What are normal lows in a relationship
November 2, 2017 10:11 PM   Subscribe

How do I tell the difference between a fear of commitment and vulnerability and an incompatible relationship that I should end.

I should probably leave this a general question about how to know whether I can trust my feelings or if they're the product of an anxious brain so please answer that question, but I can't bring myself to delete all the snowflakes about my particular issue below.

I feel bad posting this since there are so many similar questions out there but I just don't know what to do and my next therapy appointment isn't until Wednesday. I first read this thread and cried but understood that I can't lie to myself about what I really want. But then I read this thread and started thinking I'm an asshole who just thinks he's smart and is scared of the commitment that comes from a long term relationship.

We've been dating for a bit over 4 months. I liked her as a friend for a long time before. The first month was great. There have been many great moments since but the past month is by far the most stressed I've ever been in my life. I also have just started my career (a year ago) and have been questioning if it's really for me and how on earth I figure out what I want to do, but right now that's somewhat better since I've been trying harder at work.

I've never had to work hard. I am told over and over by everyone I surround myself with (maybe I like sycophants) how brilliant I am. I hate it because every day I look at myself and feel like a failure and know I could accomplish so much more if I just worked hard. This is just a small piece of the context for why when I stress about my relationship a piece of me says that I've just never worked hard and I'm confusing this new feeling of working hard with the relationship not being a fit (I have been genuinely learning how to work at my job which is very challenging and have made big strides from the woeful place I started at).

To try and give the highlights. I definitely think I'm smarter than her (2 s.d of IQ points at least), but then again I think that about all my friends except one. I wrote out many versions of this paragraph but all I can say is that I need to work on better appreciating different thinking styles (to try and stop people from being too harsh this isn't an issue with my friendships as I really cherish all my friendships and not being friends with someone because their IQ is lower is truly the most insane thing I could imagine). The issue is that I thought she was much more emotionally intelligent than me and could teach me that, but I now very seriously doubt that.

One night I unintentionally triggered her. By the time I realized she was getting upset it was too late (kinda calls into question my claim to be emotionally intelligent above :p). I didn't know what she was upset about and she wouldn't tell me. I hugged her and tried to provide non-verbal support as she has gotten sad and wouldn't talk to me a few times in the past. After 10 minutes she asked for me to stop touching her and then I lay next to her pretending to sleep as she distracted herself with her phone for much of the night. The next morning I asked her if she wanted to talk. She said she didn't have time and went back to sleep. An hour later as she got up to leave for work I asked her what was going on. She said she wasn't sure. I asked if I should interact with her normally until she figures it out and she said yes. She leaves. I text her a puppy gif since I know she likes that. No response. At 2pm I can't take it anymore, having thought myself in circles for the previous 15 hours. I text her that I don't know what specifically I did to make her upset (I truly have no idea at this point) but that I'm truly sorry for continuing to ask her questions past the point when she was happily answering them. I told her I respect that she needs space but I can't leave my phone on cause it hurts too much to keep checking and so I'll check at the end of the day. No response. I realize I need a response. I text her asking her to please acknowledge that she received my message and needs space. She texts back one text, "received your text, I need space rn". No contact for another two days. I text her after two days saying we had a date planned for the next day and whether she'll be ready to talk by then. She says "sounds reasonable". We talk the next day. She is shocked that I thought she was probably going to break up with me. Did say at one point that she felt so terrible and a part of her wanted me to experience as powerless and as terrible as she felt. Genuinely apologized for ignoring me.

I apologize for too many details. She doesn't ever volunteer negative feelings until she's really really upset about them and that makes my anxiety skyrocket through the roof. When we have serious convos she doesn't ask any questions and then misinterprets what I say and I find out the next day that she's really upset over something that I didn't mean (and sometimes didn't say).

Like the other question I linked this is my first LTR since HS. I was caught by surprise by how strongly she felt and against my better judgment moved very fast in the relationship. She told me her dealbreaker is having kids and I told her I thought there was a 50% chance I wanted that and that was a big stressor, she said I had to figure out if I wanted kids or not. She had no idea I was stressed in the relationship because she's very stressed applying to med school and I didn't want to stress her out more and turns out I'm way too good at hiding how I'm feeling (I wasn't going out of my way to hide it, its just that my voice is always neutral and I always avoid giving information unless I want to. For a further datapoint my therapist didn't realize I was stressed about the relationship until I explicitly said that out loud and she was then surprised).

To make a long story longer, I'm exhausted. I've never felt more emotionally drained: not dealing with my mildly abusive parents, or my sister in rehab or anything I can remember. I opened myself up and tried so hard to share and shared so many of my thoughts. But so many of the things I shared ended with her crying. She never initiates serious conversations and I now dread messing up so much that I don't initiate as much either.

I know I have a long list of things to work on (and I shared that list with her): communicating negative feelings as well, clarifying assumptions, being more sensitive to whether I am pushing too much with my questions (I should probably add recognizing her thinking style to that list). But I desperately want people to confidently tell me that we should break up and it's just not going to work. The worst part is that she's so optimistic that even though I told her how stressed I was and what I want to work on and that I couldn't stay in the relationship if it continues as is she's just confident that we'll get through it and fix our communication issues. I asked her out because I was selfish and had a crush on her and ruined a great friendship, let her be super vulnerable and now if I break up I'll just crush her and teach her to never take that risk again. So I officially suck.

How do I know if I can trust my feelings or if I should stick it out longer and give a genuine effort at fixing things? For the record, my default plan is to tell her how much stress I'm experiencing thinking about this and that I'm not sure we should keep dating but that I still am definitely willing to work on it for a few weeks. But I don't know if that's cruel to force her to make a decision and I should just do the mature thing and breakup instead.

Help me please. I just want someone to tell me what the right answer is.
posted by aaabbbccc to Human Relations (56 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
And then I just went and read this thread and enjoyed the really beautiful posts there and was inspired to continue working hard in the relationship. I know she is incredibly caring and means no harm and would try really hard to change anything I asked her. So how is it fair of me to write off the relationship and say that we have incompatible communication styles if she doesn't agree? Maybe if I just got out of my own head I would be able to consistently enjoy it too.

One thing I'd really really like to do is read through MetaFilter relationship posts and see how our opinions differ on the different ideas and suggestions people have. But I'm scared and hesitant to do this in case she comes across my posts and recognizes them as me.
posted by aaabbbccc at 10:18 PM on November 2, 2017

Rule # 1: (and to be honest, I didn’t read the entire wall of text) There’s absolutely no way a 4-month relationship can justify this many paragraphs. End it and move on.
posted by Kwadeng at 10:22 PM on November 2, 2017 [51 favorites]

Oh goodness gracious it is ok to break up. I wouldn’t like it if someone ignored me for two days and made my anxiety skyrocket through the roof. She won’t die if you end it. Don’t overthink it. What a lot of learning you are doing, good job.

I doubt you are two standard deviations smarter than someone applying to med school and mostly friend groups tend to be on the same wavelength in my opinion. Think about this - is it really your right to think of your friends as stupid? It’s ok to be wrong about stuff like this, but I’d phase out this way of looking at the world which is unkind and will drive others away...

But don’t beat yourself up - and maybe a conversation about wanting to return to friendship might work. But you guys might need some time apart.

It’s not the end of the world, so be kind to yourself kiddo! :)
posted by karmachameleon at 10:26 PM on November 2, 2017 [14 favorites]

Just to clarify my friends aren't stupid. I love them all and they're all brilliant in their own ways. My cousin who has severe learning disabilities and can't live alone has more to teach me about living a good life than many other people I know.
posted by aaabbbccc at 10:30 PM on November 2, 2017

How would you feel if your attractive girlfriend wrote “I know I’m a perfect 10 and he’s a 5 but I am trying to be less judgmental about looks. None of my friends are as pretty as me and some of them are actually not attractive at all IMO but they are still beautiful to me.” A little delusional, and hard for them to swallow, no? Be attentive to that, this is for your own good I’ve said this. A good boyfriend encourages their girlfriend and treasures their qualities. They celebrate their efforts, not tell lots of strangers they aren’t that smart... you’re not blameless, but you can be better.
posted by karmachameleon at 10:51 PM on November 2, 2017 [24 favorites]

I found counseling - individual, not couples, since you're trying to sort out *your* mind not a shared dynamic - to be very helpful for this. Some of the questions it helped me to think about were:

- What would I like to be different?
- If I imagine it not changing for a long time, do I want to stick around? How long?
- Can I take action toward making it be different? What is stopping me? What happens if I try? (This is where I decided to 'give my partner a chance to surprise me' instead of pre-fighting a fight in my mind, and it worked out really well.)

