Is it time to go even if it hurts to do so?
December 9, 2009 1:13 PM   Subscribe

Is it time to move on? Long story.

We've been together for 4 years and we both love each other deeply. I've never felt about anyone the way I feel about her and she has communicated a similar feeling to me. Over the course of our relationship we have by and large gotten on without issue save for her inability to get things done. This manifests in things like leaving dishes out for days (that I eventually do), not making it places on time, waiting til the last minute to get papers done for school, not doing things she promised to do and so on. For a while all of this was overlookable because so many other aspects of the relationship are great. Now that shes back in school more seriously we have very little time together and this habit is infringing on the small amount of time that we do have. I've told her that I feel like she isn't being considerate of my needs when she puts off projects that mean she can't do things with me or doesn't come home when she says she will from being out doing other things. I don't feel like she is consciously making these choices in a selfish fashion, its more just that she doesn't see that they impact me.
I am by nature a care-giver. I derive the majority of my happiness from taking care of other people and making them feel loved. The past 6 months or so however I've been struggling with depression again and I need more care from her. I've communicated this to her over and over and yet she hasn't changed her behavior.
I am stuck here. She isn't being malicious, but I can't get her to be less of a space cadet and be places on time or schedule her time such that she can give me what I need in the very limited time we have together. We keep getting caught in this cycle where I get stressed and communicate my need for more attention from her which in turn stresses her out because she hates being the source of my dissatisfaction yet can't seem to change her behavior.
A few days ago a conversation related to this topic turned into "well, despite loving each other maybe we just aren't right for each other." While my frustrations are still present this is devastating to me. She is my best friend and my other half and I'd much rather be frustrated than without her. Am I a fool for feeling this way about someone who just can't give me what I need despite repeated requests? Should I just let go even if its not what I want?
Followup questions can go to
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (29 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I think that if her inability to be as reliable and responsible as you'd like is bothering you to the point where you are asking the internet if you should break up, then yes, you probably should break up.
posted by joelhunt at 1:26 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

It may be that she wants to do those things you need her to do, but she has a psychological problem that makes it very difficult for her. Depression, anxiety, ADHD, and avoidant personality disorder are some of the things that can cause the behaviors you described. Would she be willing to see a therapist?
posted by Ashley801 at 1:29 PM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'd much rather be frustrated than without her.

I think that's your answer. That said, I think you should evaluate that statement. There are women out there who will be more together, attentive, willing to give you what you need. I don't think people like this change much (I have a few friends who remind me of this) but it isn't impossible. Personally, I wouldn't stick around for this.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 1:29 PM on December 9, 2009

I dropped you an e-mail to ask how old you guys are.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:32 PM on December 9, 2009

I don't think it's time to go. It sounds like you have a great relationship, but a significant gap in concepts of responsibility and planning ability. If you two stay together and that's the worst problem you have, it'll be a pretty remarkable success story. That being said, you need to take care of yourself - if you put her or your relationship over your own well-being, then both of you will suffer for it.

I think there are ways to overcome the problems without calling it off. Perhaps you two should try living in separate places for a while so you can each have your own standard of cleanliness (note - this would be a pretty delicate conversation to have - you probably want to avoid the appearance of kicking her out or breaking up by moving out). Maybe you two can agree on a couple times every week that are designated for being together - just make it clear that those times are inviolable; it doesn't matter if she needs to finish her project, or whatever.

Another idea - try starting a long-term project with her, like writing a novel, or refurbishing a car, or whatever you're both into. That might help create time to spend together organically.

You might consider asking her if she would see a counselor about her procrastination/forgetfulness/lack of organization. I'm sure there are experts out there who can help her work on this - I'm sure it's a problem for her as well as you.

However you go about this, make sure you put your foot down, though gently. Something like "I love you, and I really want this relationship to work out, but this that and the other thing are really making it hard for me. How can we fix this?"

Good luck.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 1:33 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

She will never change. Believe this. Now, do you want to live the rest of your life with her behaving exactly the way she has behaved up until this point?

