Girlfriend followed me to a new city and we moved in together. It’s not going well.
March 6, 2010 5:01 PM   Subscribe

Girlfriend followed me to a new city and we moved in together. It’s not going well.

After completing a grad program, I moved back to my hometown to study for my professional exam during the summer, then moved to a new city to start my career in a new job. Along the way, I got back together with my high school sweetheart and she followed me and we moved in together a couple months later.

Everything was great for several months in our hometown together, we both had separate pursuits and while we spent a ton of time together, we had separate lives. Fast forward to now, we’ve lived together for ~3mos and each week brings new lows. My new job is mindless and unfulfilling, she’s still unemployed and getting very depressed. She wasn’t happy with her job situation before the move and felt stuck in a deadend retail job. Now she’s here with no job and says she feels like an utter failure. Months ago she said she wanted to go back to grad school after the move, now any mention of it brings scowls or tears. My only instinct is to try and fix the situation, which to me = get her a job or something to do besides sit all day. So I try to play oblivious superhero with all the answers, ask how she is, what she did today, if she got any calls back, etc – which she takes as me badgering her and standing over her shoulder.

We don’t really talk much and there’s a lot of sulking and intentional ignoring. Last night we had a big breakdown/fight about the situation with her yelling and calling me a cold unfeeling asshole passing judgment on her all the time. I am very logical and calculating, but I try to show affection and genuinely want her to be happy here and with her own situation. I don’t want to be the guy that dragged her halfway across the country only to drive her away. I just don’t know how to be helpful and supportive without seeming condescending and overbearing.

I know moving to a new city is hard in the best of circumstances, nevermind depression and unemployment with no friends. How do we make this work?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe you just need to give her a window of time to just figure things out. If she perceives your questions as pestering then it's probably best to just back off for awhile. Let her bring it up and when she does, don't try to solve all her problems - just listen. If she asks for help, then help. Do something special for her - unrelated to finding a job but showing her that you want her to be happy.

Seriously, you guys are stressed. You said it yourself - things were great when you had separate pursuits and separate lives. Its going to take time to build that back up in a new city. While that happens, give her some space while doing small things to show her that you care about her.
posted by icy at 5:08 PM on March 6, 2010

So I try to play oblivious superhero with all the answers, ask how she is, what she did today, if she got any calls back, etc – which she takes as me badgering her and standing over her shoulder.

Well, stop doing that. She's told you how she feels about it (and you understand why she feels that way) so it might help to rebuild trust to back off a bit. If she knows she's going to have to justify her day (when she already feels awful about her life) then she's going to dread your coming home. If you don't trust that she's really trying to find work, then that's another can of worms - but from your question it doesn't sound like that's the case.
posted by moxiedoll at 5:16 PM on March 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

yeah, space. Don't always try to solve her problems. Just listening - and not always offering suggestions - is the best way to be supportive. I've been in her situation, and I will tell you from experience that she needs to know you are on her side and supporting her. By constantly offering suggestions, she feels judged. She's uber stressed about her situation, so make sure you aren't adding to her stress. Be subtle about your own sucky job situation when telling her about your day. You guys will get through this stronger, but be patient and give her space. Good luck!
posted by archivist at 5:17 PM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I feel for you, it is also hard for me not to make suggestions when someone is having a hard time and I feel like the solutions are clear and do-able.

But I think if you want to stay with her you are really going to have to put a halt to all suggestions and answer-giving- unless she directly, specifically asks you for a suggestion. I try to play oblivious superhero with all the answers, ask how she is, what she did today, if she got any calls back, etc all of that is stuff that I think you should not do anymore.

It sounds like you are doing that to demonstrate that you love her and care about her. I think a way to demonstrate love/care that would be better received by her, is to not bring up the job stuff, and just hug her and tell her you love her a lot, and compliment the stuff she does do well when that happens- if she's cooked a great meal, for example. If *she* brings up the job stuff, like telling you she sent a resume out today, just say something positive then, and don't make any further suggestions. If she mentions feeling like a failure, point out the ways that she's not.

