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Dear Captain,

I’ve (27F) have been dating my boyfriend (33M) for about 6 months and things are wonderful. We’ve talked seriously about a future together and he’s a great partner. He has invited me to spend Thanksgiving week with his dad, brother, and sister-in-law on the West Coast. *However*, his mom passed away suddenly earlier this year (before we met) and this will be their first big family holiday without her. I’m worried about my BF. I’ve noticed him drinking more than usual this past week and just seeming a little down.

I’ve heard that sometimes the weeks leading up to a big holiday or anniversary after someone dies can be even worse than the day itself, but I’m not sure how to talk about this with him without pushing him. He’s very stoic and doesn’t like to talk about himself or his feelings in general, and although he’s mentioned offhand Thanksgiving is probably going to be hard/different, he doesn’t seem to want to open up beyond that. My heart is breaking for him and I want to help him however I can, but it’s almost like he doesn’t want to acknowledge that he’s grieving at all.

Spending five whole days with his family (whom I haven’t met before) is pressure enough, and on top of that I’m not sure how to be understanding of what they’re going through without intruding, if that makes sense. We have some activities planned but I’m not sure how/if I should give them space when I’m there, or how to be supportive during an emotionally-charged time. Would you be able to give me a script for asking my BF about how he’s dealing with his grief leading up to this holiday? Do you have any tips for being a good houseguest and partner during an emotionally-charged holiday?

Thanks for your help,

Worried GF

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Hello Captain,

I’m in a bit of an emotional pickle and I was wondering if you had any advice.

It’s kind of a long story but I’ll simplify as well as I can;

For 5 years I was in a relationship with a very good man. He was supportive and loving throughout some incredibly difficult times and although we certainly had our problems (both of us bought our family and mental health drama into the relationship) we were not just boyfriend and girlfriend but each other’s best friends for all those years. Living in a town we hated, in a university that was draining us, and surrounded by people we didn’t like, it was like me and him against the world.

However, last year around November we broke up. He ‘pulled the trigger’ as I put it but it had been something that had been on the cusp for a while. I had been questioning my sexuality for a while and shortly after our break up I came out as a lesbian. He was surprisingly supportive throughout all of this although I’m sure it was incredibly hard on him. Aside from my sexuality we had other problems as well, we were fighting more and laughing less, his anger which had been a problem in our relationship since the beginning was still a problem I had near completely lost patience with.

We both promised each other we’d do what we could to be friends. We’d only a couple of months earlier moved in together (we needed to get out of our previous living situation and I had hoped that moving in together might ‘fix’ me) and at first it seemed ok. We still laughed and went out to dinner, he’d point out girls he thought I’d find cute, we’d joke and make fun of each other the same way we always had. It seemed too good to be true. Well you know what they say…

After not too long a time that stopped, I’m not sure exactly why, but things became distant, and then hostile. There had been tiny glimpses of this before, (for example, I mentioned to a friend that he’d been the one to ‘pull the trigger’ and he said ‘yeah well you had the gun shoved so far down my throat that I didn’t have a choice’. He later said this was a badly worded joke) but nothing huge and whenever I’d ask he’d play it down.

But after a short while the living situation became very difficult. For a while I was scared I would be homeless because he said he wanted to move out and I wasn’t sure I could cover rent and everything all by myself (things we’d previously halved), I tried to explain this to him that I needed more time to figure a living situation out as i have no family in the city where we live and no where else I could have stayed. He got very angry and didn’t seem to care about the homeless possibility. We were in his car having a chat when this happened and he screamed at me, getting very angry as I had seen 1000 times before, and at one point when I got out and walked away he screamed “times running out”. He moved back in with his parents (something he blames on me because he says I made the living situation so hostile and tense that he had no choice but to move out) and thankfully I can cover rent and bills, though I don’t exactly have much left over afterwards.

Very shortly after he started dating a girl I know and although it felt weird at first, I’m glad he’s found some happiness, and the girl is a very sweet person who I’m sure won’t hurt him.

