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I need out of this situation, extremely complicated. Help?
February 18, 2014 5:29 AM   Subscribe

I am in a relationship and my feelings have changed. I am financially dependent and feel horrible about it. I feel trapped. How can I fix this with the least amount of collateral damage?

I will attempt to make this as coherent as possible (and short-but it's going to be pretty long). I feel guilty for even writing this. I have been in a relationship for 7 years (a LDR the past 2 years) with a man 33 years older than me. It was good, but about 6 months ago I started to realize a lot of things. I’ve changed, and what I want now is different than what I wanted before. As expected, there are snowflake details that make this horrible and complicated.

He was married and had kids and all of that. Wife died 20 years ago. The age gap has become more ‘visible’ to me, I guess. There are a lot of things that I can’t talk about with him, because he isn’t into pop culture or music or things like that. He doesn’t have any friends or hobbies. Kind of a hermit. I am his sole source of entertainment, in a sense, and I don’t like that. He still works, but has always lived for his job. I have friends and tons of things that I do. I feel like I have to entertain him when he visits, and he never really wants to go anywhere or do anything. So I feel trapped there. We disagree about my pets. He feels that I should just get rid of them, and this in a sense attacks part of my core. I fiercely love my pets, and I cannot fathom just ‘getting rid of them’ because he doesn’t care for them. He knows this, yet he says it. I think that he’s depressed, but can’t say anything to him about it, because he shuts me down immediately. In his mind, therapists are for crazy people. Talking to him now is like talking to my parents (who I distanced myself from at 18 because of the crazy. Yes, they are my parents, I love them, but they are depressed and will not help themselves). Always mopey and talking about the same thing during every conversation. It has become difficult to call.

Sometimes I think he subconsciously hints that his future plans don’t include me. I love where I live, and want to practice here after I graduate. He says he hates it (weather, etc). He talks occasionally about how his son wants him to move near him so he can spend time with the son and grandchild. There is never a ‘we’ in that conversation, only ‘I’. Maybe I’m reading too much into it.

It’s not that I dislike him or anything, I do care for him, but my feelings for him have changed. I no longer see him in a romantic sense. This could be due to the long-distance component. He visits maybe 3-4 times a year. I don’t want to be elderly early, and that’s how I feel. There is so much that I want to see and do. He has been very good to me, with gifts and trips and such. I appreciate everything that he has ever done. The very basic problem IS that my feelings have changed, and I understand that this happens. There’s a kicker to this, though (2, actually).

I am in professional school about 3000 miles away from him. He pays my tuition (he has paid about $100k so far), bought a house for me to live in, and pays for all of my expenses. He bought me a car. I would not be here without his help. I feel a tremendous, overwhelming amount of guilt over this. I feel like a horrible person because my feelings changed, and that I don’t want to be his caretaker for the rest of his life. I feel like if I tell him that my feelings have changed that it will decimate him (not giving myself any ‘credit’, it’s just that I know it will not go well). He is 73, and I feel like it would be a disaster. I want him to be happy and have someone who wants the same things that he wants. I do care for him, but it is different. Side note: there is not a new guy. I have not cheated on him. I just came to the realization that I want to be with someone that has more in common (if and when I have a new relationship) and shares my energy for things.

The second kicker: our relationship has always been kept secret, except for his kids. Only one of my friends (my best friend) knows about him. There is a good reason for this, I would rather not disclose just in case someone can piece this together. When we started our relationship, he said that he was dating younger women because he wanted ‘to be sure’ that he died before them. He wanted someone who would take care of him. I was ok with this, or thought I was. I have since come to the realization that I am not.

I work a part-time job while in school (that’s all I can manage-the amount of studying that I have to do is tremendous)and try to save every penny. I plan on working my butt off this summer. I have always be fiercely independent and hate having to depend on help from anyone, but accepted his help for school(which he willingly offered, I did not ask for it). I would offer to pay him back, but won’t be earning anything that could even dent it for 2 more years. I am planning on finding out about student loans and what I am eligible for. I know I have to do something. But I don’t know how/if I should do this. I know that it is not fair to string him along. I am terrified. The last thing that I want to do is hurt him, but I can’t live for someone else. My school is in an expensive city, and I have 2 more years. I fear that I won’t be able to find/afford a place to live (I would imagine that he would kick me out). I am looking for any thoughts, suggestions, advice…anything that could be helpful. This is killing me. The guilt has overwhelmed me to the point that I have had panic attacks. I spend entire evenings crying because I don’t know what to do. I have no doubt that this is affecting my school. I just want to do what is right. Dropping out of school is not an option. Admission to these programs is incredibly competitive and it was a long, hard road to get here. I really don't want to hurt him, though I know it will. I feel trapped. I hope that I have explained clearly. My mind is swirling. I'm afraid that what I wrote here makes me look like a horrible, deplorable person. Help, please?

