Is it depression and am I making it worse?
November 17, 2009 4:10 PM   Subscribe

Every night that he comes home and winds up browsing the internet for hours, I feel like I'm going to scream. Am I a nagging worrywort, is my boyfriend mildly depressed, or both? And what's the best way to work on it?

My boyfriend (Charles) and I have lived together for about two and half years, since he moved to this state. We were thick as thieves to begin with, but as our relationship nicely mellowed we became more okay with not spending all of our time together. However, way back in January we had a discussion about how he needs to reach out and find his own community of some sort. He then had some dramatic medication-related mental health issues that pushed that goal to a back burner while we tangled with the craziness, but around middle of summer stuff felt like it was back to normal, and the lack of friends and interests became an issue.

I feel like Charles doesn't have any friends, really. There's one guy (Joe) who he chats with sometimes who shares a similar background (computer stuff, history, online gaming), but that guy has a freelance sort of web business and I get the impression that they could be closer buddies if Joe wasn't so busy.

I think part of the not-having-friends thing is rooted deeper in a lack of interests. Recently, it seems like unless I make something happen (plan dinner, arrange events), he won't do anything except be on the computer. I'm pretty sure he doesn't play WOW or anything anymore, and it's just random browsing and searches that he uses as a path of least resistance to his evenings.

The last couple of things we did with other people didn't seem to go that well. We went to a large dinner last weekend, and although I know he's not as chatty as I am, even when we were in a circle of three people whose conversation showed them to be funny, nerdy, and non-judgemental, Charles' answers to their questions were flat and monosyllabic, almost. A couple of friends we've hung out with several times were over at our house, and as one of them fixed our guitar (which Charles has talked about learning), Charles sat on the couch in the room, browsing the internet. Later, when our friend offered to teach him a chord, Charles said he was tired and wanted to go to bed.

It seems like it's rooted in a mild depression. He had a really bad experience with a psychiatrist and depression meds, so maybe that's why he doesn't want to admit it?

I just feel like he's not trying anymore. I brought it up a couple weeks ago when we were out (the only people tucked in the side room of a bar), and as I kept asking questions about what he wants to do and what he feels, he wound up getting totally upset and standing up and having a kind of aggressive freakout because I wouldn't let it drop. He was apologetic later and said he'd work on things, but hasn't shown too many signs of following up on the conversation. I've sent several e-mails where I've tried to outline things and not be too accusatory, so I'm not in his face as much and so it gives him time to think about it, but he hasn't responded to those.

When we wake up together in the mornings, he's usually sweet and loving, but by the time he gets home in the evening, or when I come home in the evening, he's usually withdrawn. I asked him about the difference between the two times, and he says he really only looks forward to going to bed, and why do I bother him so much? He only wants to do easy things, other stuff is too hard.

So that kind of sounds like depression, right? But I'm sure it can't help if I just nag about it and make him feel bad. But I'm sick and tired of going through ups and downs, especially when he denies that it's an issue.

The other night, I basically gave him three options.
1.) Move out in January and do his own lazy thing (we wouldn't need to be broken up, neccessarily, he just would need his own space to be in because he's driving me nuts).
2.) Agree there's a problem and set accountable behaviors for us to work on (me giving him space, him getting out of the house), and going though the Feel Good Handbook together.
3.) Agreeing there's a problem but that neither of us have the right tools to solve it, and calling in either a professional or someone we both respect to figure out how to solve things.

He hasn't responded yet.

I'm 26, he's 23. I'm relatively happy where I am (decent job, fledgling creative endeavors that seem to be going good places, pleasant enough rented home), he mostly seems lackluster and like he doesn't care about anything...except sometimes, on the days where he does care about things. Unfortunately it seems like caring about things needs follow through, so when you only care 2 days out of the week, it makes plans difficult.

So am I handling this right? What else should be happening, here? Is it fair to be this annoyed at someone who's probably depressed, because their constant web browsing and withdrawnness is bringing me down when I'm trying to work on my own creative projects and live a normal life? If he agrees to work on things, what should our parameters be?
posted by brisquette to Human Relations (39 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Why is he necessarily depressed? I mean, it sounds like he is, don't get me wrong, but maybe he's just not a very interesting person. Not everyone is, you know. And between you bugging him about it (you do sound a bit naggish) and whatever psychiatric issues he may have had, he might just be extremely self-conscious about being social, which might explain his reluctance to talk at your party.

All you can really do is encourage him to get therapy, and if he doesn't want to, you can't force him.
posted by downing street memo at 4:33 PM on November 17, 2009

Has his personality undergone a drastic change, or is it that you'd now like for his personality to drastically change? (That's not a dig - I honestly can't tell from your question which is the case - and it very much matters).
posted by moxiedoll at 4:33 PM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Does he like his job?
posted by pravit at 4:41 PM on November 17, 2009

It doesn't matter if we tell you "yes, you're totally justified in being annoyed," because you'll still be annoyed and he'd still (?) be depressed. Your question reminded me of this recent one. Is he happy with himself and his life? If the answer is yes, there's not much you can do. You're free to set your own standards - if you want to be with someone who makes plans and is enthusiastic about life, it might not be this guy.
posted by desjardins at 4:46 PM on November 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

You are micromanaging your boyfriend. He is not your ward or employee; you shouldn't be giving him a series of 3 ultimatums, act pissy when he doesn't react well, and then ask random internet strangers what else you should be doing.

