#1065: “I love my girlfriend and feel like I would die without her. She doesn’t love me back.”

Hello! Long time no blog! I traveled to Texas for Christmas break, since my in-laws live in the Fort Worth area and Amarillo. It was lovely to see family and catch up with some old friends who have relocated and meet some nifty new people. I did not take a computer with me or do anything resembling work. Instead I read many, many books and sat on recliners under warm blankets and ate enchiladas and other wondrous things. It was an excellent and much needed break from everything. Today I’m back, with the problem of unreciprocated love.

Hi Captain

I am head over heels in love with my girlfriend (I am a 20yo female, BTW, we are both bi). She is funny, clever, friendly and supportive – all my friends and family love her. I am into photography, so she learnt the basics about photographic technique and composition just so she could talk to me about it. I love having my hair brushed, so whenever we are sat on the sofa watching TV she will sit behind me and brush my hair *for hours* because she knows I like it. And, Captain, she is stunningly gorgeous – like a 10/10. She has very light hair and big blue eyes – so let’s call her Elsa. I think about her all the time. I want to be with her all the time. She makes me the happiest that anyone has ever made me.

The thing is, she does not love me. I declared my feelings to her about a month ago. In the sweetest and kindest way possible she said that she is attracted to me and likes being with me, but she is not ‘in love’. I was crushed. I cannot bear to be away from her; she is perfectly able to spend a day or two without being with me (or even being in contact with me) and she’s fine with it. For her, our relationship is a fun, casual thing. For me, I feel like my life would end if I ever lost her. We agreed that as we both make each other happy we should stay together. I don’t think she ‘gets off’ on the fact that I am more into her than she is into me. She is a good person. There is just an imbalance in how much we are into each other. We have a mild sub/domme relationship, with me as the sub. I say ‘mild’ as it’s not like she calls me ‘slave’ and locks me up in a dungeon or anything, but she is The Boss Of Me. This is what I chose and I like it.

Here’s the thing about me sexually…

I am a bit broken, in that mid-orgasm – and this is every single time – I pass out, then wake up groggy and dizzy 5-10 minutes later with no memory of what happened. This is seriously every time – I have had hundreds (thousands?) of orgasms in my life and I cannot remember any of them. I could not accurately describe what one even feels like for me; (all of I have to go on is what past partners describe seeing/hearing me do). I – I am told – have orgasms quickly and easily, so this is a fairly regular occurrence when sex-stuff happens. There is a real health-and-safety aspect to this. Once I cracked my head open on a bed-post and had to be hospitalised, and I have head-butted partners mid-pass-out more than once when I was on top. In short, ‘lying down’ is one of the few sexual positions I can safely be in.

Elsa is sexually adventurous, and always tries to go beyond standard bedroom stuff. Owing to my condition, there are limits to what we can do reciprocally. I can ‘do her’ in the shower, in the woods, etc… – but she can’t do anything back to me easily unless I am in the ‘lying on something soft’ position. This is frustrating for both of us. Her sex drive is higher than mine anyway, and I try to do what I can to make her happy. She never tries to guilt or coerce me into doing anything, but I can tell that she would like to do more with me.

A few days before my confession-of-love, Elsa told me – as carefully and respectfully as she could – that there was an itch I could not scratch. She wanted to have a one-night thing with a guy, and she wanted to make sure I was cool with it. I was mortified; the idea of anyone (who is not me) with her totally kills me. But, she was quite clear that she wanted to have a session with a guy. I am not sure how or why, but I proposed a threesome – I think I wanted to have some degree of control over how this idea which I hated went down. I’ll spare you the details, but the threesome at first went as planned and was horrible. About 2 minute in I burst into tears and said that I wanted it to stop. Both Elsa and The Guy were very understanding about it, and/but I ended up feeling like a stupid cartoonish villain. It wasn’t my finest moment.

A couple of weeks after that, Elsa asked me again what I thought about her casually seeing guys while also dating me. I was drunk and didn’t respond well. We had our first ever stand-up argument, where I argued that she should have known what an insensitive thing that was to even ask, while her counter-argument was that she was doing the right thing by asking me and she wold never cheat on me.

Then, things went crazy. I became the ‘crazy bitch’ that so many of your other letter writers write about. I literally screamed the words ‘What can I do to make you love me?’ and ‘If you leave me I will fucking kill myself”‘. When she tried to leave I physically blocked the doorway so she couldn’t, then I collapsed on the floor crying. I am not proud, Captain – I am really ashamed.

A day later she texted saying that she cared about me and hoped that I was okay. She also said that she would like to keep on seeing me.

Here’s the thing – and I can’t emphasise this enough – I am insanely in love with Elsa. There is now way I could break up with her in a million years. I am crying right now as I type this even thinking about it

But I know that she is already bored of me, and is trying to cope with said boredom in a humanly decent way. In a way, I suppose, I am torturing her.

What do I do?


Elsa’s GF

Dear Elsa’s GF Astrilde,

If it’s okay, I’m going to give you your own pseudonym, “Astrilde,” after the Norse goddess of love name for Cupid. You’re not a supporting player in someone else’s story, you’re a protagonist of your own, so, hello and welcome to this winter’s tale.

I don’t think that this relationship with Elsa is going to be the Great Love Story Of Your Life that you hope it will be, dear Astrilde. She wants different stuff than you do. For example, she wants to do sex with more people than just you, including threesomes that you don’t enjoy. She’s not in love with you and she’s told you that. She might be some variation of aromantic or she might just not feel that way about your specific relationship. As you say, “For her, our relationship is a fun, casual thing. For me, I feel like my life would end if I ever lost her.” You told her you loved her, and her response was “I’d like to fuck a dude, is that cool?” She’s being honest with you, and honesty is good, but it’s not the same as taking care of you and your feelings.

You say that you’re the happiest you’ve ever been but also you are having emotional breakdowns where you yell at her and threaten suicide if she leaves you. You blocked the door to prevent her from leaving, which you know is unethical and all kinds of not okay. You’re also painting yourself as a “villain” because you didn’t enjoy Awkward Threeway Times and describing your sexual needs – what you need to be safe during sex –  as evidence that you are “broken.” Forgive me, but this doesn’t sound happy?

There are lessons here, the first one being that there are charismatic, foxy, adorable people in the world who will feel like home but they aren’t home. You can enjoy your time with them and love them for a while but you can’t move in and live there forever. You can make lists of why it all should work out between you, you can show evidence of why it is meant to be (my friends & family love her, she brushes my hair, she learned about photography just for me), but none of those facts are a substitute for her saying “I love you and choose you (and only you.)” You are living in the movie 500 Days of Summer and (sorry!) you’re the Joseph Gordon Levitt character who has been told straight up “I won’t fall in love with you” and “I don’t love you” and he’s chosen to believe that that will change if he just hangs in there long enough. Summer leaves, like she said she would, and he is angry and disillusioned.

You’re probably gonna be with Elsa for a little while yet since she’s still into you and you’re still into her, but it will end, it’s already in the process of ending. She’s going to go experiment with dudes for a while, or she’s going to figure out that “I can’t live without you” isn’t actually a compliment and break up. I don’t have any advice for turning this into the functional, lasting relationship you want. Elsa’s gonna Elsa, and there’s no script we could write together that would influence her to change her mind. If we somehow stumbled across some magic words that would make her say “I love you and I will stay with you and only you forever” that still wouldn’t guarantee anything, because promises that are compelled under pressure aren’t real promises.

So what can you do?

  • You’re a photographer, so, take pictures.
  • You have friends and family, so, pour some love into them.
  • Figure out what’s great and important about your life that isn’t centered on Elsa, and cultivate the shit out of that.
  • Look hard at the ways you talk about and think about yourself, and practice saying only kind things about yourself. If you think you’d benefit from talking to a therapist, this is a great time to try to put that support system in place.
  • When it ends, it’s okay to cry and be sad. It’s not okay to scream or threaten. Again, this is a good time to put some mental health support in place.
  • NO MORE THREESOMES OR ANY SEX THAT YOU DO NOT 100% ENTHUSIASTICALLY WANT TO DO. Take this lesson forward into all future relationships. You don’t have to try to be cool with stuff you don’t enjoy because you’re afraid the other person will leave if you don’t accommodate them.
  • Start telling a story about this that isn’t “OMG I will die without her.” A story like, “hey, we’re both young and we’re both figuring out who we are and what we want, and nobody has to be evil two people to be incompatible.” Or “relationships don’t have to last forever to be valuable and important.”

There’s a general cast to your letter that makes me so sad, Astrilde, like Elsa is some magical superstar Elf Queen and you are not worthy of her. You assume you are boring her, that staying with you is “torturing her.” This makes me think, hrmmmm, either Elsa is not as nice and kind and cool as you think, if she is making you feel this way about yourself, or that there is a big pile of bullshit your jerkbrain is feeding you about your self worth that doesn’t originate with Elsa but is being exacerbated by the incompatibilities between you. You are worthy of having someone brush your hair if you want that, and worthy of having someone take interest in your creative work and be nice to your family and do sexy stuff that you enjoy. I hope that whatever lessons you take from all of this, one of them is that you yourself are the magical one, the magic is in you.

287 thoughts on “#1065: “I love my girlfriend and feel like I would die without her. She doesn’t love me back.”

  1. LW, this relationship sounds exhausting. Elsa isn’t going to change. She will continue to want to be with men/other people and I don’t think she will decide that she loves you.

    Also, if you’re at the point that you want to die/freak out when someone says they don’t love you or might leave you, it’s time for you to make an exit. It’s not healthy for you at all.

    Take the Captain’s advice about ways to move on. I’m really sorry–unrequited love sucks. It’s 100 times worse when the person is in your life and acting like an SO. Save your time and energy who loves you back, and give yourself time to get over her. Do not have any contact with her at all.

  2. Welcome back Captain!

    Wow. Thank-you so much for this post and response. I feel like this post demonstrates to me what non-disposability looks like. Sometimes I forget to live in the gray areas and tend to be all or nothing.

    This showed me how to look beyond the black/white, right/wrong in a beautiful way and maybe even extend some forgiveness and un-shaming towards myself.

    LW- I know this feels devastating. I sincerely hope you give yourself time to build a relationship with yourself, no matter the outcome. You deserve to love you as much as you love her.

    1. Thank you so much for this. It has really touched me. My lover of 7 1/2 years broke up with me a month ago over email, and I think has since blocked me as I can get no response. I’m devastated but this post is helping me see I have to stop thinking desperately about trying to get him back and realize I need to be happy, and although I loved him I wasn’t really happy about the situation (he is married, I’m not). I need to find myself and what I need and “cultivate the shit out of it”. Thank you Captain.

  3. I have felt this way, like my heart would break, LW, and I hear you! It’s incredibly painful to have someone tell you what Captain said today.

    We each do our best with the tools that we have in relationships, being honest about what your best is can allow you to change that without being unkind to yourself.

    I hope you can trust that Captain has experience with both the heartbreak and what ’emotionally supportive and mutal relationship ‘off’ look like. take very good care of yourself, best you know how.

  4. Astrilde, honey, I won’t pretend to tell you it’s not hard, but take it from someone who got out of a situation like that – when you find the one who does love you back, it will be worth it.

    1. Hey and also even if you don’t find someone else (immediately / for a long time / ever), being on your own and having a great relationship with yourself is better than being in a relationship that makes you feel so abject and out of control. Many jedi hugs to you, LW.

      1. Hell yes. This is like my go to advice for people in break ups, especially people who seem to instantly jump into new relationships. It is SO ok to be single. It amazes me what people will put up with because they don’t know how to just be alone.
        I am great. I love living with Me.

    2. It’s true.

      It doesn’t feel true. It feels like some kind of feel-good ersatz syrup being poured onto the drab oatmeal of Not Being With Elsa, it feels like a lie, but it’s not. Because one way love, no matter how intense, cannot sustain itself forever. Because it’s feeding on illusions of every stripe and flavor: the one where she realizes you’re soulmates, the one where your heart literally beats out of your chest in pain, the one where you wander the earth in a tattered brown robe to symbolize how alone you are without her. Intense, flavorful, seemingly so much “more” than real life, but illusory.

      And most especially, don’t discount the fact that she’s physically stunning, because it plays into one of the most stubborn, pernicious illusions of all: the “I Will Never Be Found Attractive By Someone This Attractive Again.” When a real specimen, a head turner, a heart breaker, focuses on us, it can feel like all those promises life never kept are finally about to be fulfilled–The Beauty As Reward illusion, one as old as humanity. And it makes us panic because EVERYBODY knows that you “only get one” real stunner, and if you lose them it’s because you were unworthy somehow.

      But the fact is, you aren’t being graded or rewarded or tortured by some Giant Committee that hands out happiness. You’re in an uneven relationship and it’s not going to straighten out because both of you need different things. That sucks, a lot, but facing it is far better than believing your future is being held hostage by forces swirling around you, plotting and planning and cackling with glee as they yank your strings.

      You’re going to meet other people. You’re going to love some of them. Some of them will love you more than you love them and you’ll be on the other side of this story. You will have relationships and some will end and at least one will continue. It will be more restful than you can dream of right now, but it’s the truth.

      1. “I Will Never Be Found Attractive By Someone This Attractive Again” and the concomitant “Affection Is More Valuable When It Comes From Someone Conventionally Attractive” are tropes that I really wish would just disappear.

        I have dated conventionally attractive people and not conventionally attractive people, both male and female, and if there is any qualitative difference at all in my experience, it’s a slight correlation between conventional beauty and a lack of mature relationship skills. I dated a guy who was on the most eligible bachelor list for the (large, actor-filled) city we lived in and he had absolutely nothing going for him except that he was almost unnaturally hot. I feel as attracted if not more so to my fiancé than I did to that guy, AND my fiancé treats me incredibly well and is mature, considerate, and responsible. Unlike Most Eligible Asshole.

        Elsa, we are given to believe, is unnaturally hot, which is absolutely immaterial to the quality of the relationship she and Astrilde have, because hotness isn’t a skill and if it were, it certainly wouldn’t be a *relationship* skill.

        1. I had a super conventionally attractive roommate who had like zero life skills because she had just Hot Personed her way out of all her problems up to that point. It was really frustrating because she could not get ANYTHING done for herself — she’d never had to, every time she was in difficulties she had 17 dudes falling all over themselves to fix it for her. Her problem-solving strategy for her entire life was “stand around, be super hot”. (It actually reminds me of my dog — he’s small and very cute and helpless-looking, so his favorite problem solving strategy is “make puppy eyes about it”. Historically this has worked out for him.)

          Our relationship went to hell because about 2 weeks in I stopped being able to see her as attractive because she was just that annoyingly helpless person I was stuck living with, so I stopped cutting her the slack people unconsciously cut hot people. I thought she was ridiculous. She thought my failure to laugh and brush off her every foible was ridiculous (because every other person in her entire life had always done that). At the time it was annoying as hell because she was totally unconsciously shockingly entitled. But honestly in retrospect I feel kind of bad for her, because she had ZERO ability to cope with life under her own power. She was quite intelligent but couldn’t figure out how to buy groceries ffs.

          1. I had never encountered this phenomenon, until I met a woman on a plane. She decided that we were friends during our short flight together and we chatted and she even fake invited me to hang out with her while we were in the same city.

            Two guys helped her get her (tiny) bag down. And then we walked off the plane and she stood sadly saying “I don’t know where to go.” And I pointed towards the baggage claim sign and siad “It’s this way.” and she basically looked at me super confused then a guy stopped and helped her with her bag and showed her where to go and she was all smiles. helped her navigate the rest of her travel journey.

            i was really really shocked by it. I honor you for living with that person for any amount of time.

          2. Even if they have some life skills, Stunningly Hot People still tend to take people for granted, because there is always a parade of people ready to fawn attention on them. My ex was like this. He had lived on his own and knew how to do lots of general adulting things like groceries and bills and laundry, but he took nearly every person in his life for granted. He had no concept AT ALL of how to do emotional labor for friends and partners but sucked up EL from damned near anyone he came in contact with. But he looked like a Greek God and had a ton of charisma. And so people just…broke themselves on him.

          3. I’m bragging here: My wife is unnaturally hot. I am not conventionally attractive. She is also extremely kind, attentive, intelligent, and organized. She is stunning inside and out. I never thought I would be with someone like her.

          4. You’ve just described my mother in law. Only she’s not gorgeous, she’s skinny. And she will tell you all about it. And yes, the entitlement is real.

          5. @Something Clever–I lolled mostly because I had a roommate like this. She was single the whole time we were roommates–never went on one date. Also never asked anyone out, spoke to anyone about anything that wasn’t work-related, and just kind of goggled at dudes she liked hoping they’d get the message. I was happily boyfriended the whole time we lived together (now engaged!), and pretty regularly she’d moan about being single and how she’s attractive and how can she be single etc etc. One evening fiancé and I were lounging on the sofa and she was in the kitchen and I looked over and she was just standing there STARING ANGRILY at our backs. A few days later she had a mini meltdown about how can she be single when she’s thin! I just stared at her until she stopped, out of either shame or just the sheer awkwardness, but COME ON.

            If you want to be mad about your roommate having a boyfriend, whatever, but probably don’t have the tantrum at your actual roommate.

          6. How awful it must be for Helpless Hot People when they get older and can’t use their looks to get out of all the situations they never built up the life skills to handle.

      2. “You’re going to meet other people. You’re going to love some of them. Some of them will love you more than you love them and you’ll be on the other side of this story. You will have relationships and some will end and at least one will continue. It will be more restful than you can dream of right now, but it’s the truth.”

        Dwell on this thought. Sit and hold it. Maybe even envision some of those people that goddessoftransitory listed.

        Then get a little eager and impatient to go toward that future.

  5. Oh dear LW, there are other people who will brush your hair! Or they will have their own cool way of showing you affection which will be even better. No amount of hair brushing will ever make up for the fact that you are monogamous and romantic and she ain’t any of what YOU need. Candy is dandy but you need someone who is nutritious as well as sweet.

    You love her so much that you will probably need to take a cold turkey approach to this addiction. It will be like giving yourself a no-anaesthetic amputation. Fun! But do It, and get your grieving over with. Do it for Future You, who is in tomorrowland with her romantic, monogamous and affectionate partner. I know all about Future You, because I used to be you! Once you’ve had happily-in-love, you’ll never be able to settle for sad-wistful-almost-perfect-love again.

  6. There’s a certain type of romantic relationship that’s a little bit hot and cold that when I’ve found myself in it with someone I have a certain type of chemistry with– the mixture of hormones and anxiety is almost addictive and it feels a lot like what books and movies describe The One True Love TM as feeling like. It may be, that you, like me, crave a little bit of extra zing in your life. You don’t need Elsa to give you that– take risks in other areas, especially artistically.

    Love, when it’s right, doesn’t make you want to throw up and it doesn’t suck all the air out of the room.

    1. Rory Miller in “Conflict Communications” describes what you just mentioned – that mixture of the adrenaline (from the stress of emotional uncertainty) and sexual attraction that creates what is often missold as The One True Love TM.
      I try to think of that kind of feeling as “infatuation” instead, but that only seems to help when I’m not in the middle of it.

  7. LW, the end of this relationship is going to be really hard and it’s going to feel horrible and you’ll feel like you can’t go on, but I promise if you just hang on, it’ll get better. And then someday you’ll meet someone who makes you feel good and who loves you as much as you love them, and you’ll realise this agonising misery and uncertainty isn’t really what you want or need after all. Hang in there, friend.

  8. LW,

    I’m so sorry that you’re going through this. When I’m struggling to survive an emotional experience that I’m used to suppressing, I find it helpful to watch a show with a character that has to deal with the same issue.

    I’m sure there are tons of characters that have gone through one sided relationships with someone they adored, but maybe check out Steven Universe and the character Pearl. Through the show, you get to see her move on from a one sided relationship that defined her, and she does some very ugly, real stuff going through this process, and she’s still loved.

    1. Its interesting that you said Pearl because for me all the ugly things she does really makes her unlikeable in my mind. She’s not an unredeemable character, and the motivation behind her actions are very understandable, but if I knew her in real life I would cut her out because I know she’s not someone I could be emotionally safe with.

      1. Really? Huh. I like Pearl a lot. I think the writers on the show do a great job of making most of the characters multifaceted; despite being a literal cartoon, nobody is a “cartoon villain” or hero. Ymmv, but as an audience member (or reader, when it’s a book) seeing the depth of the character’s internal self makes me want to root for them and want the best for them– although sometimes the best for them means they don’t get what they want. I think it’s one of the wonderful things about fiction– the imagination and empathy a story can engender for people who are unlike me in temperament. That doesn’t mean I’d be bff’s with Pearl in real life, but I do think I’d still root for her and like her in a way.

        To be fair, tho, many of my favorite heroines skew “anti” on the anti-hero scale. Sarah Manning from Orphan Black, Rachel Grosvenor from Finder /Sin Eater, *arguably* Vicky Austin from Ring of Endless Light. People who aren’t sure if they’re good people, but they’re trying to do a good thing, even if it’s hard and complicated and possibly lethal. I know many people prefer the Leslie Knopes and Jane Eyres and Steven Universes of the world– and, hey, they’re pretty amazing– but Pearls gain my love too, I think. They need it.

        1. I too love my anti hero who are trying to do good despite their identity conflict and homicidal tendencies. And of course character depth and conflict is generally a hundred times more intresting than a one note character (though both Leslie Knopes and Superman are very interesting).

          For me its that over the years I have met more and more people that despite their obvious pain they continue to hurt others around them over and over. I now reached a point in fiction that when a character does something awful out of pain I get annoyed at the “there’s good inside them I felt it, we should forgive them” story arcs and the sometimes unintentional subtext of mental illness/past abuse/ past trauma is an excuse for bad behaviors. I am not saying that they are evil and are undeserving of forgiveness, the lense I am coming from is “I want nothing to do with them, and I am not really rooting for them because in real life they rarely change for the better” .

          But there’s also the meta context that it is fiction and not real life. And in fiction the author can create a cathartic moment of forgiveness and genuine change that rarel happens in real life. In Witcher 3 (video game) there’s a story arc about an alcoholic baron who beats his wife for years. But because its fiction, one of the possible endings is that he does repent for his bad behavior he never does it again and the family lives happily ever after together. Again thats the authors hand coming in to write a happy ending that is a fantasy and in real life would end much much differently.

          As fun as this discussion is it is a side track from the letter and your main point of media representation (BTW another great example of the pains of unrequited love is Crazy Ex Girlfirend).

          1. Yeah, it is fiction and not real life. But since LW is kinda telling herself a story here, it might be helpful to check out some alternative narratives that don’t end in eternal heartbreak/death.

          2. That’s a fair point, and, agreed, I do not want to get too tangential as it takes away from helping the LW with her problem. Also, I especially feel you, in my case, being a fan of the horror /psychological thriller genre. I would never want to be hunted by a serial killer in real life, but imagining a heroine who outsmarts and defeats one is exciting.

            I think a key is being able to take away from a story something that heals you and empowers you, and what that is will be different for every person. A story where an abuse survivor takes revenge on her abuser and goes on to help other victims (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), or walks away for good and heals herself, putting him out of her mind (many Toni Morrison novels, my favorite being Sula) could be what someone needs– a story that reminds them that abuse is fundamentally wrong, not their fault, and they have the power to move forward no matter how much their abuser might have told them otherwise. Whereas, it is very different from a person who feels shame about who they are or what they’ve done, and needs a story that give some kind of hope that there’s a path forward to redemption.

            So, tl;dr I think we agree– fiction can be empowering and cathartic, but it can also give unrealistic expectations re: relationships and people changing.

        2. I too love my anti hero who are trying to do good despite their identity conflict and homicidal tendencies. And of course character depth and conflict is generally a hundred times more intresting than a one note character (though both Leslie Knopes and Superman are very interesting).

