Is Manipulation a Common/Accepted Component in a Healthy Relationship?
December 21, 2022 9:37 AM   Subscribe

I broke up with a long-term partner of 5+ years earlier this year, and am now in a new relationship of a little over 4 months. My previous relationship may have had a codependent dynamic, and now I'm wondering what is actually healthy in a relationship, versus what should still be considered a red flag. (Lengthy post to follow.)

I ended my relationship in the spring of this year with my partner of 5+ years. We were engaged for 4 of those years, and I thought I had found the person with whom I would spend the rest of my life. I have depression and anxiety, and the former became so strong that one of the reasons for leaving the relationship was to work on myself (couldn't be a good partner without being good for myself first). Unfortunately my partner realized that they had certain core values that did not align with mine, and didn't realize this until about two days after we broke up. I felt that the way they loved me was how I wanted to be loved, and they felt the same about me. I believe every relationship teaches us something, and the purpose of that relationship was to teach us both how to love and be loved, unconditionally. We spent most of our free time together, and rarely did anything apart. I am an introvert, and they were an extrovert. I went along with many social activities because I wanted to see them happy and undeprived, and admittedly because I would have felt bad leaving them unaccompanied. They ended up doing similar things for me, and so it sort of became... Neither of us truly embracing our own identities anymore. I'm realizing this may be a pattern for me in relationships, and I would greatly appreciate some insight/clarity about this.

I've been in my current relationship for a little over 4 months. My boyfriend is also an introvert, and we both believe we're on the spectrum. We both feel as if we don't fully understand human interactions, and this manifests in him sometimes saying things that really hurt my feelings, and it manifests in me via being overly sensitive in my reactions to certain things. This leaves us both feeling misunderstood by the other, and that we'll never be able to make the other person truly happy. Please note, we each have a healthy mindset in that another person is not responsible for your happiness or making you happy, but I meant this more as both people in the relationship feeling as if they can fully let their guard down and be their true selves, without worrying about upsetting the other.

We've had several arguments since being together, with most of them being about the above points. He doesn't understand how most of the things that have upset me are offensive in any way. For instance, I let loose the other night and did a silly dance while we were brushing our teeth, and he said, "I don't think you can pull that off" while laughing. I laughed and asked, "What do you mean? Who can pull it off?" And he said, "Not a White person" while still laughing (we're both White). That comment shattered me. I told him that singing and dancing are two of the purest things that can come out of a human being, and that everyone has a unique way of expressing that. I expressed that his comment of not being able to "pull something off" was one of the most damaging things to say to someone else. We talked about how hurtful it would be to tell someone, "You're bad at dancing" or, "You don't have a good voice." He said that that's the culture he grew up in (he's in his mid-50's, and was raised in a Southern U.S. state), and that people in his generation just don't get as upset about things like that as people do now. He was devastated at my comment regarding his remark about dancing, and internalized it as him being a bad person. That's something he is triggered by (the thought of being a bad or untrustworthy individual).

He moved to California about 20 years ago, and strongly dislikes the overly-PC culture of the state. He feels that most people (especially younger generations) are offended by everything, and that nothing is alright to say anymore. I do agree with most of that, but I also know that if I felt that way about a culture in which I lived, I would search elsewhere for a place that aligned more with my values. I'm in my mid-30's, so I was raised within an "older" generation, but not the same one as him. I asked him yesterday, "If you despise the Californian culture so much, and don't appreciate the perspectives of generations younger than you, then why are you with a native Californian who is not from the same generation as you?" His response was, "Because I love you," and also stated how important it is to accept the person you're with, because no one will ever fit an "exact ideal" of who you would imagine as the "perfect" partner. Again, I do agree with this.

But to me, it sounded more like he was settling. So, we discussed this notion, and his perspective of "settling" is the idea of being with someone whom you find intolerable, whereas "accepting" is the idea of loving someone and staying with them because you're committed, and working around the parts that both parties may not see eye-to-eye on. My input here was that you can love someone and accept them exactly as they are, and simply not be the right match for them. I told him I was scared that this may be the case with us. I feel like I'm constantly hurting and discouraging him when I get upset at something he says, and he feels like he's constantly upsetting me. He said yesterday, "We were having a great day yesterday, and my guard was down. We almost made it through the day without any incidents, and then I made that comment before bed. So as soon as I let my guard down, I end up upsetting you." He said that his goal each day is to not upset me. I asked him, "Shouldn't your goal be to see your partner happy, rather than focusing on *not* upsetting them? There have been so many days where we haven't argued, and have had great days. Do those not have equal weight to the days on which we do quarrel?" Perhaps that's just semantics, but one goal has a negative connotation while the other has a positive. Just an opinion? Not sure.

The other prominent component in our relationship that we have argued about is traditional gender roles. I personally don't subscribe to these (unless in the bedroom/roleplay scenarios), and he strongly desires to. He knows that I don't do this, and so he has come out of his own comfort zone to ensure that he's not doing traditionally "male" things with me unsolicited. But is that him coming out of his comfort zone, or is that him settling? He's expressed a desire to engage in those traditional roles several times, and I feel like he's sacrificing something he truly wants in order to stay with me. I've suggested that it may be a good idea to search for someone who *does* share that desire, which has upset him; he says the desire isn't strong enough to outweigh his love for me, and that being with me is worth giving up those things for. But the gender roles also play a part in something as seemingly harmless as colors ("Boys can't wear that color"), expressions of affection ("Boys can't have a picture of them and their girlfriend on their phone's lockscreen, because it comes off as them being overly attached. Girls can do that, because it doesn't come off as overly attached from them; it comes off as a natural part of a romantic ideal that women have about relationships"). These comments all stem from the Southern culture, which I understand, and even he has admitted that he hates these visceral reactions he has. He knows, logically, that he "shouldn't" be thinking that way, but those comments are what comes to mind when triggered.

This next item is something within myself that I don't know how to title, and am wondering if it's a feature or a bug. We were spooning the other night, and he was the Big Spoon. When I said I enjoy it either way, but that I prefer to be the Big Spoon, he responded that he actually prefers to be the Little Spoon, but he can't say that because he's a man, and that would come off as him being too needy. He lets me hold him and even gets into the Little Spoon position willingly, but it's non-verbal. For him, stating that need aloud is where it tips into "needy" territory. My feature/bug is that if someone closes themselves off to me, and chooses not to be vulnerable around the person they love (me), then I immediately mirror that. I close myself off, become guarded, and shut down emotionally. For me, his claim that stating a need like that aloud is considered "weak" (his own language), my brain automatically translates that to, "This desire is a weakness, and therefore anyone who expresses it is weak. Ergo, I won't express it either, because I don't want to appear weak to my boyfriend." It's almost like the opposite of, "If this person won't give me something, I won't give them anything, either" but with "receiving" instead of "giving." He again returned to gender roles, stating that it's completely acceptable and not deemed "weak" for a woman to express her needs or physical desires (like touch or cradling), especially regarding affection. He has worked on this and will ask for things sometimes, so it's not that it *never* happens. It's just this fixation on gender roles that leaves me feeling frustrated. I expressed to him that I would feel exposed expressing my own vulnerabilities if that's not something he would also do in our relationship. He was upset, and said that he feels healthier when he is about 80% vulnerable, but still holds back 20% and doesn't express insecurities (because of his gender). I said that it's very difficult to think about being with someone who doesn't want to fully let their walls down around me.

Lastly, we both share the personality trait/quality of internalizing others' problems as our own for those we are closest to. I've done major work on this since 2020, after being a teacher during the pandemic. For me it became vital to set boundaries and create a work-life balance that wasn't all-consuming with my students' problems. This has changed my life and the way I approach things now. I still care deeply for others, and consider myself to be a giver by nature, but I now have boundaries and take care of myself first. My boyfriend very much internalizes and takes on others' problems as his own, and it seems to tie into his identity as a person. For example, he helped his goddaughter recently with her final exams, and he was extremely focused on "getting her an 'A'" in the class. He took it on as his personal responsibility whether or not she earned that grade, and if she earned anything below it, he saw himself as a failure. A similar occurrence transpired yesterday, but between us. I went through some traumatic events and major life changes this year, and yesterday the stress culminated into me calling a suicide hotline. I had told my boyfriend that I needed to make an urgent call, and he asked what it was, so I told him (I don't believe in lying to a partner, even by omission). He said he was freaking out, and that me calling a suicide hotline was a major red flag for him. It was mostly the fact that I seemed "okay" the day prior, and then we had an argument at night, and the next day I'm "suicidal". I tried to explain that (1) *He* did not make me suicidal or depressed; I've had depression long before I met him, and (2) I'm not creating a plan of execution, I'm simply feeling worthless and questioning why I'm alive, so I need to speak with a professional who's trained to help a caller manage this. Regardless, he took this on as his own failing as a person. We had another argument later about everything, and he said he feels that I manipulate him sometimes. Not that I'm a manipulator or a manipulative person, but that sometimes I have done things that have made him feel manipulated. I asked him, "Why would you stay with someone with whom you felt that way, then?" and he responded, "Because it's called loving a sinner. Loving a human being. All human beings are sinners; we all lie, we all manipulate, we all can be cruel. It's a matter of intention and how frequently it happens. If you did that all the time, that would be different. But everyone sometimes does or says something to their significant other in order to get what they want." I was, again, upset at this.