And then there's all sorts of things you can do to communicate what you want better, to ask for things in ways that aren't insulting, to appreciate other people more. But the first question is, what do you want to be different?

But honestly... that was after 8 years, and a committed relationship and life built together, and sorting out what was quarter-life-crisis anxiety and what was actual dissatisfaction. After 4 months if you're feeling that way already, it's probably worth starting over with someone who more meets your actual desires, not just what you think you should desire.

Picking a relationship because it will 'make you a better person' is setting yourself up for failure, really. Life is hard. Pick people who you admire and enjoy being around and want to spend time with, not people you think you *should* admire and enjoy being around. If good conversation is important to you, or someone who can understand your interests, go look for it.
posted by Lady Li at 11:15 PM on November 2, 2017 [5 favorites]

I think you're dating someone who is a decent person but who you don't have an actual connection with, and you're taking that lack of connection and your anxiety is loading it up with a lot of stuff about IQ and emotional intelligence and it's just... not actually that complicated. There's a difference between walking into dating on principle saying you won't date someone "less smart" and finding a particular person who is very different from you to be not super appealing after you've spent some time together. You need to work on the anxiety stuff to make any relationship viable, but honestly, there's like nothing here about why you should want to stay with this person. At four months, that's enough reason to not.
posted by Sequence at 11:20 PM on November 2, 2017 [17 favorites]

I apologize for too many details.

you didn't include any of the relevant details! everything about how anxious and needy you felt, nothing about what turned out to be the thing she was upset about. all this build-up and then "We talk the next day." -- about what?

or is the children issue a ways later into the question what this incident was about? whether it was or not, of course she is correct that you have to figure it out, and a resolute "maybe" from the partner who doesn't have to make any physical sacrifices for childbearing almost always means yes in the end. you are already dangling the ongoing threat of a breakup over her head via this position. 50 percent chance of wanting kids means 50 percent chance of leaving her whenever you make up your mind.

however, this is the only thing I would describe as cruel as opposed to just kind of willfully dense. you talk about how impossible it was for you to guess what you could have done wrong over this long period of upsetting her, but then you say she's always misinterpreting you and not noticing when you're upset. so: you both do the same thing to each other, but you characterize it differently when it's you.

this in particular:

let her be super vulnerable and now if I break up I'll just crush her and teach her to never take that risk again.

is self-important and ridiculous. you want to be told to break up? break up. it's the right decision. you do not have the absolute power over this woman's self-esteem, future happiness, and capacity for love that you attribute to yourself.
posted by queenofbithynia at 11:37 PM on November 2, 2017 [17 favorites]

The details of that night were that she wanted me to walk her to her car because she's scared of the dark. I happily did but was asking her why she was scared and if it was the nighttime or the neighborhood because it was a very well lit parking lot. She said she knows it's not rational. I said ya I was just wondering if you had any theories about when it applies or what makes you more scared. Then we went home separately because I had to bike. At home I said, "I feel like my questions upset you, is that correct?" She said it did and said she gets stressed when I ask her questions but she doesn't know the answers. So I dug into this and eventually she said, "I could theorize about why I'm scared but I don't want to." I said "ohh that's very helpful because then I wouldn't ask you any follow-ups, when I think you don't know but you're open to questioning then I keep going". She never responded and I started realizing that she was very sad about something.

She was sexually assaulted many years ago. She interpreted my questions as being follow-ups where I kept asking why she was scared of the dark (answer cause of the assault) and she didn't want to think about it but she felt like I was forcing her to. As soon as she explained this to me my anger disappeared and I was just sad. I don't have any anger for her because how else could I expect her to react if that's how she experienced the situation. But at the same time I don't know how to avoid these situations in the future.

Maybe I'm just not socially aware enough right now.

One thing that's clear to me from reading these comments is that I give myself too much credit and she'll be happy either way. That's her special talent (though it seems dangerously close to repressing her negative feelings until they're unavoidable and just pour out).

I don't feel like I can do our relationship justice over text. And maybe that's my problem too. I like to think I'm a unique snowflake when really I'm just a standard brick. I'm going to keep working on myself and have an honest conversation with her about this. Ignore the nonsense about IQ and intelligence, that was a complete red herring that has nothing to do with anything at the end of the day.

Thanks everyone for the responses, some very helpful insights out there!
posted by aaabbbccc at 12:05 AM on November 3, 2017

I think Queenofbithynia is right. I only notice her flaws and not my own. I read this post and see an unfortunately clear connection in viewing my role as helping her improve. This is unacceptable. She isn't meeting my needs in some ways but unless I can stop viewing her in that light I need to end things and just spend time working on myself in therapy. That's my last post for this thread, I promise.
posted by aaabbbccc at 12:32 AM on November 3, 2017

That's her special talent

But the point is, it isn't a special talent. It would be really, really, REALLY unusual for someone to be deeply crushed, long-term, by the ending of a four-month relationship. It is totally standard and normal for relationships to end and for people to move on and be happy again afterwards. You're continuing to load way, way, way too much into this for someone you've been with a couple months. Breakups are rotten, but they're very temporarily rotten and it does not take any special levels of resilience to be able to move on--and given how long you've been together, we're talking weeks, not years.
posted by Sequence at 12:40 AM on November 3, 2017 [10 favorites]

I think maybe you’re just not a good match. Your anxieties and communication styles don’t mesh well together. You push each other’s buttons in a not good way.

You’re allowed to break up. She doesn’t have to agree. My new rule is that anything that makes me feel this bad, or drives me to this level of anxious over-analysis, gets removed from my life.
posted by wreckofthehesperus at 1:35 AM on November 3, 2017 [11 favorites]

The details of that night were that she wanted me to walk her to her car because she's scared of the dark. I happily did but was asking her why she was scared and if it was the nighttime or the neighborhood because it was a very well lit parking lot. She said she knows it's not rational. I said ya I was just wondering if you had any theories about when it applies or what makes you more scared. Then we went home separately because I had to bike. At home I said, "I feel like my questions upset you, is that correct?" She said it did and said she gets stressed when I ask her questions but she doesn't know the answers. So I dug into this and eventually she said, "I could theorize about why I'm scared but I don't want to." I said "ohh that's very helpful because then I wouldn't ask you any follow-ups, when I think you don't know but you're open to questioning then I keep going". She never responded and I started realizing that she was very sad about something.

Holy heck man, are you blind to the whole 'women get assaulted' thing? How insensitive are you to the fears women rightly hold of empty public places at night? Do you think rationality comes into play with sexual assault on women in well-lit car parks? I would be upset and unable to express myself too in the face of such ignorance.
posted by Thella at 1:41 AM on November 3, 2017 [85 favorites]

I desperately want people to confidently tell me that we should break up

You wouldn't want this unless you wanted to break up with her. And if you want to break up, you don't need our permission. I don't understand what you are waiting for.
posted by lollusc at 3:03 AM on November 3, 2017 [6 favorites]

I think you need to understand that badgering someone for a heartfelt or introspective answer to their fears/problems is just never going to end well. You know what she probably wanted to say: “I am afraid of the dark because I am afraid I’ll be assaulted” which you were preemptively refuting by commenting on how well lit it was and the tenor of the neighborhood: you were trivializing her experience, her feelings, and her rationale.

