#927 & #928 Gold, Frankincense, Myrrh, and The Sweet Gift of Breaking Up With Folks Who Just Aren’t Right For You

Ahoy there Captain!

My boyfriend, who I met online through a mutual friend, and I have been dating for about two years now. When we first started talking online, we lived on opposite sides of the country and were in a long distance relationship for over a year before I decided to move to the same city as him. (We each have our own place, though.) Due to his job he was unable to move to my city, so I decided to be the one to move. I had fallen out of touch with many of my friends from back home for varying reasons and had a job that was just okay, so aside from the fact that it was expensive, the move wasn’t too hard on me.

Now, about eight months after moving here, I am falling out of love with my boyfriend. He hasn’t done anything wrong – in fact, in many aspects, he’s a fantastic partner. But the days are fewer and more far between that I can see myself having a future with him. I rarely feel any sexual attraction towards him, and more and more things about the relationship are becoming things that I don’t see myself being 100% cool with in the future. (He’s not really excited about the prospect of kids, he’s not close with his family, we have incompatible sex drives, etc.)

I’ve talked with him briefly about how I don’t feel totally satisfied with the relationship, but with the holiday season in full swing as well as a vacation we’re taking together in the near future, we decided to push things under the rug. However, at this point I’m feeling pretty confident that this relationship isn’t meant to last.

However, my fear (and by extension, the underlying question of this email) is that without him in my life, I am completely alone. I have no friends here, and all of my friends that I do have are either in a mutual friend group with my boyfriend or live very far away. I’m worried that I will essentially hole up in my apartment and never leave because I have no one with whom to do activities. (As a sufferer of depression, this fear is only increased.) I don’t like the idea of spending that much of my time alone. And, of course, while I do not feel this relationship is working out, I do care for my boyfriend a lot and would miss him so, so much. (I would love to stay friends, as he is genuinely one of the best friends I’ve ever had, but I’m not sure if that’s possible.)

Do you have any advice on how to go about this? I’m not even sure how to break up with him, let alone what either of us will do afterwards. It’s funny- I can’t see him being my partner forever, but I also can’t imagine my life without his friendship.

Thanks a bunch!
-Moving on after moving away
(She/her pronouns)

Dear Moving On:

You can’t insta-create a new social circle and new close friends right this second, and you can’t guarantee a friendship with your boyfriend after you break up with him, but there are five things you can do to give yourself a softer and less lonely landing.

One: Contact at least one old friend from back home and wish them happy New Year. Don’t agonize about how long it’s been since you last talked or whose turn it was to call whom or whether you left things in a weird place when you moved. Do you like this person, miss this person, want good things for them? Great! It’s the season where you can put a note in the mail or call someone or use either the Time or the Book of the Face and say, “Hello, friend, happy new year, I miss you, let’s catch up soon?” The catching up doesn’t have to be deep or involve “support” or being a sounding board about the breakup. Make contact.

Two: You say you’ve got depression, so, are you treating it like the illness that it is? Need a meds check-in or to put some counseling resources in place? If not, time to work on it. You don’t have to let the bottom fall out of everything to deserve mental health care and support.

Three: It was a great idea to get your own place. This was you putting a safety net in place for exactly this eventuality. Invest a little energy into making sure you’re moved all the way in and that the place really feels like home to you, whether that’s a thorough tidy, making sure all the moving boxes are out and that things are hung on the walls, getting a new houseplant, cooking a great meal just for yourself. Some ritual that says that this is home.

Four: Schedule a weekly activity that happens with your fellow human beings that you attend without your soon-to-be-ex or your friends from that social circle. Could be volunteering, a MeetUp group that goes to the movies or knits or plays board games or whatever your hobby is, could be a class and/or trying out something new. Extra double bonus points if it’s something that your soon-to-be-ex is not particularly interested in, that can be just yours alone. You may make new friends there and you may not – time will tell. For now, it’s about knowing that you can’t hole up and become a hermit because you’ve got 8 classes in woodworking scheduled for the next 2 months.

Five: Stop thinking of your shared-with-boyfriend new city friend circle as a group and look at them as individual people. Do you have a favorite person or two? Are any of them true friends or people with real friend potential? Great. Invite them out, one by one. Breakfast. A trip to the art museum. A play. Enjoy their company. Be a good friend to them.

None of these things on their own are going to replace your relationship with boyfriend or making breaking up with him magically not hurt for a while, but, he’s not the only person who will ever like or love you. You deserve mental health support, you deserve to be happy in your home and in your new city if you decide to stay there, you deserve friendships that sustain you and delight you.

P.S. You don’t have to go on that vacation with your boyfriend if it’s hanging over your head and making you feel stuck. You could break up this week and go single and free into 2017. “You are so important to me and one of my dearest friends, but I don’t think the romantic part of our relationship is working anymore, and I’d like to end it.

Read on for #928:

Dear Captain,

Thank you so much for your solid advice and your delightful wit. I’ve been reading your blog for years now.

I can’t figure out if I’m a bitter man-hatting nut job “BMHNJ” or if this guy I recently started seeing is a piece of work. I’m 36, have seen some sh*t from dudes, and I worry I’m projecting unacceptable past behavior onto perfectly nice men. Also, I have a hard time saying “no.” I deflect and soft-pedal, and when that doesn’t work, “NO!! RWWOOARRR” when an up-front and clear “no thanks, maybe next time” is more appropriate.

Maybe-lovely guy (“MLG”), whom I met off of the internet, is immediately brimming with over-the-top compliments, planning future dates. BMHNJ warns he must have ulterior motives. Moreover, he is more handsy than I’m comfortable with, though I don’t say anything. My inner rational woman (“RW”) suspects that it’s my insecurity that finds the up-front affection discomforting. He seems kind, and is attractive.

MLG wants to see me again right away, but when I say “I want to work tonight, how about after 8?” he pesters. MLG: “I want to see you NOW, you’re amazing” For an hour we text back and forth about it. BMHNJ feels manipulated. RW suspects I’m just being crabby, and why did I get so angry anyway? Why didn’t I just put the phone on silent and do my work?

Date 1 – MLG pushes me to come over his apartment. I’m a NOPE (stranger danger!) Date 2: ditto. Irritated that I have to deflect the invite a couple of times. Date 3: I “cave.” Nothing terrible happens. Turns out he he’s not into sex until a committed relationship. RW: “You cynically assumed he was a dog. He’s not! And why do you think you’re “caving?” He probably would have been happy with a clear “thanks, but no thanks.” People are OK with being told “no.””

Date 4-5ish: MLG nags me for an invite to my apartment. I balk – “I’m not ready for some guy I just met to know where I live.” MLG pushes back, saying he really likes me and so of course wants to see where and how I live. I actually tell him: “well, yeah, but stealing’s not the worst thing a man could do to a chick.” MLG is obviously insulted and hurt. BMHNJ turns into RW (if he was rapey he would have done that at his apartment the last time) and lets MLG come over. Nothing bad happens. except for the mansplaining.

MLG is full of unsolicited advice about how to prep dinner, how to properly take public transit, how to trim a dog’s hair. BMHNJ feels controlled and tells him as much. MLG says BMHNJ is “harsh” and “mean” and that he “just wants to be helpful.” The usual.

When BMHNJ adds things up, she feels like this dude might turn into abuser. But … RW says he’s sweet. he’s in tune with emotions. he loves his kids. he fixes my favorite food. He asks about my day, my work. BMHNJ is gonna throw away every good thing that comes out of fear and anger and a little mansplaining.

How do I trust my own judgment that some dude might be bad news?

RW or BMHNJ?

Hello! Thanks for the nice words!

My advice: TGINNEBHAPAANQRFYAWYFSWIYPWNSMA

i.e. This Guy Is Not Necessarily Evil But He’s Also Pushy, Annoying, And Not Quite Right For You And When You Find Someone Who Is You Probably Won’t Need So Many Acronyms.

Whatever his intentions might be, he’s continually making you uncomfortable and overstepping your boundaries and spending time with him makes you feel off-balance. He’s like a walking #NotAllMen display, who doesn’t get that while HE may be Good and Pure of Heart and Not Rapey, there are very real reasons you might be cautious when you’re first getting to know a someone. You’re allowed to set your own safety thresholds for any reason at all! In my opinion, good men don’t interpret reasonable caution from women as a personal insult to their honor.

The main red flags for me are:

  • Repeatedly failing to take “no” for an answer.
  • Trying to move the relationship along very quickly.
  • Instead of being happy & relaxed and feeling safe and having fun, you’re calling yourself names and wondering what’s wrong with you.
  • Life is too short to be mansplained at in your own goddamn home.

You wrote me a little while back, so maybe things have improved, but if they haven’t and you’re still feeling torn, I recommend the “Sorry, I’m just not feeling it” breakup (without further explanation or reasons – a dude who responds to “After 8?” with “No, NOW!” will most definitely argue with your reasons).

Please don’t beat yourself up for enjoying the attention of someone who is very interested in you. Dating is for figuring out whether you want to keep spending time together and a mirage looks just like a real oasis until you’re close enough to drink the water.

Tell yourself this story: You met someone interesting and gave it a try. It wasn’t quite right, but it felt good sometimes and reminded you why you put yourself through the whole “dating” thing. This was practice, and thanks to the time you spent with this guy you have a better idea of your boundaries and wishes. He’ll be just fine without you, and somewhere out there there is someone who is all the good things this guy is, plus some even better things, minus the stuff that annoys the ever-loving shit out of you.

 

 

148 comments
  1. Turtle Candle said:

    #928, one thing stood out to me. This guy sounds annoying at best to me, but it’s all honestly beside the point, because you do not sound like you like him at all. He could be the nicest guy in the world (I don’t think he is, but even if he was…) and it wouldn’t matter becuase you do not sound like you like him at all. You spend time with him because he nags and you give in. You don’t seem to be spending time with him because you want to, you seem to be spending time with him because he wants you to, and because you’ve convinced yourself on some basis that you maybe ought to want to? even if you don’t? because he cooks things you like and is a decent dad.

    And even if he was a magical unicorn prince who farted rainbows and left flowers and kittens and puppies behind him wherever his feet tread, if you don’t particularly like him and don’t want to spend time with him, that is rational reason enough to not date him.

    • alexcansmile said:

      I picked up on that too.

    • JenniferP said:

      Yes! No matter how “nice”, someone who makes your shoulders go up around your ears is not your boyfriend!

    • human said:

      Haha! Also that would get old, too, because you know he’d just leave the flowers and puppies and kittens lying there for someone else to pick up.

      • slythwolf said:

        I’d be dating the person picking up the puppies and kittens, probably.

    • Dancing Beagle said:

      The “fixes my favorite food” struck me as grooming. LW uses “nags” “pushes me” to describe someone who should still be on their best behavior. My hackles stayed up after I read “immediately brimming with over-the-top compliments.”

      I was reminded of an axiom “Charm isn’t something people are; it’s something they DO.”

      This dude may not have the insight to know he’s an abuser. But he is.

      That exercise where you face a mirror and say “No!” worked very very well for me. A few sessions and I had it.

      • Jenn said:

        And even if he’s not abuser it’s still okay to not date him.