          For me its that over the years I have met more and more people that despite their obvious pain they continue to hurt others around them over and over. I now reached a point in fiction that when a character does something awful out of pain I get annoyed at the “there’s good inside them I felt it, we should forgive them” story arcs and the sometimes unintentional subtext of mental illness/past abuse/ past trauma is an excuse for bad behaviors. I am not saying that they are evil and are undeserving of forgiveness, the lense I am coming from is “I want nothing to do with them, and I am not really rooting for them because in real life they rarely change for the better” .

          But there’s also the meta context that it is fiction and not real life. And in fiction the author can create a cathartic moment of forgiveness and genuine change that rarel happens in real life. In Witcher 3 (video game) there’s a story arc about an alcoholic baron who beats his wife for years. But because its fiction, one of the possible endings is that he does repent for his bad behavior he never does it again and the family lives happily ever after together. Again thats the authors hand coming in to write a happy ending that is a fantasy and in real life would end much much differently.

          As fun of a discussion it is a side track from the letter and your main point of media representation (BTW another great example of the pains of unrequited love is Crazy Ex Girlfirend).

          1. I think Crazy Ex Girlfriend is a perfect paralle of the LW. Both the protagonist and the LW are both people who are so emotional hurt that they and desperate that they lash out at anyone in their vicinity until they get what they want. They are both so broken and are unable to exist the narrative they created for themselves they can start mending who they are.

            They are additionally similar as they are both from the perspective of the abusers. The show is from the perspective of the manuplilative stalker, like the letter is from the perspective of the controlling and threatening LW. In both the show and in this letter I feel a huge sense of empathy and pity but also strongly hope that they both stop and heal themeselves before they hurt others any more.

        3. I like Pearl a lot, but I also spend a lot of time going “Oh no, Pearl, don’t do that,” and “Pearl staaaaahp”

          1. I think my favorite thing about Steven Universe is that basically every time I yell “THAT’S A BAD DECISION!” at the screen, the show knows it’s a bad decision and thoughtfully presents the realistic consequences of that bad decision. Including times when characters’ bad decisions have long-term damaged their relationships with other characters.

            It’s so emotionally intelligent it makes me feel good.

          2. I’m a big ol’ Lapis fan, and she’s a character a lot of the fandom love to hate. (I will give them the fact that the creators seem to have mostly lost interest in her and stopped giving her much development so she’s become a bit boring.) I always think of the episode where Peridot is desperately trying to make friends with her and she’s so very not down for that. I love, love, love that a kid’s show, for once, depicts that Being Very Sorry doesn’t automatically mean you get forgiveness. Even doing your best to be a better person may not fix it right away.

          3. stellanor, that is an excellent observation – thanks for making it!

            — 95% Peridot, 5% Pearl, marathoned entire show in the last 2 months, getting out of tangent now

      2. To me, it doesn’t whether Pearl is a good person or not. What’s valuable in watching her is seeing her grapple with emotions and fears that I’ve worried about.

        “Am I worth anything alone?”
        “Can I be someone I like?”
        “How do I deal with people who don’t see me as a person?”
        “How do I move on after the person who I built my life around leaves me?”

        I tend to ignore my emotions and not feel the pain associated with those questions, so watching Pearl feel that pain, helps me feel that pain too. Eventually, I’m able to handle that pain, and understand that it’s a part of who I am, but I can’t do that unless I feel it completely.

        Example of suffering Pearl: https://youtu.be/Z34V-pHgLRE

    2. When my ex-fiancé left me right before our wedding, I spent three weeks just watching all of my favourite comforting TV and Disney cartoons and films. It can also be helpful to just let your mind shut off for awhile and return to comfort things.

  9. Dear LW,

    Elsa won’t change. She’s told you, and shown you, who she is. She’s a young woman who doesn’t love you.

    I have a fairly good idea of how this goes, because I’ve been Elsa. She’s a decent person, but she doesn’t perceive through a Is this good for Astrilde? lens.

    So follow the Captain’s advice, and focus on the not Elsa parts of life.

    Jedi hugs if you want them.

    1. “I have a fairly good idea of how this goes, because I’ve been Elsa. She’s a decent person, but she doesn’t perceive through a Is this good for Astrilde? lens.”

      This struck me as well, as I’ve also been Elsa in this situation, and it’s very easy to think being kind to Astrilde in the moment is enough, when it would be kinder in the long term to end things.

      It took a lot of time for me to realize that all my good intentions couldn’t fix the disparity in commitment in our relationship, and that there would only be more and more frequent dramatic meltdowns if we continued down the road we were on. It didn’t matter that I genuinely cared for him, and enjoyed spending time with him, because everything nice I did fed into his perception that we were meant to be if only I would just realize it, and every time I tried to be honest about my concerns it just led to grand acts intended to prove his love that made me increasingly uncomfortable. I still believe the kindest thing I did for him was to end things (which seems to be supported by the fact that we reconnected as friends 4 years later when we randomly ended up living in the same apartment complex, and are now both happily married to other people).

      1. Yeah. As Elsa, we assume that people understand we mean kindness when we are kind, not a sudden romantic flowering. But we are wrong. They don’t understand.

        And then we get trapped in a morass.

        I mean, I’m sorry that the LW is in an emotional bind, but she’s acting out. Elsas can’t fix this.

  10. Lw of course your girlfriend doesn’t love you the same way you do. The way you love her sounds incredibly unhealthy and overbearing. You should break up with your girlfriend exactly because the thought of breaking up makes you want to kill yourself. You dont sound like you are in a mentally healthy spot to have a relationship right now and you should seek help in getting yourself on your feet so that next time you enter a relationship you wont become so emotionally dependent on the other person. Also as you learn to fulfill your emotional needs with out 100% relaying on another person you will begin to realize that Elsa wasn’t that great of a partner.

    Please seek a doctor to discus your fainting thingy it sounds very dangerous for your health.

    1. Yeah I try not to internet diagnose and I am definitely not internet diagnosing, but I think that’s definitely a thing that bears checking out with a doctor Just In Case if that isn’t something you’ve done already. It could be nothing, but anything that’s making you black out on the regular is worth getting checked out.

      Self-care, LW! I’m rooting for you.

    2. re: the fainting thing: yes, see a doctor, preferably a neurologist. And be very clear about the fact that you don’t remember the events prior to fainting and know it only because of other people as this is the most remarkable aspect of it. Without going too deep into diagnosing, this is (probably harmless, but still checkworthy) neurologist stuff.

    3. While I am very much +4 with this recommendation, obligatory reminder that if LW is in the US she may not be able to afford to see a GP, let alone a specialist.


      LW, as the captain said, you are the star of your own story. I have never been where you are, but I am pretty sure you are stronger than you know. Let Elsa go, and find the things that are best for Astrilde.

    4. Hey LW, I’m not sure if you’ve already a doctor or not. I don’t want to assume you haven’t, because I don’t say “and I’ve seen a dozen doctors and it’s not going away” every single time I mention my respiratory issues. I even know exactly what is causing it, and I don’t always go into what that is, because it’s fucking complicated.

      But I want to make sure that you know that the reason we’re all telling you to see a doctor is because
      A) what if this problem indicates a serious cardiovascular or neurological problem that could cause even more problems or even kill you in the future?
      B) we want you to have the kind of sex you want to have, and if it’s a problem that cam be fixed, imagine how great that would be for you! And if it can’t be fixed, at least knowing you tried is something. (It sounds trite, but I pass out when I run, and that’s never going to stop, and knowing you tried really is something.)

      It seems like you feel really bad that you can’t have different types of sex for Elsa, but no one is telling you to go to the doctor for your lover’s sake. Many people have some kind of restriction in sex, and it can be part of sexual incompatibility, but my fellow readers are concerned for YOU.

      1. “And if it can’t be fixed, at least knowing you tried is something.”

        And if it can’t be fixed, knowing that it is A VERSION OF NORMAL would also help you a great deal–you can stop viewing yourself as “broken.”

    5. And to add to the comments on the medical side, you may have already looked into this, in which case you know best what your best course is, but if not, *anything* causing you to suddenly lose consciousness *might* indicate some long term problem which might get worse. At a minimum you could ask people you trust, or research online, and get a general idea “Is this likely to indicate something dangerous? If there might be something wrong, is there anything I can do [like, check if you have a heart problem, not put a pillow under your head, but that too]”. And certainly, if it’s plausible to see a doctor, please do.

      I hope this isn’t an *urgent* problem, but it *might* be a serious problem, so it would be good to get it checked if you can.

  11. I want to add that, given LW’s tendency to black out at orgasm, it is *especially* important for her to only have sexual encounters with people she very much trusts, in situations she is both enthusiastic about and fully comfortable in. Not that this is unimportant for anyone—but she may easily find herself incapacitated at a point of extreme vulnerability.

    1. Also that sounds like the sort of thing one should see a neurologist or cardiologist about, if only to make sure it’s not a sign of something bigger. Apparently this can be a sign of a severe arrhythmia for example.

  12. Captain you are so perfect for giving LW the name Astrilde.

    Astrilde you have given yourself a narrative where if Elsa isn’t in your life, it will no longer be worth living. Thing is, Elsa is JUST a person, and you are worth just as much as she is. The Captain is right, you’ve assigned Elsa as the star of your show and you are a side character who needs the protagonist to be around for the story to keep going. I’m begging you right now to do whatever you can to take that power back. You must be the star of your own show. Even if you and Elsa stay together, how much do you think you will sacrifice for this one person? How much of your own life will you compromise? What happens if you are four years down the line and you’ve moved for Elsa, taken a job you weren’t a fan of because it helped you stay with Elsa, said yes to more horrible unfulfilling sexual experiences with Elsa. Who will you be? How much of your life are you willing to give to someone that you feel is only with you out of some mix of fondness and pity?

    I know how hard it can be trying to wriggle out of that mentality but I promise you will be fine without her. You will be sad as fuuuuuuck for quite a while, and then you will be fine. If you take care of yourself, work on things that make you happy and look at where you would go with your life if there was no compromise, in a few years time you will look back on your time with Elsa with some fond memories, but ultimately realising that the relationship was just not going to work out.

    All the love and strength to you Astrilde.

    1. “you have given yourself a narrative”

      It’s time to start -literally- telling yourself a new story. Talk it out in the shower. Talk about feeling sad for yourself, and about feeling wistful good wishes for Elsa.

      But mostly talk about the opportunities to expand other parts of your life. The chance to see family more; the chance to spend more energy on something that puts you out into the world with people other than Elsa.

      Start to make it real.

  13. I totally agree with CA that the LW shouldn’t participate in threesomes (or any other sexytimes) if she doesn’t want to, but my understanding of the letter was that Elsa told the LW she (Elsa) wanted to get with a dude solo and the LW hated the idea so she proposed the threesome as sort of a bargain – and Elsa went along with the threeway to appease the LW – if I did in fact read that right that’s the only part of the advice I would change – if the idea Elsa being with someone else is going to hurt you, it’s okay to admit that to yourself, instead of assuming a threeway is going to make you feel better than Elsa hooking up with a dude when you’re not there.

    1. I noticed that too. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one. Perhaps as a poly and kinky person I was more keen on the difference?
      most of the Captain’s advice is awesome, but I do wish the distinction had been noticed between Elsa saying “I want threesomes” and Elsa saying “I’d like to have encounters with other guys, is that ok?” and the LW saying “I want some control over your encounters with men, so can I be there too”
      Regardless of whether that interpretation was missed, I feel strongly it is still very important that the LW get to know her own boundaries and work with a therapist to help with the issues she seems to feel are causing distress in her sexual life.
      I, and my then GF, found enormous help with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Learning to speak differently about myself so I’d think differently about myself has been an amazing help with my mental health, and with hers.

      1. Yes it was but the whole issue of “sex with dudes”
        was not the LW’s
        idea, and she acknowledges it was a
        semidesperate attempt
        to maintain control.

        1. Funny! I’d deleted a sentence in which I said that I presumed you were emphasizing that regardless of whose initial suggestion it was, the sex was unwanted.

          I’d deleted it to avoid guessing what you thought, but I wasn’t that far off.

        2. The mention of “control” here again. I’m very, very, worried for LW that she is at risk to become an abuser. If “Elsa” wrote this letter, we would all be telling her to run. I’m impressed with LW’s insight, but she needs to go a little further and explore whether staying in this relationship will turn her into someone she doesn’t want to be.

          1. The lw is an abuser. While her abuse is mainly emotional manipulation, she still tried to control, pressure, and threaten to get what she wants.

            This is what so many abusers look like. They are so extremely insecure that they hurt the ones they love. And the self awareness isn’t really unique or impressive. A lot of them are aware they are hurting others but either A) they don’t care because it gets in the way of what they want B) are “unable” (i.e. don’t want to put the effort) to break the pattern of behavior.

            That’s to me one of the most hurtful things about abusers. They know what they are doing is bad but are not willing to put the effort to stop. And since their abuse often stems from a place of hurt everyone reacts like “you poor baby” when they hear the abusers story.

          2. @Ruler of Cats, my read of the letter is that the LW realizes that she’s in a bad place and that she’s behaving badly, and she wants to figure out how to do better.

          3. seriously, if LW was a dude and not the ‘poor me’ type of abuser we’d be seeing a very different reaction. Feeding into the “poor you and your needs” can actually make this subtype worse. You can be sad without literally physically preventing someone from leaving a room(I can’t tell you how horrible that is unless it’s happened to you but I’ll just say: it’s fucking horrible. It actively constrains your options to ‘be the bigger person’ because they _take that choice away and typically blame you for how you responded afterward_) and threatening to kill yourself to get what you want.
            Their extreme investment in Elsa, to me, is just another symptom of that. Why are they so invested to the point they can’t imagine life without them in what the other person feels is a more casual relationship? Why does more than a day apart induce discomfort? It doesn’t say how long they’ve been together but it’s weird in a way that goes beyond “oh they have mismatched feelings about it”.
            “why are you being mean to the LW-” because it’s not like people haven’t gone ‘what the hell man’ at a LW before and I’m sick to death of “it’s a female abuser so we can’t call a spade a spade or recognize the spade that’s right there so let’s instead act like she’s some poor upset ultimately harmless baby because it’s not like an abuser can’t threaten to kill themselves and feel genuinely upset at the same time or anything”.

          4. Hey. Can we acknowledge that threatening to kill yourself to prevent a partner from doing something is abuse? Can we acknowledge that physically restraining someone from leaving a room is abuse? Can we acknowledge that women can abuse people too, that there can be abuse in same-gender relationships? Pretty please?

            It’s true that sometimes victims of abuse use abusive tactics against their abusers because nothing else will work. Maybe that’s what’s happening here, and Elsa is the abuser and Astrilde, her victim. It could be. But, based on what appears on what Astrilde wrote, she’s the one abusing Elsa, and that’s not OK, and I really don’t think that feeling sad and regretful about it counts as an apology. For me, nothing short of an actual apology said in actual words followed by never doing that again counts as an apology, and I still hope that Elsa gets the fuck out of that relationship as soon as possible.

          5. I tend to agree with hhhhh and B. Some of the behaviors described in the letter are straight up abusive and there are many many other red flags. I have seen LWs get dragged here for far less. I too notice the reluctance in the advice and commentariat to call a spade a spade with this particular letter. Blocking exits, threatening suicide — that’s abuse. Whatever else may be going on in the relationship and in Astrilde’s head/heart, it helps no one to avoid naming those behaviors for what they are.

          6. @Inahc, if this were a dude writing in about how he threatened to kill himself to keep his doesn’t-love-me-back girlfriend from leaving, that he prevented her from leaving the room, and that he demanded to be present when she wanted to sleep with somebody else, he’d be flayed alive here. Nobody would be concerned about tiptoeing around the fact that he was abusive.

            It really is possible to recognize that the LW is in pain, that the relationship isn’t good for her either, and she really can be in a better place, AND to be clear that she is abusing Elsa.

          7. Ruler of Cats & hhhhhh, the letter writer is already ashamed — which can be an incapacitating place to work from. IMO it’s best to take a harm reduction stance. The reality is that some of us (likely all of us) will be touched by an emotionally abusive relationship in some way (in different degrees). I’ve been on both sides of this — a girlfriend has threatened suicide & I have put feelings of self worthlessness on friends in inappropriate ways.

            I am hoping that how to proceed after you’ve made a mistake is something we can talk about and support. With the most kindness possible.

          8. We can’t ‘help’ LW either way re: her abusive behaviour because only an abuser program can sort that out so I don’t care if she feels shame. She’s supposed to. She’s getting way more “aw poor bby” comments in this thread than anything else – again, we wouldn’t be giving the kid gloves treatment if OP was a guy so why do it now?

          9. @Nine times ten “LW realizes that she’s in a bad place and that she’s behaving badly, and she wants to figure out how to do better.”


            But honestly? I think a really big step toward “better” is to call this exactly what it is.


            Threatening to kill yourself if your partner leaves and physically blocking them from leaving a room/building isn’t just “behaving badly.” It is abuse.

            LW needs to acknowledge that. It’s ugly, and it’s horrific to have to do, because while folks can acknowledge that they did some bad stuff, didn’t behave well, nobody wants to think that they did something *abusive.*

            I’m surprised Cap was so soft about this, even down to the way she recommended therapy if LW “thinks it might help her.” LW is in a very very dark place, emotionally and mentally, and she almost certainly *needs* to see someone with professional experience on the regular (for a while) to work through it. And good luck to her, because no one deserves to be in the brainspace she’s in but while a person being in pain may explain their abuse, it doesn’t make it not abuse.

          10. The one thing that’s making us NOT flay the LW, I think, is that she’s recognized that she needs help and to fix herself. That’s a good first step on a long journey to not being abusive anymore.

    2. Yeah… the whole “threeway as a compromise to monogamy” thing is NEVER a good idea. They’re called “FOMO Partners” and they’re never happy with the results. If your problem is that you don’t want your partner banging someone else, banging the other person yourself will not make it better. You’ve just taken one thing you didn’t like and tried to fix it by adding another thing you won’t like. That rarely results in something you’ll like.

    3. Even if someone is the suggestor of a sex act, thats not the same thing as happy, genuinely enthusiastic consent. This is true where someone gets to change their mind – or in this case where she was unable to change her mind! Im really proud of the LW for eventually speaking up about her lack of enthusiasm, but she needs to learn to do it before she’s on the verge of tears.

      She’s learning the hard lesson that you can’t fake enthusiasm or ignore a lack of it. You cant force it from others. You cant wrest it out of yourself either.

  14. I think my first comment got eaten, so if this is a duplicate, feel free to delete it.

    LW, I just want to encourage you that you don’t need to feel bad about how you handled the whole threesome thing. You and your partner agreed to try something new, you realized partway through that it really wasn’t working for you, and you withdrew your consent which is 100% your right to do. Your partner and the other guy seem to have been respectful of your right to do so, and that was that. I’m sure it was awkward and mortifying and didn’t feel good, but that doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. Sometimes awkward and embarrassing things happen without it being anyone’s fault. You don’t need to feel like the villain in this.

    Some of your other actions that you admit being ashamed of were unethical, but this is just not one of them and I just want to give you the encouragement to let yourself off the hook for it. All the best, LW.

  15. Oh, LW. I see myself in you. I know how you are feeling, how eaten up by this you are.

    But this – this might be love but it’s not a good or healthy love. I want to be gentle but it needs to be said – it is not ok to say you’ll kill yourself if someone leaves you, it is not ok to panic at the prospect of them going. This is something you need to deal with, preferably with some kind of professional, because if you don’t deal with it you will continue to be unhappy and desperate in all your relationships, romantic or otherwise. You might find DBT workbooks useful in dealing with these feelings and behaviours – I know I have.

    (and trust me, everything you’ve done I’ve done. You aren’t broken or a monster.)

    The other issue is that as it stands this relationship doesn’t work for you. You aren’t any of the terrible things you call yourself for wanting a matched level of love, or for having boundaries around your sexual or romantic life. I believe you when you say she’s wonderful and lovable but that can be true and she can also not be a good match for you!

    Good, healthy love feels comfortable and warm. The work exists, but it’s not all the time and most of the time it’s the joyful, satisfying kind of work. It doesn’t leave you drained or alone or panicking.

    1. Seconded on DBT. It is a straightforward, common-sense approach and is so helpful. I think pretty much every human could benefit from a little DBT!

    2. LW, I second DBT! It sounds like a lot of this is learning to process overwhelming and conflicting emotions. In every case, you sound like you had a lot of trouble processing the potential for abandonment and it led to acting out in various ways – ways that made you feel not-great later even though you didn’t feel like you could stop in the moment. I also have had difficulty with that in the past, and it’s really useful to get a care strategy on board to cope with it.

      It also never hurts, if you have access, to see a therapist who might be able to help you parse why so many feelings are feeling particularly overwhelming for you. For some folks like me and maybe like you, who are just wired differently, we don’t have the luxury of parsing one single feeling at a time and need to learn to differentiate the signal from the noise.

      The good news is that you have great self awareness! When I was struggling more, it took me some work to even get to that point. Good luck, and all the love!

    3. thirded – as soon as I saw “DBT” I thought “ohh, right, that makes way more sense than CBT for where LW seems to be” 🙂

    4. As a DBT graduate who will +whatever that recommendation, I deal with this level of emotional dysregulation and …drasticness? Is that a word? When there’s stuff in my life that I need to deal with and can’t face up to, or when I’m trying desperately to force myself to be okay with something (like a relationship style) that I’m not okay with at all.

      As far as the panic/dysregulation/drasticness, one thing that helped me was trying to see if there was an emotion that I was actually hiding from by jumping straight to THIS IS THE END type thinking. For instance, “I don’t want to deal with this because it makes me incredibly sad”, or “I am so so so angry about this” or “I wish I weren’t so jealous but I am”. At some points in my life terrible dysregulation has been the voice of a little part of me that’s progressed past tugging on my sleeve and going “but this isn’t okay and you hate this” all the way to holding its breath and screaming THIS ISN’T OKAY AND YOU HATE THIS, pretty much _because_ I keep ignoring what I want and trying to make myself feel Fine About Things.

      Finally, there was a flowchart the Captain posted a million years ago about boundaries that really converged with what I think about self-and-others stuff in relationships, after much therapy. My basic upshot: no one can control what another person is going to do. People do what they’re going to do, when they’re going to do it. What we can control:

      – How well we understand and take care of ourselves
      – How we communicate with others, and how honest we are about what we need
      – Our proximity to other peoples’ actions and choices

      That’s it, that’s about all you can do. Even that’s a lifelong 24/7 job.

      1. Also a DBT graduate. I relate to a lot of what you said! I have had a similar experience in my own relationships before I was ready to face that my needs weren’t being met — and oh wait, I have needs! It can be really painful weeding through things one has been skipping past, but so worth it, and necessary on the journey of self-care.

  16. I’m not going to comment about the relationship aspect, as the captain did such an excellent job with that. However I would like to see the letter writer go to a neurologist or other doctor. I don’t think she’s broken, but it is at the very least very unusual to go unconscious. I know that when I’m orgasming, I tend to hold my breath. It’s not something I do on purpose, it just happens. I’ve gotten very light headed, ended pass out once. I make a conscious effort to remember to breathe. If I was passing out on a regular basis, I would want to see if there was anything possibly neurological going on. She can start with her gynecologist, who may have some insight into this type of situation.

    1. I was going to make a similar comment. My partner does this — the breath holding, not full on fainting — and we’ve had a few close calls. Her gyncecolgist had some really helpful strategies in terms of avoiding getting lightheaded.

    2. Yes, I vaguely recall knowing someone who had a non life threatening heart condition that had a similar issue to the LW. She should for sure talk to a doctor. It’s probably nothing major, but one of those things it is better to know about.

    3. I was coming to say this too. It sounds a lot like a condition I have that a girl I slept with a while back also had. I don’t pass out after orgasms, but she did.

      I don’t want to diagnose LW, BUT the condition I have can be diagnosed by cardiologists, hematologists, immunologists, autonomic specialists, neurologists. A gynecologist will know nothing about it, since the passing out isn’t in reaction to the lady parts stuff but to the way happy lady parts affect your other systems (vascular tension changes, neurotransmitters).

