He was looking for a job, and then he found a job
January 23, 2023 6:15 PM   Subscribe

And heaven knows he's miserable now. My boyfriend of 6 months has moved away for a job that turned out to be a house of cards — now he's stuck there and is spiralling, and I am at a loss of what to do after he requested for a 'break'.

It isn't entirely his fault what I'm feeling — I have the proclivity to feel abandoned and anxiety from c-PTSD. Things were perfect during the holidays; I had met his family and his family friends, we spent so much time together bonding, and both of us expressed that we saw ourselves spending a long time together.

He's been very much distant the last few days and I suspected cheating (my father was absent and spent his time philandering); although it turned out that it's his job causing havoc. His boss told him over the weekend that he no longer makes a salary because they "did not raise enough funds last financial year" which sounds like bullshit to me because boss is literally taking the whole company to freaking Aspen for a 'team-bonding trip' and dropping several racks on a single meal. Is it just me, or does this sound dodgy AF?

Anyway the issue here is that BF called me bawling. Actually breaking down. I could barely make out what he was saying but the gist of it is: I'm his best friend, he doesn't want to lose me but he can't be in a relationship right now — it's too much pressure, everything is uncertain, he's scared that he can't find another job in our city (VISA issues), and he's worried that his dad will die and he won't be there. He was catastrophising, spiralling, whatever you want to call it. I'd never seen him like that.

He also said that he knows I want to get married and he was perfectly happy to commit to that before when his job was on its trajectory but now his life is in shambles and he doesn't know if that's something he wants to do anymore. Ouch.

Then he emphasised that he needed space to figure things out and find his way back to our city so we can move on with the plan we had laid out for us. I appreciate that he said that but I had to take a few more Valium than normal to calm myself because at that moment I heard "I just need to be away from you because you are causing my stress."

At the end of the conversation we'd decided on a 'break', which to be honest I never believed in. He still wants to be able to talk to me and doesn't want me to disappear, but isn't a break just a soft launch of a breakup? I don't know — I know he must be devastated about his new job being a total shitshow and needs support, but I also feel like he might be using me, in a way? It's like he wants me there but just partially — kind of maybe he just wants the benefits of having a girlfriend to support him but not the other parts that come with actually having a girlfriend? Tell me if I'm interpreting this wrong, please.

I made it clear that in order to honour his request for space I will stop reaching out to him as much and let him come to me, but I'm concerned that he might feel abandoned with me reducing initiating contact this much. At the same time I don't want to stress him out even more by asking how it's going, has he been looking for something new, etc. I've sent him some self-care items e.g. a stress relief journal and a candle and a Sopranos Blu-ray which will hopefully help him. Is there anything else I should do?

I guess I just want some advice or anecdotes that might help me navigate this situation. I've never had my job being this FUBAR, but I've had cancer, so I know uncertainty, but this feels like a different beast.
posted by antihistameme to Human Relations (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
if his reaction to extreme stress is to break up with you, then I don't think there's a lot here worth fighting for.

I mean yeah he sounds like he's in a bad way but I don't think you need to be sending him journals. People turning to their partners for support and comfort don't break up with them.

I'm concerned that he might feel abandoned ... why, did you call him and break up with him? No. The opposite happened. This is very literally not your problem to solve.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:47 PM on January 23 [38 favorites]

If he can only be committed to you when things are going well in his life, that's not really commitment. Yes, his job sounds stressful (and he should be taking steps to find a different job, ASAP), but you don't want to commit to someone who will take back serious promises they've made just because something difficult happened - because difficult things like bad jobs do happen to everyone. If this was a longer-term relationship and this was totally out of the ordinary for this guy, perhaps it would be worth working through, but I'd say cut your losses here and move on.
posted by coffeecat at 6:49 PM on January 23 [15 favorites]

He feels terrible about it, but it’s over. Go forth and meet someone new!
posted by cakelite at 7:13 PM on January 23 [5 favorites]

Stress and conflict in a relationship is when people show you their true character. Sorry, this relationship is sounding one-sided. This is who he is and who he will be in your relationship.
posted by saucysault at 7:15 PM on January 23 [4 favorites]

When someone tells you they need space to "figure things out" but want to be able to contact you on their terms, you don't send them candles and journals. You wish them well and let them figure it out... on their own.