One of the last times we spoke I asked him how he felt about me. I told him that I can take him going from my boyfriend and best friend to my ex who i have a friendly or casual relationship with, but I couldn’t take him going from being the centre of my world to someone who seems to hate me and isn’t in my life at all. He told me that he never thought I’d hurt him, and the way I’d handled coming out and everything after hurt him and he has to protect himself. That broke my heart. We might not be together anymore (I have a girlfriend myself now), but I’d take a bullet for that guy. It breaks my heart to think that I hurt him, I certainly didn’t mean to, and I cant believe he feels like he needs to protect himself against me of all people.

I’ve been wondering what, if anything, i can do about this situation for a while. The trigger for this letter was two dreams I had in a row (I’m not the type to read into dreams but these are a little on the nose). In the first his girlfriend had a baby and my ex told me that I needed to pay child support for some reason, he seemed very annoyed with me when I questioned why I had to give him money. In the second (that I had just last night), he asked me to get something for him but I couldn’t do this, I was late to meet him and tried to explain that I couldn’t get what he wanted just yet. At first he seemed fine with this, then he took me somewhere else (his mom was in the background telling him he ‘should have done this to begin with’) and started saying horrible things to me. I asked if he hated me and he yelled ‘of course I fucking hate you, you deserve everything you get’. There are currently concerns that I have a swelling in my brain and in the dream I asked ‘what about the tumour?’ and he said ‘I hope it kills you.’ I woke up crying.

I messaged him the other day but didn’t get a response and this is par for the course pretty much whenever I try to speak to him now.

Do you think I should tell him about these dreams? Ask him again how he feels? If not, how do I deal with these very painful dreams and feelings?

Any advice would be appreciated,
I didn’t mean to hurt him.

P.S. His parents have caused more drama by insisting that I owe them money for things they bought us as a couple (his mom even wants the mattress back that she bought us), I have tried to be civil and offer them money. They’ve even argued that I should give my ex our fridge even though I paid for half of it. This does not make our situation any less tense.

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Dear Captain,

My partner and I have been together almost a decade and our relationship has been polyamorous all that time. For the most part (aside from perhaps two ‘near misses, completely, in fact) it has been me in other relationships (my partner has never been interested in looking, or hasn’t reciprocated others’ advances). Our stated ‘rules’ have been around safer sex, and a rule of not getting involved as someone’s affair. The latter rule sprang from me entering the relationship with her fresh out of BEING someone’s affair. We both decided we didn’t need that – there was potential for drama that would involve each other etc.

After almost ten years my partner just met someone (someone she already knew but who just declared an interest) she really wants to pursue something with. The catch? He’s married. of course. She tells me she doesn’t really care about the ‘affairs’ rule now – she knows I do but she doesn’t see why she can’t do this, given that it’s so rare for her to have these feelings.

It’s the first time she’s got this close to seeing someone and so I can’t work out what are my feelings about it being ANYONE, and what are my feelings about her becoming an affair.

I have two choices. I can either tell her not to do this (and I believe she won’t) and she will be miserable and resent me, or I can NOT do that, and I will be miserable.

This isn’t ethical non-monogamy to me. it’s not what I signed up for. I love her, but I’m aware that my thought processes have changed. I cannot currently say I feel proud of her, for example, and I hate that.

I guess I’m looking for some perspective?

Sincerely,

Not where I thought I was going (they/them)

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Dear Captain Awkward,

Happy Thursday! I hope you are having a great week so far. I wanted to ask your opinion on how to best handle my husband when he gets angry and upset and how I can better help us move towards having a happier marriage.

Some background: My husband and I are pretty nostalgic, and we both enjoy reminiscing on past things (I feel like I tend to be more in the present, but just because I think that doesn’t mean that is true). We met in college and hit it off. We had a great group of friends who we keep up with and we both got jobs about an hour away from our hometown/college town. The trouble is, he seems like he’s been upset ever since graduating. I totally get that, as school was a lot of fun and it was great being able to learn so many things (we are both engineers) and meet different types of people.

