Relationship troubles at a boiling point
May 13, 2018 3:09 AM   Subscribe

I think the “Four Horsemen” are here, but I’m just having so much trouble understanding what’s happening. Trust issues, etc.

This post is way long but I’m the middle is an anecdote and numbered list explaining how this anecdote encapsulates most of the problem.

So, my boyfriend. We’ve been dating for seven years, living together for about four. Both of are slightly less than 30. He grew up in a very coddling, smothering family (in my opinion) and has been a late bloomer in many ways.

Since about year two or three, we’ve had some major ongoing trust issues. As a person who was fairly cavalier in my high school and college dating years, I had never really considered how important trust is to a serious relationship. I think I was fairly used to bullshit and couldn’t really conceive of actually not lying/being lied to by a loved one, and so I didn’t “sentimentalize” it and let myself behave rather badly. There’s a lot of pain and hurt there I’ve never even been able to consciously acknowledge until very recently. He lies, a lot, about fairly insignificant things. Because he was fairly codependent with his (frankly I think narcissistic) mother, he has a VERY hard time saying no or voicing disagreement if it will cause conflict. He tries to make her and me happy in the same way: agreeing to things he doesn’t really want, lying, trying above all to say the “right” things like women are slot machines. It’s VERY exhausting. Like, after seven years I’m so exhausted. So stupid lies come along all the time, and though I have no evidence he’s lied about anything major, I know he’s a liar, so how do I not worry? He also not only lies, he very rarely warmly invites me into his family or friend lives, so I barely know what goes on between him and other people unless I happen to ask. An example lie of omission would be being late but saying it was traffic when really it was calling his family for twenty extra minutes.

And similarly, I didn’t realize how many “just not that into you” signals he gave early on. He initiated, asked me out, etc. But he didn’t tell his parents about me for a year or two when we started dating regularly because they’d “freak out.” They berated him growing up with dramatic overblown concern trolling and continue to do so. (When we first moved in together, they were freaking out about what if a pipe broke in our apartment and we didn’t know how to fix it.... which, I mean, call the landlord! They’ve lived in rentals! Fake problem! Geez.) So freak out they did... but who cares! I suggested we move in together, plan things together, etc. he shows very little interest in planning things together— even recreational travel we’re both into. He does love to talk with me about movies and such but seems to... get a bit competitive with me, wanting to prove he’s as “deep” as me, but also... doesn’t respect my media opinions as much as those of guys at work? I don’t know why he feels threatened by me as he is quite smart. But since he’s competitive and ALSO not that respectful of me as an expert on anything, it feels more like a drive to defeat someone you can’t believe is on your level than admiration. I’m a bit of an academic nerd and most of his friends outside of our shared life are normie and mostly women, so I think he’s used to feeling superior or the most moody. He’s been on an intellectual self improvement kick for a couple of years, which I thought was cool, but I’m starting to feel more like he’s trying to beat me so he can be the uncontested “smart one.”

Recently I’ve been really at a breaking point, after an incident this weekend. Essentially, my sister and her wife were visiting from out of town and boyfriend told us he had a half day of work on Friday so he’d hang out with us that day. We said “yay.” He tells me Thursday that actually he gets off after a group lunch, so not quite a half day. I say OK. No problem. We decide we’ll do some stuff we missed the previous day in the morning, meet up midday-ish, and go out to a different neighborhood.

The day of: hearing nothing much from him (like he’s quite busy) most of the morning, which is normal. Noon rolls around. One, two roll around. He texts a bit later that there’s actually a lot of work, I say “oh ok, will you be out later than you thought?” He replies that he’ll be out in a “couple hours tops.” No problem, slightly inconvenient, I ask if we should adjust our day plans, he does not reply. I assume he’s quite busy. We explore the neighborhood and wait. Four rolls around. Five rolls around. We head to the apartment to rest and wait for him. I text to ask what’s up. He says he’ll be leaving... soon. At this point he’ll be leaving at 5:30, the end of a normal workday. We decide we’ve been resting too long and we’ll go back to exploring and let him meet us where we are. Time is pretty tight but my sister has motion sickness so I say “if you’re already going home, could you grab the medicine? If not please don’t go home on our behalf, it would be quicker for us to find a store.” He says OK. We get ice cream. It’s now eight o’clock. He finally finds us and meets us and obviously, plans are going to not happen. We head home but still need dinner plans.

First of all— he went home despite not needing to, lied that he needed to go for a reason that is just obviously untrue, couldn’t find the medicine, went to a store and bought it, ordered a Lyft,, called his parents (who he talks to three or four times a week), missed the Lyft, called a cab, then finally met us. So he didn’t really listen to my wishes and took a long ass time to meet us for not a great reason (gallantry?).

When we get home I mention that I’m a little hurt he didn’t give me a more useful update or advice when he ended up not getting out of work early at all, since I feel like I was being expected to read between the lines via text message. We could have adjusted our plans much quicker and less anxiously if we knew he just wasn’t going to make it. Even if he just chose to stay for the sake of work or bonding with coworkers, I’m not that offended, I just wanted to know the facts relevant to our plans. I ask why things were so busy that day. He says the morning was busy and hen the lunch turned out to be a three hour unstructured small “teambuilding lunch” (basically just lunch) where he ate and had drinks with coworkers and NO bosses and waited to see if he’d get an email to take care of anything in the office, until the end of the workday, and then left.

This was like... shockingly annoying to me.