TLDR: My question is: After having a possibly codependent dynamic in my previous relationship where we very seldom argued (but I later discovered that the other person was holding back a part of themself to avoid hurting me), am I now simply delusional about what it actually means to love someone? Did I just "have it easy" before with that person? All previous relationships were with abusive partners except for my most recent ex, and my current boyfriend. I don't know if I just need to adjust to actual humanity and this is the "real" reality of relationships.
posted by Jangatroo to Human Relations (72 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You've found this level of incompatibility after four months? Four months in is supposed to be rainbows-and-unicorns time.

I don't think you will long regret a breakup. I believe there is someone more compatible out there for you.
posted by humbug at 9:42 AM on December 21, 2022 [62 favorites]

You are not ready to be in a relationship right now.
posted by cakelite at 9:43 AM on December 21, 2022 [42 favorites]

Nope, this is not just how relationships are, but this sure looks like this is how relationships with *this guy* are. He wants to have everything his way and freaks out if he doesn't get it. He's much, much too willing to write things that upset you off as "just the way (people/relationships) are", but gets huffy about things that upset *him*.

He's not an evil person, and this isn't an abusive relationship or anything, but he's much too self-centered to be a good partner for someone coming out of abusive and codependent dynamics. Four months is indeed about the time that the bloom starts to come off the rose. You can do much, much better. Find someone that actually likes and enjoys you and cares how *you* feel, not just how you make *him* feel.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:49 AM on December 21, 2022 [19 favorites]

Sorry, I shouldn't have been so glib in my response. You guys don't sound like you make a good pair (to be honest, it kind of sounds like you are together because you both just really want to be in a relationship?) and at four months in, when you are honestly still just really getting to know each other, the drama is off the charts. You sound like a very moral and thoughtful person, but it does sound like you have a real blind spot about how your actions will come across to others. Feeling "shattered' because he teased you after you did a goofy dance? Trying to make him feel like he's overreacting when you notified him you needed to call a suicide hotline? It isn't hard to see why he can feel a little emotionally manipulated at times.
posted by cakelite at 9:51 AM on December 21, 2022 [29 favorites]

Feeling "shattered' because he teased you after you did a goofy dance

Just for context, I played around with a couple instruments a little bit while I was dating a long-ago partner. At one point she said something dismissive (true, no doubt, but dismissive.) I never played music again while we were together. It is indeed something that is very personal, and glib criticism can indeed be shattering.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:54 AM on December 21, 2022 [48 favorites]

You're spending a lot of time trying to convince him that he should break up with you. That's not the only option. If you think he's secretly resentful of you not meeting his expectations, you can end things on your end.

I do want to note that I think you've got some things twisted up in the spooning situation that won't serve you well. To me, it reads that he was vulnerable, and is really quite willing to talk about how open he's able to be and wants to be. He's using non-verbal signals to indicate he wants to be cuddled? That's OK! In that particular instance, it sounds like you're expecting one version of communication, and not hearing what he's actually saying.
posted by sagc at 9:56 AM on December 21, 2022 [4 favorites]

I wish he'd stop blaming his crappy ideas, hang-ups, and mindsets as "southern culture." I live in the south and this guy seems inconsiderate, rude, oblivious, lacking introspection, unwilling to accept fault, extremely insecure about immature thing for an adult, wildly defensive for attacks that aren't coming, and just all around utterly exhausting. You sound like a caring, empathetic, thoughtful person and this guy seems like a walking pile of excuses to act however he feels like and blame any others or abstract systems when encountering any of the obvious friction for his behavior.

Sorry, nobody wants to hear their partner dumped on, but this does not seem like any stuff you should be having to put up with.
posted by GoblinHoney at 9:56 AM on December 21, 2022 [24 favorites]

You're not compatible. It's been four months of all this drama when the first four months should be you two having fun getting to know each other. Cut your losses and take some time to be single and work on yourself.

We almost made it through the day without any incidents, and then I made that comment before bed. So as soon as I let my guard down, I end up upsetting you." He said that his goal each day is to not upset me. I asked him, "Shouldn't your goal be to see your partner happy, rather than focusing on *not* upsetting them? There have been so many days where we haven't argued, and have had great days. Do those not have equal weight to the days on which we do quarrel?" Perhaps that's just semantics, but one goal has a negative connotation while the other has a positive. Just an opinion? Not sure.

This isn't just semantics. This is him quite clearly telling you that he has to make an effort not to upset you, and you kind of dismissing that by trying some "look on the bright side" flipping. That doesn't address the concern he actually clearly expressed: that he puts in a lot (by his standards) of effort to avoid upsetting you, and that, from his perspective, the moment he loosens up a bit with a teasing comment, he upsets you and it turns into a whole huge argument. Your own recounting of it goes from laughing together to you saying the comment "shattered" you and how hurtful it was and about the importance of dance as human expression. That's quite a lot of escalation and mental whiplash for an idle teasing comment about a goofy dance. I don't think you're being manipulative or that you're necessarily in the wrong; your feelings are your feelings, and everyone has sore and sensitive spots that even gentle teasing can really hurt. But this is a pretty clear demonstration to me that you two are incompatible. If he has to put in this much effort to avoid upsetting you now, I guarantee you, he will start to get resentful about it if he isn't already.

This isn't a healthy or sustainable dynamic for either of you, and it doesn't mean either of you are terrible people, it just means you're incompatible. Stop trying to make yourselves compatible. You can both find someone who's more aligned with your values and perspectives. Dump him and move on.
posted by yasaman at 10:10 AM on December 21, 2022 [53 favorites]

We almost made it through the day without any incidents
Four months in and you can't make it a day without upsetting each other? This is not a healthy relationship. Please don't continue in it.

Is Manipulation a Common/Accepted Component in a Healthy Relationship?
No. Absolutely not.

A good relationship might take some work, but it shouldn't feel like a slog every day. A good relationship will have you looking back on old relationships and wondering what the hell you were thinking to stay with those people. A good relationship is treating each other with respect and kindness. A good relationship will make you want to stay in it, not debate its merits on Metafilter.
posted by hydra77 at 10:15 AM on December 21, 2022 [19 favorites]

OH my god. No, no relationship should ever require this much pure text at 4 years let alone 4 months. I can't even find what it is you remotely like about this person??? The only good things you post are about your ex. Let this one go, friend.

I personally don't feel like his comment about the dancing is particularly mean or cutting or anything other than a joke, BUT: I can see why it is upsetting to you. Here you are, in your own damn bathroom, sharing a private and vulnerable self with someone, and they find a fault with it. It would take a different kind of comment to upset me in that situation but I've had partners who just...knew how to suck the air out of a moment, in a way that left me feeling very exposed and self-conscious, and it's frankly no way to live.

You're not wrong, he's not wrong, but y'all are an awful match.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:19 AM on December 21, 2022 [54 favorites]

Maybe this guy is a good match for somebody, but it's not you. You are describing some pretty classic flags of a poor match, especially that you both seem to have to spend a ton of time explaining yourselves/misunderstanding each other. He also seems really controlling in a Rigid Worldview way, and he can try pulling that "I can't help but be racist and sexist because Southern" but I assure you that's a load of shit and red flag enough to walk. And then you could do more work around the concept of "offended" versus "having ones identity and culture denigrated as some kind of overly-picky personal preference rather than an insistence on being shown the same respect as old white people."

I think one of the things you're maybe taking too seriously from your previous relationship is that you can have constructive mismatches. Introvert-Extrovert relationships often thrive because of the give and take - the introvert develops thicker skin for socializing and often ends up having a good time, the extrovert often learns to not spread themselves quite so thin and learns to be more content in their own quiet company. Yes, it is definitely each person's responsibility and challenge to maintain their own identity and stand up for their needs, but you can still turn the difference into an asset if everyone's making a good faith effort.

I am also on the side of being non-critical in low-stakes interactions. For a lot of us, a vaguely cutting remark in a moment of vulnerability is part of an ongoing lifelong trauma, and there's something to be said about relationships that put a spirit of wholehearted acceptance first, particularly when there is no threat or risk. It's not THAT hard to find a different and more fun response than "you shouldn't do that". This is something I had to learn from my partner, and in fact he also needed to learn to be slightly LESS accommodating to not squash his own needs, but in any case I am free to be goofy and try new things (and I am one of those people who HAAATES not being instantly good at things, so I can be very sensitive) and have bad moments and he will cheerlead first and foremost. I've learned to do the same, and it has made me a better partner, friend, and coworker. It sounds like that would be a preferable environment for you, as well, and now you know that.

(You may also want to look into Rejection-Sensitive Dysphoria, as I suspect many of the comments here accusing you of somehow deliberately taking this too seriously are not from people who understand the experience. It is possible to use therapeutic techniques to 'toughen up' somewhat or at least not spiral so painfully, but it is also a flavor of neuroatypicality and you are not making up the way it hurts you.)

It isn't necessarily "manipulation" to disagree, or to say "I want things X way". You are allowed to have your own values!!! You are also the only one who decides which things you figure out how to roll with versus which things simply aren't going to work for you. But if you are four months into a relationship and it is a constant uphill battle to understand and be understood, that is an enormous indicator that this isn't working out. I once broke up with someone at eight months after realizing (among some other red flags I had dismissed) that every. single. time. I made a joke or a pun or wordplay I would end up having to explain it when he didn't understand or misunderstood. That is no way to live a whole life. That is a good enough reason to move on.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:23 AM on December 21, 2022 [23 favorites]

I was reading this through and was reminded of another question - and that other question was your other question about yelling from a week ago.

