I Need Love! (Boyfriend withdrawing affection.)
December 28, 2006 10:13 PM   Subscribe

My depressed boyfriend is withdrawing affection; I'm miserable.

My boyfriend and I have been together, long-distance, for almost four years: we began as best friends, and ended up in love.

For the most part, it's been the most fulfilling, most profound (romantic) relationship I've ever been in; he and I connect on every level that counts. He's always been an incredibly loving, affectionate, attentive partner who makes me feel like the luckiest woman on the planet; when we're together, he treats me like a queen (as trite as that may sound), and even when we're not, he still manages to make me feel like the most loved woman alive. At least he did, until recently...

He graduated college in June, and, after taking the summer off to spend with me, he began job-hunting in September and we agreed that I would move out there as soon as we could both afford it. It was a few weeks later that he commenced searching more seriously. Because he's an aspiring graphic designer in Seattle, an area saturated with graphic designers, he's been having trouble finding work and this has lead him to become increasingly depressed. (I posted about this a month or so ago; it's a whole 'nother tale of woe.)

Over the last two months, my sweet, protective, loving boyfriend has become sullen, apathetic and -- worst of all -- emotionally withdrawn. I can't remember the last time he was openly affectionate. Prior to this, in all the years we've been together, he's always addressed me using pet names -- from the generic ("sweetie," "baby," etc.) to the personal (nicknames he's given me). That's stopped completely. For a couple in a long-distance relationship, terms of endearment and other forms of verbal affection are crucial, since it's all we have to sustain us between visits.

I've remained as supportive as possible of his job search and his ensuing depression, in spite of the fact that it feels like he's pushing me away. I've turned myself inside out being girlfriend/therapist/career counselor for two months; I've also suggested actual therapy (something he mentioned himself once back when I was visiting him in October), but now that he's in the throes of this depression, he's not receptive to the idea.

Recently, I decided to address this particular issue with him (as I've already tried to discuss the prolonged depression and its impact on our relationship, mostly to no avail). I wanted him to know how I've been feeling, to understand that while he may know he loves me and believe that I should, too, a woman still needs to feel loved, and right now, I don't... and it's hurting me. His response, in short, was that his feelings for me haven't changed, that he's just distracted with job-hunt stress and things of that nature and not feeling particularly inclined to be affectionate right now. The conversation spanned a couple of nights because I'd finally reached my breaking point. After that, I noticed a couple of minor changes: he made an effort to call me earlier in the day and more often (like he had before), and he started saying "I love you" a little more frequently without being prompted (by me saying it first, every time, as I have been for the last two months) when we said our final goodnight. But he's still not using any pet names, and he still feels "off" to me. I know my guy, and I really do believe that this is about his general malaise and depression and not about me. But I miss my boyfriend. The man in his body isn't him right now and I'm tired of being the only one making any effort to keep this relationship off life-support for the last couple of months. The worst part of all is that, as far as he's concerned, things between us are fine. I'm the only one suffering, thanks to his extended bad mood (to put it mildly).

I love this man more than anything in the world; before the depression, he was all I could ask for in a partner. But now it's been two months, with no end in sight, and I'm being worn down. I feel like my reserves of energy have been depleted; I have my own stresses to deal with, so I'm doing double-duty, carrying both his and mine. Right now, the relationship feels very one-sided, with me doing all of the giving. I don't want to give up on this guy, but I need to know that there's a light at the end of the tunnel.

Any advice or insights? How can I make my boyfriend step outside himself long enough to see that he's not the only one his depression is hurting?

(This is the nutshell version, so I'm sure it probably won't sound quite as serious as it is... but I hope you can get the general picture.)
posted by Teevee's Bella to Human Relations (65 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: PS -- I feel like this post makes me come off as needy and non-supportive, but that's not at all the situation. I just feel like my boyfriend is taking me for granted and pushing me away. I feel like the man I love has vanished and been replaced by someone else.
posted by Teevee's Bella at 10:17 PM on December 28, 2006

Whoa. He's depressed and you want him to call you pet names? Reality check for you. Depression can be like feeling numb at the bottom of a well where nothing matters, nobody counts and nothing will ever be good again. Imagine feeling like that, and wait, hang on, it's imperative that you call someone pet names. WTF? Isn't that just a little shallow?

If you can not live without pet names and idolisation, maybe you want to take a break from this relationship for both your sakes, at least until things change for him (whether he deals with his depression through life events, exercise or medication).