This is a HUGE communication problem. People are not puzzles to be solved via 20 questions. You sound anxious and miserable, please break up with her. She’ll be perfectly fine. You both deserve to feel better about your relationships.
posted by lydhre at 3:31 AM on November 3, 2017 [49 favorites]

said she gets stressed when I ask her questions but she doesn't know the answers. So I dug into this

Did you do this on purpose, to make her more stressed? If not, I don't understand this at all. Why would you do the exact thing she just told you not to do?

No need to answer. Just think about it, please.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:33 AM on November 3, 2017 [30 favorites]

> Holy heck man, are you blind to the whole 'women get assaulted' thing?

Obviously not, he's 2 sd's more intelligent than her...

Mate, I would suggest - after breaking up with her - that you think a bit more about how you place yourself higher than everyone around you. IQ is a very limited measure of "intelligence", and "intelligence" is far, far from being a measure of your worth as a person.
posted by giraffeneckbattle at 3:34 AM on November 3, 2017 [28 favorites]

I think you should break up. My read on the situation is this:

1. You got way too emotionally serious and emotionally entangled very fast, without building the sort of early-stage habits and comfort with each other that allow you to avoid constantly having conversations that end in tears.

2. You have some trouble communicating feelings and knowing when it is loving to ask questions and when it is loving to back off, and she seems like she is in a headspace where that is exhausting and upsetting for her. Like, dating someone who is still working on the communication piece is not a huge issue for everyone, but if someone needs a lot of care around communicating, it becomes a huge issue, and not just a minor "I like this person even though they ask questions and don't know when to back off")

3. She reacts to being upset by withdrawing, the silent treatment, the "desire to make you feel powerless", etc. I think this is a pattern that a lot of women learn when they have no other options or power and when their expressed feelings are belittled or used against them. At the same time, it's also an enormously destructive pattern, and I fully understand that this is stressful and upsetting for you.

4. Basically, it sounds like you have contradictory emotional issues. You are working on when it's caring to ask and when it's caring to back off, and working on how to open up and be vulnerable with people. She has a lot of trauma that causes her to have trouble opening up and to respond to upset by withdrawal and silent treatment. You can both be very well-intentioned and still end up hurting each other.

5. I have observed friends who are very young who slog along in relationships where there is bad communication, constant arguing/crying/silence, etc and just a lot of misery. Many of them use the language of therapy and tumblr about the relationships - the relationship is a project, there is a lot of trauma and triggering and "taking space" and "needing space" and so on. I think that in a way there's too much therapy in the room in a lot of these relationships - people are using a model that is better applied to permanent issues like how you deal with your own feelings, or how you deal with your childhood relationships with your family and applying it to new, short-term relationships that are not serious.

A relationship should not be that much work. When you are in a relationship that has staying power, most of the time you will find it easy to communicate fairly well. Your weaknesses will be weaknesses that the other person can handle, not weaknesses that really push their buttons, and the same will be true for you. When you have that fundamental compatibility, then you can do some emotional work on top of that.

Sometimes you need to date a number of people before you recognize that compatibility and how it differs from simply liking someone enough to ask them out.

5. It is okay to ask a friend out and then break up with them. It is okay to break up with people early in a relationship. When I was younger, I stayed in relationships I should have ended right away because I felt that it was unfair to the other person to start something and end it abruptly, even if I was very unhappy. I felt like I owed it to them to just...stay in the relationship as a service to them, because I had put an emotional burden on them by starting the relationship.

Relationships are sort of unfair, intrinsically. There is no way to have them be risk-free or pain-free, and there is no way to force two people to be on the same page if they're not. This feels extremely unfair, and obviously we try to ameliorate it be trying not to be assholes. But sometimes the way a relationship works is that one person feels good about ending it and the other feels bad. It seems like it should not be that way, but that's the breaks.

6. In re intelligence: It's hard to say what intelligence is, what parts of it are modulated by class and education, what parts of it are modulated by privilege. For instance, middle class people and white men in particular tend to assume that they're intelligent, so we feel super confident about speaking up and "acting" intelligent, while equally smart people keep quiet or don't consider themselves intelligent because they've received so much cultural messaging that they're just, like, intrinsically dumb. As you go through life, you'll probably have many moments when you're realize that someone is way, way smarter than you thought. (And that you are stupider!)

In relationships, I think it's best to treat the markers of "intelligence" more like the markers of shared interests. Like, I enjoy talking about books with people who read books and think about them. I don't especially enjoy talking about programming or physics. It is easier and more effective to say, "I really want to date someone with whom I have fun conversations about books" than "I want to date a smart person". Someone who reads a lot and likes to talk about books is always-already going to be "smart enough" to date. Someone who is really smart and likes to talk about physics isn't going to be a good fit, even if we both have super great SATs.

7. You and she are both pretty young. (Right out of college, right?) Date other people, focus on having lighter-weight relationships, don't focus on seeking a long-term partner right now. (One may come along, of course.) The skills that you need are going to be best built by spending time with lots of people in lots of settings rather than by trying to hack one extremely fraught relationship.
posted by Frowner at 3:41 AM on November 3, 2017 [56 favorites]

I think that you should break up with her and tell her that you need to work on yourself, because you need to work on yourself. I've dated guys like you and it was not good for me. There is something going on here where you don't seem to have a genuine empathy for other people's positions and experiences in the world. That is toxic for relationships and for everyone in those relationships.

Man, I still remember the boyfriend who told me I was too anxious when I explained that it's scary for women to be in parking garages. Even if they're well lit. I don't think that you understand what it is like to live as another person. Not everyone is you, and that does not make their experiences or needs automatically less valid.

Some individual counseling or therapy would do you worlds of good. Although, the people that I have known that seem to share your orientation to the world have often thought that therapist aren't smart enough either. I would seriously consider concentrating on the specific issue of your view of intelligence and of other people when you start therapy. And I also want to stress that therapy is not just for people who suffer from mental illness. You don't have to be mentally ill to benefit from working on yourself with another person who is trained for the job. Asking this question was a good first step, but I think that the situation is much larger than you're giving it credit for. This is not a simple case of incompatibility with one woman.

Finally, intelligence and human interaction have very little to do with points on a test that is known to be racist, sexist, and classist. I think that talking about this whole IQ thing with your therapist could be very enlightening. I too happen to have done well on that particular test, but I cannot imagine wondering at somebody else's IQ, let alone thinking that I could possibly know without administering the test to someone how many standard deviations away from my IQ they were! That whole thing really betrays something about what is actually going on in this question, but I don't think that digging into what that is in this particular medium is going to be fruitful for you.

Best of luck. The fact that you asked this question is a really good first step, but what's happening here is above the pay grade of Internet strangers.
posted by sockermom at 3:54 AM on November 3, 2017 [38 favorites]

Four - six months seems to be when people typically asses whether the relationship has the core and the positive forward movement to become a LTR or not (it's not really a LTR yet at 4 months, even if it is for you.) What you have is your first serious relationship that will become a LTR through inertia if you don't end it. But. Really your relationship is still on a probationary period at four months. If you don't really want to be there at 4 months you end it , because you are not going to want to deal with this when you have kids and decades of commitment.
I am not going to address the intelligence issue. You sound young, though.
There are some rare relationships, maybe once in a lifetime and not true for everyone, that leave a scar forever when you end them for the wrong reason, such as anxiety. They are rarely 4 month relationships. But ask yourself. Is this woman going to leave a hole in your heart forever? If not, remember you don't need to extend the beginning (and this IS the beginning) into a LTR through inertia or any other reason. You're supposed to be happy at 4 months if it's going forward. (Yes, break ups suck, but you both move on.)
posted by velveeta underground at 4:14 AM on November 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

I took the liberty of looking at your old AskMe threads. Is this the same girl you mentioned here and here? If so, you've clearly been thinking about her in a romantic way MUCH longer than she has about you, and perhaps the real relationship isn't quite what you thought it would or could be. Totally fine to break up for that reason.