1) We’ve recently had a LOT of conversations about me just generally wanting to know what’s up— when he is very emphatic that he has a work thing but he’ll definitely be home by 8, then comes home at 11, tipsy drunk, not even a courtesy “sorry, got caught up in fun” since I was frankly having a very relaxing night and didn’t mind he was out but you know, courtesy. He would start joshing and palling around in mildly boorish drunk ways when I’m clearly doing my own thing. I felt kind of betrayed and sad about it so just asked for even a simple open ended text saying “actually, later than eight,” and also not treating me like the butt of great jokes when he comes home tipsy. He kind of conveyed that he didn’t know what I was talking about but would try to do the concrete things I requested. But then he didn’t at all on two occasions in a row.

2) When we go out with friends or whoever or just one on one he notoriously only has a drink or two and is usually the most sober person in the group. However, since getting his new job six months ago, he will drink quite a few more— four or five— but only with work buddies. And by “work buddies” I mean a few women 20 years older than him and two guys similar to his age. And recently one of the times this happened he had a big scrape on his chin when he got home from falling on his face in the street. And this was after asking him, why are you suddenly doing this, and also asking him to be less abrasive when he gets home drunk because it just feels pushy and rude to me, like he’s still performing for his friends and not treating me like an individual he has an intimate relationship with. It feels like no baseline respect. He says he drinks so much because the drinks at work are free. (I almost always happily buy all his drinks, as the higher earner who likes to go out more, so yeah.)

3) He had a million chances to text us an update! I had been giving him the benefit of the doubt that he was just slammed, but he was in a casual social environment for three hours, drinking and basically ignoring us. Then voluntarily stayed until the end of the day, with no update.

4) it was so embarrassing that he did this while my sister and her wife were there! Like “ah yes, sorry, our plans have been derailed because my boyfriend of seven years and I have the communication skills of a box of crayons, and also he doesn’t respect me.” The day was not ruined but I guess I was supposed to just guess he secretly thought we could just do whatever.

5) Discussing this afterward I was getting my ire up and asked if he had really avoiding texting because he was embarrassed in front of his work buddies, and if he could have just texted from the toilet or something maybe. And he admitted this was a small factor. Which is just so sad to me. Ashamed of having a girlfriend or being considerate.

6) at this point I basically consider that he didn’t tell me about any of this until he had to, and I wonder how much of it is a lie or almost was.

7) he’s also super into his job (semi clerical paraprofessional job). I have a professional job. I can count the times he’s really asked probing questions about my job on one hand. I ask him questions and he talks about his job a loooot. I didn’t mind until I realized how stark the difference was. (He entirely forgot I was going through a very important promotion cycle until the night before the decision.) He’s mostly into the office gossip, which he claims to find stupid, but then... talks about it all night. I don’t really care that he’s inconsistent, but why are these people so fascinating!

8) I was also very very sick for a portion of this week with lingering exhaustion and side effects,so I wasn’t at my sharpest, and I had felt most of the week that he was very disinterested in my symptoms, literally coming home and starting a long complaint about work before asking, e.g., “how’s your fever.”

9) About a month ago there was a shooting at my work (another office park but less than an hour away). I was not too shaken but somewhat disturbed. Boyfriend knew about this as I had texted him the news. When I got home, hoping to talk to him, he was on the phone with his brother... because his brother had had a work issue that day— something about not being able to decode his boss’s tone and being indignant he was given constructive criticism. I felt very very minimized and deprioritized at that time... I had a work issue too! He has pretty chronically responded to his family at the drop of a hat while saying I seem more independent and strong enough to deal with things on my own, so he doesn’t prioritize my “things” as much he admitted that sounded shitty but that was recently. So I’m a bit sore over being sort of brushed off.

So this was basically just a constellation of like... have you been listening at all, do you care at all, am I being totally unreasonable, what is going on. Just feeling undervalued in a lot of ways. By the “signals” it’s like he’s waiting for me to break up with him. But when I ask if he’s unhappy or if he has concerns, it’s always “no, not at all,” etc. We occasionally discuss marriage plans, even. But again, I don’t know... is it that he’s completely unable to articulate his inner life, is he expecting me to “read between the lines” and break up, or is it something else I don’t understand. Or both.

We got in a huge fight over this and I just feel at the end of my rope about it all. I lose respect for him when he behaves in these ways, and I realize I’ve been setting the bar/my standards so low that I am basically accepting that I don’t feel safe and saying “well, but there are the good times.” He also never initiates sex unless he’s half asleep and I accidentally wake him. (Not for years, though I’ve tried to discuss it with him many many times and told him how deeply unhappy and unsatisfied it made me feel.) In general I’m not prone to be super insecure with men but I do find myself wondering if he likes me at all.

This enormously long post is to say that I genuinely have no real understanding of what’s going on— I know that I’m unhappy, but not if that’s because of my own issues or if it’s the relationship. Maybe I’m being more subtly controlling than I think? Maybe I should roll with the punches better? Maybe I should just get over the fact that he’s excited to have friends and so acts much more gleefully with his work friends than with me? Is it all normal and I’m going through a late twenties learning phase? Essentially I think everyone is annoying in one way or another, but it seems like it’s gone past annoying and into deep seated communication issues and a loss of trust and intimacy. I’m basically looking for guidance over whether I should take a harder look at what I’M doing, as this is the longest relationship I’ve ever had. I don’t mind DYMFA advice but it’s almost beside the point— I want to have a better understanding of if I might be feeding into his behavior, if I’m just getting tetchy and just sabotaging my most serious relationship, or if this really seems like red flags. I don’t want to stay in a rotten situation, but I don’t want to be scared of commitment, either.