        Really. Someone doesn’t have to be The Demon King to not be a good fit for someone. This guy might be abusive, or he might be desperate and awkward but either way this is not the LW’s problem and she’s not obligated to marry this guy because he makes a nice meal and is nice to his kids when she’s watching.

        • Turtle Candle said:

          Yep, exactly my point. This guy does sound pretty dreadful to me, but given that I don’t get any sense from LW at all that she wants to spend time with him–well, “I don’t want to spend time with you” is a perfectly legitimate reason to break up with someone all by itself. I think that kind and well-meaning people often feel like they need to carefully analyze exactly how bad someone is to justify Can I Stop Hanging With This Person? but honestly, “I don’t actually want to hang with this person” is 100% enough.

      • Dancing Beagle: My ears went up around my shoulders when the LW told about the guy saying “No, NOW!” and pouting like a two-year-old when the LW told him she could see him at 8. Dude is an immature control freak at best. Run far, far away, lovely and rational LW!

      • johann7 said:

        I would not be shocked to discover that he’s reading some PUA manual – over-the-top compliments, rapidly escalating physical contact, and boundary-pushing are all behaviors I’ve seen come up over and over in discussions of PUA garbage. I’m looking for an interpretation of “he is more handsy than I’m comfortable with, though I don’t say anything” other than “he touches me a lot in ways I do not like without my consent” and I don’t see one. The not saying anything may keep the behavior on this side of legal assault (or it may not), but it’s still not okay*. The insistence on skipping work to see him immediately instead of later in the evening is a giant waving red flag as well. What LW #928 in interpreting as an inner rational voice sounds to me more like an inner apologist that has been socialized into her brain by rape culture.

        *As someone who has some difficulty reading non-verbal cues – especially those I have not explicitly memorized – I encourage people to be clear and direct with words, but that works both ways: it’s not only on people to voice when they don’t like something, it’s on people to ask about behaviors that involve someone else’s body before trying to act, especially when one is not good at reading non-verbal cues.

  2. human said:

    I read as far as “I can’t figure out if I’m a bitter man-hatting nut job “BMHNJ” or if this guy I recently started seeing is a piece of work.” and I was like, I CAN!!

    Sure enough I was right. This guy is constantly pushing on your boundaries, LW! And NO it is not your fault for not clearly stating them enough. In all the examples you gave, you were plenty clear – clear enough for him to argue back with you! Even if that were socially acceptable behavior (it’s not) and even though I’m sure there are fun things about him — what kind of life would that be in the long term to have to argue about every single simply stated preference and wonder if you’re crazy for wanting a burger instead of Chinese food? That would be awful and sucky.

    You gave this guy more than enough chances. You’re fine. Don’t worry about whether you did it wrong somehow because you didn’t. But listen to the part of yourself that really doesn’t like being in this situation, and shouldn’t have to ARGUE about it.

    • I read as far as “I can’t figure out if I’m a bitter man-hatting nut job “BMHNJ” or if this guy I recently started seeing is a piece of work.” and I was like, I CAN!!

      Ahaha yes! That’s the point where I started thinking “this guy is definitely a piece of work” too. I even missed the unsolicited advice part of the letter the first time I read it and still thought the relentless boundary pushing sounded incredibly irritating *at best*!

      LW, the way you call yourself “rational woman” when you do what this guy wants when he wants it and put up with his mansplaining douchebaggery (for fuck’s sake, I think a 36 year old woman can be trusted to cook dinner or take public transit or trim a dog’s hair all by herself! What on earth does he think you did without him around to treat you like a child?) and let him trample all over your boundaries worries me. It is really and truly rational to not trust someone who disregards your boundaries and treats you profoundly disrespectfully. You are not being a jerk or bitter or man hating or a big mean poopyhead if you don’t like being treated like a bobblehead doll that’s supposed to smile and nod no matter how disrespectful this guy is.

      Sure, it’s possible dude means well and is just really enthusiastic and expresses affection by “helping”. I’m with BMHNJ (I think she sounds pretty sensible and not bitter or man-hating at all, actually) on the boundary-trampling and controlling behaviour red flags adding up, but you know, it’s not impossible that we’re both wrong and dude is just meshing really badly with you. That doesn’t mean you’re obligated to date him, though. Like another commentor said, it doesn’t sound like you like him and that’s really the only reason you need to not date someone.

      • Paulina said:

        “Rational Woman” sounds more like someone who is rationalizing away her feelings (or, all too commonly, having them rationalized away for her). Listen to your feelings, they can be the result of red flags that you’re not consciously aware of yet. And shoving your lack of comfort with this boundary-stomping guy into a box marked “Ignore” can be dangerous at worst, and at best continually uncomfortable.

        MLG sounds like he’s trying to train you on how great things can be if he’s in charge of everything. Some people like that, but others should avoid.

        • Rhoda said:

          “Rational Woman” sounds like someone who was told early in life to always be nice, to never hurt anyone’s feelings, to always give the benefit of the doubt… to everyone but herself. Sad that girls were still be socialized that way 20 or more years after I was a girl.

      • Anne On said:

        Dude may not be evil but he does seem desperate, and desperate people can be very unpredictable. You are not bitter for picking up on that.

      • Jolie said:

        Hey, I’m a person who would probably think like the “Rational Woman” in your head (not that I necessarily think that’s particularly rational). Like – I tend to be much, much more trusting than it’s generally wise. I talk to strangers in the night bus. I’m comfortable having casual conversations about sexuality. I give the benefit of the doubt. I find “cute” and “romantic” things that other women, of the more neurotic persuasion, would find “creepy”. Is the “stranger danger some people may want to hurt you” part of my brain broken? Is it a question of privilege? (never been assaulted or in an abusive relationship). I don’t know, but that’s how I roll.

        And I’m completely NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE about seeing this guy again. You just don’t burn at the same intensity. You have very different communication styles, and different needs. Your primary need right now is for patience and boundaries. You need to take it slow. He needs spontaneity and whirlwind and he needs someone comfortable to share a lot of herself with him. It sounds like that person is not you – that’s not what you have it in you right now, and he doesn’t have the patience you need. That is not wrong of you or of him – you’re just not in tune with each other, and if you continue to pursue a relationship with him, it will only make both of you unhappy. Assuming he is a good guy, let him find the girl who will go to his place at 2 am after 2 hours of talking under the stars, eats all the soup in his fridge and think nothing creepy on it. And you, you find the guy who understands you and can give you what you need.

        • espritdecorps said:

          Exactly!
          You should have partners that are what you need, and need what you are.

    • notemily said:

      Also, “I can’t figure out if I’m a bitter man-hatting nut job or if this guy I recently started seeing is a piece of work” puts everything on who people ARE. You don’t have to be a “BMHNJ” to not want to date someone, and you don’t have to be a “piece of work” to not be right for someone. Whether or not you want to date someone is not a referendum on whether or not they’re a good person.

  3. gabrielle said:

    928, i’ve blocked friends for saying “well, you’re being silly. if i wanted to rape you i could have done so when we were doing x,” never mind lovers. this guy seems like bad news to me, and even if he isn’t, probably not right for you.

    great post captain!

    • Devin said:

      I understood that to be part of LW’s argument with herself, NOT something he said.

      I’m kind of on the fence, there’s nothing there I’d exactly call a danger sign but the dynamic definitely isn’t working. (At least, nothing I’d call a danger sign without some outside perspective on what LW means by, for instance, “caved.” If she’s seeming visibly unhappy and he’s still pushing, yeah, way scary, but if he asks, gets a gentle deflection, asks again on the next date and gets a gentle deflection, and still asks again… Hard to tell.)

      Either way, though, not right for her.

      • MrsLokiofAsgard said:

        From the way I read the letter though, it was only her argument with herself after he pressured her into showing him her apartment. Given his pattern of behavior it’s really not unreasonable to think the conversation would have gone this way had she continued to tell him no to seeing her apartment.

    • Not That Kat said:

      Yeah, that’s… special. Since when is it okay to ask for a cookie for NOT ASSAULTING someone?!

  4. Sheelzebub said:

    I’d say that anyone who responds to a “no” or a “I can do X at 8:00” with nagging or insistence that you do it his way THIS MINUTE is someone who isn’t a maybe lovely guy but a pushy annoying douchecanoe.

    I get especially irritated with this. I take no for an answer. My responses vary from “Aw, bummer. Well, if you change your mind, I’m definitely up for it” to “I understand, let me know if anything changes” to “OK, the offer’s open if you decide you want to another time.”

    So someone telling me he can’t meet until 8:00 might hear “Great! Looking forward to seeing you then!” And someone who doesn’t want to come to my house will hear, “OK, well, offer’s open if you change your mind.” I wouldn’t even nag someone to invite me to their house (WHAT) because holy fuck that is rude and presumptuous.

    So. I have to accept the no. You have to accept the no. This means that this dude has to accept the no and if he doesn’t, he should know the taste of the dust you will leave in your wake as you run from him.

    • My sister-in-law had had one date with a guy from OKC, and he texted her to see if she’d go to the movies with him that night, after work. She replied that she had a family obligation that night (dinner with us, in fact) but she’d love to go out tomorrow!

      His reply was a bunch of neggy-bullshit “wow I thought you were fun and spontaneous” and “I guess it’s because of your age” (she was ONE year younger than this guy) and “must be your conservative upbringing”. Because she’d already had plans and offered an alternate night.

      That’s the guy I heard in this letter. You’re allowed to have other plans, #928. You’re allowed to have them at any time.

    • Yes, my feelings exactly.
      “I want to work, but how about 8:00” sounds as a perfect example as what the LW mentions earlier in the letter as “an up-front and clear “no thanks, maybe next time”” and that should have been enough, right there.

  5. Emac said:

    #928 oh my god, are you dating my ex? I finally broke up with him after about a month of seriously over emotional talks, but I should have done it much sooner. I’m going to have to repeat the Captain’s story at the end to myself a few times because even years later, I still sometimes wonder if I was just being a BMHNJ even though the RW in me knows that it was actually the right decision.

  6. Turtle Candle said:

    #927, I definitely agree with the Captain that this is a great time to start making gestures towards building a support network and group of friends of your own. Honestly, that’s valuable to do even if you don’t break up with him (although it sounds like you’re absolutely right that it’s pretty well time to go).

    I had a realization a few years back that because of two unrelated sets of circumstances (a move I made for a job, and one of my old friend groups basically detonating due to a friend who had a habit of lobbing drama grenades) that all my local friends were people who had been friends with my partner first, and most of them were closer to him. I had non-local friends and Internets friends who were my friends primarily/first, but not local ones. Now, I wasn’t thinking of breaking up with my partner (and we are in fact still happily together), but there was something… oh… uncomfortable about that. So I made a plan some years ago to make it so that I wasn’t quite as reliant on my partner for social connections.

    I did basically what the Captain suggested, but I want to highlight both four and five specifically. I started going to NaNoWriMo meetups (it happened to be November at the time, so the timing was good), as well as a fandom meetup thing. I let Internet-friends-who-live-in-the-area-but-who-I-had-never-hung-out-with-in-person know that I’d love to meet them in person. And I started getting coffee one on one with one of my partner’s friends who I felt I had a lot in common with. (I also tried to take a cooking class, but that fell through, sadly.)