Also, your IQ has nothing to do with any of this.
posted by easternblot at 4:34 AM on November 3, 2017 [7 favorites]

I get the sense that she’s thinking of breaking up with you, so this may not be your decision to make. Regardless, I think both of you have your own things to work on in order to be healthy partners in a relationship, and the overlap between both your particular things makes it extremely difficult for you to get to that healthy place together. I think you’ll both be better off apart.

She will need to learn how to better handle and communicate conflicts and negative feelings before they get out of control, and she needs to learn that it’s unhealthy to “punish” a partner. (These are 100% not your things to teach her or even tell her; I mention them because the incompatibility isn’t entirely yours.) You need to work on empathy, in particular how to communicate with someone having a strong emotional reaction. Don’t dig when someone’s upset, and don’t try to defuse emotion with reason - it doesn’t work and feels condescending. You started to do a good thing by revisiting the issue afterwards, when you were both calm and safe and out of the stressful scenario, but then you re-escalated with exactly the same things you’d done before.

A couple other things: first, in my experience, when people talk about IQ it’s very often in a “and that’s why people don’t get me” context. Some degree of intellectual compatibility is crucial, yeah, but being super smart is never the only reason someone has trouble connecting with others. Second, you mention that you thought she was more emotionally intelligent than you and could teach you. It’s not anyone’s responsibility to teach you emotional intelligence; it’s your responsibility to learn. Even the most empathetic people-person had to learn a lot of that through experience, much like your high intelligence didn’t pre-install quantum physics in your brain.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:43 AM on November 3, 2017 [10 favorites]

I think that you should break up with her and tell her that you need to work on yourself, because you need to work on yourself.

Yes to this.

In my experience a strong attachment to the idea of being smart can be a way to compensate for insecurity about other areas. (Ask me how I know this). Therapy seems like a good move. There are a lot of great resources on emotional intelligence which you might like to explore in addition to therapy. Meantime, take a break from dating.
posted by bunderful at 5:45 AM on November 3, 2017 [9 favorites]

I think you two should split up and you should work on managing your anxiety. This is too much drama for four more moths.

Also, I feel obligated to mention that of the guys I dated, the “smartest” guy messed with my head more than any other. I’m not saying you did or are doing this, OP, but I told this guy about stuff previous boyfriends had done that I didn’t like and he felt the need to interrogate me about it. “You didn’t like that? Did you say no? If you didn’t say no, you must have liked it at least a little. How much did you like it? You were scared? If you were scared, why did you continue seeing him? You did similar things that were okay - why were some things okay but not others? Why are you getting upset? You’re being irrational. I’m just trying to get to the bottom of this.” People aren’t computers. It’s okay to want to learn more about a person but you might have more success asking people more open-ended questions, especially with sensitive topics. “Do you want to talk about it? That sounds really hard. If you want to tell me more sometime, I’d like that.”

But yeah, this relationship sounds like bad news.
posted by kat518 at 6:15 AM on November 3, 2017 [20 favorites]

My IQ is 185.

See, see how much of an asshole I sound like. Maybe I'm lying to make a point, maybe I'm not, maybe I'm a barely sapient sponge cake that escaped a British baking competition and now lives by my wits on the internet? Doesn't matter, I still sound like an asshole. There is no way to make this information flattering.

More over this is a super unhealthy way to self identify. I literally gagged a little at the use of standard deviations, if you threw in the word "erudite" I may have actually barfed. And that barf? that would be the up-chuck of empathy, because as a smart, lazy, privileged asshole myself this mindset ruined most of my teens and 20's. I didn't realize it at the time but it was awful. Not only do you seem like an asshole to most people, you yourself can't even see what the issue driving these people away is.

The "walk me to my car" story is a great example of this. She expresses a desire for closeness, ans security, there is an unspoken element of fear and caution; and a heaping subtext of cultural and societal baggage. That's a normal social situation and a time to celebrate the sense of closeness and security you can provide another person. Instead you harass her with questions about why she's afraid. It's belittling. You also place this thing you were in fact doing as her perspective "She interpreted my questions" and "she felt like" ... NO. You were doing that. That's why she felt that way, take responsibility. The fact that in that moment you didn't say "oh shit what am I doing?" is the problem.

The key thing you're missing there is this: what you think doesn't matter, the questions you want answered don't matter, your inquisitiveness in that social situation doesn't matter, validation of your curiosity at the expense of her sense of safety doesn't fucking matter.

Break up. For her sake. For your sake. Break up.

You need therapy, you need to realize being smart or right doesn't matter all that much in the real world, in personal interactions, in relationships. Learn to read a room, learn to listen, learn to be in a social space without flagging that you may be really smart or very right.

You'll be better off for it.
posted by French Fry at 6:15 AM on November 3, 2017 [66 favorites]

Maybe I'm just not socially aware enough right now.

See - awareness is a choice. It's a learned behavior and a skill. I read this part and the part about your IQ and I can only conclude that your confidence in your own brilliance and intelligence has led you to not actually listen and take as face value what other people say.

You feel like you can probe her with questions to better understand and therefore ameliorate this "irrational" behavior of being scared of the dark under the assumption that you're smarter than she is. You can couch this as trying to help her, but how it comes off to someone is - you don't believe her experience and perspective is invalid. She's aware as you are that it's not rational, but you not accepting that what she needs right now is not a fix to her problem but support as she's going through it is what is at the core of the sadness. She needs validation and support as she figures things out for herself.

I was the same way at 22. I can safely say getting over yourself is going to really help you either in this or in future relationships. No matter your intelligence, you are going to know a fraction of a percent of anything the world has to offer - including what people's experiences are. You have to learn to listen and accept what people tell you and get out of the game of running it through your "smarter than thou" lens. The good news is - this is not something you're born with and something you can choose to get better at by focusing on it. Get better at it.
posted by notorious medium at 6:22 AM on November 3, 2017 [8 favorites]

I've never had to work hard. I am told over and over by everyone I surround myself with (maybe I like sycophants) how brilliant I am. I hate it because every day I look at myself and feel like a failure and know I could accomplish so much more if I just worked hard.

With all due respect, it does not sound at all like you hate being told how brilliant you are, because you have made it into a central facet of your identity. It also sounds like you believe people implicitly when they tell you this, instead of understanding that this is the sort of comment that people throw around at anyone who is barely above average re: cleverness. I am not saying that to imply that you are not smart, but as someone who went from being told that as a child/adolescent/college student to an adult who realizes that there are MANY reasons for people to throw out this type of comment, I want you to try asking yourself why you fixate on this so much.

I’ve known a lot of brilliant people whose lives are terrible because brilliance doesn’t mean much without other attributes or opportunities. You seem to partially understand this, and yet you still rank people around you based on this arbitrary measure.

You are also very, very young, and you seem very confused by normal human interactions. This is fine and normal! But assuming that your IQ will help you navigate being a person is wrong, and it is making it harder for you to get better at it. You seem to have bought into the idea that as a smart and “rational” person, every problem can be solved by you “discovering” the truth through research and interrogation. This is false, and it is very hurtful, as your girlfriend tried to tell you, repeatedly.

So you’re smart, and she kept trying to erect boundaries, and you kept refusing to respect those boundaries. Why are you doing that? Do you think your IQ gives you the right to disregard her own choices? Do you think those 2 s.d. of “points” mean that you get to override her feelings and her requests for you to respect those feelings? I think you know that the correct answer is “no”, but I also think that deep down you feel strongly that the answer is “yes”. You are not alone in this— a huge number of men behave this way. But it is still wrong, and it is still hurtful, and it is still toxic to relationships.

If you were in a class and professor taught you about a fact (assuming the professor is an expert in that field), would you automatically assume that the professor needed to prove it? Would you relentlessly interrogate that professor about the fact, even after the professor asked you to stop? Would you disregard the professor’s attempts to get back on track and keep digging and positing alternative “facts” in an attempt to discover the truth? Would you ask a series of questions that implied that your professor was probably mistaken and probably needed to cite more sources?

