the least; or rather, it’s precisely as unselfish as he’s being when he makes you his emotional dumping ground and refuses to take any responsibility for his own emotional and mental health.

    All good relationships take a least some work. But they take work from both partners, not just one, and the rewards of the relationship ideally come to both partners, not just one of them. Sounds like at this point you’re doing the work, he’s reaping the rewards. Unless he’s willing to shift over to a more equitable balance of work/reward with you (and from the sounds of things, he isn’t), why keep throwing your effort into an emotional black hole?

    He’s a big boy, he is capable of doing things like getting therapy, or finding an alternative emotional prop – that he chooses not to do so is not an indictment of your capabilities. He presumably coped up until four months ago, and he will be able to cope after you leave (even if he says otherwise). You’ve given him four months of your time, offered advice (which, reading between the lines, I’d guess he hasn’t taken) and he’s made his choices along the way. He’s not likely to change any time soon (why should he, when he’s getting what he wants in the current set-up?) and you deserve better than that.

    1. All good relationships take a least some work.

      The keyword here is _the relationship_: the union of two awesome people building something even better. If you have to defend your humanity, or fight for the (financial/mental/time) resources to maintain your physical and mental health, that’s not ‘relationships take work’: that’s plain old ‘fellow human being crosses boundaries’, and if someone isn’t just doing it inadvertently (because their eating/sleeping schedule doesn’t match yours) but consistently (because they value their entertainment more than your health), then I would say you don’t HAVE a decent relationship to start with, because respect and looking out for each other are so fundamental.

      The ‘work’ I’ve done in an abusive relationship and at dysfunctional workplaces was fundamentally different from the ‘work’ I’m doing in my current, awesome relationship and under good managers. One is defensive, feels like a constant struggle, and you keep looking over your shoulder what they’ll drop on you next. You’re constantly reinstating and reinforcing your boundaries because they are constantly threatened. The other feels empowering: everybody is looking to build something better and greater than they would have on their own. You acknowledge each other’s awesomeness, you feel honoured to be there, and you’re moving forward. Very, very different indeed.

      1. Yes, yes. There is a huge difference between the work of a healthy relationship and the work of an unhealthy one. Healthy work I’ve heard compared to the “flow” state you get into when you’re doing something you enjoy – you don’t even notice the time go by, and even when the task is aggravating, the work isn’t. If work = effort + production, this feels like all production.

        In contrast, unhealthy work makes you feel every moment of it. It feels like it’s all effort, with very little production to show for it.

      2. I am currently in the process of leaving someone (after 23 years!) who frequently lectured me that “relationships take work.” What you say here is spot on and very reaffirming.

      3. I’m out after 27 years. I have been made to feel like a burden to be borne, not a joy to be cherished, for so long! Too bad he never figured out how awesome I am!

        1. Redgirl and Willow, you could almost be telling my story! I’m out after 27 years, too.

          I flinch at statements like “relationships take work” or “you have to put the other person first in a relationship”. Those were code for requiring me to take emotional abuse, and expecting me to cater to him while getting nothing in return. He meant I had to work and put him first, while he put me down, mocked me and used platitudes like those to claim I was selfish (while I did most of the housework, emotional labour, parenting and worked full time). I, too was a burden to be borne and treated as if I was lucky he put up with me, rather than being cherished or repected.

          (Watching all this was not good for my or my kids’ mental health – see above. We are all doing MUCH better since the kids and I moved out!)

        2. It took me 23 years to get out of the relationship and another two to get the divorce finalized. Despite a bout of Stockholm Syndrome early on — I worried about how HE was going to manage and if HE would be okay even though he’d verbally and psychologically abused me for more than two decades — I am free and clear and So. Very. Happy.

          I agree with CA’s advice, and I hope that the OP will let us know how things are going once s/he feels capable/inclined to do so.

  4. Four months is not a massive investment , and lots of people break up around then because they realize it’s not going to work out. It’s not fair of him to expect you to be able to fix his life’s worth of problems in four months.

  5. Dear LW:

    “I am breaking up with you because I want to” is enough.

    No, he won’t think so. He may demand “better reasons.” But guess what? You’ve broken up with him for the best possible reason: you want to.

    Unfortunately, he will probably be upset. Note, I don’t say that you’ll upset him. I don’t say it, because, as the Captain points out, you can’t control his reactions.

    From his perspective you may always be That Lousy Mean Woman Who Didn’t Fix Me, Damn Her. Don’t worry about that. Try not to tangle yourself up in making him ok. That’s his job. You’re a good person who needs a different boyfriend.

    Jedi hugs if you want them.

  6. The Captain’s advice is bang on.

    I think LW ought to examine why, after only four months of dating, they feel so obligated to this guy. LW says “I know I am not responsible for his emotional well-being,” but it sounds like they need to get to fully internalize that, as opposed to just understanding the concept.

    On another note:

    I, personally, feel very frustrated when people imply that talk therapy should work, and otherwise you’re approaching it the wrong way, or you’re obstinately refusing to help yourself, or whatever. It’s often accompanied by insistence that it worked for them, so it should also work for other people. I do not think therapists are useless, but I am here to tell you that it can definitely feel that way when you have messed-up brain chemistry that prevents you from getting any benefit from therapy. Countless hours of talk therapy over the course of more than 15 years did exactly zilch for my mental health – until a doc actually gave me some medication (mood stabilizers) that worked. Four-month-boyfriend-dude sounds pretty emotionally manipulative, but in a lot of ways, I don’t blame him for thinking that therapists “just sit there and nod.”

    I always think that if you’re advising someone in your life to go to therapy out of a well-intentioned desire to support them, it’s good to keep in mind the following:

    – Some people aren’t currently in a place where they can get a lot out of therapy.
    – Therapy will NOT help people who don’t want to be helped (e.g. abusers who are going to counselling simply in order to placate their abusees – a fairly common scenario).
    – Traditional talk therapy is not the only kind of therapy available
    [and, very importantly:]
    – NOT EVERYONE HAS ACCESS. Therapy can be prohibitively expensive for a lot of people, and it might not be readily available depending on where you live.