It almost seems like you don't really view him as an adult. The truth is that adults are allowed to mope around in the evenings, do things they don't want to to make their girlfriends happy and not because they enjoy, spend all their time online, or have depression. If these things really offend and bother you so much (it seems like they do), you need to sit down as adults and evaluate what you both think need to be done, together--rather than giving him a set of options and rule books (Feel Good handbook? What?) that he can comply with or get out.
posted by shownomercy at 5:09 PM on November 17, 2009

Response by poster: When we got together, and for at least a year and a half after that, his personality was a very good fit to mine. He was a quirky guy who was interested in the world, in writing, in exploring things. We would usually have a big trip together planned, and I've seen more of the country with him than I did in my entire life. He would put together slightly wacky science experiments with super magnets, try and construct a giant light focusing thing, find recipes and make fancy meals....he had a lot of little interests, some of them kind of nutty, but I appreciated his enthusiasm. It's like his interest-generating mechanism has rusted over the past months.
posted by brisquette at 5:10 PM on November 17, 2009

You may find some similarities between your situation and mine. I see a lot of myself in what you've described. I gave ultimatums, went to counseling both on my own and with him, tried new things, everything... and it still took another few years before we broke up.

Don't be like me, okay?
posted by Madamina at 5:11 PM on November 17, 2009

Some people are just melancholy and introverted by nature and they're happy that way. If he is depressed, then unless he is actively self-destructive (suicidal, drug abuse, etc), he will get treatment when he is ready and it's really better that way, even though it's frustrating for you.

Frankly, you sound a bit codependent to me. You're focusing on his flaws and making him into a fix-up project, and he is right to be angry with you for that. You need to focus on the good that he brings into your life, and let his problems be just that: his problems. Why should your happiness and fulfillment be dependent on his moods?
posted by weesha at 5:13 PM on November 17, 2009

Response by poster: Because my artwork involves long periods of time on the computer, he's taken to criticizing it when I ask him about why he spends night after night online, and says it's hypocritical of me to mention his internet habits.

He won't make plans independent of me, but he will be dismissive or not in the mood to try things I suggest for us. I can operate independently, so if I don't feel like pushing the issue, then I just sit down and work on one of my design jobs.

Most of the time it feels like if I plan something and then just resolve to do it whether he's interested or not, he'll go with me 70% of the time. But he won't invest any effort in it, and it leaves him free to criticize it later or lose interest.

I've actually used that "cruise director" term before, Madamina, and I think I picked it up from reading your post before.
posted by brisquette at 5:40 PM on November 17, 2009

He absolutely sounds depressed. On the other hand, never date anyone you think you can fix.
posted by neksys at 5:46 PM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

I am a very introverted person. I like a few minutes to myself when I get home to change into something comfortable and grab some tea. If anyone bothers me during this decompressing process, I get a little testy. Then, I plop on a loveseat away from the TV and read a magazine or book. I surf the net and read articles that interest me.

I don't want to go out for drinks or dinner, I don;t want to talk on the phone - I want to do THAT. It's gotten more pronounced over the last few years. At 20, I liked to party and drink with friends. At 24, I like this. I enjoy the peace. It helps me think. As I got older, I've gotten less good at pointless chatter and other people's bullshit.

People change. I'm not saying he ISN'T depressed... but people change, especially in their early 20's. He may be persuing some interests online. DO you know what kind of thing he looks at? Or is he just looking up the Wikipedia page on Aluminum and reading Perez Hilton?
posted by caveat at 5:47 PM on November 17, 2009 [7 favorites]

I was in a relationship where he designated me "social secretary" and then accused me of having to have my way all the time, specifically in regard to our social arrangements. It was a lose-lose situation for me and I'm really glad that one ended.

FWIW, whatever next steps you do take, I think sticking to your guns and following through on your actions is really important.
posted by prettypretty at 5:50 PM on November 17, 2009

or internet addiction? Apparently we are not wired for INFORMATION all the time (like food all the time- we're wired for scarcity) so our brains go on binges sometimes, or it can be hard to stop. Obesity of the brain, maybe. It's not good knowledge, it's flabby random trivia.
posted by titanium_geek at 5:51 PM on November 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

Recently, it seems like unless I make something happen (plan dinner, arrange events), he won't do anything except be on the computer.

It's a small part of your complex question, but on this point alone...

I'm like that. I'm only "on the computer" when working (even now, I am working in a half-assed way in another window) but if left to my own devices, I would probably stay home all the time, too.

Understand: I can be as social as anyone, I travel a lot, and I'll happily spend six or seven nights out some weeks, doing things with people and having fun... as long as someone else arranges it, or asks me along, or grabs my ear and pulls me out the door (it happens).

But I'm a horrible 'event planner', and if it were left up to me, any group would probably just end up on the couch watching a movie and ordering takeout every night. There's less thinking and deciding and coordinating required, which makes it feel less like "work" to me.

So this in itself might not be related to the other problems you mention. It might just be a harmless personality type.