If yes, stop trying to change her. Don't nag, don't complain, don't give her tips on how to fix her issues. Just do what you need to do to make your life manageable, and let her live the way she wants to live.

If no, break up.

You're both going to drive each other crazy if you continue to date with you reacting this way to her behavior. So either you need to stop reacting this way, or you need to stop dating. Those are the only two options you have any control over, and therefore you need to behave as though those are the only two options, period, and go from there.
posted by decathecting at 1:41 PM on December 9, 2009 [5 favorites]

No. You said yourself that you would rather be frustrated with her than without her. Sounds like she has some sort of unaddressed issue. She could probably go her entire life not addressing it, but it will affect all her relationships including the one with herself.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:47 PM on December 9, 2009

She will never change. Believe this. Now, do you want to live the rest of your life with her behaving exactly the way she has behaved up until this point?

People change all the time. It's called growing up.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:51 PM on December 9, 2009 [4 favorites]

Am I a fool for feeling this way about someone who just can't give me what I need despite repeated requests? Should I just let go even if its not what I want?

There is no list of things that make you a fool. The question is what do you want? If you want this to continue, then fine.

But I predict that if you let this go, she will start doing more things you don't like.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:54 PM on December 9, 2009

Would both of you be willing to see a relationship therapist? A couple people have suggested that she get some counseling, but I don't love the idea that she needs to be "fixed" in order for the relationship to work. What you need to do is figure out how you (and your habits, preferences, and goals) can make a life with her (and her habits, preferences, and goals)--a happy life, that is. It may or may not be possible, but I don't think the key is for her the change who she is, it's for her to find a way to be herself while giving you what you need from her (if that's possible).
posted by Meg_Murry at 2:10 PM on December 9, 2009

I'd much rather be frustrated than without her.

There's a day that will change, suddenly, and that day will be horrible for all involved. Leave before that.
posted by anti social order at 2:11 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm going to just jump in to say that yes people change all the time, but you shouldn't ever count on it. It has to be an internal motivation, an external motivation won't work and can easily make things worse. So in my opinion decathecting is right.

Rephrasing slightly, it's not up to you whether she changes or not, it's up to her. She may care for you enough to find the internal motivation to change, or she may really, really want to change, but just isn't able to for some reason, or she may not really want to change at all. She may change and revert back, or a hundred other things that you can't plan around or count on. You shouldn't make decisions on uncertain futures.

Decide if the behavior is a show-stopper. If it is, have a conversation with her about it, and if you have to, leave the relationship. If you leave, it doesn't mean you can't come back, it just means that the current situation is intolerable.

If you decide to stick it out, realize that you will have to realize she won't change overnight, that you'll have to accept little changes over periods of times, and that there will be reversions and setbacks.

I guess an exception would be if the issue is some underlying condition (depression, ADD, etc).

I guess that wasn't that quick ... but it's what it looks like from my viewpoint.
posted by forforf at 2:16 PM on December 9, 2009

Yes, yes, I'm aware that people change and grow and become better people all the time. What I was trying to get across is that other people have no control over whether someone will change, and so the OP in this case should behave as though it's never going to happen. Because it might not, and if it does, it'll have very little to do with his actions. All the OP can do is decide whether s/he can live with things as they are, and then determine how s/he wants to proceed.
posted by decathecting at 2:27 PM on December 9, 2009

It's the little things you describe that are the red flags for me (dishes, punctuality).

If she's so selfish/self-absorbed that she can't ever get around to doing the dishes or get somewhere on time, what makes you think she'll suddenly nurture you?

Sounds like she loves you, but in every scenario she will pick her own needs and desires first.

I think you know the answer...
posted by teg4rvn at 2:33 PM on December 9, 2009

To riff off the earlier comment that noted ADHD could be an explanation for her symptoms:

This is a mix of anecdata and professional opinion, but oftentimes people in your position also are found to also suffer from ADHD. Inability to control emotional and thought-looping impulses creates problems when these people feel others are not paying enough (needed, healthy) attention to them. In addition, ADHD and depression/anxiety are very, very often found strolling hand-in-hand.