No, because it is ingrained in you that certain people are invested with the right to speak about certain topics. However, it is equally ingrained in you (by our culture, that teaches this) that your girlfriend cannot be trusted to represent her own experiences or manage her own emotions. You do not believe that she is the authority about her own experiences and self. You told her this, as you asked her to justify an incredibly normal part of her life. You told her this, when she asked for space and you refused to give it to her. You told her this, when she said you had upset her and you turned the discussion into your own need for emotional caretaking, because you were upset about having upset her.

I mean, have you even asked her what her thoughts are about your relationship? Why are you leaving her out of this decision?
posted by a fiendish thingy at 6:25 AM on November 3, 2017 [21 favorites]

The issue is that I thought she was much more emotionally intelligent than me and could teach me that

Uggghhhhhhhhh. Do not date people because of what you think they can do for you.
Do not date people because of what you think they can do for you. Do not date people because of what you think they can do for you.

Women are often on the receiving end of this. It's the central idea behind the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. It sucks to be on the receiving end of this expectation. Women are not here to fix you or teach you their wisdom. We're people.

Also? As a lady, and a pretty smart one with several pieces of paper that ostensibly prove this, I'd like to note that men not thinking women are as smart or rational as they are is a thing. I encounter it all the time. I even occasionally catch the whiff off of my own husband. Like, I see that split-second note of surprise in his eye when I say something that indicates that I'm aware of something that he wasn't expecting me to be aware of. There's a reason "mansplain" is a word.

Expecting a woman to know things about emotions that you don't know and to help you be a better person and also thinking they're not as smart as you are both well-worn grooves on the misogyny path. Stop it. You are heaping expectations on this woman that she is being crushed under. Remove them immediately and then reconsider the relationship without all of that stacked on top.

Let me also drop his here for your consideration: My dad is a PhD at the top of his field at an R1, multilingual, and extremely accomplished in many, many ways. My mom never went to college, worked her whole life at a bank, and does not think of herself as smart. My dad has many flaws (boy howdy), but condescending to my mother is not one of them. He respects her unique intelligence (and she is smart, just not in an academic way) and he genuinely does not believe that he is smarter than she is. I've met a lot of smart people up their own butts about their intelligence in my time, and let me tell you, my parents' relationship is rare and wonderful in this regard. They've been married for almost 50 years.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:41 AM on November 3, 2017 [61 favorites]

If the VERY FIRST THING you have to say about your partner is "I definitely think I'm smarter than her", then YES you should break up. Not because you are "smarter" than her, but because you don't respect her. The only possible way in which your IQ might be a factor is that your identifying very strongly with what some very biased, bullshit standardized test said about your cognitive skills has turned you into an egomanic.

The details of that night were that she wanted me to walk her to her car because she's scared of the dark. I happily did but was asking her why she was scared and if it was the nighttime or the neighborhood because it was a very well lit parking lot.

So, I want to echo everyone else who noticed that the reality of women being sexually assaulted even in "well-lit parking lots" seems to have escaped your awareness. Which suggests to me that you don't seem to give a shit about women in general. She shouldn't have been forced by your badgering to confess her history of sexual assault simply because the idea of a woman being concerned about her safety is apparently a foreign concept to you.

She told me her dealbreaker is having kids and I told her I thought there was a 50% chance I wanted that and that was a big stressor

I'm confused as to why she didn't break up with you at this point. It's also unclear to me whether or not she wants kids. Did she say that she wants to have kids and it would be a dealbreaker to date someone who does not want kids -- or did she say that she does NOT want to have kids? Either way, if she said X is a dealbreaker and you said Y, I don't understand why she is still dating you.

I think you are overthinking this. She will be fine, not because she has a "special talent" but because humans move on from "3-4 month breakups" all the time. As brilliant as you think you are, you are not so special that this woman will be devastated for the rest of her life simply because you end this short relationship. It sounds like you're actually making her pretty unhappy and stressed out so no matter how hurt she may be in the short term, she'll also probably feel a sense of relief.

As for you -- please do something about your over-inflated ego. I know it's not easy to have people blow smoke up your ass so frequently and for so long, but your relationships will continue to suffer if you do not work hard to develop a healthier self-concept.
posted by Gray Skies at 8:12 AM on November 3, 2017 [8 favorites]

I think people are being a bit hard on you, but there are a lot of things going on here:
1) Your ego over your intelligence is a bit nauseating (“2 s.d.” means you’ve been fixating on IQ too much). I don’t doubt that you’re smart, but lots of people give this compliment when someone is anxious, or depressed, or shy, while also being fairly smart— it’s the way they perceive that person and mentally compensate for their other flaws so they can value them as a friend. You may have a higher IQ than your friends, but I’m not sure why you’re so fussed about this; if you can’t relate to a woman, move on! You don’t have to pretend like all women have low IQ so you need to change yourself to be happy. On the other hand, you could definitely improve at appreciating that not caring about the same things you do =/= lack of intelligence. Though if she’s applying to med school, she’s obviously not a dope.

The assault thing: obviously very difficult on her. I don’t blame you for being ignorant, though of course it’s better for you to understand this and be sensitive about it. Ive never been assaulted so I imagine I could be a blockhead about this as well. Her behavior wasn’t delightful, but I would cut her some slack unless she deals with all conflict this way. Being triggered is not fun.

Also on the note of her behavior, she sounds busy and stressed and possibly not as invested in this relationship as you. It’s very possible she’s thinking of it on a much more casual level and the things that you feel are momentous are not very important to her. I see this in a lot of people applying to professional school.

In sum, I think you’re looking for different things and aren’t that compatible. When you find someone you click with, things will be easier than this.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:46 AM on November 3, 2017

I also just noticed your comment about her suppressing her negative feelings— honestly, it’s called having your shit together! Talking about negative feelings doesn’t necessarily bring closure, either. She just has priorities and I’m 99% sure med school is a higher priority to her than a 4 month old relationship with someone who may or may not want children.

There’s something to be said for living in your feelings and something to be said for being anchored instead to the real world. Neither is wrong but both have strengths and weaknesses. It does sound like you are lacking some social experience, which is not a crime, but your benefit from putting yourself out there more.

Also the “person pampered for their high intelligence who gets their ass handed to them at their first difficult job” thing is a classic scenario. You’re fine, it’s just that you’re learning that experience and real world knowledge take time to acquire and it’s about how you apply your intelligence to those problems. Your girlfriend is already doing that.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:53 AM on November 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

In various ways, I have been you, in my past. I am now not you, and this means I am somewhat impatient and judgmental about what you're saying -- but please know that my judgment is coming especially from a place of self-loathing: remembering local minima that I have repudiated, and never want to go back to again.

We both have managed to level up on a bunch of intellectual things without consciously trying, which has given us both the feeling that our instantaneous intuitive understandings are more likely correct than not. Certainty of this feeling is the worst, darkest trap you can fall into.

Your intuitive understanding of something is a working hypothesis which you should immediately start looking to defeat. Assume the counterfactual. A romantic partner wants you to accompany them to the parking lot at night, rather than walking alone. This seems irrational to you because the parking lot is well-lit. Do sodium lamps make it impossible to snatch a purse, to mug someone, to assault someone? Does the cold blue of LED lighting demonstrate your partner that you care? That you care not only that she "is" safe, but that she "feels" safe, and that you care that she can feel justified in believing that you care that she feels safe?

If she were walking through the parking lot without you, and you heard shouting and struggle, would you ask for an explanation of what was going on before you made a decision of whether to ask? Suppose she has pepper spray and self-defense training and can take care of herself. In a certain view then it would be irrational and maybe dangerous for you to get involved. But I'm sure that in reality, the mere possibility that she could need your support in that situation would be enough for you to act immediately, without questioning.

I don't know if I'm making my point. There are many kinds of support that partners need. The model of communication that you seem to think is optimal sounds to me like "eager evaluation" on every kind of support your partner asks for. As if you propose out exactly why they are asking for support, what need it is fulfilling, where that need comes from, all the way down to the turtles, whenever they ask for anything. When someone is asking for any kind of emotional support, you kind of have to default to "lazy evaluation": just return a Promise or a Lambda or whatever kind of hug (or not-hugging) or support they're asking for. Do the thing. Maybe later you can figure out why. Maybe if you don't ask they'll volunteer the information that your rigorous Socratic method would have taken four hours to get to.