Fast-forward to now. We got married in 2012. Our marriage isn’t the greatest, and we usually do things on our own around the house and do not spend much time together. He constantly pines for the college days and constantly complains about how much things have changed and how people disappoint him and how much he hates his job. Both he and I are pretty selfish people who suffer from anxiety and depression, and I constantly feel like I’m forced to do things for him and on his schedule to try to keep him happy.

My husband likes to unwind after work, and his unwinding time got so long that I would find other things to do. I got involved in a dance class where we live now which has allowed me to make friends and to keep in shape. My husband has been watching a lot of youtube and complains about how he feels he is getting fat. Neither of us are super great at keeping up with the house, however I feel like I am the one who usually ends up cleaning and taking care of those type of things. He also likes to complain that when I go to dance (I am currently a competitive dancer, so I dance 2 days a week) I am out of the house for much longer than I really am, and that all I do revolves around dance. I do not feel like this is true, as I constantly skip events and I have drawn back on how involved I was in comparison to when I first started. I have made lots of friends with this activity and it’s a great social outlet for me. I do not want to quit, but he keeps dropping ultimatums. Of course, he doesn’t have his own hobby, aside from watching TV and reading the news, and neither of us have a hobby that we share.

Since my husband is so set on his college days, he is very attached to that group of friends. Unfortunately, since they do not live close by, we do not see them nearly as much as we did (why would we? We don’t live a mile away anymore!). When we do make plans to see them, whether it’s last minute or no, my husband expects me to drop everything to make it happen. He will not visit with them on his own, as he says that it’s important that I’m there to share the experience with him. I have trouble believing this because I feel like he usually tries to police my behavior in front of them and gets upset when I do not act the way he wants me to. We have tentatively gotten involved with some work friends in our area, but he is always on edge about doing things with them, and if any event conflicts with a change to see college friends, he always chooses the college friends.

He is very in touch with his emotions, however he is not very good at reflecting on himself. He has a bad habit of talking about heavy issues through emails at work, while he doesn’t like to discuss things at home. Sometimes he can lay it on thick and really tear into my personality and how awful of a person I am and how much I am hurting him (I get called names pretty consistently). This sometimes has a really bad effect on my attitude and makes it really hard to mask at work. Other times I’m able to ignore it and get on with my day, only to have him write to me the next day that I didn’t have time for him and he feels neglected.

I am a very active person, and I feel like I have no support in this marriage. I cannot talk to my parents or his parents about this, to save face. I feel like I am constantly changing my plans to suit his needs and wants only to get yelled at about it all later on, or to be told bluntly everything that is wrong with my personality and my thought process. It’s an extremely negative environment and I am having a lot of trouble handling it. Unfortunately, for the last 5 or 6 years, it’s been a weekly occurrence. I started seeing a counselor, which has helped a little, but it’s a process that will take a long while.

I have also read a LOT of relationship articles and books to try to understand how he feels and things that I can do to change it. (I’m not trying to make myself out as a “holier-than-thou” type of person, even though I am sure that’s exactly what I’m doing, but I would like to illustrate that I am trying). None of it seems to be making a difference, and it’s really difficult to make myself continuously try when nothing seems to work at all. I get discouraged and I don’t want to keep trying.
Both of us are too lazy to divorce and I’m (relatively) Catholic, so I don’t think that’s something I’d want to do in the end anyway.

Just would like someone else’s perspective. If this email is ignored, I totally get it, as you’ve addressed issues like this a lot. Also, my apologies for being such a poor writer.

Sincerely,

Worn out

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Dear Captain Awkward:

I have been engaged for 1 1/2 years now. We are both in our 40’s and have been married before. I have no contact with my ex. When my fiancé and I first got together I made the mistake of discussing things from my previous marriage. There was nothing good about my past but my fiancé doesn’t believe that. He thinks I am still in love with the ex. I am not! He admits to being jealous and possessive and needs to feel like he is #1. If he is not #1 then he can not move forward with me. He has always been the first for the woman he has married or dated. He has never been with a woman that has much of a past in regards to relationships. He wants to be able to get over this hurdle about my ex and I want to do everything to help us get over this hurdle. What can we do?

