How to deal with jealousy in a productive manner
December 28, 2012 7:29 PM   Subscribe

How to deal with jealousy in a productive manner? My boyfriend seems to like spending time out drinking with his friends more than he likes spending time with me. Wondering whether it's all in my head.

I am in a happy six-year relationship with a great guy, let's call him Tom. Tom is handsome, witty (very!), intelligent, fun to be around, and a great friend. I love him very, very much and I have never been in a relationship anywhere near this good. We have been living together for four years (he moved to be with me when he finished college). He is 32, I am 40. Things have been going great, though I tended to get absorbed in my things and not focus on doing stuff with him, but we had A Talk about that and I have been focusing on some fun things to do with him, and just generally making better choices that show him that I do very much value spending time with him.

At Tom's job there are some fun young people who do similar work to what he does, and he started going out to bars & such with them maybe about six months ago. At first it was every six weeks, then every four weeks, then every week, then they went on a big four-day trip together, and then after that it's even mid-week sometimes (including coming home at 3 on a work night and calling in sick the next day), in addition to every weekend. He went from having zero social life to having a very lively one.

He just got back into town today (we went on separate Christmas trips). We haven't seen each other for a full week, and he just... didn't seem that excited to see me, I guess. I may be reading too much into things, but he had his hands in his pockets and wouldn't even hug me until I was like "hey c'mon I want a hug" after hugging him first. This was at lunch, and he told me he was going out with the gang before I came home from work. Okay, I guess. I mean, I know I *shouldn't* be bothered, right? But since I came home I am a bit bothered. It feels like he's more excited to see them than me.

And there was another aspect to this. He told me that one of the girls of the group, Sally, wants to get pretty drunk tonight and she asked him to drive her. So that's what he's doing tonight. He's said other things about Sally before, like how one night she had an emotional outpouring about Stuff and he and she were there alone after everyone else had left, and... I guess I had a weird feeling about it then and I have a weird feeling about it tonight, too. I would not be surprised if he ends up spending the night at her place, frankly. I hope I'm wrong, but ... I dunno, I guess this is the jealousy rearing its ugly head.

I had a minor freakout a few weeks ago, and he was like "Well, I don't know what sort of reaction you want from me", and I was like "I'm sorry for being so irrational, I'll get over it, don't worry about it, sorry I bugged you". But it's bugging me again tonight.

This is really messing with my head. I'm starting to have doubts about whether he really wants to be with me, or is just kind of going along with things. I start to see things in a new (bad) light, reassessing everything about our relationship until it looks not so great, and him like not such a great guy. I have been really happy until this recent stuff, and am still quite happy overall, but, well... I'm a heavily-medicated bipolar person and I honestly wonder if that's what's been keeping me so content all this time.

But then things run through my mind like the fact that he doesn't want to get married (and I don't push this since things are good between us), he's so much younger than me, he likes to drink a LOT (it is a very important priority for him, and he drove home drunk about two weeks ago despite repeated OH FOR FUCK'S SAKE GET A CAB I MEAN IT texts), untreated (and unwilling to treat) depression, and on and on. (And for the record, I do drink too, but much less, and at home only, and never drive after).

And I view myself in a terrible light, too, as part of this. I'm fat & ugly & don't want to have sex much (we do it about once a week), I'm *old*, I don't take an interest in his videogames, I tend to do my own thing at home a lot, I have a clutter problem, etc. It's all a big spiral of suck.

I need some help figuring out how to have a productive conversation with him about this. How do I indicate that I feel I was passed over and really wanted to spend time with him TODAY, so I'm hurt that he didn't even consider doing so with me? I mean, how do I do this without coming across as clingy, needy, jealous, insecure, bitchy? I keep catastrophizing about this in my head, thinking that I will drive him away forever if I even say anything. Maybe I just need a sense of perspective - can you help me with that?
posted by sock puppetron on wheels to Human Relations (57 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'm really sorry that you're having to deal with all of this. From the outside, it's hard to know how much of what you're feeling is a "you should trust your gut" situation and how much of it is your own insecurities undermining your confidence in your relationship.

I will say that if he's drinking abusively and driving irresponsibly and not treating his depression, then he isn't taking very good care of himself. Which isn't just bad for him -- it's bad for you, the person who cares about him and shares his home. It's okay for you to be upset about these things -- they're upsetting! And it's okay for you to feel like they're deal breakers.

This, in particular, stood out to me:

I keep catastrophizing about this in my head, thinking that I will drive him away forever if I even say anything.

If you can actually drive him away by talking to him about behavior that's making you this unhappy, then you're not in a relationship that's worth protecting. You deserve to be with someone who will listen to you when you're upset or concerned, even if it's not pleasant for them, even if it means they may have to change their behavior in a way they aren't thrilled about.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:46 PM on December 28, 2012 [35 favorites]

You are allowed to set boundaries. You are allowed to have expectations and desires and to be unhappy when they're not being met. You are especially allowed to communicate those boundaries and desires without being made to feel insecure or jealous or bitchy (even by yourself!)

So what I would do is sit him down and say "I feel I was passed over and really wanted to spend time with you TODAY." It sounds like your discussion about *you* making a priority to spend time with him needs to happen again but with an eye to making things equitable in that regard. And telling him how his behavior makes you feel is part of that.

He's not wrong, exactly, to want to know what kind of reaction you want from him, but that reaction should be a behavior change - presumably something along the lines of "I am not comfortable with the mid-week binges and I want to make sure we have couple time scheduled once a week so I feel like our relationship is a priority here" or whatever you actually want.

That said, he's going out multiple times a week, driving drunk, and drinking is a "very important priority" for him? I mean, it's possible it's just a phase or a socially-induced thing (I went through a thing where I wanted to spend time with certain people and they drank and so I drank, and when I got out of that social scene I went back to drinking a very moderate amount) but this is classic Problem Drinking and I would be very worried about his health, safety, and future behavior patterns.