Parts of this are covered in this excellent essay which you must read, and read the bell hooks book he references, The Will to Change.

I hope for her sake that she's planning to break up with you, and is just preparing herself for the exhausting conversation where you're going to ask her to justify her lived experience for hours. If she doesn't break up with you, the kindest thing you can do is break up with her. Whether you break up or not, read the bell hooks book in a group with your male friends (*not* putting book club work onto your partner), especially including those with more dating experience than you.
posted by xueexueg at 9:05 AM on November 3, 2017 [6 favorites]

You complain she emotionally withdraws, but when she shows you a "weakness" like admitting fear in walking to her car, you do nothing but question her feelings & interrogate her instead of simply understanding & helping her. Of course she withdraws emotionally from you during conflict, you haven't given her any reason to believe you'd be a safe person to show her real feelings to.
posted by wwax at 9:27 AM on November 3, 2017 [24 favorites]

One of the golden AskMe rules is that if you have more than one paragraph for each month you've been dating, break up and just move on.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 9:40 AM on November 3, 2017 [16 favorites]

So much of what you posted resonated with the first year of my relationship......the one I stuck with for 30 yrs. The one I am still in.

he is a person with Aspergers which we did not know as the cultural differences masked those communication issues....He's German, I am a multilingual, fiery, Irishwoman

we discovered this about 3-4 years into the relationship by which time we respected the hell out of each other and were willing to put the work in no matter what. Oddly we found out many years later that the research shows that Aspie males in successful long term relationships tend to be in those relationships because the women are from different cultures.

Your comments show way more insight that a person with Aspergers except for that s.d. bullshit, my husband's parents told me all the time how lucky I was that his IQ tested so high.... I was too polite to point out that my communications and emotional intelligence would likely be the making of their son, which he and I both agree was the case.

In this question you appear to me to be performing 'boyfriendness' from some manual with little regard for how your partner is receiving your performance and this is problematic for you because you're so effortlessly brilliant at other parts of your life.
posted by Wilder at 10:59 AM on November 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Actually, even without a history of assault, a woman being afraid to walk alone at night in unfamiliar places or just walk alone at night anywhere IS A RATIONAL RESPONSE to the fact that THERE ARE THREATS ABOUND in the world AND THEY ARE MOSTLY MEN.

Your emotional tone-deafness and lack of empathy makes me sad for you.

Definitely break up with her. She'll thank you in a few months.
posted by erattacorrige at 12:04 PM on November 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

Some small clarifications:
-I wouldn't be surprised if I have mild Asperger's and I wouldn't be surprised if I didn't.
-She told me about her sexual assault a couple months before we started dating (she's only told 2 or 3 people).
-I didn't make the connection that she was scared of the dark because of the assault until she explained it to me when we reconciled. In hindsight her actions make perfect sense. I wasn't trying to convince her to not be scared of the dark I was just curious (I realize now this is not an excuse).
-She has said that my question asking is a double edged sword. It's one of the things she likes most about me and she thinks it's probably why I know her so well, but in moments like this it's so terrible.
-We've been friends for 5-6 years and really good friends for 2 years. So I would say its the equivalent to a longer relationship in certain respects (in some its obviously just 4 months and friendship isn't the same as relationship)

She is incredibly passionate about her field and it's very inspiring. She's one of the nicest people I know and I trust her 100% and have told her many things that I've never told anyone else. She is thoughtful and the first date she took me on (kayaking) was one of the most fun days of my life. She enjoys life completely and always finds the positive in situations. I know when I'm not fucking up I make her incredibly happy and seeing that makes me smile.

But I feel negative judgments from her far more often than positive. And for some reason (rather than her "fault" this is probably my anxiety and my lack of sharing my stress) I just often don't feel supported or understood. I know that applying to med school is an incredibly stressful time and if I knew that these were temporary hardships I'd keep going with only a small second thought. But a large part of me keeps worrying that I need someone who has no hesitation of telling me when I fuck up and I don't know if it's fair/I can stay in the relationship if I still have so much work to do and potentially just need someone with a different personality than hers.

She is on vacation now until Sunday. Our plan for when she gets back is to each make lists of what we want to improve on and what we want the other to improve on. Then come up with specific and actionable things to try out based off that.

Thanks everyone for the feedback! It's helped me realize how much I crave people's approval as every post that I feel "misunderstands" the situation I have such a strong urge to correct rather than just accepting that some people won't like me or my behavior regardless (this doesn't include the many ways that my actions were more fucked up than I realized which people have pointed out).
posted by aaabbbccc at 1:12 PM on November 3, 2017

If she told you about being sexually assaulted prior to your romantic relationship and you still felt the need to ask her "Why don't you feel safe walking alone?" then the situation is even worse than I imagined. I really do question your basic level of intelligence. Not your IQ -- but your basic, social, human intelligence.

Usually asking questions is a great way to get to know someone -- but that only works if the questioner 1) asks questions at the appropriate time 2) actually accepts and reflects intelligently on the answers 3) is mindful of the relational context and 4) doesn't forget REALLY IMPORTANT THINGS about the other person when those things are directly relevant.. things like "having a history of sexual assault". In this case, you should have already known why your girlfriend was concerned about her safety. This isn't an issue of your actions being "fucked up" (something that's easy to hide behind) -- it's an issue of you not evidencing basic human empathy and intelligence.

Instead of constructing some kind of thought experiment with her to probe why she was anxious in that particular moment, you 1) should have already known because she FUCKING TOLD YOU ABOUT THE ASSAULT and 2) you should have had the emotional and social intelligence to just be there with and for her, no questions asked. If you did have any further questions about her reaction, you could have asked at a more appropriate time, when she was feeling safe, and perhaps when you had already reflected upon what you already know about her. In that kind of emotionally safe environment, you could have asked something like "Honey, I noticed that you felt unsafe the other night in the parking lot. I assume that's because of the violent assault you experienced. Is that correct?" You could also ask her, at the appropriate time, "What do you need from me to feel safe?" You have certainly learned that badgering her with stupid questions while she asks for you to be a gentleman and help her feel safe does not help her feel safe.

I think it's really weird that you are the one who has shown that you don't understand your partner's understandable response to trauma even when she gave you a really significant heads up about that trauma, but you're also the one complaining about not feeling "understood".

I still think you should break up with her because you're too much trouble and not emotionally mature enough to be in an adult relationship right now. Next time, get a therapist to help you with your emotional maturity -- don't date someone who you think can "teach you" how to overcome your own emotional blocks. That's not a very intelligent or kind thing to do. In the end, it allows you to blame the other person for not being able to "fix" problems that are yours and yours alone to address. Break up with her, get your shit together and then get back in the dating saddle.
posted by Gray Skies at 1:38 PM on November 3, 2017 [10 favorites]

Lists? It's been four months, its a fledgling relationship, not a project which must.not.fail. There's so much drama, just end it. It's ok, really. It doesn't mean you failed, it just means you two weren't compatible and (that you need therapy). Don't torture the two of you any more. Knowing when to let go is a skill too.
posted by Jubey at 1:40 PM on November 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

At home I said, "I feel like my questions upset you, is that correct?" She said it did and said she gets stressed when I ask her questions but she doesn't know the answers. So I dug into this and eventually she said, "I could theorize about why I'm scared but I don't want to." I said "ohh that's very helpful because then I wouldn't ask you any follow-ups, when I think you don't know but you're open to questioning then I keep going". (bold my emphasis)

I think this aspect would be worth discussing more in-depth with your therapist. Is the questioning/digging in/pushing related to your anxiety? I can't overstate how exhausting and disheartening this communication style can be (even if it's milder than kat518's post above, for example, I promise it doesn't feel mild). And I say that especially because a person I dearly care about does this, and I am sad that it stands in the way of us having a closer relationship.