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Dear Captain,

I am currently with someone whom I know is completely toxic for me. He’s selfish, emotionally unavailable, dismissive of my needs and feelings, and apparently very depressed due to recently losing his career and having trouble finding a job. Even when things were good, he spent most of his time alternately being unwilling to talk to me about any of my concerns or telling me whatever he thought I wanted to hear to shut me up. I’ve caught him in various small lies, and at this point have no idea what big lies he might have told me. I don’t even know if I believe him about the depression. Sometimes it just seems like a convenient excuse to treat me badly and to not come through on absolutely anything he promises me, even something as small as calling me when he said he would.

I’ve also been making a massive fool of myself. After watching him piss his career away, blame everyone but himself, and mislead me as to what happened and how for months, I still persisted in: (1) staying with him; (2) paying for shit, like a vacation we took together and other material things he needed; (3) letting him refuse to address any of my needs except to say I needed to stop talking about them because I was stressing him out; (4) putting up with increasingly neglectful or hostile behavior; (5) watching his drinking become more and more of a problem; and a bunch of other things it shames me to even think about. Not to mention the times he pressured me into sex after I repeatedly told him I wasn’t comfortable with it, or the time he picked the night there was a death in my family to spend an hour yelling at me for constantly “attacking” him with my insecurity.

The result of all this is that I am now an intensely insecure, obsessive mess who can’t seem to stop texting or calling him. I’ve tried to break up with him twice now, and both times I went back less than eight hours later. I’ve lost 25 pounds from the stress alone, and the quality of my work is beginning to suffer because I’m so distracted. For the last three nights, I’ve been up into the late hours trying to get a hold of him, and when I do get a hold of him what follows is a tearful (me) and bored/hostile (him) conversation where I demand/beg to know why he’s treating me so badly when he keeps saying he loves me and he just keeps saying he doesn’t know or that he does love me and wants to be with me, he’s just depressed and really needs me to shut up about this.

By this time, I’m actually quite surprised that he hasn’t just broken up with me. It came close once, when he started saying things like maybe he couldn’t give me what I wanted right now, that maybe he wasn’t ready for a serious relationship, that he had too many problems and it wasn’t fair to me, so forth and so on. It was very painful to hear, but then when I tried to confirm that he was breaking up with me, he reversed himself again and said he did want to be with me and he did love me, he just needed some space to figure himself out and think about his problems and try to figure out a way to deal with his depression. So now the situation is that we are going no contact for a few days while he thinks himself through. When I told him I wasn’t going to wait a few days for him to break up with me, he said that wasn’t what he was doing and even made plans to see me after the days were up. Except then he told me that he’d be taking two of those days to take an overnight drinking trip with some of his friends. One he specifically told me he wasn’t going to go on. When I said that this was bullshit, he backtracked and said he wasn’t sure he was going and that he was going to think about it, and then refused to discuss it further and just demanded his space.

I managed to go two hours before I broke no contact because not knowing whether he was going on the trip was killing me. He wouldn’t answer, so I left a text. I’m determined not to do more than that, but I need help.

Captain, I feel so awful. I feel like the most pathetic person alive. I don’t understand why I’m so desperately chasing someone who’s so terrible to me. He has nothing to offer me emotionally, intellectually, or materially. Even the physical part isn’t appealing to me anymore, because I always feel so pressured to “help” him relieve stress by getting him off and that inevitably makes me feel like it is now my only function in the relationship, seeing as how he doesn’t enjoy spending time with me, talking to me, or even holding my hand anymore.

