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How to support someone you are dating through tragedy
September 6, 2012 6:00 AM   Subscribe

Dating someone who just had a friend commit suicide and has now gone to ground completely. How can I best support them now? They were already having a troubled time and weren't sure whether they could commit to dating, so I want to be supportive in a way that does not put more pressure on them around our relationship (if it still exists).

I have found this situation difficult to deal with when there has been absolutely zero phone contact and so I have no idea what state they are in or what is happening. I feel like I am sitting in a complete vacuum.

We have been dating about six months and have had a lot of fun together in that time and I am very fond of them. But they would get very close and then pull back from me repeatedly, I think due to the issues going on in their life. They lost a sibling about a year ago (accidental overdose, with the anniversary of the death only weeks ago), and while they were not close, the rest of the family has needed a lot of support and has relied on them heavily.

They now just a lost a friend to suicide. Aside from one text message to say what had happened, I haven't heard from them in a week. We had been texting or calling every day before that.

The first sign that something was wrong was that they missed a date we had planned and didn't contact me. I called or messaged them a few times over the next day to find out why, but did not have my calls or messages returned. They have previously done several very flaky things around cancelling/no shows for dates, which has really hurt me.

I waited for nearly two days to see if they would contact me about the missed date. I still had no response. I thought they had done the flaky thing again. So I sent two cranky text messages, basically suggesting it was over between us (this isn't what I want, but given what has happened in the past, I didn't think I could keep dating them if this was going to keep happening). I don't normally react in an overly dramatic way like that - the other times, we talked through it calmly and honestly, but I felt frustrated and upset.

After 48 hours, I got a brief message from them saying it wasn't do to with us, but about what had happened with their friend. I don't know this particular friend. One of my friends asked whether it was possible this was someone they previously dated - it hadn't occured to me, but I suppose it is possible.

I felt horrible about the messages I sent when I found out what happened. But I had just let my guard down again and felt so hurt. Of course, in the context of their friend dying, this is now so unimportant and I feel dreadful that I just added drama such an inappropriate time. I hope they will understand, though, why I reacted like that at the time.

I responded to their message saying that I was very sorry to hear about their friend and hoped they were ok, and hoped they understood why I reacted that way. I have had no further messages from them and they have not answered or returned any of my calls since.

Their response to previous events, e.g. a stranger had a heart attack and died in front of them recently, has been to more or less disappear and be alone. I feel bad that such a lovely person has spent a year that is so focussed on tragedy.

Weeks ago they said that with what was going on in their life, they weren't completely sure about committing to a relationship (with anyone), but then started to be more engaged in our relationship again. I think it is possible that this event will tip them into a state of feeling they are not in the mental space to be dating (or dating me). I am sad about that possibility, but understand too, and just want to be there for them in whatever way would be helpful. I know that our relationship is not the important thing right now.

I have sent a few messages of support - not more than one a day. I have tried to call a few times. Should I keep sending regular messages to let them know I am thinking of them, or should I just wait a while now and give them space?

And when they do get back in contact with me (I hope), what support can I offer, either practical or in words to them? Suggestions of ways I can offer support as a friend, or reduce the pressure of what is happening in terms of us dating (or not, for I have no idea whether this is even still a possibility) would be good too.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
First of all, let it go. This isn't your drama.

Secondly the person you've been dating isn't really datable right now. So move on.

If they do reconnect with you, you shouldn't be saddled with supporting them, any more than you'd need to support a checker at the grocery store.

You deserve to be in a relationship with someone who can be there, WITH you, 100%.

Why do you want to be involved with someone who is reclusive, sees tragedy everywhere (s)he goes, and was uncommitted even to regular dating even without the recent suicide.

There are people in this world who seek out the tragic and wallow in it. They connect with fragile people, or come from fragile families and who believe that unless there is constant trauma, drama and sadness that they aren't feeling.

There are also people in this world who think that they can be the respite for the world-weary, who can soothe away the cares and woes of people with the balm of their love.

Recognize anyone there.

Sweetie, would you know what to do with a happy-go-lucky person who just wants to hang out and watch movies with you?

