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I just want to be kind to a good guy, but I'm suffocating
March 15, 2012 10:46 AM   Subscribe

How do I bail from a relationship I might have outgrown? Should I?

Boyfriend and I have been together ~5 years, since high school (both of us are in our early 20s now). To give some background, when we first started dating, I was an anxiety-ridden, basically friendless teenage mess with zero life experience and some crazy overprotective parents, while he was a popular, chill guy with the least authoritarian parents I've ever met and some crazy experiences under his belt.

Five years later, I've mostly stuck around our shared home region but am currently off on a wonderful overseas adventure for a few months, and due to this and a lengthy amount of other factors I'm a completely different person: much more confident, calmer, slowly becoming a people-loving extrovert. Meanwhile he hasn't done anything—no higher education, no career, has become completely anti-social and borderline misanthropic and I'm quickly resenting being stuck dragging this relationship around. He has zero interest in whatever I'm doing—I'm pretty sure if I asked him right now he wouldn't know what organization I'm working for, what type of work I'm doing, what I'm researching, etc. Every conversation revolves around him and his dead-end retail job and a ton of whining about how he misses me and wants me to come home RIGHT NOW, while if I try to bring up what I'm doing he's pretty dismissive. I don't think he takes my interests very seriously, although he is generally proud of me and is very affectionate. I think the dismissiveness is due to the fact that we're still stuck in the dynamic we had when we first started dating, where he was the wiser, more capable person while I was a terrified, dependent adolescent, when in reality the roles have changed.

I think I want to dump him but I feel sorry for him because he has literally nothing else going for him besides having a girlfriend, something he brings up fairly often. I'm also afraid to end it while I'm abroad because I have no real friends aside from him when I'm back home and so I'm not sure if it's the distance that's making me feel so eager to ditch this relationship or if this is a permanent feeling (I have to return for at least one more semester, which I'm dreading already). I also feel afraid of bailing on what has been a stable, comfortable relationship overall—I'm increasingly feeling that I want to date around and have fun without having to think about this relationship, but what if I regret leaving a kind, loving guy? I'm not sure how I would even dump him in the first place, as he seems to be completely oblivious to how increasingly out of sync we are with each other and how little we have in common. He's deeply in love with me but I just feel that I've outgrown 'us', I'm very fond of him but I kind of want to find a more interesting, sociable guy who shares my interests and who I can actually talk to. I'm also concerned because boyfriend has even started bringing up engagement (!), possibly around the time of our next anniversary, but even thinking about that makes me feel suffocated and miserable.

I guess what I'm asking is how I'd break up with him (kindly and slowly!), and if it'd be better to do it now or if I should just hang on for another year until I can move away from our isolated hometown permanently? How do I know if leaving him is the right choice at all? And if it is how do I stop feeling so guilty about it?? I wish I could give him a life and some ambition beforehand but I've burnt myself out trying to change him already.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (35 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
: "how I'd break up with him (kindly and slowly!)"

I think this is impossible. The kind way would be the quickest way, not the slowest.
posted by Grither at 10:52 AM on March 15, 2012 [17 favorites]


Look, if you're feeling "suffocated and miserable" then you have to do this. Do it now - there's absolutely no reason to keep it hanging on for another year, except if you want to deepen your suffering and unhappiness.

You're not his babysitter or his caretaker or his mother. When you met you were basically both kids; now you're adults. He's the one who will have to be responsible for how he feels, how he recovers from this, what career he eventually does, etc etc.

It sounds like you've done a lot of growing in the last few years. Congrats, that's awesome. Now a new part of that growth is going to be sloughing off this relationship which you acknowledge is not working. (Correspondingly, the childish thing to do would be to just stay in the relationship because that would be easier.)

One thing to assuage your guilt? Maybe getting out of the relationship is just the kick in the ass he needs to get his life in gear.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:55 AM on March 15, 2012 [9 favorites]


Break up with this guy. You are staying with him because you don't want him to be sad about not having a girlfriend and because you don't have a lot of friends. You are dreading the idea of being engaged to this guy. It's okay to outgrow someone. Your job is not to be responsible for his happiness.