    1. This is true. Also, if you live somewhere where free or subsidised therapy/counselling is the only thing you can afford, you don’t get a lot of choice. You don’t want structured CBT to help you work through the death of your abusive parent, and deep, probing psychodynamic stuff might be very bad if you are not ready and/or just want to quickly learn coping strategies to help you deal with your phobia of chickens. If dude went to therapy and it was totally not the right approach (or the right therapist!) for him, then with the all-or-nothing thinking that often comes with depression I can totally see why he might take away from that “all therapy is useless.”

      HOWEVER, it still isn’t the LW’s job to convince him otherwise or to justify his behaviour or to get him fixed.

      1. Right. You don’t have to make a clinical assessment of whether & what kind of therapy would actually be the right fit for someone to say “Hey, you seem really upset about this, have you thought about talking through it with a trained pro?” To bring it back to the letter, dude is in fact extremely eager to talk about all the things that are bothering him. He just wants the letter writer to do it on his schedule, at all times, perpetually available, with no professional boundaries or clinical goals. In that case an answer to , “therapy won’t work for me” can 100% be “Okay, but I don’t want to be your sounding board about this stuff anymore, so I hope you can figure something out.”

        1. Yep yep yep yep. I always compare it to other serious medical issues. It is absolutely 100% the case that the traditional medical system can be very toxic for many people (especially people in specific vulnerable populations), that it sometimes does more harm than good, that you might come into a hospital with a minor illness and go out with MRSA, that you simply might not have access to decent medical care, or that you can’t afford it.

          But nonetheless, if you come to me and say “I think my leg is broken,” I am still not going to be able to set it for you and put a cast on it, because I do not have the training and I might actually do more harm than good. And also, I am not in a position to provide you with the physical therapy you’d need after even if I could. I will probably encourage you to go to the hospital. I will even drive you, if necessary and possible! But I cannot be the one to fix your leg.

          After a really pretty terrible relationship in which I played Permanent On-Call Unpaid Untrained “Therapist” for a depressed boyfriend who refused to see a professional, including long sleepless nights where I had looping panic attacks about him committing suicide and me being at fault because I wasn’t “good enough” at it, I really do feel that I am about as well-equipped to try to fix someone’s mental health issues as I am to setting that broken leg. And that makes it a lot easier for me to say, “I’m sorry, I do care about you, but I can’t be this person for you.”

      2. His distrust of LW’s assessment of her experience makes me nervous. A red flag for abuse is when someone starts out dating their idea of someone, which, fair enough, everyone does, but refuses to change the perception of the person based upon available evidence. This house is buzzing and smells like honey. Even if the LW had a sudden change of heart and wanted to stay with this guy forever and forever, I would advise her (if that’s LW’s pronoun? I did see “girlfriend.”) to proceed with extreme caution.

    2. Did you catch the part where the LW pointed out that therapy worked for them – and the response was to tell her she was wrong and deny her lived reality?

      That is, this dude is not simply expressing vague doubts about therapy or recounting bad personal experiences. When the LW’s own very personal experience with therapy contradicts his philosophy on the subject, he throws with a nice bit of gaslighting “flattery”; it’s not just that LW is flat out wrong that two years of therapy helped, it’s that the LW didn’t realize their own awesomeness. (For, you know, two years.)

      1. +1
        That’s something to keep in mind. He’s erasing the LW’s experiences and trying to make it sound like a compliment, that’s a jerk move if I ever saw one.

        1. Yes, and that can be really astonishingly toxic. “I can’t do [thing] because I suck but you can because you’re so super awesome [so do it for me for the rest of ever]” is a really tricky way to ensure that someone else is doing all the labor (physical or emotional) while at the same time getting attention and concern and sympathy and head-pats and whatever for not doing the labor. I had a friend who pulled that on me repeatedly, and we are not friends anymore, because I realized that I was doing all the emotional heavy lifting in our relationship while not only not getting thanks for it but actually having to console her for it. Even though I don’t think my friend was doing it on purpose (although she might’ve been), still, it was Too Much. And “you pulled yourself out of your problems because you’re Amazing but I can’t because I Suck so you now have to spend the rest of your life as my emotional stress ball” is basically the same thing.

      2. That jumped out to me too. It suggests that if LW ever has a crisis of some kind – which seems probable, they happen to the best of us – he will be literally worse than useless. He’s likely to feel threatened, because wait, no, you can’t stop being the strong one, that’s your job! I need you to be strong for ME! Attempts to out-pain her and emotional attacks seem likely, which is the last thing you need in a crisis even if you don’t have a history of depression.

        I don’t think this guy actually wants to get better. Depression can be a comfort zone – an unhappy one, sure, but a lot less work than changing unhealthy patterns, challenging negative thoughts, getting regular exercise and sunlight, creating rewarding habits, possibly seeking out medication, trying prescriptions till you get the right one and then putting up with the side effects, and all the stuff that actually helps. Compared with all that, depression is easy – and if you have someone to dump the pain onto and provide you with constant comfort, it’s not necessarily unbearable. It’s the not-ideal but easy option.

        So if you want to help your conscience, LW, I’d consider this. He isn’t really trying to manage his depression. By endlessly talking about it, he’s actually feeding it. ‘Synapses that fire together wire together,’ as the saying goes, and I think he may be training his brain to optimise itself for feeling wronged and miserable: we get better at the moods we regularly rehearse. I don’t think you’re helping him as much as he thinks. You’re helping him tolerate, but also entrench, a state he should be working to get out of.

        Of course, if you leave he may or may not start doing the work, but that’s up to him. Just bear in mind that you’ll be taking away what he wants, not what he needs – and you’ll be protecting your own needs by doing it.