      LW, if you’re not under care and want to hear specifics, feel free to raise your hand on this thread and I’ll find you on the forums. It’s a complex illness that causes multi-system symptoms that patients often spend decades with as “hypochondriacs” before being diagnosed; I can’t recommend getting treatment early enough, if the most noticeable symptom this far is still passing out.

      1. If you’ve already got it diagnosed or otherwise don’t need anything on this front then please disregard, but —

        I also don’t want to diagnose or make assumptions, but I wanted to underline that your general practitioner might not be able to diagnose you; even a specialist might not, if their particular knowledge doesn’t line up, or they don’t listen well. So you MIGHT have to do a lot of repeated emotional labor to push past dismissive attitudes (with gender and ego) and get re-referred, not to mention insurance if you’re in the U.S. Which stinks, this all stinks. But… wouldn’t it be pretty cool if you can get it handled?

        An autonomic specialist (likely a neurologist) might be good odds of getting it in one referral, but so much is about the individual doctor. Good luck if you want this!

    4. Agree. Passing out every time you have an orgasm isn’t being “a little bit broken,” it’s having a medical condition of some kind. I hope you can find your way to the right specialist, one who’s willing to work with limited finances if that’s an issue for you.

    5. I’m the other way around; I have to remember to breathe shallowly (or hold my breath at times) in order to orgasm! I couldn’t work out why I didn’t orgasm for a long time, and I ended up going on the internet to research how they actually work. It turned out that my habit of regulating my breath and using diaphragmatic breathing, was actually working against me – essentially, I was staying too calm and pulling myself out of the buildup.

  17. Just a side note from another person into BDSM: **Never** get into a D/s relationship as a sub/slave/however you call it with a dom who is less interested in you than you in them.

    1. this this this this this!

      Even when your sub/dom dynamic is only experimenting or playing around, a dom has a great amount of responsibility to their sub, and top put yourself in the hands of someone who is not committed is likely to lead to feeling emotionally screwed up. That may even be what’s happened here. You have elected her as your boss but she isn’t as interested as you’d need her to be.

      Remember that the twist to the D/S relationship, in fact the basis of the whole kink, is that while the sub is submissive in terms of the interaction between the partners, they are actually the ones with the power. A sub/dom relationship isn’t just being bossed about and used, it’s about having your own fantasies met too, by someone who respects you and cares for you enough to ensure that you are being submissive in exactly the way that turns you on and fulfils you.The Dom might do the ordering around, but the sub decides where the boundaries are, and when is enough, and the Dom MUST obey that. If it’s at all helpful, you could remember this when you think of how the power is currently divided in your relationship.

    2. I came here specifically to say this, and also that the combination of “I am obsessed with this person” and “I have given this person a degree of relationship power over me” is a really really bad one. It sounds like Elsa is being fairly ethical about it (though IMO at this point the ethical thing for her to do would be to say “It seems like you are attached to me to a degree that is bad for both of us, farewell”) but it’s extremely risky, because both of those things can be used to manipulate you into doing things you don’t want to do—like that threesome!—and the two together can combine to make you feel powerless to make changes in the relationship or leave it if you need to. You are not powerless, LW; you have many paths forward. Choose one rather than putting everything in Elsa’s hands.

      1. It’s also fairly manipulative on the part of the sub – the LW is trying to get Elsa to take a level of responsibility for her feelings that Elsa doesn’t want to take. The language LW uses around killing herself and being broken is very emotive and hard for Elsa to push back against, and it’s resulting in scenarios that neither of them actually wanted, like the threesome. Elsa could do much better at setting boundaries – as you say, the most ethical thing for her to do would be to have dumped the LW by now – but LW also needs to accept that by framing this as a dom/sub relationship she’s putting more pressure on Elsa to manage LW’s emotions than she might were they in a vanilla relationship.

        1. It can be difficult to set boundaries with someone you care about when they threaten suicide and physically prevent you from leaving a room they’re in.

  18. LW, you remind me so much of myself that this letter made me cry. I’ve had my own Elsa, and I know how simultaneously wonderful and heart wrenching this kind of relationship can feel. Unrequited love is so painful, and the Captain’s advice to take care of yourself is spot on.

    I don’t have much in the way of concrete advice, but I do want to say this: you deserve to be loved and cared for. When you find the right person — someone you love deeply and who returns the same feelings — it will be so much better.

  19. hey, LW, this sounds really hard. i don’t have much experience with romance at all, but it really sounds like you might want to back out of this relationship for your own health. it sounds like you don’t like the person you’re becoming in this relationship much, and that’s never good. it sounds like you don’t want to feel this possessive and dependent. you don’t have to. it’s going to be hard to back out of this, given how much you love your gf, but i think that and maybe talking to a doctor about the despair you seem to be experiencing as well as the blackouts would be a good idea. please take care of yourself, above all. you definitely deserve to be in a relationship where your partner loves you just as much as you love them, but this does not sound like that relationship and i think you’re both going to end up disappointed and upset if it continues as it has.

  20. Thank you, Captain, what a great response. Your final sentence really hit home for me — I felt a warm bloom of self-love as I read it. Everyone should read it every day until they believe it for themselves, for everyone is worthy.

    LW, I have been there and the old adage that time heals all wounds is so, so true. But more than that, what will help the time fly by, is what Captain said at the very end. Loving yourself and being confident and comfortable being all by yourself is solid gold — and, if I may add, a great way to attract other strong, confident people looking to spread that love to another. Take care of yourself, you deserve it and have a lot to offer yourself and others!

  21. To me, this letter has little to do with Elsa. (I don’t even like typing the name, because that’s how little focus is needed in that direction.)
    This letter, LW, is about you. You. Self-worth confers a LOT of freedom, because no one else has to do anything in particular to make me happy. If they do, great — but life doesn’t hinge on that. They can add to my life but never ruin it. I wouldn’t even recommend things like “someone else will come along” because without some baseline self-worth, the pattern will repeat. You’re giving all your power, all your sense of well-being, over to someone else. No matter who that person is, that’s not his/her job.
    These may seem like obvious statements. I don’t know. But maybe you could entertain the idea of unhooking your well-being —your very life! — from someone else’s vibe. You’ve got your own vibe!

    1. So well put. Caveat: I know nothing about D/s relationships, and what I “know” I don’t understand, so please disregard if this is not how those relationships / identities work.

      But. Otherwise. It’s really hard sometimes, but if your self-worth is grounded in you* and not your partners’ approval, then you own that no matter who they are or what they do. It’s like holding the deed to your own soul.

      I was raised to measure myself by how other people treated me and whether I pleased them. It sucked and continues to suck as I unlearn that. But it is worth it.

      * who you are, not what you do, in case that inculcation is in effect.

  22. Dear LW, you remind me so much of myself when I was also 20 and having All The Feels. The Captain gives excellent advice but in case you needed to hear it, as a queer woman who falls in love a lot and passionately, often with people who do not reciprocate, I can tell you from experience that it does get better and you do get better at finding the people who love you back. While you’re navigating the perils of romance, it helps to have a solid Team You, including a bunch of queer friends who get it in the way that your straight friends and family may not. If you haven’t checked it out, may I suggest autostraddle.com? I promise you you’re not the only person going through this sort of thing. Good luck, you’re stronger than you think!

  23. I’m a sub who, despite sexual difficulties and being really sensitive, has been with my Dom for five years, so I can say: nothing about you means you are broken or that you have to endure sexual play you don’t enjoy in order to be loved. BDSM can be kind, monogamous, patient and stable. I have confidence that there will be someone awesome out there who longs for their very own perfectly imperfect Astrilde, who knows what it is to be vulnerable and who will not cause you this kind of pain.

    It’s ok to hurt. It’s ok to have needs and limits and to make mistakes. That’s part of being human. It doesn’t make you less lovable.

  24. OP, this may sound odd but bear with me – I am encouraged that you are ashamed of threatening self harm and blocking your girlfriend from leaving an argument. It’s good that you recognize that those are really destructive and hurtful actions. If that pattern were to happen again I would consider that abusive, and I don’t think you are actually ok with abusing someone you love. Just know that you have taken a step down that path, so now is the time to back up and reevaluate whether you can be a healthy partner. If you care about her as a person and friend as much as you do a girlfriend, you may need to let the relationship go so that it does not escalate into more toxicity. In my experience, it’s a really bad sign when any conflict or boundary setting escalates to yelling, threats, and physicality that quickly – drunk or not. While in the short run, those reactions may convince her to stay or back off from her boundaries, in the long run it will erode her trust in you and you risk becoming a person who uses emotional reactions as a weapon rather than genuine communication. That could then impede your ability to be in a healthy relationship with a more compatible partner down the line.

  25. LW, I have been on both sides of this coin and, let me tell you, the grass isn’t greener. In fact, there is no grass on either side.

    I spent years with someone who I loved desperately, who liked me an awful lot and loved me as a friend, but who never saw me as an option for the future. When we were in the moment with each other it felt SO GOOD. Every other moment was torture. I lost days of my life chewing myself apart wondering why he wasn’t texting me, parsing what his texts did mean, stalking his social media, garnering every bit of information about him that I could so that I could mold myself into the person he’d love. I did that, I became his textbook “perfect girl” that he’d described to me, and… nothing changed. He did not love me. Every couple months we would get into a big fight because I’d be upset about something insignificant, but would be pouring all of my anger at his inability to love me into the insignificant thing (one time it was that he invited another female friend to a party before he invited me, to give a sense of how ridiculous this got) and then he’d remind me that he wasn’t really my boyfriend, and we’d cry all night and feel terrible, then the next day we couldn’t bear to part so we’d try again. Rinse and repeat. For 3 years.

    I’d like to point out that it didn’t start this way. It was very undramatic and lovely for months. But once it did start to decline, I’m sorry to say but this is an avalanche that can’t be stopped. The feelings of shame over my emotional outbursts haunted me and ate away at me even more than his words did. Every time he did something nice for me, or texted me first, or asked me on what felt like A Real Date, I would get so hopeful and then be crushed anew when it meant exactly what he said it meant: nothing serious. My self-esteem was boiled down to nothing, and I gave myself migraines from getting stuck in repetitive thinking loops that I could not control.

    On the other side: I have been this person, and my ex couldn’t handle it, even though I told him from literally day one that I wasn’t emotionally capable of something serious at that point in my life. It ended with me moving across the country and having to threaten a restraining order after he tried to move to my new neighborhood and get a job at my then-boyfriend’s place of work. When we were together he was constantly angry at me for not loving him, and by the time I cut it off I was so disgusted with his behavior that I could barely look at him. Neither of us did each other any favors.

    I am happy to say that I have been in therapy and am now in a healthy, committed relationship with someone who loves me. LW, it is a lot of work. I spent the first 6 months of our relationship not believing him when he said he loved me, and just recently we got into a big argument because I had a really bad insecure lizard brain day and took something small & snowballed it. I’ve spent the past couple days feeling foolish and fighting down the monster inside me who thinks he’ll leave me because I wanted too much. I think if I had left both of the above relationships when they first started to sour I would not be in this situation, but here I am. With work, it’s getting better every day. Love yourself, love your friends & family, love your passions, and love will come back to you. You just have to make sure you’re available for it when it comes. As wonderful as Elsa is, and she sounds lovely, you won’t be able to receive the love you need while she’s still around. Do both of yourselves a favor and start to wind this down now, as much a you can bear to. We are all here to support you! The CA forums are also a great place to post if you need more longterm encouragement/support/jedi hugs.

  26. Excellent advice. LW, be kind to yourself. There are sources of love in your life that don’t take this much work and don’t make you feel so up and down, so go forth and cultivate them.

  27. LW, first, a great big hug. The simpler it is to say what you need to do, the harder it actually IS to do.

    Second, the Cap’s advice is great, and I would add to it: read the 12/27/201 “Ask Polly” column at New York Magazine. You don’t need to read the letter but rather just Polly’s response, because it applies to you:

    You are ALREADY “good enough.”

    You are ALREADY a worthy person and lover.

    You are ALREADY deserving of love.

    Again, real easy to say, really tough to actually believe. You are absolutely strong enough to get to believing it.

  28. See a doctor about the passing-out-during-orgasms thing. That really doesn’t sound good.

  29. Another thing that’s hard to believe (especially when we are young) but it is oh so true: There is no such thing as a romantic partner who is the only possible partner for you. There’s no such thing as a soulmate. Astrilde, please don’t think Elsa is your only lifelong option. You sound like a sweetheart and there are many fish in the sea who will be (believe it or not!) a better fit for your wants and needs.

    Virtual hugs, hon. This is so hard but remember how very, very many people have felt this way and come out the other side just fine.

    1. Yup. I haven’t had a lot of romantic relationships in my life, and when I got into my first one in my late 20s I thought it was the end of dating for me, I could be with this person forever. Never mind that it wasn’t really that great a relationship and the person wasn’t really all that compatible for me. When it ended, I thought I’d never find another person for me. And honestly since then I haven’t really found anyone who wanted to date me long-term, which sounds like a bummer, but what I’ve realized is that I’m much happier even being long-term single than I was with that partner.

  30. LW, I just want to add that if you think you might hurt yourself if this relationship goes badly, then now is a good time to get together some crisis intervention resources, just in case. Write them down in one place where you can easily get to them, and keep them easily accessible. That way, if the worst happens and you do worry that you’ll do something drastic, you won’t have to cast about for whom to call – it’ll be right there on your list. If there are any individuals on Team You that you think will be available in that situation, write down their name and contact information. You should also add a couple of services in case your Team You in unavailable or you’re unwilling to call them in the moment (for example, if you’re in the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255).

    If there is anyone in your life you can think of who could support you during an emotional crisis, then it might be a good idea to tell them how you’re feeling *now* so that they’re prepared. It’s not mandatory at all, but it may help you feel less alone in the meantime and more confident if you do hit that emotional low and end up needing them.

    You might not need any of this stuff – which, if so, great! But there’s no harm in getting some info together, just in case. In any case, your feelings about this are real and you shouldn’t feel badly for taking them seriously.

    1. This is really good advice, and I want to second it. I also want to point out that there are lots of services out there—telephone hotlines are the most common, but there are text and chat crisis services too, which may be useful if you’re having trouble talking or don’t want to be overheard.

      I also really wanted to emphasize that while it’s wrong to threaten suicide or self-harm as a means of controlling someone else, there’s no shame in the feelings themselves.

      1. Oh, good call on the text and chat services. I generally hate talking on the phone, so I love that more organizations are offering those.

    2. This is really good advice.

      Also, what I have heard secondhand is that hotlines are generally(?) happy to have you “try them out”, like: hi, I just wanted to be in touch with you now, and get comfortable with doing it if things get really hard later on.

      (If they list “please expect longer wait during these times…” then might go outside that.)

      Maybe someone can confirm/deny from knowledge?

      1. Captain, I wanted to offer this information, but if this comes across too much as preaching/advertising, please edit or delete my post as you see fit.

        I volunteer with the Samaritans in the UK, so I can answer from my own experience, though I obviously cannot speak for other helplines (for one thing, we don’t call ourselves a crisis helpline, other helplines that do may prioritise differently).

        We offer a confidential listening service that provides emotional support to people in distress and despair; that distress can be both acute (during a crisis) or chronic (long term contact for maintenance of emotional health). Plenty of people call to test the waters and get information when they’re doing relatively better, and we are happy to talk to those people too – I am of the opinion that it is far better for those people to determine if we are a valid support and safe space at that time, rather that add to their emotional load when they are in crisis.

        Most of our services are centred on the UK and ROI, but we also offer an email service which anyone can contact at jo@samaritans.org – I have personally supported several international contacts through this. I should mention that English is the first language of the vast majority of our Samaritans; if we receive a contact in another language, we do our best to translate in-house if we have an appropriate speaker volunteering, but I cannot guarantee the same level of service.

      2. Yeah, I can confirm that. I’ve volunteered with one, and while they’re focused on suicide prevention, they’re happy to talk to people who aren’t currently suicidal, and would be very supportive of proactively checking out the service in case things get really rough. They do some prioritization to make sure the higher-risk callers get shorter wait times, so don’t worry that your situation is “not serious enough” or that you’re taking time away from someone who’s in worse shape. If they’re doing their job, that’s already accounted for.

        1. As an addendum to that, I just checked out Crisis Text Line’s website, and they discourage people from “testing” their system when they’re not actually in crisis. But they define crisis as “a moment of extreme emotional pain that gets in the way of living your everyday life,” which is much more broad than “currently suicidal or self-harming.”

          1. I volunteer with Crisis text line and this would easily fall in line with a typical conversation for us. No need to wait until suicide or self harm are involved before reaching out there

    3. I second this and want to add explicitly: make sure you identify some mental health support people that are 1) NOT ELSA and 2) not friends or relatives of Elsa. I have been in the position before where my partner was in a similar position as the LW in a lot of ways and expected ME to deal with their emotions, which in this sort of case just intensifies the unhealthy dynamic.

  31. oh, god, LW, I feel so strongly for you in this situation. my entire late teens/early 20s is littered with the smashed, glittering, beautiful, miserable debris of relationships and situations like these and the greatest and worst of all of those was an on-again, off-again BDSM Thing with a guy who I loved the way you love Elsa and who did not, and could not, love me back. and he told me so, that he was not capable of love, and it didn’t matter because I thought I loved and needed him so much that I would be happy with just the tiniest flickers of his attention. because they felt like so much more than anything anyone else had given me.

    like, I literally wrote him a poem in which I said that all I wanted was to give myself to him and he could put me on a shelf and ignore me until or unless I was useful one day and I truly, really thought I would be happy with that.

    spoilers: he took it at face value, which was not really his fault (although he is enormously emotionally incompetent and that didn’t help), and it turned out I was not at all happy with that. also, it turned out that the reason the tiny flickers of his attention felt like so much to me was that before I met him I’d been treated pretty badly by everyone in my life and just didn’t recognise it, because I figured it was what I deserved and/or just how things were. so even tiny scraps felt like a banquet to little me. shades of things you say in this letter make me wonder whether it mightn’t be the same for you.

    what I think, and I am just an internet stranger so feel free to take or leave what I think, is that although Elsa may not be a Bad Person, she is not necessarily a Good Person and she is definitely not a good person /for you, right now/. you say she’s a good person – everyone likes her, she learned about x interest of yours and does y thing she knows you like – and things like that are sometimes Awesome Relationship Basics, but are sometimes things certain kinds of people do in a calculated sort of way, like, ‘I want to keep this person around so which things can I do that don’t require a lot of effort on my part, but will shine like big, glowing stars in their personal night sky’.

    people who do things like that also sometimes do things like kindly, caringly and sweetly dropping hints that they’re happy giving you all the time you need to become more adventurous in the bedroom, obviously, but, you know, more adventurous in the bedroom is definitely the end goal you should be working towards, to make them happy.

    and that’s not okay. and making her happy is important, sure, but you being happy is just as important, and, you know, you’re not. she maybe does make you happier than anyone else has, but you’re still crying on the floor, so like…there is definitely a happier you than this, somewhere in your future. away from this person. I know breaking up with her seems impossible and I am going to be honest with you: I am still, sixteen years after meeting him, in love with that guy. I never see him and we don’t speak any more and still I don’t think I will ever get over him. but I am fundamentally a better and happier me than I could ever have been WITH him, and so it was worth it to leave and go find out what else there was out there (many, amazing people and things, it turned out. people and things for whom I could feel a kind of love that didn’t devour me whole and leave nothing of me behind).

    PS, in your letter you minimise the nature of your D/s relationship but in my extensive experience even mild variants of that kind of thing can do a HUGE number on your brain in these situations. I know it’s something you want and consented to but it can make it so much harder to think about your own wants and needs as having equal weight with your dom/me’s, and that equality is SO crucial. I know this comment is long and a bit rambling but my heart just went out to you SO MUCH reading this letter; I hope you find yourself in a better place very soon.

    1. I so agree with your assessment that Elsa is neither bad nor good – not exactly overbrimming with care for the LW. It doesn’t make her a bad person either. Anyone who truly cared for LW would encourage her to find a relationship where she can be true to herself. Not one where she has to change her basic sexual desires and attachment style.

      I think Elsa is just being socially and sexually business like: “I want you for x style of interaction; are you in or out?” She expects LW to respond in an equally businsslike and honest way. That’s not caring, and if the LW settles for it she’s settling for the crumbs of what she really wants.

      1. It is possible to care a great deal for someone and still not want to be the sole source of their personal happiness, and right now that’s the role that LW wants Elsa to play. Is anything less than that crumbs? Well, yes, but that’s because LW right now has super-unhealthy expectations from her partner.

        Even after getting screamed at, threatened, and manipulated in a situation that screams “Run, here be bees,” Elsa came back and cared about the LW enough to check on her wellbeing and stick around still in the relationship after the suicide threats. Frankly, at that point, I’d be out even with someone I cared about, because that’s enormously bad behavior on the LW’s part. Reading over the letter and trying to see without the blinders of the LW’s personal obsession, Elsa’s behavior is that of someone who cares for LW, but just doesn’t have the same desires and (quite healthily) doesn’t expect or want to shoulder the weight of the LW’s whole universe.

        1. We don’t know how old Elsa is, but if she’s of a similar age to LW she may also be being heavily influenced by her ideas about what a relationships <i.should be like, rather than what would be healthy for both of them. Maybe she thinks she’s just got a “passionate” girlfriend, and if she says and does the right things they’ll end up on the same page, because that’s the narrative we like to build around relationships, casual as well as serious.

        2. I didn’t mean that Elsa not being solely responsible for LW’s happiness is Elsa offering crumbs. I meant a monogamous person accepting a non exclusive set up = accepting crumbs.

          But you strike at the heart of the matter. If Astrilde becomes the star of her own show she is more likely to say “This particular script is not the right genre for my character. Perfect for some but not for me!”

      2. “Businesslike” is how I read it too. I’ve been an Elsa in that mode, and I was, frankly, an asshole. I adhered very neatly to local norms of Clearly Communicating My Boundaries and all that, but I was a pretty little heartbreaking jackass who was not nearly caring enough — it was a friends-with-benefits situation, and I was a lousy friend. I had everything my own way: I could play girlfriend without being a girlfriend. I wasn’t self-aware enough to see how my actions were leading my friend to believe that a greater commitment was just around the corner.

        Nobody called me on it — it would have been very difficult to call me on it, because I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong and, like I said, I was adhering to the local norms of open, direct verbal communication. (I would have said that we had a deal, god help me. Ugh.) My friend wound up looking completely insane and hyperemotional. It took me years to understand how crazy-making I’d been, and now I regret it.

    2. Oh gosh, the “tiny flickers of attention” is such a good way of putting it! I recommend also looking up the song Love Kernels from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (if you don’t mind mild second-season spoilers: the singer is finally in a relationship with the man she’s been obsessed with for ages, who is also into her but just…less so). I watched it at a time when I was happily single (still am), but it gave me some helpful perspective on times in my past when I had been scrounging for love kernels but really should have moved on/not defined myself by my current relationship or pseudo-relationship.

      1. I think Crazy Ex Girlfriend is a perfect paralle of the LW. Both the protagonist and the LW are both people who are so emotional hurt that they and desperate that they lash out at anyone in their vicinity until they get what they want. They are both so broken and are unable to exist the narrative they created for themselves they can start mending who they are.

        They are additionally similar as they are both from the perspective of the abusers. The show is from the perspective of the manuplilative stalker, like the letter is from the perspective of the controlling and threatening LW. In both the show and in this letter I feel a huge sense of empathy and pity but also strongly hope that they both stop and heal themeselves before they hurt others any more.

  32. Oh, Astrilde. I’ve been the person who thought of herself as “$PERSON’s girlfriend” without a hint of “me” in it. $PERSON even loved me back, but it still wasn’t a healthy relationship.

    It’s easiest for me to describe this in poly terms, though Cap’s “star of your own story” is much the same thing: You have to be your own primary partner, because the only person in the entire universe who is always, ALWAYS going to be there is you. An ex of mine actually went so far as to buy a ring and have a commitment-to-self ceremony as a way of cementing it in their psyche.