It seems to me that you have just asked how you can minimise someone else's tragedy for your own ends. Maybe you might like to rethink your position. 8 weeks is such a very short time, really.
posted by b33j at 10:22 PM on December 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

Fact check: did he graduate from college in the same area he's living now (Seattle)? Or was college somewhere else? Moving somewhere new is hard, hard, hard.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:26 PM on December 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

Depression is a serious illness that can't be magically willed away. As you stated yourself in the description, he's trying (has made an effort to call earlier and more frequently). He's not as affectionate as before because he's miserable. He's more than likely giving as much as he can under the circumstances and you're asking for more. This will not help with the funk he is in. It will only make it worse, as you're adding additional pressure to his life.

There may or may not be things he can do on his end to help with the depression. However, it's very likely that this depression may be a reoccurring event in his life, regardless of what either of you do. When this happens, he will not be his "normal self," but this is still very much a part of who he is. You'll need to learn how to deal with this side of him if you want this thing to work.
posted by fatbobsmith at 10:28 PM on December 28, 2006

I'm not sure I have much advice for dealing with him, but: You are allowed to take care of yourself, regardless of how much your boyfriend needs. Make sure that you're doing things that replenish your "reserves" -- exercise, reading, going out with friends, meditation, whatever works for you -- because you can't help him if you're at the end of your rope.
posted by occhiblu at 10:29 PM on December 28, 2006

A depressed partner/SO/spouse is a lot of emotional work, period. I can't say how to best deal with him, because I don't know him, but you'll have to ask if your relationship is worth the work that it's going to take.

My present partner was worth all that I did. I did it gladly, I gave everything I could out of love and I'm happy to be still with her. That's something you need to ask yourself if you can do.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 10:29 PM on December 28, 2006 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Honestly, I knew it was going to sound like that. I should've typed everything out that's been going on but it was too personal. And it still is. This was a bad idea. Boiling this situation down into a few sugar-coated paragraphs was only asking for trouble.
posted by Teevee's Bella at 10:29 PM on December 28, 2006

Teevee's Bella, I'm sorry if I was overly harsh. I asked a question that i realised later I should have asked anonymously. It made me feel much worse after I saw the answers and I felt misunderstood. Jessamyn very kindly deleted it for me.
posted by b33j at 10:31 PM on December 28, 2006

Response by poster: Nope, he's born and raised in Seattle. As for the depression, I've done research for him on therapists in his area, I've sent him website on depression, etc. I've begged him to see someone. I love him, and I've been with him through thick and thin. But you don't know what it's like to love someone, be as kind and patient and supportive as possible, and have them bite your head off at every chance -- and then make you feel like an afterthought.

By the way, my first response was to the first commenter.
posted by Teevee's Bella at 10:32 PM on December 28, 2006

Also, situational depression and clinical depression are different things, really. I mean, both are "feeling depressed," but it sounds like there are actual, real things he's dealing with right now; people telling you that "depression is a disease" are rather missing the point. Just as you should take care of yourself, he should also take care of himself, and if that "taking care" means withdrawing a bit so that he's not overextended in multiple areas of his life, then you may need to live with that.

If, however, the withdrawal is actually something that's making the bad mood worse -- that is, if he's not doing it consciously because it makes him feel better, but because he's embarrassed or upset and doesn't know how to ask for help -- then you might have more reason to be upset. Your post makes it a bit unclear.
posted by occhiblu at 10:33 PM on December 28, 2006

Response by poster: beej, I didn't see the deleted response -- but I did see the one in which you accused me of minimzing my boyfriend's "tragedy" for my own good. Which couldn't be further from the truth.
posted by Teevee's Bella at 10:33 PM on December 28, 2006

Sounds to me as though the fact that he hasn't yet found a job is impacting upon him greatly. How about he takes a break from looking for a job, and the two of you go on vacation somewhere together. It'll allow you to get close and give him a break from looking for that job he just can't seem to get.

Or since Seattle has graphic designers aplenty, how about he look for work closer to where you live (if that's indeed possible) or how about he look in another town or city somewhere else entirely. If he found work there, maybe the two of you could consider moving there together.
posted by Effigy2000 at 10:36 PM on December 28, 2006

Response by poster: First of all, I apologize for my scattered, typo-filled replies. I should be more diligent in addressing the person to whom I'm replying.

I, myself, suffer from depression. I know that it's not something one just snaps out of. But he's refusing to help himself in almost every way. He's refused to try jobs outside his immediate area, he's refused to try retail temporarily, he's refusing to consider therapy, he's refusing to try career fairs, or even visit the career center at his alma mater. I've been incredibly sympathetic, but -- at the same time -- it's getting harder when he's not doing all he can to fix the situation causing his depression to begin with.