    What I will tell you is that it worked, but not immediately. It did take time. The NaNo writing meetup was fun but I didn’t really meet anyone, and it took a while to connect with people from the fandom meetups (didn’t help that we were all introverts and many were shy, heh), but it did eventually happen. So if you do try this, consider it a long-term project, not a Sprint to New Friendships, and pace yourself.

    But? Totally worthwhile.

    • Dancing Beagle said:

      I wish I lived in a “One Brick” area, as a single-day volunteer commitment seems like a great way to ease into something.

    • St Roonicorn said:

      Yep, I moved in may to be with my (now fiance) and although we are very happy and together, I had a lot of discomfort about not having my own people. I ended up starting a book club, and although I haven’t developed any close friendships yet, I know these are people I can call up for coffee or whatever. Bonus that since *I* started the group, I feel obligated to go and don’t back out when my normal dontwannas pop up due to depression, anxiety, and introversion.

      I’d also recommend putting a reminder in your calendar for once or twice a week to connect with someone. Write a letter or email, text, call, something. Just make an effort with someone.

      Good luck!

      • Shoutout to recommending reminders to your phone! I use mine for the same thing, like how I set alarms to go to bed and to take my medications.

    • MrsLokiofAsgard said:

      I did that too! I was a SAHM with two babies and a friend circle that had sort of disappeared. For me the a-ha moment came while watching a re-run of the last episode of sex and the city. The main character is in Paris, away from her friends, and she finds herself staring at a group of women eating lunch together in the same way one might salivate over a tasty dessert. I started crying in that moment because I realized I didn’t have a strong group of friends and I wanted them bad. I made a list of people that I had liked over the years and wrote down the reason I stopped being friends as well as the reasons I liked being their friends. Then I reached out to the ones that had been good friends but we’d drifted or schedules got crazy or moved on social media, through letters, and phone calls. I also joined groups that let me share my hobbies with others. I made the effort to attend outings and parties (not really my thing!) and even hosted a party of my own that year. It’s been 9 years since that moment and my friend circle is strong. Friends take work to make and to keep…but if they’re the right kind of friends the work is easy!

    • CA makes me think. I am still building, and I want to give the advice that it helped me to give myself permission to feel uncomfortable or even walk out when trying new things, and then also to ‘count’ those situations because it’s still a very positive action to actually go do something.

      Interesting how the one who needs to hear that advice is me. Because I do feel lonely and I still feel my social circle is very fragile and I can’t really pick up things because I just don’t have spoons for weekly committing or much traveling. I find it very difficult to find a place for myself in that.

      But I really need to take heed of my own advice as well, because the things I have done did lead me to various good thing. Some are keepers, some more in passing by, but they still have brought me a lot.

  7. tinyorc said:

    #928, it doesn’t really matter if he’s objectively a Lovely Guy or not, because it sounds like you don’t really enjoy spending time with him. It sounds like you feel like you should be enjoying his company because he’s got some qualities that sound great on paper, but ultimately you don’t seem excited about hanging out with him or comfortable letting him into your life. If someone is actively irritating you when you’re on single-digit dates, that doesn’t bode well for any sort of future romantic relationship.

    Your boundaries are YOUR boundaries. It doesn’t matter if they seem unreasonable to other people or not, and you are certainly not a “bitter man-hating nut job” for having them. That’s the patriarchy talking.

    • notemily said:

      YES THIS. The logic does not go “this man is a good person, therefore I want to date him.” Those are two separate things!

  8. Fiver said:

    928, it sounds like your inner “BMHNJ” is more rational than your inner “Rational Woman”. It’s completely rational to think that a dude is trying to invite you to his apartment for sex. It’s completely normal to worry about his motives when he’s handsy and pushy and doesn’t listen when you try to set boundaries. Those are _totally_ rational reactions and fears! This dude sounds like a total pill.

    I especially want to highlight this part, though: “When BMHNJ adds things up, she feels like this dude might turn into abuser. But … RW says he’s sweet. he’s in tune with emotions. he loves his kids. he fixes my favorite food. He asks about my day, my work.”

    Abusers often seem sweet and attentive and caring at first. If they were douchebags right off that bat, it would be easier to recognize them and run. …But he’s not really all that sweet. He badgers you, he makes you feel uncomfortable. And even if you aren’t giving him clear, firm ‘no thanks’, it seems like he’s not even asking. He doesn’t notice or care that you’re not comfortable. Or he notices you’re uncomfortable, then decides to badger you.

    BMHNJ is right to think this dude could turn nasty! He’s already acting pretty nasty! Badgering someone into going somewhere they don’t want to go is not the behavior of a genuinely nice, sweet, and thoughtful person.

    I don’t think that part of your brain is bitter, or man-hating, or nuts. I think she’s smart, and intuitive, and trying to protect you.

    And even if this dude was genuinely nice and this is all in your head… you don’t have to stick around. You don’t have to date this dude to prove that you are Rational! You’re telling yourself a story about how if you were just Rational and Not Bitter everything would be fine… but it’s not fine, because this guy is a douche, and you sound miserable. You’re calling yourself names and second guessing and blaming yourself for being (completely rationally!) uncomfortable with a pushy, handsy dude.

    And just… you don’t have to suffer and do things you don’t want to, just to prove how Rational and Good you are. You deserve a sweet and caring guy who does all that nice stuff, AND, doesn’t try to push your boundaries, or make demands on your time and space, or mansplain to you, or put his hands on you without asking and making sure you’re comfortable first. Those are all reasonable, rational things to want. You have completely rational reasons for being upset and unhappy. Wanting better for yourself than this annoying dude does not make you bitter, or man-hating, or anything else.

    • onyx said:

      Agree about the Rational Woman thing. RW is not being rational, she is being a #notallmen apologist. She’s the one telling you you’re just an angry, impossible-to-please bitch for having caution and boundaries and “letting” yourself feel uncomfortable or annoyed around this guy. She is even negging you into “proving” you’re not just a Bitter Man Hating Nutjob. RW sucks!

      Dump the guy, and dump RW to while you’re at it. Replace them with someone who respects how you feel about things.

    • notemily said:

      I feel like this LW has been brainwashed (as have we all) by toxic Nice Guy thinking. In so many stories/movies/etc, the Nice Guy says, I’m a nice guy, why can’t I get a date? And then the girls turn into villains when they won’t date the Nice Guy, because after all, he’s so nice! But being nice is not the one requirement for dating–you have to actually WANT to date the person! I agree that this guy sounds like a pushy boundary-violating jerk, but even if he weren’t, that doesn’t mean you HAVE to date him.

      • whingedrinking said:

        Often these “nice” guys don’t really stop to think about what that actually means. Think about when your caregiver told you, as a child, “be nice!” Probably they were saying it because you were doing something like thwacking another child with your teddy bear, or taking all the cookies, or calling someone a poopyhead. But just *not* doing the equivalent of those things as an adult is not, in and of itself, an attractive quality; it’s the bare minimum standard of human decency. Guys who can only say, “But I’m nice!” might as well be saying, “But I don’t eat puppies!”

        • SculleryWench said:

          Sometimes someone wants to be with you, and you don’t have reasons *why* you do not like them. You just don’t. The default is not then that you have to go out with them, because that’s prioritizing one persons’ desires over the other’s. You can both sit there in perfect balance with his wanting and your not-wanting, and that situation does not need to change.

          When his wanting overrides your not-wanting, it means you don’t count as much. And guess what? There’s no reason for that, either.

    • Jolie said:

      I don’t think it matters which one is more “rational”. You’re not comfortable with the guy – don’t see him.

      • TO_Ont said:

        Yes, they could both have value or both be worth listening to, and even both be rational*. Don’t think that if the part that says he has some good qualities seems to have some genuine merit, that means that the part that says to avoid him is therefore ‘crazy’ or wrong.

        *(And when did rational become synonymous for true, anyway? Lots of terrible people have done terrible things in the name of ‘efficiency’ or ‘being rational’, and lots of true insights have come from the gut or heart. Any good decision requires gut and reason to work together).

  9. Dawn Incognito said:

    Re: “bitter man-hating nut job”. LW, it breaks my heart to see you gaslighting yourself with internalized misogyny and (dis)ableism. If this guy is making you feel pushed and on-edge, Occam’s Razor says it’s because he’s being pushy. You don’t have to “logic” yourself into believing it’s all in your head because you’re “crazy”. Maybe spend time with people who don’t make you feel pushed instead.

  10. TheRWnotBHNJ said:

    thank you captain, and crew!! Especially for making me laugh. XO. And happy holidays to all 🙂

    Epilogue: Mr. Pushy got a “sorry won’t work out, best of luck, happy holidays, please don’t contact me.” Then he contacted me. Then he got the block. Fin.

    GRACIAS

    • JenniferP said:

      He was always going to contact you. Always. Now you’re free!

      • stellanor said:

        He couldn’t let one little request interfere with his flawless track record of ignoring everyone else’s desires and boundaries!

      • golden peanut said:

        I told somebody it wasn’t going to work out, and he respected it then, but later contacted me wanting to get together. I said no and told him not to contact me again. He responded saying I probably had a problem with setting boundaries.

        Those guys. They always contact you.

        • RiverSongTam said:

          Oh yeah, right, *you’re* the one with the problem with boundaries. It’s the way you set them there, just asking to be violated.
          *HEADDESK*

    • B. said:

      Well done! And congratulations for getting rid of him! 🙂

    • Oh good for you!

    • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

      Happy Ending!

      I hope you have a relaxing and reviving holiday period and that you can find more people you *want* to hang out with.

    • DesertRose said:

      Good on you! Happy holidays to you, and may you be at peace from Mr. Pushy! 😀

    • human said:

      Excellent! I’m having happy thoughts of how he’s probably still texting you with all the reasons you shouldn’t break up with him and you don’t have to see ANY of it. 🙂

    • Redgirl said:

      Thanks for the followup! Also, when I read your letter, I couldn’t help thinking, “BMHNJ” sounds an awful lot like an alternate name for “my intuition,” while “RW” sounds like a name for “that voice in your head that tries to override your perfectly valid feelings and concerns out of fear of coming across to OTHERS as a man-hating nut-job.”

      We women are socialized to ignore the very valid warnings we feel in our guts in order to avoid offending other people. But your intuition is powerful, and can protect you. I’m glad you listened to it. I am just now ending a 20-year marriage that shouldn’t even have lasted beyond “I do,” because I didn’t trust my gut and allowed my partner to out-argue my feelings of unhappiness. I’m glad you didn’t wait that long.

      • cathy said:

        Yep. It is so hard to admit, but I was talked into marriage as well. I thought it might work because his parents still held hands after many happy years. I didn’t know what boundaries were, because my family and home life was seriously dysfunctional.

        The marriage didn’t work, primarily because h was an alcoholic who had never grown up and all his family were in denial; so much so that when I finally kicked him out (mainly for our daughter’s sake) I got the blame for his drinking. Nice bunch.

        I didn’t want to hurt h so I ended up with PTSD. He ended up dead, from alcoholism.

        And I got the blame for it all.