I am not perfect by any means, but I think I’m better than this. I have plenty of outside confirmation that I’m attractive, intelligent, interesting, and desirable. I turned down two other, far more accomplished and stable men for my current partner. And I still have my very demanding, high prestige career, the same one he threw away with his drug use. I have good, supportive friends (who are rightfully tired of listening to this shit), a loving family (who are basically begging me to end it with him), and a work environment in which I am doing very well (I’m up for a promotion). I travel, I volunteer, I’m politically aware and socially active. I work hard and face my problems directly and believe in open and enthusiastic communication.

I’m so disgusted with myself. Why do I keep going back? Why am I so invested in a relationship that is at least embarrassing and at most abusive? When I think about being without him I feel such despair, but why? For all his behavior toward me, it’s not as if I actually have him now.

Captain, I’ve decided that this is the last time he’s going to lie to me. I don’t want this anymore. I don’t want to be this sad creature I’ve turned into. I am not going to accept being treated like this. But I need help. How do I maintain no contact when it hurts so much to not be with him? How do I resist reaching out at those moments in the middle of the night when I’m lying awake mourning what could have been? How do I get it through my head that he is not going to change, that the way he treats me shows me who he is, and the man I love doesn’t exist?

I’ve read through your archives, and I want to follow the advice I see there, I really do. But I just can’t seem to apply it on my own. I miss him, and I grow weak, and I rationalize everything and convince myself that maybe he’s just depressed and it can be different. How do I overcome this? I’m okay during the day, when I have things to do and people I can talk to, but what do I do in those intense moments when I’m alone and it feels like I’m about to die if I don’t talk to him? How do I break free of this?

Please help.

Hi. Here’s a poem.

The dude is depressed AND addicted to alcohol AND a terrible boyfriend for you. It’s not one or the other. You are telling yourself the story of The Guy Who Would Be So Perfect If Not For That One Thing. It’s a compelling story. It’s the Pied Piper of stories. I’ve told this story to myself, too (and made all the people around me want to claw their eyes out listening, to it). It’s a depressingly common story and it has its hooks in us deep. It’s affirmed by so much of our media and popular culture, every time some morose asshole on TV reforms temporarily for the sake of some long-suffering woman in the name of “true love”, every time some woman puts in the work and then more work and puts in even more work because maybe redemption will come and she has to try because “relationships take work.” “If I can just love him better/give him some more time/accommodate him more, he’ll be kind to me and I won’t have to do the terrible work of kicking myself free of him/starting over.” It’s a powerful story but it’s not the only story and it doesn’t have to be your story anymore. See it for what it is and write that ending. You’re the only one who can.

These things are true but won’t be true for you until you believe them. I’m going to say them anyway:

  • You can do better than a boyfriend who doesn’t treat you with kindness.
  • “Alone” is better than a boyfriend who doesn’t treat you with kindness.
  • There will come a time in the future when you will not feel this lonely and sad and addicted to this person. He will be a memory with no power to hurt you anymore. If you can cut him off and let enough time pass, you will detox and heal from this. You have to believe in that future. You’re the only one who can get there. You can get there.

You have given us a very smart clue about some ways you can break this cycle forever, do you know what it is? It’s the knowledge that *when you’re alone at night* you feel lonely and terrible and bored and sad, so that’s when this magical device that will let you text and call and hack away somehow at the loneliness (your cellphone) starts glowing like a beacon.

What you have right now isn’t a love affair, it’s a habit. This dude is “biting your nails and gnawing your cuticles” or “popping those pimples that won’t come to a head, the ones you KNOW will not be fruitful but you squeeze at them anyway” or “buying lots of produce for these elaborate meals you plan to cook and then letting them slowly liquefy in your produce drawer.” These habits aren’t evil and don’t hurt anyone but ourselves and we lapse into them when our resources run low.

He is a habit. You had the habit of being with him, of seeking his approval, of trying to make it work and now you have the habit of using him to beat yourself up with at night, to give a shape and a name to your loneliness.