I have a throwaway email for any questions/clarifications AnonPersonanon2014@outlook.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (33 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
A seven year relationship, any seven-year relationship other than the most transient, will always involve both partners giving a lot to each other. Whether that is money, time, emotional support, all of the above - there's a heavy investment, sometimes on both sides and sometimes more heavily on one.

He has given you a lot of financial support during the time you've been together. What have you given him? I'd take a guess at time, positivity, energy... and what's more valuable?

Now I'm not saying that if you feel you owe him to try and pay some of that money back, that you shouldn't try and do it. Perhaps you can pay him back in time and care, by continuing to visit him and look after him a little, even after you have separated?

What I am saying is, loosen the guilt over this situation that you are carrying. Drop some of it immediately - you feel like you are stringing him along, but as you say, you have been happy to be in this relationship up til recently and presumably so has he, otherwise he would have ended it himself. Perhaps he feels a similar disconnect to you, judging by the few comments you have mentioned. But it is part of processing the end of a relationship to recognise that just because it wasn't forever, does not take away any of the value and enjoyment of while it was working.

Now breathe. You have a tough situation, but it is dealable-with. See a financial advisor or a friend with nous and get your financial situation sorted. Register with house-share websites or agencies. Get yourself ready for the eventuality of needing to be independent, and then do what you need to do. Either that, or tail it off gradually, but I think you will hold onto more self-respect if you take action now, and deal with the consequences. You'll get through it, and so will he. It's going to be ok.
posted by greenish at 5:49 AM on February 18 [10 favorites]


Relationships and marriages break up all the time, after years and years. So it's okay that you want to break up at this point.

Acknowledge his generocity, thank him for it, and break up anyway.

For sure, get your finances in order and perhaps even move out (or arrange to rent the house and get a roommate) so that you can well and truly leave and not have him in your life.

Don't offer to pay back the tuition. Do give back the car, perhaps move into grad student housing on campus, or get a beater, or whatever you need to do.

I would feel icky too about being financially dependant, but sometimes it happens. Perhaps that was his plan to keep you around, who knows.

Your relationship worked for seven years, it's not working now.

"John, I've been unhappy with our relationship for some time now. I love you and appreciate everything that you've done for me, and I think that at this point in our lives we want very different things. We have some financial untangling to do, and I'd like to discuss that with you, once you've had a chance to process what I've just said."

Because you're long distance, it's okay to do this on the phone. Preferable even. Why make him come across country to dump him?

Give him a day or so think about what you've said, undoubtably, he'll see the truth of it.

You can do this. You may go into debt for it, which is sub-optimal, but it's better than staying in a relationship for the financial assistance.

You aren't a horrible person, you didn't intentionally take advantage of him, he didn't offer you anything he couldn't afford.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:51 AM on February 18 [20 favorites]


First off, you're not a horrible, deplorable person. You're human. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations we don't want to be in. It can just happen.

You will be okay no matter what happens. He can cut off the tuition, kick you out of the house, but you will survive. He willingly gave you these gifts. Don't feel guilty about it. Don't give back anything and don't offer to pay him back. It would have been extremely shitty of him to expect something from it. You loved him and were faithful. You've nothing to be sorry for.

Feelings change, especially with distance. Forgive yourself. You can do this.
posted by inturnaround at 5:54 AM on February 18 [4 favorites]


You see him three times a year. No one knows that you're a couple. He pays for everything.

This isn't a relationship. It's an arrangement.

Presumably, he's at the end of his life and your presence in his life means something to him that was worth the funding he's offered you. After all, he can't take his money with him.

Is it possible he needs your friendship more than your love? If so and you genuinely want to support him as a friend, do so and offer that friendship. If he insists that his bankrolling came with strings attached, then you should leave with zero regret. Or stay, with zero regret. Or stay and explore new relationships, with zero regret.
posted by mochapickle at 5:58 AM on February 18 [61 favorites]


It is time to start figuring out how you can live without his money. Contact financial aid and find out what you're eligible for. You need to have information before you make your next step. You can find an apartment. You can figure this out.
posted by k8t at 6:01 AM on February 18 [2 favorites]


You need to find out about student loans and get ready to finance yourself moving forward, ASAP. Then you can do what needs to be done: end this arrangement and move on.

I don't think you need to pay him back the tuition money he has already paid, but you can think on that later.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:06 AM on February 18


Something to consider is estate planning... Are you eligible to be included in the will? I'm not sure about the States, but in some parts of Canada you can achieve common law status very easily, which has huge ramifications regarding estate planning.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:17 AM on February 18


I don't at all mean to cheapen what you have with this man, but like mochapickle, it sounds to me like it's more of an arrangement than a relationship. As such, I think that while losing you will certainly be painful to your SO, it won't be impossible - and it might not even be very difficult - for him to find another young woman willing to pick up where you left off. It might be helpful to keep this in mind if you're worried about him and what he'll do after you're no longer there to care for him.