    I hope you discover yourself-as-an-individual soon.

  33. When I was getting out of a really bad relationship with lots of similar incompatibilities, one of the things I fixated on was, “But he makes me coffee every morning–where am I going to find another guy who cares about me enough to do that?” Two years later, I’m with a much more compatible guy who–get this–cares about me so much he makes me coffee every morning.

    LW, if you want a partner who will be interested in your interests and who will brush your hair for hours because it shows they know you and care about you, you can find that again in someone who *is* truly into you.

    1. If somebody incompatible with you makes you coffee/brushes your hair/xyz guess what a compatible person will do? That’s right! Theyll do xyz + beautiful things you can’t even imagine.

    2. Yeah, also, the things LW cites aren’t really that hard to do. We aren’t even talking like going down or massage (fun, but require skill and concentration and you can cramp if you do them for too long) but easy-peasy stuff most people also do for their friends. Learning a bit about someone else’s interests isn’t some huge thing – that’s just sort of basic human interaction and how we grow and learn new things. As for hair-brushing, it takes about the same amount of effort as skritching a cat or dog behind the ears, and is something most girls did with friends during sleepovers and stuff.

  34. Ah, LW, Captain’s advice has been wonderful and I second most of it.

    I do however want to dig out a bit the idea that having a medical problem means that you are broken. It is not a great way to think about yourself! If you had bronchitis, or a broken arm, would you think you are broken? Hopefully, you’d think, “I’m sick / injured, and I need to go to a doctor.”

    There are lots of things that can cause blacking out during stress (even during “eustress”, or “positive stress”, which an orgasm could be) or orgasms specifically, many of which are treatable, and a few of which are indicative of a more serious underlying problem. It could be high resting blood pressure, a neurological problem, vaginismus, or something I’m unaware of since I’m not a doctor.

    I’d encourage you to think of many aspects of yourself not as fundamental parts of “you,” but, rather, the state you are in right now. I think a belief that being sexually “broken,” or having extreme emotional responses to rejection, are a fundamental part of your personality can feel reassuring in a way– it’s a way of “taking back” and owning something I dislike about myself, and it also excused me from the responsibility of making the effort to change, which can be challenging and painful. But as someone who has done this work, both to improve my physical health *and* my mental health, it is 100% worth it. It is difficult to explain to others why taking this mental step in how I see myself can be scary, but it is; doing it takes real courage, and there is no shame in taking time trying to gather that courage up. Once you’ve gathered it, though, take the step as soon as you can. You are so much more than your pain, and all your “broken” parts can be mended, or, at the very least, tended to.

    1. Yeah, this is a good point. I have a lot of hip and leg issues that mean many positions and sex acts are painful for me. I’m not “broken”, though I’m not the right sex partner for many people.

  35. Oh LW. You deserve so, so, so much better. You will be happy with someone who reciprocates. You are not “broken”. You are loving and perfect and wonderful <3.

  36. Hey LW. Count me in as a midshipman on the U.S.S. I’ve Done This And I Regret It.

    In my case it wasn’t someone I was dating, but a friend I desperately wished I could be dating. I did some scary, manipulative shit in pursuit of that goal, all the while telling myself that I was just paying attention to ACTIONS rather than WORDS . . . I mean, my dude acted in such a caring and thoughtful way toward me. He had to mean something by it, right? RIGHT? I spent a whole shiterrific year feeling like someone was cutting each of my organs out with a spoon. What was casual for the dudester felt Really Fucking Intimate to me.

    I learned. Damn, I learned.

    Nearly five years and some amount of misery later, I am safer and more stable because I know that I can walk away from pretty much any relationship that tears holes in my identity as a Real Human Person. Will there be grieving? Yes. Will I be the same? No. Is taking charge of your own emotional well-being lonely and exhausting as shit? Well, yeah.

    Will I be sorta okay, at least okay enough to enjoy pasta and take walks? More or less.

    I don’t know so much about “real love” feeling safe and comfortable. I’m coming at this from the perspective of someone who’s had limerence for people who made me feel like toe jam and nothing else. I am speaking from five years into The Worst Possible Thing (hat tip to the Pervocracy) — I didn’t find someone else to love and be loved by. I doubt I will, because OKC wants your real name now, and I’m too poor and too irritable to go out much. Also because therapy is expensive, and after a few years of it you just want to spend your life doing things that make you feel more like a human and less like a sack of bruises and bones.

    My life has books and fiddling around with watercolors and cold winds and burnt lentils and wet dog noses in it. I still doubt myself and I still have shitty emotional regulation and I still feel gross when I look at beautiful coupley photos on Facebook, but I don’t feel like someone is actively trying to destroy my will to live. That’s worth something, my friend.

    You and I weren’t and aren’t bad people for stumbling upon magical, entrancing people who were nonetheless Not Our People. Letting go of that Magical Sparklebeast feels like admitting that we are just as shitty as all the little screamers in our heads say we are, or possibly like there will never be Magic or Sparkles ever again. But Elsa is just a person and my dude was a person and we are just people, and even if there isn’t adrenaline-fueled terrormance, there’s pasta and dogs and kindness and beautiful brickwork. You can do this. It will hurt, but you can do this.

    1. You’re so right. Yes by bailing on the love that makes you weepy, you make room for Better Lover, but before that there is the certain reward of Better Self.

    2. Hi LW and Jane! I too have spent much of my life aboard the same leaky vessel. The concepts of “limerence” and “The Worst Possible Thing” are all too familiar to me as well.
      I was not much older than LW when I had to walk away, permanently, from the most important person in my life. It hurt. It very nearly broke me. It took me years to recover – but the point is that I did recover. Elsa might be lovely, but there is a whole world of people and experiences out there beyond her. You are so young – you have such a lot of discovering still to do.
      I am single, but I have my own job and my own home and a life full of fascinating people, animals, art, books and quests to go on. It is a great life – and I am a different, and perhaps more whole, person than I would have been if I had stayed close to my amour.
      I agree with the others that this relationship is not good for you now. You need to celebrate who you are, rather than looking for the tiny reflection of yourself in Elsa’s eyes. I suggest choosing one lovely thing to do each day, *that has nothing to do with Elsa*. You’re worth that. You’re worth the love that your soul really needs.

    3. Oh, Jane, with past and wet dog noses and kindness and beautiful brickwork there are also things like your writing. Wow, just wow, the way you write is so beautiful. I am sorry you had to go through the pain.

      Your words echo like a song in my head. Thank you! ❤

    4. Count me in for the leaky vessel too. I am in a different place than Jane and Planegirl, tho…

      About 4 years ago I was the LW and doing all the unhealthy things in a platonic relationship. I didn’t see it as abusive at the time because it felt like I was just pretty much stating my needs and wasn’t being heard. Honestly, what made me realize things weren’t ok eventually was to see that my needs were unrealistic. And eventually, I realized that it was all about “me”, my “unrealistic needs”, and what I wanted. It did feel like love, but it wasn’t, really. Additionally, I wanted my needs met by someone who would never be able to meet them even if she was willing to do so. Circumstances are different, obviously, but I think the LW knows that Elsa can’t give her what she wants and needs and still tries to fit a square peg into a round hole. I don’t know why sometimes we obsess so much about one particular person, but whatever the reason is, it is NOT about love AT ALL.

      Differently than Jane and Planegirl, I spent the time after the platonic relationship, working on myself but looking for someone else. Four years and four limerences later, I absolutely hate myself and what my life has become. Just like the OPs above, I am still single, but unlike them, I am not happy. In the end of the day, I realized that if I want to have a semi-decent life, whatever that might look like, I will have to leave my dreams of having a family behind. Looking for a partner and constantly getting rejected makes me suicidal and having limerence for people who couldn’t care less is very, very destructive. I am not one to give up, but having to make this choice for myself and my sanity is probably the way out and I think the sooner you realize this the sooner you can move on.

      So yeah, LW, I don’t know what your issues are or what is going on. People will go in different directions and some are better than others. I personally think that the best way is to work on yourself, no excuses, no bullshitting. It might not lead to the life you want (or it might, who knows?) but the emotional torment is definitely not worth it. It did feel much better to be out of that platonic relationship I described earlier, but then, don’t do it like me and try to replace Elsa with other people while doing palliative work on yourself. Save yourself some time.

      1. You can still have a family but it won’t be the family you imagined. You can work with in your limitations by improving your mental health. Just be careful if you want to have/ adopt a kid. I dont know you from Adam but people who tend to have unhealthy and unrealistic boundaries around their romantic partner tend to extend those boundaries too their kids. Just be ready to be in good working order before committing to raising a child.

        1. Thanks for the reply, Ruler of Cats. The reason why I am letting go of my desire to have a family includes exactly what you pointed out. Because I am very self-aware about the ins and outs of my situation, I know I am at risk of being an abusive parent. I am still young so maybe in a few years I will feel more centered to do it, but at this point in life, I can’t commit to it. It is a bitter pill to swallow, that things won’t be as I want, but ultimately it’s my choice to try my best to avoid continuing this cycle as I would not deliberately do to a child what was done to me.

          Anyway, this is about LW, so I will stop here. But I really hope LW reflects on everything people have been saying in this thread because the sooner she starts the self-reflection, the sooner her life can change for the better with or without someone. People are not “fated” to stay in an unhealthy place, that is usually a choice.

      2. @Nina, I appreciate this perspective, because I think often the, “you’ll find the person who’s perfect for you eventually!” rhetoric can feel like a poisonous sort of false hope in the middle of all this.

        If a person’s in a bad relationship, basically what has to happen is realizing that in the mental balance between “this relationship” and “no relationship,” no relationship is better; otherwise they don’t leave, or they end up right from one bad relationship to another. There are many flavors of bad relationship, but the balance has to come out in any of them.

        I don’t know you, obviously, but I have found inspiration in something Kurt Vonnegut wrote. This is pared down and out of context, and I’d recommend reading the whole book (‘God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian’), but the relevant thing is here:

        “But most of us, if we get married nowadays, are just one more person for the other person. The groom gets one more pal, but it’s a woman. The woman gets one more person to talk to about everything, but it’s a man. When a couple has an argument, they may think it’s about money or power or sex, or how to raise the kids, or whatever. What they’re really saying to each other, though, without realizing it, is this:
        ‘You are not enough people!’ ”

        And, the character is not advocating polyamory in the book; instead, he is longing for a big extended family, a tight-knit community with a hundred people in it. The best way to get all emotional needs met for everyone is for the needs to be spread out, so everyone can give what they give best, and take what they need.

        The idea is also explored in ‘The Five Love Languages,’ a book I’d previously avoided due to its self-help-y vibe, but ended up having decent advice. The gist is, everybody needs to be loved, just as much as we need food, water, air, shelter, etc. Love is a basic need. But a person doesn’t feel loved if the people who love them don’t speak their “love language.” Feeling unloved makes every pain greater, every argument worse, just like feeling hungry or starving for food would make every conflict worse and everyone more desperate. The 5 love languages are physical touch, gifts, compliments & words of encouragement, quality time and acts of service.

        But, like Vonnegut, the author observes that if two people need to compromise, because speaking a specific love language is hard for the other person, it’s good to meet the need to be loved elsewhere, and, in fact, it’s normal. He goes in depth into how to cultivate relationships (or service-based transactions) to feel love in your own language, and how to find people who appreciate being loved in your “native” tongue.

        All of which to say, it is 100% normal, and even good, to want to be loved and to want emotional needs met– and to seek to love others and meet their needs. But the message that one person is The One or My Everything has gotten a lot of people all messed up and tangled in knots.

        I absolutely respect your conviction that it is safest right now for you to have solitude and no close relationships. Just throwing it out there that you might, at some point, be able to shift your thinking about what it might be to live in a loving family or community– that there are other opportunities beyond a single all-or-nothing love and a private solitary life. Just, food for thought.

        1. I want to nth all of this, as it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. I have a partner who is lovely and sweet and meets 90% of my relationship-ing needs. But there is one need that he doesn’t meet in a big way, which is my need for fascinating conversation (he’s a quite-easily-mentally sapped introvert who retreats into himself when he’s hit his Wall). And I’m pretty sure I can be happy with everything else he provides, because most of my platonic friends and job is all about fascinating conversation. But it’s weird as hell.

      3. I wanted to just say something about giving up and letting go of dreams.

        I haven’t gone through quite the same things as you, but I have dealt with serious mental health stuff, and one thing I will say is that getting my shit together (in-person therapy, CBT, medication) took a couple of years where that was really all I did. My whole life was just to work enough to scrape by financially, and put all my energy into Trying Everything to Fix My Brain.

        I had long since given up on any plans I’d had for myself; I couldn’t really envision anything beyond the moment I was in. I just knew I couldn’t spend the rest of my life the way I’d been living it. I didn’t even really think I would get any better: I thought I couldn’t be fixed, that I deserved to be broken. It was a shot in the dark, but I took it. And, I won’t say I Fixed anything; there’s still a lot wrong up there. But, but, but:

        On the other side of those years and that work, possibilities have opened up that I would never have imagined. Not because I took my pills and went to my appointments and now I get a shiny reward at the end of the quest, but because I have come to see the world differently; because I have come to see myself differently; and because I have learned to behave differently.

        Because I like literary references, on the TV show Futurama, there is at one point a mystery about how the spaceship’s engines work. When something goes wrong and no one knows how to fix it, it’s the young clone of a mad scientist who finally recognizes the engines’ secret: “The ship doesn’t move-the ship stands still, and moves the universe around it.”

        That was not a great analogy for the point I want to make, but I love it, so let’s see if I can force it:

        When it feels like all is lost, stand still. Look inward, and the universe will be somewhere new when you open your eyes.

        (That kinda worked.)

      4. Nina, that sounds rough, and I’m sorry for what you’re going through.

        I am pretty sure that when we are desperate for a single person’s attention, it’s because we’ve turned their regard into a litmus test for our worth as a person. THE SPARKLECREATURE pays attention to me = I am Real Honest-to-Goodness Human Who Deserves Love and Happiness. They stop paying attention = I am a Subhuman Shitheap Who Deserves to Suffer. That kind of dynamic is enough to make anyone chew their skin off; how dare the Obsessed-About take away the thing that proves we are Human and Okay? How dare the Obsesser ask a mere human being to Confirm Their Humanity?

        This is what we call a clusterfuck. I have literally never found a way out that didn’t involve thousands of miles of space and extremely limited contact.

        I was so sure that time would be enough to get my emotions to behave more normally (and yeah, I’ve done a net total of 3-ish years of weekly therapy??) and then in 2016 I got hit by the same old gross limerence that turns me into a ball of self-hatred and terrifying desires.

        In my case, I am extremely fortunate that not all humans set off the grossness; I have many other friendships that roll along at quiet, even levels, and even if I’m super oversensitive about some things, my net Bad Feelings are still profoundly outweighed by the good and steady ones. They are not romantic relationships. I’ve definitely thought about trying to set up a platonic-friendship based household before, because this is the kind of relationship that I can stay enough in possession of my sense of self to do an okay job at maintaining.

  37. Hi, Astrilde.

    I don’t know how long you and Elsa have been seeing each other. I read through your letter twice, and didn’t see anything about that. That being said, you sound a LOT like me during the first year-or-so of a given relationship. The terror of someone leaving, the willingness to do stuff you don’t actually want to do in order to prevent it, the feelings of unworthiness, the suspicion that you are sexually “broken” (well, that’s less about being in the first year of a relationship)…

    What I’m saying is there’s a really strong chance that I’m projecting all to heck here, so take this with however much salt you need, but:
    I’m going to second the advice to get some mental health supports in place. Find a counselor you can talk to about all of this. Someone who knows about attachment bonds and sexuality stuff and (probably?) shame stuff and (maybe? you do you?) trauma stuff and dissociation. Someone who’s not going to blame everything on you being bisexual and/or kinky.
    (They are not necessarily easy to find, but some of the counselors who cover this stuff will also do long-distance sessions over skype/phone. Also, if you go through a “practice clinic” – the kind run through university psychology programs so that their PhD candidates can practice being therapists – they may have a VERY sliding scale and will probably be open to you showing up with a laundry list of stuff your counselor will need to read up on before your next session, since they are still in school mode. That’s how I got therapy, and it helped me with this stuff a LOT).

    I haaaaaaate that relationships don’t always last. It’s frightening and shattering and awful. But it’s also reality, and frequently those relationships fall apart for A Reason. It’s terrible. But it’s survivable. Elsa (really, truly, honestly) is not the only person in the world who will care about you or want you around or brush your hair or support you in your interests. I promise.
    You might find the “Worst Thing in the World” blog post from The Pervocracy really relevant on this point. (I’d leave a link, but I think it might get trapped in the spam filter).

    Beyond this? What people have been saying about how “Love is work, but it’s generally joyful work that is fulfilling and mutually taken-on”? This is a really true thing. If you’re like me, and are an insecure-anxious attacher (someone who’s super afraid of abandonment), you’re probably not going to stop being afraid of losing someone – and/or might have trouble discerning whether or not you’re In Love when that fear isn’t there – and you’re going to have to figure out some ways to self-sooth when you and your partner are away from each other for extended periods of time (yes, really. Everyone gets to have their own lives without being monitored by their sweethearts. The Captain’s advice to pour some energy into your friendships and hobbies is solid on this)… But the crazy-feeling stuff? The “I feel like I’m going to die” and “I would do anything to keep her from leaving” stuff? That stuff quiets the F down when you’re with someone who loves you the way you need to be loved.

    Good luck my dear.

  38. Oh man. Trying to be okay with an open relationship when you really truly are not is a recipe for disaster. I learned this first hand a couple of years ago and am still dealing with the emotional trauma of the entire clusterfuck. I kept telling myself that I was theoretically okay with being in an open relationship, so therefore I should be okay with it in practice. Even though I wasn’t, and was self-harming to deal with the anxiety and unexpressed anger.

    It turns out, I couldn’t “should” myself into being okay with my partner fucking other people. It’s okay if you couldn’t, either, Astrilde.

    Sending Jedi hugs if you’d like them.

  39. LW, I feel for you and remember what it was like when I was in a relationship similar – I was head over heels, and the other person was just casual. Cared about me, but not in an “in love way.” In some ways, it was harder, because if they were awful, or didn’t care about me at all, it would have been easy to leave. Instead I had so many painful moments along with the joyful ones. Only you can decide, but the down moments may not be worth it for you in the long run.

    Captain, one thing I noticed, though – if my reading is correct, the LW’s declaration of love came AFTER the request to sleep with a man (“A few days before my confession-of-love, Elsa told me – as carefully and respectfully as she could – that there was an itch I could not scratch. She wanted to have a one-night thing with a guy, and she wanted to make sure I was cool with it.”). Your response treats it as though the “I love you” came first (“You told her you loved her, and her response was “I’d like to fuck a dude, is that cool?””), which I think paints Elsa in an inaccurately unflattering light.

    1. Yes, that sentence made me flinch too. I see a few people trying to paint Elsa as callous or manipulative (a commenter said she “manipulated” LW into a threesome, when that is absolutely not the situation LW described), when the picture I get from the letter is someone who has been quite clear and honest about her own expectations and is trying to navigate LW’s unhealthy expectations without hurting her too much. Honestly, even if Elsa were in love with LW, nobody can/should be expected to be the sole source of their partner’s happiness. This relationship is definitely making LW unhappy, but that is not Elsa’s fault. Like others have said upthread, LW would probably benefit from therapy to work on her self-esteem and also from a consultation with a neurologist for her passing out issues.

      1. Agreed. That made me quite angry: there’s nothing wrong with negotiating non-monogamy in a relationship. Elsa is not doing anything wrong by asking the LW how she may ethically fulfill her own needs re: sex with men. If Elsa wants or needs to have sex with other people, and since she’s asking about it in an ethical way, she is absolutely entitled to having a respectful conversation with her partner about it. And if her partner is not ok with a sexually open relationship, then her partner should use her words to say so.

        Elsa is not being polyamorous at the LW. She’s asking how she may get her needs fulfilled while respecting the LW’s boundaries. That’s an A+ for Elsa in my book, and if the LW is, as it shows, absolutely not ok with any kind of non-monogamy whatsoever, then Elsa needs to know that so she can decide if non-monogamy with the LW is worth it for her or if she needs to break up and find a more compatible partner (I don’t know, off the top of my head, one who doesn’t shame her for wanting to have sex with men. Or threaten her with suicide).

        1. I would agree, except that I think the second time Elsa asked to sleep with a guy was over the line. She knew by then that it wasn’t cool.

          1. Huh, you think so? I mean, “Hey, we tried the threesome thing and it went south, I’d still like to be with a dude, can we negotiate?” doesn’t sound too outrageous to me.

            But then again I’m an aromantic polyamorous bisexual woman, so maybe I’m overempathizing with Elsa a bit here.

          2. Yup, what Aris said. Elsa asked once, got a counteroffer that didn’t work out for anyone involved, then asked again. In my book, negotiating relationship aspects is an on-going process, because boundaries and comfort levels do change over time (at least in my and my partner’s case), and I would never get angry with a partner for asking the same question twice. Especially if I wasn’t clear that it was a deal-breaker the first time I asked. Elsa is not a mind-reader, she can’t know that “How about a threesome?” means “I don’t want you to sleep with anyone who isn’t me” inside the LW’s head.

          3. Agreeing with Aris: there are other reasons LW might have reacted badly to a threesome, including that it suddenly felt like “wait, am I going to be having sex with a man?” From Elsa’s viewpoint, she said she wanted to try having sex with a man; LW said “how about a threesome?” and they tried that and it didn’t work. LW clearly sees that as “I don’t want her to have sex with anyone else,” but Elsa might have seen it as “okay, a threesome isn’t a good idea, what else might work?”

            What Elsa wants here and what the LW wants here may well be incompatible, but that doesn’t make Elsa wrong for having asked again (though asking while LW was drunk was poor timing at best). Even if Elsa was fairly sure that LW wouldn’t like the idea, it doesn’t sound as though LW had said “Elsa, that attempt at a threesome was really horrible, and I need you to drop the idea of having sex with a man.” Personally, I’d rather have a partner tell me “Vicki, I really want to do X. I know you don’t want me to, but it’s important to me, so can we figure out a way for me to do this?” than “Vicki, I’m breaking up with you because I really want to do X and I know you don’t like the idea.”

          4. Agreeing with Aris., B., and rosvici. Elsa is operating as though they are in a relationship where both parties can/are willing to negotiate out loud with words. Nothing wrong with that. LW has some deficits (shall we say) in that area. Especially where LW says Elsa [paraphrase] should have known it was was insensitive even to ask to have sex with men outside the relationship. Pretty clear the LW expects Elsa to read LW’s mind to some degree.

  40. Welcome back, Captain! I am very happy that you are back with us with your kindness, empathy and wisdom.

    Dear LW,

    Like so many other writers here I, too, have had experiences similar to yours – and I wish no-one had to suffer like that, because it really sucks, at least at first. Still, I know you will get through it, moment by moment.

    I am going to echo what The Captain and others have said: this relationship seems to be making you miserable. Now, this is not about me but I want to tell you a bit of what I went through hoping that my experiences will give you affirmation that you are not alone – and that you will get through it, just like many others have.

    Some years ago I thought I lived in a very happy marriage, though slowly it began cracking in its joints. My ex-husband started to say mean things to me occasionally and I felt myself crumbling. Then he wanted to divorce and I, just like you, panicked, thinking that I could not live without him, that I would be nothing without him. When I look back now I know I was very, very wrong.

    The divorce felt horrible and I have scarcely any memories left of how I got through it, but still, I know I did. I am quite sure I played a lot some of my favourite video games, watched my favourite tv series and movies and got help from a therapist I truly trust. For me, the important thing was to make myself as comfortable as possible in the current circumstances. I gave myself permission to forget about all the things which were not absolutely necessary to do. Slowly it helped and here I am now. I did find another man to love (and I had never even dreamed of loving someone as much as I love him) but I do not believe that is so important. The best thing is, I learned to love myself somewhat more, so much that living has become easier and more fun.