And I'm running out of steam. I love him more than my own life, and I would do anything for him -- and maybe things are improving. I just hung up with him and he said, "Goodnight, baby, I love you." But I'm just exhausted -- emotionally and physically. And I was looking for some hope.
posted by Teevee's Bella at 10:37 PM on December 28, 2006

I think sometimes girls respond to things of this nature with what we would want in a similar situation: lots of "talking it out", lots of explicit communication about how we're feeling, lots of asking how we are, what would be helpful, lots of encouragement, etc etc.

Whereas - and, yes, I know this is a gross generalization - I think that, quite often, what our menfolk in these situations need is simple, unconditional support and belief: "I love you, and I know you're a capable man. I know you can work this out. I'm here if you need me, and I'm giving you space."

Your guy being distant can mean that he doesn't feel the same way about you he once did, but in this circumstance, it seems really likely like that he's withdrawing because he needs space to work this stuff out on his own.

I know I sound like a relationship counselor from 1952, but I think that sometimes when we get all "helpful" in cases like this, it can actually feel smothering and ultra-naggy to the dude, thereby ironically leading to him... becoming distant.

This is just from my experience, but I think how you can best help your guy is to back way, way off. Yes, absolutely, let him know that you're there, and express quiet confidence in him. You picked him as a mate. He must be capable, yes? He can take care of this-- if you let him.

I think that a depressed partner just doesn't have a lot to give. You need to take care of yourself. Back off, re-center. I think this may sound callous, but I also think that in stepping back from being his constant emotional coach, you may well find that you're doing better, and that he now has the space to do better, himself.

I hope you feel (a little) better, soon! Your situation sounds pretty exhausting and confusing. :(
posted by thehmsbeagle at 10:37 PM on December 28, 2006 [9 favorites]

Not in this thread, Teevee's Bella, an experience of mine in the past - sorry to be hijacking. My apologies for misunderstanding you.
posted by b33j at 10:38 PM on December 28, 2006

On non-preview:

1. You may not be able to solve this for him. You don't have to be his career counselor or his therapist. You are his girlfriend. If he's asking for help you cannot give, tell him you're sorry, but he needs to find other resources. If you're offering help he's not asking for, stop mothering him so much.

2. You are not required to be the recipient of his bad moods. If he's biting your head off for things that are not your fault, tell him to stop it. He can act like an adult even if he's upset, and you should expect him to act like an adult even if he's upset. If he is upset with you, he can tell you what's wrong without snapping at you, and you should tell him this.

3. It sounds like he needs resources (jobs, therapists, other things in his life that are going well) that you cannot, do to your distance, provide. Rather than sending him lists of therapists, for instance, help him figure out how to harness the things he does have in order to help himself. In other words, don't tell him what to do; instead, ask him what he can do to help fix things. "Call this therapist" is different from "It sounds like you're really upset. Is there something you can do to make yourself feel better right now? Long term?" Even if his answer doesn't match with what you think would help, encourage him to solve his own problems and follow his own solutions. This process teaches him problem solving, makes him feel like he's in control of his own life and emotional responses (which he is), and takes you out of the taken-for-granted caregiver role that (it sounds like) you've given yourself.
posted by occhiblu at 10:39 PM on December 28, 2006

Response by poster: b33j, oh, I see what you're saying. Well, thank you -- I appreciate it. :)

I never want to come off as saying that his depression is about me... but he's my best friend and my partner, and he's withdrawing from me, and I'm devastated and looking for help. That's all.
posted by Teevee's Bella at 10:39 PM on December 28, 2006

Along with thehmsbeagle's point: thehmsbeagle phrased it as a gender thing, and I think the manifestations of it can be gendered, but this is also something women complain about all the time -- "Why do guys try to fix things all the time??? Why can't they just let me talk and be supportive???" Pretty much everyone wants support and understanding, not pat ready-made solutions to their problems.
posted by occhiblu at 10:42 PM on December 28, 2006

Response by poster: thehmsbeagle Thanks for that great advice. I've been doing that as much as possible -- letting him know that I love and adore him and that he could be a toilet scrubber for all I care. I think it started taking its toll when I began feeling like I was pouring everything into keeping us both afloat, and he couldn't even be bothered to paddle with me.

occhiblu Also grate advice. I've taken that approach quite often. I think part of his depression is the realization that some family dynamics have ill-prepared him for real-life post graduation. I've been trying to help him feel more confident in his ability to be a productive, self-sufficient adult without being overbearing and controlling while I do it.
posted by Teevee's Bella at 10:44 PM on December 28, 2006

Response by poster: *great -- damn cold fingers
posted by Teevee's Bella at 10:45 PM on December 28, 2006

For me, I have difficulty continuing relationships with people who aren't taking some reasonable steps to try to manage their problems (whatever they are, including depression) and to do their best to be as well as they can be given all of the circumstances. I don't expect a person not to be depressed, but I expect/hope that a close or intimate friend to do what they can to manage their mood/mental health stuff. Maybe that's something you're hoping to see from your boyfriend.