Seriously, you might want to explore WHY you want to be involved in this vortex of misery. You are not this person's savior.

Delete the number from your phone, and go out into the sunlight.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:23 AM on September 6, 2012 [13 favorites]


I have had a lot of tragedy in my life, including suicide, and can't imagine not contacting someone I have been dating for six months to at least give them a heads up that I can't seethem them at the moment due to funeral planning (a week of no contact at all is really excessive) The fact that you didn't know about the suicide from the larger social circle means you have not integrated (or have some kind of connection) with their family/friends either, which is unusal at the six month mark. Considering they have flaked repeatedly, have outright said they can't be in a relationship right now, and have once again gone radio silent (letting you know they do not consider you a source of support or worthy of being kept in the loop) then I think you should respect their wishes and stop trying to force a relationship on them they do not want. Find someone to date, not to rescue.
posted by saucysault at 6:24 AM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Honestly, I don't think it matters much what you do until they come back to civilization.

And I'd question your characterization of them as a lovely person. A lovely person doesn't just drop off the radar and stand people up. If they have a reason to be alone, they need to tell you. This is what lovely people do.

So he's had a stressful year. That doesn't mean we get to fall off the face of the earth every time we have something that makes us sad.

If you want to be supportive, though, realize that you're not in a committed relationship. They have said as much. That will reduce the pressure you put on them via your relationship. Move on. Find other people. Have fun with this person whenever they leave seclusion if you choose, but know that they can never promise you that they won't be flaky in the future.
posted by inturnaround at 6:24 AM on September 6, 2012


I have sent a few messages of support - not more than one a day. I have tried to call a few times. Should I keep sending regular messages to let them know I am thinking of them, or should I just wait a while now and give them space?

Stop messaging them. This person knows that you support them, etc. Your point is made. If he didn't respond to text/email/phone call number one, he's not going to respond to text/email/phone call number twelve.

And when they do get back in contact with me (I hope),

You need to start asking yourself some hard questions about why you hope this person gets back in touch with you when they've treated you as completely unimportant and disposable in every way.

what support can I offer, either practical or in words to them? Suggestions of ways I can offer support as a friend, or reduce the pressure of what is happening in terms of us dating (or not, for I have no idea whether this is even still a possibility) would be good too.

Does this person want your support?

Look, here's some ugly truth: He (correct my pronouns if I'm wrong) was not nearly as into you as you were into him. I say this in the past tense because, if you haven't spoken in a week, you're not dating anymore. You are overthinking this and trying to look for logic and for ways that this could change and/or rationalizations for why it isn't as bad as it seems. It is as bad as it seems. Quit throwing yourself at someone who can't be bothered to acknowledge your existence for a week straight.

We have been dating about six months and have had a lot of fun together in that time and I am very fond of them. But they would get very close and then pull back from me repeatedly, I think due to the issues going on in their life.

The boldfaced part is exactly what I'm talking about. You've constructed a narrative of why this guy blows you off and ignores you constantly - it must be because of the issues in his life! No, it's because he's not really super interested in you.

If he wants your support, if he wants to talk to you, you won't have to second-guess yourself. You'll know it. And you don't know it, right now, and that really should tell you everything you need to know.

I am someone who withdraws a lot when I'm dealing with things. Recently I had a family member die. This family member was in the hospital and we knew things weren't looking great and so the next time I talked to the person I'm seeing, I told them: Look, here's what's going on, and I need to go home and deal with this and maybe I will need some alone time but I will keep you in the loop on everything that happens. We stayed in touch (an email here, a text there, a low-key hangout sometimes) while I was handling stuff. It was a good thing. See a difference?

Take a hint, pull up your stakes and move on.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:23 AM on September 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


This isn't about this person's current crisis. They're not available to you, period. Doesn't matter why, really.
they would get very close and then pull back from me repeatedly, I think due to the issues going on in their life....

The first sign that something was wrong was that they missed a date we had planned and didn't contact me....

They have previously done several very flaky things around cancelling/no shows for dates....

Their response to previous events, e.g. a stranger had a heart attack and died in front of them recently, has been to more or less disappear and be alone....