    The Captain’s advice is solid gold: take care of yourself, first and foremost. Finding help was key to the improvement of my mental health and I am quite certain it might help you as well. Also it sounds to me that visiting a doctor or a gynaecologist might help you finding out what is behind passing out during an orgasm. That has never happened to me but I have experience of a condition with somewhat similar symptoms and indeed The Captain is right: your safety is very important. It is part of the very lovable package that is you. You are fantastic just as you are even though you might not feel like that yourself. I have been there, too, and still visit the jerkbrainlandia quite often.

    It has taken me years and years of therapy but one thought has helped me: realizing that the fact that I am thinking something does not make it true. Even though the jerkbrain is whispering in your mind, the things it says are not true, they are just random thoughts, as valuable as anything a random person unknown to you yells on the street.

    I see so much strength in you. You wrote to The Captain to seek advice, you clearly identify your own feelings – and that is great! You are great.

    Take care of yourself, dear! Even though you do not feel like it at the moment, a new photography project might be what you need. Never mind if you never finish it as long at it keeps your brain occupied and gives you energy – because that is very important. Your wellbeing is important.

    With warm Jedi hugs (if you want them),

    Convallaria from the North which sometimes vaguely resembles Skyrim

  41. This is tangential, but stay with me.
    My friend loves her dog the most. He is, if not her everything, at least a very significant source of joy in her life. He is her closest family member and a significant part of her identity is wrapped up in being his “mom”. She has argued, very strongly, that pet ownership is exactly the same as parenting and gets quite angry sometimes when other people don’t see it that way.
    I don’t agree with her*, but explaining to her the ways that raising a human child is different from having a dog isn’t a helpful path for us to go down. Instead, I support her where I do feel she’s right – people shouldn’t act as though her love for her pet is silly or stupid, or that she herself shouldn’t be shown just as much care and concern as a parent. And that there is the kicker. She is as valuable and deserving of respect as parents are, not because she has a dog, but because she just *is*, by herself. Everyone just is, by themselves. We should honour what people love because we cherish the people – not the other way around.
    Where I’m going on this diatribe is this, and LW, feel free to ignore it if it doesn’t apply, BUT:
    This relationship, this woman – no matter how special she or it makes you feel – is not what makes you worthwhile, important, or worthy of respect. Specialness doesn’t flow from her to you. She can’t transform you into something better; no one can. Even the best, healthiest, most fulfilling relationship can’t do that. I know, from where you’re sitting, that may sound awful. But it’s actually the good news. It means that you don’t need to be scared or desperate, because if she or anyone else goes, you will remain, and so will your worth as a person.
    That doesn’t mean, if she leaves, that it won’t hurt or that it’ll be easy. But it will be survivable. You are not, I’m pretty sure, the one human being alive who has no redeeming qualities, just as she isn’t the lone magical figure who can save you.
    * I don’t have or want kids, while I love animals and very much want to have some. So it’s not that I’m biased on that score and I really, really don’t want to start an argument about whether pets are *actually* as important as kids etc.

  42. LW, pls talk to a physician about the orgasm thing. It sounds blood pressure and/or cardiac related. Or something else. If the first doc doesn’t listen see another one. It’s not about trying to ‘fix’ your sex life but I worry there is some underlying thing. And as you age it may manifest as something worse. Pls see a doc. And I’m so sorry about Elsa, it really sucks to love someone and not have it returned. You will heal but it will really suck along the way. Listen to the captain she’s spot on as usual

  43. Reblogged this on Unleashing the Cougar! and commented:
    Once again The Captain brings tears to my eyes with her wisdom, grace and compassion. Reblogged here for the many, many messages in both the original letter and in the Captain’s response that resonate across any relationships, regardless of gender or age. I particularly adore this quote: “relationships don’t have to last forever to be valuable and important”.

  44. The captain has given great advice, as ever (and very measured in places). So you have advice on how to move forward. Let me look backward, then, and say you can get through this. Because Letter writer, I’ve been there too. And I know you might not believe this right now, but you can come out the other side.

    I was once in a very intense relationship of mad passion. I was his sub. I felt like you do in terms of intensity and unrequited love… And when things fell apart, I unravelled. I will spare you the details but suffice to say I’m still here, I’m still alive.

    I really didn’t know where to go, how to live a life I didn’t want anymore. My flatmate realised, and with his help I also told a few friends. They all helped me through.

    A few months later I had my first “proper” job, and there I met my now-husband. By the end of the year in which I split from the powerful, unbalanced relationship that I mentioned, I was dating this wonderful man. And at Christmas that year, he volunteered that he loved me. Such a change in a few months. So it really can happen – if you set yourself free to find it. He has shown me what true unconditional mutual love means. We’ve been together 18 years now!

    And for sure, sometimes I do wonder “what if” or “I wonder if my ex is doing well” (do NOT be tempted to hunt them on social media!) or even just to recall fondly some of our more daring exploits when chatting with friends on risqué topics.

    But at the time I never believed it was possibly to feel like that. To separate out all the intense feelings. To look back with logic and some kind of detachment and perspective.

    I’m SO glad I’m still here. It was horrid when things ended but I promise that you CAN get over it, with help from supportive friends and family. Please believe that.

    One way I cope… Think of something in your life that you thought you’d never get over – a loss of someone or something, perhaps. I bet it is still a loss, but has it got a bit easier to think and talk about? Are you more able to reflect on the good memories with affection? Because if you can find an example of where this has happened before, you can be more confident that it can happen again.

    I’m so sorry you’re hurting so badly, I know I behaved badly in my own relationship too (which of course is never acceptable, and you simply have to own it, apologise, and never repeat those behaviours). But I’m so glad to have come through it, learned, and now be happy with my wonderful husband. Please give yourself a chance for this to happen to you too – and let yourself be honest about your relationship, and to move on. I’m rooting for you.

  45. Astrilde, your life sounds terribly painful and uncertain right now, and I believe you when you say that you would rather end your life than be without your partner.

    It might be worth investigating those feeling further, though: is that feeling maybe because the pain of losing her would be unendurable, or maybe that you see nothing else of value in your existence – not just that you have no worth of your own, but also that nothing else can bring you joy?

    If the second point is at all true for you, that sounds like a desperately unhappy existence, where all your happiness comes from one uncertain source.

    Were able to find joy and fulfillment elsewhere in the past? What happened to those sources? are they gone, or have you disregarded them as you turn all your attention towards your partner?

    Have you been in a relationship that ended before? Have you experienced any other kinds of losses – bereavements, friendships fading over time? If you have, how did you survive those losses? Can you bring some of those strategies into the present, to support you now?

    I hate to say it, Astrilde, but I believe that what you fear most will come to pass. Some dysfunctional relationships can find an equilibrium and maintain themselves indefinitely, but this is clearly not true of yours. Things are escalating: your partner wishing to open your relationship (There are circumstances where it is healthy and good to open relationships. This is not one of them), your growing hurt and anger, and consequent threats to her.

    This ship is sinking. It may still be afloat, but it is already taking on water. I believe the most important thing for you to do is to prepare yourself to survive when the time comes; but on a lifejacket, call the coastguard when the time comes.

    It may well be as agonizing for you as you fear, but I hope that you find the strength and support that you need to survive, because I believe that you can reach the shore eventually, and that you can fill your life with things that bring you joy and people who love you back.

  46. I remember these feelings so clearly in past relationships, thinking that I genuinely might not survive the pain of a(n inevitable) breakup. I was wrong, and I learned from it. My relationships improved by miles and were filled with seo much more love when I learned to recognize my worth. Best of luck to you, LW. You deserve a happy and healthy relationship with someone who loves you as much as you love them. You’ll get through this!

  47. I hope this doesn’t come across as too pedantic, and feel free to delete this comment if it’s an unnecessary derailment of the thread, but ‘Astrilde’ is not the Norse goddess of anything. I’d never heard the name before, and I’m both Norwegian and interested in Norse mythology. According to Wikipedia ‘Astrild’ is a 17th century Nordic name for Cupid, mainly used in poetry.

    The Norse goddess of love is Freyja.

    1. Ok! I had googled it from a baby name site I think. That makes more sense, thank you!

  48. Oh, my poor darling Astrilde, I am so sorry that you are in so much pain right now. As one subby bi girl to another subby bi girl, that subby desire can be really strong and finding someone who meets that is awesome. Sometimes it’s not. I would suggest that if/when you see a mental health professional, you see if you can find one who is kink-friendly. They can help you with the broken feelings and the broken feelings within your dynamic.

    You are a good person. You deserve good things. You aren’t broken. You deserve love and deserve to have someone who loves you wildly. Please, please, take care of yourself and see a doctor about the passing out thing.

  49. If you are physically inprisoning her (by closing the door) and emotionally blackmailing her ( with suicide threats),

    1. Sorry, my answer got cut off.

      But if you are doing that crap, then you don’t have a lover, you have a hostage. Whatever love she could have had for you is probably gone.

      If you do want to salvage any sort of good relationship with her, then you need to let her go. Let her go, don’t communicate with her for awhile, and consider therapy regarding your dependence on people.

      Doctor nerdlove calls it “oneitis”, and you have a nasty case of it. Until you learn to keep it under control, you are goig to scare Elsa and any other potential dates.

  50. Sending you love, LW. Despite your brave words, you sound very sad to me. ❤

    I want to highlight this part of what the Captain said: "relationships don’t have to last forever to be valuable and important." I think a lot of us have this story that we tell ourselves (and it's certainly prevalent in Western popular culture) about our One True Love, and Soulmates, and Couples Who Do Everything Together Forever. According to this story, we're supposed to fall in love with one person, and one person only, and stay with them for the rest of our lives. But the thing is, most people's stories are not like that. Many people fall in love with more than one person over the course of their lives, sometimes more than one person at a time. Many warm and loving relationships come to a natural end – and many of the people in those relationships keep loving each other, even after the structure of the relationship has changed.

    And the important thing is, all of this is okay. There's no One Way to love someone, or to be loved by someone. Just because you love Elsa now, doesn't mean you will never love anyone else again. And even if you break up, that doesn't mean you never loved each other in the first place. I do think your relationship is going to end at some point, because you just want such different things from each other – but it will be okay, I promise. And for now, it also sounds like there are lots of lovely things going on that you both enjoy, or that she is willing to enjoy for your sake (such as photography and hairbrushing), so my advice would be to just enjoy those lovely things while they're happening, and try not to worry too much about what's coming next. Easier said than done, I know, but hopefully it's something you can work towards.

  51. When I was 19, I fell in love with my best friend. We dated for a year and a half, and when she broke up with me I thought my world would end. I did some pretty messed up stuff I’m not proud of – drunk texts of plausible deniability stand out. I really believed I would never be able to move on, but also, that was steeped in the idea that if I just pined after her forever it would prove my love was real and pure; if I did move on, then the relationship couldn’t have been that important after all. I pined after her for about a year, and then in the years after that our friendship started returning to the way it had been before we dated, but a small part of me always thought “maybe, someday….”

    It’s a cliche, but to be honest it could stand to be more of one: sometimes love just isn’t enough. Eventually I realised that she had seen more clearly than I had, that we just weren’t going to be compatible in the long run. We wanted different things.

    This story has a happy ending. Not the one I longed for when we broke up, but the one I needed, the one that made me happiest in the end. We stayed friends. I dated different people who I loved in different ways and who taught me different things about myself, and I tried some new things I never would have tried if we’d stayed together. I figured out what I wanted, who I was, not just who I thought I had to be to keep someone else with me. I got better at having relationships and I got better at being by myself.

    Last year, I married someone wonderful, someone who gets me just like my best friend but who also wants the same things I do, and never makes me feel like I have to shrink myself down to fit into their life. Even good people who want the best for you can make you feel like that when they already know who they are and won’t compromise, and you’re still desperately trying to hold on to a relationship with them no matter what it costs you. My wife never does, though. Love alone is not enough – what we have is so much deeper and so much more mundane.

    I still love my best friend deeply, but the kind of love and the things I want out of the relationship has changed. Back when I was still in the pull of that relationship, I couldn’t imagine feeling this way – the idea that I ever might look back on it with fond nostalgia and nothing more felt like a betrayal of the relationship. It was too important, too central to my idea of myself, for me to ever let it go. But I did, in the end, and I’m so glad my life turned out the way it did.

    That’s what I wish for you, Letter Writer. I hope your life is filled with so many more incredible adventures and so much more love from unexpected sources than you can even imagine right now.

  52. LW, you have received a great deal of sympathy here, but when I read your letter I was less sympathetic. You acknowledge that what you did was wrong, but I don’t think you’ve seen the patterns in your relationship before the event of bad behavior. Do you realize that your efforts at controlling her, even as described in this letter (and we’re getting a very curated and you-friendly version of events here) show a pattern of escalation over time? Your next relationship will likely follow similar patterns (and you’ll keep doing this with/to Elsa) without addressing the elephant in the room. Realizing that you have value as a person and working on your self-esteem is a good thing, but without addressing the fact that you have formed a habit of trying to control and manipulate your partner there’s a good chance you’ll fall back into this damaging pattern.

    The timeline of events as you relate them are this: She wants to experiment with men, and you attempt to control the situation by suggesting a threesome. You further attempt to regain control by declaring your love to her a short time later, hoping that she will say it back and thereby attach herself more securely to you. When she resists this attempt, you escalate again: you throw an epic fit and use emotionally abusive tactics the next time she mentions experimenting again. These are just the things you’ve told us about in the letter; if the controlling is that clear to internet strangers I don’t doubt there are other examples to be found for people who know you personally.

    Not only the escalation hops out as a red flag to me, the way that you phrase things also set off bells. You disassociate when speaking about bad behavior: “Then things went crazy.” Well, not exactly. They didn’t go crazy by accident, as if a meteor crashed into the yard outside. “Then I realized that I was losing the argument with words, so I gave myself permission to resort to guilt-tripping and manipulation” would be more accurate. You also make excuses for your behavior: But I was drunk, but I did feel ashamed after, but you see I really really reallyreallyreallyreally love her. These excuses do not make up for the fact that you are manipulating and attempting to control your girlfriend at every opportunity.

    One other thing I noticed when reading through: you state repeatedly that you love Elsa, but never mention examples of actions or ways of relating that would convey or imply love. Yours struck me as a very you-focused version of love, LW, and I wondered by the end if you weren’t internally seeing Elsa as more of an idealized placeholder for “someone I can be in a relationship with” then as a whole person in her own right. Right now Elsa is on a pedestal for you, and when you place someone on a pedestal, you cease to see them as a fully dimensional human being. That’s not loving her as a person, that’s loving an image. The only way to find someone, an actual person that you can love and support and acknowledge not in all their perfection but in all their imperfections and warts and habits that drive you nuts, will be to end this relationship and do some healing on your own first.

    If you break up with her (and I agree with CA that this relationship is probably ending soon, regardless of how tightly you seek to control it), give yourself a few months not only to see a therapist, but also to do some reading about the psychology of people who seek control in relationships. It might give you some insight into how you can manage your own tendency to reach too tightly for the reins with the next person you find.

    1. Agreed, and thank you for posting this comment. I was picking up on the same things but you said it better than I did. I also had the same reaction to the LW’s disassociation from their own actions. I didn’t address that stuff in my comment, but something about the way the LW frames the abusive incident raises major red flags. I think the Captain and other commenters are giving the LW a lot of points for remorse and recognizing the behavior is wrong. But the LW doesn’t seem to be fully owning their behavior. People who use abuse and control are very capable of showing/feeling remorse for their actions–in fact, it’s often part of the cycle. They express remorse and willingness to change long enough to keep the other person involved. “What I did was wrong and I’m ashamed, BUT I just love you so much I couldn’t help it” and so forth. The phrasing “I became the ‘crazy bitch'” also sends up red flags. You don’t become anything. You are who you are at all times. Something didn’t come over you; you chose a course of action. The LW is using their intense feelings to explain abusive behavior. Without actually coming out and making excuses, they are laying the narrative groundwork for excuses. And many commenters actually seem to be filling in the blanks, reframing the story as one in which Elsa manipulates the LW. Even the Captain did a version of this, no doubt in inadvertently, when she flipped the order in which the LW declared love and Elsa expressed a desire to explore with dudes. The flipped version (“I love you” first, “I want to explore” second) is less sympathetic to Elsa and makes the LW’s attempt to control Elsa’s exploration seem more thoughtless and desperate than manipulative. Anyway, as the commenters have unanimously been saying — better for everyone if this relationship comes to an end.

    2. Thank you thank you thank you for posting this. You laid out very clearly the reasons why there were so many red alerts going off inside my head. This letter really raised my hackles, and you’ve put it very coherently why: there’s an escalating pattern here, and I’m afraid for Elsa.

    3. Thanks; I really appreciate this comment. I think the captain’s advice for Astrilde is generally good since I think she could definitely use to start thinking about her value outside of her partner without feeling that it’s a sign that one or the other of them is a monster. And it seems that a lot of the self-loathing she is expressing might be detrimental to her progress and healing. The compassion for her is admirable and good.

      But as a victim of abuse by a female perpetrator, I’m also really not down with papering over the reality of abuse by women. I feel like there’s a disturbing trend among a few of the comments and even vaguely alluded to in the original response of reversing the victim and offender in this situation. I think Astrilde deserves compassion and help, but I don’t think that should come at the cost of disregarding the experiences of victims of behavior like she is describing partaking in. It’s hard to feel safe as a survivor in a community that seems eager to describe the clear victim of relationship abuse and coercion as “uncaring” or “unkind” to the person who is literally threatening and physically restraining her.

      Astrilde, I don’t think you’re a monster. I think you deserve a partner that is matched to your interest in them. But I also think it’s important to face the harsh reality that your behaviors right now are abusive and you should really step back and consider why that is, what you can do to make sure that doesn’t happen again, and how you can move to a better place mentally where you won’t feel driven to act like this anymore. And that journey really, really needs to happen AWAY from Elsa. I’m sure it won’t be easy, but it has been done by others before, and I know you can live a great life after you have this behind you. This relationship is not that.

    4. Yes, thank you, all of this. I’m very sorry for LW’s pain right now, because being in a place that frightened and desperate sucks.

      But feeling bad afterwards isn’t really enough to make this not a disturbing pattern. (Also, didn’t mention it before, but there’s something about the statement of how Elsa can go for a day or two without needing to see LW, but LW “can’t stand to be apart” that’s just…hackles up.)

      I really hope LW gets help in the form of therapy or counseling, because no one deserves to feel like she feels right now, but also this pattern probably needs outside help to end.

      1. Yeah, the “can’t stand to be apart” thing made my shoulders go up around my ears, too. That’s, like, an infrared flag for me, both because I have been that person (and know, now, it wasn’t healthy for either of us) and because I have been on the other side of that with a person I know abused me (not romantic, never done that, but still). There IS such a thing as too much togetherness.

        And I concur about therapy and/or counseling, because I do think LW is not in a healthy place.

    5. Good catch. Astrilde says why Elsa is perfect: She brushes Astrilde’s hair and learned about photography. She does not say what she does for Elsa– other than adoring her enough to go crazy and abusive for her. There’s nothing about anything Elsa likes– other than having sex with the occasional man. I’m reminded of the comic where the guy waxes poetic about how he’d climb high mountains and swim raging rivers for his girlfriend– but won’t drive to her house because it’s raining.

  53. After reading through the comments and the Captain’s good advice, I want to emphasize something that seems to have gotten a little lost. Blocking a person’s exit and threatening suicide if they leave you are abusive behaviors, full stop. In the rush to soothe Astrilde’s pain and provide advice that she will take to heart, I think this fact is getting buried. Those behaviors may originate in great pain, and that pain is not Astrilde’s fault, but Astrilde: if you are serious when you say that you know those behaviors are not ok, you need to take this experience as a 1,000 klaxon wakeup alarm. The alarm is signaling that you need to tend to your own mental and emotional health, stat. The alarm is saying that it’s time to search your soul to understand why you resorted to these not-ok behaviors. Again, if you are serious when you say you understand how not ok these behaviors are, then heed the alarm and begin working to learn healthier ways of relating, communicating, and getting your needs met. You will probably need to cool it on this relationship in order to do that. I was a bit surprised the Captain did not advise mental health care more strongly. Astrilde, you need to make seeking mental health support a priority. I don’t know what kind of access or what barriers you may have to this type of support, but please make it a priority somehow. You may benefit greatly from a group like Codependents Anonymous or Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. Speaking from personal experience, I found those groups much more helpful than individual therapy in learning to esteem myself rather than trying to get all my self esteem from relationships. Those groups are also where I learned boundaries 101. This letter makes me afraid for both Elsa and Astrilde. Like many commenters, in my early 20s I spent time on both sides of this type of dynamic–both the object of unhealthy obsession and the one unhealthily obsessed. The good news is that many of us have been there and have learned and grown from the pain. Astrilde, I want to urge you to take the necessary steps and the responsibility to grow and get well. Right now you seem to feel that the greatest risk to your wellbeing is losing Elsa, but please see that the much greater risk to your wellbeing (and the wellbeing of people you have relationships with) is that these behaviors will solidify into patterns, into primary tactics that you use over and over to try to get what you want. Please take this experience as the red alert that it is and seek support.

    1. Blocking a person’s exit and threatening suicide if they leave you are abusive behaviors, full stop. In the rush to soothe Astrilde’s pain and provide advice that she will take to heart, I think this fact is getting buried. Those behaviors may originate in great pain, and that pain is not Astrilde’s fault, but Astrilde: if you are serious when you say that you know those behaviors are not ok, you need to take this experience as a 1,000 klaxon wakeup alarm. The alarm is signaling that you need to tend to your own mental and emotional health, stat. The alarm is saying that it’s time to search your soul to understand why you resorted to these not-ok behaviors. Again, if you are serious when you say you understand how not ok these behaviors are, then heed the alarm and begin working to learn healthier ways of relating, communicating, and getting your needs met. You will probably need to cool it on this relationship in order to do that.

      I agree with this comment, thanks for bringing this perspective more to the forefront.

    2. The commenters usually have no problem saying “evil bees run away”. But when an actual evil bee lands here and spins a tell of misery and destruction and “wooo what is a bee to do? I sting I sting I sting yet I receive no love”, all of a sudden everyone clamps up. So many of the comments read like “Oh you poor bee, the hand that swats you in defense is the true abuser. It’s fine that you sip nectar made of pain hurt and martyrdom. We too have drank this evil nectar and want to tell you there’s no evil in this house. It’s clearly not evilness, despite us attributing the exact same actions to abusers, its just the action of a heartbroken youth”.

      A lot of you are ready to cast stones and call names, but when it comes to actually confronting an abuser, or acknowledge your own wrong doing in the past, all of a sudden we need to be cearfull and considerate of their feelings.

      1. A lot of you are ready to cast stones and call names, but when it comes to actually confronting an abuser, or acknowledge your own wrong doing in the past, all of a sudden we need to be cearfull and considerate of their feelings.

        Um… well, yes?

        Because taking to someone who is a victim of abuse and talking to an abuser are two different things.

        It’s good to tell someone who has been abused “This was wrong. You were wronged. They are the asshole here. I am angry on your behalf.” Because abuse messes with the brain and makes it hard to remember right from wrong and what correct behavior is. So yeah, when talking with someone who has been abused, harsh words for abusers and angry yelling about abuse are good.

        It’s not good to tell someone who’s in pain–even an abuser in pain–“you’re a terrible person and you should suffer.” I mean, sure, maybe that feels good, but does that actually stop an abuser from abusing? If they feel terrible and then they don’t think they deserve help so they don’t get help and they go and abuse another person, has that helped? If they get defensive and storm off in a huff and take that out on another person, has that helped?

        You(specifically you or general you or anyone) never have to be compassionate to your abuser or any abuser or anyone who has done something that looks like abuse (and I concur, this looks like abuse.)