This all sounds extremely intense and miserable and I think you would benefit from not being in a relationship until you're at a point where you are not so on edge and responding so strongly in the moment. (That whole "you are judging one of the purest things about a person and I am shattered" situation - many people don't think that a goofy dance is one of the purest forms of personal expression and thus above criticism! It's a perfectly fine view to hold, but you need to be able to accept that others don't feel the same way.)

This guy - honestly, it seems like he is talking through a lot of stuff and trying to change! It's not reasonable to expect someone to change overnight or to change 100%, and as a result, even if someone is changing they may not change enough to be a good partner for you. This guy may be willing to talk about being the little spoon or unpack his gender assumptions but he still may not be able to become the type of person you would like as a parther.

Also, again, he is twenty years older than you and you're in your early thirties. That's a lot. I, in my late forties, would not date someone twenty years younger because we're at really different life stages and were formed by extremely different times. I certainly wouldn't date a cis man who was twenty years older than I am, for the same reason.

And last - I think you buried the lede here. It is good that you feel comfortable enough to call a suicide hotline when you need to, but it seems like it's also going to pull up really strong feelings for a partner, and it's also going to be a learning curve if they've never been close to someone who struggles with suicidality. It is not surprising at all that this brought up some big feelings and some mistaken assumptions for him.

Mainly, this seems like a real mismatch. You need some healing time, it sounds like, and it sounds like you also need a partner who can meet you where you're at, not a partner who is pretty different from you and is willing to make some changes to make you happy.
posted by Frowner at 10:27 AM on December 21, 2022 [31 favorites]

Errrrrrgh also I hesitate to get too much into Ask Me How I Know or anything but: If you both are just forever wounding each other and miscommunicating and talking past each other just by doing your own everyday self, it won't get better. It just won't. I tried for years and years in just that sort of dynamic, and he tried very hard too, but fundamentally we were not naturally compatible. Every day required so much energy just to not hurt each other!

That isn't how it should be. It is possible to have a relationship with someone whose needs and desires make sense to you, and indeed are easy and natural and pleasant to meet! The idea of "expecting a partner to read my mind" in a relationship is toxic, but in a good relationship, the people involved understand each other well and, eventually, intuitively. That doesn't mean they'll NEVER need to articulate their needs or feelings, but it means they won't have to write a fuckin dissertation to explain and justify every feeling or reaction or need they have.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:30 AM on December 21, 2022 [24 favorites]

This is the guy that is 22 years older than you and yelled at you?

No. Leave. Go see a therapist to adjust your view on what relationships should look like.
posted by Crystalinne at 10:36 AM on December 21, 2022 [40 favorites]

You don't have to think the other person is a bad person to think that you're incompatible, or that you just don't bring happiness to each other the way romantic partners should.

Give both of you the present of cutting yourselves loose, and maybe spend six months, at least, in therapy without dating to solidify your sense of your own unique, autonomous self and to cope with whatever it is that has you calling suicide hotlines.

Also, yes, for most people, a partner declaring that they have active suicidal ideation will be a big deal! I think you need to be realistic about that, not in the sense that it's an automatic dealbreaker, but that even people with "good boundaries" (whatever that means) will rightly be seriously concerned for anyone they care about whom they know to be suicidal. You can discuss with a partner how most helpfully to handle such a situation, but you really can't expect them not to be upset.
posted by praemunire at 10:58 AM on December 21, 2022 [6 favorites]

This is so, so, so far beyond a normal amount of communication difficulty, getting used to each other’s habits, or questioning the relationship for something this new. Neurodivergent or not, it shouldn’t be this hard at this point - both of you can find other partners whose assorted neurodivergences and cultural/generational backgrounds will work better with your own. Put this fish back in the sea and move on.

But as to the question about your own specific views - *mostly* if sounds like the problem here is him. Some of it may be you, for example if you’re so committed to 100% transparency and vulnerability that you can’t allow someone SOME space for privacy and dealing with things on their own, that’s going to cause you some problems. And few people would react well with such a new partner to the casual way you apparently put your suicidal ideation on the table.But you’re not the main issue here, and when you find someone who’s not exhausting you with all this other stuff, I think you’ll find your own stuff easier to work on.
posted by Stacey at 10:59 AM on December 21, 2022 [2 favorites]

Shouldn't your goal be to see your partner happy, rather than focusing on *not* upsetting them?

Just some food for thought: the goal should be to have a good day together. In general, one person's happiness should boost the other's, so no one has to lift it, if that makes sense. If it's continual work to make your partner happy then it's not a great partnership. There are definitely times it's work. But if work is the default, especially so early in a relationship, then something is off.

I don't know if I just need to adjust to actual humanity and this is the "real" reality of relationships.

In my experience, it's not. But even if it were, if all relationships were that bad wouldn't you rather just have a gorgeously happy life alone?
posted by warriorqueen at 11:01 AM on December 21, 2022 [7 favorites]

He moved to California about 20 years ago, and strongly dislikes ...

All I need to hear. Reluctant, unhappy immigrants are SO tiresome. DTMF after encouraging/convincing him to move back home, where clearly he'd be happier. And you, too; without him in the picture.
posted by Rash at 11:07 AM on December 21, 2022 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all for the responses. Absolutely incredible. Some of these are cracking me up, which has been very much needed recently. Lyn Never, thank you for the suggestion about RSP; just looked into it and it sounds spot-on.

To clarify a few things and make one addition:

(1) When I called the suicide hotline yesterday, it was the first time I've ever done that. Again, I was *not* and still am not planning to harm myself. I called because I needed an immediate discussion with a trained professional about the culmination of trauma and relationship stress. In a nutshell, not feeling good enough for anyone or worthy/deserving of love. I expressed all of this to my boyfriend. I completely understand him being concerned about me, but when he internalized this as him being the *reason* behind me calling the hotline, that's where the problem arises.

(2) My boyfriend has been making staggering efforts to come out of his comfort zone, seriously. I am inspired by how hard he's been working at this. I frequently tell him that he shouldn't force himself to change for someone else, though, and if he's working on things just to stay with that person, it isn't a good sign.

(3) I have anorexia and binge-eating disorder (he knows this). He has deemed himself a functioning alcoholic. Whenever we've had serious disputes, he consumes a lot of alcohol while we're arguing. He's told me that hearing me talk about starving myself and also feeling out of control with food is concerning, and that he wouldn't be attracted to me anymore if I was too thin (reminds him of Holocaust victims). It feels that it's acceptable to him to drink excessively to cope with problems, but I can't restrict my food intake because it upsets him. I don't say anything about his drinking (I've asked him before about it, but never with judgmental comments, only objective and curious). One of my previous partners (abusive) was an alcoholic, but refused to even admit that, let alone seek help. They were an angry and belligerent drunk that made being in proximity to them while drinking very dangerous. My boyfriend is not this way.

(4) I have encouraged him to move either back to the South, or to simply in general find a significant other who is from his same culture, generation, and shares his perspective on gender roles. His response has been that all of those people are gone, and that it's different now, so he just has to get used to it being this new way.
posted by Jangatroo at 11:17 AM on December 21, 2022

You *just* ended a five-year relationship and you're working too hard at this one. I strongly suggest you stay single for a bit and focus on yourself.
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 11:18 AM on December 21, 2022 [43 favorites]

(4) I have encouraged him to move either back to the South, or to simply in general find a significant other who is from his same culture, generation, and shares his perspective on gender roles.

So you...broke up with him? Why not just make it official, good lord.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:19 AM on December 21, 2022 [48 favorites]

I read something recently (I can't find it again or I'd link to it, maybe it was somewhere on Metafilter?) about how "humorous" negativity is a low-risk way of establishing intimacy – it allows someone to establish a position of strength while testing the waters to see if people around them will engage in the same negative thinking about the topic. The object of negative attention becomes the out-group, everyone complicit in the negative talk becomes the in-group, and if the attempt at intimacy is rejected, you can insist it was just a joke, or that you're now the victim because it wasn't that serious. Sometimes this behavior can be benign, but often it becomes really damaging, but it's often motivated by insecurity and negative self-talk.

Commenting that your dancing was something you "can't pull off" sounds like this kind of maladaptive attempt to seek intimacy. I would surmise that silly dancing or voices or whatever is something that was met with a negative response in his environs, either mockery or something more serious, and his response mirrored his own fear of social censure. From his perspective, he wasn't being negative, he was just making a comment, but that comment comes from a place of avoiding the judgement of others. Accordingly, it's no surprise that you felt judged by it, even though he likely thought he really was just making a humorous remark.

This also seems to be present in his emotions around masculinity and communication – he's intensely self-critical about his gender presentation, but his instinct is to protect himself at the cost of your wellbeing. You confronting him with how hurt you were by his comment is not how that conversation is supposed to play out in his dynamic, and his reaction was to feel wounded that you were hurt. Some people deploy this reaction tactically and consciously, and some people have just learned this reaction, but it sounds like a dynamic you really don't thrive in, so unless he's willing to put in the work, I would probably look to make a graceful exit. And given the other information you've shared about his drinking (as a coping mechanism to deal with high emotions during arguments), I'd say he's got a lot of work to do before he gets to that point, which means a lot of suffering on your part in the meantime.
posted by wakannai at 11:22 AM on December 21, 2022 [4 favorites]

This seems like a difficult guy who has a lot of opinions about how people should be less upset by his behavior. Like you, and the entire state of California. There are easier people ! And blessed silence! Cut this motherfucker loose.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 11:22 AM on December 21, 2022 [16 favorites]

Hi, I'm in my mid-50s. I'm not from the southern US but know cis men in my age range who are, and, like, this "gotta be a MAN" stuff is not by any means universal in that demographic. So even if that's your type for some reason, you don't have to deal with that crap or with somebody painstakingly working their way through it. You don't have to be Gender Roles 101, y'know?