What do you think your relationship would look like without the questioning?

Also, upon seeing your update, maybe it would be good to hold off on a big relationship meeting until you've met with your therapist on Wednesday and had a couple more days to process. Because this: "But I desperately want people to confidently tell me that we should break up and it's just not going to work." does not jive with this: "Our plan for when she gets back is to each make lists of what we want to improve on and what we want the other to improve on. Then come up with specific and actionable things to try out based off that."
posted by Mouse Army at 1:44 PM on November 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

Not sure how much bearing this recent post has on your situation but you may possibly find it relevant? Especially the link from this comment.

Also, when someone has had a traumatic experience, and they are closely questioned about it, it can easily result in a day or two of being flooded with very unpleasant memories and feelings that can interfere with normal life, which would cover your girlfriend's time-out period pretty neatly. You need to let her be in charge of when, where and how much to open the can of worms, you can't dictate this to her! As you have discovered, you won't like the result.
posted by Coaticass at 2:20 PM on November 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think you're someone who has a lot of potential but also needs to do a LOT of inner work to make this relationship work or, frankly, any future healthy relationship work. You clearly have a lot of issues, likely stemming from your childhood (judgment about intelligence, for example) and male privilege (not understanding the safety concerns, etc.) Most of us have our challenges but we all can rise above them to become happier and better people if we're really willing to do the work.

We all have our flaws and they're scary to face but, once we do, we can become much better and happier people both alone and in relationships; I say this as someone who's a year and a half into some intense, painful but ultimately life-changing therapy. I was already on the path towards change when I met my current partner of a year but when she and I got serious I realized I had to kick the change and growth into high gear in order to make the relationship work. I'm so glad I did -- for us but, even more importantly, for myself. I can see where the person is coming from when they say "this is too long of a letter to be written about a four-month relationship, break up already!" However, for those of us who have difficult pasts -- often which we don't even fully understand the depth and issues from -- this self-work is necessary unless we are content having a series of relationships that don't work out in large part to the common denominator of ourselves. But everyone deserves love and has potential to get better. MetaFilter is a great starting point for reflection -- and you're brave to open yourself up here. But posing questions like this here can yield answers that feel punchy, impersonal, and even a little mean because it's online and relatively anonymous; people mean well but text has its limitations. Therapy is completely opposite of all of this in that it's long-term, personalized, caring, and designed to make you fully understand and notice the improvement as it happens.

Clearly you have many positive traits that make your girlfriend love you and, chances are, once you really start that work and she sees the changes and reflection happening, she will be glad and willing to stick around while you work things out. Regardless of what you and/or she choose, do look into finding a good therapist and starting that work. I'm sorry that I am not addressing specific points or giving handy tips but those are really band-aids when you need a tourniquet. I wish you luck!
posted by smorgasbord at 2:42 PM on November 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

Oh no. After I read your original post, I thought you need to dump her. But after I read the update about what caused the issue, I decided you still need to dump her, but for her sake. Whether or not she has ever been assaulted, and she has!, do you get that women are not safe in this world? That we have to overthink everything when we plan to go out, because we don't want to be raped or murdered? If you care about her and she asks you to walk her to her car, you do it. You don't question it.
Admittedly, this is triggering for me, because I once dated a guy who said he would not walk me to my car after a party that we were driving separately to and that I would have to leave earlier than he wanted to. I did not go to the party. And that was not the only thing about him that made him a bad partner, but I should have dumped him that night. It would have saved me a lot of pain.
Break up.
posted by poppunkcat at 3:12 PM on November 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

Okay, this is just a data point, but: I am an AFAB person although I do not now identify as female. I was not raised to believe that women were unsafe walking to their cars, in parking garages, etc. Asking for company walking to a car or anywhere at night would have been extremely foreign to me, and I would not automatically assume that other women would want to be walked to their cars.

The discourse I grew up with, as a white person, was that wanting to be walked everywhere was racist, and that it was racial anxiety which led to the belief that you were in constant danger of physical assault. This is related to the fact that most assaults on women are by family and acquaintances, not strangers, something I was aware of from a fairly young age. (Not that you can't be stalked in a parking garage by an acquaintance - in fact, that seems very creepy and plausible and common, something I did not think through as a kid/teen.)

My point isn't that feeling unsafe walking to your car is wrong - if anything, I am sort of creeped out by how casually the possibility of harm was dismissed in my own upbringing - but that it is possible to grow up without the learning that most women worry about this. My family is an eccentric one, but the LW's family relationships seem to be not that terrific or typical. The LW seems - like me - to have trouble picking up on typical social understandings unless they are explicitly stated.

I'm trying to say that you don't need to be a socially oblivious monster to get to be a young adult without automatically thinking "fear of walking to car alone relates to fear of sexual assault". At that age, I would have associated fear of walking to one's car either with racism or with something I did experience, like feeling scared after a scary movie. (I should add that this was not because I was safe everywhere I went - quite the contrary. But lonely places were not scary places to me; places where people gathered were scary to me.)
posted by Frowner at 4:17 PM on November 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

Our plan for when she gets back is to each make lists of what we want to improve on and what we want the other to improve on. Then come up with specific and actionable things to try out based off that.

So you’re giving each other performance reviews?? You do you but man, that does not sound like fun.
posted by kat518 at 4:32 PM on November 3, 2017 [8 favorites]

God, don't give each other a list things to work on. You've been dating four months. Just break up. It's not worth it.
posted by queen_mob at 4:49 PM on November 3, 2017 [7 favorites]

Yeah you’re a mess and you need to let her go. Then you need to work on yourself so you’re strong enough to be in a relationship with a another person without being so condescending toward their intelligence, without being so totally oblivious to all the societal pressures on woman, and without expecting her to “teach” you some kind of emotional intelligence. When you can be all those things then you’ll be ready to enter into an equal relationship, not before.
posted by fireandthud at 4:49 PM on November 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

Our plan for when she gets back is to each make lists of what we want to improve on and what we want the other to improve on. Then come up with specific and actionable things to try out based off that.

I've been with my partner for going on 15 years and we haven't ever done this, even in our hardest-going, holy shit are we actually going to make it? phases. This isn't to say that I can't conceive of a relationship in which this might be a helpful/necessary exercise, but a four-month relationship is ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY 100% NOT IT.

You need to break up, because ALL OF THIS is a giant flashing neon sign that is saying "Not Well-Suited For Each Other." It isn't a referendum on either your worth as a person or her worth as a person. It just means that, indeed, you are not well-suited for each other. There is no magic number of lists and action points that will change that.
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 7:55 PM on November 3, 2017 [6 favorites]

To be frank it sounds to me that you have some pretty significant problems with social skills that are underlying a lot of the issue here. Examples: the badgering questions, the two standard deviations comment, etc etc. You guys will probably need to break up, and I'd really encourage you to find someone who can help you with this. It doesn't need to be this hard.
posted by Amy93 at 8:06 PM on November 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh man though I did the list thing with an ex and this is a bad bad bad idea, please do not do this.
posted by sockermom at 9:04 PM on November 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

But a large part of me keeps worrying that I need someone who has no hesitation of telling me when I fuck up

As someone who is not neurotypical, this has become the number 1 thing I look for in interpersonal relationships. Like, I make it work with people who don't do this, but it's a huge huge burden and generally I only make it work with those people because I already have a ton of time invested in them.

If you can downgrade this to a friendship and preserve it in that way, that might be best.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 4:08 PM on November 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's helped me realize how much I crave people's approval as every post that I feel "misunderstands" the situation I have such a strong urge to correct rather than just accepting that some people won't like me or my behavior regardless (this doesn't include the many ways that my actions were more fucked up than I realized which people have pointed out).

Dude, it's definitely not about ppl 'not liking' you, not at all – they don't even know you. It's about holding a mirror up to things that might be going on in your psyche and trying to help you understand them better. Please don't be put off by anyone's tone or feel too criticised or belittled by it – there are some excellent points here, and some exceptional insights into what's going on.