    3. I think it’s fair to note that talk therapy doesn’t work for everyone. Saying, “I don’t believe you’re trying unless you try X” is lousy.

      But even worse is using “It doesn’t work for everyone” as an excuse for not trying a potential helpful option. This guy is not saying that he can’t afford therapy, or that he wants to try a different thing instead, or that he tried it before and it wasn’t useful. It’s true that he may not want to be helped–but if he actually doesn’t want to get better, that’s even more reason for OP to flee the scene with a clear conscience.

    4. I think it’s also possible that he just didn’t have the right therapist. I’ve had some whom I absolutely loved and absolutely believe helped me, but I’ve also had therapists who didn’t really help me and it really did feel like a waste of time. I’m not saying that that particular therapist was horrible, but they didn’t work for *me* for whatever reason. Maybe this guy just hasn’t found the right therapist. Either way, it’s not the LW’s problem to figure out.

      1. Yeah – I didn’t believe in therapy (had tried a couple of times, and it wasn’t completely useless, but I was too depressed to believe in anything). I went anyways, to make my boyfriend happy. I lucked out and got a great therapist, and after a year or two I was going for myself, not just for my boyfriend. 🙂

  7. To give you a little perspective from the other side, my long-term (together ~4 years, engaged over a year) partner ended things with me during a health crisis (it’s a bit different than with mental health crises, but some of the situation holds similarities). At the time, it was devastating. I had to leave my cats with him for a while, too, because I moved in with my mom, who is allergic. I was a mess physically and my mental health wasn’t great because I was in pain all the time and had basically given up on a solution.

    HE WAS RIGHT TO END IT. Even though I was a mess. Even though other people did (and still do, sometimes) judge him for it. We hadn’t been in a good place for a long time and it wasn’t fair for him to stay in a relationship just because I was sick, when it would have ended much earlier otherwise. Even with as long as we had been together, he did not owe it to me to stay in a situation that made him miserable.

    This guy may never get to the point where he can acknowledge that this is a good thing, but you do not owe him your life. Especially after 4 months.

    1. I am so sorry. That sounds like such an emotionally and physically grueling experience.

      Content Warning: suicidal ideation.

      I had a similarish experience. I have been on both ends of this (with the same person) and when they ended things with me in a pretty emotionally brutal way – I hit bottom. HARD. I was suicidal and constantly bargaining with myself that “if I still feel this way by Feb, I can end it” and making plans. Not to get him back, we weren’t even speaking, but because I just felt so overwhelming unloved and alone and hopeless all the time.

      And THAT is what finally pushed me to get help (honestly, the terror that even suicide might not end my misery was what did it). I found a therapist. And after months of sobbing on her couch, I started healing. I spent most of my time over the next year processing my trauma and working through my mental/emotional health issues because I had hit bottom and it was TERRIFYING and no one was there to save me (and by save, I mean distract).

      I am not telling you this so you can magnanimously tell yourself “breaking up with him is what’s best for HIM!” I am telling you this because I am so glad my ex didn’t martyr himself and stay with me just because I was an emotional dumpster fire. You can tell when someone is with you out of pity rather than love, and as much as that relationship may serve as a crappy bandaid, it doesn’t actually help the gaping wound (or chemical imbalance) that needs to be addressed by An Actual Professional and not the Girlfriend With Good Intentions.

      1. …and as much as that relationship may serve as a crappy bandaid, it doesn’t actually help the gaping wound (or chemical imbalance) that needs to be addressed by An Actual Professional and not the Girlfriend With Good Intentions.

        Truth. It might feel in the moment like you need this relationship and it’s gonna make everything better, but in fact it’s just prolonging the time until you deal with things.

  8. It’s only been 4 months! That’s nothing! LW you’ve not made any “til death do us part” vows to this guy. You dated for a bit and now it’s come to an end. There’s absolutely no need to agonize over this. Permission to bail granted.

  9. OMG! Evil bees! Sooooo many evil bees! Such evil! Much bees! Run as far away from this dude as possible. Seriously. I understand you care for him, really I do. I’ve had several similar experiences of my own. Breaking up can feel like kicking a puppy, a rescue puppy, even. But it isn’t. This is a grown man we’re talking about. He has a child. He *admits* he’s depressed but *refuses* to treat his condition even though it affects those he loves (or claims to love).
    His behavior is waaaaay skeezy. it reads to me as though he’s grooming you for an abusive relationship in the future. Sure, right now he fake-compliments you about your strength, abilities and goodness, but the phrase “you’re the only good thing in my life” is a *ginormous* red flag. Meanwhile. his actions show he doesn’t really care. He’s the selfish one. I think these fake compliments are one step away from turning into veiled insults, if they haven’t already. This man seems to carefully lay the groundwork for isolating you (oh, you don’t need therapy… or other people) and taking over all of your time (seriously with the incessant guilt-tripping during your me-time?! What the actual F?!). This behavior indicates danger. In the immortal words of Admiral Ackbar – it’s a trap! Run. Run away from the Vader. Right now, while you can still see that he’s bad for you. RUN.

    1. Yeah, this. The constant harassing via text-message whenever the LW is away from him is, at the very least, a sucky recipe for codependency.
      LW, maybe it would help if you changed the narrative in your head: “I was his girlfriend. He’s now my ex”. It’s over, you just haven’t told him yet.

  10. LW, you need to break up with this guy.

    Four months is the ‘get to know you’ stage, and you’re finding out that not only does he have major issues, he’s not willing to work on them. That does not bide well for building a common future. You’re not compatible, and… such is life.

    My advice would be the same if you’d been together for four years, by the way, because this sounds like an extremely one-side ‘relationship’.

  11. It seems to me like this guy’s behaviour has killed off whatever chemistry there was between the two of you. You don’t want to be with him, which basically means you have two choices: you can break up with him, or you can spend an indefinite period of time in a relationship with someone you no longer want to be with. Hopefully you can see that the second choice isn’t one that will be good for you.