Either way, please don't beat yourself up over this. You didn't go into this relationship planning for it to be this way. If he really loves you, surely in time he'll want you to do what is healthy for you. Right now it doesn't sound like you're in a healthy spot at all. Picture your life one month, two months, a year after you've done the hard thing and broken up with this man - picture yourself not suffering under the guilt you're under now, picture yourself going on dates with people you have more in common with (and aren't being groomed to be an end-of-life caretaker for?!), picture yourself, sure, in more dire financial straits but straggling along as grad students do. You can find a way to make this breakup and renewed life work, and you deserve to do so.
posted by DingoMutt at 6:22 AM on February 18 [2 favorites]


If either one of you was that concerned about pouring money into a relationship that might not last then you would have gotten married. But the good news is that you did not! Figure out who owns the house and the car and if you're legally obligated to give them back. Then go live your life guilt-free.
posted by bleep at 6:42 AM on February 18 [3 favorites]


A relationship that continues because of your guilt isn't fair or right to either of you. He didn't buy you with that money or support, any more than you bought him with your time or attention. A relationship is always a consensual agreement between two (or more) people, and when one of them wants to needs to change the agreement, that's all it takes.

This relationship isn't what you want anymore, and your reasons are good ones. (But they don't even have to be! Being done is enough, and you sound done.) Be clear and forthright and honest.

Good luck. I do think greater happiness lies ahead for you.
posted by spindrifter at 6:42 AM on February 18 [3 favorites]


Thirding that this "relationship" sounds like it dissolved into and arrangement for at least teh 2 LDR years (though a secret 7 year relationship is usually a false seven year releationship in my experience). I'm not implying that you are a gold digger, but rather that he sound liek teh one who saw this whole thing as a sugarbaby arrangement while you took it more seriously. Just break up with him. You can get loans and financial aid for school and live in student housing or an off campus apartment with roommates like millions of students have done before. YOu can get food stamps or a meal plan. You will feel poor, but so do many many many grad students, because they are. You'll live, you will not die on the street. It will be hard and suck, but ultimately you will be stronger and more self reliant.
posted by WeekendJen at 6:48 AM on February 18 [2 favorites]


You should really find someone knowledgeable to help you sort out the situation with the car and the house. Call a local woman's help line or the library or student counseling and find out where you may be able to get legal advice.

And not to be glib, but perhaps it is time for him to go live near the grandkid.

Also worth knowing - if you see him in frequently maybe you are not his only romantic companion.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 6:49 AM on February 18 [2 favorites]


Well, anon. I thought quite a bit about this.

1. This isn't a 'horrible and complex situation.' This sounds like a highly transactional relationship. You freely admit that it is causing you profound guilt and disturbance, your relationship is a secret, and frankly it sounds like there is little joy beyond the transactional, materialist aspects of the arrangement.

2. I don't know the past. I don't know what choices got you here.

3. It seems fairly clear to me, that the path forwards is to end it, accept adult responsibilities, and to finance and manage your life like the majority of adults do.

'He wanted someone who would take care of him. I was ok with this, or thought I was'. This is a substantive betrayal, if true, and if over 100k+ has been invested in you. You are clearly, not honoring the transactional agreement you agreed to. I'm not one to paint with a moral or ethical brush, but I don't think it can be dismissed, either.

Substantial work will have to be done (and I hope, with an expert) to process all of this. Good luck.
posted by mrdaneri at 7:03 AM on February 18 [8 favorites]


I think the honorable thing to do is to find another place to live, give him back his car, fund the rest of your education yourself, and work out a schedule for paying back the tuition money. You need to have a frank discussion with him about the change in your emotions towards him. He may protest that you don't need to pay him back, but if you are truly fiercely independent, then, act that way and pay him back for you education. Gifts and dates aren't in the same category, and I wouldn't worry about those.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:20 AM on February 18 [6 favorites]


The amount of debt (100K) he's already assumed for your graduate education, the level of competitiveness, and the 2 years left in your program still make this sound an awful lot like medical school, and medical schools (or law school, or any other graduate program that's costing this much) are set up to help you get yourself set up with loans--how many of your other classmates are there loan-free? Companies will lend out six figures of debt to medical students percisely because it's a reasonable bet on their part: you will be able to pay this off. You may have to make some reasonable lifestyle adjustments, but you will be able to do this. Go down to the financial aid tomorrow and fill out a FAFSA--let them figure out the details of withdrawn support; it will be easier since you were never married to the guy and there is no spousal income or alimony coming. (Note: if you are paying this much for an MSW or unfunded PhD or less than a T6 law school, transfer the hell out now if you've got close to another 100K to go.)

He sounds like he was putting a down-payment on a caretaker (one who would be financially comfortable herself eventually, no less, because of the career path he was supporting). You are allowed to decide this isn't what you want. You are allowed to not feel ashamed. He has family who already want him close; you're not even abandoning him.