And look, maybe he doesn't want to be with you any more. It's more than possible, from your description. But not saying anything about it won't change his feelings. The only way to improve things - if there is a way; if he's not just totally checked out of the relationship - is to talk to him about how you feel and what you want and how he feels and what he wants. And, ultimately, you need to decide where your boundaries are - how long you're going to put up with a boyfriend who doesn't seem to want to be around you, who drinks way too much and may very well be sleeping with his coworker.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:46 PM on December 28, 2012 [26 favorites]

Whoa. It'll be OK.

To begin with, this is troubling behavior you describe, not jealousy. So stop apologizing for feeling shitty when someone does something shitty.

Ignore him and work on your clutter issue and whatever else will make you feel happier about YOU.

Personally, I would dump a guy who drives drunk because that's unforgivable at 32 and can turn your whole world upside down if he gets caught, kills himself, or injures/kills someone else.

I would also think seriously about dumping someone who refused to get their depression treated.

These two things are deal breakers. Like, you can't move forward with someone who has these two issues in play. So if you lose this guy, well, keep it in perspective. He's not maturing into long term material, this relationship may be at a serious point of transition, or ending.

It does sound like he's pulling away from the relationship. How do you want to handle that?

I hope you focus on yourself and commit to enjoying your life and being your best self. This relationship isn't more important than your personal happiness. Put on your own oxygen mask first, and all that.

(Upon Preview, I Nth everything Narrative Priorities said.)
posted by jbenben at 7:53 PM on December 28, 2012 [11 favorites]

Yeah, the situation is already making you miserable, NOT talking about it isn't going to help at all. But you can also have a non-jealous conversation about how you have needs (like seeing him more often for fun stuff), and boundaries (his not driving drunk, working on his depression).

And stop beating yourself up and doing your best to make yourself seem unworthy of love. I'm eight years older than you and obese, and I am well aware that I deserve fun, love, and great relationships. So do you!
posted by ldthomps at 7:56 PM on December 28, 2012 [9 favorites]

wow, I think you are totally right to be suspicious. He's staying out on a work night until 3am, gone every weekend, and spending the holidays apart from you - then not seeming excited to see you when he gets back?

And it seems that you are coincidentally never invited to any of these get togethers with his new friends? I'd be beyond minor freakout into major freakout-land. As for "I don't know what kind of reaction you want from me" - well, how about the reassurance that this jealousy is unfounded, that he still loves you and that he recognizes you're upset because he isn't spending much time with you and is going to try to rectify that in the future, either by inviting you along when he goes for fun times or by spending more quality time with just you? I think that would have been a good reaction.

It looks to me like your lack of self esteem ("I'm fat, ugly, and don't deserve a relationship this good, and if I say anything critical I'll drive him away") is making you put up with not only suspicious and neglectful behavior, but also general bad judgment i.e. untreated mental illness, the drunk driving, which is unforgivable - he could kill an innocent person doing that, there is no excuse.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:00 PM on December 28, 2012 [28 favorites]

In my last relationship my boyfriend went from having zero social life outside of me to suddenly being more in demand and popular than me and it was tough. On the practical side, I suggest you return to getting absorbed in things and not focusing too much on doing things with him.

But my impulse from reading this question is that you are about to get dumped or cheated on. This is obviously not something I can tell from the interwebs, but trust your spidey sense that something isn't right.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 8:01 PM on December 28, 2012 [9 favorites]

This guy drives DRUNK without calling a cab. He could die and devastate you and his entire family and/or kill someone else. Not sure I'd want to be with someone that immature.
posted by eq21 at 8:07 PM on December 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

He is waiting, for some reason he thinks is being nice to you, to break up after the holidays.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:08 PM on December 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

Oh man, this does not sound good. I think you are right that something big is up. I hate to say this, but you are likely not being paranoid, jealous, whatever. You are responding to the cues in your environment, and the cues suck.

So... I think Priority #1 should be to deal with feeling fat, ugly, and having a low sex drive. There are lots of threads on here about fat, many about feeling ugly (Why do you feel ugly? What can you do to change yourself and what can you do to accept yourself?), and a bunch about low sex drive. If he wants sex way more than you, take some zinc supplements to boost testosterone, lift weights, use arginine cream, etc. You can find some great tricks to make you more interested in sex.

Second, why can't you join him tonight? No reason you can't go and be the Designated Driver (he sounds like he needs one) and meet everyone and bond with them. The more you hang with his friends, the closer you two will be and the more you will understand about what is really going on. I'd just go -- don't ask permission, just come along.

Finally, there's a lot of stigma about women and aging. Does he want kids? Do you? Where is the relationship going? If you guys aren't going in the same direction, maybe it's time for you to split. That's not your fault, that's just a natural consequence of you having different priorities.
posted by 3491again at 8:19 PM on December 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

D(This)MFA will free you to work on the spiral of suck. Hugs to you v
posted by cyndigo at 8:28 PM on December 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

I keep catastrophizing about this in my head, thinking that I will drive him away forever if I even say anything.

No one respects desperate love. When a person is desperate and lets herself be humiliated, do you really expect the other person to regret having taken more than his rightful share? It is as if the woman is taking her dignity and letting it fall to the ground. Do you expect the man to bend over, pick it up, and say "Hang onto this! It's important!"?.

Relationships are a negotiation. If you want to make a deal no matter what, the other person is free and justified in taking the whole pie. Ask yourself what's fair, demand that, and be prepared to say goodbye. Even if you lose the relationship, you'll keep your dignity. It is better to die standing than on your knees.