Thanks for reading.
posted by stoneandstar to Human Relations (49 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I stopped reading after you said there was a shooting at your work and he brushed it off! Instant DTMFA. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. None of this is your fault, he’s selfish, self obsessed and apparently won’t notice if you leave anyway. I’ve dated this guy before. My only regret was not leaving sooner. Do it, like, right now.
posted by Jubey at 3:25 AM on May 13, 2018 [36 favorites]

Best answer: You're not unreasonable. He is very inconsiderate. And he probably doesn't want to break up because he'd have to make an effort with a new partner!

Your twenties are a time of growth and change. I think this has run its course. It's not a sign you're scared of commitment ( that's me and no way I'd have a 7 year relationship!). You two might have been right for each other once but things have changed. Find someone who is super in to you now, not was once years ago. You deserve heaps more than this.
posted by kitten magic at 3:25 AM on May 13, 2018 [9 favorites]

You're still very young and you still have a lot of time to find the right person. I'd leave this relationship, it sounds like it's past its sell by date.
posted by stevedawg at 3:30 AM on May 13, 2018 [6 favorites]

There's nothing in here about what you're actually getting out of the relationship, just a ton of very real frustrations. If there's good stuff, what is it, and is it worth putting up with this much bullshit? And if there's not good stuff, just run the heck away now, because this sounds like a miserable way to live.
posted by terretu at 3:32 AM on May 13, 2018 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I dated someone who had a lot in common with your boyfriend. A lot of the stuff was and still is really difficult for me to understand - like the fact that he could've easily texted you the day your sister was in town and just said he'd be late, but he didn't - my ex would do things like that too and the complete lack of communication mystified me. Same with the casual minor lies. I don't know if there's an explanation for this collection of odd behaviors (difficulty communicating, casual lying, self-absorption) or whether it's a certain personality type/disorder, but, like you, I found the behaviors insanely frustrating. I really think it's him, not you.
posted by whitelily at 3:36 AM on May 13, 2018 [11 favorites]

Oh, and the being very avoidant about conflict, and the "slot machine" comments to deal with women? Yup and yup.
posted by whitelily at 3:38 AM on May 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: > I genuinely have no real understanding of what’s going on

Some hard-earned experience from me to you: Chronic emotional unpacking and "confusion" about why my relationship is a certain way that makes me deeply uneasy has always been, in retrospect, because that way was 1) inconsistent with a healthy relationship, or 2) inconsistent with the kind of relationship I want to have, or 3) both. The "confusion" was a detour around me speaking up early and clearly about what's acceptable for me. The "confusion" was a way to deflect the hard realization that this person doesn't love me. Full stop. That realization can be at best sad and, at worst, really really really awful.

Break up. Move on. You will be one thousand times happier without this energy suck of confusion.
posted by cocoagirl at 3:41 AM on May 13, 2018 [70 favorites]

Free drinks aren't a reason to drink to such an excess that you neglect agreed upon responsibilities and fall over in the street.

He sounds exhausting and you don't sound happy. There's someone out there who WILL make you happy. This is a pretty clear case where you need to DTMFA.
posted by nerdfish at 3:43 AM on May 13, 2018 [10 favorites]

Oh my god dump him. I'm sorry he's such an arsehole. May sorting out your breakup go smoothly.
posted by lokta at 4:06 AM on May 13, 2018 [11 favorites]

Ugh he sounds terrible. There are just so many signs that a future with him is unsustainable.

Many, many better fish in the sea / bay -- I feel like your life will be so, so much better once you don't have to deal with him anymore.
posted by batter_my_heart at 4:44 AM on May 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

> He lies, a lot

That would be DTMFA territory for me right there.
posted by needled at 4:44 AM on May 13, 2018 [26 favorites]

I have had a very different reaction to your question than posters above. I'm really sorry you are going through this, it sounds painful. But: you're imputing every single little change he goes through to him trying to get one up on you. Might this be a reason he avoids telling you things? Do you routinely cross-examine his motives over very ordinary events?

And also, you've been with him seven years. Can you really not anticipate the times he's liable to flake? Isn't that part of a relationship, people accommodating each others strengths AND weaknesses?

Reading this question my feeling is you have got at least as much interrogating of yourself to do over how you react towards him, as he has over how he reacts towards you. In particular, you seem to resent the emotional time he spends on his family. Loving your family of origin, communicating with them, spending time on them, talking to your parents three or four times a week: these are not character faults. Seriously, being 20 minutes late because you were on the phone with your family is not a huge thing, and if you gave him serious pressure about it I can see why he might be reluctant to tell you what he's doing when not with you.

You entered into this relationship in your very early twenties and it's possible both of you have habits of immaturity resulting from...not allowing each other to evolve. If you want to stay in the relationship you will definitely need good quality counseling to do so. If you don't want to stay, break up. Maybe it's run its course. But your question was "I’m basically looking for guidance over whether I should take a harder look at what I’M doing", and well done for asking that question, I think the answer is yes. He sounds like he hardly dares to ask or tell you anything so maybe try to find out what HE feels about that.
posted by glasseyes at 4:45 AM on May 13, 2018 [21 favorites]

I've dated the dude who is about as intelligent as me but who doesn't ever listen to me about anything and every discussion is a weird competition. Man. Learning is super fun but dudes like that make it really unfun. It becomes a weird and frustrating contest to just have a chat about a news item or a book I'm reading or whatever.

I've also dated the dude who flaked on me and made me embarrassed because he treated me so weirdly and poorly around family or close friends. That guy is a selfish jerk.

Tiptoeing around dudes like this, seven years or no, is seriously not worth your time or attention. Ship has sailed and this particular relationship is not going to right itself or become good anytime soon. Break up and get some individual therapy to work through what you can do in future situations when you date someone else. Everyone has stuff to work on but that is not the problem here.