    It sounds to me like you’re a smart person who has realised you are four months in to a relationship with someone who is pouring his issues all over you and offering you very little in return. It also sounds like you’ve realised this man, with his negative attitudes towards nodding therapists (but he wants a nodding partner, wtf?!), isn’t ready to take the steps you’d need him to take to be a good boyfriend. Your realisation that you need to leave is a testament to your emotional maturity and the work you’ve done in therapy, NOT a sign of selfishness.

    About taking spoons and doing work – as someone in a long-term relationship, sure it’s work, but it’s work that a) I want to be doing, and b) is done by both parties over the course of the relationship. You don’t want to, and this guy is expecting you do to all the work to boot.

    Also, if I can offer up a possibly terrible analogy, I’d liken it to car maintenance. The work you do in a healthy relationship is kind of like the ongoing repair work you’d have done on a decent car to make sure it stays in good condition. It’s still costly and can be a bit of a time-suck, but it’s VERY different to buying a total rust-bucket and then having to pour all your money into it just so the engine will start.

    1. I like the car. I was also thinking of remodeling.

      Remodeling the kitchen of a house you own and like a lot? Reasonable.
      Remodeling the kitchen of an apartment you rent? Not so much.

      I would do a lot for my husband, because the fountain of our house-relationship is nice and solid, and I will do work for this relationship. (And if the foundation of a house-relationship isn’t good, it’s time to start thinking, no matter how long you’ve lived in that house.)

      At four months, you not only don’t have to be invested, you probably shouldn’t be. That’s a lot to ask of someone you really haven’t known for that long.

  12. Dear LW, well done for doing that thing that is never easy and deciding that yes, you absolutely do want to end this relationship. Any bad stuff your boyfriend goes through afterwards is going to happen to him anyway, not because of you. Like Captain says, he survived before he met you and even though losing you will probably hurt, it is not going to be the root of his problems. You are not planning to stay with this dude for the rest of your life, you know that. So the sooner you end things the less upsetting the whole thing will be. And no, do NOT tell him why you are breaking up, because if he can argue his way out of sorting his own problems then he will give you the same treatment. You don’t owe him a reason even if he is a lovely person who deserves a nice life. It’s nicer to him if you don’t tell him.

    Are you being selfish? Not compared to your boyfriend, no. And in fact, although being selfish isn’t always bad, I don’t think you are at all. Staying in this relationship would be terrible for BOTH of you. If you don’t mind reading a long comment, I’ll tell you what might happen if you do stay.

    My ex-boyfriend, let’s call him Raj, was similar to yours in many ways. He’d suffered for years from depression, said he’d had treatment in the past but wouldn’t go back to therapy and refused to take meds. He spoke as if everything always happened TO him, like he had no control, and I had to constantly pour oil on his troubled waters. We are taking 3-4 hours a day on the phone. After 6 weeks I realised Raj wasn’t right for me, even though he was the sweetest sweetie ever. But I stayed with him, because he needed someone to make him happy and there was nobody else. I stayed for a year and a half. By then, we were arguing almost constantly because Raj found practically everything I ever said offensive or upsetting, took every figure of speech personally and expected me to know what he wanted and needed without telling me. We were both miserable. Raj still refused to seek help, so I sent him some self-help resources I found online that offered bite-sized chunks of gentle CBT exercises to help him deal with his negative thought spirals. He never touched them.

    He refused to help himself because he had me to help him. But neither of us realised that I wasn’t helping him. He was getting worse. He was getting more and more dependent on me.

    I finally ended things in 2009 and have barely spoken to Raj since, but I STILL find myself worrying from time to time about how he is coping, because I learned SO HARD that I needed to take care of him or his whole world would end. It didn’t. But if it had, it wouldn’t have been my fault.

  13. “Should I be able to handle some of his spoons to?”
    Why? He’s not handling any of yours.

    You say in your letter that your relationship time revolves 95% of the time about himself, and the other 5% of the time he hijacks the conversation to make it about himself. That doesn’t sound to me like you’re the selfish one.

    Relationships do take work, but in this case he’s not working with you, you’re working for him. There’s no equality and no reciprocity, and that doesn’t make for a good relationship. It’s no wonder you don’t want to continue.

    I think there’s great advice in this answer and comment’s thread on how to break up with your partner, and the why looks totally solid and reasonable from where I’m standing. Feelings will be feelings (probably messy ones), but you can totally do this 🙂

  14. Seeing as we don’t have all that much information, and a lot of people have already covered the extremes of what he might do (self harm etc), I’m going to offer another possibility- maybe this guy does, in fact, have other (non-therapist) people that he could talk to about this. He may be telling LW that she is the only one who can make him happy but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have friends or family around, just that their relationships are not currently making him happy (and that doesn’t mean they’re unhealthy, depression is nasty that way, speaking from experience).

    When the LW said about being his girlfriend meaning she should be able to help him, I thought about how a lot of people think that a romantic partner is the one who is supposed to help them with this stuff. Especially men. My mum always told me that men have difficulty talking to their friends about things and that’s why women should expect to be leaned on for all things related to mental health and happiness, and not expect the same in return. But she has to think stuff like that because if she expected more from men she would have to acknowledge that my dad treats her badly. I, however, have come to the conclusion that a lot of men come to the table with the idea that their girlfriend will solve everything. They don’t seem to worry about the possibility of overwhelming their relationship partner, or trying to spread the load by expanding their Team Me. That is not fair.

    It is telling to me that this all started a month ago. Did all the things going wrong in his life suddenly start happening then, at the same time? Or was it that he kept his problems low key with the LW for a while to try and not put her off early on? During that time, he was able to cope without LW. And before they started dating.