Also, it is silly to have a desire and then suggest that you don't deserve to have it met. Your desire for love entitles you to demand it.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 8:32 PM on December 28, 2012 [21 favorites]

I completely agree that if you are feeling this bad right now then you should go meet up with him and his friends tonight and be the designated driver. I think staying home will just get you more wound up/emotional/catastrophising (and I don't think you are over-reacting). With that level of drinking (and drunk driving!) it is no wonder you feel neglected, he has a tighter relationship with the bottle then he does with you. I wonder if AL-Anon would help sort out your feelings and boundaries.
posted by saucysault at 8:46 PM on December 28, 2012

Some of the social items could be read multiple ways, and I've been the recipient of unwanted Stuff-outpourings from guys in whom I had no interest.

Sadly, though, I think you are indeed going to break up soon. Risky, self-destructive drinking would be a deal-breaker for me. If he is alcoholic, you do him no favors by accepting or covering for that behavior.

The response to your earlier freakout sounds like straight-up gaslighting to me: I don't believe your boyfriend doesn't see what you're reacting to, but he wants to make you feel crazy and avoid taking responsibility and telling you if things are over. And as for the hands-in-pockets refusal to show you affection, unless you're actively in the middle of a fight, in my experience that kind of gesture is a sign of lost intimacy, secrets and resentment, and the break-up is imminent.

If I were in your position, I would initiate a conversation about what wasn't working in the relationship, expecting it to be a breakup talk. It sounds like he's not acting like he's on your team, he's not meeting you half-way on trying to deal with your problems, and there is no magic phrase you could say to him that would change that. Suffering in silence isn't going to make your relationship work again either. The only thing you get to control at this point is how long it drags on and how clean an exit you make.

I'm really sorry, I know it sucks.

When it's over, walk away with your head held up. Your narrative for yourself should not be "I was too fat" or "I was too ugly" (would you say such hateful things about any of your friends? besides, it sounds like he was the one who changed here). Your story about what happened is: "I was strong. I said what I needed, and I protected myself when a situation had gone bad."

And that will be true.
posted by shattersock at 8:48 PM on December 28, 2012 [23 favorites]

Short answer: DTMFA.

Long answer:
You don't need him, and he doesn't need you. Not only is he making you unhappy, but he also doesn't seem to care too much about it. He is bringing down your self-esteem (ex. you calling yourself "fat & ugly") and overall happiness. It also seems evident that you are settling for less than you actually want (ex. "he doesn't want to get married...") It sounds like an unhealthy relationship to me. Get out of it and let yourself be happy again.
posted by krakus at 8:57 PM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

He is bringing down your self-esteem (ex. you calling yourself "fat & ugly")

There is no evidence of this. In fact, OP says it's the product of her own mind

Every negative opinion you have of yourself is transferring on to him; no doubt he feels it (and reacts to it).

He now has an exciting social life. Your negative vibes are the opposite of exciting. Our internal unhappiness easily creeps outward, it's easily noticed by others. He's having fun, and wants a partner who shares and conveys fun as well.

You're in a spiral - you must find a way to significantly reduce the negative view of yourself and grasp your own positivity and worth.. .. before you approach him.
posted by Kruger5 at 9:00 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Trust your gut. Trying not to is just maddening.
posted by discopolo at 9:08 PM on December 28, 2012


You don't feel good being with him. You're 40 and he's having emo experiences w/ Sally. I can't think of a more exasperating and anxiety producing situation at 40. You aren't 25 and you're a mature and experienced person. Now is when you're supposed to enjoy your life, not babysit a guy who can't commit and goes on about Sally and makes you feel like you're ugly and not fun.

Get rid of all the noise and go enjoy yourself.
posted by discopolo at 9:13 PM on December 28, 2012 [14 favorites]

You are, based on what you describe, NOT being unreasonable. Or unfairly jealous. If anything, you're being too accomodating. Kick him out of your apartment and find a guy who will want to spend time with you!
posted by windykites at 9:16 PM on December 28, 2012 [7 favorites]

Also, I think the comment about him just waiting to breakup until after the holidays is spot-on. The small, spiteful part of me wants you to pack his shit and put it on the curb and change the locks while he's out binging and sucking up to Sally. Let her be the one to deal with his drunkenness if he likes her company so much. Maybe you're a better person than me, though.
posted by windykites at 9:24 PM on December 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

It's not just in your head. You guys need to have another Talk, and not just about how you feel today.

The small, spiteful part of me wants you to pack his shit and put it on the curb and change the locks

In case you are seriously considering this, it would probably be an illegal and even criminal move. Ask MetaFilter is for advice, not revenge fantasies.
posted by grouse at 9:37 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

The OP specifically asked this question:

How to deal with jealousy in a productive manner?

and said this about her relationship:

I am in a happy six-year relationship with a great guy

Jealously is dealt through both personal management and therapy, as well as having her partner address those concerns that would directly benefit from having not just one Talk, but many talks between each other.

DTMFA and advising "revenge tactics" seem ill-advised and reckless.
posted by Kruger5 at 9:54 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think you need to pay attention to your instincts, make sure you're standing up for yourself as a person who deserves a good and respectful relationship, and seek some help in sorting out why you are being so negative about yourself.
posted by batmonkey at 10:34 PM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

In my opinion, this seems a bit like an XY Problem. You have a problem "X", you think you can solve it by doing "Y", but you don't know how to do Y so you ask Metafilter how to do it, but actually there may be a much better way to handle X that you can/won't consider.

The problem X: your partner...

1) Drinks a lot (yes, binge drinking on work days, skipping work due to hangovers, and drinking parties every weekend, qualifies as a lot).

2) Spends way less time with you than he used to, to a point that makes you uncomfortable or is incompatible with your needs/wants.

3) Was not happy to see you or affectionate after a vacation apart.

4) Talks about and interacts with another woman in a way that has triggered your instincts.

5) Drunk drives (on at least one occasion, which is already way too much).

Your proposed solution Y: You learn to love your partner's new lifestyle and support him in all his new fun! Even if his lifestyle is incompatible with yours and makes you sad.