Take care and I'm sorry you're experiencing this.
posted by sockermom at 5:32 AM on May 13, 2018 [11 favorites]

It seems like he’s coasting on his late teen personality (as you were for awhile) but now you need more than that. It’s okay to move on. You grew, he didn’t, it happens. Find an adult partner for your next relationship.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:46 AM on May 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

This is a textbook example of one of those relationships you enter in your early 20s and outgrow. You have outgrown your boyfriend and I’m going to join the people on this thread telling you to break up with him. It sounds like you had some traumatic experiences early on in your romantic life that led you to the frankly heartbreaking to read attitude that not expecting to be constantly lied to is “sentimentalizing” and unnecessary. It sounds like you have grown enough as a person that that’s no longer acceptable to you in an intimate relationship, and that is something you should be proud of and recognize and honor. You truly deserve more than a partner who doesn’t listen to you, who is constantly bailing on you to get plastered with his coworkers, who doesn’t have sex with you, who doesn’t care about your life, who wasn’t concerned about you during a mass shooting (!) anywhere near you, and who constantly triggers that spider sense feeling that you are not respected in a fundamental way. BTW, the whole “falling down drunk in the street because they give out free drinks at work” situation you’re describing? That is the beginnings of a pretty severe alcohol problem and it is not your responsibility to stick around as it gets worse. It’s going to get worse. I also wonder if the real reason he flakes out on you and your sister and her wife is that he was drunk at work, andI worry that the aggressive behavior you’re talking about when your boyfriend comes home drunk might get worse as well. Please trust your instincts and take care of yourself, and believe that you can find the happy, real partnership that you deserve.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 5:49 AM on May 13, 2018 [35 favorites]

So if you want to save this relationship, I'd suggest immediate couples counseling asap. This relationship has years of dysfunction that have been steadily increasing. You posted a lot of text with a lot of issues, but slipped some big red flags in too, usually in just a sentence.

Are you going to be ok in this relationship if his job never gets to a professional level? What the hell kind of job offers him free booze and tolerates him getting drunk?

How sure are you that he has never cheated on you? That he isn't now? Even if he is faithful, the twice a year accident sex sounds soul crushing.

You are bringing baggage and communication issues into the relationship, yes. But it also sounds like you have been absorbing lots of bad behavior from him. Are you worth more than that?

You do have stuff to work on in therapy. If your boyfriend is not consistently supportive and willing to put in his 100% committed enthusiasm to resuscitate this relationship, it is doomed. You have my permission to break up with him regardless.
posted by Jacen at 6:05 AM on May 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

OK, I read your question again, especially the part about the confusion, you not knowing what’s going on, wondering if you’re feeding into some kind of bad dynamic, self-blamimg stuff like “if I’m just getting tetchy and just sabotaging my most serious relationship, or if this really seems like red flags”. You aren’t crazy or nagging or self sabotaging. If I had to put money on what was going on, I would bet that your boyfriend has developed a serious alcohol problem and is probably using social drugs available at his workplace as well. The entire sequence of events of staying at his workplace, not texting you, being too confused to get into his Lyft and taking a cab instead— that doesn’t sound like the behavior of someone who is pathologically conflict avoidant, it sounds like someone who is too wasted to function, doesn’t want to be seen obviously under the influence, and who can’t pull themselves together to even appear sober even though they don’t want their gf and her family to know they’re high. It already doesn’t sound like you to have a very healthy relationship — like the most it has going for it is that it’s been going on for seven years — and you really do not need to deal with that kind of rapid unraveling that concealed addictions will cause. Please be safe and take care.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 6:05 AM on May 13, 2018 [26 favorites]

Best answer: Oh my god. Reading this was eerie. I was in a very similar relationship until about two years ago - 7 years, lied all the time, competed with me intellectually, ramped up the alcohol consumption, incredibly codependent with his mother, you get the picture. Ultimately we broke up because he became a drug addict, which he was great at keeping from me because of all the skilled lying.

I'm not saying your boyfriend is going to become an addict (although I agree with moonlight in vermont that the drinking will probably get worse). I will say, however, that I deeply regret not ending the relationship before the addiction, because ultimately we were fundamentally incompatible and it was such a toxic dynamic. Like glasseyes mentioned, there were parts of my personality that probably made a lot of his behavior worse - I come from a very straightforward, cut-the-shit family so I'd be incredibly stern and judgemental whenever he was truthing in a roundabout manner and it just made him lie even more in the end. That and other deep incompatibilities that we were both able to look past when we were young just couldn't be maintained into our late 20s/early 30s.

I'm with a man now who is such a better fit for me. It's taken me awhile to stop asking "are you sure you're not mad anymore? Seriously, is there ANYTHING ELSE?" after fights because I was so used to lies for placation. It dawned on me, like, my god - he tells the truth, he's straightforward, this is INCREDIBLE. When he says he'll be there at 8, he's on time! Plus he has a relationship with his family that I understand, that's great too.

Don't worry about making sense of your current relationship - it's just a terrible fit (with some major issues on his end) that's finally becoming clear. Just breakup, go out there and be happy that you don't have to navigate and decode every word out of his mouth and every word of his text anymore. It feels so good when you don't have to anymore. So good.
posted by xiasanlan at 6:27 AM on May 13, 2018 [7 favorites]

Do you even like him?
posted by saturdaymornings at 6:46 AM on May 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

“Since about year two or three, we’ve had some major ongoing trust issues. As a person who was fairly cavalier in my high school and college dating years, I had never really considered how important trust is to a serious relationship. I think I was fairly used to bullshit and couldn’t really conceive of actually not lying/being lied to by a loved one, and so I didn’t “sentimentalize” it and let myself behave rather badly. “

There’s a wall of text about your boyfriend, but only a little bit here acknowledging vague bad behavior on your part. Or is the bad behavior that you’ve accepted weird flakiness from him? Or did you do something to break his trust? It’s all kind of confusing.