You can't break up with him slowly and kindly. Break up with him now, don't string him along for another year. You sound like you are excited about moving forward in your life, so do it!
posted by Nimmie Amee at 10:56 AM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Rip off the bandaid. Kindly and slowly is not kindly, and will drag on and on without end.

No reason to feel guilty - you've outgrown a childhood relationship and are ready to be more adult. You can have sympathy for him and still care, but you don't owe him anything in regards to supporting him and letting him hang on you.

Do it in person, quickly and efficiently, remind him you still care about him, but you feel you both need to grow, and no, it's not up for discussion.
posted by rich at 10:56 AM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the dismissiveness is due to the fact that we're still stuck in the dynamic we had when we first started dating, where he was the wiser, more capable person while I was a terrified, dependent adolescent, when in reality the roles have changed.

Bingo. From the tone of your post, you're going to break up with him, and that's always better done quickly.

That said, you could do him a real favor by speaking to him in a separate conversation: pointing out that he has given up on a lot of his interests and retreated to a very small comfort zone and could probably benefit from assuming that he is depressed, whether he addresses that with self-help or therapy or anything else.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 10:57 AM on March 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


When you're at the point that the relationship exists solely out of a combination of stability and pity, it's over. Add on the fact that your life goals and personalities and so on are as grossly out of sync as you describe, and, well, any reasons to stay in the relationship are self-destructive at best. And any dude who would be totally fine with his girlfriend sticking around based on those factors alone is, well, is not a dude who should be dating anyone at all until he got his shit together.

"Kindly" and "slowly" are antithetical as far as breakups are concerned. The kindest break is the fastest and cleanest. Dragging it out is only going to make things worse. God forbid you have to do it when he pops a ring (or, double-god forbid you don't do it when he pops the ring.)

Easier said than done, of course. And no one has ever claimed that doing the right thing keeps you from feeling guilty. You're going to feel guilty because something shitty is happening to a person you're very close to. Just don't confuse that empathy with having made the wrong decision for yourself.
posted by griphus at 10:57 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


If you want to be kind to him, then don't keep him in a relationship with someone who no longer wants to be there.
posted by gaspode at 11:01 AM on March 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


The most humane thing is to end of quick. Slowly ending it is playing with his mind.
If it is over - end it. But don't lead him on, or give him mixed signals - just to save yourself for the difficult conversation.
posted by Flood at 11:01 AM on March 15, 2012


If you have made the decision to leave, it's not fair to you OR him to drag things out. You asked about a year (at which time you'll leave town) - that's a year of your life living a lie. And that's a year of HIS life, leading him to believe that everything is fine. You both deserve to be free of any sort of deception.
posted by Elly Vortex at 11:02 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess you left out the examples where he is "kind and loving".

In any case, everyone above is spot-on: it seems like you already know this is done; don't drag it out; kindly and slowly is not really an option; you are not responsible for his happiness.

How much longer are you overseas? This seems like an in-person breakup but on the other hand three months of faking it over email/phone isn't going to be doing anyone any favors.
posted by mikepop at 11:02 AM on March 15, 2012


From what you've said, you're trying to convince yourself to stay in the relationship when you know you should end it. It's hard -- terribly hard -- to end a relationship. It's scary. But that's okay, it's like that. That doesn't make it wrong.

The best thing for you is to be honest with him and break up with him now. Start having fun, dating around where you're living now. Don't wait to live life -- start living it!
posted by DoubleLune at 11:03 AM on March 15, 2012


If the only thing he has going for him is having a girlfriend that resents being his girlfriend- do the kid a favor and break up quick.


Like all these people are saying- don't lie to him for a year. Imagine if it were you and at some point you figured out that all the good memories were lies- that he was really just biding his time untill he could "let you down easy".
posted by Blisterlips at 11:05 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm also afraid to end it while I'm abroad because I have no real friends aside from him when I'm back home and so I'm not sure if it's the distance that's making me feel so eager to ditch this relationship or if this is a permanent feeling (I have to return for at least one more semester, which I'm dreading already).