I'm actually quite sympathetic that he's having a hard time and lots of people don't handle stress gracefully -- but this is incredibly unfair to you, and continuing to be part of his support system will likely only make you feel a lot worse before you begin to feel even a little bit better.
posted by sm1tten at 7:50 PM on January 23 [17 favorites]

In translation:

He wants you to be there for him, and support him emotionally as he's going through stuff. He wants you to be on the backburner just in case he decides he wants a relationship. He does NOT want you relying on him for anything: emotional support, his time, a future, etc. He does not want held to any commitments.

Let me just say: this is NOT a good deal for you. It's not a fair deal, it's not healthy for you, and all it will do is damage your mental health and leave you tailing along on a string in case he decides he wants you in the future.

And he might come back. Honestly, sweetie, that's WORSE.

Because he might leave again. He's PROBABLY leave again. And you'll know it and be constantly waiting for that other shoe to drop.

And then, because you let him leave and come back before... he'll expect you to do it again. And again.

Don't ask me how I know, just trust me on this. It's no life for you.
Or for any kids you might end up with in the next couple decades.

Move on, continue healing yourself... and look for someone actively putting in the work.
posted by stormyteal at 8:12 PM on January 23 [26 favorites]

Is this out of character for him? This situation honestly sounds stressful enough to cause a breakdown. Unfortunately even if that’s the case, my advice would still be to let him come to you when he’s ready, and meanwhile you spend the time taking extra care of yourself and deciding whether this is someone you’d welcome back in your life and under what circumstance. I wouldn’t advise doing the halfway thing where you’re his sole support but he’s not committed.
posted by kapers at 8:40 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for all the answers so far.

I'd like to clarify that yes, this is extremely out of character for him. He stuck around when I was undergoing cancer treatment and never once wavered in his commitment to me and/or to us. I've never seen him this shaken, distressed, or anxious. He's usually a stoic, restrained person. I've never even seen him cry, let alone sob that badly.

He did also mention something about letting me down because now our plans are screwed and we can't move on to the next stage of our relationship as soon as we had wanted.
posted by antihistameme at 8:45 PM on January 23

Tell me if I'm interpreting this wrong, please.

Honestly, it's hard to tell from just this description. It sounds like you need to have another conversation with him about where he is at and what he wants. This also sounds like someone going through a crisis and who needs help. He might say things that he doesn't mean or would phrase differently if not in such a state. I don't think spending so much thinking time trying to read the tea leaves will help. We are not likely to have very good advice for you on what he means.
posted by lookoutbelow at 10:08 PM on January 23 [11 favorites]

It sounds like he's terrified of disappointing you. The job collapse may be so overwhelming that he feels unable to provide for his own needs, much less yours. He may be parsing being in a relationship as an expectation that he can't meet, and he thinks the fastest way out of that expectation is a break, so that now he can't disappoint you.

I'm afraid this person is not ready to be a partner to you.
posted by danceswithlight at 11:17 PM on January 23 [6 favorites]

In his defense… is this hitting him in his economic self respect, his ability to provide? That can be pretty close to existential crisis for a lot of people.

he doesn’t get to be a on-and-off-again jerk because his vanity is hurt, but maybe a second chance for him to be committed even if he can’t be heroic.
posted by clew at 11:21 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]

What? No! There's no reason given here to think this is an indicator of lack of commitment. He's in a crazy bad situation, he's in hell, and it can't possibly last. This is a rarefied circle of crazypantstown, and there's no reason to think things will stay this bad, nor that the way someone behaves in the midst of this kind of extremity is in any way a predictor of how they will act under a normal or even high level of stress in the future.

Sometimes you really _Can't_ spare any energy for another person.

He's terrified of losing you, he's terrified of failing his parents, he's terrified of being deported, he's terrified of losing his job, he's terrified of a lot of things - it's great that he was able to voice that, frankly.

None of this means he's a perfect person, but if he's actually emotionally open enough to not just, I don't know, take up drinking or shut down completely, then you don't have to do anything drastic to just give him a chance to get past this terrible patch of his life.