A lot of the stuff you write here wouldn’t derail a healthy functional relationship, but when it just isn’t working everything becomes a crisis (him being in the phone with his brother when you got home from work, him wanting to develop his intellect).

The story about your sister’s visit is absurd, though. This isn’t how an adult behaves. You’re right that your communication is terrible, maybe irreparably so. I think this is why you’re dwelling on things like “he talks to his family too much” or “he finds his office drama interesting but I don’t”, the real reason you’re unhappy is that you can’t communicate meaningfully.
posted by cakelite at 7:42 AM on May 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

This isn't working for you. You're young. You aren't married. You don't have any kids.

Start figuring out how to move out.
posted by k8t at 7:45 AM on May 13, 2018 [13 favorites]

I’m basically looking for guidance over whether I should take a harder look at what I’M doing

I’m going through a late twenties learning phase?

I mean, kinda, yeah - in the sense that you should maybe put some thought (possibly with professional assistance) into why you've been putting up with this behavior for so long and how you've wound up so invested in examining the trees of why he's behaving this way that you're missing the forest of how he's behaving.

if this really seems like red flags.

Jeez-o-man, yes. Even if this was just a platonic friend, look at his behavior - he flakes, lies about why he's flaked, isn't really all that interested in your life and won't cover any emotional labor, can be obnoxiously competitive. Friends like these get delegated to "casual low-expectation" - you shoot 'em a text going "We're all gonna be at [place] at [day and time], come hang" and if they show up, great, and if not, *shrug* maybe next time. You don't rely on them for much, if anything; not to help you when you're stranded with a flat tire and a dying cell, not for real emotional support.

And you're discussing marriage with this guy?

most of his friends outside of our shared life are normie and mostly women, so I think he’s used to feeling superior or the most moody.

Um. You do grasp how phrasing it this way is both pretty insulting to these women and providing cover for his crappy behavior, yeah? Like, you've basically just said, "Well, of course he gets all intellectually competitive and "IfeeeeeeelmoredeeplythanyousoIwillsitinadarkroomlisteningtoTheCure" with me because he's actually smarter and more emotionally aware than the bimbos he usually hangs out with." "Normie" women are people, too, and just because he's been able to bullshit them (IF he's been able to bullshit them - you really have no idea how they see him or what they think about him) is no excuse for his behavior.

I don’t know why he feels threatened by me as he is quite smart. But since he’s competitive and ALSO not that respectful of me as an expert on anything, it feels more like a drive to defeat someone you can’t believe is on your level than admiration.

Hello, sexism! (Sexism that the guy doesn't even register as sexism because he (we) have been marinating in it our whole lives.)

You've probably noticed that I've used the word "behavior" a lot in this answer - because as in discussions of "larger" issues like racism and sexism (discussions I know you've participated in here on MF), the delving into the why and exactly how someone is or is not or might be "-ist" is waaaaaay less useful than that person just not actually behaving badly. To use the common analogy, if someone's standing on your foot, having an intellectual discussion about how and why they got there and how accidental or intentional it may or may not have been does not solve the problem of GET OFF MY DAMN FOOT IT HURTS.

Same applies to personal relationships; you are deep deep deep in the weeds of trying to figure out how and why dude got to the point of behaving the way he does and how much of it might be your fault and and and and . . . . . the whole time he is behaving in ways that hurt you and not changing that behavior or even acknowledging its existence. He's standing on your foot, and you're going, "Did his mom put him there? Did I? Was it on purpose? Is him standing on my foot actually the sensible choice? Are we just in agree-to-disagree territory?"

SO . . . . . circling all the way back to the beginning of this answer - yes, this is a "twenties learning phase" thing, and a "what I'M doing" thing, wherein a lot of your twenties is spent figuring out how to communicate in relationships, what you will or will not put up with, and why and how our various and individual personal issues and social/cultural influences all interact to so often put us into relationships that don't work or are actively bad, and so often keep us in them long past the point at which we should leave.

That's what you need to work on. After you've DTMFA'd this guy.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:58 AM on May 13, 2018 [16 favorites]

I'm going to add a link to an answer I posted a few days ago - I think the relevant parts are about trying to pick up all the slack in the relationship and do all the sacrificing because you are doubtful that you even deserve to have needs that should be met.

As moonlight on vermont said, people can change a huge amount from their early to late 20s and a relationship dynamic that might seems acceptable when you're 22, unsure of yourself, and not thinking too much of the future can be unbearable when you're 29, coming into your adult self, and realizing what long term companionship with someone can really mean.

Some things my boyfriend/now husband went through as we went through our 30s - death of his mother from cancer, his subsequent deep depression, a lawsuit against an adult predator who snuck into my grandfather's life and took him to the cleaners, and my father's near death from a stroke and recovery. Picture you and your boyfriend in these type of situations - is he there for you? Are you there for him? Do you work as a strong, supportive unit that could navigate huge life stresses like this?

I mean, he can't even come home from work to visit with your sister for an afternoon!

Every reason you state for staying with him boils down to, "Maybe I'm the one that actually sucks so I should put up with being unhappy." That's bizarro logic!

