Can "a break" be a good thing or are we doomed?
May 25, 2010 10:38 AM   Subscribe

My partner of almost two years and I are "taking a break." Is it possible that this could be a period of growth and not just the death rattle of our (up until recently) happy relationship? Have you ever taken a break successfully?

My boyfriend and I are (were?) really great together for a long time. All the typical stuff just right on target--we make each other laugh, have endless conversation, great physical chemistry, same views on important stuff, same general goals (family, kids, etc), it was your basic "good fit" thing. I love him to pieces and I know the feeling is mutual. He treats me so well and I feel lucky I found him.

He graduated college 6 mos ago and hasn't found a job since then. He has been kind of aimless in the interim, not really looking, feeling kind of lost about what he wants to do. Kind of quarter-life crisis material. I just graduated a week ago, and as my graduate date approached I felt more worried about him not really *doing* anything. He has lots of savings from his only parent dying in his teen years (no siblings). Therefore he's probably partly unmotivated due to lack of acute need and lack of family support/pressure of any kind.

We started bickering more and more about his lack of job in the last month. I couldn't stop bringing the situation up since it began to worry me more and more that he was never going to work and that we were doomed. I know you can't keep going in different directions in a relationship indefinitely. Also, his best friend took me aside a few weeks ago to say he was worried about him, that he'd been staying in his room a lot and not going out all day and sleeping more than normal. Once I knew this I couldn't stop worrying.

I confronted him a few days after that exchange and basically said that I was concerned. He reacted defensively like he usually does (it's my life, stay out of it, I don't tell you what to do, etc) but finally broke down crying (unusual for him) and said he's depressed, feels hopeless and hates himself, wants to work but has no idea where to begin, and is smoking weed too much and worries that he's abusing it in order to cope with his feelings. I was sad to hear this but suspected some of those things, though I didn't realize they were so severe because he is a little bit evasive about his emotions. He said he felt he needed space to figure things out, that he felt unable to give support back to me at this time, and wanted to take a break so he could focus on himself. He told me he loves me, is not just trying to punish me by doing this, and that there is no one else. I told him I'm sorry he's in so much pain, to please seek therapy, that I love him also and believe in his ability to have a happy life, and that I would let him contact me when he was ready.

It's been a little less than 2 weeks. In the meantime, I graduated. He wasn't there and it made me incredibly sad and even kind of angry. I sent a text saying it wasn't the same without him and I was thinking of him. He replied the next day that he was sorry he wasn't there but hoped it was good and that he is proud of me. It was a nice thought, but I can't help but feel bummed out that he didn't wish me well on his own initiative. It feels so sad to have someone be your best friend one day and then ignore your graduation the next. That's all the contact we've had. It's been tough emotionally but I have also been resolved that it's the right thing for now if I want any chance for things to get better. I mostly hate not knowing if things are really over, although this was framed as a "break" and not "the end" during our conversation, and I don't think he would say that just to wuss out of saying it's over for real. I know there's a lot of love there; I don't have that feeling of doom I've had in other situations when I know the relationship is dead. Just confusion, sadness, and then a sort of weird peace that comes with trying to be selfless with your love, I guess.

I feel very sad about this situation. I know right now I just need to live my life the best I can and be prepared for it not to work out, but I still really love this person and had hopeful visions of a bright future together. I'm just wondering what people think about this and how I should approach it? For the most part I think I just need to make good on my promises of space and let time handle it, but that's hard because I like to drive things to resolution and hate uncertainty. That's pretty much how we got into this mess to begin with, really. Have you ever observed a relationship where space resolved the issues? Do you think I am crazy to have any hope? Should I be thinking about this in a different way? Any thoughts (be kind if you can) would be appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This sounds like a tough situation, but it also sounds like you and your partner do not have the compatibility that you describe initially.

Maybe it's what sounds like his depression, or his or your frustration borne of the job hunt situation, or a difference in outlooks, but it seems like it is a pretty big deal for the two of you.