This may or may not be possible for your guy at this time -- if he's young, if he's new to bouts of depression and what works for him re how to manage them, if he's too depressed to take any steps whatsoever, if he has no ongoing, pre-bout-of-depression mental health care to rely upon, then it may take a while for any movement/progress. If he does come out of it simply with the passage of time, then I would think that it would be reasonable to request that he (and you) come up with a plan for the next time.

I wouldn't like being pushed away, either. (In my younger days, I was that miserable severely clinically depressed person pushing away my then-boyfriend.) I would perhaps try to pull back a little and take care of myself. As usual, occhiblu has good advice.

On preview -- like the OP, I am person with life-long depression who has done a lot of work (life style, therapy, medication, etc.) to both minimize the negative symptoms of depression and to build on the positive aspects of depression.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:45 PM on December 28, 2006 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: occhiblu: I know -- I agree. I've even considered that, and Ialternate between emotional support only, and trying to fix things, simply because he's suffering from inertia at the moment and it feels like SOMEONE should be doing something.
posted by Teevee's Bella at 10:46 PM on December 28, 2006

Response by poster: CaludiaCenter: I'm like you -- I've been working on myself for a long time to get over some things in my past. I attend therapy weekly, and actually do the work needed to move past some facets not only of my depression, but of some ingrained behaviors. In fact, it's because I did it that we're even in this relationship. I worked through a lot of fears and trust issues to let myself open up to this man and his love; I did it because I believed he was worth the hard work -- and it paid off. So I feel somewhat resentful that he won't do the same for me. I climbed mountains for this relationship, and I expect him to do the same.
posted by Teevee's Bella at 10:50 PM on December 28, 2006

Response by poster: Gah@ Claudia*
posted by Teevee's Bella at 10:50 PM on December 28, 2006

Another thing to keep in mind, speaking as a woman who had an early-20s boyfriend who couldn't find a job: At the time, I really underestimated how much my ex was conflating his self-worth and his job (or lack thereof). Men are often taught that their careers, their job titles, their earning power, their professional status -- whatever aspect of it applies -- are really vitally important to who they are as men, and while I can't say this is a good thing, it does seem to be a thing that exists and needs to be dealt with. In my experience, a lot of guys graduate college and think they're going to become "men" by waltzing into that perfect job, whether it's i-banker or bike courier or great American novelist, and there can be a huge hit to self-esteem when this doesn't happen, which can require a rather large re-evaluation of self. From my experience, it seems a girlfriend can complicate this re-evaluation -- he may have seen his role in your relationship in a certain way, and his inability to find a paying job may be putting that role in jeopardy.

You may think all this is silly (I did). I didn't care what my ex did, as long as he paid his rent. But he cared deeply, and my saying things like "You can be a toilet scrubber for all I care" did not go over well (granted, my ex turned out to be a raving lunatic, but that's another long-winded post...)

In any event, this might be something to keep in the back of your mind during all this.
posted by occhiblu at 10:55 PM on December 28, 2006 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, occhiblu. My mom, who happens to love my boyfriend but is also frustrated with him right now, has said the same -- that men often find their self-worth tangled up in their careers. Under normal circumstances, my boyfriend's extremely protective of me. I sometimes joke that he only lets my feet hit the ground because he can't, realistically, carry me everywhere. He's also, as I mentioned, awakening to the fact that he wasn't prepared well for adulthood by his sweet, but dysfunctional family -- which includes a loving, but overnbearing homemaker mother and an emotionally distant, bread-winning father. The situation was such that he's had everything handed to him, and has never had to face challenges because things that he (or his brother) found distasteful or difficult were either done for him or descarded. That, itself, has affected our relationship in various ways. But, up until June, he had the relative security of college -- wherein he was free of adult responsibilities and pressures, and I think it's a shock to his system now that he's out in the Real World and finds that he has no idea how to navigate it. And I think you're dead on when you suggested that he believed he'd get out of college and walk into his dream position. When it didn't happen, it was a reality slap in the face.
posted by Teevee's Bella at 11:06 PM on December 28, 2006

Response by poster: discarded* OK, I'm done correcting my stupid 2am typos. ;)
posted by Teevee's Bella at 11:06 PM on December 28, 2006

Oh, god, I'm so sorry for the serial posting, you're just triggering so much that's resonating with my own life.

After my mother died a year and a half ago, I did all the "right" things. I went into therapy. I started doing yoga regularly. I went shopping at the organic farmers' market, and I cooked good, nutritious meals with lots of vegetables for myself. I talked with friends who were supportive, and cut off friends who were not. I drank too much, but I worked hard to stop it. I realized that the direction my life was going was not where I wanted it to be going, and I made real, practical changes in my life to change that. (And I'm now in grad school in order to change careers.) I started volunteering at a number of places. I used her death, and my grief, to re-assess my life, to re-evaluate my relationships, and to make really huge changes in my emotional and day-to-day life.