    LW, my first boyfriend was a guy who didn’t have the mental health problems (that I know of) or the possibility of losing his child problems that your bf has, but other than that he sounds similar in the way that he’s treating you like someone to fill a girlfriend-shaped hole by his side. My ex never wanted to talk about me either. Consequently, he knew very little about me and that didn’t seem to bother him. This guy is telling you how ‘awesome and strong’ you are, not knowing or caring about your struggles or allowing you space for them still to be affecting you. You have to be strong, because you need to solve his problems, even the clearly needing a legal professional ones to do with his child (!!!- he needs to call a lawyer).

    Please, don’t feel bad for ending this LW. And don’t feel you have to absorb his sadness after. Remember that it will actually be better for him if you make a clean break. Block him, delete him, and take some time for yourself to get better from this situation. Because breaking up with someone is not at all easy.

    1. When the LW said about being his girlfriend meaning she should be able to help him, I thought about how a lot of people think that a romantic partner is the one who is supposed to help them with this stuff.
      This this this. Too often there is an assumption that a partner is something you go out and get because you need/want someone in your life who will do X for you (have sex with you, clean your house, raise your kids, cheerlead your creative projects…whatever). And once you’ve snagged that person they’re now duty-bound to fulfill that role because they love you! Right?

  15. LW,

    This guy is being a lot more selfish than you are. If selfishness is a bad thing, then he’s treating you badly, and you aren’t obliged to reward that. And if selfishness isn’t a bad thing, you have as much right to put yourself first as he has to put himself first.

  16. I had a five month relationship end because I was in a bad place and not getting therapy or taking meds to smooth the edges out. We were super compatible, we liked each other (we still do, as friends, and now I also like his wife!), we got along, we didn’t fight, but I was a vortex of depressive need and had problems with time management and was anxious and mentally scattered and not fully present. And it did feel like my partner was the one bright spot in my life, and I hated being broken up with…but it was the right thing for him to do, I clearly got over it and (once I could afford to) I took care of my brain badgers with therapy and meds, and most of the depression-related irritating behavior diminished greatly, if not totally (it’s still hard for me to manage time if I am in a low mood, and cold, dark winter days make it that much harder to get out of bed in the morning, but I do get up). He could have been the love of my life, but my personal issues had an effect on my behaviors and he was right not to enjoy that or want to deal with it. Our timing was bad, but neither of us were bad people or even all that bad of a match, but he would have been doing me (and himself) no favors if he allowed me to dump gloom and winter sads and depression all over him instead of a qualified professional, and we’d probably not be friendly now if he did.

  17. Just wanted to add that it’s ok to want to break up with your partner/s for… no reason at all.
    There isn’t a threshold where it becomes suddenly ok/justifiable.

    If you want to break up, you are allowed to do so. Period.


  18. I always worry that I’m this kind of a person (friendwise, not romantically speaking). I only really have the one person that I consider a Friend (as opposed to a friendly acquaintance, or a friend from the old days that I don’t talk to very often anyway, etc.), so it’s factually true that they are my source of Friend Stuff. They on the other hand have a normal amount of friends themself, a social life, people skills, etc. Ever since reading accounts like these, I am particularly wary of being too demanding or anything, but then I think perhaps I am just saying that to myself — or here, internet-publicly — in order to make an excuse, or to shield myself from rightful self-criticism. (Always: am I making true counterarguments in order to reason myself out of excessive self-recrimination, or am I just making excuses and trying to deflect accurate self-criticisms?)

    Where is the line between dumping excessively on someone as if they were your therapist, versus simply sharing one’s life with a good friend? Probably this entire ramble is an example of something I oughtn’t dump on them, but perhaps ((the internet person said very doubtfully)) it actually is something that should be part of Clear Communication?

    Reciprocity is surely key, but how can I tell if I am suitably reciprocating? “Friends don’t keep track of what they owe to one another”, but how can I tell whether things are unbalanced if I don’t keep track, and how would I keep track anyway, what are the units of measurement for this?

    I guess the fact that we are still friends after these years must mean something, in that surely someone as competent and intelligent would break it off if I were being truly terrible. But again, clearly it is demonstrated that many kind people hang on out of compassion even when they themselves are suffering for it.

    1. The partner in the LW’s example:

      -Wants to talk about their problems and nothing but their problems with the LW every single day, even if the LW has made other plans.
      -Turns all conversations with the LW back to a discussion of their problems.
      -When the LW suggests an alternative person to talk to (a therapist), the partner talks about how that never works.
      -When the LW says that therapy worked for them in similar straits, the partner denies the LW’s lived experience and mansplains what “really” happened.

      I doubt you are doing all those things. So, how useful is it to apply the situation in the letter to your situation?

      If you’re worried about being overly dependent on your friend or overloading their compassion bandwidth, for instance if all or most of your conversations with your friend are about venting or solving issues in your life, or if you feel extremely anxious that you’re doing reciprocity “wrong,” consider finding an alternative outlet for processing those worries (like a therapist or a journal or an internet community or online support resource). That way hopefully you can relax when you see your awesome friend and clear out some of this anxiety!

    2. Use your words and ask them once in a while. “Hey, I really like talking with you, I just want to check in and make sure you are having fun with these talks too.” Not more than 1x/year.

      You might also consider putting in some work to give you other connections and get some variety into your life, if you are truly worried about being ‘too demanding’:
      – Maybe a 1x/mo therapist, and journal in between visits
      – Reach out to some of those friends from the old days, monthly calls or meet ups
      – Ask therapist for help with a social life and people skills
      – Consider a pet, I talk to my dog and cat regularly. And they talk back, tho not in English. My cat is purring at me right now, saying ‘the heat from the computer vent feels nice…’ (whoops, vacuum cleaner just went by the door, head up, ears back – no longer purring… here kitty, have some petting…)
      – A relaxing or social hobby? Square dancing, knitting, pokemon go – at the very least, it’s a new topic of conversation.

      Yes, someone competent and intelligent with a varied social life would have faded or otherwise ended the friendship if they didn’t get something out of it. Using your words once in a while to check in is some of that ‘people skills’ bit, to reinforce for them that you want the relationship to be reciprocal and fair and fun for all.