My proposed solution is to rethink X: You said "he doesn't want to get married (and I don't push this since things are good between us)." That right there is enough for me to suggest that you DTMFA. Not necessarily because he is a Bad Guy, but because you have already highlighted a major life incomparability. Lets say, for the sake of arguments, that Tom is so amazing that you have decided to give up your desire to marry just to stay with him. If he was prince charming and you were wildly happy with him, I might say that you made a good decision, however, instead you have presented points 1-5.

In summery, you are giving up marriage to be with a drunk driver who makes you sad. Maybe not all the time, but enough that you are having to work really hard at being happy and supportive of him. Whether you want to stay with him or not is up to you, but I personally would leave. He isn't treating you so well that he would be worth making that many major sacrifices for.
posted by Shouraku at 10:35 PM on December 28, 2012 [28 favorites]

What stood out to me is that when you focused too much attention on things besides The Relationship it was an issue for him and you had A Talk - but when he does the same (and is completely cold to you, to boot) it's shrugs and you apologizing and him off getting trashed with his friends again. Is this asymmetry a constant thing in your relationship?

One way to approach your feelings is to invest some energy in doing things that reenergize yourself. Connect with other loved ones, work on hobbies. Unfortunately though, given the behavior you've described, your feelings might not be jealousy but a spidey-sense that he is pulling back. If that's true, the best thing you can do is double down on your own well-being and have a plan for what will happen if you do split up (who moves out? how do you protect yourself from drama?)
posted by SakuraK at 10:41 PM on December 28, 2012 [9 favorites]

He's cheating on you, or about to. Those instincts are usually spot on.
posted by mckenney at 10:52 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Okay, I'm usually the one fuming when people leap to assumptions of inappropriateness about any budding friendship between someone's partner and another person of the appropriate gender/preference. I'm usually the one giving the eyebrow of skepticism at "if you're suspicious, there's probably a good reason" answers. I advocate that couples should make some separate social time a real priority.

And whoa, I'm saying that this guy is totally justifying the messing-around he is considering/attempting/doing with Sally, complacently and wussily taking you for granted, and generally being a lousy boyfriend here.

He's not even being a good friend to you. He's telling you about the idiotic risky things he's doing so that he has someone sitting around worrying about him while he's out playing at being Popular and Nice-But-Not-Too-Nice Partying Guy.
posted by desuetude at 11:20 PM on December 28, 2012 [11 favorites]

but he had his hands in his pockets and wouldn't even hug me until I was like "hey c'mon I want a hug" after hugging him first.

Did not even need to read past that. That's guilt. Either something has already happened, or he has decided he's going for it and is "locked in."

I'm fat & ugly &

This isn't objective reality. This is just how it feels to be in a relationship with someone who seems to be pulling away, no matter what you do. When this particular problem has been resolved, either way, I do not think you will be feeling this way anymore.
posted by cairdeas at 12:10 AM on December 29, 2012 [29 favorites]

I'm fat & ugly &

This isn't objective reality. This is just how it feels to be in a relationship with someone who seems to be pulling away, no matter what you do. When this particular problem has been resolved, either way, I do not think you will be feeling this way anymore.

I understand where this is coming from. But, the people who lose their self-confidence when their relationship dissolves against their will are typically people who base their sense of self on the perceptions of others — as if their beauty, intelligence, and overall value were democratically decided by all people: loved ones, sometimes even strangers. For others, their ego is a dictatorship. What I've noticed is that life experience transforms the former people into the latter.

You don't have to bail out from every relationship where the other person pulls away. With a little bit of self-knowledge and confidence, you can make a dignified stand.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 2:30 AM on December 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think you're really putting up with a lot and this unequal relationship is not fair to you.

You say you're bipolar and managing it well. Maybe your illness has made you difficult in the past and this has predisposed you to take more than your fair share of responsibility for relationship problems and maybe feel lucky to be in a relationship at all? Well, you sound like a responsible and fair person who does her best to be reasonable, and not at all like someone who deserves to be punished or ought to be grateful, or any of that.

You describe Tom as "handsome" and yourself as "fat and ugly". O rly. I do not think he is, actually, the treasurer of all the cool in the relationship.

I also notice what others have, that your outside interests have to be curbed to focus on him, while his outside interests have to be expanded to focus on Sally. In light of this, I doubt that you arrived at the view of yourself as "fat and ugly" without a particular sort of outside influence.

I agree, I think you are about to get dumped and here is what I think you should do, ideally, though I very much doubt that you'll feel like it.

Instead of being "fat and ugly", marshal all your resources and become just fat tonight. It is perfectly possible to be fat and gorgeous, so do that. Get out your best party dress and really do a number on your hair and makeup. Then, look up an event nearby that really looks like fun, that Tom et all won't be at, pack cabfare, mind you don't get drunk or snog anybody or anything inappropriate like that, and go out and try to enjoy yourself. Now you may not actually enjoy this, but try to have a socially successful evening all the same. You may have to think of this as a character-building exercise rather than something you'll actually enjoy, I just think it's important for you to go through the motions of going out and enjoying yourself independently.

If things are as you suspect, Tom either will not be back or will reappear in some condition he shouldn't be, and when he does I think you should ideally tell him this shit is unacceptable and he's dumped because of it all.

Guy is being unacceptable in a variety of ways. You deserve to at least enjoy your own company.
posted by tel3path at 3:21 AM on December 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

The kind of behaviour you describe is exactly how my ex-husband acted the first time he cheated on me.

Notice how I said first time? Yeah. I ignored my instincts and rationalized and the only thing I got for it was cheated on again.

Listen, I've been where you are. It's insidious how little incompatibilities can creep up on you and make you deeply unhappy (see: all this about you feeling fat and ugly, the wanting to conform to his 'new life' for fear of scaring him off). Part of the reason for this is that the compatibilities stay even as the subtle unhappiness grows. It took me awhile to realize that the compatibilities are not enough reason to stay in a relationship where the other person doesn't make me as much of a priority as I did them.