Last thing. I think a lot of people might find this statement objectionable but-- if she stays in this rut for a looooong time and totally resists getting help if she can't get out of it herself-- I might rethink staying with her long-term. If someone has the tendency to become cripplingly overwhelmed and depressed when problems arise, it's one thing if they recognize it and work on it. It's a lot more difficult if they resist that.
posted by Ashley801 at 5:21 PM on March 6, 2010 [6 favorites]

The good news is you still love each other and this is just a rough patch in terms of environment and getting on one's feet. My advice to you is to just be a sounding board for her when she feels like talking. Bite your tongue because everything else is, as you already know, just going to make her feel bad and be taken the wrong way. Find out the little things she likes from you, if you don't already know, and just do those things routinely, whether it's kissing/hugging her, picking up your socks or keeping the fridge stocked with milk. Assuming you two are OK financially, see if you can just give her space and time to figure things out. It will make her feel better and boost her confidence if she can drop the job search for a bit and just get into her hobbies and not have to feel guilty about it. As her mood/confidence improves she'll probably find renewed motivation and will find it easier to job hunt with success.

You mention she accused you of passing judgment - make sure you really aren't. I'm not trying to belittle you in any way, and congratulations on achieving both, but success doesn't mean having a job or getting a graduate degree. You're not better than her; you've just spent time doing different things. On preview, just be supportive and do what the other posters have suggested. You'll get through it.
posted by infinityjinx at 5:29 PM on March 6, 2010

Stop trying to help and start trying to be someone who makes her feel relaxed and okay. She's clearly defensive about the situation and interpreting your questions and suggestions as pressure, so just stop. You might not even ask how her day was as she might take it is "so did you do anything productive today?" -- instead just give her a hug and say you're glad to see her.

Your job is not to help her find a job. Your job is to make her feel loved and supported whether she finds a job or not. If you want to fix something, fix that.

Concrete idea: come home with some of that bath stuff that (most?) women love. Tell her you're sorry if you made her feel pressured and that you love her and just want her to be happy. Let her know that your love and support is not contingent on her finding a job. Then draw her a warm bubble bath with some candles and relaxing music and let her really unwind.
posted by callmejay at 5:32 PM on March 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

P.S. It also sounds like she is not a good communicator, with the scowling, sulking, and ignoring. I think that is its own issue, and will continue to exacerbate problems in your relationship till it improves. But, I think it's a really delicate thing to bring up, given she's already sensitive about being judged. If she'd be open to it, it might be helpful to get some workbooks on improving communication in relationships. If you decide to do that, I don't think you should tell her it's because she's the one with the problem, though.
posted by Ashley801 at 5:37 PM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Being in a new city with no friends and no job? I can totally identify. You can't get her a job and you can't really get her friends, but you're her friend too, right? Instead of pushing her into action, you could take some action by planning some things for you two to do together, in your new city. Maybe there's a beautiful park to enjoy, or a boat ride to take, or some landmarks to visit. Maybe there's a great Moroccan restaurant to try out or a funky theater show to see. A local sport and the regional hotdog varietal? People can get really stuck in ruts and dig themselves deeper, feeling trapped and alone and helpless, and a lot of that can be mitigated with the knowledge that the place where we live is actually full of delights and enjoyable pastimes. Sometimes we need a reminder. This can't fix the big problems, but it could help strengthen your relationship with each other, and maybe perk up both of your outlooks enough to do some good.
posted by Mizu at 5:40 PM on March 6, 2010 [5 favorites]

Women can't always hear "I love you, I'm trying to help" in a fix-it focused conversation. And as frustrating as it probably is to a fix-it type guy, I doubt there's a miracle fix that can be pulled out of the bag anyway. But part of me is optimistically hoping that having a big, out-in-the-open fight might have helped her, just by letting some of her (and your?) built up frustration out.

Speaking as a third party with nothing on the line: I think you ought to wait 'til she's completely calm, and then open a conversation. Ask her if she really meant what she said. Probably she'll downplay or flat out deny, even if she meant every word of it, but that will give you a foot in the door to ask what she actually does want of you.

Hearing your man say "I'm sad, I feel helpless, I want to help you, can you tell me what to do to make this situation better for you" can be remarkably disarming.

(And speaking as a woman: Have you checked the calendar? I would NOT bring that question up if you want to walk out of the room with your head still attached, but if I've been upset over something and that PMS bug comes around, I can WAY overreact and say pretty beastly stuff before I've even got a handle on why. And then feel really guilty about it a week later.)