On the other hand, it's normal to be pretty freaked out when one's partner feels bad enough to call a suicide hotline. I mean seriously, that indicates some major distress at the very least! That doesn't mean, though, that you're manipulative for calling.

In general, I think you can do better. Including being single. Imagine the work you wouldn't have to do any more if you were single!
posted by inexorably_forward at 11:26 AM on December 21, 2022 [3 favorites]

This sounds like a really unhealthy relationship. I can’t speak for everyone, and I know some people actually prefer more high-conflict dynamics, but based on this and your previous questions, I’m pretty confident in saying this is not the norm.

Also, just as a thought experiment, even if it were the norm, who cares? Something can be normal but still not right for you.

If I had to nail it down, he seems highly sensitive about his own feelings, but not yours. You seem highly sensitive about your own feelings AND his. I don’t know how that can work unless you want to completely sacrifice your own well-being for his!

I don’t know quite how to say this, but you don’t really sound okay at the moment. And your relationship seems like an added stressor instead of a safe place to land.
posted by kapers at 11:30 AM on December 21, 2022 [12 favorites]

This sounds like a very tiring relationship. Our most meaningful intimate relationships should nourish us and give us peace and refuge, not be battlegrounds for justifying our values or place in the world.

One thing that took me awhile to understand is that I always thought I had to be doing this kind of work in my romantic relationships -- justifying myself and my needs, swallowing criticisms about how I wasn't good enough at mundane stuff, taking care of the other person's feelings and putting them before my own at all times -- because everybody says good relationships take work. But relationship work does not look like this, at all. One pattern I noticed in your stories is that you have feelings or needs and try to express them and then your boyfriend makes your feelings and needs all about him. Suddenly it becomes you comforting him when you have discomfort. The gravity of the relationship always has to center around him. That's not healthy and leaves you with very little space to just be.
posted by twelve cent archie at 11:38 AM on December 21, 2022 [13 favorites]

There's something about both your questions (and your responses in-comments) that I can't quite put my finger on - it's like you're simultaneously in the relationship and trying to manage it like a therapist or someone trying to solve a problem in a video game. I don't mean that you're being cruel or doing anything wrong, it's more that it's like you're applying all these rubrics and rules and nudges and project management techniques to both yourself and your boyfriend, as if you're sitting behind glass watching all the heated feelings in the room and trying to nudge things to correct them.

I could definitely see how someone would hear "you should seek a partner of your own age, background and perspective, possibly by moving away" and find that either so confusing that it would appear to be manipulative ("why is she saying I should date someone else without breaking up unless she is trying to get me to do...something?) or just distant enough that it lends an air of coolness and distance.

I do not like the drinking bit.

This relationship sounds like you're trying to move into a collapsing castle - sure it has interesting architectural details and it could be very grand if exactly the right kinds and amount of effort were applied regardless of expense over a long period of time, but it makes a lousy house.
posted by Frowner at 11:45 AM on December 21, 2022 [40 favorites]

I was exhausted just reading this. Your title question is about manipulation and your tl;dr question is about being delusional about relationships. Gently, If you're asking these questions, you're in the wrong relationship and/or not ready for one.

Manipulation should never be a thing in relationships. If you're asking about if you're delusional about what you've learned about relationships, maybe do more reflecting, therapy and reading about relationships before you get into another one. Don't get into a relationship to figure this out.
posted by foxjacket at 11:46 AM on December 21, 2022 [9 favorites]

There's a difference between people who are actually on the autism spectrum, and people who "think they're on the spectrum" as a potential cover for being an asshole. The guy sounds like the latter. Maybe he really is on the spectrum, but there are plenty of people on the spectrum who aren't assholes. Two separate things, and he needs to stop using one to justify the other. Find someone better.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:49 AM on December 21, 2022 [3 favorites]

If you're actively struggling with disordered eating and your mental health more generally, I'd encourage you to dump this guy (who you seem very incompatible with) and continue to focus on yourself in therapy. I wouldn't want to date this guy either, but I agree with those suggesting that you also seem somewhat rigid in how you think relationships must work. I mean:

TLDR: My question is: After having a possibly codependent dynamic in my previous relationship where we very seldom argued (but I later discovered that the other person was holding back a part of themself to avoid hurting me), am I now simply delusional about what it actually means to love someone?

People shouldn't have to walk around on eggshells with their partner, but that doesn't mean they get a pass to be mean to their partner either. So when he teased you about your dancing, if you have a no-teasing policy then ok, he should know better, but if you (like many couples) have a teasing dynamic, then I can see why he'd be alarmed when a lighthearted moment with laughter all of sudden switched to a serious/hurt moment based on one (admittedly stupid, to be generous) thing he said. And sometimes you have to accept that your partner will get things wrong - for example, most people have little experience around suicide or death, and can often be clumsy if they have to face this unexpectedly.

But again - I really, really, think you should dump this guy - there are so many red flags here that the relationship is not working for either of you.
posted by coffeecat at 11:51 AM on December 21, 2022 [4 favorites]

Another vote for incompatibility.

All this dissecting of the relationship (only four months in) sounds exhausting and none of your conversations with each other about the topics you raise seem productive.

Here’s something to be aware of--- you can break up with him! Just because!

I’m sure you like this guy quite a bit, but aren’t there other areas of your life where such emotional and mental energy could be used in a more productive way? I’m know that sounds like something a snippy schoolteacher would say, but between your previous relationship (which ended relatively recently) and your mental health, it seems like you would benefit from a period of being alone.

None of what you describe seems to me especially atrocious or atypical for people getting to know each other, even those within the same age range. Feelings are going to get hurt, you are going have to learn to handle each other’s issues, differences in communication, and so on...

So, yeah, just break up! Good luck.
posted by rhonzo at 11:57 AM on December 21, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I'm sorry you're going through this. I do think you need to break up. Having been in a relationship where our disagreements and our tendency to disagree were a big topic even at good times-- I winced a little, reading about how you had almost gotten through an entire day without disagreeing, because I remembered thinking something like that was an accomplishment worth mentioning-- one thing I want to say is that when the relationship is over, all of that is going to seem like a monumental waste of time. You are not honing your relationship skills or your self-awareness by going round and round like this. That goes double when one partner is an alcoholic, or both are. Alcoholics are often fun to be with and have a certain kind of charisma but is it very hard to get out of this kind of pattern when there's lots of drinking involved. In fact often I think people stir up relationship difficulties to have an excuse or justification for drinking, even if they are not aware of doing so.

Just break up, and if you must date, date multiple people, and not seriously.
posted by BibiRose at 12:38 PM on December 21, 2022 [18 favorites]

I don’t want to add to a pile on, but… you need to break up. For lots of reasons. Starting with, as many others have said, you two are incompatible, based on your initial question. Secondly, you’re 33, and from previous questions have said you’ve been in a 6 year and 5+ year relationship. You’ve been in relationships your entire adult life, several of which were abusive (from prior Asks). You also shared in the update that you have serious mental health struggles, and he has addiction issues.

Please, for your own sake, take the off ramp from this relationship. Spend some time on your own, learning to care for yourself without having to worry about caring for someone else. You deserve to know yourself as just you, without anyone else’s baggage or opinions imposed. I promise it will be so much easier to heal without someone else taking up all your mental space.
posted by bluloo at 12:42 PM on December 21, 2022 [13 favorites]

I still think that this alcoholic who yelled at you so severely during an argument you had a trauma response is going to one day be an alcoholic who escalates to further abuse in the future.
posted by phunniemee at 12:53 PM on December 21, 2022 [24 favorites]

This guy seems kind of rude, self-centred, and clumsy, and you seem very fragile and sensitive. That is a combination that is almost guaranteed to cause hurt on one side and resentment on the other. Neither of you have to be bad people to be bad for each other.

If you're so upset you're calling a suicide hotline, you'd probably benefit from some time alone focussing on yourself and your issues before trying to be in a relationship.
posted by rpfields at 2:12 PM on December 21, 2022 [7 favorites]

Please please consider the comments here. This question and your last question make it clear that this relationship is not healthy for you. We’re rooting for you and your well-being.
posted by sucre at 2:24 PM on December 21, 2022 [12 favorites]

Please stop worrying about whether he's settling, and start wondering why *you're* settling.
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:31 PM on December 21, 2022 [19 favorites]

Functional alcoholic who is basically settling for you? Yikes yikes yikes yikes. I think y'all are both spiraling already. That's not going to get better, only worse. This is not a good situation for either one of you. I'm sorry, but this is not the relationship to nurture.

Maybe the lesson here is to know when it's ok to say no and walk away? For your good as well as his.
posted by Jacen at 2:43 PM on December 21, 2022 [6 favorites]

He has deemed himself a functioning alcoholic. Whenever we've had serious disputes, he consumes a lot of alcohol while we're arguing. [...] It feels that it's acceptable to him to drink excessively to cope with problems, but I can't restrict my food intake because it upsets him.

Consider it good fortune that you know this 4 months into the relationship, and run. Don't walk. This is not the kind of situation that gets better. If this is his best behavior -- and it should be, at 4 months in -- all the things you're telling us are appalling as is, and as he grows more comfortable with you they will get worse.