Oh honey, leave. I know he helped you find friends at a time when you were alone and scared, but he was just your training wheels, really. You'll find it so much easier to find real friends, true friends, when you're flying solo and not burdened by someone like this.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:09 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


It sounds like it's over, and there's really need to drag it out or hang on, as it won't benefit either of you. It sounds to me like you've already made up your mind that it's the right thing to do, you just haven't come to terms with the why and how. Don't feel guilty that it's just not working out - it takes two, and you clearly feel he's not holding up his end of the bargain.

You're not a bad person for outgrowing the relationship, but you could be if you hang onto a relationship you don't want to be in, and for the wrong reasons. I do think that you should wait until you are at home and do it in person, though, but that may not be realistic based on how long you are abroad.

You also really need to think about how you are going to respond to him when you break up, because if you're the thing that's holding him together he's probably going to (at least attempt to) fight to keep you. You need to be ready to not cave. Take this time while you are apart, I guess, to start preparing for your life without him.
posted by sm1tten at 11:11 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure how I would even dump him in the first place

Sorry, I missed this bit. You already wrote most of your script for this, you just have to polish it up a bit:

"I'm a completely different person"
"increasingly out of sync we are with each other and how little we have in common"
"I just feel that I've outgrown 'us', "
"I'm increasingly feeling that I want to date around and have fun without having to think about this relationship"
"I'm very fond of [you] but I ... want to find a more interesting, sociable guy who shares my interests and who I can actually talk to."
"even thinking about [engagement] makes me feel suffocated and miserable"
posted by mikepop at 11:11 AM on March 15, 2012


Do not break up with him slowly. Call him soon - today's good - and tell him a condensed version of what you've said here:

- You feel you've become increasingly out of sync and are having less in common as time goes on
- You are a very different person now than you were when you started dating him (a five year span from late teens to early twenties is a long time to do a lot of growing), and so is he, and
- You feel that the two of you have grown in very different directions and you no longer feel happy or fulfilled in your relationship, so in short
- You've grown apart from him and you care for him very deeply in a lot of ways but you have decided, after much soul-searching, to end this relationship.

Here is what you need to know:

He is going to try to argue you out of this. He will ask what he's done wrong, he'll ask if there's someone else, he'll try to guilt you into staying. So, do not get specific about why you're leaving - don't detail his dismissiveness or misanthropy, or the person that you feel you are, right now. Don't tell him your roles have reversed. In the process of begging you not to end things, he will likely make promises that he'll change, and if you're already feeling bad enough about all this, he may sway you, and that is a bad idea, a very bad idea.

In some perfect world, you could tell him what he's become and it would be a kick in the ass and, even though you would still have to leave, you could do so knowing that one day he'll be grateful that this happened and maybe you could be friends. But given how you feel about this, the fact is that if you tell him specific things, then he will likely promise to move heaven and earth to change everything and I can't guarantee you wouldn't believe him.

Keep your reasons generic: You've grown apart and you are a very different person now than you were when you met him, and so is he, and you've grown into people who are not compatible. Feel free to say you're sorry for hurting him. Tell him you need some space and time to get over things.

Under no circumstances should you do any of the following:

- Allow yourself to be convinced to couch this in softer terms: if he asks if this can just be a break, say no. If he asks if you might be willing to try things again someday, do not say maybe, do not say you don't know; say no.
- Agree to give this a little more time.
- Argue, or allow this to turn into an argument.
- Try to be the person who helps him get over you. After the breakup he will call and he will write and he will plead and he will cry, because after five years that is what happens, and you will want to try to help him because you do genuinely care for him. You need to understand that this is not your job and that trying to prop him up in that way will only make things worse.

I know all this sounds harsh. On some level, it is. But listen: Some of the worst harm that's ever been done to me has been done by people who dumped me and thought they were being kind about it. They kept me on the hook, intentionally or not, by allowing me hope. And being dumped sucks, but being on the hook is worse, and does far more damage.