My father... didn't. He drank too much. He stopped taking care of himself physically. He refused to admit any of his grief, saying again and again that he needed to "be strong." He got more obstinate and more stubborn and more ... him. It's driving me nuts. Why isn't he doing the things that I would do -- that he should do -- to make himself better?

What I'm working on accepting is that he's doing what he can. Given who he is -- and more importantly, given his inherent strengths -- he's doing what he can. I'm a liberal feminist chick living in San Francisco who believes in yoga and therapy and meditation. He's a stubborn working-class "Polack" who believes in muscling his way through his problems -- and, in his life, that's worked for him. He's achieved much of what he's achieved because he's just refused to acknowledge failure or pain or weakness. I shouldn't really expect him to deal with grief or depression in a way that's inconsistent with this.

I still wish he were doing other things to help cope. And I'm not sure that I'd date a guy dealing with his life in this manner; it's not anything close to what I want in a partner. But I think that recognizing that he is using his strengths and he is achieving things that he thinks of as successes is a process that I need to go through -- something that I'm really struggling to do, but I do think that accepting him and his approach to his own life is something I need to do if I really want to live the changes I think I've made in my own head.

So.... right. I'm not sure how much of this applies to you, and like I said, I'm not sure this emotional work is something I'd be willing to do for a partner (one's kind of stuck with family!). But I do hope this emotional work that I'm doing with him is something that does benefit my other relationships, that I can learn to find acceptance and love without qualifications in my relationships with others, even if I always struggle with it in my relationship with him. Maybe you have a similar worthwhile battle in dealing with your relationship to your boyfriend. Maybe your own battle is realizing that you can't win this one. I don't know. But do think about whether you're so caught up in being "right" or doing things the "right way" that you're negating who he is, and how he needs to grow.
posted by occhiblu at 11:10 PM on December 28, 2006

Response by poster: Don't apologize for posting -- I'm enjoying what you have to say.

You sound like you're going through a process similar to mine. I haven't lost a parent (and I'm so sorry that you did), but I'm dealing with the aftermath of some things in my past, working my butt off in therapy, even planning to go back to school to change careers. (I'm also a liberal feminist chick... ;))

I get what you're saying. Maybe we're doing all of this because we have it in us to do it; maybe your father and my boyfriend don't. Everyone copes differently. The difference is that your father isn't your partner, and, now that you're an adult, his chosen path doesn't ultimately affect your future. I'm fighting for my relationship, the man I love, and the life we want to make together. It's true that my boyfriend may not have the same coping skills as me -- and how could he? He's had a different life; until now, he hasn't had much with which to cope! But he needs to learn.

What he's doing, essentially, is playing dead and waiting for the threat to pass... but, in his case -- unlike your dad, who was dealing with a true tragedy and genuine grief -- the threat is simply life. And unless he's going to play dead until he actually is dead, he needs to learn how to function and face the disappointments and challenges that we've all had to deal with. And that's why he needs to break through the inertia and get moving, even if it kills him. Because, whereas your dad has already lost what's important (excluding you), my boyfriend has everything to lose... but only if he doesn't get moving.
posted by Teevee's Bella at 11:24 PM on December 28, 2006

Right, and I agree with all of that, but my point, I think, is: Is he dealing in a way that simply doesn't make sense to you, or is he failing? What is his definition of success for himself? Is he getting there? (For me, for instance, it's been "Not being closed off"; for my father, it's been "being strong." I often see what he calls "strength" to be closing out the world, which in my mind would be a failure, but in his mind he's actually succeeding in what he's trying to do. I try to remember this while I'm seething with frustration.)

All of this to say: Make sure you're talking to him on his terms. If you're OK with him getting a shit job that's great (I mean that; being OK with that is important), but if he's not OK with that, then your pushing him to accept any job may be counterproductive. Make sure you know what he wants, and how he wants to get there. Because of all your own emotional work, you're likely to have a better, more subtle, more easily accessible vocabulary for this stuff; don't let that become a substitute for him doing the work he needs to do. Let him talk to you, let him stumble around, let him try and discard things (including stagnation). If he's seriously on the verge of ruination -- homelessness, suicide -- then of course you need to step in more actively, but "not having a job a few months out of college" is not the same as "on the verge of losing everything." Women often take on the emotional work of relationships and it can actually keep men from developing those skills themselves -- how is he going to know what works to get himself out of depression if you just hand him a list and tell him to check things off? Hell, I had the list, and a therapist watching over me, and a reasonably strong training in "counselor-approved ways to cope with tragedy," and I still had to go through it and do stupid counter-productive shit in order to double- (and triple-) check that things like drinking multiple bottles of wine or eating nothing but ice cream for days did, in fact, still make me feel like shit. (And I'm going through some of those same cycles now as I am forced to look for a new job -- inertia, when it's a strongly in grained first response, is, well, really strongly ingrained, even when you intellectually know better.)