    3. I actually disagree with the truism that “Friends don’t keep track of what they owe to one another.” I think some people work better in relationships that are balanced, especially between social equals. It doesn’t have to be the same amount of the same thing, but as long as it FEELS balanced to the participants it’ll work better than a relationship that’s perpetually askew. As someone who’s often on the giving end of a friend equation, it’s been very healthy for me to seek more balance in my relationships, which some might see as bean-counting and I see as owning my own needs.

      1. I agree with this. In college I was the Kindhearted Good Listener who never talked about herself but who was functionally a sponge for the angst of my friends-group. I came to the dismaying realization that for at least some of them, I was basically just a giant ear that occasionally said soothing/supportive things, rather than a person. I finally got up the courage to start talking about myself and my interests–not in a stopwatch-tracking-how-many-minutes-you’ve-talked-about-yourself-now-it’s-my-turn way, but sort of generally… and lost a number of “friends,” for whom I guess I really was just The Listener and not actually someone they cared about as a person. (Most of them just drifted away, but one did basically attempt to tell me that her needs were greater than mine because I had “other friends” and could get my emotional needs met “elsewhere” and she was hurting so badly that she couldn’t think about anyone else and etc. I… felt bad for her, but I couldn’t just keep soaking up and soaking up and soaking up her emotions, forever, without reciprocity.)

        On the good side? The friends who stuck with me after I started actually talking about myself/my interests sometimes turned out to be fabulous. It was completely worth starting to pay attention to how balanced or imbalanced my relationships were, just to discover how cool they could be.

        1. “Most of them just drifted away, but one did basically attempt to tell me that her needs were greater than mine because I had “other friends” and could get my emotional needs met “elsewhere” and she was hurting so badly that she couldn’t think about anyone else and etc.”

          I think that explains why she had no other friends!

    4. sojournstrange, you are trying it seems. Also – it may or may not work. You check yourself every so often, reflecting on actions you had, emotions you have, try to use your empathy and social skills to see if it’s kinda balanced… and then that is what it is. If there is an unbalance, it is is an unbalance between two people. Just as there usually needs to be reciprocity in what you both bring in empathy and listening, there also needs to balance in the ability to state needs and boundaries. If someone else can’t do that, you can’t take it all up on yourself – that’s something they bring into the relationship too.

      (And if they’re hanging on out of compassion, ultimately even that’s for them to decide as well.)

  19. It’s one thing to talk to your partner and the both of ya vent about your daily stress, it’s another thing when your partner forces you to be their [unpaid] therapist and doesn’t have the heart to ask YOU about your day without making it about THEM.

    OP, leave this guy. Dude wants a therapist, he just wants one he doesn’t have to pay and he can sleep with whenever he wants. That sucks and that should stop.

  20. Ouch. This reminds me soooo much of the first couple of guys I dated. It sounds like you know you need to break up, which I’m really glad to hear. Because let’s be real – you’re at a point where you’re trying to schedule some time away from this dude (a night to just do you) and not only does that mean you’re actively looking forward to time when your boyfriend isn’t around (a pretty bad sign for the relationship), but he’s also trying to make you feel bad about that. His constant texting to demand reassurance on your nights apart is a form of boundary trampling, which is not okay.

    Obviously in most relationships, people can take time for themselves when they choose to! But if you’re finding yourself thinking “OH THANK GOD, a night without boyfriend” that’s a sign something is out of whack. My guess is you’ll feel a bit of guilt when you end things… and then SO MUCH RELIEF. Right now you’re doing tons of emotional labor for this dude and getting zero in return for it. Relieving yourself of the burden of another human’s emotions will feel GREAT.

  21. LW, which one of you brought up the idea that he’s depressed? Because I hate to be that person, but if it was you, he might have seized on that idea for lots more pity and attention from you. Poor depressed him, so depressed that he won’t go to therapy because it doesn’t work, on top of his evil ex who’s trying to take his son away (and yet he’s not in family court fighting for his parental rights) and his lousy job that he hates (and yet he’s not out looking for something, anything, different).

    You have only a bare four months invested in this guy who loves to bleed from the mouth about his terrible life and do nothing about it while you comfort him. Walk away now before you have a lease/property/kids and spend years trying to sop up his emotional mess, only to be blamed when you don’t do a good enough job of it.

  22. Ugh this one hurts to read because I am currently on the receiving end of the “I know you are hurting but I don’t want to be the one to be there for you” breakup. To be fair, there are major differences, such as a significantly longer relationship and the fact that the thing making me tailspin is the election (which is to say, it is affecting us both and in theory crying about it together should be useful for both of us right?). The surprise!breakup was two days after the election, too, so it’s not like there was time for me to become an emotional burden (we didn’t even talk in those two days, because I was out of state working on the campaign, and also in the preceding months I kept my “ughhh this work is so hard” phone calls to once a week, because I didn’t want our relationship to become about keeping me sane!). They just had been planning to end things when I returned from working on the campaign, waiting til after the election in order to not distract me from my work, and they didn’t change their plans when “i’ll be spoiling her happiness” turned out to be “i’ll be kicking her when she’s down.” Bastard could have at least given me a couple days of crying together instead of alone.

    I would like to think that I can expect a certain amount of emotional support from someone I’ve been dating for a pretty long time. Guess not. 😦

    1. Hi Everything Sucks!

      I’m really sorry about the election. Like, so very sorry.

      I don’t think you are at all like the about-to-be-ex-dude of the LW, who both pushy and dismissive after only a few months. Sounds like your relationship wasn’t working for your partner and they wanted to end it and there was no good time or good way. It sucks to be dumped, even if it’s the right decision. I hope you have some good friends and a good support network. ❤

  23. “The only thing that makes [them] happy” is the worst. The only thing? The only, one single thing? As well as putting too much pressure on you, it just seems like a really lackluster relationship.