And on the finding a job front: If she's trying to break out of retail and hasn't found any openings on her own, a temp agency might be the next gun to bring onto the scene: Get a stretch of recent office work under her belt and then try job hunting with some relevant experience. I've had some great jobs through temporary employment agencies. In addition to being better connected than the average bear in a crappy economy where no on is hiring, they're good at figuring out where people might fit in. Google "Employment Agency" or something along those lines and your locality to find what's out there.

Mind, whether a temp agency ever calls you back is a complete crapshoot, so if she goes that route, she should apply with several agencies and bug them/show up on their doorstep on a regular basis. If she needs to brush up on computer skills, many of them offer free in-house tutorials on common programs as well, which is a great excuse to make one's presence obvious.
posted by Ys at 6:16 PM on March 6, 2010

ask how she is, what she did today, if she got any calls back, etc – which she takes as me badgering her and standing over her shoulder.
Yeah, I would feel the same. Looking for a job is hard. It can be very discouraging. She already feels like an utter failure, you asking her if she got any calls and her having to say no only exacerbates that.

Here’s how I imagine you could turn things around. Tomorrow, you say to her, genuinely and sincerely, “I think you’re beautiful.” (even if she hasn’t washed her hair yet.) Maybe she’ll give you a suspicious look. You say, “I’ve been thinking that I haven’t been supportive of you in your job search. So when you get a chance, please tell me how I can help you and be supportive of you. Until then, I won’t ask you anything about it and I won’t offer solutions. But I want you know that I love you, I will listen to you, I’m here for you, and I believe in your intelligence and abilities.” Saying that is going to make a HUGE difference (I hope!).

If she doesn’t get back to you about how you can be supportive of her, don’t ask her about it! Then you’re right back to square one. Do other things to be supportive of her, like making her breakfast one day, taking her out, a massage, etc. Boost her up by being a great partner, not her job search officer.

If nothing changes, and she’s still sulky and bitter, say again, “I’ve tried to be supportive of you, is there anything else I can do?” Then start talking about breaking up. If she doesn’t let her needs be known, then what else is there for you to do? You need to know how to be supportive, how can you if she doesn’t tell you?
posted by foxjacket at 6:18 PM on March 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

Like everyone else says, give her the benefit of the doubt that she's doing her best, and don't bring it up. It's just insulting her intelligence.

In the meantime, getting out and doing something fun (and cheap) would be good for both of you. Have you thought about suggesting you sign up for something like an art class or a gym class together? Something to get you both laughing and moving and bonding and getting your mind off your troubles even if it's just for an hour a week.

Is she getting out of the house regularly? Sometimes feeling stuck can totally kill any momentum or motivation you might have once had to the point that even thinking about what you should be doing is painful. Just having somewhere to go helped me feel like the world still existed and I could still find a place in it and also just gave me something to think about other than how useless I felt.
posted by amethysts at 6:30 PM on March 6, 2010

I hate to say this, but this seems like a new relationship and you need to consider where it is going and whether you are actually getting anything from it now, and do you still see this person as someone you would want to spend 5 more years with? 30?

She is clearly in a funk right now, and unfortunately maybe your relationship is not in the best interests for either of you. To me this seems like a situation where you should consider cutting her loose, because honestly it seems like she needs a good kick in the butt to figure her life out, and you need a break from her problems.

Good luck either way.
posted by BobbyDigital at 6:35 PM on March 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

Maybe she just needs time to figure it out on her own, without feeling judged, even if you're not judging her.. but how to tell her that?

Stupid question, but have you actually flat-out asked her how she feels about things, about herself, about the new city, what she feels like when trying to think about the future? I only have my personal experience to go on, but I have def gotten frustrated and lashed out at people in a similar situation. Because your girlfriend is capable of finding a job and/or applying to grad school, the problem is that she's feeling too bad about herself to do it.