Put on the big girl pants. Sign up for some loans, and have a tough but not impossible conversation. You can do this. Not in the financial comfort you've grown to take for granted, unlike many of your (surely) ramen eating, bicycle/subway riding peers, but you can do this.

He likely already knows at some level.
posted by blue suede stockings at 7:21 AM on February 18 [8 favorites]


This is. . . kind of a weird situation. If he's 73, that makes you. . . 40? And you're doing professional school now? Someone suggested medical school, but that'd mean you matriculated at 38, which is about as non-traditional as non-traditional med students get these days.

If it's not med school, and you're no longer willing to continue with this arrangement (because I agree with everyone else: that's what this is), then get the hell out now. Law school is very unlikely to pay off for you, even if you're in one of the best schools in the country, because most firms are not looking to hire--or willing to pay the premium for--middle-aged first-year associates. And any other grad program with at least 2 more years in it should really be the kind of thing that they pay you to do, not the other way around. I say again: if it's not med school and you have decided to end this arrangement, withdraw immediately.

As to the rest of it, not to put too fine a point on it, but this is why people get married. Dissolving relationships is hard enough as it is. Doing it without the legal framework to provide an orderly dissolution of the complicated financial and logistical relationships that grow up in any significant, long-term relationship is just a nightmare. If what you want is out, you're very likely to have to simply suck it up and walk away with nothing. You can probably keep what you've already got, legally speaking anyway (the lack of protection goes both ways), but that's it.

Alternate possibility: stick it out until he dies (or wants out too). You will not be the first person, nor the last, that feels stuck in a relationship they're not happy with. Many people continue in such situations for decades. It may not be what they want, but you can't always get what you want, and sometimes the status quo really is the least bad option available.
posted by valkyryn at 7:36 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]



Alternate possibility: stick it out until he dies (or wants out too).


Old age isn't what it used to be. Even if you were willing to live with the devil's bargain, f he's still working well at a highly remunerative job at 73, you could very easily be looking at another 15-20 years of this, and it will only get more difficult to extract yourself with grace the longer this goes and the frailer he gets (and the progressively less likely he'll be to "want out" of an arrangement with a still youthful woman he explicitly stated he wanted to be there for him until the end instead of dying first).
posted by blue suede stockings at 8:04 AM on February 18 [3 favorites]


YOU ARE SUPER AWESOME AND HAVE MY FULL PERMISSION TO STOP FEELING GUILTY.

Your relationship with this man is not your main problem.

Your main problem is your relationship with yourself and your choices.

I'm 100% estranged from my parents and family for almost 20 years now, so I think I can speak to your situation.

Hon, this man very willingly has taken on a role in your life of support. I agree with someone above that you might not be his only relationship or "arrangement" although the one he has with you is probably his longest and deepest.

You've done NOTHING wrong.

The situation you entered into with this man is fairly common for someone with the background we share - someone with issue/reasons seeks a more vulnerable person for LTR that is ENTIRELY on their terms, in exchange for certain supports and comforts people like you and me do not have.... It's so common a story!

Anyway, it's just a stepping stone on your road to independence. PLEASE STOP WORRYING.

Your are not a bad person! I can not stress this to you enough!!

The problem is that your feelings of wanting to be free of this arrangement are butting up against the considerable amount of fear you have about being untethered (to permanent relationships like family) and unsupported (by family type relationships) in Life.

The truth is you can stand tall in Life, and you will, but let's deal with the problems on the ground.

- What do you want to do?

If you just need a break to sort this out, tell him you can't talk too much for a few weeks due to school. Get yourself some space.

This has been a transactional relationship, and it 'a nice that you took it more seriously, really, but the truth is he won't be remotely devastated if you end things. No one who compartmentalizes anyone as much as he has compartmentalized you in his life cares very deeply about the person they have done it to. He's obviously dysfunctional, like your toxic family, even if previously you naively and in good faith believed and supported his reasons for comparmentalizing you.

For the price of trips, an expensive education, a house, car, and other luxuries, he bought himself intimacy with you on a level he could control.

Now you've woken up, you've grown up, and you know what he offered you is less than you deserved. Been there! I promise you will more than survive this.

My sense is that he is 73 years old and is not stupid.

- I think he is prepared to pay for your school and expenses until you graduate, whether your feeling for him changed or not.

He has so much more life experience than you. Trust me, he knows what is going on with you. It's a big deal to you because you've just discovered this truth about yourself and your life. He's known all along. Stop sweating his side of the street.

- Most men in arrangements like this won't pull the plug on your housing, education, or transportation. I'm pretty sure this fellow means to support you until you graduate, likely because he wants to see you self-sufficient after he's "gone."

I'm going to guess that since he could never marry you or name you in his will, this is his way of taking care of you and making sure you can take care of yourself.