(I'm harmless, right?)
posted by rokusan at 5:54 PM on November 17, 2009

It seems to me like you're overly invested in the idea of him as a project (perfectly ok raw material that isn't working the way you'd like it to) than as a boyfriend. Honestly, your plan to tell him that he can either be more fun and interesting and passionate and sociable OR you'll expect him to move out and then, having been kicked out, work through some workbook with you.... That's just a whole set of weird expectations and ideas about how relationships are supposed to work. If he's on the computer in the evenings I don't see why what he's doing (whether reading the internet or writing a novel) should affect your own creative projects. I can see how what he does with his time might make you more or less attracted to or interested in him - but that's on you. You get to choose whether you want to be with this guy, but writing up memoranda about all of the aspects of himself that he should change is just.... off.
posted by moxiedoll at 5:54 PM on November 17, 2009

Most everyone I went to college with seemed to have this quirky-random-interest phase that went into our mid-twenties (and was helped by like-minded people still living in the same metro area). Then people started getting tougher jobs, going back to school, getting married, all that stuff, and the random doesn't happen any more. It's kind of a bummer but it's not that everyone got depressed at once. Another part is that as people got older, they often would decide to pursue only one or two things and develop some skills, instead of being sort of a dilettante. (But it takes time to figure out what those things are!) And if you have to be at work all day, and work isn't fun for a lot of people, it's work, and then you go home and you're still being accountable and doing work, taking x, y, and z steps to change yourself in order to make somebody else happy.. sounds like kind of a drag.

It can kind of poison the inspiration and fun of developing a new interest when another person is pushing you & making it part of their project to change you. And if he is a bit depressed.. well, when I was depressed for a while, I remember friends/family (who meant well, I know) trying to make plans for me or push me to do things, and going along was no fun at all, it just felt like more work I was doing to please other people so *they* didn't feel bad. Objectively, modern life can be overwhelming and depressing, it's just how it is, and it takes a while to figure out what the heck you like and care about and what means something to you and all that, and some people just need time and space and patience. Sometimes I've wished people would give me a break and say, all right, if you're feeling bad & want to talk I'll listen, if not, that's cool. And if I didn't feel like talking or turned down invites to parties or resisted attempts to make me take up this or that hobby/sport/etc, just say "OK, no problem! Maybe next time." All I wanted was a Pepsi, just one Pepsi...

Why don't you do your thing, and ask him for help/advice/feedback on your creative endeavors and interests, or take a crack at new recipes and ask him how he thinks they turned out? And meanwhile let him enjoy the interwebs and video games in the evenings if he wants, and have several days a week when he only wants to veg out in front of the computer. If this goes on and you're not happy then ok, maybe you guys shouldn't be together?
posted by citron at 5:59 PM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

I seldom make a plan to go out and do something and then do it. I spend a lot of evenings reading and yes, surfing the Internet. But when I am out, I like to veer off from the plan on a whim and do something that seems interesting at the moment.

So when we were first married, my wife spent a lot of time frustrated that I didn't want to go out shopping with her, or doing whatever - she didn't even know what. Even if I said ok to "lets go do something" the next stumper was "Do what?"

On the other hand, I spent a lot of time frustrated that, as we were passing by the beach I might say, "Hey, want to go have a walk and a drink at the barefoot bar?" all I'd get is a "meh, no."

So we both kind of felt simultaneously that the other "never wanted to do anything fun," when the opposite was true. We both did, in different ways. Something to think about.
posted by ctmf at 6:13 PM on November 17, 2009

its time to admit this guy isn't capable of being a partner to you right now. time to give him the space he needs and you a shot at finding someone who is at a good place and can be a partner to you.
posted by dmbfan93 at 6:21 PM on November 17, 2009

When you give someone options, and one of them is moving out, it's over. Do him and yourself a favor and get it over with.
posted by bricoleur at 6:23 PM on November 17, 2009 [5 favorites]

You sound like you are doing everything right. You've been tolerant and understanding. I'm kind of surprised that you didn't mention the option of dumping him. You've put up with a lot and you clearly are not in the kind of relationship you want to be in. I would say you have performed your ethical duty to him and the relationship, and you should be thinking about the unthinkable. Dumping him may well be the kind of situation that he needs to shock him back to life.
posted by conrad53 at 6:24 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Reactions will be mixed to your dilemma because of the sharp divide on askme between internet junkies and socializing gogetters, but I think the answer is probably -neither-.

He's moping around angst-ridden and you are badgering him, both for the same reason. You're bored, and the spark of love that made you two shack up togther is gone, so you're spending all of your energy making eachother miserable. Forget this specific issue and work on that with therapy and honesty and embarassing sexual experimentation, or, more practically, DTMFA. He's fine, you're fine, you're terrible together right now.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:02 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Does this man have a job? Any plans to get one?
posted by DMelanogaster at 7:26 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm confused as to how he feels about the situation. Is he perfectly happy with his habits, and you're the one pushing him to be different? Or is he unhappy with the way things are? If he's happy, he's not going to change. If he's unhappy, it doesn't sound like he's ready to deal with it. If he is, indeed, depressed, then you can encourage him to go to therapy, but there isn't much else you can do. He's got to decide if he's unhappy, and he's got to decide what he wants to do about it.

That doesn't mean that you've got to stick around if you're not okay with that situation, though. As someone who has struggled with depression for a long time, I would find it really upsetting to have my boyfriend bug me all the time about being more social or set ultimatums about getting out of the house instead of being understanding and supportive of my limitations.