You know exactly when and how this habit manifests most often. Maybe if you can change the circumstances around those moments and how you deal with them, you can get a handle on the habit and build a new one. To do this we’ve got to disrupt the pattern where you are alone and up all night climbing the walls and reaching for your phone, so, let’s talk strategies:

A. If you can’t be alone at night right now, don’t be… at least for a few nights. See if you can stay with friends or family for a little while. Or, if you can afford it, invite some good friends to crash with you in a fancy hotel or get away for a few days and pamper yourselves. Your friends will probably be pretty happy to participate in Project Darth Vader Boyfriend Detox. NO DARTH CALLING OR DARTH TALK. Be with friends for a little bit. Remind yourself you have lots of love in your life. Three nights that you don’t text or call this dude are three nights closer to being done forever.

B. Find support. Does your employer have a confidential Employee Assistance Program (EAP) you can call? Can you find a counselor to talk to?  Or talk to an Al-Anon group (distinct from AA, for families and loved ones of people with alcohol addiction)? Where can you safely unpack all the feelings and history and anxiety that you have around this without shame or without making you feel like you are overburdening your family and friends? You’re not sleeping at night, you’re having intrusive thoughts of this dude, you are compulsively subjecting yourself to his indifference. It’s okay to call in the cavalry here.

C. Plan out your evenings. Whatever your current evening routine is, change it the fuck up. If you are having a hard time getting to sleep, see if adding some form of exercise after work will literally tire you out. Plan out your meals so they are enjoyable and you look forward to them. Buy a stack of books you’ve been wanting to read and read them before bed. Do things to help yourself wind down: Stretch, write a few pages in a journal, take a nice shower, lay your clothes out for the next day, wash your face, etc.  Talk to your doctor about a mild sleep aid if you think that will help. Try out the Sleep With Me podcast.* You’ve got to sleep.

*If you use your phone as an alarm clock, buy an alarm clock that is just an alarm clock. You’ve basically got to ban your cell phone and any way of contacting this dude from your bedroom at night. This may be incompatible with podcasts, even excellent ones.

D. Change your environment. Take a look at your bedroom. Do you like it in there? You said you have a good career and are about to be promoted, so I don’t feel bad suggesting “throw a little money at this problem” solutions to you. Do you need a new bed, one that he’s never seen or slept in? Do you need to clean every surface of the room? Do you need new sheets and awesome pillows and the best pajamas? Do you need to rearrange the furniture/hang some lovely art/put fresh flowers next to the bed at night? Involve a friend or hire a person from a service like TaskRabbit so you have a buddy and make it part of the project of falling back in love with your life.

E. Plan for relapses. Maybe you’ll wake up in the night and claw your phone out of the drawer you stuck it in and want to text him. What if you add the Crisis Text Line to your phone contacts? If you’re tempted to text or call Darth Dude at night, you can text them instead. A nice human will text with you until the moment passes. They will listen to you and not judge. They will help you get one more day without texting or calling him. We’re doing this one day at a time.

F. Block his number on your phone so he can’t call or text you. Then delete the contact from your phone. Block his email addressBlock him everywhere. Block him on all social media platforms and lock down your security & privacy settings in general.

G. Get his stuff out. Put any stuff he has in your house in a box and ship it to him.

H. Acknowledge sunk costs. Decide that any money you’ve given him or spent and any stuff you left at his place is gone forever. Letting this go, replacing whatever it is will be the cheapest money you ever spent in your life.

I know that you can do this. You don’t know yet that you can do this, but I do, and so does everyone else who has ever done this. We’re all here on the other side of those shitty partners who made us feel so lonely and those late night desperate-sounding emails we wrote them and those self-deprecating stories we tell about our younger selves who put up with all that shitty behavior. We’re all here and we’re cheering for you. We’ve got a cosy spot by the fire for you, with a comfy chair and your favorite drink and comfy pants and someone friendly saying “Aw buddy, tell me about it.” You’re almost there. You are so, so close.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Captain,

A few months ago, I met a cute new person and we clicked pretty well from the start. We both had another primary partner at the time and we often talked about those relationships as well as (of course) many other things. After a while, he and his primary broke up, and he was pretty devastated by it. I didn’t mind that he was a bit more “down” when we spent time together, and it seemed only natural to me that he talked about his break-up feelings sometimes. I still don’t mind those things.