Please be okay with having needs and desires, and please be okay with saying here, "my needs aren't being met, sexually, in companionship, in honesty, in reliability. It's okay for me to find that unacceptable."
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:59 AM on May 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

Best answer: What does it mean for DTMFA to be "beside the point?" I think it might be interesting to ask yourself why, given how infuriated all this has made you and how much you're at the end of your rope, that you're asking us instead of starting to plan the break up.

I hear you asking if there's anything you can do, but these sound like very "unforced errors" on his part. Not being available for the plans and not letting you know, if the plans were clear, is really not cool. I disagree that the issue is that you're being too hard on him. If anything, I was going to say that maybe some clarity would help. You're often cushioning what you say (e.g., "even if he just chose to stay for the sake of work or bonding with coworkers, I’m not that offended, I just wanted to know the facts relevant to our plans"), and I wonder if it would help if you just focused on clear behavioral standards like "If you're going to change your plans, I need to know." (And anyway, wouldn't you be offended? All this is leaving you feeling uncared for.) But you could try just not writing 2500 words, not having long arguments, not letting things get confusing, not delving into the whys and the "does this mean you don't care about me?"s and just creating some clarity and accountability around basic standards of behavior like not lying and letting you know clearly and promptly if he needs to change plans. Just keep repeating "if your plans need to change, I would like you to tell me honestly and clearly." My guess, though, is that this might just make him more evasive.

Another option would be to go to couples therapy. The therapist could be the one to explain that, (unlike his mom?), you care about his needs and are perfectly willing to accommodate his changing circumstances so he doesn't need to lie, he just needs to tell you clearly; and that (unlike his mom?) you're not expecting him to fulfill your every mildest hint, you'll ask for what you need and when you say something isn't necessary, you really mean that. The therapist can also help you see if there's any way you're contributing to this. But it would take a couple months to get there, and this relationship sounds like it will take a lot of work to fix.
posted by salvia at 8:01 AM on May 13, 2018

Best answer: I don't think it's your job to hold out for him potentially growing up on some unknown time frame. It also sounds like the communication issues here are manifold. Let's put it this way: I know a married couple that's been separated before and will-they-won't-they about divorce or additional separation for some time, and they still show each other more courtesy than your boyfriend shows you. It sounds like you're growing up and he's not getting there on anywhere near the same time frame.

It doesn't sound like you're really having sex, while it sounds like he's lying to you in small ways about inconsequential things all the time, prioritizing other family members' and his own work drama over giving you space to talk about the things happening in your work life, flaky when it comes to dealing with your family (which, if you stayed together and got married, would also be his family, which I think most people who are serious about a relationship and have been together this long would be considering), irresponsible in an immature way that I would say many if not most people leave behind in college, not on your level professionally and insecure about his intellect... That's not even everything. This is all rather unflattering.

You're young, and I think you can do better. If I recall correctly, I've seen you give a lot of good relationship advice on here to many others over the years—I think you have a good sense of these things. Don't let the sunk cost of your time together blind you to the reality of all the issues here. Don't let yourself be confused for a minute longer than is necessary.
posted by limeonaire at 8:02 AM on May 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

So, sometimes there aren't deep and fascinating reasons about why a relationship isn't working. You've just outgrown this guy. And there's no reason to stay -- he's not all that into you, and there aren't kids or financial dependence involved. Meh.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:12 AM on May 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: DTMFA is beside the point because I’m already thinking it, I just wanted some help reflecting on my part in how it got to DTMFA.

His relationship with his family is like, a whole thing... I have no problem in general with close families, all my precious bfs had close families and I usually became close with them as well. This is a “we’re close but she’s not one of us” type sitch and I admit it has aggravated me over the years. They punished him a lot on a communication/emotional level when he moved out because that wasn’t “acceptable” (he was 23). Their other son still lives at home and is pretty undeveloped as an adult. Etc. Despite all that they’re not awful in person and chatting on the phone is fine, but... why lie! I asked many times if he could just let me know when he was going to call his parents (we have limited time together after work so it would be better for me to come home early on days we can actually spend together) but that also took like... weeks of negotiation... idk, maybe I was over optimizing.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:16 AM on May 13, 2018

Response by poster: Also “why did you stay,” just early 20s “he can change!!” mooniness and depression that made me not really take care of myself the way I should have.

I do totally admit that my behavior might have been too “scary” and encouraged the lying, but he really doesn’t want to talk about it or work on it in a constructive way. Also it really feels awful to watch how his family treats him and realize he’s treating me the same way as he treats them... either I’m equally selfish and awful or he is really not interested in acknowledging his coping mechanisms I guess.

And ergo sorry, the “cavalier about trust” thing was just to say I didn’t really have qualms about lies or lying for a long time pre-dating this guy, like it wasn’t part of my morality growing up, but no I didn’t cheat or break trust in any significant way.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:20 AM on May 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Quite frankly it sounds like you're the one doing all the coping and compromising in the relationship. Everything seems to circle around to what he's willing to do. How much time do you spend trying to integrate him into your life / doing emotional labour for him vs. how much time does he seem to want you in his life / doing emotional labour for you.

I know we're just getting your side of the story but it doesn't seem like there's a whole lot of other side to tell. Which is the whole point. Find a peer to share your life with, not someone you need to manage, or lacking that, someone you hope will occasionally step up. Jeez.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:24 AM on May 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Also sorry... good things:
1) I also like discussing art with him
2) He motivates to be more responsible as I am a bit of an absent-minded professor

Also re: the normie thing, no I don’t agree with his assessment of the situation at all. His “normie” friends are all smart and successful and I don’t think any less of them for not being moody and into films. I just think that was a big part of his personality growing up— feeling like the smart cool guy among chicks who would humor him— and maybe he hasn’t outgrown it.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:36 AM on May 13, 2018

From your description, it sounds like this guy is not your boyfriend. He sounds more like a roommate. This guy is not fulfilling even the absolute minimum required to be a boyfriend. I'm sure he has reasons for his behavior, abusive parents, problem drinking. It's not something you can solve for him and it's not you who is causing him to treat you poorly.