After re-reading, it sounds like your boyfriend doesn't think there is a problem with the current situation. If that's the case, there really isn't much you can do beyond breaking up or learning not to be annoyed by his habits.
posted by rosethorn at 7:40 PM on November 17, 2009

Best answer: Please re-read your post and note the stark lack of empathy you show for your boyfriend. You call him lazy, lackluster. He doesn't interact properly with your fabulous friends, he lacks "deeper" interests, lacks follow-through, doesn't have enough friends, only wants to do easy things, he takes the path of least resistance, he's not trying, yadda yadda yadda. You spend so much time enumerating his many faults and shortcoming that you come across as controlling, critical, and righteous.

As a reader, I'm trying to get a sense of what you're feeling and am coming up nearly empty. Your frustration and anger are palpable. But beyond anger, what? Sorry, but "I just feel like he's not trying" is not a feeling. It's an accusation. So, what are you feeling? Are you lonely? Are you sad that you lost something beautiful in your relationship? Are you scared that you picked the wrong guy and may have to chuck the last two and half years of your life? Are you afraid that this relationship is teasing out a frightening version of yourself? You ask what you're missing. Start here. I think some attention to your own internal landscape will temper your harshness.

As for him. If the path of least resistance is his computer and the path of most resistance is you, he will choose the computer every time. All the emails, outlines, bullet points, action plans, accountability agreements, and dumb workbooks of your choosing will not change the nature of those two paths. They will only amplify the fact that if he wants some peace, he'll have to go where you aren't. Is he depressed? For the sake of argument, let's say he is. All of this racket is a flawless way to make a depressive retreat. If he admits that he's depressed, then what? It's easy to see how he might then worry that you'll criticize how he's managing his depression.

Try to think deeply about what it means to be depressed. Try to imagine what it's like to feel empty, bereft of things you used to love, drained by people and the requirements of socialization, hopeless, unmotivated, exhausted, angry, and lonely even in the presence of loved ones. That's the other part you're missing. Have some empathy for these experiences instead of criticizing him. Labeling him as being depressed and then berating him for acting depressed is deeply unfair.

So, let's say the 'he's depressed' theory is the right one. While your deciding to stay in the relationship or not, grab some books on depression. Read them because you want to deepen your sensitivity to the condition, because you want to add shape and texture to your understanding. Read them as if they're your operating manuals. Not his. While you're doing all this reading, you're also giving him space. You're not waiting for him to do anything. You're not going to have talks. You're not expecting him to do anything with that space. He's just going to be. Allow him his space, don't make him negotiate for it.

You don't have to stay and you don't have to hang your needs in the broom-closet indefinitely. If leaving is the kindest thing you can do for yourself, then you should leave. Your needs are not defined by his limits, but having a clear and compassionate view of both will help you decide what to do.
posted by space_cookie at 10:17 PM on November 17, 2009 [13 favorites]

Best answer: I'm with space_cookie on this one.
Even if you call his behaviour 'depressed', and say, we all agree with you, how might you change the way you are dealing with him? Moving out/ending the relationship may be an idea to explore down the track, but if you love the guy and want more of his time and energy why not try to examine things from his point of view?

The episode where 'I kept asking questions about what he wants to do and what he feels, he wound up getting totally upset and standing up and having a kind of aggressive freakout because I wouldn't let it drop' would have been an alarm bell for me to examine myself and my motives. I've been you in this situation, and I regret it. I figure that a part of me wanted to see if my man could muster up care/feelings/energy for anything even if it was actually backing him into a corner and forcing him. It doesn't work. Give him some space to work through stuff from his very recent 'craziness' [your word] - a few months isn't that long when you're dealing with depression.

And if he's into internet surfing to chill out/occupy himself - why not start trying to connect through that? It's great to find stuff you both might enjoy, show an interest in what he's reading about or looking at, maybe read about some of those things yourself. It worked for me and my IT oriented man as it reduced judgmental dismissals of our different interests. Plus I found out about Keyboard Cat, got short term addicted to music mash-ups and learned about all these folk into 9/11 debunking/faked moon landings... You get the idea. It chilled out the whole 'you're always on the computer!' factor by taking away its somewhat isolating tendency in a relationship.
posted by honey-barbara at 12:12 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Is it fair to be this annoyed at someone who's probably depressed, because their constant web browsing and withdrawnness is bringing me down when I'm trying to work on my own creative projects and live a normal life?

I think the answer is 'not fair at all', but I'm not sure this is a useful question. I like all the folks up above who are saying that you have expectations and preferences about what kind of partner you are compatible with. Sometimes people mesh and are on the same path, and other times folks just start going in different directions about how they want to be in the world and how they want to spend your time. I note your core question - is this the new normal of how he wants to be in the world (because things have shifted for him), or is this a manifestation of depression (and somewhere underneath all that is the him you knew). I agree with everyone who is saying that if he isn't inclined to consider or address these points, it probably doesn't matter.

And then the question becomes when you think of the qualities of this man, and the qualities you want in a partner, if this is someone you can be with. How wide is the gulf between those two points, and at what point does it become a dealbreaker? One of the things that might be interesting for you to consider - or even ask - is what he wants in a partner, and if you're even what that looks like for him now. Maybe what he wants is a partner who hits the town with all of her friends and then comes home to him, maybe it's someone else who just hangs out and is surfing the web next to him. Whatever it is, it probably isn't someone who keeps pressing him to do something that he isn't inclined to do.