For this reason I suggest you give the other comments here a lot of thought. They contain advice I wish I had taken sooner when my ex started acting the way your boyfriend is, and I found myself where you are.

One last thing: after I left my ex, I spent a lot of time reflecting and doing a post-mortem of sorts on the relationship. One of my takeaways was that in the future, when I get that feeling that I will drive my partner away if I ask for something that is important to me, I will not ignore it. So far, it's served me well. As others have ably pointed out, that's an important sign.

Anyway. I hope my experience (and I'm sure most of the other commenters speak from experience too) is helpful to you, since it is often hard to get perspective while you're going through it. It's easy to discount what other people are saying because they don't know what a good person your boyfriend can be, or how you still mesh in so many ways, or because their relationships were different in some way and their advice doesn't apply. If you're unhappy it doesn't matter. You sound unhappy.
posted by AV at 4:10 AM on December 29, 2012 [7 favorites]

he had his hands in his pockets and wouldn't even hug me until I was like "hey c'mon I want a hug" after hugging him first.

I think you should stop thinking of yourself as 'old' and start thinking of Tom as 'childish'.

Maybe he actively wants out of the relationship, or maybe he just wants to establish some default state of unhappiness with the state of things, so that he gets to be all taciturn and withholding while you run around doing all the emotional work or so that he gets to feel guilt-free about anything he does with his friends. But you know what? You could be the oldest ugliest fattest person in the entire world, and it still wouldn't excuse him from his obligations to treat you decently. If he wants to act like this, it's on him, not on you, and you do not have to put up with it.

I keep catastrophizing about this in my head, thinking that I will drive him away forever if I even say anything.

I want to say 'you won't', but yeah, it is possible that if you call him on this stuff - the drinking, the drink-driving (sheesh), the choosing his friends over you - he will leave. He could be doing a passive break-up thing where he wants out, but he doesn't want to be the one who has to make that call. Or he could decide that he'd rather break up than fix things.

But that won't be you driving him away. That will be him choosing to leave. And you can't stop him from making that kind of decision, but you can certainly decide to make one of your own: is a miserable relationship with Tom better than the risk of no relationship with Tom at all? I think you should spend some serious time thinking about that question, because if you're at a stage where 'I don't take an interest in his videogames' feels to you like evidence that you're a bad partner and don't deserve any better than this, then you need to be a whole lot kinder to yourself.
posted by Catseye at 4:41 AM on December 29, 2012 [11 favorites]

Your question is all wrong. It's not up to you to deal with your feelings of jealousy. You haven't done anything wrong, and it sounds like you have good reason to feel jealous (at the very least). Don't blame yourself.

So as not to repeat what has already been said, I'll concur with what Catseye said above, particularly the last paragraph.
posted by Diag at 5:09 AM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I need some help figuring out how to have a productive conversation with him about this. How do I indicate that I feel I was passed over and really wanted to spend time with him TODAY, so I'm hurt that he didn't even consider doing so with me?

How do you have a productive conversation about this? You let go of all the negative things you've convinced yourself of about YOU, first. Then you ask for a sit down. Point out what you've said here, that you feel passed over and try to do so without throwing in a "Is this because you think I'm fat?" or "I know you probably don't like because I'm old". Those things aren't going to help and I feel like your opinion of yourself and your own worth has been wrapped up in what Tom's doing - you feel like he might be thinking of cheating and he's making some real shit life decisions and that's because of you. It's untrue. His decisions are his. If he's drunk driving (Jesus, no no no, that's bad) it's because he's got an issue, not because he all of the sudden, after six years, thinks you're too old.

So, sit with him. Lay these things out. Say what you've said to us here (minus all the self defeat). You didn't even want to hug me, what's that all about? I needed you when I came home and instead your priorities were with your buddies and Sally, what's that about?

Clearly outline things you want and need (and let me say this, DESERVE) and then recognize if he's not willing to hear you out or give a little, he's no longer worth your time. You've given him six years -- he should honor that, at the very least with honesty, instead of pissing on it.

Good luck.
posted by youandiandaflame at 5:44 AM on December 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

He just got back into town today (we went on separate Christmas trips). We haven't seen each other for a full week... he told me he was going out with the gang before I came home from work.

Honey, I don't think I've ever said this on MeFi before and I'm not doing it lightly now but... I think your guy is having an affair, or at least a really focused flirtation. With Sally. Also he sounds like a douche because people who are 32 years old do not stay out drinking until 3 am on a work night and do not blow off work for their hangovers and do not drive drunk.

I'd put on your Big Girl Pants and say "Look, you don't seem to be making this relationship a priority. I don't begrudge you a social life with your friends, but I want you to behave as if I come first and I want you to be safe. Neither of those things is happening. Are you looking to get out of this relationship? Because it would be better if you just told me that instead of slowly killing what we have."

Also WTF you are not old. I'm 40 and fat and not feeling awesome about my looks and none of that is a good reason for my husband to treat me as anything less than beloved.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:20 AM on December 29, 2012 [31 favorites]

You sound like a responsible person, who is mostly dealing with her demons (though you might benefit from discussing with a professional about the relationship and the "old, fat, and ugly" thing -- where's that coming from?), while he's out partying like a frat boy and setting himself up to very publicly destroy himself, and perhaps others, in the blink of an eye, and seriously make your life more unpleasant.

Even if he were the nicest guy in the world, his drunk driving would immediately earn from me a DTMFA card. Based on his actions, I'm not seeing any of the nice guy in him.

Like the others have said, follow your instincts. They are a thousands-years old gift that serve you well, should you choose to accept them.