Just - don't do anything. Tell him you love him, tell him you won't do anything drastic right now, and give the world a chance to turn around a few times, and his world a chance to give him a chance to take a few breaths and figure out what to do next. Let him focus on the other terrible crises for a minute. Let him know that, even though you're having your own feelings because you care about him a lot, you are finding ways to get the support you need in your own life. For the next little while, at least, he doesn't have to worry about _you_. You'll be there in a couple of months, or half a year, or [whatever time period you feel comfortable with, or "after a while"] when his head is back up above water. As long as he's not just _letting_ himself drown without making some kind of plan to _plan to_ get to a better place, and as long as you're not under some kind of weird "get married by Valentine's Day or lose your great-aunt's inheritance" rom-com movie plot constraint, just - breathe, let him know you're breathing, and send him the strength and calm that will help him most.
posted by amtho at 1:00 AM on January 24 [20 favorites]

Yeah, I mean, sometimes someone isn't ready for commitment or is taking advantage of you, and sometimes someone is going through a serious mental health crisis and genuinely needs help. You're in a better position to know than random people on the internet who are being very strict and confident based off a tiny chunk of text.

You should decide what's right for you regardless, but nobody here can speak with any actual authority about what's really going on with him.
posted by trig at 1:29 AM on January 24 [11 favorites]

This sounds like it just happened? If I’ve got that right, I think it would be pretty reasonable to give him at least a couple of days to come down from the immediate shock of the job loss and all the stuff it’s clearly stirred up for him, before either of you make any drastic decisions. Maybe he really is about to throw away your whole shared life because he won’t commit to you - and maybe he needs a decent night’s sleep, a couple of days of feeling like hell, and a call to get on a therapist’s waitlist.

I’m not a fan of “breaks” and I don’t think you need to commit to one, but it sounds like the support he’s provided for you might have earned him the grace of a few days to recover from a bad blow and then a check in conversation about how both of you want to move forward.

Whatever you decide to do, this sounds really stressful and I’m sorry you’re experiencing it. I hope you can also use this space to be kind to yourself.
posted by Stacey at 4:06 AM on January 24 [4 favorites]

You say things have been very good and suddenly the BF has changed overnight and is telling you completely rational and believable reasons for the change, and your description sounds like someone in crisis. I don't now if this is your person or not, only you know that.

But from the perspective of someone in a 30-year marriage to the same person, what is it saying here that you are making his crisis about you? I'd need two hands to count the number of times either me or my husband have fallen apart over the years and needed the other one to literally hold the other up (for a day, a week, a year, whatever the crisis was). Sometimes someone else's needs come first. And this is a 6-month relationship.

Would it be hard for you to just be there for him in whatever way he needs right now? Give yourselves some grace to be confused and untethered? Can you pause that romantic part, draw that boundary, but still be there for him? You'll know if and when it becomes unhealthy, but I'm quite honestly surprised by the number of people telling you to cut and run from someone who you care enough about to see a future with and hasn't done you any harm other than needing you differently now. This internet stranger has no idea where this will go for the two of you but this is going to be one of those moments that defines the bond in a relationship or ends the relationship.
posted by archimago at 6:07 AM on January 24 [6 favorites]

You are deeply invested in what he wants and needs, and I recommend you focus more on what you want and need. You can do that and still be a good supportive friend to him. You want commitment leading to marriage. He took a distant job and is asking for a break. I think the relationship has ended and attempts to salvage it will prolong your distress.
posted by theora55 at 7:05 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Sorry I’m not threadsitting but I want to add that he was supposed to come back in 8 weeks which added to his stress levels because the plan is now thwarted by the company’s insufficient fundraising issue which he has to stay to fix/get more investors/network with potentials. It’s complicated because I also believe he has a vested interested in the company.
posted by antihistameme at 7:19 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]

A vested interest how? Did he give them money? Did he sign some sort of contract that says "I'll work for you no matter what even if there's no salary"? Or more like his self worth is all bound up in this venture and he can't let it go without ego-threat? I'm not clear why if he just started this job it's on him to find more funding unless that's what he was hired for.
posted by fiercekitten at 8:00 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]

I think you're interpreting this all wrong. I'll ask: what is your experience with job loss?

He moved away a few months ago, only a few months into your rel., for a job. Jobs are ... a foundational identity element. He put all marbles into that job (and then some, from your updates). That job is now ... iffy at best, and looks like it is vaporizing?