It sounds like you do care for him, and what you are doing is in an effort to help. There are times when partners do recognize the signs of depression. But even if you were together 40 years and you sensed depression, you'd be in the same situation - is this something that you want to live with, based on how the partner is now, not how they used to be or how they might be in the future. It sounds like the answer for you would be: if this is how he's going to be, the answer might be no. And what's difficult about that, is that your partner is unlikely to articulate some phrasing like: I'm sorry. My values seem to have changed. What I want from life has changed. But for you it's still the same......So the person witnessing the change (you) doesn't really get any sort of closure, if the closure they seek is some definitive move from their partner.

If you're not okay with how he is now - which is totally okay - appreciate the qualities he currently has, regret the qualities he seems to have lost that you valued, and decide if this person is partner material for you as they are now. Depression might be there new normal.

In short, if you decide to leave, you're the one who is going to have to work up the energy to leave. Sadly, you'll be the planner/arranger for that part as well.
posted by anitanita at 12:59 AM on November 18, 2009

So you've given him 3 options and he hasn't answered you yet:

1.) Move out in January and do his own lazy thing - Why are you giving him the control here? He obviously likes the path of least resistance which means he won't be looking for a new place to live. This option should be changed to YOU will move out by Jan so he can do his own lazy thing.
2.) Agree there's a problem and set accountable behaviors for us to work on - Again, if he's not motivated to even plan dinner, this isn't gonna happen.
3.) Agreeing there's a problem - He's not admitting it. You can't force him to admit it.

If he doesn't get back to you with a response, well there's your answer.
posted by like_neon at 4:44 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: He does have a job. He goes in and out of phases of not liking it. Recently his response to "how his day has been" is one of quiet resignation.

We first corresponded on the internet, and throughout our relationship have spent countless hours watching youtube videos and the Onion and sending ridiculous links to each other. We played an online RPG last winter but stopped when it got sunny out again.

Space_cookie sees the lack of empathy in my post, and that's because I'm running on the fumes of my frustration right now, and those fumes feel like the only thing that's keeping me from just collapsing in a sad little ball and wallowing all over the place because the funny and excitable person I knew and traveled with and loved has submerged under the stone-faced dude who doesn't care about shit, and has said as much to me repeatedly over the last couple days and at times throughout the last months.

The option of moving out was included because I knew it would be difficult, and if he is taking the path of least resistance, I hoped he would realize that it's less effort to try and work things out. It's been pointed out that giving people ultimatums is basically trying to control them and people tend to resent that.

I would not say he's happy with his situation. I would say that he doesn't want to do anything else.
posted by brisquette at 9:35 AM on November 18, 2009

With dearness to your feelings, could it be that the relationship has run its course?
posted by thebellafonte at 10:47 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When I read this, nearly all my sympathy was for your boyfriend and not for you. :-/ He's holding down a job and he's nice in the mornings, more withdrawn when he comes home. Instead of just being able to unwind and do whatever he feels like, you nag him and insist there is something wrong with him and that he must change. It's no wonder he's withdrawn or seems depressed.

I have some sympathy for you in that he didn't act that way before, and surely that must make you sad. Your approach seems to be lacking in empathy, though, and makes me feel anxiety on behalf of your boyfriend just reading it. Let me be clear that by "lacking in empathy" I'm not saying you don't care about your boyfriend's feelings; obviously you care about him and that's why you want him to be as happy as he was before. "Lacking in empathy" just means you don't seem to have any understanding of how he feels, and as a result the way you approach the situation is ineffective. Either he's depressed or just going through a burnt-out phase or he's possibly introverted, but everything you're doing is the sort of thing that would make it worse.

I'm trying to untangle this, so let's start here:

However, way back in January we had a discussion about how he needs to reach out and find his own community of some sort.

Can you elaborate? Why did you have this discussion? Did you feel he was smothering you and needed to spend time with other people? (I ask because of the sentence that preceded it.) If so, it's not surprising if he became more withdrawn after that, though it wasn't wrong of you to bring it up. People get mopey when someone they want to spend time with doesn't want to spend as much time with them. It's a blow. It doesn't mean anything is wrong with either of you, but it's one of those things that the person on the receiving end has to work through.

Or was it because you felt he needed to have more friends because you just thought it wasn't normal to have as few friends as he does? Apologies if you would never think something like that, it's just the tone of some of the stuff later is really unfair to your boyfriend and comes across as overly-controlling, so I feel I have to ask. It's hard to know if you're really that nitpicky and constantly looking for things to fix, or just the nature of asking the question entails that you include all this stuff. Needless to say, there is no "right" amount of friends to have, and if he didn't see it as an issue, it would make him feel like you thought he was defective or something when he isn't. If my SO told me I needed more friends when I felt fine, I would get depressed and resentful -- if I didn't leave them for being so presumptuous and controlling.

Did he say he felt like he didn't have enough friends, and that it made him unhappy, and so you just encouraged him to get more friends then? In other words, would you be okay with it if he never had more friends than he does now if he didn't think it was an issue? You never once say that your boyfriend feels like he doesn't have enough friends, and that's what concerns me. You say things like "we had a discussion" or the lack of friends "became an issue" and "I feel like Charles doesn't have any friends, really." It comes across that this is your issue and not his. If that's the case, then it seems to me like you created a problem where there was none and you're largely to blame for the way he's behaving now; few people remain vibrant when their SOs criticize them for seemingly no good reason, and they're sure as hell not going to want to spend much time with their SO, much less their SO's friends.