Now here comes the difficult part: I feel like this relationship is getting more and more asymmetrical. I’m busy with a demanding job and an active social life (and I like it that way), and he has a lot of time on his hands. He has made it clear that he’d prefer to spend much more time together than we currently do (including weekend trips and the like), while from my perspective we’re close to “too much”. He is way ahead of me with things like “I love you” (WAY too early for me!). I feel like I have to be “on” at all times when we’re together, because he always seems worried that I’m not being enthusiastic enough and something must be wrong and don’t you like me anymore?

He’s had a bunch of personal issues come up lately, and he’s generally pretty unhappy right now. I find it really hard to find a balance between being kind to a person I like, and setting some “don’t make me responsible for your happiness!”-boundaries. I understand anxiety and sadness and insecurity, because I deal with plenty of that in my own life, but it feels like he’s subconsciously weaponizing these things to demand my time and attention. He often says things like:

  • “you’re the only good thing in my life right now”
  • “I feel like everyone is rejecting/leaving me lately”
  • “I’m not doing so well,
    , can I come by tonight? I need comfort”
  • “I’m dealing with so much shit that I can’t carry it on my own”
  • “You give me so much strength when we spend time together”

I really like this guy! We have a lot in common and we’ve had fun times together. I would love to see him once or twice a month for many moons to come, and for us to grow closer over time, but right now I feel like I’m under siege and I have to focus on setting boundaries and finding new ways to say “no” all the time and it’s starting to suck the joy out of what (I hope) could be a genuinely fun and rewarding relationship – through good times and bad.

Can I salvage this? How can I communicate with him in a way that does NOT say “I can’t handle people who have negative emotions ever”, but rather “it feels like you’re using your emotions against me and that’s not cool”?

Thank you!

You’re absolutely right to see a litany of “you’re the only good thing in my life” and “everyone else is rejecting me (so you won’t, won’t you?)” statements as being red flags of codependence. I’m not sure the end result of my advice is “fun new relationship is salvaged!” but I think you do have a good opening here to have an honest talk with him about getting help in handling hard life stuff and the reciprocity & seriousness of your relationship.

There are two separate conversations to be had here. I’m not sure in which order, so, use your judgment.

Conversation #1:

[Partner], I can see that you’re really suffering right now as you [grieve the loss of primary relationship][handle this recent raft of difficult life stuff]. I’m feeling overwhelmed by it all and I think it’s time to find some more support for this stuff. Maybe a trained sounding board – like a therapist or counselor – can help you process all of this.

There is a 99.99% chance he will feel insulted and hurt that you are fobbing him off on other people instead of investing deeply in his emotional well-being yourself. Get ready for some intenso responses involving “You are tired of me and you are going to reject me like everyone else” + 1,000 reasons that therapy/counseling is impossible/useless/too hard for him. This is because:

  • He is primed to feel rejected right now. Everything that isn’t “I love you come over right now and let me comfort you my dear boy” = rejection.
  • You are sending him to other people instead of wanting to deal with it yourself. (That’s okay! Just, acknowledge the truth of that so you don’t fall for the negging when it comes).
  • Mental health system is imperfect and it does take a lot of resources and energy to find a good fit and treatment that can work for you. It’s a hard thing to do when you’re feeling great, never mind when you’re feeling terrible. It’s okay to acknowledge the imperfections in the mental health system and also remind yourself that those difficulties don’t automatically make his emotional well-being your sole problem to deal with on demand in real time.