        • MrsLokiofAsgard said:

          I’m sorry Cathy. That is a horrible situation.

          • cathy said:

            Thank you; I appreciate the support. Thankfully behind me now. I still have PTSD, but I also have a quiet home with my daughter, and we both stay away from the drama (because it never ends), as much as we can.

      • helva2260 said:

        SO much this. This letter rang a lot of bells for me, as I’ve also had moments of noticing a BMHNJ and RW fighting in my head when faced with a man who “should” be perfect for me on paper but barrels past “No”s and unspoken boundaries without even noticing.

        And yeah, in retrospect, it’s notable that the better judgement always belonged to the BMHNJ. The RW side of me wasn’t rational at all; just lonely, insecure about speaking up, and worried that other people would think I was being too picky/bitchy/mean.

      • I was having similar thoughts! Except I called BMHNJ, “my gut” and RW, “society” or “socialization.” It makes a lot more sense when you replace those acronyms, as well as telling you which one is obviously right.

        Please, always trust your gut. It KNOWS things.

        • cathy said:

          Yes, that little inner voice, it never fails. But it takes practice to learn to listen to it. I am teaching my daughter to listen for it, and never reject what it says outright. Think about it, and if you can, follow it. That is the best part of learning life lessons; we can pass them on.

    • Morticia said:

      Wonderful! That’s like a late Christmas present. I am so glad. Thank you!

    • CarpeFelis said:

      Good for you! I hope that’s really the end of it, but can’t help a nagging feeling that he will show up on your doorstep with some over-the-top flowers or something. I really hope I’m wrong about that.

    • SUCCESS! I’m so glad you are free of the annoying Squid-Man. Happy New Year!

    • Thank goodness! I was worried about you.

    • RiverSongTam said:

      Yaaaaaay!!!! my fav kind of fin!
      Good for you, you did *so* great!

    • clorinda said:

      Happy New Year to you, and thanks for a happy ending to a somewhat worrisome story.

    • Private Editor said:

      Fabulous! Be free and have a wonderful and fulfilling new year!

    • Yay!

      It’s not surprising to hear that you cut things off with mansplainy boundary-pushing guy, but it’s still gratifying to know that you’ve designated the real RW as the RW.

    • thathat said:

      Oh, I’m so glad! My shoulders were up around my ears the whole time reading your letter. At best, I can say that I have been in a situation where I kept trying to date a guy because rationally I knew I SHOULD like him. Fortunately for me, my guy was not pushy, and eventually we ghosted each other amicably, and still like/comment on each others’ facebook posts from time to time. But if he’d been anything like your guy…hoo boy. It just broke my heart to see those gaslighted descriptions of yourself. I’m so glad that you’re starting the new year not in that mire. Best of 2017 to you!

  11. EllenS said:

    I don’t think it’s helpful or necessary to put yourself through some exercise of trying to figure out whether this guy is Bad. You don’t like him. That’s enough. (As an aside, I completely agree that he sounds pretty obnoxious. But even if nobody else understood, your reaction would still be valid because it is yours and you are The One Who Gets To Decide.)
    You don’t owe him your time, attention, or approval, and you don’t need a justification for not liking him.
    “Probably not rapist” is not a reason to pursue a relationship with someone, and it doesn’t sound like he’s given you any actual good reasons!
    I mean, turn it around. How sad would it be to date someone for months and finally hear, “Actually, you irritated and pissed me off the whole time. I figured I should give you a chance because you didn’t seem to actually be a criminal. But in the end, you never succeeded in becoming pleasant to be around.”
    You are allowed to have higher standards than “he asked me out.”

    • twomoogles said:

      +1000. I see this so much! And sometimes experience it myself. It goes in two directions. “This person is Nice and Not Evil so therefore there is no reason I should not like them, so I will make myself spend time with them so I’m not mean!” (this is usually, for me, non-romantic situations like somebody wants to be my friend and I find them annoying.). Or the other way, which is “I don’t like this person — therefore, they must be Objectively Horrible” and then making a normal person with normal flaws out to be eeeevil, because that’s the only way it’s OK to not enjoy their company!

      One of the most important lessons I’ve learned so far in my 30s — two people can not get along without either person being “objectively” Wrong. And even if a person can prove their Rightness, it is highly unlikely this will change anything. Like the unfortunate exchange that can happen during breakups where one person wants to know what they did wrong, the other tells them, and the first person figures “OK if I fix all these things then they will stay with me!” I have never seen this work once the dumper has got to the point of breaking up!

      • Turtle Candle said:

        Yesssss. It took me a long time to realize this, too. Especially with friendships, in my case, because there’s this weird “you can never have too many friends!” cultural message, so the idea that you might want to prioritize friend energy for people who you… you know… actually like can feel really selfish. So I spent a lot of my teens and twenties making cases to myself for why Nice But We Have Nothing In Common Lad, or Okay But Honestly Kinda Annoying Woman, were actually secretly supervillains… because then I wouldn’t have to feel obligated to spend my limited social energy on them.

        It was revelatory to realize that I could just decide, “They’re fine, and I’ll be pleasant at parties of mutual friends, but I have no actual interest in being their friend” without having to have them judged by an imaginary Justice League in my head.

  12. thebewilderness said:

    People who refuse to take no for an answer are not safe to be around. I am not sure there is a greater danger signal than that, no matter who they are or where you meet them. Srsly! That is the minimum level of respect every human being is entitled to.

    • helva2260 said:

      This also. As someone (though I can’t remember who!) put it on another blog: if he can’t be trusted to take no for an answer on the small things, how can you trust him to take NO for an answer with the big, important things?

  13. B. said:

    #928, I just wanted to say that BMHNJ is as smart and rational as RW: you have rational reasons for your mistrust, as well as protective instincts honed through experience that help keep you safe. Keep trusting your gut, and if the dude-nominated narrative tells you that trusting your gut is irrational/underisable (hint: because it means they have to make a sincere effort in order to earn your trust)… well, fuck that with a swordfish. You don’t need people telling you you’re crazy for wanting to take care of yourself, specially not lovers.

    #927: The Captain’s advice is awesome and it works, but it does take time. I’d suggest taking a beginner’s class in something that interests you, so you’re all at an equal level and to avoid feeling insecure (’cause you’re surrounded by people who’re trying to learn something and make beginners’ mistakes, just like you). Maybe something physical, if you’re so inclined? To get you out of your head for a bit. Be very patient and loving with yourself, this is hard and you deserve to be cared for, and to care for your well-being.

    • Drew said:

      “Fuck that with a swordfish” is going into my permanent lexicon.

      • DesertRose said:

        That is a wonderful turn of phrase! I think it’s going into my lexicon as well! 😀

        • B. said:

          I’m glad 🙂 CA is a wonderful source for new idioms!

    • But would the swordfish agree?

      • B. said:

        I hope so, else it wouldn’t be ethical.

      • j_bird said:

        “Fuck that with a consenting swordfish”

        • thathat said:

          Literally best thing I have read all week.

  14. Dancing Beagle said:

    “No” is a complete sentence.

  15. Annie said:

    928 . Yes he sounds annoying and needy and you should most likely just break up with him. Also work on being more clear with a no and less deflecting. From experience, I find it incredibly frustrating when people deflect and aren’t clear, but somehow want the same results from the other person, as though they were clear.

  16. Dear LW927,

    I’m with B above in thinking taking a class in something physical might be a good idea. I push for martial arts and dance because both usually require at least some partner work.

    Partner work, that is, training and dancing with other people, helps fulfil the touch needs that many of us have.

    On which subject, a massage is also a good thing to do for yourself.

    • B. said:

      Good idea! Martial arts, self-defense and dance can also help build your confidence, specially if you and your partner(s) encourage and help each other.

  17. Southernbelle said:

    “Life is too short to be mansplained at in your own goddamn home.” is A+ advice for very many situations!

  18. #2 is manipulative AF. It’s as if he took a damn internet course on it. Bye felipe!

  19. Yolanda B. Cool said:

    #928, I’m going to be blunt: it sounds like you and Guy (who is Not Maybe Lovely) haven’t been dating for very long. Early in the relationship, both parties are on their best behavior. You’re both still in the “showing the best possible version of me” phase. And the Best Possible Version of Guy, apparently, is a boundary-pushing mainsplainer. This is him At His Best. It’s not going to get better.

    Guy is not a good guy because he didn’t rape you after he pushed and cajoled you into letting him come to your apartment on the fourth date, against your better judgment. Guy is merely grooming you to consider his complete disrespect for boundaries normal, so that a year from now, he can have a compliant Girlfriend who dispenses money she doesn’t want to spend, does things she doesn’t want to do, and has sex she doesn’t want to have.

    Run far away from Guy, 928. Your gut is telling you that something isn’t right here. Listen to it.

  20. Qwerty said:

    #928. Guy sounds *creepy* and eww-worthy to me!

  21. Jiggs said:

    I got through #928 thinking “you prooooobably won’t need that many acronyms in a good relationship” and then Captain’s first sentence was exactly that. LW, now you have learned a valuable metric about when someone is not right for you! (Bonus awful points if thinking about them makes you divide your personality into two, one of which you are calling a man-hater.)

  22. Nanani said:

    928, your “RW” is really “patriarchy-compliant woman”, not “rational” by any non-patriarchy-based standard.
    You have the permission of the random strangers on this site to stop listening to RW, and give her pedestal away to be a footstool for large foofy dogs.

  23. Amy said:

    928: I would like to propose, in place of “Bitter Man-Hating Nut-Job”, something like “Boundary-Managing Heroine Navigating [relationships] Judiciously”. Because your BMHNJ sounds very smart and savvy.

    My ex-girlfriend also pestered me to do things. I needed to go to work in the morning, but she tried to persuade me to stay out later. I wasn’t up for socializing, but she guilted me into inviting her over. I spent a good deal of time at parties I wasn’t into wondering why I was there.

    Worse was a relationship I sank into in college, much like one sinks into quicksand. He was charming and sweet and a good listener, and he would not take no as an answer when he wanted something sexual. He cajoled. He guilted. He argued. He made me feel like I needed a five-page thesis to not take off my clothes.

    Pushiness and refusing to accept a no are not romantic. They’re early warning signs for abuse, as they show the person doesn’t value your boundaries.

    • cathy said:

      Yes. This.

    • AltoFronto said:

      +10 for that Much Better Acronym.

      I don’t know why LW feels the need to split herself in two over this bloke – It sounds exhausting.

      Boundary-Managing Heroine doesn’t need to rationalize when she finds someone who makes her feel comfortable to be with. Trust your instincts, LW. ❤

    • RiverSongTam said:

      Have to add another +10 for that acronym, well done!
      Also, I’m so sorry you had to go through those relationships. They sound pretty bad.

  24. Anonymous said:

    Okay, I wonder if I could ask a question of everyone similar to the first letter here (I had been thinking about writing in, but this is so similar to my situation that…). I too am in the situation of being ready to break up with someone. We’ve been together for a few months and I have become more and more aware that what seemed like potential compatibility at the beginning is now showing itself not to be. I am reasonably certain that we could not be together long-term, and we’re old enough that that’s what we’re looking for. Also, he has some things that he does that annoy me; some of them I could deal with or ignore, but some of them keep popping up in different ways and since I know our general life goals and etc. aren’t so compatible, I don’t want to keep dealing with/ignoring.