If that's the case, he was going along, doing his thing and being cool with it, when all of the sudden that was unacceptable to you. That would be jarring and upsetting to anyone, no less because he wasn't actually doing anything wrong and the only way he can get you to lay off is by doing stuff that makes him unhappy. People don't want to be their SO's project, they want an SO who will love them as they are. They want someone they can feel okay around. You are not being someone your boyfriend can feel okay around.

For what it's worth, the whole spending tons of time with you in particular and not having many other friends, then wanting to spend time doing quiet stuff... your boyfriend just sounds introverted. And it sounds like he was perfectly happy as an introvert earlier in your relationship. It comes across like you think there's something objectively wrong with that and there's some minimum number of friends he should be expected to have. If that's the case, please be aware that plenty of people live their entire lives with only one or two close friends, and you would be one of his.

If you're not okay with his spending tons of time with you, that's fine. But don't make him feel bad when he tries to spend time by himself on the internet, and don't nag him to get other friends instead of spending time alone. Spending time alone is completely valid, whether you think it's odd or not. If this is on-target, then it will probably help you read about introversion.

Worth noting: if he's an introvert, being tired while he's out with your friends, and being tired after work and just wanting to be left alone is completely normal. Nagging him to not do those things will drive him crazy. As an introvert, I can't emphasize how upsetting being forced into interactions is when I want time to myself. My husband's family was in town for nearly a week this summer, and I love his family. My limit on heavy social interaction is two days before I start to become unhinged. I went out with them every single day because I didn't want to be rude, but after about the fourth day, I would come home afterward and literally cry from feeling so claustrophobic; it's a horrible feeling, all on top of being exhausted out of my mind. My husband is very understanding of this and always gives me my space when I need it. If he tried to make me feel like something is objectively wrong with me, and followed me into the bedroom and told me to quit crying, why am I so depressed I need to Do Something About It, and sent me e-mails about it after I blew up at him, christ, I can't even imagine how unhappy I'd be. I would have nowhere to go for peace. If he criticized me for being on the internet after I come home from work, I would be crazy with unhappiness. I would never get anything done and I would make us both miserable.

Instead, he doesn't push me at all, he's sympathetic when I'm upset about things, and he doesn't insist I change anything. We are very, very happy. That's the kind of environment people need to better themselves, not constant criticism and pushing to change. If you want any hope of his being the person he was before, you have to stop nagging. You have to let him feel that it's okay if he wants to relax and do easy stuff in the evenings and not go out all that much, and if that makes him happy you'll still love him. It may work and it may not, but you know that what you're doing now doesn't work at all. And if you actually won't love him unless he'll do other things in the evening and go out with you a lot, then you need to stop this and break up with him. Just because he's no longer the guy for you doesn't mean he should feel badly about being himself, because he's still the right guy for someone else. I'm sure tons of people reading this would have no problem with a SO that held down a job and browsed the internet in the evening and didn't want to go out much -- if they aren't already dating someone just like that.

He then had some dramatic medication-related mental health issues that pushed that goal to a back burner while we tangled with the craziness

I'm assuming this wasn't depression, or you'd have mentioned it and you wouldn't have to ask us if he's depressed. Did he have some sort of psychotic episode? Is he bipolar or something? If so, dear god, please have some patience -- it was hardly months before you expected him to get over it and out there making new friends. I've had a number of family members have psychotic episodes and when it happens -- especially the first couple times -- it is life-shattering for them when they come out of it. If he's depressed over something like that, he is completely normal. It is a terrifying thing to have to go through, and no one likes to think that they were crazy or could go crazy again. I can't imagine what it must feel like to have your very self unravel. It takes years to be at peace with something like that, at least as far as I can tell, and I would bet that deep down, it takes even longer. All the worksheets in the world aren't going to force him to get over it any faster. It would be akin to someone's parents dying and expecting them to be themselves months later -- and not only themselves, but proactive, go-getter versions of themselves. It's unreasonable and lacking in empathy.

What you mean by "craziness" and what kind of medication caused it could make all the difference in the world for the advice you get. It strikes me as a bit odd that you skimp on big details like these but you give tiny details for relatively insignificant-seeming things, and I'm hard-pressed to discern why. All I can think is you want to respect your boyfriend's privacy, but then the other details are pretty unfavorably-cast and probably just as much things he wouldn't want people knowing. Or maybe it was just an overwhelming question to ask and you were trying to make it shorter. I can't know why you presented the information you did, so I'll just say that it comes across that you're putting your attention on entirely the wrong things -- the "craziness" seems not to be that important an event in your mind, but his spending time on the internet is -- and it makes one wonder if the lack of understanding there isn't making your boyfriend feel worse, and for longer, than he might have otherwise. That impression is going to color the advice you receive. Either it's a valid point, or you should try and clarify to get more helpful advice -- only you can really know.

Without more information, it just sounds to me like your boyfriend is being normal and needs some space (for whatever reason of the many possible ones), and you're being controlling and making the problem worse. If he's not the person you want him to be then break up with him, but criticizing someone's behavior and giving them ultimatums to change just because you wish they were another way is really not cool, and rather cruel. I want to say that I hope you just came across the wrong way, but I think the problem would actually be solved more easily if you didn't; if you're just being too controlling then you can actually do something about it and make peace with a situation you should have been okay with before, AND you would learn something important and vital to any relationship you ever have -- whereas if your boyfriend is depressed and sincerely wants more friends and all that, things are out of your hands.