I am in no way saying that your needs aren't real. They are totally real & totally legitimate. You need dependability and compassion in a partner. I just feel it is important to know that, if and when your partner becomes less self-absorbed and starts trying to put your needs first, it may do you good to keep in mind that you will, in turn, need to break mental habits of your own concerning reactions to her actions.

I hope things work out for you. Two stressed-out people makes life less fun.
posted by opossumnus at 2:53 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Wow, I'm sending you an email.
posted by ishotjr at 2:56 PM on December 9, 2009

People change all the time. It's called growing up.
People don't grow up in this way if they have someone taking care of them so they don't have to. If they have someone fixing their problems and cleaning up after them, they have no reason to change.
I said this in more detail in my email to OP, but you have to let people fuck up for themselves without helping them out of it or else they will never learn to actually take care of themselves or their duties to others.
posted by ishotjr at 3:11 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Followup from Anonymous via e-mail: He's 26, she's 24.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:21 PM on December 9, 2009

I am stuck here. She isn't being malicious, but I can't get her to be less of a space cadet and be places on time or schedule her time such that she can give me what I need in the very limited time we have together

Ask/demand that she see a psychiatrist and be screened for ADHD. My husband could have written this...if she doesn't want to be screened, or thinks her behavior is fine and doesn't want to change, then you have a tougher road to follow. But for now, she really should be screened.

She is my best friend and my other half and I'd much rather be frustrated than without her.

Make sure she knows this.

Put a "pause" on relationship discussions for now, until you both are better sorted out. I would not make any large life decisions while depressed, if you can help it--your thinking is not completely clear right now.

I think that you should also see a therapist, no matter what happens.
posted by kathrineg at 4:46 PM on December 9, 2009

And honestly, if she does have ADHD and get help for it, she will probably become more considerate. Very few people enjoy being late, being stressed, neglecting their partner, being surrounded by rotting dishes, etc.
posted by kathrineg at 4:51 PM on December 9, 2009

To be honest, this just sounds like her personality. She's a procrastinator/flake, and this is being said by a terrible procrastinator and occasional flake. I also tend to be the nurturer/giver in my relationships, however, so the two don't seem mutually exclusive to me. That doesn't mean she can't change, be more aware of how her habits effect you, and be more caring. The question is does she want to change, how long can you wait for her to change, and what are you willing to live with?

In my mind, putting off a paper and delaying doing the dishes is worlds away from not being there for a depressed partner or not investing fully in a relationship. I wouldn't end a relationship over dirty dishes or professional deadlines, but I would walk away from someone who isn't there when I need them or is unconcerned when I am floundering. The first two examples are annoying, and the last two are hurtful. Try to separate the two, and maybe you might make more progress. Best of luck to you both.
posted by katemcd at 5:57 PM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

If these activities are important to you, and if she can't get her shit together enough to do them on her own, do them together. It ain't the best sort of quality time, but it will get stuff done, and it's much better than gritting your teeth all the time. And she may begin to resent these things less if she sees you taking the lead and asking for her help, rather than making demands that she (apparently) doesn't have the tools or ability to complete on her own.

At the same time, you may need to completely rethink your expectations w/r/t her ability to intuit your needs and respond to them. Some people are simply too wrapped up in their own internal drama, dialog, and/or storyline to see others as people with legitimate needs that take precedence over their own. She may be one of those people. If that's the case, you will need to accept that this is just the way she is, and if you want to continue to enjoy your relationship with her, you will need to change your expectations to align with the reality of your situation.

Most people do become more mature as they get older, but some people never acquire the personality bits that are necessary for punctuality, cleanliness, or order. They live lives of chaos, moving from crisis to crisis, and they leave wakes of unfinished business and hurt feelings behind them. I had a childhood friend that was like this, and I eventually had to let the relationship wither because he managed to fuck up his life so completely that I couldn't deal with it or his blasé attitude towards it. It sucked, but it had to be done.

Loving someone really does mean accepting them for who they are, but it takes more than love to make a relationship work. You can want your loved one to change, you can help and support them if they want to change, but you cannot expect them to change, nor can you change them unilaterally.