    I love the sense of joy and peacefulness I get when we’re both just doing our own thing, and my husband does something that’s making him happy. I look over from my knitting, and he’s snuggling the dog and speaking in nonsense words to it. I come home from work, and he’s contentedly reading a book and drinking tea. He collects air plants, the little plants that grow without soil, and shows me how well they’re doing.

    And the shiny, bright look on their face when your SO or your friend or your family member starts talking about their favorite thing, whether it’s quilting or airplanes or make up or cooking or computer programming or traveling?

    My life would definitely be emptier without my hobbies and likes and dislikes, but my life would also be emptier without my husband’s hobbies and likes and dislikes. I love that he’s very happy to do stuff with me (trust me, there’s quite the list), and very happy to do stuff for himself as well when I’m busy, or when we’re just having some downtime.

    Both my husband and I have had some pretty major depression, and it can definitely have the joy-sucking effect. I don’t want it to look like I don’t know that. But when you’re trying to decide if this relationship has an overall positive or negative effect on your life…remember the little things, too. It’s a four month relationship. His depression does not have to be your depression.

    1. “The only thing that makes them happy” … yeah, you’ve been with him for four months, so for all the time before that, there was likely someone else who was “the only thing that makes them happy.” And once you’re out, there will someone else to come along and be “the only thing…” So don’t worry, he’ll be okay, he’ll latch onto someone else.

  24. LW, it sounds like this guy is interested in having A Girlfriend in theory but isn’t all that interested in being in a mutually supportive/rewarding relationship with a real, live woman. It seems like he has spent a lot of time fantasizing about what A Girlfriend should mean and do for him, as in: “If I had A Girlfriend, I wouldn’t ever be depressed! She would solve all my problems and have sex with me on the regular and would understand what I want and need without me having to spell it out and she would always be there for me!” And then he dates an actual, alive woman and can’t understand why you have your own feelings and plans and priorities and he is not #1 all the time. It seems like he thinks you should be there to fill a void in his life but he doesn’t feel like you should need anything in return. It’s only been four months, and a good portion of that time has not been enjoyable for you. You deserve better.

  25. LW, I’m so glad you realize you need to break up with him. You might feel better about that if you think about what you would reccomend to a friend in your situation. If your best friend came to you and told you their partner is behaving like yours is, you would tell them to dump him immediately. You deserve the same compassion. You’ve been taking care of your boyfriend long enough, start taking care of yourself again. Good luck!

  26. You can end this, it’s ok. It’s also ok to be selfish if you define it as ensuring that your needs are met.

    Others have pointed this out, but the emotional ‘deposits’ in the bank when you’re in a 20 year healthy relationship are different than for a 4 month relationship. He hasn’t built up enough emotional ‘credit’ with you to expect 24 hour on call support and the constant emotional withdrawal on your emotional bank aren’t reasonable. If it’s a month of this into a 25 year relationship, then you may feel differently. This doesn’t make him a bad guy necessarily, but bad for you.

    I think part of maintaining healthy emotional and mental well being is making this kind of assessment on whatever is draining you emotionally and taking appropriate steps, whether that’s breaking up, tapping a member of Team Me, therapy, good book, massage…whatever you need to make sure your ship stays afloat. Good luck LW. Positive energy your way.

  27. Selfish is an accusation that is made against little girls from the time they are toddlers. It is worthwhile to unpack that conditioning because putting your needs first and foremost is an important survival strategy.
    I think your boyfriend has a chapter in the “Why Does He DO That” book.

  28. Dear LW. how “well” would he have to be doing for you to feel like you’re allowed to leave him? How well would he have to be for it to not feel “selfish” to you?

    And how likely is he to reach that state in the foreseeable future/your lifetime, looking at how he is dealing with his issues right now?

    What effect is it likely to have on you if you wait this one out? What would it do to you, what would your life feel like?

    Is avoiding that guilty feeling worth _that_?

    My guesses here agree with what other commenters have already said, but your own answers will be much more important.

  29. Oh my. I had a brief relationship years ago that was just like this. I felt that I was invisible, that I only existed to be a sounding board for him and all his many problems. Of course, if I wanted to talk about any problems I had, the response was “Well, I can see you need to be alone, so I’ll leave now”, and he’d quickly make an exit.
    Break up now, before you get more deeply enmeshed. The longer you wait, the harder it will be. Just rip the bandaid off quickly.

  30. Go with the Captain’s advice.

    As a mother of three whose father has now been diagnosed with BPD, I often wondered how the women he dates justify his attitude toward his offspring.

    I know I was vilified & demonised in a similar manner to what you’ve mentioned & I learnt that what mattered was our children. You’re right to question his use of the word “permission” in context to his ex familys lives. It bodes very ill.
    When separated parents repartner, it’s so very important to observe how they treat “the ex”. It could always be you in the scenario.


    1. Thank you for stepping up and protecting your little ones. As someone in your kid’s shoes, I can say that a parent who advocated for me would have been amazing.

      I’m guessing that he either doesn’t tell the women that he dates that he has children, or he makes up some ridiculous lies about how you keep him from them. Either way, his loss for not being in their lives, and your gain from not having him harming your children with his assy presence.

    2. While “permission” is an odd, maybe even red-flaggy word for him to use, there are often rules around custody arrangements stating that said arrangements have to be renegotiated if one parent moves far away. This is a good thing. Imagine what it would look like if the rule weren’t in place. “We’re supposed to have joint custody, but I’ve been offered an amazing job in Tokyo. I’m sure my ex won’t mind if I take the kid with me.”

  31. Therapists are allowed to fire patients.

    Keep this in mind. EVEN IF you were this guy’s therapist, you are allowed to fire him.

  32. Please just leave, now, like everyone says. It’s the right thing to do. You owe him nothing. You are not selfish. It’s not selfish to look out for yourself.