But either way, even if none of it is your fault, lay off. Quit sending him e-mails, even; I know you think you're being less in his face that way, but all it means is that he can't go anywhere to escape you. Doing the sort of things you're doing will just drive him away and make him feel more isolated and like no one accepts him. If you're going to break up with him then do it, but the nagging has GOT to stop.
posted by Nattie at 2:39 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

He sounds like a perfectly ordinary person who just happens to be happy with his own company. People can be perfectly happy at home browsing the internet by themselves. That's what I'm doing right now, and it's nice and relaxing.

It sounds like you won't be happy with this unless he gets out of the house more and hangs out with people, so maybe he can find some new friends who are into hanging out while browsing on their netbooks or reading quietly.

Because my artwork involves long periods of time on the computer, he's taken to criticizing it when I ask him about why he spends night after night online, and says it's hypocritical of me to mention his internet habits.

So his being on the computer brings you down because you nag him about it and he gets annoyed about your nagging, is that right? Think on that one.

I brought it up a couple weeks ago when we were out (the only people tucked in the side room of a bar), and as I kept asking questions about what he wants to do and what he feels, he wound up getting totally upset and standing up and having a kind of aggressive freakout because I wouldn't let it drop.

Sounds like you got him to go out with you, and you gave him a big dose of negative reinforcement for doing so. If you want him to go out, don't make it an occasion to criticize and needle him over not going out more often.
posted by yohko at 5:12 PM on November 18, 2009

Response by poster: I really want to thank all of you for helping out with this, and the widespread gamut of answers in and of itself is somehow reassuring, because it makes me feel like the situation is as complicated as it seems to me.

Somehow leaving him alone always felt like giving up, but I was probably confusing what I would want with what he said he wanted. I sent him one last e-mail last night saying that I would leave him alone to do his own thing, and apologizing for being a badger. I told him that I would still like us to go to a therapist (apart or together), and that a therapist isn't there for pills but to help people communicate better. He had sent me an email earlier that evening, and it was kind of spiteful and had some self-loathing elements in it, so I tried to mention how, kind of like Potomac Avenue said, our individual personality traits just aren't working well together right now, and I mentioned some times in the past where he really helped me when I was overthinky and worried, and when our different personalities worked together.

Are there really people here that feel like having a partner and one casual acquaintance is healthy? No snark intended, I'm seriously wondering if it's a thing that's worked, having one friend outside of your relationship, who you hang out with every six months and instant message maybe once every couple weeks? Because it seems like it would especially affect an introvert who was living with an annoyingly positive chatty cathy sort. Wouldn't it be better to have a laid back dude friend that you can just hang out with and not be with your girlfriend, and wouldn't that give you an outlet for things your girlfriend might not be into? No one person can fill the void and be your 100 percent support group, right?

Nattie, thanks for touching on so many details. The Charles I remember did enjoy hanging out with folks when we went out, and I remember him sometimes telling me that so-and-so was cool, and that he'd like to do something with them. Brewing beer together, that sort of thing. However, we are both ADD types who have issues following through with things like that, and my impression is that a lot of those opportunities slipped by. I do know more people and through casual friendships tend to have more casual hang-out opportunities fall in my lap, so I think I just developed a habit of mentioning those possibilities when I saw their appearance in his life. Probably I brought it up as a specific idea in January, because I'm more likely to talk about lifestyle habits and he's more likely to put forth ideas of things he likes or doesn't like. So he might mention it as a casual aside, and I would draw it out and try to describe it as something that could happen, and how it might happen.

As far as the depression/bipolar thing goes, maybe I should have linked to my previous question, but I didn't think of that and felt that including the information in this post would have been way too much text. Last fall he did talk to that doctor about being depressed, but the whole pill fiasco happened, and after finally getting off the pills properly, life seemed to even out, and he had some interests again, although he still had moody days. Now that there's this period where the interests have tapered off.

If the relationship continues, and I learn how to better give him space for the slumps, I think I might have to have a go-to friend that I talk to, who knows that I might need them as a person to just hang out with. I've ended up assuming that he'll fill a certain percentage of my intimacy needs, and when he drops out of that, I feel the loss on my end, too.
posted by brisquette at 12:52 AM on November 19, 2009

Are there really people here that feel like having a partner and one casual acquaintance is healthy? No snark intended, I'm seriously wondering if it's a thing that's worked, having one friend outside of your relationship, who you hang out with every six months and instant message maybe once every couple weeks? Because it seems like it would especially affect an introvert who was living with an annoyingly positive chatty cathy sort. Wouldn't it be better to have a laid back dude friend that you can just hang out with and not be with your girlfriend, and wouldn't that give you an outlet for things your girlfriend might not be into?

It depends on the partners.

I'm going to speak for myself here, as a hardcore introvert. While my social life never was down to my significant other + one (every 6 weeks or so) acquaintance, I can certainly say that if I was living with "an annoyingly positive chatty cathy sort" the LAST thing I would want is to hang out with someone else. Anyone else. It wouldn't matter who. If my girlfriend or boyfriend was that person to recharge I would want to be alone, not to hang out with a friend, no matter how "chill" they are.

My outlet, as an introvert, is not always venting to, or hanging out my friends, it's being alone for a while. Being with people is not an "outlet" for an introvert.