So.. personally, when this happened to me, at heart, I felt like all people were concerned about was work and money and material things and having the appropriate advanced degree, while I just wanted them to ask me (and care about) whether I was happy and to care when I felt awful, if I did. And since they didn't ask, I figured they didn't care, and it was hard to come to terms with that. Maybe we were speaking different languages because logical people do care, but speak like logical people, that's what they know. But from my point of view sometimes it feels I'm like trying to say, "hey I feel isolated in this new city and unaccomplished and demoralized and miss my friends and family," and the other person is like "but did you do your taxes yet and what do you think about the price of real estate?" It's like they don't want to hear it, and I'm not saying you have to try and get all emo yourself, but showing empathy might help, since honestly her reaction seems like a perfectly normal human response to a big life change that landed her in a difficult and isolating new environment.
posted by citron at 7:11 PM on March 6, 2010

Can she join a women's volunteer organization or a church group or something like that, where she can meet people and DO something in the interim? Can you guys join one together -- Jaycees or a Young Professionals Org or a canoeing club or SOMETHING? That way you can meet people, she can develop some interests, and hopefully feel a little better about stuff.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:11 PM on March 6, 2010

After supportively giving her space, you might also own up to what's going on for you. "It's hard to see you sad. That's why I'm always trying to help you get a job, sorry. But what I really want is for us to have fun together like we did. Do you think there's a way to make this phase less hard?"

P.S. Oh my god do NOT consider it PMS. A person can say "I'm being emotional because I'm tired/premenstrual/getting sick" about themselves. For anyone to write off what's going on for someone else is condescending, and doing so with PMS as the explanation perpetuates sexism.
posted by salvia at 7:19 PM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do you have the super secret formula for finding a job? Probably not, or you'd have an awesome gig yourself.

Here's the scoop. You are probably telling her the exact stuff she already knows - send resumes, make follow up calls, network, etc. Having someone tell you what you already know is annoying. That she's failing to find a job has got to be irritating to her. Your second guessing her is salt in the wound. Of course, that's not your intent. You're trying to be supportive and engaged. I just doesn't feel like that to her.

Sometimes the only thing you can do I agree to not take out your frustrations on each other.
posted by 26.2 at 7:29 PM on March 6, 2010

I don't have much to add except this: about 12 years ago, I was in your EXACT situation - to the letter. With the same problem. In retrospect, I wish I'd had the advice of ashley, callmejay and especially Ys in this thread. All good stuff.
posted by Thistledown at 7:34 PM on March 6, 2010

The cliche is that, when faced with problems, women want a sounding board and men want solutions - I hate saying that it's a strictly gender-based dichotomy, but I do think that some people are one way and some are the other, and that's what this problem sounds like to me.

And on top of that, to a depressed person especially, the oblivious superhero thing can sound... well, oblivious. Like so:

Depressed person: God, I feel so miserable I could just crawl into a cave and die.
Oblivious superhero: Well, gee, why don't you try smiling?
Depressed person: *bursts into tears*

That's a really dumbed-down version, but that's kind of what it sounds like to a depressed person. She might be getting the impression that you don't understand her at all. And that's a pretty awful feeling in itself.

That said, she's going to have to work on things too. She's going to have to make an effort to feel better, because she's the only one who can pull herself out of this. And she's going to have to learn to communicate with you openly and honestly instead of sulking and ignoring.

You will need to have a calm, gentle, but honest conversation about this. Something like "I love you and I want to support you and I want to make this work, but I need to know you're making an effort to make it work too. I need you to [actively try to get well, talk to me when you're upset with me instead of just stewing, etc. Don't make this part too specific because it will sound like you're trying to manage her]. What do you need from me?"

I've been there too. Almost exactly one year ago, I moved halfway across the country to a city where I didn't know anyone, and it fired up my depression pretty bad. My boyfriend was very supportive, but as you've figured out by now, it's really hard to support someone in the throes of depression, and no matter how patient you are and how much you care, you can't cure them yourself. With the help of therapy and switching my medication, I eventually clawed my way back up - but it has been my fight. The success of just about any relationship in which depression is a factor depends on how willing the depressed person is to fight for themselves. If your girlfriend remains unwilling to put in the effort in the long run, this may not be a good relationship for you.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:37 PM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Being unemployed is a really horrible feeling when you all you want to do is get a job. I know that when I was unemployed, I hated it when people asked me how my day was or if I got any calls back. I hated the feeling of acknowledging my uselessness. I intentionally avoided talking to people who might ask me about it or who might even be thinking about it when spending time with me, including friends and family, and I didn't even have a live-in boyfriend at the time. So, stop doing that. As long as you know she's looking for a job, you don't need to ask her about it.