I do have to add my voice to the chorus of 'please, please break up with her' but what struck me as most salient is that your anxiety when she withdrew from you is *not* the kind of pattern belonging to any healthy relationship. If she's a withdrawer, and that makes you anxious and needy, even if you just call it 'different communication styles', it also has a lot to do with far deeper attachment styles and needs. It's a set-up for unhappiness; please just walk away, work on yourself for a while, be kind to yourself, go easy on yourself (and on her, and your friends) – especially since you're in a difficult home situation, and take heed of people's advice here. It's really good, and you deserve not to be so miserable. Good luck!
posted by considerthelilies at 7:44 AM on November 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

Well, I tried to break up with her. I mostly stuck to Miko's script but I didn't do the hard work that I should have and didn't have it fully articulated what was wrong about the relationship other than just a general feeling of unease and misery. Did make it clear that I wasn't uncertain and that I definitely wanted to break up. She left (she's basically lived in my room for the past 2-2.5 months in case I didn't mention that) to go back to her place and was angry the next day. But that evening she came over and wanted to talk. She wanted me to articulate more what our "fundamental differences and incompatibilities are" I got stuck because I hadn't yet figured this out totally myself and so told her that.

We talked for 2.5 hours and I felt somewhat better after. I decided I needed to be honest and just speak my mind about everything I'd been thinking and that had been bothering me without worrying about what anxiety and stress it would cause her. This was hugely relieving to tell her that I'd been anxious since I first told her I liked her. She said it was unfair of her to put so much pressure on me to know if I want kids. She also said that part of a relationship is fighting for it (she came out of a 7 year relationship 6 months ago so I defer to her understanding) and that it doesn't seem like I'm willing to fight. She says that she's really happy in the relationship and so doesn't really understand where I'm coming from. I couldn't articulate a good reason so I just talked about the things that have been bothering me and raised a lot of the issues that you guys have pointed out here and that I need to do a lot of work on myself to be able engage from a healthy place.

I knew my instincts were screaming that we shouldn't get back together right then even though her words all sounded convincing and I miss her and really like spending time with her and talking to her. So eventually I suggested we take a 3 week break and then reevaluate. We agreed that maybe I come back and want to date and she decided it's not worth putting up with my shit and she wants out. Or maybe it's the other way around, either way it's okay. So she said she'll text me whether she'd like no contact for the next 3 weeks or to still talk. But now I just need to buckle up and do the hard work with my therapist and myself to figure out exactly what is bothering me and whether it's in my head and stuff I need to work on or a unhealthy relationship that is unsalvageable and is better off as a friendship.

Truly thank you everyone who responded! I'm excited about this next phase of my self-improvement and I know the work I'm about to do is incredibly important and I've been putting it off for too long.
posted by aaabbbccc at 12:51 AM on November 13, 2017

I didn't do the hard work that I should have and didn't have it fully articulated what was wrong about the relationship other than just a general feeling of unease and misery.

That is not actually a thing that you need to do or should have done. If you want out, you want out; a general feeling of unease and misery is reason enough. You don't owe her an explanation even though she seems to feel that you do. "This isn't working for me; I'm breaking up with you" is enough.

She also said that part of a relationship is fighting for it

Not necessarily, no. There are plenty of good relationships that are smooth sailing, no kind of fighting involved. And especially the first few months should be easy and fun.

she said she'll text me whether she'd like no contact for the next 3 weeks or to still talk.

That's nice, but it's not up to her. If you don't want to talk, or have any kind of contact with her, you get to decide that.

Honestly, she sounds like she's full of it. Good for you, for breaking up with her. Now stay broken up.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:35 AM on November 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Since I can't help myself I just wanted to clarify that I don't have any need for space right now and am happy to go straight to being friends with her which is why I was telling her to just let me know what would make her feel most comfortable. So her letting me know when she decides is actually a positive and not at all stress-inducing.
posted by aaabbbccc at 11:50 AM on November 13, 2017

I wanted to give an update. Mainly for me. But hopefully someone else finds it helpful too. One of the lessons I’ve taken from this past year is to trust my instincts more and ask for help more.

I read posts on this site a lot. Especially in “Human Relations”. They’re interesting, people have such great perspectives and there’s nothing I want more than to learn what the Right Answer is. When I wrote this post I got a bunch of Right Answers back. But I didn’t know how to see the bigger picture and to listen myself. It’s hard to recognize that some posts are holding up a true and accurate reflection of a negative part of myself but that those negative parts aren’t necessarily the most important thing in this context. Ultimately, I’m the only one who has complete information on what is going on and so I have to do the hard work of figuring out what negative aspects that are pointed out are most important right now. Being broken up might have been the right end result because of incompatibilities, but I didn’t go about it the right way.

I knew something was wrong and I was hurting but beyond that I was pretty much just grasping at straws. I think some of it was “manic pixie” ideas and thinking criticism of her was automatically wrong. The truth is she isn’t a great communicator. And my thinking I couldn’t acknowledge that or ever say it out loud is what made it seem like an unfixable problem.

You guys were right. Making lists of things to fix doesn’t sound like fun. I need to open my eyes if I can’t understand why a woman might be afraid to walk alone in a dark parking lot at night. I don’t always do a great job of listening and I struggle to put myself in other people’s shoes. An interaction with my sister pointed out the core of one of my problems. She wanted to know what I got on my SATs and I didn’t want to tell her because I knew I did way better than she realistically was going to. Maybe in some situations that’s the right thing to do but it also assumes that being good at SATs is a universally valued skill that all people want to be better at. Point is, it’s stupid, I’m stupid and I have a lot of toxic ideas about “intelligence” that will take a while to sort out. It’s a core part of my identity but really doesn’t need to be. I need to do more work on understanding my anxiety and haven’t recognized the burden I necessarily put on other people when I don’t do the work myself to figure it out. I ask questions and don’t recognize that the questions are for me and not for them and if they’re vulnerable then the questions almost certainly make them feel worse.

But the real point is that I’m still incredibly sad that it’s over and know I made a terrible mistake. Not because I ended it, but because I didn’t talk to her and tell her that I was unhappy and give her a chance to make a decision as well (also I talked at the time before the breakup only to my new therapist and not any of my friends who would’ve reminded me that I really like her). My instincts were right. She’s still incredibly sad and hurt by our breakup. In her words, she already trusted me so much that the breakup was maximally devastating. I wasn’t saving her any heartbreak by breaking up after “only 5 months”. It was easy for me to read the posts and think I’m self-important for thinking that my 5 month relationship is any different than any other 5 month relationship and that the better thing to do for her was to end it. But the truth is it was just the cowards way out so that I didn’t have to do the hard work of sharing my feelings and being truly vulnerable about things that would actually hurt me if I was judged on. Ours was an unusual case and in hindsight you could possibly say she was having an emotional affair with me for the previous year and a half (I had a hopeless crush on her and didn’t really understand the concept of an inappropriate level of emotional intimacy).

I’ve learned an insane amount in the last year and wouldn’t trade it for the world! But it hurts a lot. She’s going away to medical school in a month or two. She got in after many months of stress!! I’m in a much better place jobwise. I read a lot of Nora Samaran posts (this one on shame and hope was really insightful) and recognized to an incredible degree how I defensively protect against the guilt of hurting someone. We just started going to a therapist together for the last 4 weeks before she leaves, so that we can reach a stable place to have a friendship. I wish she was staying in the area so we could try again, but it's probably for the best and hopefully we can maintain a healthy friendship. It’s hard for me to know what the right thing is. But I've gotten better about expressing my needs. It was really hard for me but the other day I told her it hurts my feelings when she makes jokes about me "being a robot" and it's a big concern of mine that the joke is true. I’m confident I’ll get better and better about being honest and vulnerable and hopefully the sadness and doubt feel completely manageable one day.

I know the long-term answer is to date other people and she’s not the only one, and once she moves I’ll force myself to do that. But right now I’m just trying to sit with my feelings and enjoy the last month before she leaves.
posted by aaabbbccc at 1:38 PM on June 9, 2018

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