        But if nobody reaches out with compassion and gets them help then there’s actually no chance to convince them to get help to stop abusing people. The LW has actually asked for help and they know that what they did was wrong. They’re making excuses for it and trying to bury it because it’s shameful and painful but at least they have a moral compass that’s pointing in the right direction, even though they’re not looking at it in the moment. You don’t have to be the one who says “Yeah, that sucks a lot, let’s get you out of that situation and get you some help,” but it’s not a bad thing that people are trying to do that.

        1. I think you are completely right. What’s frustrating about the comments isn’t that everyone isn’t saying “omg you are a bad person you don deserve happiness”, it’s that so many comenters are under plying and coating over genuine nice behavior with sugar and saying “oh sweetie we all make mistakes. This is just a mistake of young love”. We should be compassionate but not blind ourselves to the situation because all of a sudden the abuser is a here and is a woman.

          And lastly some of the comenters admit that they did the exact same thing as the lw, and considering how much of this site is dedicate to leaving abusive relationship I dont feel too comfortable about abusers (or former abusers) giving advice about toxic relationships. It’s like putting a fox in the hen house and asking it for advice on protecting chickens.

          1. “And lastly some of the comenters admit that they did the exact same thing as the lw, and considering how much of this site is dedicate to leaving abusive relationship I dont feel too comfortable about abusers (or former abusers) giving advice about toxic relationships. It’s like putting a fox in the hen house and asking it for advice on protecting chickens.”

            Yes, THIS. So much of this thread has made me really uncomfortable for exactly the reasons you stated.

            It’s possible (in fact, necessary) to be compassionate to the LW and still call her behavior what it is, abuse. People who have behaved abusively can change, *but* normalizing abusive behavior as just something that people do when they’re young and emotionally unstable is really dangerous.

          2. I think it’s absolutely fair to side-eye not calling abusive behavior out when we see it–I seem to recall on previous letters like this people have also had compassionate comments but been a little quicker to leaven that with “But what you did is abuse” or “but what you did was non-consensual” or “what you did was rape.”

            I suppose my only hesitation is that there genuinely is a spectrum of behavior from bad behavior which can be part of abuse to controlling behavior which can be part of abuse to abusive behavior to a pattern of abusive behavior in one relationship or many. I don’t think that one outburst of bizarrely controlling behavior means that someone is an abuser (obviously it’s not good anyway.)

            I mean… I did some shamefully controlling stuff in my first relationship because I was just learning how to relationship and my feelings were so big and so important that I didn’t know how to deal with them healthily. I cried and I ramped up my feelings into “comfort-me-now” crises when I wanted attention. My boyfriend was also older than me, in another established relationship (several, actually–polyamory) and much more experienced in many ways, and he felt free to tell me no and eventually dump me. I was shocked by how badly I had acted in hindsight and cleaned up my act. If I had been the older one, if I had been the more experienced one, or even if I had just been entangled in his business so that he felt responsible for me and my health, the specific things I was doing could have been abusive, and in fact I learned much of my bad behavior from his in-hindsight-actually-abusive younger girlfriend (now ex) who was modeling how to get his attention and keep it.

            Abuse is more than just specific behaviors, though those behaviors are never okay. Abuse is about being trapped in a situation because you can’t see a way out. There’s definitely enough in the LW’s description of events to side-eye and call out. But I’m also hearing that Elsa is comfortable saying things like “Here is what I need in this relationship” and “This is honestly just casual for me, you’re cool but I’m not in love with you.” I don’t hear “Elsa says she loves me when I ask but it sounds reluctant and weird.” That makes me more confident that Elsa can get out of here with her sense of self intact (at least as of the time the letter was written), which gives me hope that LW can be rehabilitated instead of continuing to hurt Elsa or hurting someone else.

          3. “And lastly some of the comenters admit that they did the exact same thing as the lw, and considering how much of this site is dedicate to leaving abusive relationship I dont feel too comfortable about abusers (or former abusers) giving advice about toxic relationships. It’s like putting a fox in the hen house and asking it for advice on protecting chickens.”

            I’m really uncomfortable with the idea that people have behaved badly in their pasts are somehow tainted and unable to ever comment on relationships. Abuse is a set of behaviors that runs a spectrum, it’s not a set-in-stone identity like being a obligate carnivore (a fox). Abuse can be unconsciously learned, and then has to be unlearned, just like all kinds of other terrible behavior. We’ve had plenty of conversations here where people who were once terrible to their friends or manipulative to their family or explicitly bigoted have talked about how and why they changed. Our hostess has talked explicitly about her own mistakes here. In my experience, everyone, and I mean everyone, has behaved badly and hurt people at some point in their lives.

            [It would be different if it seemed like people were using their past behavior to justify the LW’s behavior, but that would be unacceptable because of the advice being given, not solely because of the commenter’s past history.]

          4. (replying to MuddieMae, out of nesting) At least for me, the problem isn’t that former abusers are giving relationship advice, per se. The problem is that they’re normalizing abusive behaviors and refusing to call them what they are.

            This thread is full of sympathetic comments that are basically like “Poor you, your situation is so hard! I’ve been there and it sucked and then I did xyz and it got better. Hang in there, you deserve better!” These comments imply that things like threatening suicide if your partner leaves you, and physically blocking their exit (!!) are just normal bad behavior that you can outgrow over time as you get more secure with yourself.

            And that’s abuse apologism, full stop. I can’t imagine that anyone would be doing it if the LW were male, which is a really upsetting double standard, especially for women/non-binary people who have been abused by other women or nb people. (I haven’t personally, but a number of my friends have, and they’re not any less traumatized because their abusers weren’t male.)

            I would feel differently if the people in this thread who admitted doing the exact same things as Astrilde were saying things more like: “I understand where you are, and it’s a really hard place to be in, but you need to examine your behavior because it’s abusive and dangerous. I once abused a partner in a similar way, and realized that what I was doing was not ok on so many levels, and then took xyz steps to work on myself before I could safely be in another relationship.”

        2. Yes, this, you. I’m deeply unhappy to see so many people telling Astrilde she’s irredeemable. That doesn’t help anyone. I’m also deeply unhappy with people trying to reframe Elsa as the abusive one. She’s not handling this situation perfectly, but it’s a messy, messy situation and hardly anyone does.

          I think Captain’s advice is spot on. (although it should have been tagged with abuse from the start.) Astrilde came here for help and she should get it. Help to free herself from this whirlpool of painful emotions and hateful actions and to reclaim her identity as a good person, of course, not help to win Elsa’s love. That’s not going to happen.

          1. I haven’t seen anyone here telling Astrilde that she’s irredeemable. I’m not sure where you’re getting that from? A few of us are pointing out that her behavior has been abusive, and that it’s important for her to recognize that, take responsibility for it, and work on herself with professional help to avoid abusing future partners (and, in the meantime, let Elsa go – no pun intended).

        3. @Laura (dusty_rose)

          At least for me, the problem isn’t that former abusers are giving relationship advice, per se. The problem is that they’re normalizing abusive behaviors and refusing to call them what they are.

          I think that what is on display is people responding in the tone of Jennifer’s advice. So people remember lousy, unhappy affairs and acting like assholes.

          Lots of people have thought “I’ll die of this” without saying it. I believe that some folks are equating their feelings to this LW’s actions.

          At least, I hope that’s what’s happened here.

      2. Thank you for posting the evil bee metaphor, it is a much needed respite from some of the comments. I’m really disappointed that the Captain didn’t explicitly describe the behaviours as abuse, or tag this post in the abuse category. I think she set the wrong tone to approach this letter in her answer, and that a lot of commenters are following her lead, which results in those of us who have experienced abuse perpetrated by women feeling really icky and unsafe in this thread.

        1. B., I hear you (and Ruler of Cats, and others), and I’m sorry. I’m grateful for the correctives in the comment. At minimum, I will tag the post under abuse.

          1. Thank you a lot for listening, and apologising ♡ And thank you for updating the tags, that helps a lot!

      3. Thank you for calling this out. I’m also really uncomfortable with the amount of victim blaming here. Elsa doesn’t need to be a “perfect” victim to be in an abusive relationship, and it’s really disheartening to see comments that make all this out to be her fault while patting the LW on the head and saying, “There, there, sweetie.”

        1. Agree 100%. I’m really disturbed by the amount of picking apart Elsa’s behaviour (sometimes even twisting the facts described in the letter) to make her look bad.

  54. I’m gonna share interesting take that I got from the Korean drama “Because This is My First Life,” which I wholly recommend watching – not only because it is fantastic in general, but because it explores how to have a relationship that satisfies the needs of both people involved, with several examples. A caveat: everything always ends happily in dramaland – in real life your mileage may vary.

    Two of the characters (a man and a woman) have been together for seven years and have been cohabiting for a few years. The woman really wants to get married. The man doesn’t – he doesn’t feel that he’s in the right place in his life yet. But they are pretty sure they love each other, so the man bends over backwards for her, moving money around to buy a sofa she wanted and dropping his dream of being an entrepreneur in order to get a steady income as someone else’s employee. In my opinion, the woman seems to genuinely love him, but she isn’t putting in the work. She’s just making demands.

    Eventually, the man has a heart to heart with another character about how he can’t live without his girlfriend, he loves her so much, etc. etc. The other character notes that in all of his sentences, he is the subject. “*I* love her.” “*I* need her” “*I* can’t live without her.” He asks what the sentence would look like if she was the subject. Does she need him? Can she live without him? You have an advantage here in that you know the answers to these questions!

    “*I* cannot bear to be away from her; *she* is perfectly able to spend a day or two without being with me (or even being in contact with me) and she’s fine with it.”

    “*I* am head over heels in love with my girlfriend.” “*she* does not love me”

    “*She* wanted to have a one-night thing with a guy” “*I* was mortified”

    This is unsustainable! It’s not equal, and it’s not healthy. You are both doing things that are at odds with you are as people in order to keep this relationship alive. You are both expecting things that the other person is unable to provide. Brushing your hair is not the same as loving you like you love her. Learning photography is not the same as having the kind of sex you want (and need, to be safe).

    I hope someday you find someone who helps you be your best self and not the person you’re so ashamed of being in this relationship. Or, alternatively, I hope you find that you are perfectly capable of being your best self by yourself! You are not your best self in this relationship, so regardless I hope you are able to move on from it. ❤

  55. Astrilde, one thing that I notice is good is that you are at least somewhat self-aware of your own shortcomings. That is a good sign that you are already on your way to a better life. All the advice on here is great, and you will mold into a beautiful person of society. If this website has helped you, even better! I wish you good luck in finding your way to righteousness, quality happiness, and learning how to be a well-balanced individual for everyone including yourself.

  56. “In a way, I suppose, I am torturing her. What do I do?”
    Well, LW, you are not torturing her yet, but you are certainly abusing her. The threatening suicide, the physically preventing her from leaving, the screaming at her when she asks if your relationship could be open to sex with other people… those are all abusive behaviours.

    So, what to do? My advice:
    – Break up with her. Now. Cold-turkey. No contact. It seems that you can’t stop yourself from reacting in controlling and abusive ways where Elsa is concerned, so please break up with her so you don’t hurt her anymore, and so you can get out of a relationship that’s hurting you. You can just send her a text like this one: “Elsa, I’m breaking up with you. Please don’t contact me anymore”, and then block her everywhere.

    – Get some help. If you can afford it, seek a therapist so you can work on your self-esteem and insecurities, and on how to deal with conflict, anger, fear, and disappointment in a constructive manner. If you can’t afford it, read through the archives here (they are solid gold on many things, including constructively asserting your needs) and/or get a couple self-help books from your local library. When your feelings get to a maelstrom point, write or take photos or make art about them. Do not ask Elsa to process your feelings about this. That would be asking her to make you feel better about hurting her. That’s not her job, that’s your job. Also, it would delay the healing process for yourself.

    – Get some help re: feeling depressed, broken, and/or wanting to die. Those are very serious problems, but they are manageable problems. You deserve to be happy (yes, in spite everything: you do deserve to be happy). A therapist, the archives here, self-help books or youtube channels or blogs on how to deal/live with depression could be very helpful here. See also: surrounding yourself with people who make you happy, like friends and family (minus Elsa, though), doing things that make you feel good about yourself (photography, cooking, dancing, listening to music… choose your own adventure), getting some fresh-ish air and positive human interaction (taking a class, volunteering somewhere, etc.).

    – Understand that trying to control how people act is wrong and that you can only control how *you* act. You can always ask for what you want, like Elsa did about having sex with other people. You cannot force someone to act the way you want. You cannot manipulate someone into giving you what you want. You can ask, and then they can decide if they agree or not, and then you can make choices about that. But that is all. And it is everything.

  57. The LW has things to be ashamed of, but is actively feeling that shame and seeking help. I don’t think Elsa feels shame when she asks the saaaaaaame question again and again about opening the relationship because she can’t hear the word no. Indeed she digs in about this being correct procedure. She did this before the suicide threat, otherwise I wouldnt class it as trying to get around enthusiastic consent. I think the LW has done abusive things, and the suicide threat was beyond the pale, but she needn’t tell herself she’s the only one trying to get what she wants to the other’s cost.

    1. It is not clear to me that the LW has said a clear no for Elsa to hear. LW has said “hey, how about a threesome?” and “WHAT CAN I DO TO MAKE YOU LOVE ME?”, but neither of those things is an unambiguous “No.” “Wanna try a threesome?” is pretty much the opposite of that.

      Elsa is playing by fairly standard relationship rules when she asks again: she has a need that’s not being met, the threesome idea didn’t get her need met, so she tries to have another conversation about it. Elsa probably doesn’t feel any shame for asking again because asking twice is not an action requiring shame. Trying to draw a parallel between that and the LW’s outburst strikes me as a false equivalency.

      1. Enthusiastic consent is not “I’ll take silence as consent!” Or, “I see you are weeping, does that mean youll think about it?” We are on very shaky ground if everyone needs to hear a “clear, unambiguous no” rather than an enthusiastic yes when they ask for a sexual need to be met. Or any need. Most especially when the person is making it clear that No is not an option! ” I was mortified; the idea of anyone (who is not me) with her totally kills me. But, she was quite clear that she wanted to have a session with a guy. ”

        If she were asking for a type of sex WITH Astrilde, the wrongness of her ‘must have’ approach would be quite obvious. In other things, consent rules are not obvious. I did what Elsa is doing myself in early relationships. “This is what I really need. I need you to say yes and am not cool with a no”. Not surprisingly I didn’t get honest answers and I twisted emotional arms, quite unintentionally..

        Ironically, if Elsa were informing, not asking “yeah I don’t do exclusivity, sorry” she’d be on solid ground ethically. But that risks a loss of Astrilde. I’m sure she means well by asking, but shes actually teasing and pressuring Astrilde for something Astrilde cant give. (Just as Astrilde is nagging her for love). She’s actually operating from the same ‘I can’t lose you – reassure me’ handbook that Astrilde is using. All abuse springs from ‘but I can’t lose you’

        1. I don’t think it’s clear that Elsa is “teasing and pressuring” or that she is saying “I can’t lose you – reassure me.” Maybe the follow up conversation about Elsa’s desire to explore outside the relationship included Elsa saying some version of, “Exploring with men is really important to me, perhaps if that is a dealbreaker for you we need to reconsider some things.” Did the LW’s threat of “If you leave me, I will kill myself,” come out of nowhere, or did Elsa perhaps suggest that ending the relationship was an option because of this fundamental incompatibility in their desires? We can’t know how that conversation went down because we weren’t there and only have access to the details LW writer provided. Based on the info we have it’s not a foregone conclusion that Elsa is manipulating. Elsa is being really blunt about what she wants but I don’t see anywhere in the LW’s account that Elsa is also saying “and if you don’t agree with this there will problems” or “I will not release you from the relationship even if X and Y are dealbreakers.” Those predicates would make Elsa’s stated wishes into manipulation and control, but I don’t see any of that coming across in the letter.

          1. Agreed – I had assumed that Elsa suggested ending the relationship specifically *because* of the LW’s reaction. If breaking up weren’t on the table, why block her exit and threaten self-harm if she left?

        2. How is she “teasing and pressuring”? She asked once, LW replied with the threesome idea. That ended in frustration for LW, but also for Elsa. It doesn’t sound like they had a follow-up conversation parsing out the experience (which they probably should have, but that’s not solely on Elsa). Then she asked a second time and LW flipped at her. But somehow Elsa is supposed to be the one pressuring LW? I can’t believe the amount of victim-blaming I see on this thread. If Elsa had written in, we would all be telling her to run. I think we can be compassionate to the LW without trying to cast the blame on the victim of her controlling behaviour.

    2. Perhaps Elsa can’t “hear the word no” because the LW has abused and threatened her for not giving the LW the kind of relationship she wants?

      1. That hadn’t happened yet when Elsa brought up what she wanted. Of course now she probably dares not mention it all. The pendulum has swung in the other direction and now Astrilde is the one not taking no for an answer, but with a much higher threat level than ‘I will not like you for saying no’. It’s also more deliberate than Elsa’s rather thoughtless unintentional variety of demand. Elsa genuinely thinks A can be cajoled and persuaded.

        1. That *one instance* of threatening to kill herself if Elsa left hadn’t happened yet.

          There are lots of ways that a significant other can emotionally manipulate a person into walking on eggshells.

          But yeah, also…so much victim-blaming

      2. Or maybe she can’t hear it because “hey, let’s have a threesome” means “no” in exactly 0 languages whatsoever?

    3. I would actually agree that after knowing that the LW isn’t comfortable with non monogamy, Elsa should have broken up with her instead of bringing it up again and making it the LW’s responsibility to refuse. However, while this particular form of ‘just asking’ is something that deeeeeply irritates me, I could (and so could most people) come up with several okay scenarios why she did it like this. It could become abusive but isn’t yet from what we know.

      And I don’t think it’s okay that we ask that Elsa be a perfect person and SO before we acknowledge that the LW has behaved abusively to her.

      @LW if you’re still reading, please know that it is absolutely possible to have behaved abusively once and not to turn into an abusive person. What’s done is done but you’re going to have to stocktake and really work so that you
      don’t do it again. If it’s something about Elsa and your relationship with her that makes all this more likely then the only decent thing to do is to stop being with her. Don’t become that person because that would be inexcusable. And it certainly wouldn’t be love. We’re all rooting for you here.

      1. Based on the letter, I don’t see how she can conclude that LW isn’t comfortable with non monogamy though. When she said she’d like to have sex with a man, LW didn’t say “I don’t want you to have sex with someone else”, she suggested a threesome. Unless Elsa is a mind-reader, suggesting a threesome really doesn’t imply someone is against non monogamy (quite the opposite in fact). We always expect people to “use their words”, but in this case, it seems that Elsa is doing it and not LW.

        1. Agreed! It’s one of the scenarios I had in mind when I said there were many things that could have happened to make it reasonable for Elsa to ask again. I’ve been the person initiating polyamory before so it isn’t like I don’t know how many conversations it takes.

          Merely, from my own past experience, often people know or can guess that their partner isn’t enthusiastic or even really willing about trying polyamory but would rather put the onus on their partner to say no or initiate the break up. I can understand why it happens of course.

    4. Um… asking for something you consider a genuine need all of twice isn’t “the saaaaaaame question again and again” except in the most literal sense. If I told my (loves me sooooooooo much) partner that I needed to sleep on the couch for my health, tried a disastrous compromise, and then brought it up again the next day I wouldn’t think I was badgering them. Is a second conversation of “So I still want to do this, how do you feel now that we tried a thing that didn’t work” seriously so beyond the pale?

      I mean if nothing else it’s a sign of genuine incompatibility that should signal a breakup, but I think we’ve seen quite a few of those in the letter already.

      1. Yes – to Elsa it was just such an inconsequential request, like ‘pass the salt’ or ‘Im going to sleep where I need to’. A solid need but something so unemotive and of such little matter no reasonable person would deny it. It was this combination of informing of a need/assuming consent that put the LWs back against the wall. Of course she should have said no, but in sounding out Elsa on the possibility of that option, Elsa was “quite clear” she was expecting this need to both approved and taken as read. I hope in future Elsa is more careful to stress that an outright No – with no compromises -is an option in sexual matters.

        1. You are making up an entire narrative about Elsa here that is not at all supported by what LW even said. LW states that Elsa is clear she WANTS to sleep with a guy, not that she NEEDS to. LW never states that Elsa assumed consent. LW never said that Elsa claimed she had a “need that wasn’t being met”; the words were “an itch” she couldn’t scratch. She never said Elsa saw it as an inconsequential request. LW also never indicates whether or not she told Elsa that she’s not comfortable with Elsa sleeping with other people – she only says that they agreed to try a threesome. When Elsa brings it up again, LW says she asked about it, not that she demanded it.

          It is, of course, possible that your version of the story is what happened, but you’re making a boat-load of assumptions, seemingly trying to paint Elsa in the worst possible light, despite the fact that there’s no evidence that she pressured LW at all. And I think a lot of people are reacting really negatively to your comments (at least I am) because reversing the victim and offender in an abusive relationship is the classic way that abusers and society keeps victims stuck in those relationships. And it’s disturbing to see it happening here.

          Under the circumstances, when we’re dealing with a very clear-cut case of LW acting abusively towards her partner, it is probably best that we all stick with the information we know and now make a bunch of conjectures that might paint the victim in a less sympathetic light.

        2. “It was this combination of informing of a need/assuming consent that put the LWs back against the wall.”

          You are REALLY invested in making Elsa the bad guy here.

          Asking someone is LITERALLY the opposite of assuming consent.

          “A couple of weeks after that, Elsa asked me again what I thought about her casually seeing guys while also dating me”

          That is basically: “Hey, you know I have this need. We tried one way to meet it, but that was really upsetting for you. What would you think of us trying a different solution.”

          It’s taking some serious reaching to turn that into badgering or “asking the same question over and over again” or ignoring a lack of enthusiastic consent or any of the things you’re trying to turn it into.

          LW cried and stopped the threesome and they immediately stopped. That’s good. But just because someone can’t personally handle a threesome (or straight up *watching* their significant other having sex with someone else) doesn’t mean they can’t handle being in an open relationship, so it’s pretty freaking reasonable that Elsa would try to find another solution that would meet her needs but without LW having to watch.

    5. Elsa has a need that is not being met. She is being very upfront and honest with LW. Ideally, if you have a need that isn’t being met and your partner doesn’t want to have an open relationship, the relationship should probably end to be fair to both people.

      However, Elsa can’t leave, because LW has threatened to kill herself.

      Maybe she asked twice before that threat (although I feel like threats like that don’t just come out of the blue. LW has probably been super-intense in a way that made Elsa feel like she couldn’t break up with her before), but from my read it seems like she asked once, LW said, “maybe as a threesome.” The threesome was a disaster and they stopped immediately, and then after some time Elsa asked again if she could just see other people as well, without a threesome.

      1. “although I feel like threats like that don’t just come out of the blue. LW has probably been super-intense in a way that made Elsa feel like she couldn’t break up with her before”

        I’ve been wondering the same thing. There aren’t enough details in the letter to know, but it’s possible this whole “wanting to sleep with other people thing” is Elsa’s way of trying to build an escape hatch from the relationship. It’s pretty common for people to try to construct an “out” that way when they to leave but sense their partner will not accept “I don’t want to date you anymore” or “I don’t feel the way you do about our relationship”. People try to construct, or maybe latch onto, reasons they think are airtight (such as “I have sexual needs you can’t meet”) or they try asking for an open relationship as a way to start easing out of the relationship. The archives on this site are full of letters where one partner is searching for just the right combination of words and needs that will make the other partner release them from the relationship without a struggle. Not enough info in the letter to know if that’s going on here, but it’s one plausible scenario.

        1. “one partner is searching for just the right combination of words and needs that will make the other partner [insert desired response]”

          I think you just summarized most of the relationship issues in the world.