I think you should make peace with yourself and finish school on his dime. I don't believe you must immediately inform him that your feelings have changed. Re-dedicate yourself to your studies and sort this out when the semester is over. PLEASE.

(You don't see him much, so I'm assuming you are not really sexually involved with this man. From here on out, do not have to be intimate with him. You're too stressed from your studies, you're not in the mood, etc., are all valid excuses people in LTR's use to avoid sexual intimacy with someone they are thinking about breaking up with. It's OK if you use these excuses as you complete the semester and gain some personal space to think and decide, too.)

When the semester is over look into finacial aid, find out your rights and responsibilities concerning the house and car, and then approach him about significantly changing or completely dissolving the relationship.

In the meantime, therapy! I'm sure it is free through your university, go get it!

I have to stop writing here, I'll come back later if I think of anything to add.

I hope this helps.

Put yourself and your education first, no guilt necessary. I'm pretty sure he did not already invest $100+ grand for you to flunk out, he only sees you three or four times per year now, your change of heart was entirely predictable and I feel certain he factored it in when he offered to bankroll your education.

Above all else, it is clear this man wants you to succeed in your studies, so please, think of that as your new arrangement with this man, at least until the end of the semester. Kick ass in school and sort the rest out later on this year. Your studies come first. He obviously
agrees, or he would not have set you up to succeed.

For now, doing well in your studies is "paying him back." Sort the rest out after you kick ass this semester.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 8:49 AM on February 18 [14 favorites]


Actually I have this to add...

No one that has not stood in your shoes concerning family estrangement gets to judge or moralize about your relationship with this man.

People like to think they know what it is like to be effectively an orphan without any permanent family bonds or support, but they have no fucking clue.

It's absolutely terrifying until you face it and accept it, then it feels normal, or even freeing.

Certainly, it is different. You're not unusual or damaged or whatever. Just to let you know.

For seven years this man has been like your family, your anchor. And now, it's a choice that has run it's course and is coming to an end.

Some people have more obligations than choices built into their relationships. People like you and me have more choices than obligations. It all washes out in the end.

Now that you know, show yourself respect for your choices. It's not easy to live with so much freedom, instead, it is a peculiar responsibility.

Be kind to yourself. You are on the right track.
posted by jbenben at 9:17 AM on February 18 [12 favorites]


there is a lot of good advice above but i'll briefly say this: think of what comes after this relationship as a great adventure, and it will be hard, but also probably very rewarding and full of essential growth. you can figure it out.

in response to this:

"He pays my tuition (he has paid about $100k so far), bought a house for me to live in, and pays for all of my expenses. He bought me a car. I would not be here without his help. I feel a tremendous, overwhelming amount of guilt over this. I feel like a horrible person because my feelings changed, and that I don’t want to be his caretaker for the rest of his life."

1) i am so sorry you are going through this. but remember that 2) HE CHOSE TO DO THESE THINGS. no one forced his hand. he made the decision to extend this generosity to you. you are allowed to have different feelings, you are allowed to grow and change and have a different mindset than you did years ago. most importantly: you did not force his hand to give you financial support. he chose to give it. in your position, almost anyone would have accepted that kind of support. you didn't do anything shitty that you should feel guilty about. feeling differently now is not a transgression.

in all breakups, every party will "get hurt." doing the right thing is painful and hard, but it is always worth it, and when you are on the other side you are going to look back and wish you did it sooner.

go talk to your school's financial aid office and while you are there also talk to student housing. start looking at the cost of renting a room in the area online, and get an idea of what you need to make this happen. reach out to your friends and ask them if they know of anyone renting a room in a property where your pets could be accommodated.

i have a feeling that he will not ask you to pay him back for all of this, especially not starting now when you are still training in your profession. and he doesn't have a legal way to demand that you pay him back, because you two aren't married, you're not related to him, you don't have any kind of a contract where you explicitly agreed to being a caretaker in exchange for the $ support. if anything, that seems unlikely to the objective onlooker because of the long distance and the fact that he doesn't live with you or even see you that often, and still have living family left who could provide him with elder care.

it's gonna be difficult but ok, basically. definitely go get therapy through your university if you can because these are a lot of changes to go through.
posted by zdravo at 9:32 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]


I suspect this isn't going to be as difficult for him as you seem to think. Go ahead and focus on yourself. Just let him know your circumstances have changed, and I'm sure he'll be fine.
posted by 99percentfake at 10:00 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]


Presumably, he's at the end of his life

A 73 year old man has 12.09 more years to go on average, so no, this isn't a good presumption.
posted by Wordwoman at 10:12 AM on February 18 [2 favorites]


I'm afraid that what I wrote here makes me look like a horrible, deplorable person.