You guys need to be able to talk about other things though, and it sucks that she's just sitting around all day. Although I was always depressed when unemployed, I did keep myself busy with hobbies when I wasn't obsessively checking job postings and sending out resumes. I was also generally relieved when 6PM rolled around every day, and on weekends, because I knew at that time there was no use job hunting because all the employers had gone home for the day. So think of ways you two can enjoy your time together on weeknights and on weekends that have absolutely nothing to do with her finding employment, and have faith that she will be able to get a job eventually.

Is there anything you can get for her, something she can do around the house to take her mind off things for a little while each day? Since you're not even happy in your own job, it doesn't sound like either of you is in a position to make the other feel better. It would really help her to feel like she is accomplishing something on her own, even if it isn't employment. You didn't mention money being an issue for the two of you. Volunteering wouldn't be a bad idea as long as you can afford to pay the bills for a little while.
posted by wondermouse at 7:44 PM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you take out the "she relocated her life because of me" issue, does that still make you want to make this work? If this was happening where you lived before would you still want this to work out? If yes, then follow several of the suggestions mentioned above. If not, then break it off and offer to help her move back.
posted by thorny at 12:36 AM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

You just had a fight? Awesome. That means you're already in a conversation, you just need to continue it. Don't let it end on a sour note. Tell her what you told us.

You go to her and you say, "Sweetie, I'm sorry we had that fight. I know we were both upset, and I just want to make sure that you know that I genuinely want you to be happy here and with your own situation. I don’t want to be the guy that dragged you halfway across the country only to drive you away. I just don’t know how to be helpful and supportive in the way that you need. I'm sorry I keep trying to jump in with solutions—I'm just trying to help, but I'll stop if it's just making you feel worse."

And then you hug her.

And then you listen.
posted by heatherann at 6:43 AM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

>>P.S. Oh my god do NOT consider it PMS. A person can say "I'm being emotional because I'm tired/premenstrual/getting sick" about themselves. For anyone to write off what's going on for someone else is condescending, and doing so with PMS as the explanation perpetuates sexism.

Clarification for Salvia: I'm not suggesting that the problem is created by PMS. I am not even saying that she's got PMS. But this is a woman we're talking about. And some of us --not all by any means-- are profoundly affected by our hormonal cycles.

There's a lot of sympathy out there for depression and suggestions about trying to soothe the angry/frustrated/depressed female. So why is it taboo to throw another medically & psychologicaly recognized phenomenon into the hopper? I'm sure experiences differ *widely*, but for me, when it's in full force, it's like truth serum crossed with rabies.

So let's say he checks the calendar: OOPS! Right on schedule for a major blowup!

Does this mean the fight is no longer relevant? Hell no. Personally, I have NEVER gone Ape Shit Crazy over something that wasn't truly upsetting me before the PMS blew it out into the open. The core content is still valid, but it comes out raw and bleeding with this destructive surge of hate that goes as quickly as it comes. And the aftermath of those events is the kind of emotional wreckage that can be hard to apologize for, much less repair. It's never what I wanted when I opened my mouth.

She hurt this man. If she did it under the influence of strong hormonal tides, I would consider that relevant information. It would put the fight itself in a completely different category of consideration than the months of sulking.
posted by Ys at 5:49 PM on March 7, 2010

Yes, there are many possible biological explanations. The OP may also want to ask himself is she was tired, sick, in the process of quitting smoking or caffeine, sexually frustrated, or crashing off a sugar high. Yes, in a perfect world, we could consider monthly hormonal cycles, and we would ask ourselves with equal seriousness whether men's hormones inhibit their ability to be level-headed. But in the current world, it gives sexist people a reason to dismiss women that they don't have for dismissing men. That's why I don't like it when people single out PMS as the one thing that they mention. Since PMS is no more likely than other biological factors, to avoid spreading the idea that women are biologically less rational than men, I'd like it if we either recommend the OP consider all biological factors (most of which affect both genders) or we don't suggest that he find biological explanations for her behavior.
posted by salvia at 6:43 PM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

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