    6. I think you have the sequence of events wrong and that’s coloring your perception.

      Here’s the sequence I read:

      – Elsa announces she’s interested in NSA sex with a man
      – LW suggests a threesome
      – LW announces she loves Elsa
      – Threesome starts, LW calls it off, clearly upset
      – Elsa tells LW she’s still interested in sex work men
      – LW blows up, cries, threatens suicide, bars Elsa’s exit
      – Elsa checks up on LW and says she’s still interested in her
      – LW writes to Captain Awkward

      I can’t read this as Elsa is endlessly demanding and Astrilde is her victim.

  58. LW, Elsa is not meeting your needs. She is so many of the things you want – funny, supportive, giving, someone who brushes your hair, etc. – but she is not “someone who loves Alstride” or “someone who wants to be with only Alstride”. Those are things you seem to need too.

    I think the thing that is tormenting you is that your relationship with her is SO CLOSE to being exactly what you want. It feels like if only she loved you, everything would be perfect. But her not loving you is not the result of your relationship taking an unlucky turn (or travelling down the wrong leg of the trousers of time), it is one of those things that was always going to happen, but you only just learned about it a month ago. Sometimes it takes a long time to find out that a partner doesn’t meet all of our needs, and I’m afraid that this is exactly what has happened to you. It sucks.

    You would feel a different kind of unhappy if your unmet needs looked like “Elsa constantly smells bad” or “Elsa restricts my bathroom usage” or something, but you would still be unhappy. I think the reason this feels different is because 1) it’s something Elsa can’t do anything about and 2) it’s not the absence of a behaviour or personality trait, it’s the absence of a certain kind of bond between you, and that feels like it is separate to everything else about her – if only you could keep her the way she is and have that person bonded to you with love, everything would be perfect. It feels like Elsa is perfect, and it is only your relationship with her that is not perfect. But this is not the truth. An Elsa who loves you would not be the same Elsa you love. Your relationship is imperfect for you because Elsa is imperfect for you.

    It sounds like Elsa is wonderful and you love her more than you have ever loved another person, romantically. It sounds like you can’t bear the thought of letting go of the greatest love you’ve ever known, even if it’s not quite everything you want it to be. I’ve been there. SO many of us have been there. It took me years to let go of someone who was wonderful but didn’t quite meet my needs. I was throwing away the best thing I’d ever had. I was so terrified that I would never find anyone this wonderful ever again, and I worried so much that I might be throwing away the best thing I would ever have, and maybe I was crazy for hoping that someone existed who was even MORE of a perfect fit for me*. I didn’t have to let go. I could have stayed with her and been mostly kind of happy for the rest of my life. It’s possible that Elsa wants to keep your relationship as it is for the rest of your life (not likely, but possible), but if she does and if you stay, you’ll never actually be any happier than this. But think about what this relationship will actually give you if you stay in it. Do you want to be in a relationship that is tantalisingly close to (but inescapably not) the relationship you really want? I promise that there is someone (probably many someones!) out there who will be everything you want. They will be funny, clever, supportive, just the right amount of domme, will happily accommodate your orgasm complications, will brush your hair for hours, and will love you, and only you, with all of their heart.

    *I found that someone so quickly I was almost not even ready – just two months later. I’m now happier than I ever thought I could be, much less /would/ be.

  59. LW, consider making a doctor’s appointment to check for narcolepsy or whatever is causing you to pass out during orgasms. There are probably treatments that can help.

  60. I disagree heartily with your reading of the letter, but I was going to let it lie. I did want to address your last two sentences, though.

    “She’s actually operating from the same ‘I can’t lose you – reassure me’ handbook that Astrilde is using. All abuse springs from ‘but I can’t lose you’”

    This is simply untrue, along two dimensions. Factually, Elsa has been kind but clear about the fact that she does NOT love the LW, and has been firm in stating her own desires even when they conflict with what the LW wants. Those things are the opposite of what you propose here. Furthermore, you still are trying to set them on equal ground behavior-wise. Asking twice (two times is not nagging) is not the same as threatening emotional blackmail and attempting to physically confine someone. Conflating them minimizes what Astrilde did.

    Abuse stems from many sources, according to the professionals who work with abusive people. The idea that it stems from a fear of abandonment is a myth, as is the idea that it stems from loving someone too powerfully or from needing self-esteem. I’m quoting Lundy Bancroft’s “Why Does He Do That?” when I say that those are myths, by the way. Bancroft worked with abusers for decades, and the book’s available for free online if you want to read it. But the idea that people abuse because they fear losing someone is off the mark for what psychology knows about the abusive mentality.

    1. I can’t fault your reasoning for disagreeing with me and I agree with many of your points. Those are some fine recommendations; I’ve read them, and see how you are applying them. I agree completely with you that Elsa does not love the LW and has been honest about this. It may just be that old mistake of thinking you need joint agreement on everything – up to and including a break up. I wish she had felt more able to act unilaterally and keep to her intentions of this being ‘a fun casual’ take it or leave it arangement where LW couldnt reasonably expect a say. It seems kinder to say ‘what do you think?’ but if you’re not committed enough to change course, it’s needlessly cruel to involve the other person in the decision making process. More importantly for Elsa it entraps her. But I don’t think anyone discovers that without experience. Also, I have the benefit of ‘the storys over’ hindsight and Elsa did not even know the extent of LWs feelings (the first time) to be fair. I hope LW mentally recasts Elsa from the role of ‘committed hair brusher and hobby lover. So close to true love!’ to ‘she said she just wanted fun’.

      1. I think we’re coming at this with different ideas of what is normal to ask about in a casual relationship. If I’m in a committed monogamous relationship with someone then yes, asking about opening up the relationship is a fraught topic and “no” is the assumed default. I think that if you start from the idea that the LW and Elsa are in such a relationship then it makes more sense to say that Elsa is asking for something extreme.

        But I heard “Elsa says this is a casual thing, she says she doesn’t love me” and thought, oh, okay, casual dating/FWB situation. And that encompasses everything from “We’re monogamous but we wear jeans in this office” to “We’re both sleeping with other people but we get together occasionally and have passionate assignations and pizza.” In that case, asking questions about how comfortable your partner is with you seeing other people is not only unexceptional, I’d say it’s good practice!

        That’s why I (and others, I suspect) have been so negative on the idea that Elsa did anything wrong; in certain kinds of relationships what Elsa is doing isn’t just normal but laudable, and in other kinds of relationships even the thought of discussing open relationships is fraught. I wouldn’t want to get into one of the latter relationships because I wouldn’t want to hurt a partner who didn’t want to have those discussions, but that doesn’t make either way wrong. And it’s another indication that LW and Elsa are not well matched, which I think is the one thing we’re all in unanimous agreement over.

        1. I kinda wonder if Elsa assumes it’s a casual dating/FWB situation, and Astrilde assumes it’s an exclusive relationship, and they haven’t actually talked with each other about their expectations.

        2. “We’re monogamous but we wear jeans in this office”

          Is…is this a euphemism I don’t know? Because it sounds like it could be. “We wear jeans in this office…if you know what I mean…”

          1. Speaking of miscommunication! It was an attempt to play on “casual dating” and “casual Friday”/”casual work environment”.

        3. Indeed. I think the set up and miscommunication is what is so toxic. I think they’ll both be fine in different set ups.

    2. Antfinite, I was thinking of Lundy Bancroft’s book as well. (I read it recently because one of my best friends is dating a guy with a history of rape and abuse, and the guy has supposedly changed but I am really wary, and wanted to know what patterns to keep an eye out for….*sigh*)

      I remember Bancroft saying that abusers need to go to programs specifically targeted at abusers, not just regular therapy, because the problem isn’t whatever mental health issues the abuser might have–it’s their belief that they have a right to control their partner. And abusers who go to regular therapy will just become more well-adjusted abusers. What they need is someone to challenge their harmful beliefs.

    3. I mean, if it’s a myth that abuse stems from a fear of abandonment, then Astrilde might not be a classic abuser, since, clearly, she is *very* afraid of abandonment.

      Maybe it’s a gender dynamic thing, as Bancroft predominantly worked with men who abuse women, rather than same-gender partnerships. I think a desire for power and control is present in every abuser, regardless of gender. But, I do think that a desire for control in women often does stem from fear of vulnerability and fear of being abandoned and unloved. In other scenarios where a desire for control becomes dangerous (hoarding, anorexia, compulsive cleaning), the root cause of the controlling behavior tends to have gender differences. So, for example, in the study Sex-Specific Clinical Correlates of Hoarding in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, women who become hoarders often have comorbid PTSD and social phobias, whereas men who become hoarders don’t.

      It doesn’t excuse abusive behavior, but it does seem to mean that the treatment for female abusers should probably be different, since the underlying causes are different. Also, Bancroft began his research in the 1980’s, around the same time, elsewhere, that DBT was first created (in 1982). While it initially showed little success, in the past 30+ years, DBT has improved to become one of the most phenomenally effective therapies for Borderline Personality, Anorexia and other eating disorders, and people who have behavioral addictions like hoarding and gambling. In one study, almost half of BPD patients at an inpatient treatment facility had no or minimal Borderline symptoms (problems regulating emotions) during a two-year follow up after a twenty-four week DBT treatment. Most others had a downgrade of symptoms from severe to moderate.

      I have noticed many commenters who related to LW mentioning that they are “DBT graduates,” and that bodes really well given the latest research. DBT helps emotions become less extreme and more bearable and endurable in the moment, while also cultivating means of exerting control over one’s life in a positive way (getting a job with a strict routine, for example, or doing a solitary hobby that is 100% yours). A popular online therapist who does DBT is Kati Morton; she specializes in eating disorders and panic disorders, but has videos geared towards those with BPD as well.

      While Bancroft’s research is well-founded, and absolutely helpful in many contexts, it is also narrow.

      That being said, I agree that Indie’s reading fills in a lot of blanks that are, really, just blanks. I mean, we don’t know, so that’s not super helpful. I think painting Elsa in such a negative light is needless and harmful. I, too, am sensitive to people pressuring me to do stuff, sexual or otherwise, and I do get terse if someone asks me more than once to do something when I already said ‘no.’ But, uh, that doesn’t mean I throw a temper tantrum, and I think Elsa deserves a great deal of compassion because she’s dealing with something quite frightening.

      P.S. sorry if I come across as a “DBT evangelist;” IANAD, and everyone should choose treatment based on their own research and what they need– your body is yours. I’ve just seen it help people whom I love a great deal– and some aspects have even helped me with my own issues (I have OCD rather than BPD, but the therapeutic principles regarding regulating extreme emotional reactions apply to many anxiety disorders).

  61. LW, you and Elsa aren’t making each other happy. Neither of you is getting their needs met – and not being compatible is a most excellent reason to break up. She wants different things from a relationship/sex than you do: that’s perfectly fine, but if you stay together one or both of you will feel miserable about this: that’s not a good foundation for a relationship.
    She is at the receiving end of feelingsdumps, emotional blackmail, shouting, and having her exit blocked. That’s about the opposite of ‘happy’, and those are most excellent reasons to break up.
    You are turning into a person you don’t want to be, which is the most urgent reason to break up of all: if this relationship has driven you into a state where you feel that shouting, threatening suicide, blocking the door and collapsing on the floor crying are valid reactions, you REALLY need to get out and get yourself into a place where these things become a distant memory. You urgently need better tools to cope with emotional distress, and you need to be far away from the situation that causes this.

    Being with Elsa, however much you are infatuated with her, is doing you no good. And you can stick your head in the sand, say ‘but I love her sooo much’ and continue as you are until the next time you’re losing control of yourself. And sooner or later you will, since you’ll be working with the same tools and in the same mental state you are in now. This isn’t going to get any better without some serious work on your side, but it has the chance of getting much, much worse, so get out now, while you’re still speaking to each other, while you’re still fond of each other.

    And I’ll not lie to you, this shit is hard, and you won’t be over it in a couple of weeks, and you’ll miss her like mad, but see it less as a loss of the love of your life and more as a chance to build a great relationship with yourself. Look at it this way: if you met yourself, would you want to be in a relationship with that person? Or would you think ‘whoa, too intense, I need to step back a little here’?

    You need to sort this out at some point, for your own sake. What if you could take all the energy you spend on worrying and invest it in photography or other fun things? I want you to find out.

    1. “And I’ll not lie to you, this shit is hard, and you won’t be over it in a couple of weeks, and you’ll miss her like mad, but see it less as a loss of the love of your life and more as a chance to build a great relationship with yourself. Look at it this way: if you met yourself, would you want to be in a relationship with that person? Or would you think ‘whoa, too intense, I need to step back a little here’?

      Thank you for stating this because it turned a lightbulb in my brain. This is very valuable information. I am the one that is too intense, usually when I am physically interested in the person (I am asexual, so yeah, getting the sparks is super rare). It is weird because a couple years ago I had someone who decided she was into me (despite the fact we had never met in person) and wanted to be my girlfriend and even decided I was her turtle’s mom. Needless to say I ran for the hills. I am not that intense, but if I am anything like that…………………..

  62. LW, I think there’s plenty upthread about confronting your abusive behaviours and unhappiness that I don’t need to repeat it, so I’m just adding two book recommendations you might find helpful:

    – Getting Past Your Breakup by Susan Elliott
    – Putting Me Before We by Christine Arylo

  63. As a therapist, I think you need to explore why you’re passing out during sex. That could be a lot of things that are physical, mental or both. Anytime you loose consciousness, not a great thing. It sounds like you are better at taking care of others than yourself. That always bites you you back. Please take care of you.

  64. LW, if you really love Elsa, you must break up with her.

    That is, if her health, happiness, and well-being are more important to you than the sparkly cozy feelings you have when she is around you, then you must do what is best for her. And what is best for her right now is to get a source of danger to her out of her life.

    Right now, you are doing things that are controlling and abusive, and you are talking about them in a way that minimizes your responsibility for them. Yes, you admit you did them, but when you come right up to talking about them, your words change from “I made the choice to” language to “things happened” language. Until you can be fully accountable for the things you do, you are not safe for her to be around, because you have already demonstrated that when you are scared and worried that the relarionship will end, you will resort to abusive actions.

    This does not make you a bad person or a life-long abuser, but it does make you a person who is dangerous to Elsa’s safety and well-being right now, and the only way to protect her is to remove that danger from her life. That means break up and go no-contact with her.

    Now, once you have protected Elsa, your focus needs to be on yourself. You can learn to feel cozy and safe sparkly from being with yourself. You can learn how to be in conflict with a person you love when you are wcared, and still retain control, so that it still feels like “I chose to” and stops feeling like “things happened”. You can learn that sometimes the right person comes into our lives at the wrong time, and all we can do is look back on it and think, “I’m glad I knew you for a little while, even though I wasn’t really ready for you when you showed up.” You can learn to be happy, both alone and with other people, and when you have learned that, you will also have learned how to be in a couple without needing to feel in control to avoid feeling panicked all the time.

    You can also use some of the post-Elsa time to get a referral to a neurologist to check out the fainting. I have a health condition that requires lielong treatment whose only symptom is an odd pattern of fainting, and the great thing is, it can be treated with a single pill everyday. But it’s important to know about because if I ever have a general anesthetic, they must take special precautions. You almost certainly don’t have the same thing, but maybe you have something else you should know about.

    But in the meantime, you say you love Elsa. I believe you. Love centers the beloved, so yours needs to center Elsa. Right now, you are danger to Elsa, so please do the right thing and protect her from you, at least until you learn not to be a danger to her.

  65. Firstly, I agree with the Captain’s advice 150%.

    Secondly, I just wanted to say that I LOOOOVE 500 Days of Summer for exactly this reason – it’s one of the few stories I’ve seen to explore relationship dynamics like it does. At least that I’ve seen.

  66. Astrilde here.

    Firstly, thank you Captain and everyone for your comments, thoughts and suggestions. I am genuinely touched that the Captain and everyone else has found the time to respond to me.

    – I have seen a lot of medical specialists over the years (mostly cardiologists and neurologists) in regards to the whole orgasm thing. The short version of a very long story is that there is nothing wrong with my heart, and nothing obviously wrong with my brain (although emotionally speaking it could be argued that there is quite a lot wrong with both…). There is something amiss with my ‘wiring’ which probably causes a sudden but short decrease in blood flow to the brain, which leads to the loss of memory and consciousness. Initially, the medical advice was ‘only have an orgasm when someone is there to check that you are responsive 2 minutes after passing out, and if you are not it should be treated as a medical emergency’ (after a minute or so, I am more ‘asleep’ than ‘passed out’ and will respond it I am poked or prodded). I won’t go into what it was like being told that as an early-adolescent; it was horrible. I can’t do one-night-stands even if I wanted to, as all-of-the-above is difficult to explain to someone at a nightclub. I started off being terrified of anything sexual. Then I jumped off a cliff and started masturbating (on my own). Now, I would like to think, I am a functioning sexual being – albeit not quite as all-singing-and-dancing as Elsa is.

    – The only time I was ever abusive with Elsa was the one that I described. I scared myself as much as her, and this was the reason that I wrote in here. I don’t want to be a Crazy Bitch – I’m pretty sure no-one does. Words can’t describe how it feels to know what I said and did to someone that I care so much about. I didn’t consciously decide to threaten suicide or block the door; this wasn’t pre-meditated. It was like I was watching myself do it from the outside. I was (and am) scared of what I did and who I became. I am reaching out here – I am not a monster, or at least I was temporarily and don’t want to be one again. The memory of what I did and said feels like a shard of glass sticking into my chest 24/7. It devastates me. I am sorry, and embarrassed, and ashamed – and drunkenness is no excuse. I am not completely un-self-aware; I know how this would sound if Elsa were writing the letter to the Captain (and normally it is the ‘Elsa’s writing the letters here), and I know if I was a guy I’d probably get a lot less sympathy. I know, I know, I know….

    – I also know that on a purely rational and objective level that Elsa and I are not the perfect couple and we do not fulfil each other physically – and the Captain’s perfect response + all of your comments have really crystalised that. But she – and excuse the ‘Frozen’ allusions here – has a magic power over me. Again, I can’t put it into words. When she walks into the room it feels like what I imagine heroin to feel like. When she smiles at me my whole body goes tingly. When she asks me how I am I turn into a 4-year old who has just been given an ice-cream. When she brushes my hair I am literally in ecstasy: time stops and I forget who I am and it is like I am in a parallel dimension of loveliness. I can’t leave her, and I can’t bear the thought of her leaving me. No amount of logic or reason will change that. But I know that she is going to leave me. When she does it will be the best for both of us, in the long run. But even the thought of it makes me feel like I am dying inside. Once again, I am crying while I type this.

    I know that some of you think I am a Crazy-Devil-She-Bitch-Abuser but thanks to all of you anyway 🙂


    1. Given that, I have one additional, strong suggestion: don’t drink (or use other intoxicating substances) around Elsa. It would probably be better to abstain, and certainly to avoid being drunk, while with other people, as well. Drunkenness isn’t an excuse, but it does affect decision-making.

    2. Astrilde,

      Where is Elsa in this description of ecstasy?

      I’m not hearing love.

      Please do both of you a favor. Leave her.

      Jedi hugs if you want them.

    3. Dear Astrilde,

      After reading your initial letter again and after that all the comments I simply felt I had to write to you again as I noticed something in which I had not paid much attention before: your initial letter tells only about your relationship to Elsa and only in your later comment you say that there is things wrong with you, emotionally speaking. For obvious reasons we do not really know much about you – and even less about Elsa and each of us read your letter from a very subjective place and interpret what you have said corresponding to our own experiences of life. That is one of the things I have learned from The Captain: I respect her calmness and her empathy. To me it seems that instead of answering to her own (possible) need to judge she really thinks thoroughly what would be the most helpful thing to say to each letter writer and writes that. For me, that is the true core of empathy – and the answers will also be helpful to other people in situations which might resemble yours.

      What I mean to say is that people who seem to think that you are a crazy bitch see that from the perspective of their own experiences after reading your relatively short letter. When I write here I each time realize that my comment will be much more about myself than anybody else and that I can only hope that it might be helpful.

      The reason I am not one to judge you is a) that I mostly hate judging other people based on very limited amount of information and b) that I have done exactly the same as you did, though the circumstances were different.

      Yes, I was desperate and I cried and blocked a woman from leaving the room and I threatened with suicide. I know now that it was abusive and later on I did own my behaviour and after a lot of therapy I became a (mostly) functioning adult. Still, let me tell you a little bit about the circumstances. At the time I was 11 years old. I had been for years and years savagely bullied, both mentally and physically until my body just could not take it any more. I became seriously physically ill and had to be hospitalized. I had just returned from hospital and had began taking a medication which later on turned out to be completely wrong for me. Then why did I do what I did? My mother insisted that I return to school so that she can go to work. I was scared; no-one told me what my medical condition meant and I did not want to go back to the school. It makes me sad that at least one commentor said that my dysfunctional past would make me unfit to write here. Is that not how peer support should work?

      So, Astrilde, to me it sounds indeed that you have had your share of traumatizing experiences not disclosed in either your letter or your response. I am not saying that past trauma would somehow free a person from responsibilitiy, quite the contrary – but in my opinion being judged only makes it harder for finding the strength to seek for help. Also, the way you wrote about your experiences during the abusive moment: I am a biologist, not a mental care professional, but to me it sounds like something in the moment possibly triggered something inside you, something about yourself and your past, not Elsa. Behavioral patterns like that need to be taken care of so that you do not repeat them.

      Many people have had very helpful sounding suggestions about places which provide help or peer support. I do not know how affordable mental health care is in where you live or how easy it is to get it but like other commentors I also encourage you to prioritize it. It can feel scary and it will certainly take time and effort, but I believe I am not alone to say this: it is so much worth it. If the first provider does not seem a good fit, do not give up! You are worth it!

      To me it sounds that although you are not ready to leave Elsa, you are preparing for the possibly coming parting of ways. I believe that is a good thing to do so that you can be as calm as possible about it. When the moment comes (and possibly already before), try to gather your people around to give you support when you need it. I would also suggest writing down a plan of what to do: whom to call for support, soothing things to do, possibly emergency medical contacts if you need those. If you have thought about them beforehand and listed them they are more easy to remember when you need them and you are not in any state to make plans.

      No matter how magical Elsa seems to you, every part of this is about you. Take care about yourself, which is probably quite obvious. Admit to yourself that this magical time is not going to last and that the most important person is always going to stand by you – yourself. A memory of Elsa is always going to be a part of you and it is completely ok to feel sad and devastated of her leaving.

      Take care and lots of strength!

      1. Convallaria, I’m deeply sorry you had to go through that. Many jedi hugs, if you want them.

        But this needs to be said: you were eleven. The LW is twenty. You were a child. The LW is an adult. Your situations are not the same, and the LW has considerably more agency than you did at the time. You were trying to protect yourself from going back to an awful and dangerous situation. She is trying to bind and control a person.

    4. You say you care about her and you say that you don’t want to hurt her, and yet you abdicate all responsibility for fixing the abusive situation that you created. You claim that you “can’t” leave her but that is a lie and I am not going to buy into your narrative of helplessness. You’re young, Astrilde, but 20 years old is plenty old enough to take basic responsibility for your own actions. I get that you feel love for her. I get that she makes you feel amazing. But did you notice that, even though you admit breaking up with Elsa would be the best thing for her, you instantly throw your caring for her out the window and force her to shoulder the whole emotional burden of breaking up with you? A burden that you’ve now made exponentially heavier by physically blocking her in a room and threatening suicide if she does leave you? You’ve coerced her into staying with you and yet you claim that you’re just going to let her be the one to leave… even though you’ve made it clear that you can’t be trusted to let her leave.

      Astrilde, that’s fucked up. It’s really fucked up. I don’t know what else to say.

      1. Yes, this.

        LW definitely needs to find a therapist of some kind (if you live in a city with a college, sometimes they offer free counseling if you don’t mind it being with a student working on their masters in counseling) to help her get to a point where she can leave this. Because it’s just unfair to put that burden on Elsa after a suicide threat. Even if you later say you didn’t mean it or something, that will ALWAYS be in the back of her mind, making her feel like she has to stay even if she doesn’t want to.