For goodness' sake, please stop rationalizing staying in this relationship. You're not compatible, he doesn't seem to respect you, and you aren't making each other happy. You can do better than that, being alone is better than that.
posted by fiercecupcake at 2:45 PM on December 21, 2022 [9 favorites]

why do you so persistently ask him questions you could and should ask yourself? why are YOU with an older, more traditional man when you yourself are young and don't care for gender roles? are YOU settling when you notice all these petty details you don't like but don't leave, either?

it's not that it's so much more important to know your own answers than to know his answers - they're both important. the thing is he answers your questions but you don't know whether or not to believe him, so what is the use of asking. but you do know whether to believe your own answers. and if you don't, that's a problem, but not with him. not as such.

you don't sound like you want to be with him but it also sounds like you are not willing to accept and act on feelings without a rationalized (not rational) explanation. but the feeling is what matters here. when you know, it doesn't matter if you know why.
posted by queenofbithynia at 2:50 PM on December 21, 2022 [31 favorites]

In a healthy relationship, you say

"I would like [thing/activity/decision]"

and the other person says "I would like [thing/activity/decision]"

and you negotiate openly.

Manipulation, guilt trips and passive aggression are bad and lead to resentment and contempt.
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries at 3:55 PM on December 21, 2022 [3 favorites]

I have encouraged him to move either back to the South, or to simply in general find a significant other who is from his same culture, generation, and shares his perspective on gender roles.

somehow I missed this follow-up where you explained that you already dumped him.

that is what that was, and if his self-esteem is so low that he doesn't mind continuing to hang out with someone who just told ("encouraged") him to leave, nothing good will ever come of this.

whatever is wrong with him, and I'm sure it is a lot, you really mustn't tell someone to fuck off out of state and get a new girlfriend unless you mean it. if you mean it but are afraid to make that clear, that's one problem. if you didn't mean it but said it anyway, that's another. and it is certainly an example of what he meant when he referenced manipulation. it is not what I would classify as manipulation - for one thing, whatever it was intended to accomplish, it didn't work - but it is not something that a healthy boyfriend would take in his stride.

I encourage you to take this as a judgment on him rather than on yourself. for practical reasons.
posted by queenofbithynia at 4:42 PM on December 21, 2022 [14 favorites]

He's not giving you what you want. He told you he's not comfortable expressing some things out loud because of ingrained gender baggage, and you consider that "shutting down". It seems like he has things to work on but you want them solved instantly, somehow, or not to exist in the first place. Neither of you seems at all forgiving of the other person, you argue every day. What are your expectations for this relationship?
posted by oneirodynia at 7:32 PM on December 21, 2022

Response by poster: Thank you again to everyone who has responded. After some very difficult thinking, I decided to end our relationship this evening. It was painful, but I stated the truth to him: I need to focus on myself while I'm in therapy, and resolve certain issues. There is more to unpack regarding past traumas than I thought necessary, especially with these manifesting as possible codependent tendencies. I said to him, "I simply cannot be a good girlfriend to you unless I learn how to be a good person to me."

We both agreed to make this a break, rather than a breakup. He asked for a timeframe, and I spit out, "1-2 months" as a response, but immediately followed that with, "But it could take longer. I want to do this the right way, rather than rushing to give it another go just because we miss each other. So I don't know how long it will take." He understood. He said he didn't want to feel like he was cast off to float alone on an iceberg, though, and didn't want to wait indefinitely, so he simply requested that I provide updates to him regarding my progress. I think this is a great solution. I also encouraged him to date other people in the meantime if that's what he wanted to do; I wanted to make it clear that I do not expect him to wait for me (or vice-versa). We both expressed that neither of us want a relationship with anyone else, nevertheless. Of course, this could change for either or both of us, but at this point in time, I can only speak for myself when I say that I'm ready for a relationship, but not equipped for one.

(On a side note, something that has come up a few times in our relationship (usually via my curiosity and questioning) is a particular past relationship of his. He dated a woman for about 6 years when he was in his late 20's/early 30's. She loved and accepted him for who he was. However, his head was not in the right place, and he eventually broke up with her because he didn't want marriage or children at that time. He regrets it to this day, but it seems like he despises himself for what he did to her and how badly he hurt her, and not so much that he's still in love with her. He refers to the experience as a "phantom limb," stating that he's always wondered what could have been if he had chosen the path of staying with her. When asked if he still loves her, he's responded that that's almost impossible to answer, because he'll always love the "her" that she was then, but he was also a different person then than he is now, so it's really not possible to know the answer to that question. But he has expressed before- and did so again tonight- that his relationships since then have all failed miserably, and that that's his karma for the way he treated her. I've encouraged him before- and did so again tonight- to reach out to her and apologize. What if she's the person he's meant to be with, after all? But perhaps I'm misguided in thinking that way. I just could never shake this feeling.)
posted by Jangatroo at 9:50 PM on December 21, 2022 [3 favorites]

Congrats on taking this step back from the relationship. Happy Solstice, the days get brighter starting tomorrow.
posted by itesser at 10:26 PM on December 21, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I think you might find more helpful answers in an online space that's for neurodivergent people specifically.

Many of the answers here are well meaning, but they don't pick up on the aspects that are common to an autistic experience, for example rejection sensitive dysphoria, black and white thinking, and a dislocated sense of self.

The reddit space r/autisminwomen might be a good start.
posted by Zumbador at 10:30 PM on December 21, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: He’s making so many comments that undercut your sense of worth and stability. I have been in a relationship with an alcoholic like this and it WILL get worse. He is the one doing the manipulation here. He’s the one making you feel broken. He isn’t working on himself in a genuine way, he’s doing it performatively so you can always be the one who “ruins” things. This is a classic abusive dynamic, especially early in a relationship. My skin crawled so hard reading your question that it got up and ran away. He’s got an automatic upper had because of the age difference and that coming with the increased experience of how to maneuver your partner in a relationship to being the way you want them to be. He’s doing that to you by making you feel like you’re the problem. This is extremely and very well demonstrated in your last comment where he is comparing you to someone twenty years ago that you will only ever be a weak replacement for. Goodness no!! That is so amazingly toxic.

I’m glad you broke it off. Please don’t give him updates about your progress. He’s not your nanny or something that you need to report in to. He’s trying to keep you tethered to him in a way that ties your health and mentality to him. That’s a hard fucking NO. He is framing this as being on an iceberg as though you are responsible for keeping him tethered to life and land? Just no. That’s extremely not your responsibility or fair to you. Take a break from everything about him for the next couple months.
posted by Bottlecap at 3:04 AM on December 22, 2022 [26 favorites]

I’m very glad to hear you broke it off, and I hope you take it slowly and do not rush to get back together. I really strongly recommend that as part of your break you *stop giving him advice about how to conduct his life*. He’ll date or not, or call this other woman or not, or move or not, and that’s on him, it’s not your responsibility or your problem . Nudging him toward the direction you think his life should take is a distraction from focusing on your own.

I hope this time is good and helpful for you.

(And, as a note in response to an earlier comment, although I didn’t say it explicitly before, this advice is coming from a neurodivergent person in a long term relationship with an autistic person. I promise, I am not unfamiliar with black and white thinking. You can decide for yourself how to weight that information in pondering this advice.)
posted by Stacey at 6:07 AM on December 22, 2022 [14 favorites]

Congrats on breaking up with him and choosing yourself. Not an easy thing to do at all. I agree with Bottlecap - don't give him updates.

As for that last relationship - he's been brooding about her for almost THIRTY years. That's not healthy. No, he shouldn't contact her. It's been almost 30 years! She'll have definitely moved on and if they were really meant to be together it would have happened by now. He needs to see a therapist about this, and if he hasn't, he should find a better one. This is no way to live. This is just my perspective about how big this problem is. I agree with Stacey - don't give him advice about how he should conduct his life.
posted by foxjacket at 10:23 AM on December 22, 2022 [6 favorites]

Please make your break a break-up, with no updates and no contact.

My therapist has commented to me that people can usually keep it together and show their best selves for about three months, and at that point, you start seeing the problematic behaviors, but it's much harder to extricate yourself because you have developed feelings and have some attachment. I don't think it's a coincidence that this stuff is coming up at the 4-month mark. You were starting to see the real him, with the alcoholism and the drinking and the comments that hurt your feelings and then he made it about him.

Let him go, completely. Also, please do consider reading the book Attached. It's a great read and I suspect it will give you some insight into some of your relationship dynamics.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:55 PM on December 22, 2022 [6 favorites]

He wants progress updates??? On your healing process?

I find that horrifying.

Healing doesn't follow a set schedule. It is often two steps forward and one back. Will he support your process? Or will he expect progress on his timeline, rather than yours? What if you hit a moment when you're still processing and cannot quite articulate your feelings: will he "help" with an ultimatum or hang back (indefinitely!) until you're ready and able to be in relationship?
posted by Shunra at 1:12 AM on December 23, 2022 [8 favorites]

First off, congrats on ending this relationship. It was clearly not good for either of you. And by not good, it sounded like a slow-rolling disaster. He comes across like a hot mess. As someone close to his age, I gotta say that to be brooding over a relationship from decades ago is just holy shit, dude, phantom limb?! Many people have a person they wish they treated better, and that they could have done things differently. But this is a situation *he* needs to work through, and stop saddling his partners with.

Second, please take some time for yourself. Like at least a year, or longer. You are young and have been "with" somebody for a good chunk of your adult life. Exist on your own! Do the things you want to do. It's normal to be bored or anxious about being alone. You will be ok.