With all this, though, you are not required to take his shit. He may need some space to sort himself out, but that doesn't mean he gets to treat you like crap. You can set those boundaries, and should set those boundaries.

I guess to some extent I'm just trying to point out that his problems, and your frustration with how he's dealing with his problems, and your frustration with how his problems are affecting you, and your frustration with how the way he's dealing with the problems is affecting you, are all different things, and require different approaches. If it's possible to sift some of those things out -- his problems are his to solve, for instance, but the way his solutions affect you is your problem -- it may help a bit.

(I also feel like the book The Quarter-Life Crisis might help here, but I haven't read it. From what I understand, it deals with some of the stuff it sounds like he's going through; it might be worth checking out of the library, if it sounds like it applies.)
posted by occhiblu at 11:44 PM on December 28, 2006

TB, I am in the same situation as your boyfriend right now. I am going through depression, and it is hard on my girlfriend. I am not loving her the way I used to and the way she deserves. She has been tremendously supportive and understanding so far, but I know her strength is not inexhaustible. If it eventually proved to be too much for her such that she had to move on from me, I would be heartbroken but would not fault her at all.

I don't have a solution for you (and I don't think there is any simple solution), but I just wanted to say that you are entirely justified in how you feel. We like to believe in notions of unconditional and limitless love, but the reality is that it can be defeated if relentlessly assaulted by life's very hard challenges. I hope things work out for both you.
posted by randomstriker at 11:54 PM on December 28, 2006

hmsbeagle basically nailed it, but then I would add that you need to use your intuition to act wisely, judiciously. You've been depressed, and you know what? It comes back. It may be an intermittent part of your lives from now on. So tame it. It's the stuff you have to work with. I say this as a longtime depressoid with a partner who is my twin in that regard.

It seems to me that you have just asked how you can minimise someone else's tragedy for your own ends.

That is how it is coming across for me, too. However bad your pain is in seeing this for him, it's not about you. You imply you know how to work through depression. But he has to do that when he's ready, and you have to do what you can for him without pushing, and take care of yourself, if it is getting to you. You know, it's possible to smile and laugh, even in the dark times, and it can help find the way out, but I advise treading carefully and using your intuition and gentle caring to find how to create that laughter and joy in him.

Communication: at the right moment, you can let him know it's affecting you, but that you're in it together. Cooperation, not confrontation.

I think I repeated myself a bit, but I have to get back to work now. Good luck. We succeeded beautifully with this kind of problem. Compassion.
posted by Listener at 11:54 PM on December 28, 2006

Response by poster: You know, you're starting to frighten me, occhiblu. My mom sent him Quarterlife Crisis and its follow-up for Christmas. I'm serious! I read the book, myself, a few years ago, and loved it.

Anyway, your post made a LOT of sense to me. You're right... he needs to do the work, and he needs to cope in his own way. I guess I just feel so compelled to shake him out of this sooner rather than later, because of the distance; if we're not communicating openly and being at least somewhat affectionate verbally, then what do we have? It's not like in person, when a simple hug or a touch of the hand, or even a meaningful glance can do the trick. Plus, I'm so tired of being 3,000 miles apart. If he doesn't work through this and start making some forward progress, we're stalled... and I can't handle much more the distance. I want to stop feeling as though we're 16-year-old star-crossed lovers, and get on with our life and our future.

But... I guess all I can do, aside from setting those boundries you've mentioned (which I've been trying hard to do lately), is wait. Something has to give.

posted by Teevee's Bella at 12:04 AM on December 29, 2006

Response by poster: randomstriker -- I'm sorry you're suffering right now, but thanks so much for sharing your perspective.

We like to believe in notions of unconditional and limitless love, but the reality is that it can be defeated if relentlessly assaulted by life's very hard challenges.