I think your only mistake is that you stayed with him too long. You deserve to be treated better.
posted by parakeetdog at 8:40 AM on May 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Didn’t mean to leave incomplete list... 3) Is considerate about other things, like remembering my nieces and nephews birthdays. 4) is funny, convivial when things are good, thinks I’m funny too. Ok, last comment.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:46 AM on May 13, 2018

Also it really feels awful to watch how his family treats him and realize he’s treating me the same way as he treats them... either I’m equally selfish and awful or he is really not interested in acknowledging his coping mechanisms I guess.

This is not something to take personally. Coping skills are habitual. I think that a lot of what you described is likely a coping strategy. Therapy could help him become more aware and get him to try new strategies, and help you know how to better avoid coming across like his family in ways that cause him to slip into those strategies. But you sound done with this relationship, and that seems good.

After you break up, you will have plenty of time to consider how you want to behave differently in your next relationship. I wouldn’t assume you caused this dynamic.
posted by salvia at 8:49 AM on May 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

I promise you there are better guys out there.

How to?
- If you tell him it is over do you think he will be cool about it or get angry? Have a plan for if he get angry. Have your important stuff already at a friend's house and a place to stay when you tell him in case it goes poorly.
- What's the deal with your lease? Can you break it? Can he alone pay for the rent? Hopefully you can have a humane discussion about this.
- Beyond your own clothing and things that were yours before the relationship, what about your stuff? Generally over the years did you contribute equally to the buying of stuff? If you can afford it, it might be kind to just leave him with the furniture and kitchen stuff unless you have a particularly strong attachment to them. Hopefully you can deal with this nicely but if not, be ready.
posted by k8t at 9:21 AM on May 13, 2018

Best answer: You outgrew this relationship some time ago and the only reason you're still in it is because it is familiar and therefore feels "safe" on some level.

Your BF doesn't not have to be an "evil MF" for it to be time for you to go your separate ways. You did a lot of growing together, but now it's time for both of you to explore the next level.

Bottom line: you are responsible for yourself, and he's responsible for himself. Move on while you can still remember the good times.
posted by rpfields at 9:42 AM on May 13, 2018 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I promise you that one day you'll look back on this relationship and be glad that you learned some lessons from it.

But as you get old, you might want/need an actual partner. This is someone who is team you guys all the time within reason. And if you are also team you guys within reason all of the time, it should balance out.

Moreover, dating in your 30s is pretty awesome. People have far less time for bullshit. People are far less tolerant of red flags or incompatibilities. And generally people are up front from early on about their life goals and needs. They have their careers fairly set. They generally have settled in a location. They have some experience in serious relationships. They've worked out their issues with their families. They know if they want to have kids. Generally they're seeking dating partners with an intention of marriage. All of this makes it far easier to date. Really.
posted by k8t at 9:52 AM on May 13, 2018 [9 favorites]

Best answer: He's not "from a close family", he's enmeshed. As people have stated above, lying is a coping mechanism and it's not actually about you except that some interactions with you subconsciously remind him of relating to his family and make his coping mechanisms kick in.

That said, it's not up to you to fix him or take this on -- it will take time and therapy for him to disentangle himself from his dysfunctional family, and he'll need to want to do it, which he doesn't sound like he does (enmeshment can be very seductive). If you need some background before you DTMFA, there it is. I empathize with him, but he's not really in this relationship with you; he's re-enacting his relationship with his family.
posted by camyram at 11:18 AM on May 13, 2018 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I’m past my 20s and nearly out of my 30s so I can tell you this with confidence. The time to assess your role, and plan for improvement, is when you’re out of the relationship. It’s impossible to do that kind of analysis and growth while still in the situation.
posted by kapers at 12:28 PM on May 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

Best answer: camyram has got it - he's "enmeshed". There's a WHOLE lot of other things going on, but I think you've zeroed in on the weird dynamic with his family for a reason. It can explain a lot of things you wouldn't necessarily think of, particularly the avoidant and flaky behavior, conflict avoidance, excessive drinking, not to mention priotizing his brother's problem over your workplace shooting (!), etc.

Just putting this book out there as something that opened my eyes (as someone who was enmeshed and had to understand the problem and work myself out of it):

When He's Married to Mom: How to Help Mother-Enmeshed Men Open Their Hearts to True Love and Commitment
posted by naju at 12:47 PM on May 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I remember a long, long period of just complete bafflement during my marriage. My husband was doing things and acting in ways that I just couldn't understand. Why was someone who was honest to a fault lying to me and incapable of keeping promises? Why was my rock solid responsible husband utterly failing to deal with basic responsibilities? Why does he say he loves me but then keeps doing things that he knows full well hurt me? Good grief did I spin my wheels like you're spinning yours.

Years and years later, when the arc of this has all played out, I see is in a whole new light. You know those classic stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, acceptance? I now understand that complete *bafflement* as being the denial part. There were a lot of things right in front of my face that were just too painful to internalize, I saw them all and it just... didn't compute.

I think you're there. And also angry. If you're trying to negotiate with him to be honest with you or to be on time or whatever, count it as bargaining.