My job is working with people who do horrible, deplorable things. I'm not really sure where or how to draw the line between being a person who does bad things and being a bad person. Truthfully I don't care. What I've seen in this world has convinced me that every day we get the chance to make new decisions. We follow pattern or we deviate, but either way, what we do on Tuesday is entirely voluntary and distinct from what we did on Monday. It often feels otherwise, and we tell ourselves otherwise, but that's how it is.

Most relationships are risks, and you both knew this involved some particular ones. Each of you was old enough to understand long-term commitment, to know hearts and minds can change, to know life throws curves. It's fine to say the age gap has become more "visible" to you recently, but you weren't sixteen. You were old enough and apparently smart enough to have appreciated all that could change, and you signed on anyway. You both did. Own your 100 percent and let him own his.

When you realize you want out, it's a terrible power. You have knowledge the other person doesn't. What should you do? You could tell him today and inflict terrible pain. You could never tell him, and absorb the pain yourself. You could plan to tell him tomorrow, which is a gamble: today may hurt less, but tomorrow could be better or worse. Maybe tomorrow morning he'll break it off with you. Whew! Or maybe tomorrow morning he'll meet a wonderful girl he'll dismiss because he believes he has your heart. Ouch. Standing on a precipice is always going to be scary because you just don't know. And whether you jump or climb down, you can't stand there forever.

There's no right or wrong answer. What I can tell you from watching other people's mistakes and from making plenty myself is that you really do need to forgive yourself. It doesn't matter what you decide to do about this situation, or how. Even if you screw it up worse. Even deliberately. Horrible, deplorable people need to live with themselves, too. Sometimes you're in a shitty situation with no good way out and that's just how it is. You're not the only one it's happened to. You probably aren't remarkably worse off than at least thirteen of the other hundred people standing around you in Times Square.

I'm sorry for the pain you're feeling, as well as the other things. Whatever you do, and however cleanly or messily you do it, I hope you and he each/both find more happiness than not. Good luck and God bless.
posted by cribcage at 10:17 AM on February 18 [10 favorites]


I think you really do feel terrible about changing your mind and wanting out. I think you feel terrified at having to pay for yourself again, too, and that is the main reason you are hesitating now when you know what you ought to do. I also think you are not taking full responsibility for your actions here.

You are not a "fiercely independent" person now, and you haven't been one for the last seven years. I don't think you were just carried along by this tidal wave of things happening and you being caught up in them. That is not how a situation like this happens at all. You chose this arrangement because the advantages were in your favor. When this started, you were not a child, but a 33 year-old woman already. By that time you had to have attained some independence, even if you had not been estranged from your family. That estrangement really doesn't even weigh into this, despite jbenben thinking it gives you a free pass for some reason.

In a romantic relationship, people help each other, sure. Even a "fiercely independent" person might accept some help from a supportive partner, to help get themselves started, or to defray expenses in an emergency situation. But most people would balk at being completely financially responsible to a part-time, long-distance partner with whom the relationship is a fiercely kept secret. You know how dodgy that was! And you did not accept just some help--this man paid for your house, all your schooling, and your car! You made choices all along the line to take everything this man offered you.

It's not like you made any effort to economize whatsoever, either, like choosing an inexpensive school, living in the dorm or getting a roommate, taking public transportation or anything else that would have allowed you to be less dependent on his financial generosity. Accept and own up to your part in this.

Let's be honest: This man was your sugar daddy and you enjoyed the advantages that arrangement brought you. The two of you got along well enough, and he asked for little enough in return, that the trade offs were worth it to you. In the back of your mind, you knew at some point the bill would come due and he would expect you to be his caretaker, but in the beginning, that day probably seemed like a long way off. Now, seven years later, it is looming over your head and you are panicking.

You made the choices that seemed right for you at the time. You are neither a bad person nor an awesome person for making this deal. You also were not taken advantage of, not any more than you took advantage of your benefactor. The relationship was transactional and mutually beneficial, and now it isn't any longer for you. So you have to end it, and that means giving up the advantages the relationship came with, pure and simple.

First, you have to suck it up and break it off with this man. Figure out what you want to say, but do it soon, be direct, and get it over with. I get that you want to keep the car and the house and the money he paid for your education. Personally, I would not feel okay morally with doing that, but that's probably beside the point. Realistically, unless the car and the house are entirely in your name, I can't see him saying you should go ahead and keep them both! Assume that you will need to say good-bye to those.

The money already paid for your schooling, he can't get back from the school; if you feel okay about walking away with that, considering that fair compensation for the time the two of you already spent together, and he won't try to sue you (which I doubt he would), then you can let that debt go. If you feel like that still makes you obligated in a way that is uncomfortable for you, maybe discuss terms for paying half of the money back.

Then, apply for a loan for the rest of your schooling, find a cheap place to live and accept that if you are going to be independent, you will have to economize and live within your means from now on.

It won't be easy, but you can do it! Good luck.
posted by misha at 10:25 AM on February 18 [15 favorites]


Gotta chime in here. I was in a very similar situation with a man who is 21 years older than me. I lived with him for 13 years, so it wasn't a long-distance thing, but many of the other circumstances were the same.