You wouldn't describe a best friend as you describe yourself, nor would you stand by and not say anything if she were in that situation. It's time to be your own best friend.
posted by SillyShepherd at 7:36 AM on December 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Can you turn this around and think, not about what he is doing or not doing, but about what you want in your life? It sounds like drinking has become such a huge part of his routine-- drinking and driving; calling in sick because of drinking. Maybe it's part of a generalized crisis in his life or something, but he sounds like a mess. You're living with a guy who comes home drunk at 3am on a work night, and looks he might wind up with a DUI or an arrest or two, and maybe jobless. If he's still committed to you, maybe you owe him some compassion and a chance to get it together. If he's not, who needs this?

If the two of you do try to stay together, I'd say he needs help for alcohol more than you need help for jealousy. He may also be having an affair; a lot of times when people sort of implode like this, it's both.
posted by BibiRose at 7:39 AM on December 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeah, sorry to say, but this relationship is basically over. You might want to have a big talk, but I think you should go into it with the expectation that you are going to end the relationship. I have a feeling that he won't even bother trying to salvage it unless he depends on you economically.
posted by empath at 7:48 AM on December 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

People are telling you to trust your instincts, but I disagree, since it seems like your instincts are telling you that everything is your fault. In fact, this guy seems like bad news to me. He's way too enamoured of alcohol (and I say that as someone who enjoys drinking very much) and, frankly, he's way too enamoured of Sally (and I say that as someone who has a number of close opposite sex friends).

You should have your talk with him. If his response is to break up with you then he wasn't worth being with in the first place. Or you could save yourself some time and just break up with him yourself.
posted by Ragged Richard at 7:55 AM on December 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

This is just a thought, and potentially a way to approach the situation from a different angle. You say he has untreated depression, and that spoke to me in a way. I don't fully understand depression since it only became obvious I had it when I started going to therapy several months ago, but I know that when it kicks in, I start to perceive the world from a cold and utterly mercenary angle. It's like my emotions shut down, and I start calculating my relationship from a cost-benefit perspective. X is how much time I put in, Y is how much money I spend, Z is my opportunity cost of not dating other people, A is how much sex I get from my partner, B is how many fringe benefits there are (backrubs, cooking, etc), C is how much effort my partner puts in... all this stuff gets converted into a formula, numberic values get plugged in, and I use that formula to make a calculated decision about whether the relationship is worth keeping. If it is, I stay in it, even through the depression. And eventually my emotions kick back in, I remember what made my partner so wonderful, and laugh to myself at all the silly equations and calculations I was running in my head. If the numbers don't justify staying in the relationship though, I just break up, and never look back.

My thought (and it is only a suggestion, mind you) is that perhaps everybody makes these calculations on some subconscious level at one time or another, and it's possible he's doing so now. Right now he's hanging out with a younger woman who seems to have a strong interest in him - in other words, his Z (the opportunity cost of not being free to date other people) is starting to look pretty steep. At the same time, the A on the other side of the equation (the amount of sex you provide) is pretty low. In other words, the mathematics of this relationship are starting to shift away from your favor. My suggestion is that perhaps for a time you become more conscious of these internal mathematics, and start to alter the numberic values of the associated variables so that the calculation indicates that your relationship has a higher value to him than breaking up. For example, who puts in the effort of planning your dates? Would it be possible for you to propose a fun date with him, and do all the work of planning it, so that he doesn't have to put in any effort? If you can't bring yourself to have sex more than once a week, are there at least other ways you can be sensual with each other - massages, bubble baths, etc?
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:37 AM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

He may have been a good guy six years ago, but now he's turning into an alcoholic, drunk-driving, cheating (most likely) jerk who at this point, may end up killing someone and going to jail. Do you want him if this is the case? Not unless you're thinking, "This is the only man I will ever have in my life and I will be miserable alone"-type stuff, which I bet you are. Even if that is the case and you never, ever have love in your life from a man again from this point on, being alone is probably still better than spending the rest of your life still not getting love from him, and scrounging for scraps from a party boy who's looking to cheat and would probably be delighted to get dumped right now.

Sometimes good guys go bad. Sadly, it happens. This guy has. He wants out of the relationship and is doing everything but actually saying he wants out. I think you need to do that work for him. Start packing up your stuff and finding a new place to live now, or make him do it if you can, whichever.

And I know plenty of women who are fat and old and not stereotypically good looking that can still get the attention of men. Really. One friend of mine in particular, hoo boy. That can happen.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:54 AM on December 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

With respect, I see a problem with wolfdreams01's approach.

In the first place, offering him more sex may not work if he doesn't want it from you. (His stonewalling you when he got back is likely to discourage you from trying to have sex with him, as well, and he must know that.)

In the second place, he isn't behaving well right now to say the least. Supposing the problem is that he wants more sex from you, offering it as a way to keep him around until such time as his outlook improves would be offering a reward for bad behaviour. Supposing you seem to succeed at this, and the next time he wants something, he starts staying out late again, getting distant again, and talking about how great his new friend Terri is?

In the third place, a very common complaint among women I know is that they can have a fight, then the man initiates sex which they assume is make-up sex, and then it turns out that the moment it's over they are right back to "fight" because nothing was resolved. It wasn't the personal interaction the woman thought it was, they were only a body and he could have done that with anyone. One, if sex is personal to you, you may not be able to bring yourself to have sex with someone when the relationship is so bad and the trust is at an all-time low. Two, if you could bring yourself to do it, it might not even work.

I think there's value in looking at how the relationship must be from his point of view, but I also think that once he's reached a point of blowing off work because of drinking, and is driving drunk, and is stonewalling you, and has depression that he's not treating, and is staying out late and making sure you know it's with some chick called Sally, he's really negated his position. If the situation weren't so far gone or negative I'd say give it a try, but it passed that point a long time ago. This of course is quite apart from the fact that you seem to be taking more than your share of responsibility anyway, while he doesn't seem responsible at all and instead seems actively destructive.
posted by tel3path at 8:58 AM on December 29, 2012 [11 favorites]

I'm starting to have doubts about whether he really wants to be with me, or is just kind of going along with things.