He's going to get hurt, and you are going to feel just absolutely terrible about it. But you need to think of it this way: This has to happen. You have to break up. You owe him nothing, and you're doing him no favors by sticking around out of obligation. It'll hurt now but it would hurt worse later. Especially far worse if he's out shopping for rings because the distance is making him want to take that step. So, in essence, you can cut off a finger now, or lose the whole arm later.

This will be hard, but it has to happen. You can do this. Good luck.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 11:11 AM on March 15, 2012 [31 favorites]


Also- you are both really really young. five years out of high school means you aren't anywhere near done learning about yourselves or finding the new-fancy-forever-adult you. It's all fresh and just gonna keep getting fresher.

You are not responsible for being his "only good thing." Chances are, you breaking up with him is going to be one of the many experences that you and he share, and eventually count as being pretty important in how you grew into your mature selves.
posted by Blisterlips at 11:12 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


You sound kind of like I did in my last relationship. Just break up with him quickly and cleanly, he'll figure it out. Block his number, delete him from Facebook, cut off all communication so you don't get tempted to go back.

You'll never grow if you stay. Just do it.
posted by ad4pt at 11:15 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think I want to dump him but I feel sorry for him because he has literally nothing else going for him besides having a girlfriend, something he brings up fairly often.

Pity is a very weak basis for any relationship. After five years, and what sounds like a lot of growth on your part, I think you will lose no good universal kharma if you say: It's been great but my world grows smaller each day with you. OK, don't say that. That's mean. Be gentle ... but be clear and firm. Now go live your new bad-ass life!

Signed,
Someone who wishes she hadn't lingered in dead-end relationships in her 20s.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 11:15 AM on March 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


I feel sorry for him because he has literally nothing else going for him besides having a girlfriend

I suspect there is more to him that only you. He hasn't learned how to discover it yet.

You're not happy and that's more than enough reason to break up. I'd wait until you meet him face to face. I'm sure there's plenty of eye candy on your trip too--I'd hold off, do the right thing the moment you get home, you'll feel better in the long run.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:22 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


You're ALREADY breaking up with him kindly and slowly. He can tell that you're not happy, or he wouldn't be laying the guilt on about how you're the best thing his pathetic life has got. You could tell him right now that you're ending it and it wouldn't be sudden or unexpected - if he were honest with himself (YMMV).
posted by aimedwander at 11:27 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think I want to dump him but I feel sorry for him because he has literally nothing else going for him besides having a girlfriend, something he brings up fairly often.

How is that your problem? It's his life.

If the guilt is what's holding you back, maybe you could recruit another girlfriend for him before you leave. Or, I suppose, he could bestir himself to do that, but then he'd have to address all the other problems that make him so totally undesirable.

See how ludicrous it is to be looking at things this way? Take care of yourself and let him do likewise.
posted by tel3path at 11:28 AM on March 15, 2012


To take another tac (though I agree with most of the advice above), if you frame this like an addiction (sole dependence on you to the exclusion of all else, neglecting himself, lack of enthusiasm for other things), then breaking up with him will probably result in him hitting bottom.

This is a GOOD thing. It will (ideally) lead to him taking stock and re-evaluating how his life has progressed, and finding the support he needs to reinvest in himself.

You are toxic for him (not due to anything you've done, but due to his mindset and actions while in a relationship with you), and therefore you are doing him a favor here.
posted by softlord at 11:41 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


…or if I should just hang on for another year until I can move away from our isolated hometown permanently?

learn to be on your own and happy and on your own. don't stay in a relationship for the sake of a) being in one, or b) because you are afraid to be on your own. dragging it out isn't going to be doing your bf any favors either. the sooner he is on his own, the sooner he will start to learn how to be on his own as well. you don't sound happy at all in this relationship and really, what's the point then? it's not like you are married to this guy or have any obligations to him for staying. you've outgrown this relationship. that happens every day.

…I've burnt myself out trying to change him already.

in the future, i would strongly advise you against again thinking that you will be able to change someone because you won't. ppl change only when they want to to change—and even then, it's a lot of work. learn that now and choose your partners accordingly. otherwise, you'll be in for more years of fruitless, wasted energy.
posted by violetk at 12:23 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I assume you've had the, "This stops or we stop. This is your wake-up call" conversation....