The day came when I had the realization that I was not in love with this man, was never in love with this man, and would never be in love with this man. I knew I didn't want to spend the rest of my life with someone that I had that much of a disconnect with. Even though this man and I were best friends then, and in many ways still are even now. Anyway, I had to tell him that I needed to go my own way. That I wanted a different life for myself. I was scared out of my fucking mind. I thought he was going to throw me out. I figured I would be on the street like a bag lady. He was hurt at first, but he got over it.

I ended up moving across the country and getting a job after graduating from college in 2008. Can you say recession? Fuck. I was living on my own for the first time in 13 years. But I survived. Terrible paying job. But I survived. I didn't know what to do with myself. But I survived. And you will too.

I don't have any family support either. That's how I ended up in this situation. But oh well. The good news is that not only did I survive the situation, but this man and I are great friends and always will be. Who would have thought it would have turned out like that?

YMMV on the outcome as far as this man's feelings are concerned, but based on my own experience, you will be okay, and your life will get better by taking care of what you need to do for yourself.
posted by strelitzia at 10:28 AM on February 18 [3 favorites]


Step one: look at what it will cost you to take out student loans to continue with this degree. Then look at whether you will be able to pay them back in a reasonable amount of time. If you won't be able to, then leaving or switching to a different program is the only reasonable choice. You're not a horrible person now, but if you set up your life so you're not able to live without a sugar daddy, you will be.

After you make that decision, let him know that things aren't working for you any more. Ask him if he wants you to move out of his house and return his car. (Make sure you factor those expenses into your student loan research.)

You could suggest non-monogamy if that's something that would work for you... you two would still see each other a few times a year but you could develop your own life and additional relationships too. It seems to me that's your major problem with your current arrangement... when you see him, it's boring, and you probably regret missing put on other opportunities for THAT.
posted by metasarah at 11:36 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]


[This is a reply from an anonymous commenter.]
I was in a very similar situation in my early 20s: for seven years in a secret relationship with my married boss, a man about 33 years my senior. I worked for him during my undergrad and then grad school. I had complete financial dependence on him. It was understood though never said outright that he would not leave his wife for me. He was my mentor and a father figure and he helped put me through school, but I never thought about the future.

Then I met someone my age online with, among other things, all our pop-cultural references in common, we fell in love, and I broke up with the older guy. He resisted it at first, was hurt, but soon he admitted he was actually relieved that I was able to move on to a relationship with a future. There was never any mention of me returning any of the money or gifts he had given me, but really I had worked for him too so I felt I had earned it.

I got married to the new guy and had children with him. My ex and I remain close friends and he has since found someone else, a woman in her early 20s, whom he is putting through grad school, just like he did me.

My thoughts for you are that your boyfriend is old and wise enough to know that this is not a relationship that is going anywhere for you, and if he cares for you he will not want you to reach your fifties alone.

So, with that in the back of your head, please seek your freedom and your happiness with no guilty feelings, and most certainly do not proactively offer to return any of what he has gifted you, car and house included. Let him make his demands, but do not respond without first running them by an attorney.

As for your boyfriend, he will not die unfed and unwashed. He can find another companion and caretaker easily enough, and pay them a proper wage.
posted by cortex at 12:46 PM on February 18 [9 favorites]


"That estrangement really doesn't even weigh into this, despite jbenben thinking it gives you a free pass for some reason. "

Most people with that backstory end up toxic and dysfunctional themselves.

Addiction, self-harm, abuse of others, mental illness, sometimes homelessness, and even suicide, are the usual outcomes.

After reading the comment just above from an anonymous poster reprinted by cortex, I don't believe I have much more to add.

I just wanted to clarify to the OP that I know you are awesome because it so hard to overcome that sort of stuff and thrive.

You're not writing us from the grips of addiction or despair. Instead, you are enrolled in a professional educational program and your problem is you have to figure out how to end a non-traditional relationship that has constituted the majority of your total support system for the past seven years.

You get to ask your question here without being labeled a "gold digger," or your soon to be ex a "sugar daddy," or whatever negative slurs have been stated or implied in the comments.

You don't have to give back gifts to satisfy the moral outrage of folks who have not been in an intimate relationship with you for the past seven years, either. You don't have to give back any gifts even if the person who gave them to you demands them back (or so this is true in most jurisdictions, check with a lawyer in yours!)

Hold your head up high. Pay it forward and help someone (even anonymously, and certainly without strings attached) the next time you get a chance. Make that a lifelong habit, actually.