What you need to understand is that introverts LIKE being alone. Not always, but it does recharge us. And if my partner was constantly extroverted, chatty, whathaveyou, the last thing I'd want to do is go out and be with another person to be chatty about how that annoys me. I'd want to be left the hell alone for an hour or two each night to browse the net.

I sympathize, I do. It's such a difference in personality that it's very hard to grasp.
posted by aclevername at 11:51 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: As a 6 months later update for anyone checking up on things...

Charles' behavior became more and more worrying, and he became more and more introverted; to the point where even just going to the grocery store was obviously distressing him. He spent a hours and hours talking to an internet chatbot, asking it questions about God and life and consciousness. It was ultimately good for me to distance myself from obsessing over every bit of his strange behavior, because there was really only so much I could do.

A little over a month after I asked this question, Charles had an incident at one of our favorite restaurants that made it as clear as possible how different his emotional state had become (this was a place we'd gone to many many times before): he was incredibly aggressive towards the waitress and got kicked out, and on his way out the door he spat another insult at her that resulted in her 86'ing him. That night he was like a cold weird creature that I didn't know, but the next morning he could see straight enough to agree to make an appointment at the psychiatrist again.

At the psychiatrists' office, he became progressively agitated at the doctor's questions until he entered a weird catatonic state, like a malfunctioning robot. The psychiatrist's office was only about 5 blocks from a hospital, so although they offered to call 911, I felt that since Charles wasn't violent in any way I would okay with walking him to the ER. Once there, he could barely answer the nurse's questions and just glazed out into space while talking to himself, but after a little while he agreed to take some pills, and he wasn't upset at being checked in for the night. I went home and cried a lot, but it was a relief to know he was actually safe.

The next day I went to see him, and things were still a bit weird, but he was released from the hospital with a prescription that started doing a lot of good. He slept 18 hours a day for a couple days, but over time things mellowed out, and I could have periods of interacting with the Charles I remembered. It was obvious that he was feeling better, although the path to getting a good prescription regimen can be difficult (at one point I woke up in the middle of the night to find him packing, and I convinced him not to move to New Mexico in order to build a boat and sail to Atlantis). He's still really dealing with developing a life for himself and working through those crazy months, but we're in a much better place now.

It turns out that a lot of bipolar/schizophrenia things can start manifesting themselves in the early twenties. Looking back, some of his moodiness (how we could go on a day trip and be having a fine time, and then he would sour and snap in the middle, for no apparent reason) seems like it could have been an early indicator, but I never knew him any other way. It's interesting to be able to go places with him now; to be able to spend an entire weekend without him becoming upset at some perceived slight from a waiter or something like that.

Again, we're still working through this. Sometimes I think everything's magically better now, but that's not how it really works. You can't spend half a year with off and on schizophrenic style beliefs without having it do things to your perception to the world. I have to remember to give him space to feel under-the-weather, while still keeping an eye on behaviors in case things start to slip. It's a weird balance, and sometimes I'm afraid of fucking it up because I get naggy, so I spend a lot of time reminding myself not to be naggy.

Like space_cookie says, empathy is a big part of it. When I'm talking about it with other people (like in my question above), I try to let my selfish bits shine through, because no matter how much I care about Charles, there's still a part of me that feels tired and overwhelmed and wishes that I didn't have to deal with this sort of thing, ever, and I need to express that, too. But sometimes shit happens, and this shit happened to us, not just to me. And I love him, and so I want to help him get through it and be able to live confidently again.

Man, until I'd hung out with a paranoid person and tuned into that frequency, it's like I had no idea how much random coincidental shit the world churns out. Being around him for a little while in public on a bad day made me really hypersensitive to how much noise a head absorbs when going through episodes.

tl;dr: Boyfriend was going crazy, I wasn't helping matters much. We're still together, and medication is a very useful thing to have.
posted by brisquette at 12:02 AM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I also went and added the tags "bipolar" and "schizophrenia", just now. Although he didn't have that sort of diagnosis until later, I think this thread could be useful for someone in a similar situation.
posted by brisquette at 12:05 AM on June 1, 2010

Oh, man! What a tough time for you and your partner. So glad to hear that things are looking up!

I'm reeeeeally, really happy to hear that he's gotten help. Every day is different, and you're right to realize that it's not just a matter of finding the right thing and being better forever.

I hope you take time to take care of yourself. If you have support groups in your area for people whose partners have mental heath issues, or even just counseling, I'd strongly suggest that you take advantage of it (if you're not doing so already). You can't be the best partner you can be unless you have your own issues in check, and you deserve to be able to vent/work things out about your life with him in a safe space away what's going on in your relationship.

That sounds all doom and gloom now that I've typed it, but you sound like a great partner with good times ahead of you.

Have a hug!

posted by Madamina at 8:36 AM on June 1, 2010

Some years ago, I took an excellent course for family members and friends of people with schizophrenia and/or bipolar. It was put on by NAMI and I highly recommend it if it is still available.
posted by desjardins at 9:50 AM on June 1, 2010

Ah, here's the course.
posted by desjardins at 9:52 AM on June 1, 2010

It was touching to read your followup Brisquette. YOu've been an amazing girlfriend and your man is, in terms of having a loving and supportive significant other, very lucky.
posted by honey-barbara at 4:09 AM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

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