Dear Captain Awkward,
Okay, so I just typed my whole question and realized it is wayyyyy longer than 400 words. The 400 word question is:
My boyfriend gets defensive and dramatic when we have a conflict. While I try to offer solutions and compromises to our problems, he gets to a breaking point and responds with, “Well, then let’s just break up then,” or, “Well, then I don’t want to hang out with you tonight/you made me not want to hang out with you.” This doesn’t seem fair and I have told him often that it’s not okay with me to just drop a bomb like that in order to end what could be not a big deal. These kinds of terrible conversations usually end poorly, then he smokes some weed, then he comes back and apologizes and says he won’t do that again -> the cycle begins again. I would love if you have any advice or a script for what to do if you’re arguing and someone says, “Well, then let’s just [dramatic end].” I would rather not do this, but: am I supposed to call his bluff and let him leave? When he says it, it feels a little bit like a less concerning version of, “If you (don’t) [action], then I will [self-harm action],” or am I way off there?
The whole fabu story is:
My boyfriend (male, he/him) and I (female, she/her) had a classic meet cute in 2015. Me: flat tire. Him: AAA truck driver changing the tire. I asked him out and we had a great first date where he revealed that he would have asked me out if he had not been working, but he wanted to be professional (applause break). This made me feel better about his desire to go on the date. I also, as I do on all first dates, asked him if he smoked, because I refuse to date people who smoke any sort of anything. He said that he used to, cigarettes and weed, but that he had quit “a while ago” to focus on his goal of entering the military (he was 24, no college degree; now 27, and me 28) to better his life.
A few things happened next, in this order and from my perspective:
– Two months later he was rejected from entering the military due to his psoriasis.
– He went from very communicative and sweet via texts and calls to aloof and almost avoidant. It was like pulling teeth to get him on the phone or to make plans.
– He focused a lot of time on hanging out with his cousin. Cousin is in his 30s, is hiding from a felony(ies?) in Oregon, and lives with his mom in California. Boyfriend was, when we met, living with them in a town about a half hour away from me.
– Because he spent more time with Cousin, Boyfriend began smoking weed again, though it seemed to be occasional, once or twice a month.
– Four months into the relationship, my roommate left in a dramatic fashion. Boyfriend offered to move in. He did move stuff in, purchase a TV, and pay rent, but he still spent majority of his time at Cousin’s house.
– Six months later we decided to find a different place because he wanted a garage to work on cars and I wanted a more peaceful town. We found one and moved in. I did the work beforehand of, “Let’s make sure we don’t stop dating each other. You’re not around much in this current place, and I’m not clear how that will change in a new place. Are you sure you don’t want to get a studio for yourself or live with a friend before making this commitment? We are now going to make decisions as a team. Are you in this for building a life together?” He said he was on board.
– I had fallen very much in love and was trying to be patient with the new smoking habit and poor life decisions. I agreed to move in as long as no smoking happened inside of the house. He agreed.
– Many, many things happened after the shine wore off (or that wore the shine off) such as he smoked in the house while I was on vacation and then turned it around on me when I asked him why and could he please not do that again and to respect my/our space (apparently that makes me controlling), but what it all boils down to is that smoking marijuana slowly went from once in a while to every day all day/can’t function without it/is using phrases like “I need it” and also smoking cigarettes and also getting faded on weed and alcohol often.
We have had many fights about the marijuana because I am concerned for his wellbeing. He and I disagree on whether the drug itself is beneficial, and so with him I mostly focus on the fact that not-oxygen is entering his lungs, shortening his lifespan (and his Married Friend is concerned about the getting faded). I have told him that I really prefer him when he’s sober and asked him to please lessen his usage, for example, only on weekends. Whenever I try to have calm talks about this with him and explain that a compromise is not an order, and that if he does not like the suggested compromise, he can counter-offer, and if we try that compromise and down the road it is not working, we can come back to the table and re-assess and adjust, the conversation quickly devolves from calm (mostly devolving on his side, though in early convos I will admit to engaging in teary emotional warfare) as he becomes defensive and combative, tells me that I am controlling, that no one can tell him what to do, that I am unreasonable, etc.
Then he smokes some weed and 20 minutes later he is apologetic and everything I say is correct and he loves me and he will try not to treat me that way again.
Welp. I think you know where this is going.
After a lot of these, he moved out and back in with Felon Cousin. This was not my favorite decision because Boyfriend said that he needed to move out to grow up and find himself and have independence. This is what I had tried to see if he needed pre-move in, and I guess maybe he had agreed to move in on wishful thinking? I don’t know. I can respect that impulse to want space, but I personally don’t see how moving in with Felon Cousin and Felon Cousin’s Mom who smoke weed together and play video games when Mom is not at work is conducive to Boyfriend getting his life together. I tried to say this more tactfully and respectfully. I told him I can’t make him stay, but that I hear his goals (wants to do something in the music industry, wants to build his own house someday) and that I’m not clear on how this step achieves them, etc. He considered this, but he still moved in with them. (This is a big deal for me because he now lives an hour away, I do not have a car, and I am not interested in being there anyway since the house CONSTANTLY smells like weed. I did express that also, albeit politely and not in a, “If you move there I’M NOT VISITING YOU/DATING YOU,” kind of way, just in a, “No thanks, not my scene,” kind of way.)
