I am currently with someone whom I know is completely toxic for me. He’s selfish, emotionally unavailable, dismissive of my needs and feelings, and apparently very depressed due to recently losing his career and having trouble finding a job. Even when things were good, he spent most of his time alternately being unwilling to talk to me about any of my concerns or telling me whatever he thought I wanted to hear to shut me up. I’ve caught him in various small lies, and at this point have no idea what big lies he might have told me. I don’t even know if I believe him about the depression. Sometimes it just seems like a convenient excuse to treat me badly and to not come through on absolutely anything he promises me, even something as small as calling me when he said he would.
I’ve also been making a massive fool of myself. After watching him piss his career away, blame everyone but himself, and mislead me as to what happened and how for months, I still persisted in: (1) staying with him; (2) paying for shit, like a vacation we took together and other material things he needed; (3) letting him refuse to address any of my needs except to say I needed to stop talking about them because I was stressing him out; (4) putting up with increasingly neglectful or hostile behavior; (5) watching his drinking become more and more of a problem; and a bunch of other things it shames me to even think about. Not to mention the times he pressured me into sex after I repeatedly told him I wasn’t comfortable with it, or the time he picked the night there was a death in my family to spend an hour yelling at me for constantly “attacking” him with my insecurity.
The result of all this is that I am now an intensely insecure, obsessive mess who can’t seem to stop texting or calling him. I’ve tried to break up with him twice now, and both times I went back less than eight hours later. I’ve lost 25 pounds from the stress alone, and the quality of my work is beginning to suffer because I’m so distracted. For the last three nights, I’ve been up into the late hours trying to get a hold of him, and when I do get a hold of him what follows is a tearful (me) and bored/hostile (him) conversation where I demand/beg to know why he’s treating me so badly when he keeps saying he loves me and he just keeps saying he doesn’t know or that he does love me and wants to be with me, he’s just depressed and really needs me to shut up about this.
By this time, I’m actually quite surprised that he hasn’t just broken up with me. It came close once, when he started saying things like maybe he couldn’t give me what I wanted right now, that maybe he wasn’t ready for a serious relationship, that he had too many problems and it wasn’t fair to me, so forth and so on. It was very painful to hear, but then when I tried to confirm that he was breaking up with me, he reversed himself again and said he did want to be with me and he did love me, he just needed some space to figure himself out and think about his problems and try to figure out a way to deal with his depression. So now the situation is that we are going no contact for a few days while he thinks himself through. When I told him I wasn’t going to wait a few days for him to break up with me, he said that wasn’t what he was doing and even made plans to see me after the days were up. Except then he told me that he’d be taking two of those days to take an overnight drinking trip with some of his friends. One he specifically told me he wasn’t going to go on. When I said that this was bullshit, he backtracked and said he wasn’t sure he was going and that he was going to think about it, and then refused to discuss it further and just demanded his space.
I managed to go two hours before I broke no contact because not knowing whether he was going on the trip was killing me. He wouldn’t answer, so I left a text. I’m determined not to do more than that, but I need help.
Captain, I feel so awful. I feel like the most pathetic person alive. I don’t understand why I’m so desperately chasing someone who’s so terrible to me. He has nothing to offer me emotionally, intellectually, or materially. Even the physical part isn’t appealing to me anymore, because I always feel so pressured to “help” him relieve stress by getting him off and that inevitably makes me feel like it is now my only function in the relationship, seeing as how he doesn’t enjoy spending time with me, talking to me, or even holding my hand anymore.
I am not perfect by any means, but I think I’m better than this. I have plenty of outside confirmation that I’m attractive, intelligent, interesting, and desirable. I turned down two other, far more accomplished and stable men for my current partner. And I still have my very demanding, high prestige career, the same one he threw away with his drug use. I have good, supportive friends (who are rightfully tired of listening to this shit), a loving family (who are basically begging me to end it with him), and a work environment in which I am doing very well (I’m up for a promotion). I travel, I volunteer, I’m politically aware and socially active. I work hard and face my problems directly and believe in open and enthusiastic communication.
I’m so disgusted with myself. Why do I keep going back? Why am I so invested in a relationship that is at least embarrassing and at most abusive? When I think about being without him I feel such despair, but why? For all his behavior toward me, it’s not as if I actually have him now.
Captain, I’ve decided that this is the last time he’s going to lie to me. I don’t want this anymore. I don’t want to be this sad creature I’ve turned into. I am not going to accept being treated like this. But I need help. How do I maintain no contact when it hurts so much to not be with him? How do I resist reaching out at those moments in the middle of the night when I’m lying awake mourning what could have been? How do I get it through my head that he is not going to change, that the way he treats me shows me who he is, and the man I love doesn’t exist?
I’ve read through your archives, and I want to follow the advice I see there, I really do. But I just can’t seem to apply it on my own. I miss him, and I grow weak, and I rationalize everything and convince myself that maybe he’s just depressed and it can be different. How do I overcome this? I’m okay during the day, when I have things to do and people I can talk to, but what do I do in those intense moments when I’m alone and it feels like I’m about to die if I don’t talk to him? How do I break free of this?
Hi. Here’s a poem.
The dude is depressed AND addicted to alcohol AND a terrible boyfriend for you. It’s not one or the other. You are telling yourself the story of The Guy Who Would Be So Perfect If Not For That One Thing. It’s a compelling story. It’s the Pied Piper of stories. I’ve told this story to myself, too (and made all the people around me want to claw their eyes out listening, to it). It’s a depressingly common story and it has its hooks in us deep. It’s affirmed by so much of our media and popular culture, every time some morose asshole on TV reforms temporarily for the sake of some long-suffering woman in the name of “true love”, every time some woman puts in the work and then more work and puts in even more work because maybe redemption will come and she has to try because “relationships take work.” “If I can just love him better/give him some more time/accommodate him more, he’ll be kind to me and I won’t have to do the terrible work of kicking myself free of him/starting over.” It’s a powerful story but it’s not the only story and it doesn’t have to be your story anymore. See it for what it is and write that ending. You’re the only one who can.