Unless one or both of you change (without the other forcing the change), I wouldn't count on getting back together and being happy in that state.
posted by zippy at 10:54 AM on May 25, 2010

In general a break is not a good thing and here's why: you're always the fallback person so he doesn't actually have to experience the loss of the relationship and you're stuck with a boyfriend without any benefits. Without any intimacy (emotional or otherwise) you won't have anything to hold you two together. You might want to define the terms of the "break". Are you allowed to see other people? Is the break indefinite or is there a time period? Will there be no communication or occasional emails?

You can use this time to evaluate what you want, where you're going, and what you need from a long-term relationship and consider whether this person meets your needs or if he needs to do some things to meet those needs (like go to therapy, for example).

One thing you will want to do just in case things don't work out is to set a time frame for how long you will hang around for him to pull himself together. The hallmark of depression is an inability to make decisions or act, and you don't want to be in this limbo forever.
posted by Kimberly at 10:58 AM on May 25, 2010 [4 favorites]

A "break" usually means "we're done." Also, what Kimberly said.

You say he "treats you so well." I wouldn't quantify being defensive, smoking pot as a coping mechanism, ignoring your graduation, being unmotivated due to family funds, and not making contact with you as "treating you well," FWIW.

Obviously, this guy's depressed. But it's up to him as to whether he wants to get psychological help or not. You can't force him. But allowing him to mistreat you isn't the answer, either.
posted by December at 11:04 AM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

He reacted defensively like he usually does (it's my life, stay out of it, I don't tell you what to do, etc) but finally broke down crying (unusual for him) and said he's depressed, feels hopeless and hates himself, wants to work but has no idea where to begin, and is smoking weed too much and worries that he's abusing it in order to cope with his feelings.

This is the crux of your issue I'm afraid. Pot is not harmless and causes mental changes which do not add up to success [unless you're a musician or artist who might purposely do so to be more creative?] Otherwise many of the people I have known who used pot regularly have languished in dead end menial jobs. [if they worked at all]

I know there will doubtless be an outcry of this statement--but you really need to remove this substance from your lives and find something more healthful to take up your time.
posted by AuntieRuth at 11:06 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Have you ever observed a relationship where space resolved the issues?

Yes, but only once. my parents took a break as part of a whole counseling/near-divorce/debacle but that was 20 years into a marriage not 2 years into a college romance.

In my personal experience this is always more deathrattle than respite.

Do you think I am crazy to have any hope?

Not at all, but you should take a long hard look at What you're hoping for. What do you want from him, from yourself, from each other? The technical requirements of being a couple and calling each other boyfriend-girlfriend can be extended indefinitely, but shouldn't really be the goal.
posted by French Fry at 11:11 AM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

I hate to be pessimistic, but it seems to me based on the events that the relationship will not work out in the long run. Unless he is depressed to the level of needing family/friends type intervention, or is suicidal, I can't think of anything that would justify him not attending your graduation. Even the fact that you had to text him saying that you wished he was there. If the beginning of your post is completely true and not overly optimistic (all the positives in the relationship), then it might be worth it to sit down and have a serious discussion with serious decisions made. Things such as timelines, exclusivity, career and family plans, etc.... Other than that, I would cordially break up and wish him well. I'm sorry for your situation.
posted by gibbsjd77 at 11:17 AM on May 25, 2010

You're worried because you care deeply about someone and I think reading this through that this is more about a major life transition for the both of you than it is about your specific relationship, you're leaving huge swaths of a former life behind and taking parts of that life forward with you and that can be challenging and intimidating, where I am guessing some amount of his depression is coming from.

Can these things work out where you both end up in a similar place long term? Yes! However you're going to both have to get there independently at this point. If your partner were reading this I'd tell him to stop hanging out, plan on going somewhere for a month to get out of the depression routine he's in, do some undirected discovery, and start talking to someone in a professional capacity about it. However, he's not reading this and so it's going to fall to you, and you taking care of yourself making sure that even though you love this person you are not dependent on them for your happiness, and that is really hard.