    Maybe you would “owe” him something if he had been there for you in the past, and you had actually promised him “for better or worse”. Maybe. Even married people get to leave.

    I have been able to stand handling another person’s spoons for a while when I know there is hope that it will get better. This guy has given you no reason to believe he will ever get better. There is no hope. Get out while you still can.

  33. This is probably somewhat OT, and I agree this guy is an energy/emotional suck that the OP does not need, and he should be broken up with asap–but I wanted to quickly address the OP’s use of quotes regarding the ex needing his “permission” to take their child to live abroad.

    She sure as H does need his “permission.”

    Unless he has no custody rights at all, it is illegal for her to take that child to live abroad without it.

    I’m an expat, married to a dual-citizen husband who was divorced with one child before, and they had to have it put in their divorce papers that his ex had his permission to move to another state with their child and that he had her permission to take their child abroad for visits. Not long after we moved here I met a woman here illegally with her two children; she went back for a visit, and when she attempted to return she got busted at Immigration and almost did time for removing her children from the US without her ex’s permission (she also forged his signature on their passports, which is a huge no-no, obvs).

    Again, I know it’s somewhat OT, and I don’t at all mean to say, “But this poooor guy, be nice to him,” or anything like that. But the use of quotes around “permission” makes it seem like he’s being an unreasonable jerk expecting his ex to get his permission to move abroad with their child, and he’s not. If they have any kind of shared custody arrangement, then yeah, she DOES need his permission.

    He very well could be being unreasonable about giving it, and it’s absolutely not the OP’s job to comfort him 24-7 or nurse him through life or any of that. She owes him nothing. He’s obviously being really selfish and self-centered and isn’t someone she needs in her life. But on this one issue, he’s not being an overbearing jerk claiming his ex needs his permission to move abroad with their child. He’s right. (And the ex may very well be right that moving is the best thing, and totally justified in wanting to do so. I’m not making any kind of value judgment on that, I’m just saying he doesn’t deserve scorn for saying his ex can’t legally move their child to another country without his okay.)

    1. Thank you for pointing that out. Just because someone’s a manipulative black hole of emotions doesn’t mean they don’t have legal rights, and taking children over international lines is fraught with complications.

  34. When I was in college, I dated a guy named Stephen. He was my first true love. And after a few months, a pattern developed. Every night, sometimes for fifteen minutes, sometimes for hours and hours, he would have one of his depressive meltdowns and I would have to sit there and stroke his hair and try to muddle through with some advice. I was barely 18 and all my high school relationships had been toxic as hell and didn’t realize this wasn’t normal.

    It didn’t matter if I had an exam the next day, if I was tired… I had to be there for him, sometimes until 2 or 4 in the morning.

    What finally broke us up was actually the fact that I switched birth control pills and suddenly was an emotional wreck. (It took me a while to put together those two facts.) I didn’t want a lot of support, but I did want .. some? a little? For him to acknowledge when I was crying in his dorm room, at least.

    Shortly after I started, occasionally, having needs that weren’t about him, he woke up one night from a nightmare and immediately woke me up to tell me about it. In it, he and I were in a snow storm and he was freezing to death. I tried to soothe him, reassure him that we could keep each other warm, that’s how it worked — we’d keep each other warm. He kept repeating, “No no, I was freezing. You were sucking all the warmth! You have to keep me warm! I was freezing!” and I remember realizing, right then, that this was over. His subconscious couldn’t even be subtle about it. I was young and dumb and in love and tried so so so so much longer and harder and it went awful, of course.

    LW, you’re not selfish. You’re a human being who has needs that deserve to be met. Relationships should be about keeping each other warm, not about you wrapping yourself around him and freezing to death.

  35. I am in NZ and if you call 111 for a suicide attempt generally you will get an ambulance and paramedics showing up. They’ll take you to a hospital ED and you’ll then be followed up on with a Crisis Assessment & Treatment Team (which are horribly incompetent but eh). The only time anything other than this happened (either for callouts made on behalf of others or made by others or myself on my behalf) was when a friend was in my house with a knife threatening to kill himself and the police came, tasing him once in order to get the knife away once he tried to stab himself with it after a failed attempt to disarm him manually. He was taken to the hospital, then to the cells, then left free after three hours once he’d seen the CAT team (who were like ‘fine whatever’ after he told them to go fuck themselves ten times).

    I mean long story short I’m not friends with him anymore but the police force in NZ is generally more apathetic than violent, and most aren’t armed with anything more lethal than a taser. But if I were in the States or the UK i would do literally anything else than call an emergency number the police are liable to respond to.

  36. I’m a recovering “Helper”. I’ve been in many relationships and friendships where I have put in 80+% of the emotional labour and cared for and listened to and advised and worried about people who couldn’t or wouldn’t do the same for me. I’ve stayed in relationships that were long ended because I had come to believe that the other person would be completely unable to cope / survive without me.

    LW, learn from my mistakes! Don’t stay in this relationship. It does not much matter whether or not he is intending to squash you into the Helpful Partner With No Needs Of Their Own box, you are getting squashed down and you need to get out!
    There’s a Mary Oliver poem called “The Journey” and I have often needed it. It’s about breaking out of the “Helper” role. http://peacefulrivers.homestead.com/maryoliver.html#anchor_14788

    You must put on your own oxygen mask first, LW, no matter how much your ex tells you that he cannot find his own oxygen mask.

  37. Gotta add some Lizzo to this mix (her ‘Scuse Me is also a great self-love song, with or without a breakup):

  38. Oh my god, LW, are you me, like eight years ago? I could have written this letter, only it would have been a lot less level-headed and rational because I was a sobbing mess due to dating a dude who had alochol abuse and suicide/self harm problems. I kept telling myself that it wasn’t his fault and I should be more understanding, but the truth is I should have gotten the fuck out of there. It was costing me MY mental health to deal with HIS mental health problems. Don’t let it get that bad!

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