I say: since you don't have kids or legal binds, rip the goddamned bandaid off and face the fact that he's treating you badly. Lying is treating you badly. One upping you is treating you badly. Staying with you when "he's just not that into you" is, in fact, treating you badly. You have to struggle to find good things to say about him but can specify at length the ways he's treating you badly.

Let it sink in, move through the sadness, and move the hell on.

When you're in your new place and he's history, you can do the personal work about why you were willing to think that poor treatment and disinterested behavior were compatible with love. That's for the future. For now: face it, move through--go, go, go.
posted by Sublimity at 3:32 PM on May 13, 2018 [11 favorites]

Best answer: His treatment of you makes clear that he doesn't care about your feelings, or what commitments he makes. I bet he doesn't lie like this to his boss or coworkers, or his parents. I bet he doesn't one-up them constantly. You're baffled because you don't want to believe he thinks so little of you when you know he's capable of being a better person.


4) is funny, convivial when things are good, thinks I’m funny too.

I'm sure he's great to be around when he feels like having company. That's not the same as being a decent partner.

Get out before it gets worse, because it will.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:00 PM on May 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

This is the guy you leave now so that you don't have to get divorced at a later date.
posted by heyjude at 6:56 PM on May 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds like your instinct is to make this about you being wrong (not ready for committment! too controlling? self-sabotaging??) But the thing is, just because this relationship isn't working doesn't mean that you've done wrong.

And if you have self-inquiry to do, I think it should be more along the lines of "Why would I feel I ought to accept a partner who lies to me, is competitive towards me, doesn't care about my life, doesn't initiate sex, doesn't respect my requests and can't even be bothered to let me know before he stands me up?" That, and "Why would my tendency be to blame myself when someone else is treating me like crap?"

Don't feel bad about the time you spent together. MOST people have a string of suboptimal relationships in their twenties, whereas you spent most of your suboptimal relationship time with just one guy. Just don't keep dating him. Because he is way beyond red flags. He is like a giant red art installation.
posted by hungrytiger at 7:56 PM on May 13, 2018 [8 favorites]

By the “signals” it’s like he’s waiting for me to break up with him.

Given what you've told us about his conflict-avoidant communication style, I'm tipping this is as close as you'll ever get to being told that this is exactly what he wants to do.

I recommend saving both of you the trouble of needing to decode any more "signals".

Wishing you the best; specifically, wishing you a healthy, committed relationship with a person trustworthy enough to deserve you.
posted by flabdablet at 12:02 AM on May 14, 2018

I bet he doesn't lie like this to his boss or coworkers, or his parents.

Having already been astonished by the sheer consistency of this kind of ridiculous, blatant, obviously self-undermining self-deluding habitual fabulist attitude in several people it is my misfortune to know, I bet he actually does.
posted by flabdablet at 12:05 AM on May 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Lots and lots of words. Pay way less attention to his words and far more attention to his behavior. Do not accept bad behavior. Stop analysing him; it doesn't help and it's not healthy. Build yourself a rich, happy, friend-filled life. Decide if you really want him in it. If yes, push him to be good to you, but also make life fun and interesting.
posted by theora55 at 5:15 AM on May 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

For what it's worth, your boyfriend has a lot of similarities to myself from a prior relationship. Like yours - 7+ years, lived together 4+. I had a lot of habits of lying, flaking, being unreliable at times, being a poor communicator about 'the future', and not being a great integrator of friends and family.

First off, I'll say I don't at all excuse my old behavior (and I don't excuse your boyfriend's). I do offer my perspective though. We both got into our relationship in our early 20s, soon out of college, both having poor relationships previously. We both had a lot of baggage from our families - mine was close, but emotionally neglectful, leaving me very afraid of conflict in anyway (in some anxiety around loss). She was from a straight talking, no-BS family, who showed their love through conflict, through heated disscussion, with some intent on winning arguments.

For us - the two personalities really fed each other. I saw something you mentioned:
(we have limited time together after work so it would be better for me to come home early on days we can actually spend together)
We had a similar problem in our relationship too. She really felt like we needed to spend more time together, and my dissenting opinion caused a lot of conflict, which I retreated from. Instead of being upfront about it the next time, it was easier to make up a lie like your boyfriends: there was a lot of traffic, I got held up at work, etc. That way it wasn't "my fault" our time got taken away, it was some external circumstance. Obviously I understand now how destructive that behavior is. At the time, I was just afraid of emotional pain.

All this is not to say keep him or whatever. You probably should DTMFA - he may also feel shackled in some of the ways you are describing, but still loves you, in his own strange way, and can't see himself out. Or if you do decide to stay, you definitely need couples counseling, as others have said, to help you unpack whatever underlying relationship tendencies exist, why they are there, and how we can unwind them in a safe environment.

Good luck to you!
posted by UnhappyCreative at 6:02 AM on May 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Just a couple of things - firstly, I think the biggest sign that you need to leave him is the wall of text that is your post. I was in your shoes once so I know it is hard to understand when you're not there, but a good relationship just doesn't require that kind of analysis.

Also, your list of things you like about him has 4 things. And they are all kind of meh things that lots of people would do.
posted by thereader at 1:00 PM on May 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I just wanted some help reflecting on my part in how it got to DTMFA.

I second the comments above on trying to discover why you've put up with seven years of a guy who's pretty obviously not very interested in you. Presumably he's been getting sex, and not having to do a fat lot in return, so that's kind of ok for him.

As a guy, I've spent most of my life bewildered by situations like this. There are a lot of other guys out there. Some of them are capable of being good boyfriends. Go find one and see what it's like.
posted by tillsbury at 1:22 PM on May 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

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