        The way you describe your reaction to her is…disturbing. I mean, I could see it in an early honeymoon phase of a relationship, but to keep up on that level…that’s not a relationship, that’s basically, I dunno…worship. It’s seeing her as something more than human, and as a result, putting a burden on her to *be* more than human.

        It’s deeply unfair to both of you.

    5. Astride, I’m curious, what is your definition of love? Because mine is wanting nothing more than for the person I love to be happy and free. Even in your response, even after all of the comments, you’ve still phrased everything in regards to how she makes you feel. You don’t seem to demonstrate any care for her feelings outside if they might make her leave you.

      I would like to gently suggest you take the time to truly think about what it would really like to show Elsa you love her, I suspect it would involve leaving her to her own life and going forth and living yours.

    6. Hi, Astrilde. Thanks for checking in. It’s good to hear from you.

      You say,

      I am not completely un-self-aware; I know how this would sound if Elsa were writing the letter to the Captain (and normally it is the ‘Elsa’s writing the letters here), and I know if I was a guy I’d probably get a lot less sympathy. I know, I know, I know….

      You know that if Elsa wrote in, we’d tell her to break up with you. Not because you’re irredeemable nor a Crazy-Devil-She-Bitch-Abuser, but because even if she wanted to, she can’t love you better, and I’m sorry but she’s already told you and shown you that she doesn’t want to.

      You and Elsa are fundamentally incompatible and it’s making you miserable (you are doing things you are ashamed of! And crying! And feeling like you are dying!), and you’re right that it will soon start making her miserable if it isn’t already. Again, there is nothing that she can give you that will fix this. You have to give it to yourself.

      My prescription as not an internet doctor:

      – Get thee to some mental health care. If you have a therapist ask for some extra sessions.

      – Make sure you haven’t left anything irreplaceable at her place.

      – Send Elsa a break up message (don’t do this in person it will be hard enough). Sample:

      “[Elsa], I am sorry but our relationship is not working for me. I am becoming a person that I don’t like, and I need to take some time apart from what we have to care for my own mental health. This is difficult because you are a special, wonderful person and I care about you deeply, but I will need to go no-contact for a few months. Trust that I already know you care, and I will take care of myself and hope you do the same. Best wishes, [Astrilde].”

      – After sending and before you lose your nerve, block her number and all forms of social media.

      – Cry. A lot. Talk to that therapist. Cry more. Sad movies and angry music and comfort food. Cry even more.

      – Embark on a program to improve your awesome self. Pick a photo contest and enter it. Learn Basque. Read the entire archive of a new webcomic or blog. Listen to podcasts. Make cake. Fill your life with things that are not her. Remind yourself that you are a complete person and you will not die of longing no matter what it feels like.

      – Moderation in all drinking, but my margarita recipe is 6 parts sweet and sour, 3 parts tequila, and 1 part each triple sec, lime juice, and Tuaca. I mention this because it’s what I drank after my awful break up and it helped a little. Also, I made them during the breakup and the guy who was dumping me said they were the best margaritas he’d ever had.

      – Reconnect with friends who are not her. And did I mention therapy? I’ll mention it again.

      The end of this relationship is not the worst thing in the world. You will survive it, and it will be less bad if you do it now than if you wait another month or three months or year making yourself and Elsa miserable. You have the power to change the story right now. I urge you to use it.

      Best of luck.

    7. I believe everything you wrote.

      I also believe you are confusing “I love the way I feel when I am around Elsa” with “I love Elsa”.

      Here are things you have said….

      1. Until you found yourself in a situation where you felt scared to the point of terror of losing her, you did not know you could and would lose control and abuse her.

      2. Now you do know that about yourself.

      3. You expect her to break up with you.

      When she breaks up with you, you can confidently predict that you will feel scared to the point of terror that you are about to lose her. You now know with absolute certainty that when that happens, you will lose control and abuse her. By choosing to stay with her, you are choosing to abuse her again. Last time, it was a surprise — you did not know it would happen, and you feel awful that it did. This time, you know that it almost certainly will happen, but you are refusing to make the one choice that could prevent it.

      You are choosing the awesome feelings you have when you are around her. You want those feelings to continue so much that you don’t care what the cost is, or who has to pay it. And the fact is that the person who will have to pay is Elsa — when she tries to break up, you will feel scared, you will lose control, you will do whatever you do, and you will feel horrible about it afterward. And this time, you will not be able to claim that you did not know this about yourself.

      You don’t love her. You love how she makes you feel. And you are choosing those feelings over her emotional and physical well-being. No one can stop you from making that choice. But it does change you from a person who surprised herself by losing control and abusing her girlfriend into a person who is making a choice to put both herself and her girlfriend into a situation where she will abuse again. Own that choice.

      1. You don’t love her. You love how she makes you feel. And you are choosing those feelings over her emotional and physical well-being. No one can stop you from making that choice. But it does change you from a person who surprised herself by losing control and abusing her girlfriend into a person who is making a choice to put both herself and her girlfriend into a situation where she will abuse again. Own that choice.

        Quoted for truth.

      2. When she breaks up with you, you can confidently predict that you will feel scared to the point of terror that you are about to lose her. You now know with absolute certainty that when that happens, you will lose control and abuse her. By choosing to stay with her, you are choosing to abuse her again. Last time, it was a surprise — you did not know it would happen, and you feel awful that it did. This time, you know that it almost certainly will happen, but you are refusing to make the one choice that could prevent it.


        “If you love someone, let them go,” is a cliché, but there’s truth in it. You’ve shown her that you’re not going to “let” her leave, not without threats of suicide or physically blocking her in a room. So she doesn’t have that unconstrained choice anymore. If you want her to be safe, and free, and happy, breaking up with her is really the only way you can do that. If you hadn’t lost control, then letting things go on as they have and accepting that she’s probably going to break up with you sooner or later would be a painful choice, but a valid one. But now, you know she’s not free to leave, because she’s got the threat of you killing yourself or trapping her in a room hanging over her head.

        And, unfortunately, you can make all the promises to change in the world—and mean them—and it doesn’t change that. What she has to go on is your past behavior, which was controlling, and abusive, and scary. Because you’ve limited that choice for her, it’s on you to make that choice. I wouldn’t phrase it to her that you’re breaking up with her for her benefit, because that’s really condescending, but I think it is the best thing for both of you if you do break up.

    8. Oh, Astrilde. This?

      When she walks into the room it feels like what I imagine heroin to feel like.

      This is not a good sign. This is a really bad sign. This is what it feels like when a situation with someone has been making you incredibly miserable, and when you have a moment of feeling good again, you get the double whammy of “feeling good” and “relief that you’re not feeling miserable”. This tingly over-the-moon heroin magic ecstasy is exactly what a trauma bond feels like. It’s not fate and it’s not magic and it’s not transcendence; it’s just psychology. Leave her. Rescue what’s left of your dignity and go, please. If you can get out of town for a while, do; it helps.

      You say you can’t bear it, but you are going to be amazed at what it turns out you can bear.

      Things tend to be more bearable when you step up and embrace them. You’re going to cry a lot one way or another over this, Astrilde. There’s no avoiding it. There’s only doing what you know is right. And you know this is right. You do know it. So hold to that.

    9. Just speaking from experience here — the longer you let this go on, the more it’s going to suck, and the angrier and more worthless you’ll probably feel at the end of it, and the more likely you are to do something really uncool to this woman you adore, and when the anger finally dies away, all you’ll be left with is the shame frosting on the grief cake. The feeling that other people are describing, like this amazing individual has come down from heaven and SEEN you, blessed you with personhood, is a hell of a drug, and withdrawal sucks bigtime.

      In my case, the former friend kind of cultivated me, and I was dazzled and thought they were wonderful but on some level couldn’t believe they’d like someone like me, but the sparkliness they focused on me was REALLY sparkly. Basking in the shiny, I went all in emotionally, but there wasn’t enough THERE there to justify it, so my anxiety ramped up to 11 and I behaved like an ass and lost everything.

      Actually, though, I think that my anxiety was telling me something useful, which is that I was just her “ooh shiny” of the moment, and instead of trying to get back the magic when her interest waned, I should’ve realized that her interest wasn’t lasting and wasn’t a contract, and she didn’t owe it to me to continue. The most humiliating but true part was that as personal as all that sparkly interest felt, in retrospect it absolutely wasn’t — that’s just how she interacted with people. And when it went away, it felt like she took my personhood with it. But that part wasn’t any truer than our friendship had been. If I’d backed the fuck off and really taken a good look at her actions in context and went off to lick my wounds, we might be on speaking terms and I’d have less shame about the nasty email I sent her after she friend-dumped me for good.

      I think her actions are feeling to you like an expression of love, but they’re not, and she’s being upfront enough to tell you that. And I think your feelings for her are less love than addiction.

    10. I have a similar situation with my ex-fiance, as the Elsa of sorts. I do love him, but he got so smothery I couldn’t cope. When/after I left, he engaged in self-harm (cutting, deliberately skipping meals when he is diabetic, praying for God to kill him, etc.)

      It is wonderful feeling the passion he has for me, feeling like we’re a team, sharing dreams of growing old together. He was my Dom, and we really meshed on D/s and kink levels. He always made me feel safe, sexually and in other ways. I couldn’t be his whole world. I couldn’t handle him being jealous of the cats when I petted them, or my Bonus Dad for my going to his 75th birthday party. It’s been about 3 months, and he is doing better, but I still have to defend my boundaries, and it gets exhausting.

      Yes, you only had one incident so far, but it is so easy to escalate. I agree with Vicki that you should avoid alcohol and other substances. Even if she isn’t physically present, you’re likely to call and say things that will harm Elsa. Being drunk isn’t an excuse, “in vino veritas.” It does impair your judgement and lower your inhibitions. I agree you were abusive, though not physically violent. I strongly recommend therapy to sort things out.

    11. Astrilde, I want to pick up on you saying being with Elsa feels like heroin.

      There’s a very interesting book you can read called ‘The Unbroken Brain’ by Maia Szalavitz, which is about how our brains wire themselves to dependencies. Szalavitz was addicted to literal heroin, as well as cocaine, so she knows what she’s talking about.

      Here’s what she says: heroin made her feel like she was ‘home’. Safe, loved, fulfilled. And that was an addictive experience for her because, basically, she didn’t feel at home in the world. She grew up with undiagnosed autism, was bullied and rejected in school, and was carrying a lot of trauma and stress. She hadn’t had the opportunity to learn how to feel connected with other people in comforting ways, so she didn’t know how to feel all right in herself – so drugs filled a gap. And that’s how addiction tends to work: drugs fill a gap, but that gap was there before the drugs came along.

      What gap is Elsa filling for you?

      You must know that she can’t love you the way you want her to – and the more you act the way you’ve been acting lately, the more impossible that’s going to get for her. You’re saying you’ll die without the feeling she gives you. But that day is coming, and you know it.

      So what is there in your past that means you need this high so badly you feel you can’t survive without it? Because that – and I know this isn’t what you want to hear, but it is what you need to hear – is what you really need to be dealing with.

      This relationship is ending. I’m sorry. But what is it that’s making you feel like life without it isn’t worth living? Because the truth is, it isn’t that Elsa is the magical only person who could ever make you feel good. That person is you, and right now, it sounds like you don’t know how without some outside high.

      You can’t carry on like this. Elsa is a person, not a drug, and you can’t treat her like one. To put it bluntly: if you carry on scaring her like this, there may come a point where she feels she has to protect herself from you physically. If you feel bad now, think how bad you’ll feel if it comes to a restraining order. This isn’t as miserable as things can get: they can get worse. And the only person who can prevent that is you.

      People talk about the teens being when you explore your identity, but it’s in their twenties that most people really make the decision about what kind of person they want to be. I watched someone in their twenties settle in to being an abuser, and it wasn’t pretty. You don’t have to go this way – but if you don’t look at this feeling of ‘I can’t’ and ask yourself ‘How do I move beyond this?’ – well, the choice you’re making isn’t pretty either. It might feel lovely from the inside, but it won’t lead to a lovely life.

      I know, I know, this isn’t what you want to hear. I’m sorry.

    12. Astrilde, thanks for the update. I’m sorry you are in so much pain, and I wish better for you. For what it’s worth, I don’t think you’re a “Crazy-Devil-She-Bitch-Abuser” – I think you’re a person who has done abusive things, and needs to take responsibility for that and work on yourself to avoid doing so again in the future. I believe you absolutely can change and do better if you set your mind to it, and I hope (for your sake as well as Elsa’s) that you do. I do appreciate that you’ve taken the first step by naming your behaviors as abusive and wanting to avoid doing them again.

      That said, what jumped out at me from your update is that your feelings of “love” for Elsa….are all about you. It’s all about how she makes you feel, and nothing about actually caring for her, wishing the best for her, or even being curious about her interests and personality. It’s like you’re so wrapped up in your extremely strong emotions that you can’t see her as a person, only a source of drug-like ecstasy. Do you ever ask how *she* is? Or brush *her* hair (or whatever kind of physical closeness she enjoys)? Do you care about how *she* feels? This isn’t love, it’s an unhealthy obsession.

      And wow, it’s SO not ok that you expect Elsa to do the work of breaking up with you, after you’ve already terrified her by threatening to kill yourself if she leaves you. Do you realize that by saying that, and by physically blocking her exit, you’re trapping her in a relationship with you whether or not she genuinely wants to be in it? Do you realize that if/when she does break up with you, she’s going to be terrified that you’ll hurt yourself, or her, or both? It’s not ok to put someone you love (or anyone) in that position. Please, please, please, just let her go.

    13. Hey, Astrilde. Your feelings are not more important than another’s person safety. I believe that you love being with Elsa. I believe that you are feeling very sorry and ashamed about what you did. I believe that the mere idea of breaking up with her fills you with pain and incredible sadness.

      But, guess what? All those true, valid feelings don’t excuse your actions (your actions which you are responsible of. They may not have been premeditated, but they were deliberate). All those true, valid feeling don’t count more than Elsa’s safety.

      You asked us what to do. We are telling you: break up with her. Get some therapy. Learn to love yourself and to respect others’ autonomy.
      Past behaviour is the best indicator for future behaviour. As things stand, you know you will hurt and control and manipulate her if she doesn’t do what you want (love you, be sexually monogamous, etc.). You know you are not a safe person for her to be around. You know the relationship is not making you happy either. So choose not to hurt her, and yourself, anymore, and break up with her. You can do it. You know how to do it. And you know you should. So, do it: it will be best for both of you.

      I didn’t want to say this, because I don’t want to hurt you, but I’m afraid it needs to be said. There is a very scary escalating pattern in your letter. You have already escalated from emotional manipulation to suicide threats and physically blocking exits. So: how long till you threaten to kill her? How long till you hit or grab her? How long till you start monitoring who she talks to, where she spends her time, how she spends her money? How long till you start making her feel miserable so you can feel reassured and in control?

      Do you really want to be the person Elsa spends years of her life and tons of work and pain and money healing from?

    14. Hi Astrilde,

      No-one called you a “Crazy-Devil-She-Bitch-Abuser” or implied that you were. We just pointed out that you are displaying a controlling behaviour that recently escalated to abuse. Sure, you point out it only happened once. But you’re not doing anything to remove yourself from this situation or make 100% sure it doesn’t happen again. The only way to do that would be to leave Elsa and stay away from her for a while (and hopefully get therapy, which several commenters suggested and you don’t mention in your reply). I get how heart-wrenching it is, I truly do. Most of us have experienced unrequited love and it is extremely hard. But when you say you know she will leave you, imagine how you will behave when she breaks the news to you. Can you really be sure you won’t threaten and abuse her again? What makes you think it’s going to be different this time? Put yourself in her shoes for a moment and ask yourself: would you feel safe around someone who behaved the way you did?

    15. I had made a New Year’s resolution to be nicer. I’m rethinking it now. Look, I was trying to just give you some practical advice that you’d listen to-that things weren’t going to change, that you needed to break up with Elsa and have no contact to give yourself some peace. I was hoping you’d listen to that. It still stands today. I think you knew this was the advice you were going to get because you preemptively said you wouldn’t be able to take the advice. Well, sorry. You need to take this advice.

      “But she – and excuse the ‘Frozen’ allusions here – has a magic power over me.”

      STOP THIS. STOP IT. SHE DOES NOT HAVE MAGIC POWERS OVER YOU. You’re putting a burden and responsibility on Elsa that is fucking unbearable.

      “I can’t leave her, and I can’t bear the thought of her leaving me. No amount of logic or reason will change that. But I know that she is going to leave me. When she does it will be the best for both of us, in the long run. ”

      It’s shitty you’re putting the responsibility for ending this in Elsa’s lap. You’ll continue this obsessive nonsense until she cannot take anymore and is worn and spent and deeply hurt. And you’ll push HER to be the one to end it, all the while bullying her into staying. Is that how you treat someone you claim to love? What about the next person you’re with?

      This isn’t love. It’s obsession. If I was Elsa I’d be terrified. Elsa is just a person in the world. She is not a magical sorceress who has power over you. I was an Elsa to a guy who insisted that I had some sort of power over him and that I ‘made’ him act out. That’s bullshit.

      The only person who is exercising this power over you is YOU. For Elsa’s sake YOU need to break up with her NOW. Tell her you both want different things, that you wish her the best, but that you would prefer it if she not contact you. Do not have any contact with her at ALL going forward. Block her on all social media, block her number and her email, and do not find ways to keep up with her via social media or mutual friends.

      And then please, for your sake and the sake of anyone else you get involved with, get into therapy and work on why you act this way and how you can stop acting this way.

    16. I’m going to do the DBT dance here again: \o\ /o/ \o/ if I were you I would consider seeking out a DBT-trained therapist right now.

      I, personally, had “some traits” of the mental health conditions that DBT was developed to treat, and I was in group with many people who had different assortments of those traits. I got better, I worked alongside many people who got better. The good feeling of this situation – feeling loved, feeling home – those feelings are your own neurochemical property, and with support you can learn to generate them for yourself, from your own brain.

      If this were my letter, and I was writing it about my own experience, the bad feelings here – the pain, the panic, the disassociation – would be the signs of a mental health emergency emerging. Look, you threatened to kill yourself. That is enough of a sign of a mental health emergency that I feel comfortable saying that you need support, right now. Heck with “what to do about Elsa”. Never mind that. Look, she will be there or she will not be there, and it sounds like you’ve already accepted that right now you’re not in a place where you feel like you can change your own proximity to the situation. But for her sake and for yours, it sounds like you need more mental health support than you’re getting, right the heck now.

      Other commentators are saying that this relationship is not salvageable. I hear them, and I understand why they’re saying that. Personally, I don’t know. Only Elsa can make that decision for herself. But if you actually do not want to treat her in this frightening way, you need to get very active support. If you really care about her this much, then it matters right now, right here, today that you figure out how to behave safely and well towards her no matter what happens.

      It sounds like you’re a university student, which usually gives you good options. Walk yourself into campus mental health the next day they’re open and ask them about DBT referrals. If that isn’t an option, a crisis line will be able to refer you to your local behavioral health organization. For better or worse, if you’re in the US “danger to self” will usually get you right into treatment ahead of the queue.

      What happened was bad. Doing a bad thing doesn’t mean you are bad. What matters now – since that happened and you can’t go back – is whether you treat the way you behaved while suffering and in pain as a personal emergency that you need real treatment and help for, or whether you passively allow it to happen again. The “bad” move here is to either do nothing knowing that this will probably happen again or to try to control the situation by controlling Elsa (INCLUDING trying to shape yourself into the nonmonogamous threesome-tryer she ‘might want’, knowing that that’s just banking drama for the future) instead of controlling yourself right through the door and into the chair of a qualified professional.

      Again, if this were me writing this, the reason I felt helpless and the situation seemed helpless would be because of a mental health emergency that is helpable and solvable. Unfortunately, literally no one can cure or solve this situation for you, including (especially!) Elsa. IF my experience is applicable to your situation, you have to be the one to get up and get help and stick with getting help. That isn’t a moral statement, it’s just literally impossible for anyone else to do the hard parts of this for you. It sucks, but it’s true.*

      (*If anyone here is in Elsa’s shoes, read this double. It’s not just a moral statement that other people can’t fix their partner’s problems! It’s not a law like stopping at stop signs is a law, it’s a law like gravity is a law. It doesn’t matter if we’d like to be able to fix other people, or for them to be able to fix us. It’s actually not fundamentally possible. Even in therapy, it’s a bounded situation where people get help to fix themselves.)

  67. I’m relating a lot to Elsa here. I was fairly recently a bi, sexually adventurous young woman. The man I was casually dating loved me so much, and would cry and block the exit from my dorm room whenever I tried to break up, camp out in my bed begging for strategies to make me love him back, and desperately attempt sex things that honestly only made things worse. Things finally ended over a period of 6 months where I realized that I needed to be someone if the other gender, and they tried to convince me I didn’t, and I broke up with him for a girl. I spent that entire time terrified that he was going to kill me because that’s what a lot of people hear when their abuser says they can’t live without them. He didn’t end up killing me, but it did get violent enough that he was kicked out of our college. Also he was so pathetic in his expressions of love for me that people felt much more sympathy for him (devoted, passionate, obsessed) than me (terrified, avoidant, badly injured)

    I might be projecting, but I think this situation would have a very different read if Astrilde was a man and I hope these comments remind her to do anything possible to affirm Elsa’s agency and safety in this situation.

  68. I’m relating to Astrilde a lot, I had a relationship where I felt extremely insecure and emotionally volatile, I would worry and feel jealous constantly, and I couldn’t really justify or understand why! I was ready to assume that my thinking was was the source of every problem, because I didn’t trust myself, because my girlfriend had dated before and I hadn’t, and because she was so great, ect.

    I tried to logic my way out of feeling my feelings, when I actually should have been listening to the message they were sending me. (In that case, it was: when someone is mean to you on a pretty regular basis, you feel bad.)

    Astrilde, you are in a situation that is hurting you, and you need to leave. That’s what the pain means: the situation needs to change, and leaving is what you can do when talking hasn’t worked. It’s the only thing you have actual control over, you can’t force her to feel or act differently.
    Dating other people since my first girlfriend has proven to me that I’m not exceptionally insecure or needy, and I can endure a broken heart. Dating after Elsa will prove to you that even if she’s great, she’s not unique. There are people who will love you back, and will want to be monogamous, and are just as attractive I swear

  69. So, I know this isn’t the focus of the letter and I will try hard to avoid any sort of speculative diagnoses, but the passing out thing sounds beyond awkward, but as LW herself pointed out, actually dangerous. I think both the “I cannot live without my girlfriend” as well as “I pass out” deserve professional workup, if not already underway. Depending on what causes the passing out, perhaps there are medications that can help. I don’t think that will substantially change LW’s relationship with her girlfriend, but I still think it would be beneficial to LW, which is the most important part!

  70. Astrilde, I can’t improve on the replies written after your post here in the comment section.

    I just want to say this – Please, please listen. Read and reread the comments which undoubtedly make you feel very uncomfortable. Resist the urge to flip to ‘they think I’m a crazy bitch’.

    Many, many of us are in our 30s and 40s and 50s. We have lots of life experience and remember our early relationships. Don’t disregard the comments that make you feel really uncomfortable.

    What you now know about yourself is that you can be abusive to Elsa when you think she is leaving you.

    Stop in your tracks. Seriously. Take a really hard look at yourself.

    You need to do something to shock yourself out of your current mindset. If what you are reading here doesn’t do it, I don’t know what will.

    Seek professional mental health support today, don’t put it off. Join a support group online if you can’t get to an appointment in person.

    Put Elsa’s need for safety ahead of your need to feel intoxicated by being with her. Break up with her and go no contact. It will be extremely challenging but you won’t die from your feelings. Elsa, on the other hand, is at risk from you. You aren’t a safe person for her. Do the right thing.

  71. I think it’s time to bring this thread to a close. Astrilde, there are giant flashing lights and literal klaxons in everything you post that say “Get some help, buddy.” A girlfriend is not a pacifier.

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