As other say above, do not contact him for several months, at least. Block his number, unfollow him on all social media channels, do not "happen" to stop by his favorite coffeeshop. Best of luck!
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 2:48 AM on December 23, 2022 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all for the post-break(up) advice and insight; it's really helping me gain some perspective, and how I may have simply chosen to overlook certain things at the beginning of the relationship/courtship phase because I had feelings for him. I still plan to keep in contact with him throughout the process, and we're deciding to go through the Holidays with family and friends as if nothing has happened. Neither of us want to explain anything to anyone; it's too much effort on either of our part since we're planning to check-in again in a couple of months. If we decided to give it another go at that point, neither of us want to go through having to explain that, as well, to loved ones.

I have some lingering curiosities that I'm not certain if others have experienced, but if so, how those folks have managed or handled those situations. I've always listened to my gut, even if making a foolish decision to suppress something it was trying to tell me. I've always acknowledged and *felt* when something wasn't quite right (for me). How is it that we can still have such feelings of attachment for someone when our gut is telling us that it's not best for us to stay?

He has admitted many times to being repressed, especially when it comes to gender viewpoints. He doesn't understand "gender fluidity" or non-binary aspects. He thinks it should be one or the other. I personally feel it's alright to feel that way and have one's own opinion, but to state things aloud in a judgmental way is not alright. We had dinner last night with a group of his friends that he's known for at least 20 years; one was a childhood friend (since age 5), one was a woman also their age, and her daughter (age 25). They have a very "joking" dynamic a lot of the time, but at one point, he and his childhood friend (also male) were talking about repression. My ex always seems to want to compete with others for a certain status, ("the most ______", for instance), and he was in a verbal competition with this friend, debating about which one of them was less repressed than the other after having been in California for over 20 years. His friend is... Very kind, and has a genuine heart. He sort of lets things roll off his back. My (ex) boyfriend says that this friend just doesn't know how to tap into his emotions, so he doesn't know what he's feeling or what to do most of the time. This was after this same friend told us a story about a genuine act of kindness he did towards a neighbor when they needed comforting. He went with his instincts and did what felt right, and the person felt better afterwards. This friend then said he feels like he should speak with the neighbor's mother (the neighbor is 28, so capable of making her own choices) and apologize for consoling her daughter but not her. We all suggested that wasn't necessary. When I made this suggestion, I asked him, "When you told us about inviting the daughter in, you said it with confidence. Your gut knew it was the right thing to do. When you're telling us about apologizing to the mother, you're saying it as a question. So, are you feeling it in your instinct that you need to talk to the mother with the same strength you felt you should console the daughter?" He clearly appreciated this very much. But, my ex then deflated the energy with, "Yeah, [friend's name], what's your female intuition saying?" For the first time in our relationship, I didn't get a sad, defeated look on my face after him making a comment like that. For him, it was probably just a "joke" again, anyway. I stood strong with confidence and did not make eye contact with him; I kept my focus on the friend.

The conversation shifted into his friend "joking" about my ex getting into yoga over a decade ago as a way to "pick up chicks." My ex had dated a string of women in succession (about 5) after embracing yoga. He was actually into yoga, though, but I had asked him a few weeks ago if he used this to get women. He said he did not, but since he was genuinely into yoga and it was a massive part of his life, would it be so bad if he did eventually use it as a way to connect with women? My stomach lurched when he said this all those weeks ago, but I suppressed it because I was trying to convince myself that he had a valid point. But at the dinner last night, in rebuttal to his friend's comment about him "picking up chicks", my ex's response was, "I was doing yoga for over 10 years at that point because I loved it. Then I was able to utilize that to pick up chicks!" This was all said with laughter and a joking tone. I have been seriously bothered by these kinds of comments from my ex (there have been many others) about potential underlying sexism and racism (he always "bets" that when there's a bad driver on the road near us (before being able to physically see them), that the person must be Asian). When asked about these comments, he says, "I'm laughing when I say these things, so I'm joking. I don't actually feel this way. This is how [childhood friend] and I joke; this is our dynamic."

Earlier in the evening at the dinner gathering, we were all discussing [childhood friend]'s ex-wife, who is absolutely a narcissist and actively works to destroy the friend's life to this very day. They have a teenager together, so it's necessary for them to still keep in touch. But the ex-wife did something the other day that followed the narcissistic pattern, and my ex said to his childhood friend, "You know, everyone, every. single. person. will end up disappointing you in terms of who you think they are. But [friend's ex-wife] continues to surprise me." Later, it was just the two of us in the car together, as I was driving him home (I knew he was planning to drink in excess again, and offered to drive us there. I've gotten used to this, and have preferred to do this because it's the path of least resistance, and it eliminates any possibility of having another drunk driver on the road as a hazard). I asked him if that comment was a general reference to everyone, and if I fell into the category of disappointing him. He said, "Yes, because everyone is human and we all disappoint each other at some point. It's just a part of life. But I will say that you have definitely disappointed me the least in life out of everyone else." I followed up with, "So if you imagine your ideal partner, whom I know doesn't exist because no one can have every quality on an 'ideal' checklist satisfied, but bear with me and imagine a partner who is as close to everything you could want as possible. Would you say that that person would also end up disappointing you?" He immediately confirmed that this would be the case.

I continue to ask these questions because I am genuinely curious about this person's perspective on life. He has some insights that seem harsh initially, but if I really take a step back and think about them, I do agree with a good amount. That's one of the reasons I'm uncertain as to whether this is just a bad match, or a case of me not being open enough to understand his comments initially and to learn how to take things as a joke when he says they're a joke. All of his friends truly love him as a person, and they accept him for who he is. If he was a bad person, this wouldn't be the case. I simply don't understand how he has a handful of such caring and loving individuals on his side, but that doesn't translate into long-term relationships with partners. Can someone provide insight on why that distinction exists?
posted by Jangatroo at 10:07 AM on December 23, 2022

Racist and sexist people have friends and relationships, usually because those people are also racist and sexist or are okay ignoring it and therefore complicit.
You really don’t need to understand this guy. I promise. You don’t need to explain anything to friends. “We broke up”. They are adults. They understand. I think you need to be entirely no contact and speak with a therapist.
posted by Crystalinne at 10:21 AM on December 23, 2022 [19 favorites]

That's one of the reasons I'm uncertain as to whether this is just a bad match, or a case of me not being open enough to understand his comments initially and to learn how to take things as a joke when he says they're a joke.

I really think you need some time on your own, without being in a relationship and without being in contact with this guy at all, so that you develop a firmer sense of self and boundaries.

So what if you're not open enough? You don't actually need to have a mind so open your brain falls out, for the dubious purpose of doing the hard-rock mining that is attempting to make this relationship work. Like, real talk, this dude is not that fascinating, and you do not need to appoint yourself the this-dude-ologist who is trying to figure him out and apply his theories to your own life. You can, in fact, simply find and be happy with a partner who you don't have to mentally dissect and interrogate. It is genuinely not fair to him that you are treating him this way, to say nothing of how unfair it is to you. Read some books, listen to some podcasts, talk to a therapist, whatever: just have these discussions and questions in a setting where you aren't using another person (in a non-professional context) to figure your own shit out.

Please please please leave this guy, go no-contact with him, and work on figuring out how you think and feel without constant reference to another person or relationship. Stop putting it off, and stop coming up with excuses to stay in contact with him, or excuses for him period. It will not help either of you, and will in fact probably harm you both.

You need to take the time to be alone and to come up with your own thoughts and feelings, to be secure in them, without constantly letting a romantic partner sway those thoughts and feelings because of some nebulous "what if...?" A romantic relationship does not and should not solely be a tool for your personal growth. Do that personal growth elsewhere, on your own, and then find someone who's more aligned with your values. There is no virtue in whatabouttism or both-sides-ism in your own romantic relationships.
posted by yasaman at 11:01 AM on December 23, 2022 [18 favorites]

Thanks so much for the continued updates! I’d invite you to think about why it would be difficult to explain things to friends, and why it’s so important to leave that door so wide open.

In going through the holidays as a couple, you are missing an opportunity to get support from your friends, family, and community, and doubling down on an enmeshment with him. You are also missing a chance to have conversations with people who know and love you about what they saw in him and to get support for your decision. Why deny yourself that?

Because you are also creating a secret bond between you two. Has this whole approach been his suggestion? You’re not really taking the space you need, but extending your connection and pain.

You’ve only been together four months. This is not a decades long relationship where there needs to be a lot of explanation. It’s healthy to date and move on quickly (in fact, I think it might be healthier for you to date a few more people, sincerely but without having so much focus on the success of any one relationship; ending things that aren’t a good match quickly is an excellent dating skill!).

I bet if you go to these events as a single person, you’ll have a chance to get some support and love from your friends and hear their takes on why this guy isn’t good for you. By denying yourself that, you might be serving his goal of keeping you connected to him. He’s pulling you into his lies.

I think you are missing perspective. Ditch the guy, show up as a hot mess single to your holiday stuff with your friends and family and without him, and immerse yourself in that, rather than more relationship drama with this sexist older dude.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:45 PM on December 23, 2022 [6 favorites]

This guy's insights and perspectives are just not that deep (and really not that interesting). You're thinking about them more than he is, I promise, and the process sounds like it's making you feel bad or uncertain about yourself. Stop it. Stop putting so much energy into him. Break it off entirely, and take back that energy and curiosity for yourself.
posted by lapis at 12:54 PM on December 23, 2022 [10 favorites]

I swear to you, he's just some guy. He's not some enigma that will unlock some hidden portals of knowledge and esoteric philosophies.