So to you I'll offer the same advice - plan on going somewhere, have yourself a transition experience, put yourself in a place where you're not focused on him and make sure you're healthy mentally and emotionally so if he does decide to come back to the party you are not a hostage to his happiness and ability to be happy. At the end of the day you can care deeply about a person but you can't care deeply enough that their happiness is a burden you carry, in my experience it's just not sustainable long term.
posted by iamabot at 11:25 AM on May 25, 2010

I see he says he can't be there to support you right now, but I don't read anything here about your support for him. (Job pokes related to your own anxieties don't count.) This time of transition may be bringing back all the uncertainties of his life at the time his parents died. Drugs are a bad addition to the stew. The deepest partners have to struggle to keep their balance when one of them is in this kind of trouble. I'm not sure your ties, while so deeply fond, are up to this. Perhaps he knows this, or perhaps there's buried anger here. Grieve and go forward in your own life without regrets.
posted by Bet Glenn at 11:25 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is the crux of your issue I'm afraid. Pot is not harmless and causes mental changes which do not add up to success [unless you're a musician or artist who might purposely do so to be more creative?] Otherwise many of the people I have known who used pot regularly have languished in dead end menial jobs. [if they worked at all]

Sorry, but the crux of the issue is his depression. Pot is escapism - it could be alcohol or meth, but in this case, it's pot. Depression is not uncommon in just-graduated-oh-shit-what-now people. The weed isn't helping him, but it's not the cause. The sample that AuntieRuth knows is skewed, since the sample I'm working from is pretty much the opposite.

Anyway. If what you're hoping for is for this break to give you both an opportunity to live and grow, and then you get back together - it's not impossible, but it's not guaranteed either, not by a long stretch. He needs to want to get treatment for his depression, and he needs to want to stop drowning in feeling overwhelmed and to take one step to changing his situation. And then another step. And so on. And you can't make him do any of those things. What internet fraud said about depression - the guilt, the shame, etc. - hit the nail on the head.
posted by rtha at 11:26 AM on May 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

My current boyfriend have successfully navigated such a break, which was -- oddly enough -- brought about by my graduation from college and the following stress and misery from not (a) getting into grad school and (b) being able to find a job.

It's a long, messy story, but the gist of it is this: I used the time apart from him to figure out my priorities and straighten out the little messes in my life. We fought a lot because I displaced my frustration at my job situation, taking it out on him. When I broke it off, I think I thought it would make things easier, remove one aspect of stress [living up the the girlfriend standard that I had set for myself] in my life, though looking back, I ended up getting rid of a large part of my support system by doing so.

I benefited from therapy. I had better success expressing myself to someone other than friends/family/boyfriend. I also benefited from having the space to figure out what it is that I wanted to do with myself without any real or imagined outside pressures. Eventually, the boyfriend and I started talking again [we had pretty much cut off all contact for a while, that was hard, let me tell you] and even more eventually, we cautiously took steps towards reconciliation. We've been 'officially' together for over two years this time around and holding strong, even successfully navigating his stressful post-graduation can't-find-a-job misery and borderline depression.

MeMail me if you want the long, dark and dirty version from someone who's been there.
posted by alynnk at 11:35 AM on May 25, 2010

Your boyfriend is stressed and worried and you were adding to his stress by constantly nagging him his getting a job when there was no need to get a job that very day, therefore making him feel each day a bit more of a failure. He cut you out of his life because he needed to remove some of the stress and things that were causing him to feel trapped and hopeless. Personally, I think your relationship is probably done unless you can see that, be genuinely understanding of his side and approach him with a proposal to treat him completely differently: be supportive, respect his decisions and not project your fears and life plans onto him. He has money, if he needs to take some time to travel or volunteer or sit in a darkened room then you need to take a deep breath and remember that it's Not Your Life. If you decide that's not the kind of guy you want to be with, so be it but don't put it all on him. Lots of college graduates drift for a while.

Next time don't kick someone when they're down.
posted by fshgrl at 11:37 AM on May 25, 2010 [21 favorites]

Wow. I'm surprised by the negativity here, especially in regards to your boyfriend's behavior.

To me, it sounds like classic depression, and rather than give him space and continue taking that break, I would go in a totally different direction.

It seems to me that he felt unsure about his future but financially he was fine, so he really didn't have much to worry about. But then, you made it clear that you felt he *should* have a job. So what happened is that now he is mired in this depression because he didn't find work, and doesn't know where to go from here. This is a young man, with lots of time, and now he feels like a failure.