But no. You've got nothing to feel guilty for. This is a big step. You're taking it. You're OK.
posted by jbenben at 1:31 PM on February 18 [15 favorites]


I really wish I could favorite jbenben's comments more than once. A lot of posters are euphemizing that you are in an "arrangement" or calling you a gold digger or other judgements without understanding the dynamics of the kind of relationships they're implying you have and having zero advice for you other than disapproval. Jbenben and the anonymous commenter know what they're talking about; OP, you do not need to feel guilt for this situation. Please listen to them.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 2:09 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]


I think that your guilt is so intense because men and women are viewed so differently when it comes to choosing pleasures of the earthly kind. Women who prefer their men monied are "gold diggers" or "whores" while men who prefer their women beautiful are simply "men".

It seems that you (and a few posters and upvoters above) think of yourself as the taker and your boyfriend as the giver. But I don't see that at all. As far as I can tell, you have a exchange typical for this kind of youth-for-money arrangement. Yes, he gave you a lot - money for your education, a house, a car, but you gave a lot too - your best years with someone old enough to be your grandfather!

And yes, this is definitely an arrangement, for him. His explanations about why he would only date young women are frankly b.s. - a woman quarter of a century your senior would still outlive him by 20 years! He clearly has no interest in sharing your life as a typical boyfriend would; from the beginning, he set forth the terms where you share his life and provide services such as sex and eventually senior care.

Naturally, this role is ideally filled by a guilt-prone, inexperienced young woman, preferably from less-than-stable family environment, who could be convinced that a $100k-$150k is a fair price to pay for that kind of thing. Sorry to be blunt but... that's much too little for a sexual companionship of a much younger woman AND a lifelong elder nurse and companion. You've been had.

So as far as your obligation to be his caretaker, absolutely not! He clearly has plenty of money as well as children, most likely insurance, and so on. If you decide to break it off, I guarantee he'll be just fine with the next slightly confused young woman (and you'll be just fine with someone who loves you for more than your age and naivette). And if you decide to continue the arrangement until you finish your school, I bet everyone will be just as fine, just two years later. Whatever you do, make a decision that works for you, and don't feel guilty about it.

P.S. Regarding this comment, I'd like to say that I have immigrant relatives who were able to start over at 40, including doctors and lawyers. I would not discount valkyryn's advice - I think it's excellent - but it's not black and white.
posted by rada at 2:45 PM on February 18 [8 favorites]


I have always be fiercely independent and hate having to depend on help from anyone

This doesn't really jibe with letting someone buying you a house, a car, and pay for all your tuition. If you really believe it - and you should! - then doing without these things will be a small price to pay for your independence and actual freedom.
posted by smoke at 5:03 PM on February 18 [5 favorites]


This doesn't really jibe with letting someone buying you a house, a car, and pay for all your tuition.

That line of thinking only works if you view sex work (and related emotional/entertainment work) as being inherently morally inferior to other kinds of employment. I sell my services as a full-time software engineer to pay for my house and my car... does that make me fake-independent? If I found myself paying for these things by doing sex work, would I suddenly be a different person?

OP, you are more independent and intelligent than most! Actions speak louder than words and I say only a fiercely independent person would have total financial security offered to them on a silver platter and yet CHOOSE to go into a hyper competitive professional program and work a side job in addition to the tremendous academic load.

I also want to say that I've had numerous experiences with these types of kindly older gentlemen (what can I say, they like to hang around pretty young women fresh off the boat). These gentlemen are invariably full of sob stories about their deceased wives or wives who ran off with the pool boy or other kinds of betrayals. These gentlemen are lonely and just want a nice girl to settle down with. Only the girl has to be 20+ years junior and not "demanding" or "fat" like those American women. These gentlemen are super generous and just want the girl to have a good life. Only a good life means a lifelong slave, emotionally and sexually. But other than that, they just want the girl to be happy.

You have my permission to dump your kindly gentleman, or keep him for two more years until you finish your studies. Like I said previously, he will be just fine with the next young woman that he has nothing in common with.

(And by all means, return his money, as long as he returns the years you've spent being his girlfriend).
posted by rada at 8:44 AM on February 19 [5 favorites]


Wow there's lots of judgement here.

FWIW OP, until recently my father was in a relationship that's fairly similar to yours. He fell in love with, and married, a woman who was in her late twenties when he was in his fifties. They loved each other, he put her through school and paid for everything, and at the age of forty she left him. Their deal had always been that she would care for him when he got old (of course! That's why they married!), but when the time came she realised she wanted to do other things: to be with people her own age, launch a real career, travel.

She didn't pay him back for anything he had given her, nor did anyone think she should have. They were married, so she got half the house and other property. He was sad for a while, but he also understood. And he's a proud man, and didn't want to be with someone who didn't want to be with him. Relationships end. People change. It happens all the time.

So if you want to leave the relationship, you should. Personally I don't think you should offer to repay the 100K he's paid for your tuition: it was a gift, freely given. But I do think you need to leave his house, and return the car. That's the price you pay for independence and freedom.

Good luck :-)
posted by Susan PG at 12:43 AM on February 20


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