Staying with this person may not be easy, but that doesn't make it wrong. However, this is your life -- the only one you get AFAIK -- and it goes by quickly. Decisions you make now in your mid-20's can come to haunt you in your mid-30's or 40's, and fill you with regret and resentment. If you stay in the relationship, assume the status quo behavior will continue until you see otherwise, and be prepared for it.
posted by mosk at 6:11 PM on December 9, 2009

The age thing makes a big difference to me. She's 24. Many, many 24 year olds leave dishes in the sink and wait until the last minute to write papers. Many, many people of all ages are tardy. It has nothing to do with you or whomever they're in a relationship with. If every person who left dishes in the sink or procrastinated with homework or showed up late for things had ADHD, there'd be a pharmacist installed in every bathroom. I don't really see what her timetable for paper-writing has to do with you. I understand that it makes less time for you to spend together, but as a 24-year-old student, she is probably juggling a lot of priorities and apparently has less-than-stellar time-management skills.

I am by nature a care-giver. I derive the majority of my happiness from taking care of other people and making them feel loved.

This is the issue here. To you, loving someone means "taking care" of them. You probably have a very specific set of behaviors that mean "love," as does everyone. Because she is not behaving that way, you see it as her not loving you. Aren't there things that she does for you that, to her, are her ways of showing that she loves you? Focus on those things, instead of trying to make her behave how you want. And if you can't reconcile the two ways of loving, then you need to be with someone else. There's some book, which I haven't read, but sounds promising, called something like the Five Love Languages. Maybe read that.

The past 6 months or so however I've been struggling with depression again and I need more care from her. I've communicated this to her over and over and yet she hasn't changed her behavior.
I hope that you're in therapy and are not self-diagnosing and expecting to get everything you need emotionally and psychologically from your busy-student girlfriend. When you communicate to her that you need "more care," what do you say exactly? Do you say "I want to spend more time with you, and I think we'd be able to spend more time together if you managed your time better, what do you think?" Or do you say "Why don't you care about me more? If you cared about me, you'd get your papers done on time so that we could spend more time together." And what does she say? Does she say she doesn't give a shit, or that of course she loves and cares about you?

Maybe, even though she does love you deeply and care about you, she feels somewhat burdened by your depression and your increasing needs in the relationship. It could even be that her flakiness is a symptom of that instead of just a personality trait. Have you talked about this in that light? Besides the therapy I hope you're seeking, do you have other interests, other friends, other outlets, other ways to get your needs met, or is it just her?

I just feel like you are attributing an intent to her actions that are unrealistic. You say you don't think she's being selfish, but that's pretty much what it sounds like to me.
posted by thebazilist at 7:05 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I married my husband after dating for 5 years and I still sometimes feel like he doesn't hear what I say, no matter how I say it, or that he blows off things I feel are important. This used to cause me a lot of grief. Especially once we got married about a year and a half ago, even though it had been happening the whole time and I had no complaints, because he's a really good and responsible man. I think I just got more sensitive and demanding. I expected more, even when that wasn't the reasonable thing, really. He'd been the same the whole time. He's extremely honest, works hard, loves his family, and is good with money. He's a rock and a big goofball all at the same time, and that is why I love him so much. He also is very nurturing to me and the children, in his own way. The way he nurtures and the way I nurture are not the same. I'm the serious queen bee at home (this is not a democracy) and he's a fabulous step-dad and works very hard.

We tended to get into arguments about silly things like where things went in the kitchen. I have decided that when I put things away, I'll put them where I like, and when he does, he'll put them where he likes. If we can't find a particular thing, we ask where it might be. Eventually, those things will find a home, right? I'd been single for a long time and was very, very set in my ways, and took simple stuff like this way too personally and seriously. In my defense, I've been recovering from an abusive relationship for almost a decade and had to figure out how a healthy one works. Turns out that my parents and his parents were both good examples, but without the whole abuse aspect.