You were trying to be helpful, but really that didn't help. Have you ever known someone, for example, that was overweight, who actually lost weight because people told them they SHOULD? Nope.

You probably have a strong work ethic and feel that people SHOULD be working when they aren't in school. That's understandable. But you were so busy thinking about what he SHOULD be doing that you didn't see how lost he was feeling.

By the way, you also feel that he SHOULD have been motivated to go to your graduation. Again, you are probably right, but shoulds don't come into this. Please understand that when you are clinically depressed, and it definitely sounds like he is, you are barely motivated to do ANYTHING. You stop taking part in activities you enjoy, like spending time with your girlfriend, and isolate yourself.

The bad thing about the pot is that it allows him to wallow in his depression. Taking a break from you has also kept him from having any reason or motivation at all to leave his home and get out and DO things. So now he is stuck. When he broke down and cried in front of you that first time, that was a huge red flag, and unfortunately, although his best friend saw the signs and you were concerned about him too, no one really knew what to do to help.

Here's my advice about what to do: forget all this being on a break stuff.

Yes, really.

If it were me, I'd go to his place with some groceries and make him some food (even if it's just a sandwich), sit down and talk to him about how he feels, WITHOUT offering solutions or suggestions, and just be there for him emotionally. Let him vent about how lost he feels. Tell him you are there for him, and that you love him. Hold him if he needs to cry. And only after he has cried himself out, gently suggest that he could maybe use some help other than pot to get him through this. It might be anti-depressants. It might be seeing a counselor. But the first step is for him to get up, get dressed, make an appointment with his doctor. It's okay if he sounds emotional on the phone. They need to know that it's important he gets in to see someone soon.

And that's ALL he needs to do right now. Don't put a lot of pressure on him. Don't start talking about Jobs and the Future and Where Is This Relationship Going?

Then, follow up and make damn sure he goes to that appointment, even if you show up at his place an hour ahead of time and drive him yourself.

And I know this is a hassle. Depressed people are a pain in the ass. Honestly, I don't know how my family coped with me going through an extremely similar situation at your age.

But if he is the wonderful boyfriend you say he is, isn't he worth the effort?
posted by misha at 11:56 AM on May 25, 2010 [12 favorites]

Your relationship is already doomed by your patronizing attitude toward his employment situation.

I couldn't stop bringing the situation up since it began to worry me more and more that he was never going to work and that we were doomed. I know you can't keep going in different directions in a relationship indefinitely.

That you characterize his unemployment and your graduation as "going in different directions" says a lot. Couple that with suffocating "worry," and you have a pretty hopeless situation if your natural instinct is to do things that coincidentally make his depression worse. It's not your fault, it's just the way you are, but I wouldn't say you're in love with him as much as you are in love with the idea of someone who fits your requirements and doesn't have any of these annoying traits like depression and pot smoking. Your current difficulties seem to stem from the tension between the way he is and the way you want him to be. Do you think you're the only person in his life nagging him about a job?

Funnily enough, your question reminds me of a bit from Seinfeld:

Elaine: Congratulations! You passed!

Ben: Elaine, Elaine. I don't think we should see each other anymore.

Elaine: What? you're breaking up with me? But I sacrificed and supported you while you struggled. What about my dream of dating a doctor?

Ben: I'm sorry, Elaine. I always knew that after I became a doctor, I would dump whoever I was with and find someone better. That's the dream of
becoming a doctor.
posted by rhizome at 11:59 AM on May 25, 2010 [4 favorites]

I'm just wondering what people think about this and how I should approach it? For the most part I think I just need to make good on my promises of space and let time handle it, but that's hard because I like to drive things to resolution and hate uncertainty.

This sounds like a good approach to me. I'm like you, I hate uncertainty and push for resolution even when it's not the best idea. What helps me be patient is making little contingency plans of my own, as well as defining some rules for my own behavior. This reminds me that I'm still in control of my life, even though so much of it is in someone else's hands.

Have you ever observed a relationship where space resolved the issues? Do you think I am crazy to have any hope?

I think space resolves the issue, often, in relationships that are still loving. I know it does in mine. In this particular situation, no, I don't think you're crazy, but if he's really in a deep depression you should focus on taking care of yourself first. You can't pull him out of it.