My guess is that he's trying to get you to break up with him. That way he gets to stay the Nice Guy.
posted by 41swans at 9:14 AM on December 29, 2012 [7 favorites]

Or to put it another way, wolfdreams is talking about what would appeal to him as he strives to contain the temptation to behave badly. Tom, on the other hand, isn't containing his bad behaviour here, nor does it seem like he's trying to. That horse has bolted.
posted by tel3path at 9:18 AM on December 29, 2012

With all due respect to wolfsdreams, this guy does not sound worth the amount of effort and misery to try and calculate what would hold him in the relationship. Also, if you've gotten to a point in your relationship where you need to use tactics, perhaps you should find yourself a better one.
posted by windykites at 9:43 AM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

When you are putting out in a desperate bid to keep a man, you are broken and the relationship is broken, which is eventually proven to be true when it doesn't work and the relationship ends anyway. Then you just feel gross. Don't do that.

Here's an idea: if he wants more sex, he could lay the groundwork for that by spending time with you whilst simultaneously not acting like an asshat. In a healthy relationship, you get back what you invest.

As a side note, it sounds like you're investing and he isn't, which is an indicator that this relationship is not in a good place.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:49 AM on December 29, 2012 [8 favorites]

I think that 32 is way, way, WAY too old for partying hard and drinking to excess on a weekday. Calling in sick to work with a hangover (more than very occasionally) is something people ought to grow out of by their mid 20's. As for driving drunk...!!! Driving drunk is a crime, and if "Tom" is arrested and found guilty, you've got a convicted felon for a boyfriend, one who will probably lose his license and may be sued for everything he has. Is this what you want in your life?

The fact that this seems to have started recently, and after he's started palling around with a much younger crowd makes me wonder if he's trying to relive his youth and maybe act in the carefree way he wish he had - but driving drunk is just appallingly irresponsible. And drinking is a priority? Yeesh! That's what an alcoholic would say.

Whatever may happen with this relationship (and to be honest it doesn't look good from my vantage point) please do NOT allow yourself to think that being bipolar, or being fat (if you are and it's not just low self-esteem talking) means that you have to be on the begging end in your relationships. As Tel3path noted, perhaps your bipolar makes you feel like you have to take on more than your fair share of the relationship maintenance in order to "compensate" your partner. You might want to explore these feelings with the help of therapy or a twelve-step group.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:20 AM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I do think it might be worthwhile to look at it more charitably in terms of what's happening to him-- e.g. he got into a long-term relationship right after college and didn't the lifestyle of partying, multiple bed partners and stuff that a lot of people have at that age. So he's having a quarter-life crisis a bit late? Something like that. Thinking this way might help in terms of, not giving him slack in the the sense of letting him impact your life this way, but more in the sense of seeing it as a delayed phase in his life, not a negative verdict on you.

An eight-year age difference is not that much, but he was pretty young when you got together. Not everybody needs an immature frat-boy phase but maybe he just does. (I don't think anyone needs to turn into an alcoholic, though. That's just sad and unfortunate.)
posted by BibiRose at 10:57 AM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oof, yeah, I'm really sorry but he is absolutely going to spend the night at Sally's. Dudes like this are *beyond* predictable, they are goddamn cliches. His coworkers probably have bets on how long it will take him to bang her.

He's got one foot, two elbows, and the back of his head out the door. Shove the rest clean out, ASAP. Who cares if he gets to think of you as the "bad guy"?

If you were generally feeling awesome about yourself, I'd say, keep letting out rope til he hangs himself, then righteously DTMF when you bust him. But you're not, and you don't need that extra agony, so just dump his drunk ass when he eventually makes his way back to your place.
posted by like_a_friend at 4:55 PM on December 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think wolfdreams01's analysis is perfect and spot on, and I completely identify with it (and therefore perhaps with your boyfriend). In a depressive period I become Ms. Rational Self-Interest, and actually that's usually when I end up breaking up with people. You think it would be the other way around-- that I'd break-up with boyfriends when I was feeling up and self-sufficient and advocating for myself, but no! I close up emotionally and think about what I could get out of being "free" (usually, sexually) again. (Sometimes this has been a good thing, sometimes bad.)

Anyway, despite completely agreeing with that theory, I don't think what you need to do is change the mathematics in your favor. I really think you should just leave this relationship. There are too many terrible things going on here-- guilt about sex, potential imbalance in terms of time "compromises," drunk driving, dissimilar priorities, potential early-onset mid-life crisis (for him), &c. It's possible you could come out the other end but you'll be putting up with a lot of shit and you don't sound all that happy.

How to deal with jealousy? If you feel jealous because your partner is going out, drinking and driving with a much(?) younger girl with whom he shares intimate emotional moments, you deal with it by breaking up. Or else he gets some perspective and either changes his behavior or cares about your feelings enough to make it clear that his relationships are innocent. (However you two work that out.) He sounds like he's just throwing his hands in the air whenever you seem uncomfortable, which is shitty. People are always anti-ultimatums, but in a really doomed situation, they can be the kick in the head that the relationship needs.

But yeah, it sounds like you both need to do some work on personal issues with depression and self-hatred before you can have a healthy relationship and deal with jealousy appropriately. You can't hate yourself and think you're too old, ugly, and fat and have a healthy relationship with anyone, not even the most supportive, loving guy.
posted by stoneandstar at 4:56 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not seeing "great guy" in the person you're describing here. The drunk driver who goes bar hopping with basket cases and doesn't give his partner a hug after their separate holiday trips just sounds like a self-indulgent asscandle.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:54 PM on December 29, 2012 [6 favorites]

Sorry, let me clarify my earlier comment. I think he's a terrible person and you should DTMFA (not that it matters since he'll probably do it himself soon) but you seem to want to be with him for whatever odd reason, so I was just offering advice that might facilitate that irrational goal.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:41 PM on December 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sorry, let me clarify my earlier comment. I think he's a terrible person and you should DTMFA (not that it matters since he'll probably do it himself soon) but you seem to want to be with him for whatever odd reason, so I was just offering advice that might facilitate that irrational goal.