Please take a deep breath. And then another.
The book, The Five Love Languages (I think I got it right? I read part of it.), frequently mentioned here, may be a good read for you.

If she's in school and you're feeling like the school time is infringing on your time as a couple, go to where she is. Maybe if you show up and help her with her school projects, she'll realize that YOU ARE THERE and possibly reciprocate. My husband did that for me with my non-school projects, and it was a big wake-up call to me. It's so easy to get locked into your own stuff, you know?

I'm sorry that you two are having a hard time right now.

The 4-year mark is hard. Probably lots of pressure from families, especially with your ages and maybe the expectations of grandchildren. When my husband and I had been dating for almost 4 years, we had marriage plans that I postponed for an extra year, just to be sure. It was the smart thing.

Control-F find no cases of DTMFA, and that is a good sign, especially for AskMe. If I thought the relationship wasn't salvageable or was toxic, I'd be telling you to split right now. I almost broke up with my now husband, though, because of solvable stuff, and now I'm really glad I didn't.
posted by lilywing13 at 11:20 PM on December 9, 2009

1. Listen to "The way of the superior man" audiobook, by David Deida. The guy sounds pretty herbed-up for most of it, but if you listen a few times, you will understand some of the reasons your girl is the way she is. Or, at least have one perspective on it.

2. Read "Too good to leave, too bad to stay", by Mira Kirshenbaum. She asks a series of hard questions that will let you objectively evaluate whether you should stay or leave.

Good luck.
posted by flutable at 3:28 AM on December 10, 2009

Seconding flutable's recommendation for "Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay." It helped me decide to leave my last marriage, and to stay with the current one. In retrospect I believe the choices I made based on the book were appropriate.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:07 AM on December 10, 2009

Time management and housekeeping have been stumbling blocks for me my entire life. I'm 44 years old, intelligent, self-aware, have been very motivated to change and have read every book in existance on time management and organization, and I STILL can't seem to get my shit together. I've gotten a little better as I've gotten older, but unless some sort of miracle solution kicks in I don't think I'm ever going to be the organized, efficient person I'd like to be.

Being criticized about it constantly (in past relationships, and by my family) has never helped me... it only makes me feel shittier about it.

I think if you want to stay together then this is something you would have to work on accepting. Maybe relax your standards a little... is it really so horrible if the dishes sit for a few days? It may not seem fair but maybe you could just make it your job to do the dishes in a timely manner (it seems not to be a big deal to just get up and do them for organized types I've known.) Will she help you with chores if you ask her in the moment ("Hey, can you come help me with X?") Is there any way you can take some of the pressure off both of you (hire a housekeeper, eat out more often, use paper plates, simplify your household so chores are easier, etc.?") And find some alternate methods of getting some of your own needs met (therapist, good friend to talk to, hobbies?) Maybe there is some sort of workaround here.

I guess what it boils down to is this. She's probably not going to change much unless she "grows out of it" which I guess some people do but you can't count on that. Either she's fine with the way she is and your criticism is making her feel bad, or she already feels horrible about it and you are making her feel worse. I can understand why she would consider breaking up with you, even if she loves you very much, if she just feels like she's letting you down all the time.

It might be helpful if you pick and agree on one or two things that are REALLY important to you and hold her to those. If she can't/won't cooperate on doing anything you want her to do to make you happy, then you may be dealing with a case of incompatibility or genuine selfishness that is insurmountable.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:33 AM on December 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

I too struggle with depression, and I really wanted my boyfriend to support me when I am going through rough times. He tries his best, but has no experience with mental illness and I would get very frustrated and used to feel like wasn't even trying to help me. Finally I realized he just wasn't capable of being what I needed. I eventually learned to lean on my family and friends and things are so much better now.

Maybe she just isn't capable of being all the things you need..and no one will ever be perfect. You seem to mention a lot of the negative, which I know I do when I am in a depression. Just make sure you are keeping a balanced view of the situation.
posted by heatherly at 1:26 PM on December 10, 2009

katemcd said exactly what I was going to say.
posted by salvia at 8:26 AM on December 12, 2009

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