    So my dilemmas: first of all, since I grew up conflict-avoidant to the extreme, I have not mentioned many of these annoyances to him (one or two, which he did try to work on). This is definitely something to work on in a future relationship, but in the meantime it doesn’t feel right to blindside him and break up with him for things he’s done that bother me that he doesn’t know about. (He may well have figured out that some of them bother me based on my reaction, but some of them I just swallowed my knee-jerk response and said nothing.) And I am not the sort of person who breaks off relationships. This is my first serious romantic relationship so I’m not used to having to break up with people. With friends, sometimes we drift apart and sometimes we stay in touch, but the majority of my close friends are still around after a decade — or two! — of friendship, and still going strong. I honestly don’t know how to bring this up because it’s not a life skill I’ve ever used. (The closest I came was a friend who thoroughly burned bridges with me right before I graduated; I just deliberately chose not to take his contact info when I left.) And I will confess that being in my mid-30s and in the first serious romantic relationship makes this hard to give up; everyone SAYS there are other fish in the sea, but the fishing’s been awfully sparse the last several years. On the other hand, I know it’s not right to either of us for me to stay in this relationship when I’m mentally checking out. Any suggestions?

    • JenniferP said:

      The thing is, you don’t have to present someone with an airtight case for breaking up with them. “My feelings have changed” is enough, the cons on the list don’t have to balance out the pros. Feelings don’t have to be fair. It’s not like a work performance review!

      There’s no guarantee you’ll have another long-term romantic relationship any time soon and that can feel scary. Life is full of risk and trade-offs. Relationships don’t have to last forever to be valuable. There can be such relief and freedom in letting go of something that isn’t working and falling back in love with yourself.

      Sounds like some soul-searching about what you really want is in order. And maybe asking your partner some questions about where they see this going and what they really want. And, like the LW, invest in shoring up all your personal relationships and reminding yourself that there are lots of kinds of love around you.

      • MrsLokiofAsgard said:

        Love this advice! Just want to add to this: ” There’s no guarantee you’ll have another long-term romantic relationship any time soon and that can feel scary.”
        Embrace that time with just you. Some of my best dating stories came from a time when I was single for a long while. My attitude was always “if it sucks, it’s gonna be a great story for parties some day!” (I was right…seriously, I have some of the weirdest dating stories ever and my friends love them.) That time when I was single were some of my most fun times ever. I’d hang out with friends, made a bunch of new friends, worked a lot of hours at a job I liked because I didn’t feel guilty about sacrificing couple time, read a ton of books, learned to go to the movies or out to a restaurant by myself and liked it!, had a lot of first dates and a couple of second and third dates, and just became friends with myself.

      • HopefullySmarterNow said:

        Anonymous,

        “It doesn’t feel right to blindside him and break up with him for things he’s done that bother me that he doesn’t know about”
        But that’s not why you’re talking about breaking up with him, right? Its not because he leaves the lid off of the toothpaste, its because your General Life Goals aren’t aligning. Not that either can’t be legit, but especially when you have big reasons, don’t waste your time finding little ones too, you can break up with someone at any time for Feelings or Reasons whether you can clearly articulate them or not.

        I spent 8 years in a relationship with someone, and I’m pretty sure for at least 7 of those years I was trying to break up with him but kept letting him argue me out of my reasoning, because I was convinced (maybe by him?) that I needed Lots of Reasons in order for my desire to rid myself of him to be legit, and then when I would list those reasons he argued that they were faulty. For seven freaking years. Certainly there was some dysfunctional thinking on my end so that it could play out like that, but if I could send a message to my younger self, it is this one loud and clear!

        You don’t owe ANYBODY (including yourself!) a reason for a breakup, “Hey, thanks for the last few months but my feelings have changed and we’re done now” is not something you have to negotiate, justify or defend to EITHER OF YOU. (Also, it might not need to be 100% true, just true enough that you can say it if you just know you want to be done.) Especially if you’ve already mentally checked out, you don’t need to find words to put those feelings/ideas on a list, for better or worse you already made your decision and you can just end it.

        (Also, for easier delivery, because its probably going to be at least a little awkward, write down your sentence, whatever variation of “Changed feelings, done now” floats your boat, and then memorize it, practice saying it out loud to the mirror, to your plants, while washing dishes or vacuuming or whatever so that when its time, you can just say the sentence and be done, no agonizing over word choices because you’ve already done that.)

      • Anonymous said:

        Thank you everyone for your advice. I’m still trying to figure out how to do this, but it is helpful to have some ideas about how to figure things out. I had decided to put things off until after the holidays (I know there’s no GOOD day to break up, but December 24th is a really sucky day to pick, plus I’ve been on vacation for a lot of this month so it was kind of a moot point anyway), but that will be over soon so… Captain, I like your idea about asking him what he wants and where he sees this going. That will hopefully help with some of this conversation!

        (I will add, however, to all of the wonderful comments about the beauty of being single and how that is better than being with the wrong person. I totally agree, which is why I’m here trying to figure this whole mess out. On the other hand, I will add that I am in my mid- [soon to be late] 30s, and what I want is to be married and working on a mini-me or two. I recognize that especially for the mini-me option the windows of opportunity are getting narrower, which is part of why I want to find someone that is the “right” partner. But having had 20+ years of singleness and then half a year [roughly] of dating, I’m ready to have less singleness in my life. Singleness was awesome for the first decade, okay for the next 5 years, and then lonely. So.. not looking forward to more of it, even if I know that’s the necessary transition step between where I am now and where I’d like to be.)

        • espritdecorps said:

          Because you want children, I’m going to be blunt and pragmatic in a way I wouldn’t be otherwise. Apologies.

          I’m at an age (middle) where my friends and I have struggled with these choices.

          One of the best things about post-30 dating is that for the most part people are who they are. There’s no lying to yourself about someone’s potential, what they’ve got right now is what you’re getting. If it doesn’t work out within the first couple of months, it ain’t gonna. Let go and move on.

          You’re a grown woman with a good mind and gut. You didn’t ask how to make things work with your partner.
          You said “This isn’t working, even though I really wish it was, and I’m scared of being alone.” Which is wise, honest, and incredibly brave.
          Date. Go online. Install an app. Ask to be set up. If you have a faith attend their singles group.
          It’s awkward and weird as hell, but putting yourself out there and saying “I would like a good person to share a life with” around other people who are also looking for that is the way.

          Some people will neg you, fuck them, (or rather don’t) you have no time for foolishness. Some of the people who want what you want will be drawn to you. You will be drawn to some of them. They will not have the time for foolishness either.
          People in their 30s who want children don’t get married on the third date, but they don’t engage in extended courtships either. First dates are a kind of mutual interview.
          Someone who would have happily dated you for six months in their 20s, not caring if it wasn’t a perfect fit, will be thinking “They’re great but not for me,” as they shake your hand after a 45 minute coffee date.
          You should do the same. Trust yourself, don’t second guess, don’t round ‘not awful’ up to love because ‘maybe that’s what people do.’

          Since you want children, plan for them.
          Start setting money aside for them. Start thinking about whether single motherhood is better than no kids, or the other way around. Go get tested by your gynecologist for fertility issues. Have a frank talk about what your options are if they find any problems.
          Go to an information session on being a foster parent. Look into the logistics of different kinds of adoption. Think about what family members (biological or chosen) that you would want to be near if you were a parent.
          If you find the perfect partner tomorrow, you will still need this information, and need to know what choices you would make.

          You don’t have to act on any of this information, but partnered or not, if you don’t have children it will be because after considering your options you decided not to, rather than something that was denied to you by fate and circumstance.

          • Anonymous said:

            espritdecorps: Thank you. I appreciate blunt and pragmatic at this point. (And I appreciate your point about post-30s dating; I’ve had a few guys I went on dates with where I thought, “Well, maybe that will get better… No, wait, he’s over 35. This is how it is.” Which is probably mostly true at 20 also, but more so at 35+). I know it will be okay, and I’m lucky in having an awesome Team Me, so they’ll help me out with making it through. And I did have one family member close to me who has been walking with me all along (and one of my greatest supporters; she got married later in life as well and so knows some of what that’s like and how it’s different from when you’re 20) and who said that a lot of times once you start dating you figure out more about how to get into a relationship and how to make it work — like anything else, it takes skill, and having learned some of the signs of how to tell that someone likes me (or that I like that someone back) or how to respond, maybe next time I will be able to get into another relationship without waiting 20 more years. It just seems scary right now, risking being alone again. And trying to figure out the added layer of romantic relationship and physical attraction is crazy; I’ve had physical attractions before but haven’t really been able to act on them for one reason or another (and I suspect I may be borderline demi-sexual, although not 100% sure, so I don’t get a TON of crushes), and I didn’t really get how they could totally take over and make me blind. Next time I’ll be able to prepare for that a little bit better, but this time I was totally taken by surprise. My brain and heart have figured out that moving on will be best for both of us (he’s a decent guy that needs a good fit, not me), but my uterus still has her room totally papered with fan-girl posters.

            (And I am considering the children options you mentioned. For now I still prefer not to be a single mother if I can help it. I do have a friend with a connection to an adoption agency that works with single parents wanting to adopt, so my tentative plan is that if I reach 40 and no other options have presented themselves after my searching, I will seriously look into it. My friend-family is close by to help out some, but most of my biological/married-in family [stepfamily and such] are too far away to be a practical support on a regular basis, which is part of why I hesitate.)

            Anyway, thank you again for your response. Like I said, blunt works.

    • S said:

      Breakups have never been easy for me either. I always seem to end up breaking up with someone after we have a great day together. It is terrible. But it is your decision and you will feel better after you make it and get it done.

      Give yourself a deadline and plan a time/place when you are going to do it. Plan your speech. “sorry I enjoyed our time together but I don’t see this going any further.” Say the thing. Leave. Reward yourself for taking this difficult step with something you enjoy. Take time to observe for yourself that sometimes a small amount of conflict can net great rewards.

      You can do it. There is also a lot of advice on this website about breaking up and people who are resistant. Maybe read that too so you have a plan, just in case.

      • Just want to add, when you’re planning a breakup, make sure you have independent transportation. There’s nothing, praise FSM, quite like breaking up with someone and then depending on them to get you home safely.

    • Vicki said:

      As the Captain said, it’s enough that you’re not feeling it and have incompatible life goals. More than enough: either one of those things would be sufficient.

      If you think you could be friends outside a dating situation, and want that, tell him that you’re breaking up with him (because it’s just not working and you have incompatible life goals). Add that you do like him, and offer to call him in a month. That depends in part on the nature of the things he does that annoy you, but you probably have a good idea of the answer to “how would I feel if it wasn’t Boyfriend doing this, but one of my other friends?”

    • Communicating when you’re annoyed is important, yes, but it can still be the case that you think your incompatibilities are dealbreakers. Some relationship problems are solved by working together; some relationship problems are solved by ending the relationship. If you feel like this is one of the Column B situations, then you’re entitled to feel that way.