Should I be thinking about this in a different way? Any thoughts (be kind if you can) would be appreciated.

A lot of relationships break up around graduation, because there's so much uncertainty facing both partners. I don't know how old you are or how long you've both had to shift for yourselves, but the sudden lack of structure and change in identity that comes with the end of schooling can be overwhelming. In American society, it's generally frowned upon to just coast--most college educated people want to have good careers and identify themselves by the work they do. As long as you're a student, you can define yourself as one and everything is ok. Post-graduation, you have to figure out who you want to be. But not all college students have thought about this issue before graduating. Graduation forces the issue upon them, and then you have post-graduation identity crisis and anxiety.

A thought: Do you think you are taking your own anxiety about the future out on him? I don't see you mentioning your own plans for post-graduation here, just your frustration that he's not doing as much as he could be.
posted by millions of peaches at 12:03 PM on May 25, 2010

Heh, should have previewed. On reflection, I think misha's advice about taking care of him is better than simply letting him stew. Do that if you think you're up to being completely supportive.
posted by millions of peaches at 12:11 PM on May 25, 2010

It's hard to answer the question ("Can a relationship survive a break?") in the context of the rest of your question. The answer to the question is: Yes. People can separate and then decide that they'd rather be together.

Your situation is more complicated than that question. You boyfriend seems depressed from your description, and he should see a professional to begin treatment. Here's a link from the National Institute of Mental Health:
The first and most important thing you can do to help a friend or relative who has depression is to help him or her get an appropriate diagnosis and treatment. You may need to make an appointment on behalf of your friend or relative and go with him or her to see the doctor. Encourage him or her to stay in treatment, or to seek different treatment if no improvement occurs after six to eight weeks.

I'm really sorry you're going through this. It sucks. If you don't have the personality for it, it's annoying to deal with people who are suffering any kind of illness; honestly, they need a lot of help. And it's even harder when the illness you're facing is invisible and it seems like it would be so easy for him to just snap out of it. It's not.

But the thing for you to do now is stop focusing on whether you're breaking up, how he's disappointed you, and whether he'll get a job. Even if he's not the person you end up with forever and ever and etc., being there for him right now is a kindness, and a way to honor the good two years you've had together. I'm not saying that you personally have to save him from this; you can't be that kind of hero. You can't prop him up forever, and you shouldn't try to be his caregiver to the detriment of your own well-being, of course.

Encouraging him in his vulnerable time to seek professional help and putting off an OMG I AM GRADUATING ARE WE TOGETHER FOREVER OR WHAT? conversation for a while will help. You don't have to decide right now.

On preview, what misha said.

PS: College graduation—the ceremony itself—isn't that big of a deal. He's still proud of you.
posted by purpleclover at 12:16 PM on May 25, 2010

You say that you are feeling peace from being selfless with your love, but have you really done that? It sounds like in your relationship, he mostly supports you and takes care of you and your emotional needs, but he's in a crisis right now and can't do that any more, so he's asking for a break. So you think you're being selfless for allowing him to not meet your needs any more? But you're not really doing that, since you're angry that he wasn't at your graduation. He's going through a major life crisis right now, and you're thinking mainly about how much that sucks for you. This sounds like a pretty one-sided relationship, that he's in a crisis, and the solution is for you to relieve him of his responsibilities to you, rather taking your turn to take care of him.
posted by AlsoMike at 12:18 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seems that the issue isn't so much about your relationship together as it is about his illness. I think that you need to re-frame the whole situation in your mind to be less about you.

There's a lot of literature out there on Major Depression, and how you can possibly help/counsel/intervene. Dive in and learn all you can. It may or may not work, but at least you know you're doing the best you can.

