I’ve got a nice, awkward, many-years-running situation for you!
So when I was in my early 20s, I dated someone I shouldn’t have dated, whom I’ll call Dean. I dated him for five years. At the time, I was so isolated where I lived that it became a kind of “well, it’s better than not dating anyone” thing, until it became a love thing, and then an inertia thing. He wasn’t right for me in so many ways, but he wasn’t exactly bad to me either…and I was 23 and had very little relationship experience. Partway through the relationship I relocated to a major city for grad school, and took the opportunity to break up with him. However, after a few months and some insistance from him that surprised me (because he’d always been so passive), he moved to be with me again. We lived together until I got interested in polyamory, met what would become my community (and next partner), and then broke up in slow motion over an agonizing year, during which I dated my new person openly, Dean planned to move out of state, and we had maintenance sex that I tolerated because if I didn’t, he would make me miserable.
Context: this person was a functioning alcoholic, a burnout artist type, and most of the time treated me very well (still the most thoughtful gift-giver I’ve ever met), but see above re: the manipulative sex, and manipulative behavior in general that usually amounted to refusing to take a strong stance on anything, but guilting me if I did. Even now, close to 20 years later, it’s hard to explain exactly how that relationship (mal)functioned, and even when I’d been through a year of living with him while wanting nothing more than to be officially broken up, I was still sad when he left, and he still wanted to stay friends.
For a while we weren’t in touch, but over the years he started sending me cards and pictures again, letting me know how his life was going, and so on. More recently, he’s also been texting me, and a couple months back we had a long telephone conversation that reminded me of all the ways he used to keep reeling me back in (it was a way longer phone conversation than I wanted to have). His texts often have the flavor of his self-styling as a “comedian,” which means that at times they say offensive things that he “doesn’t mean” as directed to me, but is testing the waters as to whether they’re generally funny. (They’re not.) He and I used to be massive fans of Bill Hicks and other edgy comics; these days I look back at that material and find a lot of it horrifyingly offensive. So the texts go back and forth between expressions of “gee life sucks, but you were a great part of it so I keep in touch with you,” and weird backhanded comments I don’t know how to respond to.
In short, Dean and I are just as poorly matched now as we ever were, but I get the strong sense that he was closer to me than he had been to almost anyone, and that even now, I’m one of the few people he genuinely cares about. On top of that, he apparently has early stage Alzheimer’s, which is just…terrible. I can’t help but feel, however, that the diagnosis is yet another way for him to make me feel bad for him so he can keep me around. Which makes me feel like a jerk.
When I spoke to him last, I told him my dad had died, and he expressed genuine regret; they’d been close, possibly because my dad was a similar kind of fuckup. He expressed the desire to come to his memorial when I had it, and in the same breath said he’d understand if I didn’t want him there, which I appreciated.
But the whole thing is just so sad at this point. I feel like encouraging him by inviting him to the memorial, seeing him again, etc., could make him start contacting me more regularly and sucking my time and energy in a way I’ve found really unpleasant in the past. On the other hand, am I a jerk? I just keep finding myself ignoring his texts after a while, and then finally answering them because I feel bad, then starting the cycle over again. We’re both in our 40s, repartnered, living hundreds of miles apart; though his occasional contact obviously frazzles me, it feels like it’d be cruel to just be like, “Don’t talk to me anymore.” They say that the older you get, the more you need people who knew you when you were young, but I have to admit that that me isn’t someone I love being reminded of, and that person isn’t someone I felt knew or understood me well at all.
Recovering Passive-Aggressive Bullshit Taker