These things are true but won’t be true for you until you believe them. I’m going to say them anyway:
- You can do better than a boyfriend who doesn’t treat you with kindness.
- “Alone” is better than a boyfriend who doesn’t treat you with kindness.
- There will come a time in the future when you will not feel this lonely and sad and addicted to this person. He will be a memory with no power to hurt you anymore. If you can cut him off and let enough time pass, you will detox and heal from this. You have to believe in that future. You’re the only one who can get there. You can get there.
You have given us a very smart clue about some ways you can break this cycle forever, do you know what it is? It’s the knowledge that *when you’re alone at night* you feel lonely and terrible and bored and sad, so that’s when this magical device that will let you text and call and hack away somehow at the loneliness (your cellphone) starts glowing like a beacon.
What you have right now isn’t a love affair, it’s a habit. This dude is “biting your nails and gnawing your cuticles” or “popping those pimples that won’t come to a head, the ones you KNOW will not be fruitful but you squeeze at them anyway” or “buying lots of produce for these elaborate meals you plan to cook and then letting them slowly liquefy in your produce drawer.” These habits aren’t evil and don’t hurt anyone but ourselves and we lapse into them when our resources run low.
He is a habit. You had the habit of being with him, of seeking his approval, of trying to make it work and now you have the habit of using him to beat yourself up with at night, to give a shape and a name to your loneliness.
You know exactly when and how this habit manifests most often. Maybe if you can change the circumstances around those moments and how you deal with them, you can get a handle on the habit and build a new one. To do this we’ve got to disrupt the pattern where you are alone and up all night climbing the walls and reaching for your phone, so, let’s talk strategies:
A. If you can’t be alone at night right now, don’t be… at least for a few nights. See if you can stay with friends or family for a little while. Or, if you can afford it, invite some good friends to crash with you in a fancy hotel or get away for a few days and pamper yourselves. Your friends will probably be pretty happy to participate in Project Darth Vader Boyfriend Detox. NO DARTH CALLING OR DARTH TALK. Be with friends for a little bit. Remind yourself you have lots of love in your life. Three nights that you don’t text or call this dude are three nights closer to being done forever.
B. Find support. Does your employer have a confidential Employee Assistance Program (EAP) you can call? Can you find a counselor to talk to? Or talk to an Al-Anon group (distinct from AA, for families and loved ones of people with alcohol addiction)? Where can you safely unpack all the feelings and history and anxiety that you have around this without shame or without making you feel like you are overburdening your family and friends? You’re not sleeping at night, you’re having intrusive thoughts of this dude, you are compulsively subjecting yourself to his indifference. It’s okay to call in the cavalry here.
C. Plan out your evenings. Whatever your current evening routine is, change it the fuck up. If you are having a hard time getting to sleep, see if adding some form of exercise after work will literally tire you out. Plan out your meals so they are enjoyable and you look forward to them. Buy a stack of books you’ve been wanting to read and read them before bed. Do things to help yourself wind down: Stretch, write a few pages in a journal, take a nice shower, lay your clothes out for the next day, wash your face, etc. Talk to your doctor about a mild sleep aid if you think that will help. Try out the Sleep With Me podcast.* You’ve got to sleep.
*If you use your phone as an alarm clock, buy an alarm clock that is just an alarm clock. You’ve basically got to ban your cell phone and any way of contacting this dude from your bedroom at night. This may be incompatible with podcasts, even excellent ones.
D. Change your environment. Take a look at your bedroom. Do you like it in there? You said you have a good career and are about to be promoted, so I don’t feel bad suggesting “throw a little money at this problem” solutions to you. Do you need a new bed, one that he’s never seen or slept in? Do you need to clean every surface of the room? Do you need new sheets and awesome pillows and the best pajamas? Do you need to rearrange the furniture/hang some lovely art/put fresh flowers next to the bed at night? Involve a friend or hire a person from a service like TaskRabbit so you have a buddy and make it part of the project of falling back in love with your life.
E. Plan for relapses. Maybe you’ll wake up in the night and claw your phone out of the drawer you stuck it in and want to text him. What if you add the Crisis Text Line to your phone contacts? If you’re tempted to text or call Darth Dude at night, you can text them instead. A nice human will text with you until the moment passes. They will listen to you and not judge. They will help you get one more day without texting or calling him. We’re doing this one day at a time.
F. Block his number on your phone so he can’t call or text you. Then delete the contact from your phone. Block his email address. Block him everywhere. Block him on all social media platforms and lock down your security & privacy settings in general.
G. Get his stuff out. Put any stuff he has in your house in a box and ship it to him.
H. Acknowledge sunk costs. Decide that any money you’ve given him or spent and any stuff you left at his place is gone forever. Letting this go, replacing whatever it is will be the cheapest money you ever spent in your life.
I know that you can do this. You don’t know yet that you can do this, but I do, and so does everyone else who has ever done this. We’re all here on the other side of those shitty partners who made us feel so lonely and those late night desperate-sounding emails we wrote them and those self-deprecating stories we tell about our younger selves who put up with all that shitty behavior. We’re all here and we’re cheering for you. We’ve got a cosy spot by the fire for you, with a comfy chair and your favorite drink and comfy pants and someone friendly saying “Aw buddy, tell me about it.” You’re almost there. You are so, so close.