Assuming that he gets help, then once he starts healing, he can be there for you the way you want him to be. Then, you can think about where the relationship is.
posted by Citrus at 12:36 PM on May 25, 2010

I came here to say what fshgrl said; I felt stressed for your bf just reading this question. I understand your concern but you don't nag someone into getting a job. All you can nag someone into doing is feeling bad about themselves, which makes the problem worse. I think the break is necessary for both of you -- so he doesn't have you stressing him out and so you can get perspective and take some deep breaths so this doesn't seem like a huge deal that you need to bring up all the time. I can't tell you if this will save your relationship or not, but in the future keep in mind that if you feel it's necessary to repeatedly wear someone down to get what you want, either reevaluate its importance or save them the mental anguish and move on to someone you don't have to wear down.
posted by Nattie at 12:38 PM on May 25, 2010

My partner and I had to take a break starting around Christmas. I had a lot of depression and anger issues I needed to work on without it spilling (more) on him. I dealt with my problems and now we're happiest we've ever been. I used online CBT via MoodGym to ease my struggles.

I was worried about our "break" - I've only seen that end up as the death throes of a dying relationship. I pretty much accepted that was going to happen to us. I worked on my issues anyway because the need was there, which might be what saved us.

FWIW, I know plenty of pot smokers who have good jobs with futures. But the smoking to make the depression hurt less is just going to screw him in the long run.
posted by _paegan_ at 12:46 PM on May 25, 2010

I can't offer any advice that hasn't already been more eloquently stated above.

However, data point:

My mom and dad broke up after dating one year. My mom was still in college and my dad was graduating and I think my mom didn't feel ready to live up to the pressure of dating someone in "the real world." They were broken up for a solid year without any contact and both grew up a little in the process from what I gather. After a year, they got back together and have now been married 37 very loving years.
posted by whitetigereyes at 2:04 PM on May 25, 2010

I don't agree that you were "kicking someone when they were down". You don't say anything about what kind of future the two of you had discussed. Now, if you hadn't discussed it, and there were doubts about who would get a job where and when and would someone have to move and would the other one go with and is anyone going on to future education - all of these are good things to discuss. They are things that, unanswered, would cause anxiety in a reasonable person.

The OP said she didn't start saying anything until a month ago. I'm sorry, but if someone is depressed about not getting a job, asking about getting a job, and frantically encouraging them to get a job is not exactly an unnatural act.

If she had been on her boyfriend's case about getting a job from day one, then I'd hear you. Yes, some people need to find their way but if someone is depressed because they can't find a job then they want or need to find a job. He has money - that probably makes it worse in some ways, better in others, because he doesn't have the pressure of OMG how do I pay the rent, which is its own hell to live through.

I would agree that you should not focus on whether or not there's a relationship, but try to support him in any way you are personally able to. But I would ask him if you can help in any way - can you drive him anywhere? Help with errands? Sometimes even getting a lift to the laundromat can be a BIG thing if you have baskets of dirty clothes and no motivation. But keep it low key. Call, check on him, say hi, don't try to talk about plans or the relationship or the future.

If you can do all this. That's a big if. If you want to do this. that's also a big if. There's no guarantee that you can or it will be helpful or positive or restore the relationship. He also may not be able to accept help from you. He also may not be ready.
posted by micawber at 2:29 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think it depends on where you both are at this stage in your life. At 25? I think you both still have the time and space to explore. It's possible that you are very emotionally mature, but a "break" in your mid-20's normally means a license to start seeing others. And I think you definitely owe it to yourself to explore if there might be someone else out there who may fit you better. He might be a great guy, but a long-term relationship is more than just about LOVE, it also means being able to live with each other and subscribing to the same goals to build a life together.

It could just be "right guy, wrong time". Maybe in a few years you'll both have grown. But I wouldn't necessarily wait on it.
posted by w84rav at 3:28 PM on May 25, 2010

I came here ready to offer up my own little story of how taking a break in your relationship can work out, but upon reading more inside I can see that you don't need to hear my story. You need to read Misha's comment and act upon that and try to help your boyfriend through his depression.

When taking a break both parties need to be capable of evaluating their life before and after the break to be able to decide whether they want to return to being together. In his depressed state your boyfriend is not capable of doing that, he suggested the break I believe because he felt like he was a burden to you.
posted by electricinca at 3:49 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

OP here, hoping to clear up some of the kind of harsh things that have been said.

For the record, I've been completely keeping my nose out of it until the last month. We've continued to make plans and do fun things together and I've been completely non-judgmental of how he spends his time for almost 5 months. I have not been "nagging" over a long period of time, being extra vocal about my anxiety was a recent development. It might be helpful to know that I grew up low-income, so not having a plan for the future scares the crap out of me, and I grew frightened for him! Not having health insurance is scary, and also I don't know *exactly* how much he has in savings, only enough to know he is OK with handling his living expenses right now. Having been poor, I know how close the edge is, I guess.