He feels AWFUL. His whole identity is at stake. He feels like has nothing to offer you -- he moved away from you for this job, he feels bad for having done that, now it was all for nothing, and he's looking at being jobless and in a visa crisis? Job loss is major life identity crisis stuff. As you have now seen. He feels unworthy of asking for commitment from you. He feels like he cannot hold up his own end of it -- yes, just because of the job.

That's why he wants a break: he feels like he has nothing to offer you. That's what's stressing him out.

I don't know why you would interpret one short absence as cheating on you. He's only been there a few months? No. I mean, I get from your history why you'd jump to that. But you're 99% interpreting that wrong. He is not using you. It genuinely seems like he adores you. That didn't change overnight.

If you like this guy as much as it seems you do -- just give the status and commitment stuff a rest. Put it off the table. Period.

Very sorry that this reply is short-worded, I'm in a rush, but I didn't see the job-identity link raised yet, so. It's deep. Profound.
posted by Dashy at 8:11 AM on January 24 [8 favorites]

Lots of things can stress a long-term relationships. Let me list you the many ways stress can happen:

1. Whose family to spend the holiday season with when they are far apart and you have limited funds
2. When you have limited funds
3. When your partner's job takes them away for long periods of time
4. When your partner's parent or your parent is ill and needs support
5. When you have a major injury and are incapacitated
6. When you have to plan a holiday but you are busy at work and your kids are ill and the car is breaking down and and and
7. When you lose your job and have a mortgage to pay

But you know what? You talk it through. You lean on your partner for support. And friends and therapists. You do not just bail and break up with your partner. That is just cruel. He is being cruel to you, likely unintentionally, but still.

Repeat: He may not mean to be cruel to you but he is. You can try to be that understanding partner that accommodates, accommodates. And then ten years from now you are wondering how you got so miserable, how you live in perpetual fear that when things go wrong, no one will have your back. Your partner has broken apart and gave up their obligations.

Maybe this man might come back to you one day. But it's very indicative their first reaction to this kind of pressure is to (checks notes) . . . ghost you and then break up with you. This is the man he is telling you he is. Listen to his actions.

It is not your fault. There is nothing you can do. He obviously does care for you but this is not a kind of long-term relationship that can go through fire and back.
posted by moiraine at 8:19 AM on January 24 [5 favorites]

ok I looked at your question again and it really is odd. This:

he emphasised that he needed space to figure things out and find his way back to our city so we can move on with the plan we had laid out for us

doesn't correlate with him calling you up and breaking up with you. Following through on your plan is the opposite of breaking up.

In your shoes I would sit tight for a few days and see what happens, honestly. I can't tell from what you wrote here if the "break" he wanted was a badly-phrased acknowledgment that he was going to be in crisis-handling mode, and not have bandwidth to provide emotional support and intimacy to you for a while; or if this "break" was just a hurtful reflex to push you away when things get tough.

The first one is solvable; the second not so much.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:07 AM on January 24 [11 favorites]

You want a partner whose first instinct in a crisis is to work together, not break up. And yes, your guy is doing all this because he's suffering from Important Startup Businessdude Syndrome and manufacturing a lot of drama - instead of just getting a different job like a reasonable human - instead of facing the facts that he's been and is being played.

Leave him to it. Let him feel "abandoned" - by his own damn choices - if he chooses. Either he will pull up out of this at which point you can revisit the question of the relationship - not something you should ever decide mid-crisis - and his behavior cumulatively over the course of this challenge.

If you feel at that point that experience is enough to teach him how to navigate a crisis by tackling actual actionable solutions rather than trying to solve it by freaking out and breaking up with his girlfriend, you can proceed as you see fit. But you're not really going to have any answers until things settle down. You can decide at any time, however, that you just want to exit this situation because it's too much bullshit.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:57 AM on January 24 [7 favorites]

I hear you that you're worried that a "break" is a pre-breakup. That's not necessarily the case. At all. Clarify that you both plan for the break to be shortish and finite, and that you won't see or date or consider other people -- you're still in your relationship. This would just be a breathing space so he doesn't have to worry about you for a little while and can just focus on himself.
posted by amtho at 12:10 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]

I would agree with amtho's advice, especially since he's supported you through difficult times (like cancer treatment!) in the past. There is a certain type of "stoic and restrained" person who is good at being supportive and there for you, but tends to withdraw when they are the one who needs the help (overwhelmed by feelings of worthlessness, shame, having nothing to offer, not knowing how to ask for support because of how they were raised, etc.). That's a very different type of person from the boyfriend who only keeps you on the hook for emotional support. You would be able to judge better than we would which one he is, based on your history together.