    • The next time you see him, after you’ve exchanged greetings, say, “[Ex-boyfriend’s name], I’ve got something really hard to tell you. This relationship has run its course and i’m moving on.” If you have any of his stuff, give it to him. Tell him you wish him well, and tell him you’re sorry for hurting his feelings. If this is true, tell him that you’d like to text him in a month or so to see if you two could be friends. (Don’t offer if you don’t want to be friends.)

      Try to see him someplace that is easy for you to leave him and him to get back to his apartment (but not at his apartment.) Try to do it someplace where other people will be around, but it’s not awkward for either of you to leave suddenly, like a coffeeshop, a library, a museum, a park (if it’s warm enough to be outside where you are.)

      This is going to hurt this dude’s feelings. No one likes being dumped. You can’t stop him from being hurt, the same way you can’t stop the flu shot from hurting. But I’m not actually sure that it’s any nicer for him to know that you’re thinking about breaking up with him. Like, is it better to have a period of time when he’s on dating probation (especially if you’re not honestly trying to salvage the relationship) or is it better for it to have seemed pretty good right up until it was over? I mean while he’s dating you, he’s not getting the chance to date someone he really might have a happy long-term relationship with.

      Also, another reminder: a relationship ending doesn’t mean the relationship was a failure. Did you enjoy it for a while? Did you get introduced to new ideas, new activities, new people? Do you know yourself better than you did before you started dating him? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, then you won.

    • clorinda said:

      He could fix every single one of those annoying habits and it wouldn’t help, if there’s a fundamental misalignment of personality/worldview/whatever-it-is, or even if he’s perfectly fine and you’re simply not feeling it any more. You don’t have to commit your life to the first good guy you date. You deserve a better match and so does he.

    • johann7 said:

      I think the kindest thing one can do when breaking up with someone is to (be willing to) be the ‘bad guy’. “It’s not you, it’s me,” is one of the few common breakup tropes I think aren’t a problem becasue it’s in line with this; you don’t necessarily have to use the phrase, but framing this as your decision – not a function of external forces to which you’re both subject and over which you have no control – and a definitive, unilateral decision at that is, in my opinion, the best course.

      Opinions on this differ, but I would say that if he asks for reasons, be honest and direct – as you’ve dated, you’ve discovered that your life goals, values, sex drives, whatever it is aren’t as compatible as you first thought, and you’re not interested in dating him for the short term when you don’t see any potential for the long term. As others have noted, the minor annoyances are irrelevant given the bigger reasons, so you can leave them aside entirely. Also, giving your reasons is not an invitation to debate them, and this is where a willingness to be the ‘bad guy’ is handy. If he says your reasons are bad ones, you can agree; if he says you’re a terrible person, you can agree; when you’re done delivering the news, you don’t need to sit around to help him process, and you can walk out in the middle of a sentence if necessary; you don’t have to defend or justify or rationalize your reasons or try to put them in a favorable light becasue you’re providing information about a unilateral decision that you have already made (you don’t have to give reasons at all, though I’m someone who likes to get them, even if I can’t always understand the thinking behind them, so I encourage people to take a request for reasons at face value), and if that makes you ‘bad’ somehow (violates the social contract, makes him sad, makes you irrational, whatever), oh well.

      Be clear, be definitive, own the decision: “I am breaking up with you,” is a statement of fact, not open to misinterpretation nor argumentation. If you want to break up face-to-face, do not break up at your place – you want to be able to leave (and you want to leave ASAP after delivering the necessary information), not have to additionally kick someone out who may or may not want to go. I’d also say it’s probably not great to put him on the spot in a very public place – his place is ideal, since you can also return any belongings of his that you have right then and there, but over the phone, text message, e-mail, however you usually communicate when not in the same room is also perfectly acceptable (I think a lot of people who express horror over being dumped by particular communication methods are either expressing horror at being dumped at all or feel like it’s impersonal becasue it’s not their common mode of communication – if you rarely text, a text message might seem impersonal, but if half your relationship played out over text messages, there’s nothing wrong with it ending that same way).

      And I will confess that being in my mid-30s and in the first serious romantic relationship makes this hard to give up; everyone SAYS there are other fish in the sea, but the fishing’s been awfully sparse the last several years. On the other hand, I know it’s not right to either of us for me to stay in this relationship when I’m mentally checking out.

      Everyone is full of shit and is parroting a false cliche. A major proportion of the human population never reproduces nor winds up in long-term non-procreative romantic relationships, and even of those who do, a lot are somewhere between bored and miserable in those relationships and are barely tolerating them for the sake of having a reproductive partner and co-parent, out of material need, or for mutual, easy access to assisted orgasms. This survey on romantic behavior in USA is a decade old now, but the numbers might help put things in perspective: http://www.pewinternet.org/2006/02/13/romance-in-america/

      Much like gender, romantic love is a cultural concept that is so flimsy that we need to constantly and aggressively reinforce it through lifelong cultural messaging and coercive norms for it to exist at all; note how we don’t tend to spend a lot of effort convincing people how important breathing or eating is (possible exception for those with certain eating disorders), compared to enforcing gender and romantic norms. There may not be any other fish in the sea; being single is still better than being unhappily partnered, not least becasue one is generally better able to pursue other potential partners when one isn’t presently spending time, energy, consideration, etc. on an existing partner (even if we don’t assume sexually exclusive paring).

      • Um, no. Breaking up at his place may not be safe, depending on the other person. They can try to trap you and not let you leave and/or assault you. Best to be done in a place where both parties can leave suddenly, if necessary.

      • Raptor said:

        I kind of like the “other fish in the sea” saying because even when you are fishing…you don’t just get every single fish. If a fish is way too small, or the wrong species, you throw it back. You don’t just throw every fish in your basket because they are a fish. Better to go home empty-handed than with a bony, spiny inedible fish.

    • Purps said:

      Hey look, it’s really actually kind, decent, and ethical of you that you also aren’t trying to reshape his behavior into Man Who Doesn’t Drive Me Nuts, With Whom I See A Future. He isn’t for you. You aren’t trying to jam him into the mold of someone who is for you. You’ve sussed it out and you’re pretty sure. “You’re not the one for me, and I’m sure enough that I don’t want to keep working on this” is a hard thing to hear, and he will be sad, and that’s okay.

      I’m not accusing you of this, but I’ve seen it happen: dating someone who just plain doesn’t want to be with you but keeps trying to edit you so that you’re slightly more dateable is REALLY sad. Breaking up with someone and re-releasing them into the wild to find someone who’s so psyched to be with them that that weird noise they make is really minor is much better! You don’t need to feel bad that you realized and are planning a release. You are clearly kind and decent, and he will, deep down, know that, even if he needs to be sad or mad for a bit. (And let him. You are still kind and decent if he’s sad or mad, and you don’t need to fix it. It will fix itself, and faster if you just let it be).

  25. Rhoda said:

    The Captain was so right about “Trying to move the relationship along very quickly” being a red flag for LW #928. This a thousand times! When someone tries to herd you into a relationship this fast, it’s because they want to snag you before you have time to find out what they’re really like. Even so, this LW has already gotten a lot of clues as to what he’s really like. (If he’s like this in the early courtship stage, just imagine how irritating he would be after, say, 5 years of marriage or living together.)
    Dating is the test drive for a more committed relationship, not a relationship in itself. If the test drive doesn’t work, it’s perfectly okay to take that BF back to the dealership and park him.

    • CarpeFelis said:

      They can also be doing this because they are just looking for someone/anyone to fill in the role they want you to fill. They don’t see you as a real person with your own ideas about what you want.

    • Redgirl said:

      It’s a characteristic tactic of abusers, as well.

  26. Anne On said:

    Re: #927 – it stings to read that “not close with family” is a RED FLAG. Some of us are healthier people for distancing ourselves from our families.

    • MuddieMae said:

      The LW doesn’t say it’s a RED FLAG, she says it’s one of the “things that I don’t see myself being 100% cool with in the future.” LW can have their feelings about what they find important in a partner. They’re not having those priorities at you.

    • To be fair, she didn’t describe it as a red flag, just something she doesn’t feel compatible with. Since we don’t know anything about his family situation, there could be any number of explanations – like, maybe his family are non-abusive but have a low general standard of warmth and she thinks he’s picked that up and won’t be warm with her, or maybe they’re all flaky about emotional labor and she thinks in a long-term situation it’d all get pushed onto her, or maybe there’s no real problem but family just isn’t a big priority for him, and for her that’s a dealbreaker.

      Sorry yours wasn’t a good place for you though; hope your life is better now.

      • Turtle Candle said:

        Yep yep. I think the distinction matters: a “red flag” to me implies that there is something inherently wrong with the trait/behavior. Compatibility issues, on the other hand, can be (often are) value-neutral. Sort of like how it’s fine to have a high sex drive or a low sex drive or no sex drive at all, but a significant mismatch can make two people incompatible. Or if one person wants to spend every weekend going on ambitious hikes and the other person gets footsore after two blocks (had this problem in one of my past relationships–I was the one who would really much rather stay at home with a book and some cocoa, thanks). Or if one person wants to eat out at restaurants where they don’t even recognize anything on the menu, and the other person has a much smaller food-comfort-zone. It doesn’t have to be something ‘wrong’ to be an incompatibility.

        • Amtep said:

          I’d say that even a red flag doesn’t have to mean something is wrong, it’s just something that merits a closer look to see if it’s a problem.

    • espritdecorps said:

      Some people are “family is everything”people. It’s a point of pride and part of their identity that family sticks together no matter what.
      For someone who has done the hard work of separating from unhealthy family dynamics, “close to family” could be a red flag for “expects me to help make sure Uncle Creepy is never alone with women or children” and a good reason for them to pass on a potential relationship.

      For someone who loves their family but prefers space and autonomy, “close to family” could be a red flag for “sees family multiple times a week and will think of our resources as communal to the family rather than individual to us as a couple” which would make a committed relationship awful for them.

      There doesn’t have to be a value judgment involved to make something a deal breaker.

  27. Krisi said:

    #928 This was a timely post for me. I recently went on one date where I was definitely “just trying it out”, and I made it clear on that date that I wasn’t interested in more, but I definitely softened my language. This week when she asked about going out again, I said no thanks, have a cold, schools starting up again, won’t have time anytime soon… and she asked to come down and “take care of me”. I said no again, don’t like people around when I’m sick… and she said she wouldn’t be offended by my bad mood. To which I literally replied, “Nope, thanks, though.” Woke up this morning to a text about wanting to take me climbing when I’m better. I have two types of “no”, the kind and firm, and the super bitchy. Guess which one is coming next?

    • wondering said:

      Speaking for the type of people who take things literally: When you say, “no, I’m sick”, we think you said “no, I’m sick”, not “no, we’re not compatible”. To us, you’re implying “maybe when I’m feeling better”.

      • johann7 said:

        Yeah, a “no” that has temporary and/or resolvable barriers attached reads to people who will take your statements at face value as a temporary, conditional “no” that might or will become a “yes” later or now if the stated barriers are resolved. If you want a “no” to be definitive, state it definitively; don’t make it conditional. A conditional “no” is a perfectly fine thing, and if one truly is constrained by external forces for the time being but still open to [activity] later, it’s a good thing to use. Because that kind of situation actually does happen all the time, people are not being unreasonable or ignoring boundaries when interpreting a conditionally-stated “no” as a conditional “no”.

