Is it me or is this cover of It Ain’t Me, Babe by Kesha the soundtrack for lots of the posts this week?
Now, a letter:
A friend that I’ve had for more than a decade recently said she wanted us to start dating. It’s not the first time we’ve done this – we dated at the beginning of knowing each other, and ended up splitting up because I wasn’t quite adventurous enough for her tastes, at the time. I didn’t hold a grudge, and we’ve stayed friends since.
I’ve known this person for a while, and I know that her life is not easy – she suffers from depression, and her life with her family has never been comfortable. She is convinced the family, and the fact that she’s had to move back in with them so often when things go wrong in her life, is the root cause of her depression – that her life would be better if she should just move out and away and stay in a constant environment. I have my doubts about this, but throughout our friendship, I’ve left open the option of her crashing wherever I was staying at the time, if she needed to get away from her family for a little while (because really, they ARE bunch of relentlessly negative humans, and while I don’t believe that they’re the cause of her depression, I definitely don’t think they help it.) She’s taken me up on the option a few times, for a weekend or a few days here or there… never longer than a week.
Since we started dating a few months ago, she’s become more and more strident about wanting to move in together (she’s been stuck living with her family for a year or so, since her last roommate/apartment situation didn’t work out), and start a family. As she puts it, if she doesn’t get out of there and get started on meeting her life goals, she’ll end up hospitalized. I’ve been… non-committal (not the best behavior, I know), saying I wouldn’t want to consider anything for at least a few months. That seems to have been taken as saying we would in a few months, and I now am getting forwarded house and apartment listings every few days.
To make all of this more complex, I have some personal history that makes me worried I’m reading more into the comments than is actually intended. My next relationship, after the first time we dated, was… not a particularly healthy one, and it ended horribly, with the other party in it sabotaging our (multiple) methods of birth control, in an attempt to get deliberately pregnant. Her theory was that when that happened, I would have had to marry her, and she could be assured of having a family at her funeral (she had a terminal illness). When I found out what had been happening and why (by having the first pregnancy test thrown to me with a ‘now you can’t leave me’ speech), that relationship did not end so amicably. It led to me having some huge trust issues around sex and dating – I’ve spent most of the last decade not being able to have romantic relationship with others, because of those issues.
The Once-And-Again Girlfriend doesn’t know about my issues. In the last decade, I’ve told a grand total of four people about what happened. Do I need to say something to her about how the comments are setting off my anxiety? How do I do that when I’ve known for a decade that I don’t want to go into the history of it, and her old opinions on the nightmare GF, and all of that with her?
-Uncomfortable With All The Buzzing
I think it is time for you to say:
“I need to tell you something and I need you to listen and not interrupt until I’m finished, ok?
When I told you I wasn’t ready to move in together but we could maybe talk about it in a couple months, I didn’t mean ‘we are definitely moving in a couple of months, let’s plan that!’ I am not ready to move in with you, and sending me the apartment listings is really stressing me out. Please stop.
I totally agree that you’ll be happier if you get out of your family’s place ASAP, and I hope you’ll look for a place of your own or a roommate situation that you can afford. But I am in no rush to move in together, and I need you to know that so that you can make the best possible plan for yourself.”
You do not necessarily need to explain your reasons or your anxieties or your fraught dating history to this person. Not because it’s unrelated – I do think your anxieties about what’s happening now are related to the awful way your ex treated you, and it isn’t strange to me at all that it would feel like history is repeating – but I don’t want you to get sucked into the whole “Wait, you think I’m acting like her? That’s not fair!” argument with her when really, even if you didn’t have that awful ex or that history or these anxieties, you don’t want to move in with this person now.
Also, while I think it’s natural to share stories of how past partners have hurt us or let us down, there’s a very common miscommunication that happens sometimes when we do this. If you tell the story of your past partner’s contraceptive sabotage and other attempts to hold you hostage without making the “and you are unintentionally making me feel the same way she did with your enthusiasm for moving in” part very explicit, your current girlfriend is going to identify with you in the story and not necessarily get the message you want her to get at all. Then you’ll have to explain what you mean, and, ouch.
The most important thing you need to tell her is the information that you’re not ready to move in. It’s not what she wants to hear, and the why won’t soften it as much as you think it will. Whatever you say when you tell her, your girlfriend is probably gonna have a Not Great reaction. And I feel for her – I can totally see why you look like the answer to all her plans and problems right now, and I have a ton of sympathy for how embarrassed and helpless she’s going to feel when that illusion is cracked, even if her actions so far have been based 75% her wishful thinking/25% your passivity and fear of upsetting her. So I want you to know that you might have to do some repeating of “Ok but I’m not ready to move in together” and/or “Ok but I don’t want to move in together” even if she says some very scary and/or terrible and/or sad things that really tempt you to appease her. And like, if she says she might need to be hospitalized if this doesn’t work out, you might need to say “Hey, maybe that’s not a terrible idea, in the hospital they can treat you very aggressively, why not throw everything you can at your illness?” She’s using hospitalization as a dire threat or the worst possible thing, but if she needs it, she needs it, and there’s absolutely no shame in that.
Also, friend, you asked my opinion, so I’m gonna give you some more opinions in the form of questions:
It sounds like dating again was all or mostly her idea. Do you actually want to be dating her or was it just the path of least resistance? Are you being the noncommittal confusing dude in her life right now because you feel bad for her or because you love her and want her and know that this relationship is good for you? Sit with that for a minute, ok?
You’re not ready to move in with her. Do you see yourself ever moving in with her? Not all relationships need to trend toward cohabitation in order to be fulfilling and important, but if she wants that badly and you’re not that guy, is it time to be honest with yourself so you can be honest with her?
The above questions are me asking “Are you sure it isn’t breakup time?” Wanting to help a friend is great. Wanting to date a friend into being not-depressed as a way to help her meet her life goals is maybe not the best.
Also, your safer sex practices are locked the fuck down, right? Like you are at least scrupulously using condoms…that you supply…every single time you have any kind of sex that could result in pregnancy? You’re 100% sure about what contraceptive method she’s using and what its efficacy is and that she’s using it scrupulously? Maybe it’s time to work on some pleasurable-yet-not-procreative activities? She isn’t your abusive ex, but if you know you’re not ready to be a parent, make sure you are taking all the precautions you can take.
Okay, finally, say this is a happy, functional, awesome relationship that is going somewhere, a relationship that you want to be in, and you get through the “let’s not live together right now” conversation without breaking up. If I’m your partner, and I decide to keep dating you after something like that, I am probably never, ever, ever bringing up moving in with you ever again. So if you ever want to move the relationship in that direction, it is 100% on you to come forward and say “I am ready, I want this, here are apartment listings, yaaaaay!” and not expect her to jump effortlessly into doing that work.