Reminder that this isn't a relationship match and that things were recently so bad for you that - I won't paste it here, but you felt quite, quite not great.

I may be wrong, and I mean this with great kindness, but it feels from these walls of text that you're using him and his curmudegonliness as some great, fantabulous puzzle to work out. Might you be continuing to focus on how you two react and interact and clash etc etc as a distraction from things you really need to focus on? It can feel intoxicating to be with someone who discusses Big Ideas and from whom you must gently coax out Wounded Bird Theories and be witness to their Soul pain. But honestly, that's just talking to a certain sort of alcoholic.

It seems more pressing to turn to your own mental health and why you keep repeating certain relationship dynamics. Those are best worked on with a more objective third party. let hm go. No contact. Recognize this is triggering something in you that is familiar but actually unhealthy.
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 2:24 PM on December 23, 2022 [13 favorites]

Joking and “ironic” sexism, racism, and transphobia are still just sexism, racism, and transphobia. At my age, smack between your age and your ex’s, I understand some of the pull of it - there was a lot of ambient ironic sexism, etc. in the culture at a certain point in my life and I picked some of it up and I still have to catch myself occasionally when my brain tries to revisit that really lazy old groove. But it’s not harmless, it’s not just a joke, and it’s not okay.

Don’t sugarcoat that. When you’re doing whatever mental pro and con lists you’re making about your ex, don’t forget to add “is an unrepentant sexist, racist, transphobe and I would spend the rest of my life dealing with that” to your list. Him having friends doesn’t make that untrue. All sorts of terrible people have friends.

All of this, though, is still a distraction from you doing any work on yourself. Again: you’re distracting yourself from actually focusing on yourself. Don’t waste this time you’re giving yourself to explore who you want to be outside this relationship.

I would also like to note that you are in no way taking a break if you’re hanging out together and spending the holidays together. Don’t count this time against your break. You are not yet on a break. Please give yourself an actual break from this man.
posted by Stacey at 3:33 PM on December 23, 2022 [4 favorites]

I would also note that it's sounding like you've now broken up with this man at least twice, and both times he's pretended you didn't. That's concerning.
posted by lapis at 3:43 PM on December 23, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I continue to ask these questions because I am genuinely curious about this person's perspective on life.

His perspective on life is that he is the absolute center of it. He can make offensive jokes and they're just jokes because other people's reactions don't matter, only his intentions. Everyone is going to disappoint him because they are independent people who don't do exactly what he wants the whole time. He doesn't have to be a terrible person to be entirely self-involved, but it's very very hard to have a truly emotionally intimate relationship with someone who fundamentally doesn't care about you except in how it makes him feel.

Your fascination with him reads as deflection, honestly - you want to understand everything about him because it means you're not spending that time thinking about you. He'd prefer it that way too! Keeping the focus on him is the easiest, lowest-conflict, and least emotionally risky course for you. But as you're discovering, it's not sustainable.

Quit taking the path of least resistance. Do the work. Have the hard conversations, set some boundaries. Disappoint him. You'll be better for it.
posted by restless_nomad at 4:06 PM on December 23, 2022 [18 favorites]

or a case of me not being open enough to understand his comments initially and to learn how to take things as a joke when he says they're a joke

Oh, it's totally fine to dislike people because their kind of "joking" sucks. It doesn't matter if they think you should consider them comedy geniuses. People tell "jokes" to hurt people all the time, and it's bad. All the time. Stop automatically assuming the problem is just that your standards are too high and becoming a contortionist to get down lower than him so you can still like him.

Take a break from trying to solve this guy in a way that makes him a viable partner, just trust that this isn't the time or place for you to be in a relationship, and go be single for a while.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:38 PM on December 23, 2022 [5 favorites]

"We were having a great day yesterday, and my guard was down. We almost made it through the day without any incidents, and then I made that comment before bed. So as soon as I let my guard down, I end up upsetting you." He said that his goal each day is to not upset me.

With all the examples you have given, it seems like his response if he does "upset you" is to immediately start having a pity party for himself about how very very bad he feels about being a bad person for upsetting you. Oh, how he feels so very bad because only a bad person or an untrustworthy person would have ever EVER said anything to upset you, he can't possibly be a human who said a thing without meaning to hurt you and work on understanding why you didn't like the comment and how he can avoid it in the future -- oh no oh no the only reason he could have said it is because he is innately BAD and can't change that he feels so so terrible about what a bad person he is. And he feels so very bad about being a bad person, in fact he actually feels so bad about being a bad person that he feels soooo very much worse than how you felt when you tried to start this discussion with him that he is now the person in need of comforting for being so so bad.

And next thing you know you are trying to comfort him. And next time he does or says something you don't like you maybe you think to yourself that it is not worth all this trouble to mention it.

This isn't a dynamic I'd want to stay in. It seems like you feel that you can't leave unless you decide you are really sure you are a "bad match", and I bet you feel like if you decided that it would make him feel like a bad person. You can decide you would rather spend your time on things other than evaluating this relationship and break up, you are not required to come to an evidence based verdict.

If you are leaving don't bother with explaining details about why unless you want to hear a lot more of his trying this same act.

learn how to take things as a joke when he says they're a joke

Many times, people who claim that they were joking know that they aren't actually making a joke, but they want others to excuse their behavior by accepting their claim it was a joke. And sometimes people really are joking but their idea of a joke is something many other people find offensive. You aren't required to learn how to take things you find offensive as a joke.
posted by yohko at 8:49 PM on December 23, 2022 [7 favorites]

All of his friends truly love him as a person, and they accept him for who he is. If he was a bad person, this wouldn't be the case

this is just nonsense. of course it would. the world is full of bad people and most of them have good friends. believing that will lead you down the path of applying it to yourself (I can't be a bad person or I wouldn't have a boyfriend who loves me) which leads inevitably to an even worse place a little further down that path (I have to have a boyfriend, any boyfriend, because how else will I know I'm not a bad person)

if you aren't there already, you do not want to be. it's such a waste because not only is it degrading, it isn't even true. it isn't even that.

as for him, his boring brain doesn't belong to you, you are not entitled to understand it. especially not now that you're done with him. if he could explain it, he wouldn't, and he probably can't. most people can't.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:44 PM on December 25, 2022 [5 favorites]

You feel a sense of attachment when your gut is saying no for lots of reasons. One can be simple hormones - if someone has the right smell you can get attached, or if you have released some bonding chemicals in your brain. That sense of attachment, frankly, doesn’t really mean anything. He’s attached to drinking and that’s bad for him. People can be attached to all kinds of things that are objectively bad because they are associated with the reward centers of the brain.

Speaking of the reward center of your brain - he’s doing a LOT of things to create a feeling of reward in you. He’s saying nasty mean things (everyone is disappointing and it’s fine to be a bigot) and then giving you the *crumb* of validation “but you disappoint me the least!” And because you already have some wonky programming in your reward center (that’s a lot of what eating disorders are hooked into in the brain), you’re very vulnerable to this type of manipulation.

He’s doing this thing where he’s really super shitty to the people around him but he’s a little bit less shitty to you, and that releases chemicals in your brain that feel really good and create a dependency - an addiction - to that feeling of being good enough.

That’s a big reason why people here are recommending that you go no contact and that you don’t give him updates on your healing journey. Otherwise, he is going to be able to more easily and effectively tie those feelings of accomplishment to HIM instead of YOU feeling accomplished about YOUR own work. That’s why he’s pushing so hard not to be separated for real. Because he knows that if you have a chance to detox and let go of your addiction he won’t be able to manipulate you.

The feeling of wanting to figure him out is part of the addiction. People who do this make themselves fascinating so that you will keep coming back for more until it’s too late and leaving is much more painful.

Stop making decisions WITH him and start making your own decisions. Don’t do NYE with him. He can say whatever he wants, but don’t do it. No new memories with this man. If he’s going to drink to much *he can get an uber like an adult.* He is making sure that you feel responsible for him because that pings the reward center of your brain.

I am telling you all of this from very hard won experience. Literally years of weekly therapy to understand how people can make you *chemically* dependent on them through the tactics he is using. And the only way out is cold turkey. If you want to revisit in two months, it needs to be two months genuinely not talking to or engaging with him. That time doesn’t start until after you stop talking to him. And in my experience it takes about 90 days to rewire to not be getting the cravings for someone who has you on a rollercoaster so that they can provide you with the crumbs of validation.

When someone makes you feel good but the reason you feel bad is something they did *that is a bad sign* and it’s also a reason that people like that have a lot of people who like them. Because they know how to dole out just enough affection to keep people off balance and coming back for more.
posted by Bottlecap at 3:25 AM on December 26, 2022 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: Bottlecap, thank you for all of the information about chemical dependency. You hit the nail on the head. I have lingering questions (will make a separate thread if necessary), but there are some qualities you mentioned that I'm not certain apply to this particular person. He told me the other day that he set goals for himself at the beginning of this year, and being in a relationship was one of them. So I think I may have just been filling a void/desire, and it's likely he doesn't even realize that.

A lot of the points you mentioned seem more... Calculated than he's been. The issue hasn't been so much that he'll say something mean and then sprinkle something kind on top; it's that he'll say something mean and not understand how I could be offended by it, followed by self-deprecating comments. It doesn't seem like manipulation, because I don't think he's saying rude things in order to validate me later.