Exactly. Thanks for so eloquently saying what I don't have the clarity of mind tonight to say myself.
posted by Teevee's Bella at 12:07 AM on December 29, 2006

Response by poster: Listener: He's a young guy, having a hard time finding work a couple of months after graduation. He lives rent-free with his parents, and is just now finding out that life isn't a cake-walk. It's hardly a "tragedy." His depression seems to have stemmed from that, and while I absolutely empathize with what he's going through, as I explained in all my previous posts, it's not so black or white as you've made it seem by implying that I'm being self-centered and not compassionate. I've emptied myself while trying to fill him up.
posted by Teevee's Bella at 12:11 AM on December 29, 2006

Response by poster: I'm going to head to bed. Thanks for all the advice so far, everyone (especially occhiblu!) -- I'll check back in the morning.
posted by Teevee's Bella at 12:13 AM on December 29, 2006

Mmm, I did not say you were not compassionate. I am not seeing your situation in full here. I said how it comes across. USE your compassion, and take care of you. If you reread tomorrow, you will see I was not critical of you. Good luck.
posted by Listener at 12:20 AM on December 29, 2006

"I've been working on myself for a long time to get over some things in my past. I attend therapy weekly, and actually do the work needed to move past some facets not only of my depression, but of some ingrained behaviors. ... So I feel somewhat resentful that he won't do the same for me."

Perhaps it's not "won't", it's "can't". Everyone's depression is different, so he may have a different set of abilities and skills than you did, to where he can't deal with the situation in the same way you dealt with yours. Plus, there's a chance he is doing things to help improve his situation, yet it's not enough... or not enough for you. The way you deal with depression simply may not work for him, and while you may have good intentions, if what you're doing hasn't helped then you should probably stop doing that.

I also recommend that you stop putting more demands on him, even if these are things you need. If there are needs of yours not getting met, then you have to decide whether you'll put up with these needs being ignored, or move on to find something that will meet your needs.

You say you emptied yourself for him, but I see you also expected quite a bit back from him in return. Did he know this? Was he aware you were making all these changes and sacrifices for him and you expected the same in kind?

When you make personal sacrifices there is never any guarantee you will be rewarded by those you tried to help. It just doesn't work that way. And no, it's not fair, and it's probably not right, but that's why people ultimately have to do things for themselves, not for others.
posted by smashingstars at 12:24 AM on December 29, 2006

And that's why he needs to break through the inertia and get moving, even if it kills him.

Perhaps this is too harsh, but, it's not absolute that he "needs" to do this. It sounds like you need him to do this and you're upset that he hasn't.

With all due respect, I think you're very convinced that your method of coping is the only method of coping, and while it very happily works for you, you're going to have to fully accept it doesn't work for everyone.

Okay, sorry for the two posts so close together, I'm done.
posted by smashingstars at 12:30 AM on December 29, 2006

Something else might be that since he's living for free at his parents', there may be additional family pressures on him about his job situation.
posted by rhizome at 12:43 AM on December 29, 2006

1) Have him move in an area with less graphic designers
2) He finds graphic design to do
3) he feels better
4) pet names are back !
posted by Baud at 12:54 AM on December 29, 2006

I'm in a similar situation to your boyfriend and random striker. After sitting around my apartment for the past 3 days getting nothing accomplished, I'm realizing that I'm experiencing depression.

The only advice I can offer them is to get something / anything accomplished. As pathetic as it sounds, just the act of cleaning the whole apartment has picked up my spirit a bit.

As rhizome says, the additional family pressures are something that is most likely pushed on him, and something completely out of your control.

You've gotten enough other good advice about the situation. All I can add is just try to be patient with him, as difficult as that may seem. As frustrated about his situation as you are, he's more frustrated. I bet he'd love nothing more than to be able to get back to calling you his cuddle-wumpykins.
posted by coreb at 1:01 AM on December 29, 2006

Something we all do because its easy: put others first.

Something(s) we have to do to be a healthy partner: take care of ourselves, set limits, ask for what we want, don't let ourselves settle.
posted by ewkpates at 3:32 AM on December 29, 2006 [2 favorites]

This all sounds pretty familiar--your boyfriend sounds like me, 30 years ago. You've gotten some great comments here. Let me add my two cents worth.

The guy you describe has some growing up to do, and the work he has to do on himself may not be pleasant. Some guys resist doing this work. Your guy may not be able to give you what you want right now. He may not be ready for some time. In fact, he may not ever be ready. It's up to him.

It's important for you to tell him what you want, like pet names, overt affection, etc. It's important for you to tell him what you don't want, like crabbiness, verbal or emotional abuse, etc. He will either rise to the demands of life (your relationship, supporting himself, etc.) or not. You might as well find out now. You may have to kiss him goodbye. You might want to think about that. Some relationships just don't work out, even when both parties want them to.

I can see that you are working hard to make things work. Try to relax and let things happen. You can't grow up for him.
posted by RussHy at 5:40 AM on December 29, 2006

Don't derive your self-worth from his success or failure. Don't be his long-distance counselor. Back off a little. As for "pet names," I clicked on your screen name and found it's based on your relationship. Hmm...
posted by Carol Anne at 5:53 AM on December 29, 2006

This is not meant as harsh, but it comes from my own experiences. Your desire to help him comes from your fear of losing him. You want to do something to fix him, but anything you do will not allow him to fully grow up and claim his own strength for responsibility in his life.