Furthermore, I know I may come off as selfish but I am not trying to act that way at all! I love this person a lot and want him to be healthy and whole, with or without me. I am trying to respect his wishes right now because I don't know what else to do, and I perceive that as being selfless because the last thing I want to do is leave him alone! My selfish desire would be to ignore him pushing me away and give him all my love. I want to hold him and tell him that I love him and I'm so sorry he's hurting. He's a wonderful person even objectively, apart from being my partner, and I feel so sad knowing he thinks so little of himself.

Lastly, I do have plans. I've found a job and am considering more school. Like I said before, growing up poor makes me extra sensitive to planning ahead so I don't wind up on a curb somewhere. I think this was looked at as a negative trait by those who commented when in fact it has preserved me and helped me scrap together an education against the odds.

Anyway. Thank you for a lot of good advice. I don't mean to overlook the many compassionate and kind things that have been said here. I just feel sad and misunderstood reading some of these comments. Please understand that I am a compassionate person and that prior to this recent development, my bf and I have had a really equal relationship where we have both helped one another through hard times.
posted by throwawayaccountOP at 4:53 PM on May 25, 2010

For what's it's worth - for me a break in a romantic relationship was always something that enabled me to continue in a relationship for a while longer (sometimes a year or more) but those were always in relationships where I was not and did not plan to be super-solid committed.

With my friendships and family, there have been times when I needed a break and just hid out for months, or more in the case of family. Some of us need to be alone to work on our stuff.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 5:22 PM on May 25, 2010

I haven't seen anyone mention it yet, but for what it's worth, I know of many people who have graduated college recently and have had no luck getting a job. Please do understand that the circumstances of the economy are making it hard for everyone, not just him, and depression is depressingly common when it comes to unemployment and fruitless job searches.

Don't worry about his future rather than your own If you want to be there for him- just concentrate on his well being, and the future will take care of itself.
posted by krinklyfig at 4:43 PM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Re: I'm sorry, but if someone is depressed about not getting a job, asking about getting a job, and frantically encouraging them to get a job is not exactly an unnatural act.

and regarding the same thing in the follow-up...

I don't think that anyone is contesting that it's natural/understandable to be upset and eventually start bringing it up. The point is, natural reactions are often not helpful reactions. Natural reactions can and do make things way worse. If people's natural reactions were always helpful, then there wouldn't be any relationship problems. Most relationship problems are solved by learning how to control your natural reactions when they are not helpful.

If he's depressed and you start bringing up the job situation frequently, even though you've only recently started doing it, it still makes things worse. It's still nagging, especially from the perspective of the depressed person, you just haven't been doing it as long as you could have. It's good that you waited some months, but that doesn't mean that it's going to be helpful to start bringing it up now, or that it isn't harmful to start bringing it up now. Impatience or panic or concern or whatever motivates your bringing it up is fine to feel, but that doesn't mean your actions are helpful. Just because you're acting out of love or concern doesn't mean it's going to stop upsetting your boyfriend when you press him about his job situation.

No one is "misunderstanding" your intentions, as far as I can tell, they're trying to show you how acting on them in the wrong way is hurting your situation. If you want to understand why he needs the break, then you have to accept that "I have good intentions" is irrelevant to whether your actions stress out your boyfriend. You have empirical proof that despite your good intentions, he has said he needs to be away from you for a while, so this shouldn't be controversial. If you can't see the difference between someone criticizing your actions versus your intentions and you do get back together, then expect more breaks in the future. If you don't want more breaks in the future, and instead want to work out problems while remaining together, then you will have to be able to acknowledge when your response to a problem makes it worse and how you need to change your response to something that won't drive him away.

Getting defensive when people point out those problematic responses is another reaction that's both natural/understandable and makes the problem worse; people learn that they can't discuss problems openly with people that get defensive, so they break up with them instead of trying. You don't want to be that person. It's hard, so start practicing now.
posted by Nattie at 1:49 PM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

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