I also want to add, re: your recent update, that it seems like he works at a startup? As someone whose partner and best friend have worked for startups in the past, I want to emphasize just how unhealthy and crazy-making they can be. Unhealthy, immature startups — and his place of work certainly sounds like an unhealthy one — have this culture they try to get you to buy into, where they make you feel like your entire identity and success is tied up in the rising and falling fortunes of the company, that you owe them everything, that you must give 110%, etc. Your entire mood and sense of well-being can oscillate wildly based on the mood at the office. It's honestly kinda like brainwashing. And if he's just moved to a new city for this job and has no support system there, I'd say your boyfriend could be especially susceptible to an unhealthy environment. Something to consider, since this behaviour is so out-of-character for him.
posted by fire, water, earth, air at 2:17 PM on January 24 [5 favorites]

I was going to type out a bunch of thoughts about breaks, because I have them! But then I reread your question and... I don't think what he wants is a break.

Usually when people want to take a break from a 6-month relationship, they need space to deal with their crisis, and while they are busy with that, they want to be able to not worry about you - not worry about you worrying about them, not worry that you're upset that they've been distant or rude, not worry about how your day has been. They need the brain-space that you normally fill inside their mind to be refocused for a period of time. I'm actually pretty agreeable to this idea in theory - relationships where you're not living together and assuming permanent partnership DO take more work and management, and sometimes can feel overwhelming like everything else that isn't yet familiar and easy.

But this isn't what your boyfriend is describing. He seems like he's asking for you to not be his serious girlfriend anymore. He's not sure he still wants to marry you, he's not sure he wants to live in your city, he wants to be where his dad is for the forseeable future. He likes you though, and your city, and maybe some day he would like to find his way back there, to find you waiting for him to marry if he feels like it! Maybe he'll even have gotten to keep you as a back-burner casual option the whole time, using you for emotional support and to not feel isolated!

Obviously you shouldn't be into that and I can tell you aren't. I don't know what the man thinks he wants but I suspect what you're going to end up with is a breakup. A real one. Sorry. You're definitely going to be the one that got away though, for what that's worth. Don't worry about him feeling abandoned - He's the one making the choices here.
posted by euphoria066 at 2:24 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]

Chiming in to nth those saying he sounds like he's in a serious crisis at the moment, and is afraid of losing and/or disappointing you, and taking a break is his break-the-emergency-glass solution to finding some sort of stability. In other words, your relationship is one less thing he would need to "worry" about being unstable; if taking a break, there is no relationship to have to worry about salvaging.

Am I interpreting his job situation correctly in that he is not being paid at all anymore? If this is the case, he absolutely does not need to "stay to fix/get more investors/network with potentials." He has exactly zero responsibility to do so. It sounds like he may be afraid of being abandoned by the company? When in reality they have no interest in him as a person, which only makes him grasp harder.

If I'm understanding his job situation as above, I would suggest him simply cutting ties with the company and leaving, officially. He would still not be getting paid, and it would allot him time, space, energy, and blessed peace of mind to search for other jobs during all of those hours he's temporarily devoting to this one. And he wouldn't be under someone else's thumb. It sounds like a very toxic work environment, and getting out of that may be his catalyst for regaining some sanity and sense of security.
posted by Jangatroo at 3:19 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]

I have been in not-dissimilar shoes to him before and have reacted in not-dissimilar ways. At the core for me was feelings of failure, which made me feel too inadequate to be in a relationship, even though my feelings toward that person had not changed. The thinking was along the lines of "It's a partnership, and if I can't play my perceived role in that partnership, why should it continue?" After I was through the crisis, I was back to my usual self.

From your question it sounds both like he's in a really tough spot and that you want to find a way to help him. I think it's perfectly reasonable to offer the support you feel appropriate to him for the next few days, and then reassess your feelings, either on your own or with more conversations with him.
posted by matrixclown at 11:10 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]

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