Weeks ago they said that with what was going on in their life, they weren't completely sure about committing to a relationship...
This person has made it clear to you that they are not as invested in the relationship or its potential as you are. You are free to move on.
posted by headnsouth at 7:59 AM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Hells, no.

I don't give a fig WHAT is going on in this person's life. They are treating you like shit.


Your first inclination was the correct one. This person is not mature enough to be in a relationship with anyone. They are self-absorbed and witholding of their affection and attention - makes it feel like it's your fault when they withdraw, doesn't it?

Wrong. This type of behavior, on purpose or not, has the direct result of screwing with you perspective, making you think you have more input and control than in the relationship than you really you do, that you are somehow to blame.

If only you were less demanding/cooler/prettier/exceptionally more witty/etc./etc., - then the witholder would finally love you. That's how it feels, yes?

Well. That thinking is a trap. You can never win this. You are dealing with someone who can not be reached emotionally, in a situation that can not be fixed. Move on.


I'm sorry you are going through this. I know it seems callous to "break up" with someone you (thought) you were in a relationship with. The truth is this person was only spending time with you. They do not care about you (as evidenced by the flakiness and lack of true commitment) and worst of all, your well-being disappears as a concern for this individual the second anything else comes up.


The suicide is a MacGuffin. You're not a bad or awful person. It's them, not you.

Protect yourself and move on.
posted by jbenben at 10:25 AM on September 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


Agreed that they've found a way to blamelessly give you the brush. Heck, the suicide may actually have even really happened! But as others have said, they are choosing to use this as an opportunity to retreat from you instead of drawing closer for support. It's really one of the oldest tricks in the book.
posted by hermitosis at 2:14 PM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


People react to trauma in different ways. My reading of it is that they are telling you they need some space and they don't need any more drama.

I hope they will understand, though, why I reacted like that at the time.

Goes both ways.

To be honest, your question is a lot about very trivial things in comparison to what they've been experiencing. That's kind of the drama it sounds like they want to avoid. They can't take on board your feelings as well as the situation they're in (which is not of their own making), so guess which one's going to get the flick?

Keep messaging them if you want to stay in contact with them, although not excessively, and probably don't call, let them call you. Sudden lack of communication will probably hurt them a great deal, but they just don't sound like they're in the place emotionally where they can respond in the way you need them to.

Cut them some slack - be compassionate - they've experienced successive traumatic experiences, that has a significant bearing on physical and mental health.
posted by heyjude at 2:21 PM on September 6, 2012


You know, there's a ton of good advice in this thread. I sympathize with you, because I'm a person who often falls into the trap of making up excuses for why other people are treating me poorly. I think someone linked to the blog here a while ago, and it's really been helpful for me in recognizing some of my patterns: Baggage Reclaim
posted by twiggy32 at 4:21 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are you sure that the person (he?) doesn't have some other relationship ending or deal breaking thing going on and that isn't why he hasn't called?

Is it possible he has simply gone home to see family and not called you or something equally understandable in the context of one person freely and arbitrarily living their own life but inconsiderate as part of a couple?
posted by kettleoffish at 9:04 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I bet their ex-college roommate's ninth cousin three times removed committed suicide two months ago and he just heard about it, and now he's using it as an excuse. That's honestly what I think has happened here.

I also think it's possible he was seeing someone else, but that's a gut feeling.

When you say that one of the upsetting things that happened to him was a stranger dropped dead in front of him, my first thought was Oh, he's run out of friends and relatives to kill off to support his flakiness. As cynical as it sounds, there is a definite type of person that does this.

You didn't do anything wrong. You didn't know why he disappeared because he didn't bother explaining it, and he had a history of flaking on you already. It is a cheap shot to use someone's death as a way to avoid blame for flaking on a date.

I'm sorry to say I agree with those who say you're not in a relationship with him any more. He told you a few weeks ago he had doubts, then he disappeared, then he accused you of grotesque insensitivity in order to turn the breakup into your fault. But please realize that a) you are broken up and b) it is in no way your fault.

Sorry, it sucks.
posted by tel3path at 7:42 AM on September 7, 2012


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