Believe it or not, we are still “dating”. The headspace I am in right now is that there is a piece of him that cares about me, and a piece of me that cares about him, and that a substance abuse problem is getting in the way. Because we will have been together three years this March, I am doing my best to navigate this new phase where we do not live together. There is no sex right now, and I have made it clear that I am going to be treated VERY WELL. Sex will re-enter when he’s ready to have adult conversations about commitment. And Captain, you will not believe this. He is a better-ish boyfriend after moving out. I went East to family for Christmas alone to heal while he moved out, and when I returned, he picked me up from the airport with flowers. He has been calling me daily and responding to texts and Snapchats. He has made plans to take me on a dates and then been on time for those dates. He has been more responsive to his mom and interested in hanging out with his more immediate family, whom I adore. If we had just met at the beginning of the month, I would be smitten.
Except there is one thing that is not going VERY WELL.
He still does the poopy treatment -> weed -> everything is great. I have been in therapy for a long time, even before I met him, and have now made it to a point where I can stay completely calm and objective in an argument with him. It’s like I have an out of body experience. When we lived together, we’d be in an argument and he would often pull the, “Well, then let’s just break up,” card. I explained many times how that is NOT okay, and he stopped doing the break up version of it, but he still pulls a version of that threat. In our most recent fight about whether or not he would smoke on our date, he was like, “I don’t want to hang out with you anymore tonight.” It made me stop mid-sentence, which is what he wanted, and then I said, “I’m sorry you feel that way. I would still like to hang out with you. I don’t think this problem we’re having right now is insurmountable and I’d really like it if you could tell me how you’re feeling so we can move on and have a good night.” He continued to be surly/defensive/give me the silent treatment. He started smoking. He let me have it (I was glad for this actually since he has such a hard time opening up) and said that I am so pushy; that he often says he doesn’t want to talk about something and I just keep going and keep pushing, and that’s frustrating for him, and no wonder I am so isolated from friends and family.
Okay. He is not wrong. When he shuts down, I do try to come at the issue from different angles to get him to open up, and I should respect if he doesn’t want to talk. However, too often he doesn’t want to talk as a verbal slap in the face to me, not because he has nothing to say. Additionally, I am an entire coast away from my home base, and I have two very, very close girl friends, and I am emotionally satisfied but also don’t hang out with humans that often. So in this instance, it felt like he was implying that I was so combative and disruptive that my friends and family have purposefully distanced themselves from me. I asked my best friend and she said she loves me and this is not the case for her with me, and I trust her. (Family is a different story and I actually think we should all communicate MORE but that’s a question for another day.)
In truth, I suppose I really should be respectful if he says he does not want to talk, even if it’s because he is being rude, but I really do not feel like it’s fair to make a judgment call about my character in order to end an argument. It puts me in the position of defending myself instead of focusing on how to resolve the current issue. Well, I guess in this case, his own separate issue was, “How do I get her to shut up?” So I guess it succeeded.
There’s a lot of problems in this “relationship”. I get that. On the whole, I try not to let it bother me to the point that I fixate, and I am active. I go to the gym. I go to therapy consistently. I just got a new job as a substitute teacher. I am taking an improv class. I am pursuing freelance photography. I adopted a cat. I contacted a neighbor about fostering more kittens. I am doing my best to live my own life. As frustrating as everything I just said above is, with my support team I can handle what he throws at me.
However, I am fixated enough on the “I’m going to leave” bit that I felt like I needed the Captain’s perspective. I would love if you have any advice or a script for what to do if you’re arguing and someone says, “Well, then let’s just [dramatic end].” I would rather not do this, but: am I supposed to call his bluff and let him leave? When he says it, it feels a little bit like a less concerning version of, “If you (don’t) [action], then I will [self-harm action],” or am I way off there? Feeling quite gaslit lately and like I am holding him at arm’s length due to this … emotional abuse? Do we call it that?
I am sure that as this relationship has evolved I have not been a perfect partner, and I hope this letter doesn’t read as, “I am great and he sucks, how do I get him to stop doing this stupid thing,” but at this particular juncture I do feel as though I am doing work, especially emotional work, that he is not doing. That doesn’t necessarily make me better, but it does put us on an uneven playing field. Personally, I feel like if he quit the weed, he would be more emotionally available to participate in … everything. However, he has made it clear he is not up for that and so I don’t even broach the subject anymore. When I have strong moments, I feel like I deserve a non-smoker, or at least a smoker who doesn’t pull that emotional nonsense. When I have weak moments, I am definitely pulled in when he is treating me well and thinking that if he can have some more corrective emotional experiences where we have a fight and he stays through the fight to its resolution, he will see that when you love someone you don’t just leave. I feel like I need to say that if he does not stop with that emotional nonsense, I will not be available as any sort of version of a girlfriend, however, he seems to be just as in denial about his terrible emotional behavior as his substance abuse.
When he wants to get physical now and I am rebuffing him, he moans something along the lines of, “I just want to please you,” into my ear, and it takes all of my willpower not to retort, “I WILL HAVE A SPONTANEOUS ORGASM WHEN YOU CALL ME AND SAY, ‘I just went to therapy for the first time,’ BUDDY.”
*Sigh* I don’t know. I give up and give to [insert deity].