Follow-up script:

I know this sucks and that’s not what you wanted to hear. You’re right, I am telling you that you need to find other people besides me to lean on, and you’re right, the mental health system can be really difficult/annoying/expensive. But I am not comfortable or prepared to continue being your main sounding board about this stuff. I think your problems are real and serious and that taking them seriously might involve bringing in a trained listening person for a little while. Think of it as giving yourself the gift of a safe space to unload and process all of this that’s 100% focused on you, a little time in your week where you have permission to feel as sad and lost as you need to feel and get all the feelings out so you can start to heal and deal with them.

Get ready for a question like “So I guess I’m not allowed to talk about serious stuff or feelings with you anymore?” (It’s 99.99% coming)

Your script: “That’s not what I’m saying, but I am saying that I don’t want the time we spend together to be all about [Serious Feelings Stuff and Comfort]. I am asking you to find and take advantage of some alternate avenues for support and comfort, so things with us can be a little more balanced than they have been.

Chances are he will not like it. He likes his comfort to come with a side of romance/sexytimes and whyyyyy should he make an effort to find a therapist when he has youuuu? But you’re doing a kind thing by being honest about your limits and directing him toward something that actually has a chance of making him feel better.

Conversation #2 

Sometimes the answer to “I had a terrible day, can I come over and be comforted” is simply “Sorry, not tonight.” And then you put your phone away and focus on what you originally planned to do and he finds a way to self-soothe somehow. If he deals with that well, then maybe it can get better.

That doesn’t mean there is no big conversation to be had. He wants to say “I love you” and plan weekends away and remind you that you’re the only great thing in his life and it’s making you feel crowded and overwhelmed. Time to talk about that. Maybe time to also talk honestly about the way you do polyamory, like the fact that you have someone in your life that you consider to be a primary partner and that there is a hierarchy there maybe not of feelings but in terms of how you allocate time/vacation days/long-term relationship planning, etc. It seems like your relationship really worked when he had that in place too but now things have become unbalanced. This conversation might mean that y’all create something new together over time or it might mean that he and you find out that are unsuited to each other.

The thing where he wants you to be “on” and show that you are sufficiently enthusiastic seems to be the best entry point for this conversation, as in, the next time he makes you you feel that way it’s time to talk about what’s up: “Listen, I like you a lot, and I like you enough that I can make space for you to be sad and grieving right now but that also means that you make space for me being tired or having an off night or for not exactly mirroring your enthusiasm back to you. For example, we’ve only known each other a short time and I’m not ready for ‘I love you’ yet. I would love to get there someday but I need more time. When you say ‘I’m the only good thing in your life’ I know you mean it as a compliment but it feels like pressure. Also time we spend together is already about the maximum time I have to spend with you in a given week. Like of course it would be nice to spend ‘more time’ together, but I can’t do that without breaking other commitments that are pleasurable and important to me. I need you to understand that and focus on enjoying the time we do spend together.

Then, say the thing that’s the elephant in the room: “I feel like you want me to take the place of [Former Primary Partner] in your life, and that’s an okay thing for you to want on an emotional level, I get it, but it’s too much/not the right fit for me/not what I signed up for/making things unbalanced between us. I care about you a lot and I want to find a way to keep this going, so, how do we build something that is enjoyable and true and emotionally supportive without me feeling so pressured and you feeling so rejected?

He’s not going to like hearing this because it’s going to feed into the story he is telling himself about how everyone rejects him. Also there maybe is no balance between “Ideally we’d hang out once or twice a month, forever” and “LOVE ME!!!!!” But if you can’t talk honestly about this stuff and you keep feeling suffocated and overwhelmed, the thing is not going to work. “I’m at the limit of what I have to give you in terms of time and affection” isn’t what any romantic partner really wants to hear, but it’s important information if it’s the truth. The truth can hurt but it can also help us make good decisions about how to take care of ourselves. He may decide that what you have to offer is not enough for him. You may decide that what he wants is just not compatible with what you want and need. That would be painful, but I have to think that it’s better than letting him continue to build this fortress of need around you while you’re looking for the escape hatch.

Reminder for commenters: Spell out the whole word “polyamory” please.