        On a more general note, I want to point out that deflecting responsibility for a decision is NOT kind* to the person hearing the “no,” whether or not that person is the sort to take what people say at face value. This is a self-protective measure for the person delivering the “no” – instead of owning one’s decision and stating a preference or a definitive decision, the person ascribes the decision to external forces out of zir control. Deflecting responsibility for the decision can be advantageous in situations where one is dealing with the sort of asshole who will blame/punish/harm one for having the ‘wrong’ opinion, preference, etc., and it can be disadvantageous in that it leaves open the possibility of eliminating the stated external barriers, so it’s not definitive or absolute in the same way that a stated preference is (as much as some people try, one really cannot argue someone else out of a preference, and preferences aren’t rational, so they are not subject to evidence).

        I know why people do this, and I understand that there are situations in which it’s a necessary survival technique. When dealing with people who seem to be, as far as one can tell, acting in good faith, it’s a good idea to try to be direct and own one’s decisions: telling the truth (and assuming the other person is capable of processing the truth) is respectful behavior that a good-faith actor will appreciate, and someone’s reaction to a statement of a definitive preference will tell you something important about that person. If ze accepts it and wishes you well, ze was probably acting in good faith, and while ze isn’t not someone in whom one is interested, ze might be a potential friend or friendly acquaintance or at least someone whom one won’t warn friends away from dating. If ze gets angry, violent, or tries to argue against a definitive preference, ze has shown zirself to not be a safe person, and one is well rid of zir and well advised to avoid zir in the future.

        *Kindness is often the justification I hear for this behavior, frequently phrased as “letting someone down easy.” I’m unsure to what extent people truly believe this is kind and to what extent kindness is a convenient, socially-acceptable excuse for attempting to dodge social responsibility for one’s opinions and actions. It is always the latter, though not always ONLY the latter, and I’m perfectly ready to believe that people truly believe the former, having thoroughly internalized the norm.

        • Turtle Candle said:

          I think the perception that it’s kind is often genuine, because it’s taking to an extreme a behavior that actually is (for most people) a kindness. If I want to hang out with someone and they don’t want to hang out with me, honesty in the form of “sorry, no, I’m not really interested” is more kind than stringing me along–but complete blunt honesty of the “no, I don’t want to do that because your voice is really annoying and I find you boring” is not kind.

          So there’s a spectrum to the bluntness, complicated further by the fact that the set point is probably slightly different for everyone, and there are probably even people out there who are happiest with the softest of soft ‘no’s and people who are happiest with ‘seriously though listening to you talk is like listening to microphone feedback.’ And (especially for people who have been socialized to ‘be nice’ and ‘don’t hurt their feelings’) it can be very difficult to tell where on the spectrum from ‘oh um sure but I’m busy until the twelfth of never’ to ‘your face makes me want to punch a baby’ the genuinely kind answer is.

          (There’s the separate but related question of safety–some people don’t feel safe giving an honest ‘no,’ for reasons that are sometimes realistic and sometimes not–but that’s a different question than the kindness one.)

        • Sunflower said:

          I think if Krisi already made it clear on the date that zie wasn’t interested in more, that’s enough of a clear no, though. Zie already DID the “we’re not compatible” part. If somebody pushes past that, as far as I’m concerned they don’t get to dictate how they’re told no.

          You talk about the social responsibility of, essentially, owning one’s feelings. I think there is also a social responsibility to learn how to read a soft no—”No, I’m sick” without “but I’d like to hang out again when I feel better” means NO. It doesn’t have to mean, “No, we’re not compatible” for you to take it as a no. It would be great if we lived in an utopia where everyone could be open about their preferences and wants and people would be understanding of that, but we don’t. I think if you can’t interpret a soft no it’s your responsibility to either learn or to be upfront about it—if you want people to feel safe and comfortable setting clear boundaries with you (which is NOT encouraged by our culture at large) you have to make yourself a safe space for that by being upfront about your particular communication needs (“I have trouble with subtle social cues, and I really need people to be up front and direct with me”) and then being extra respectful and not pushing back when someone does set a clear boundary.

    • golden peanut said:

      Kind and firm looks like, “no, thank you, it was very nice meeting you, but I don’t see potential for a relationship.” Repeat as necessary. “No, bc …” Doesn’t communicate that you just aren’t that into them.

      • wondering said:

        Yes, what golden peanut said.

      • wondering said:

        And I should add – a person who takes things literally versus a person who reads extra things between the lines often have problems communicating. I consider it similar to the people who have different styles of love languages (ie the gift givers vs the do things for you vs the physical affection vs spoken word, etc). I’ve had people who I would have loved to see again fade because I said, “no, can’t now bc reason, maybe at x time?”. They thought it was a soft fade, and I thought it was me not changing existing plans but still wanting to see more of them. I’ve learned to be more explicit and add in a “I really do want to see you, but…” to clarify it for the people who are looking for rejection between the lines, but I would love suggested scripts from the people who would read Krisi’s take as soft no and not a “not this time, but maybe another time”.

        • Turtle Candle said:

          Speaking as someone who isn’t by inclination all that direct, the easiest way to indicate “I really do want to see you, I just can’t right now” is to offer the next invitation yourself. (I wouldn’t, for what it’s worth, assume that one ‘I’m busy’ means anything but ‘I’m busy,’ but if I get ‘I’m busy’ three times in a row, I stop asking so as not to pester the person. This is even true if I am 100% confident that the person is not giving me a soft no; if they’re busy enough to turn down three separate invites, I assume that they’ll get back to me when they’re not busy, and in the meantime I’ll stop bugging them.)

          And ideally, a specific invitation rather than a vague “I’d love to see you sometime.” This can be an immediate counteroffer (a la, “I have a work deadline on the tenth, so I’m pretty booked until then, but I’d love to get coffee on Saturday the 14th if you’re available then?”), or it can be later (“my schedule has finally cleared up a little! would you like to get coffee on Saturday?”), but once I get an invite from the busy person, it sort of… resets the situation, so that I no longer suspect that I’m getting a soft no.

          It also helps if the reason is more specific than general (I assume I’m getting a soft no a lot faster if it’s “I’m really busy” or “life is crazy right now dot dot dot…” or “we’ll see each other sometime though!” than if it’s “I have a work deadline” or “my son has the flu”), and enthusiasm matters, but honestly, the easiest way to indicate to me “no really, I want to see you, I just can’t right now” is to be the one to issue the next invitation.

  28. annejumps said:

    #928 is timely for me as well. I recently logged on to Popular Dating Website after a long time and was almost immediately messaged by this guy who was really friendly, but who used too many smilies for a man who was almost 40 and who, more importantly, kept making plans in his messages to me, from the start: We’d go to his hometown next summer, we’d do this and that, I’d like this and that. We hadn’t even met for coffee yet, so he was basically making these plans with someone he was mostly inventing in his head, which was actually a turnoff. I sort of wussed out and told him I was taking a break from the Internet for Thanksgiving weekend. I know he replied *twice* to that message but I don’t know what he said since I haven’t logged on since I said I was taking a break! I think he thought he was courting properly, plus he just got out of a thirteen-year marriage, but still: way too much. If you’re interested, folks, ask to meet for coffee first before the conversations get too far along and you’re essentially having long talks with someone you might not mesh with at all in person. IMO.

  29. Someone who responds to “I have to work” with “I need you now” is not excited about seeing you, they’re just excited about getting their own way.

    People have said it’s okay to not date someone just because one doesn’t like them, and that’s true, but this guy is a selfish, boundary-pushing brat.

    Also, any time a person makes one suddenly have two very different narratives of events happening, that is a Bad Sign. Maybe they’re intentionally gaslighting you. Maybe you need someone who’s extra gold star good at being tapped into consent–and that’s okay. Personally, I don’t think this guy is an acceptable partner for anyone because of his entitlement and lack of respect for others’ boundaries, but some people’s calculus of “nobody is perfect” includes more leeway in terms of having to defend their boundaries than mine does. That’s okay for them, but it’s also okay to say one isn’t going to be a good match with someone who isn’t already up to scratch on this point.

    • neverjaunty said:

      Yes, this. When the response to “I can’t do X, how about Y” is “BUT I WANNA DO X” you’re not dealing with someone who respects you as an independent, equal person.

  30. Halpful said:

    #928 asks a lot of very familiar questions (or, indirect statements that aspire to be questions one day ;). The “no is a complete sentence” part has been well-covered; here’s some more thoughts from my own experience.

    first off, “she feels like this dude might turn into abuser. But … RW says he’s sweet.”
    whynotboth? people can be both abusive and sweet. people are complicated like that. This guy, thankfully, you don’t even like. But you might meet someone you really really like, and they could be anywhere from 99% perfect at consent to horribly evil and abusive, or anywhere inbetween. Just as “not abusive” doesn’t entitle him to your time, “but I waaaaaaaaant him” isn’t always sufficient reason to stay. You deserve reasonable amounts of happiness *and* safety.

    Which brings me to “why did I get so angry anyway?” – because some part of your mind was desperately trying to protect you from what it perceived as a threat. Discomfort was trying to send the same message, but was rationalised or gaslighted away, so anger was your mind’s next attempt at self-defense. (at least, that’s what my anger turned out to be, and it fits the situation perfectly.)

    Somehow (and the specifics aren’t necessarily relevant), you’ve been trained to not defend yourself. You have trouble saying no, you “deflect and soft-pedal”; you rationalise away the feelings that try to protect you. You don’t even put the phone on silent; even that much self-defense has been suppressed. Occasionally, a part of you gets so desperate that it breaks through the conditioning – but then it’s going so fast it’s uncontrollable, and you get the “NO!! RWWOOARRR” reaction. Then even that gets rationalised away as “BMHNJ is gonna throw away every good thing that comes out of fear and anger and a little mansplaining.” That’s black&white thinking, believing that your only two responses are to accept everything or destroy everything – and at the moment it’s not entirely untrue, but it doesn’t have to *stay* that way. There is a middle path. 🙂

    It’ll probably take a lot of practice, though. You’ve spent all your life practising the sort of skills needed to survive where it’s not safe to say “no”. In learning how to interact with reasonable people, you’re bound to make mistakes. As I’ve been telling myself this year, you can’t expect to find out where the line is if you’re not willing to risk crossing it. Your reactions are stuck at extremes right now, and that pendulum isn’t going to magicallly stop dead center, it’s going to keep swinging back and forth as you slow it down.

    What’s helped me is having a very patient, safe person who’s willing to talk through things and keep reminding me that he *wants* me to say no sometimes, that he *wants* me to ask for things. He’s willing to hug me and comfort me as I fish for words and have reactions completely out of proportion to the events, and let me sort through it and figure out what I actually need. He’s not perfect – sometimes it turns out I’m upset because he was being an ass, and sometimes he reacts poorly – but he makes an honest effort to improve, and often succeeds. 🙂 And when I’m upsetting him, he talks about it as calmly and assertively as he can, and reminds me that he just wants me to make that same effort to improve, not punish myself. (and we’ve both been learning that “I feel like I can’t improve” is a beginning, not an ending.) And I’ve also got a wonderful therapist for the tougher stuff, someone who I can talk to about the really scary thoughts without worrying (as much) about their reaction.