He hasn't said many nice things to me since we've been together, save for when we've had an argument and I've asked him, "Why on Earth are you still with me? What do you actually see in me as a person?" I think he's just the type of person who loves deeply but doesn't verbally express it. I never once questioned whether he loved me or was committed; it's that he very rarely verbally expressed this. He once said, "I love you, but that's not something I want to be said often in a relationship. I think it's something that should be said sparingly, because it carries so much meaning, and saying it all the time would diminish the meaning." Same when I once said, "You mean the world to me." His response was, "I understand the sentiment behind that phrase, but I don't like it, because there are plenty of other people in your life who also have meaning, right? So I, one person, can't possibly mean the entire world to you when there are so many you love and care about."

Yesterday, he asked me for help with his new Apple Watch (my Christmas gift to him, given just after the break(up) since we had already purchased gifts for each other), and I kept clicking on a certain feature that brought up a screen we didn't want. I kept trying to click in another spot, but it persisted. He said, "It's really going to be awhile until you learn, huh?" But he's extremely frustrated about his own lack of tech-savviness (his term), and he becomes *extremely* irritable when something doesn't work correctly the first time he tries it, especially if it's electronic/technology. He'll grit his teeth and curse aloud, but insists it's all inward-directed rage (this is how his father was, and beat him anytime he made a mistake, he discouraged him, etc.).

When he said this, I responded, "Thanks, I really appreciate that," returned to the app screen, and then said, "I'm not sure at the moment how to [do the thing he wanted], sorry." And then I continued watching the football game, and didn't respond to him laughing at me for being offended by his rude comment. A few moments later he became frustrated and said, "I guess I'm just a big idiot and won't be able to figure this out." I got up and went to help my parents bring in items from the car. I could tell he was shocked that I wasn't responding with, "You're not and idiot, it's okay! Be nice to yourself!" I'm done doing that, not only because I realize it actually enables a person to keep doing that thing, but mainly because it's exhausting and no longer my responsibility.

I'm a kind and giving person, and that applies tenfold to the person with whom I'm in a relationship. So, if I'm not in a relationship with that person, that person no longer gets the extra-special love and unique generosity that I only give to a significant other. And you know what? That's their loss. Had this realization yesterday, and it feels bloody incredible.

My issue seems to be with consistency. I become confused when a person's behavior takes a 180-degree turn. For example, I live in City X and work in City Y, and he lives in City Z. His city is only 5 minutes from where I work, so when we would spend days/nights together, it was almost always me coming to him. City X has nothing for either of us, but I still wanted to spend time there because reciprocity is important to me. He came to my city several times, but we never stayed long (there was usually some reason/obligation we had to go back to his city the next day). When we first met, he would claim that no amount of traffic could faze him, and that he would come to City X at any time of the day just to be with me. He used to yearn to be there with me all the time, and would make sweet comments about me and my sexual energy/body that made me feel wanted. It quickly became him complaining about rush-hour traffic, being "over" the calming blue light in my bedroom (that he was once entranced by) because it wasn't new anymore, and not wanting to come to City X unless I specifically asked him to. "It's only natural that I feel more comfortable in my own home and bed, and my place has a fully-functioning kitchen [mine doesn't]. And both of us work in or near my home. So isn't it more logical and no question that we should be there most of the time instead of City X?" I had a lot of issues this year with landlords, and was essentially homeless for two weeks right before I met him. Being at his place almost every time makes me have to live out of a bag. He doesn't seem to understand how I am mentally affected by this, because his place has everything I could need while mine doesn't. It makes me feel insane for feeling exhausted from living out of a bag. I feel like I should be grateful.

All of this makes me seem so pathetic. Like I was constantly... Grasping.
posted by Jangatroo at 10:27 AM on December 26, 2022

I'm on the spectrum and when I was younger I would overanalyze relationships because people were so baffling and inexplicable to me, and also because it was easier to focus on another person's problems instead of on my own, alone in therapy. Save yourself decades of misery, cut this guy off, and go do the hard work of therapy ***with a therapist who understands the particular issues of neuroatypical femmes.*** Future you will thank you.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 10:37 AM on December 26, 2022 [4 favorites]

Everything in your follow up comment is something to talk to a therapist about. Like, print it out or read it from your phone. Having been there all of me is just yelling RUN but the only way to analyze this is with a professional and NOT while in contact with him. Because he’ll twist and undermine any breakthroughs you have - especially about how you relate to him.
posted by Bottlecap at 12:08 PM on December 26, 2022 [3 favorites]

And yeah - if it seemed calculated it wouldn’t be effective. He’s had practice getting what he wants and seething weird anger and withholding affection works. People who *seem* calculated are very rarely effective at manipulating people.
posted by Bottlecap at 12:09 PM on December 26, 2022 [2 favorites]

It doesn't have to be calculated, in the sense that he thinks about it and plans it and understands its mechanisms and effects. It almost certainly isn't - very few people even have the tools to analyze their own behavior in this way. It's almost certainly just a pattern of behavior, probably established from childhood, that gets him more or less what he wants and provides a set of very useful excuses when he doesn't.

Like, ok, here's how that anecdote went, to my eye:

- He wants to do a tech thing, he doesn't know how to do it, he asks you for help.
- You don't fix it instantly, he gets angry and frustrated and makes a rude comment to you, echoing the pattern that his father established in his youth.
- You (probably visibly) respond badly to it, so he deflects the responsibility onto said father - it's not *his* fault, of course, it's his dad's, he himself had an awful childhood and therefore can't be held responsible. He feels bad that you feel bad, and his tool for feeling better when he feels bad is to seek reassurance from the person making him feel bad. It doesn't matter that the cause was ultimately his own actions - he feels bad, he wants to feel better, he has some tools for making that happen, he uses them.
- This doesn't elicit the sympathy and solicitousness he's looking for, so he escalates - he says something about *himself* that he expects you to react to - specifically to deny, reassure, and probably to take over the frustrating task again.

This is the pattern he has established - he says something shitty, and in response to pushback he deflects, plays the "poor little me" card, and ends up getting reassurance instead of being held to account. It's a very common pattern! It's an extremely shitty pattern! It is not a pattern you or anyone else outside him can change.

As for the 180-degree change... I don't see it. He mostly didn't come to see you, he didn't stay long when he did, and that pattern has absolutely continued. What has changed is his willingness to say pretty things to make you *think* that his behavior is something other than exactly what it is.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:10 PM on December 26, 2022 [8 favorites]

Yeah, don't worry about calculation. Most manipulative people aren't like cackling to themselves about the genius of their manipulation, they're manipulative more in the way that babies are manipulative - to obtain the conditions that make them feel safe or in control, they're just trying to be comfortable.

All humans do this to some extent. Mature adults know that about themselves and others and at least try to aim for fairness and taking responsibility for their own comfort as best they can.

But some people end up with an internal barometer for comfort that skews way over to not having to take honest responsibility for their own behavior. This guy makes constant bids for attention by being super shitty. There are many other ways to engage with people and generate attention and even ask for attention, this dude finds aggression especially convenient because certain kinds of other people's personalities respond to aggression by fawning. A little seasoning of aggression will always trigger a people-pleaser to start pleasing. And if it doesn't work on the first pass, displaying discomfort and sadness - like a baby - will evoke a sympathetic coddling response from a people-pleaser. He's surely written a very different internal narrative to explain all this to himself so he doesn't have to confront how incredibly toxic this is, which is why he can say shit like this with a straight face:

"It's only natural that I feel more comfortable in my own home and bed, and my place has a fully-functioning kitchen [mine doesn't]. And both of us work in or near my home. So isn't it more logical and no question that we should be there most of the time instead of City X?"

Which is meant to evoke this response: It makes me feel insane for feeling exhausted from living out of a bag. I feel like I should be grateful.

They train women to this. Everything we experience from Day 1 trains us to respond in this way, and most of us are traumatized in formative ways throughout our development to keep doing it.

He's learning, from your responses, to say things and pretend to do things that take you longer and longer to go "heyyy wait a minute". Again, does he have a blueprint somewhere with this all written out like an Ocean's 11 heist? No. But is he always, always, always operating with his focus on getting what he wants? Yeah. He is.

You can't fix this. You can't solve it. There is no One Weird Trick to make this crap into a good relationship. EVEN if he went to therapy tomorrow and figured most of this out and swore to never do it again, he's not going to start over with you. He's going to go find a clean slate who can't hold him responsible for his previous behavior.

And she will be even younger than you.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:33 PM on December 26, 2022 [9 favorites]

"Why on Earth are you still with me? What do you actually see in me as a person?"

I have been in situations where I spend a lot of time focusing on trying to understand the person I'm dating, to figure out what they want, to see if I can glean why they act in certain ways and why they do or don't feel a certain way for me.

This, unfortunately, is a way to deflect figuring out how I feel and what I want. It's not a great trait. I think, when you're asking questions like I'm quoting, you are looking for some validation and reassurance from him, which is totally reasonable. I think we also have this idea that if they can express the right thing, we can get to a place of security.

But the important work isn't to figure out why he says certain sexist things, or is critical of your state, or how he feels about you. The thing is to figure out how what you want and how you feel. Do you want to be with someone who casually expresses sexism? Do you want to be with someone who is negative about a place he's lived for 20 years? Do you want to be able to say "I love you" when it strikes you, rather as a special allowance a few times a year?

You are focusing a lot on what will make him happy instead of trying to figure out why you are so enmeshed in this relationship. It's truly time to move on.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:35 PM on December 26, 2022 [5 favorites]

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