Maybe I missed it, but it's not clear when you'll be back from overseas. If it's pretty soon, much to be said for waiting it out and telling him to his face. If it's more than... I dunno... a few weeks, I wouldn't be thrilled about ending it over the phone, but it would be hard to see a realistic alternative.
posted by ambient2 at 1:20 PM on March 15, 2012


I wish I could give him a life and some ambition beforehand

This is not your responsibility in a relationship. Moreover, this is not something you could ever do, even if you stayed together for the rest of your lives.

Whatever positives he brought into your life when you were an awkward and lonely teen, he did not give you a life or ambition. You and he shared a relationship in which those things were able to grow. But that time has passed. This relationship is no longer one that nurtures each member's dreams. You've done your best to be a supportive and encouraging girlfriend and to grow the relationship into something that can last, but it's just not working out. And that's ok.

Stop thinking about it in terms of "dumping" him. You're not intentionally hurting him. You're not telling him you hate him. You're making a wise decision, as an adult, to end a relationship you've outgrown. You're breaking up. This is healthy and normal, albeit painful.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:22 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would favorite Famous Monster's post a thousand times if I could. If you can make the break quick, clean, and without rubbing salt in (by saying "you suck" or similar) then you're doing a good job.
posted by anaelith at 1:27 PM on March 15, 2012


Perhaps this will improve both of your social lives by waking you up and forcing you to get out and meet new people!
posted by mannequito at 1:38 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think I want to dump him but I feel sorry for him because he has literally nothing else going for him besides having a girlfriend, something he brings up fairly often.

You don't have to sacrifice your happiness for his; you stay in a relationship because it makes you both happy, not because one of you feels beholden to the other. Especially at your age, when you're both changing (and, one would hope, growing) as people and so partners who are a good fit now might not be a good fit later.

Pretty simple, really.
posted by davejay at 2:05 PM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


He has zero interest in whatever I'm doing—I'm pretty sure if I asked him right now he wouldn't know what organization I'm working for, what type of work I'm doing, what I'm researching, etc.

This is a dealbreaker for me.

He is comfortable and doesn't want things to change but you've changed and you owe it to yourself to move on.
posted by mleigh at 2:19 PM on March 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


I am quite a bit older than you and still feel guilty about ending relationships (even short, not-terribly-serious ones!). Until, that is, I reframe it as: This person deserves to be with someone who is wild about him. I am currently not that person, and being with him is keeping him from that goal. The kindest thing to do is to end it. It is sad when relationships end, but you're not a bad person. Do not beat yourself up about it.
posted by chowflap at 2:27 PM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Boyfriend and I have been together ~5 years, since high school (both of us are in our early 20s now).

You met when you were both completely different people than you are now, and you arrived at totally different places in life, years later, which happen to be incompatible with each other. This is not in any way unusual for high school relationships. Some relationships develop where both partners grow together along a similar path. In most, both people end up going off in totally different directions, as you two clearly have. This isn't something you should feel guilty about.
posted by deanc at 2:29 PM on March 15, 2012


You've grown to pity him, and it sounds as though there's some justification for that. If you let that feeling take root, it will turn into contempt. Don't let it go that far, it will make you miserable.

A [relationship] where either partner cannot love nor respect the other, that cannot be agreeable... to either party.
- Elizabeth Bennett, Pride and Prejudice

A slow breakup seems kinder to you because it appears less intensely painful. Let me assure you that this is a mistaken view. You will both endure less hurt and recover more quickly if you are able to make a clean break.
posted by fearnothing at 3:30 PM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


In simple terms, if you have decided to go you aren't doing either one of you any favors but not going.
posted by Silvertree at 7:29 AM on March 16, 2012


Just wanted to say that I could have written most of this, so thank you so much for asking it as I prepare for my own difficult breakup, and thanks to the answering Mefites for the encouragement and advice.

OP, please memail me if you'd like to bitch about how much this sucks!
posted by WidgetAlley at 3:49 PM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


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