I hate to hijack wolfdreams01's comment, but I believe it's very insightful and bears repeating.

OP, if you are determined to stay with Tom then I'm sure that the outpouring of DTMFA is probably not what you were looking for. There is a saying frequently used on Mefi: "this is not the hill I want to die on." Could you reel Tom back in? Perhaps, but is he really the hill that you want to die on? Less cryptically, would he really be worth burying your discomfort and tolerating behaviours that rightly make you unhappy?

Realistically, I suspect that you're worried that your can't do better than Tom do to fat/ugly/bipolar/etc. but really, wouldn't it be better to be alone than have your heart torn apart an inch at a time by Tom's slow withdrawal?

When I was 20ish, I slept with and tolerated a withdrawing boyfriend solely to preserve our relationship. Yes, it kept he around for a while, but it didn't make me happy. It just made me feel like a prostitute*, trading my body and emotional well being for a relationship. I still shutter when I think of the cheap price that I sold myself for; he was in no way worth it, no one is. It was an amazing life lesson that I hope you learn through proxy, not through experience.

*I am not knocking prostitution, nor trying to insult actual prostitutes. Just saying that if you're trading your emotions/body/sanity out of desperation, you aren't getting a good deal and will feel really bad for having let yourself do it.
posted by Shouraku at 11:04 PM on December 29, 2012 [6 favorites]

This reminds me a great deal of my last relationship. My ex was also quite a few years younger than me, and we were really happy for the most part. Things changed when he started spending a great deal of time with a new group of younger friends (and one female one in particular) and suddenly had much less time for me.

I think I had been absorbing a lot of what our culture tells us about women's desirability as they age. I know I was very conscious of the age difference and worried that he would find me less attractive over time. I increasingly felt as though I was the old, boring one in our relationship, while he was the young, exciting one. All of this contributed to the fact that I did not stand up for myself as strongly as I should have when he started going off the rails and disrespecting our relationship.

At the time, I felt that if I told him I was unhappy with his behaviour then I would be unfairly restricting him and not letting him enjoy his (relative) youth. So although I did sit him down for some talks, I was never too hard on him because I was worried he would leave me.

I ended up breaking up with him when I felt that the relationship had become broken beyond repair, but I think I may have been able to save things if I'd had the courage of my convictions earlier on. Honestly, I should have busted his balls about his appalling behaviour because he completely deserved it and it may have actually knocked some sense into him.

Please don't be afraid to stand up for yourself and demand the changes that you want in your relationship - it may be the only way to fix things.
posted by RubyScarlet at 7:23 AM on December 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't want to go on about my situation too much, but I feel like I should add that after I broke up with my ex, he was full of regret and realised what he had lost. He has been trying to win me back for over a year, but it's too late now. I also have a great new boyfriend who treats me extremely well, and although I miss my ex at times I would never want to go back to the way he made me feel - like I was just some background noise that he had to grudgingly deal with between all the fun moments with his new friends.

All of this is to say that I don't regret finally taking a stand and telling my ex that his behaviour wasn't good enough. My only regret is that I didn't do it earlier. It was immensely freeing to stop tip-toeing around him and hoping that he would start respecting me and prioritizing me again. Like you, I intuitively new that his behaviour was awful, but I blamed myself for far too long.

I hope that you can find it within yourself to know that you deserve the best treatment and to either demand it from this guy, or cut your losses and find someone else who will love and respect and cherish you. I think you will be surprised at how good you can feel when you decide that you don't want to put up with this crap any longer.
posted by RubyScarlet at 7:51 PM on December 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh man. This sounds exactly like my ex when he was sleeping with his co-worker. He became emotionally distant, spending way too much time away from home, careless behavior, talking about this other woman in such a positive light. I finally figured out that he was trying to make me break up with him so he wouldn't be the bad guy. Sorry to say it but all signs point to him checking out of the relationship. I wish you luck.
posted by sybarite09 at 5:35 AM on January 2, 2013

Well, Tom just broke up with me. JohnnyGunn (and several others) had it exactly. I am feeling okay, and part of me is somewhat relieved. It hasn't sunk in yet. I am not angry, just sad at this point. But I will be all right. Six years of happiness is a pretty good run. (Most of my other "decent" relationships fell apart after about the one-year mark, but then I wasn't medicated properly for my bipolar (or even diagnosed for many of them)).

He was as kind as he could be about it, I guess. He said I did nothing wrong, he had zero criticism for me. And I asked if he was interested in anyone else. He said yes, but he hadn't done anything yet (I believe him on this actually). I said "Is it Sally?" and he said "Yeah", and I said "Yeah I suspected that".

Once he was feeling iffy about the relationship, and into someone else, I don't think there's anything I could have done. Or maybe he got into Sally and *then* started feeling iffy about us, I could see it going that way too.

He will be moving out, but not just yet due to financial reasons (I am the only one on the lease, so no entanglements there). I think I can afford the monthly bills without his contribution, but just barely. We are still on good terms. As soon as he told me he wanted to break up, my mind just started going through the logistics of who gets what stuff, heh. It hasn't sunk in yet.

Thanks everyone for your advice and insight. I was happy alone before I met him, and I will be happy alone after him. I just want to say my feeling fat, old, and ugly was really primarily just my insecurities talking. I have pretty good self-esteem overall. I am a worthy person, and I will find happiness, whether it's alone or with someone. I have a good job, a good relationship with my family, and good friends.

It's all gonna be okay.
posted by sock puppetron on wheels at 4:07 PM on January 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

Man, I am sorry, sock puppetron. It seems like there is something in the air lately. I am really, really glad that you are feeling okay. Other feelings might bubble up here and there, please come back if it would be helpful for you. I totally agree that it's all gonna be okay.
posted by cairdeas at 8:43 PM on January 6, 2013

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