    Every time I manage to react in some way that’s less extreme, every time I say something assertive, it makes it a little bit easier to do so again. Every time I notice that I am [emotion], it’s a bit easier to notice a bit quicker next time. I’m starting to be calm enough to actually use words when I feel unsafe. 🙂

    Oh, and even when your feelings happen to be entirely unhelpful, I find it’s important to acknowledge them. Feelings seem to have the mental capacity of toddlers; it’s not healthy to give them anything they want, nor is it healthy to ignore them. In fact, dealing with them is probably good practice for reacting calmly/assertively to other people. and vice versa. My brain definitely benefits from internal boundaries; without them, it’s constant civil war between perfectionism and adhd, with anxiety running rampant, and a nasty abusive voice egging everyone on. :/ And as I build those boundaries and coax words out of those feelings, I’m finding they start to offer words themselves, with calmer, clearer versions of the feelings that give me a better chance of listening without being overwhelmed, which in turn makes it easier for me to defend myself appropriately. 🙂

    • TheRWnotBHNJ said:

      Thank you for this! super helpful.

    • Sunflower said:

      Co-signed!!! This is my experience to a tee and beautifully expressed.

  31. laurenac said:

    #927 – I was in a similar situation as you and I wholly support all the advice the captain gave you because the same helped. I went through a really tough breakup while seemingly losing everything – the apartment we shared, his friends and family that felt like friends and family, losing my job, and being broke from all the above so I felt trapped and alone and on the brink of depression from it all.

    Anyhoo, I realized that I needed to find things that made me happy to distract me as well as get me out of the house as much as possible. I signed up for all sorts of classes, did meet ups, volunteered at animal shelters, basically I looked at what was available or going on in my city and was either free or offered financial aid and if it peaked my interested I put it in my calendar.
    Some of these groups lead to really good friendships, others to people with whom I just enjoyed spending that hour and then being able to say goodbye, and others I joined and thought “Nope! Not for me! But I’m glad I came and checked it out!” . But my biggest lesson was that by trying EVERYTHING I found what I really enjoyed, some of which surprised me. When things got really bad and the final break of the breakup happened, it wasn’t as horrible as I thought it would be because I already started to create a separate life full of things and people that were mine.

    I think it helps to go in thinking “This is X activity that I enjoy that these people here also enjoy it” instead of hoping to make friends from the get-go. It took the pressure off so that I could be present in that moment and I made friends in time, but I also enjoyed the activity and social interaction for what it was.

    I also think it *could* help to look at the post-breakup time and spin it as Selfish You Time. I personally needed to learn how to not compromise (as in going from “what are we going to do tonight” to ” what do *I* want to do tonight) and I found it really exciting. Sometimes what I wanted to do was binge watch netflix in my underwear while eating my favorite junk food and other times it was going to the shelter or class.

    I don’t know if any of this applies to you as I was exiting a long term relationships, but the TL;DR version is perhaps re-framing the post-breakup time as an exciting time to try new things, meet new people, and be totally selfish in how you want to spend your time can help. For at me it was/has been the best time in my life, even if it was hard to see that at time.

    I wish you luck!

  32. LA said:

    #927 – I was in a similar situation as you and I wholly support all the advice the captain gave you because the same helped. I went through a really tough breakup while seemingly losing everything – the apartment we shared, his friends and family that felt like friends and family, losing my job, and being broke from all the above so I felt trapped and alone and on the brink of depression from it all.

    Anyhoo, I realized that I needed to find things that made me happy to distract me as well as get me out of the house as much as possible. I signed up for all sorts of classes, did meet ups, volunteered at animal shelters, basically I looked at what was available or going on in my city and was either free or offered financial aid and if it peaked my interested I put it in my calendar.
    Some of these groups lead to really good friendships, others to people with whom I just enjoyed spending that hour and then being able to say goodbye, and others I joined and thought “Nope! Not for me! But I’m glad I came and checked it out!” . But my biggest lesson was that by trying EVERYTHING I found what I really enjoyed, some of which surprised me. When things got really bad and the final break of the breakup happened, it wasn’t as horrible as I thought it would be because I already started to create a separate life full of things and people that were mine.

    I think it helps to go in thinking “This is X activity that I enjoy that these people here also enjoy it” instead of hoping to make friends from the get-go. It took the pressure off so that I could be present in that moment and I made friends in time, but I also enjoyed the activity and social interaction for what it was.

    I also think it *could* help to look at the post-breakup time and spin it as Selfish You Time. I personally needed to learn how to not compromise (as in going from “what are we going to do tonight” to ” what do *I* want to do tonight) and I found it really exciting. Sometimes what I wanted to do was binge watch netflix in my underwear while eating my favorite junk food and other times it was going to the shelter or class.

    I don’t know if any of this applies to you as I was exiting a long term relationships, but the TL;DR version is perhaps re-framing the post-breakup time as an exciting time to try new things, meet new people, and be totally selfish in how you want to spend your time can help. For at me it was/has been the best time in my life, even if it was hard to see that at time.

    I wish you luck!

  33. Knayt said:

    #927: I’d pretty much just second all of the Captain’s advice. With that said, It does sound like you’ve got a pretty good chance of staying on good terms with the guy, mutual friends, etc. You said he was a reasonable person who was good partner material on paper who just wasn’t compatible, and there wasn’t any subtext that I picked up on suggesting rose tinted glasses. He may or may not want to be around you personally, but poisoning mutual friends against you seems pretty unlikely. Cultivating another friend group is still a good idea, but keeping the existing one seems fairly probable.

    #928: Congratulations on dumping that jackass. He came across really poorly in the letter, and given the effort you put in to give him the benefit of the doubt and how he’s probably putting his best foot forward it looks like you dodged a real bullet there. Your self appointed BMHNJ seems like a reasonable sense of caution worth paying more attention to. Future douchebags warrant getting dumped a lot faster – you don’t have to put up with their crap.

  34. notemily said:

    “and a mirage looks just like a real oasis until you’re close enough to drink the water.”

    This is good. I like this.

  35. neverjaunty said:

    LW #928, who taught you that you’re “bitter”, “man-hating” or a “nut job” (sheesh) for being cautious and skeptical of inappropriate behavior from a boyfriend? Who taught you that it’s dispassionate and “rational” to find ways to minimize such behavior? Did you notice that you didn’t present this to the Captain as ‘on the one hand, but on the other hand’ – you painted one choice as being wrong and paranoid and the other as being reasonable and kind? That you characterized your own lived experience as something that you should ignore? That rationalization and internal shaming (which is what Rational Woman is doing) is “rational” and correct?

    As the saying goes: Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.

  36. johann7 said:

    LW #928, your RW inner monologue sounds like an archetypal rape apologist who has been socialized into your brain by our culture, while your BMHNJ doesn’t sound particularly bitter, man-hating, or irrational; in fact, she sounds like she’s appropriately cynical and good at reading people and context, which is cool, becasue she also sounds more like the actual core of who you are. Or to put it another way, BMHNJ (you need a more affirming, accurate name for her) sounds like a persona representing a perspective drawn from your actual life experiences while RW (I don’t think she’s actually rational) sounds like an apologist persona built entirely from and for our cultural norms, which are often false, perniciously sexist, and rapey. That you have compartmentalized things in a way that you can recognize two distinct voices, which seem to be consistent in the perspectives they’re representing, at least as far as what you describe here, is a very encouraging sign for you! It means that you have consigned the parts of our cultural messaging that contradict your lived experience to a single persona in your head, and that could be a great coping mechanism for living in a culture with a lot of terrible norms, becasue you have a definite, recognizable voice that you can safely ignore.

    While it does sound like you might benefit from practicing being more assertive in defining, stating, and defending your preferences and boundaries (I want to note that while you really shouldn’t HAVE to do this to the degree that you are, becasue we live in an imperfect society in an imperfect reality, it’s a very useful skill that can serve anyone well), I think mostly what you need to do is just be confident in listening to that voice that’s representing the perspective drawn from you own experiences and tell the voice representing the perspective drawn from bad social norms to shut up.

  37. Who taught you that you’re “bitter”, “man-hating” or a “nut job” sheesh) for being cautious

    If the answer is something beyond “society at large, from Madison Ave to Disney”, then someone did the LW a great dis-service.

    • clorinda said:

      Even Disney is doing better. My daughter and I just watched Moana, and she said the best part was that it was a princess story with no prince.
      The best part for me: my girl understood and appreciated that. We could all let our inner BMHNJs be our outer selves.

  38. Yrsa said:

    #928

    I have to admit, the moment you raised the possibility of being a bitter man-hating nutjob, I immediately went “nah, this is going to be the dude being some category of asshole.” And ta-da, I was right.

    The thing is, society sets the bar SO LOW for a woman to be considered “man-hating” that my internal dictionary automatically translates it to “justifiably exasperated at some dude being a PITA.” Which is what you are. Is this guy evil? Not necessarily. But he definitely sounds like a pain in the ass, and no one’s got time for that.

  39. Threerings said:

    Gosh #928 this dude reminds me of my evil, abusive ex so much. The intense compliments, the push for non-sexual intimacy (going to each other’s homes), the pushiness, and yes, even the refusal to have sex before a serious relationship. At the time I, like you, thought that was a sign that he was sincere and well-intentioned. But it was VERY soon that he confessed he was “in love” with me and was ready for sex. That pattern held true for a while of him constantly upping the stakes, talking about marriage and forever commitment very quickly. I felt flattered by all this. Of course a few months later he was willing to take it all back if I didn’t fall into line with his wishes, whatever they happened to be. I found out later he was actually impotent unless he had confessed total romantic love to a woman. Needless to say the man had some issues around sex and love. These days I’m much less worried by someone who is open about wanting sex right up front and being laid back about it than someone who demands certain prerequisites are met first, but yanno, that’s me.

    So I’m just saying it’s not just you who would see these things as a warning sign. The fact that he seems to be emphasizing how much of a threat he isn’t, rather than taking your concern seriously, is a major red flag to me.

  40. Aurora S said:

    It sounds like LW#928 isn’t so much asking for advice as she is asking for permission to slam her hand down on the Red Button. Slam away, because this guy sounds like a douche. He’s not a good guy. He clearly appears to think that his DESIRE for your affection and attention trumps your RIGHT to be left alone or have your own life. He knows that you’re saying no, because he’s arguing and pressuring you when you do–he just doesn’t like that he’s not getting his way. If he tries to gaslight you into believing that you never said no or you weren’t clear enough for him, it’s bullshit. (In fact, the subject of the letter is LW basically questioning her sanity, which is a big ol’ red flag that there’s been some gaslighting going on.) The mansplaining indicates he’s a patronizing, know-it-all twerp. He’s already demonstrated that he’s all about himself. This will be a never ending battle of wills, where any effort you make to assert yourself or simply just wanting it to be a two-way street will be met with resistance. I hear Bees buzzing in the distance.

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