You need to cultivate some trust. You need to trust that your relationship is strong enough to withstand the tests of time, distance, and stress. You also need to trust him, trust that he's strong enough to get through this.

If you can cultivate some of that trust, provide your own self-love while he does the same for himself, your relationship will be much stronger in the long run. You'll need to accept the fact that you're both going through some growing pains. It doesn't have to mean the end, but it does mean that things won't be the same. If you can both work on finding your own inner strength, you'll have a deeper, more mature relationship. But please accept that you cannot fix him, you can only fix yourself.

That being said, I sympathize with you greatly. Been there, done that.
posted by kat at 7:09 AM on December 29, 2006

As someone currently looking for work, it's really depressing. I knew how to do school, I excelled at it, and now I'm struggling to get interviews. It feels bad. When people come at me with advice, I get defensive, because all I hear is them saying "This is simple! Why haven't you solved this incredibly easy problem yet??" and it's NOT simple and it's NOT easy, so I respond by telling them about why those things won't work. It's a self-defense thing, because if they're right and it's super-easy, then I must REALLY suck. If it's hard, then I'm just working on a difficult problem and that takes time and that's okay.

Strange as it may sound, it might be more encouraging for him if you acknowledge that it's crazy difficult to find work sometimes and that it sucks, rather than giving him some three-step plan to employment. You might think he's just sitting on his ass, but if he's doing this thing properly and writing individual cover letters and customizing his resume and portfolio and all that, it's hard work and it takes a long time, and then you don't hear a damn thing and it was all for nothing. He could be working his ass off and having nothing to show for it, and then having to go back and tell you that. Again.

He's refused to try jobs outside his immediate area, he's refused to try retail temporarily, he's refusing to consider therapy, he's refusing to try career fairs, or even visit the career center at his alma mater.

He lives at home and pays no rent, how would moving improve his financial situation? Retail? Crazy depressing, especially for someone who has a degree. He wants to do graphic design, turning to "paper or plastic?" would be a huge surrender of everything he worked for in school. Therapy is a big surrender too, it's admitting that you can't do it and you need mental health help — which perhaps he does, but don't underestimate how hard it is to get to the point that you actually seek help. I have no idea if career fairs actually work, and I haven't heard stories of people who found jobs there. Maybe he hasn't either. The career centre at my alma mater (so far as I know) offers "how to write a cover letter" and personality tests, which I've already done and don't want to pay to do again. Is his the same?

Anyways. To your original question, I would second all of the people saying that you need to learn to take care of yourself and recognise that the dude's going through a rough time and doesn't have much to give right now. This isn't going to kill your relationship, so long as you take care of yourself and you're a refuge for him. Make sure you're someone he can talk to instead of someone he needs to defend himself from (see 1st paragraph) and he will. And make sure you talk to him about things other than work right now. It's probably consuming him, and he'll need a break, and those breaks could help him relax and slip back into unstressed affectionate mode.
posted by heatherann at 7:12 AM on December 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

This happened to a friend of mine some years back. Her boyfriend was 1,500 miles away or so, and the situation (and description of the relationship) was fairly similar.

Turns out, he was already seeing somebody new, and was being a coward about confronting her with it, choosing instead to invent a reason for her to leave him, thereby relieving him of the unpleasant duty of ending the relationship that he was finished with (but she wasn't).

I don't mean that to sound hurtful, but it might be another thing to consider. It's a catch-22 -- if he's truly depressed (true depression rarely settles in so quickly, but maybe he has signed of low-grade depression all his life?), confronting him about a potential affair would hurt him pretty badly.

Incidentally, I can't seem to reconcile your comment that you're a feminist with your protestations that you're so schoolgirl-in-love with this dude.
posted by Merdryn at 7:46 AM on December 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

I think feminists are allowed to be in love...

One new thing that I thought of while reading everyone's (great) comments, and your follow-ups: It actually sounds like a great deal of the stress you're experiencing is due to the distance, not to his depression per se, in that you seem to think this would be much less of a problem if you were living in the same city. Which means that you have some options here, too: Can you move out there? When? What's keeping you from doing so?

Not that you have to do so immediately, of course, just be aware that your list of "Reasons why I can't move now" may seem just as stubborn, arbitrary, and frustrating to him -- and may be just as damaging to the relationship as a whole -- as his list of "Reasons why I can't find a job."

Like I said, there seem to be several things going on in your relationship, all of which have their own stresses. Make sure you're not conflating all of them into one thing, and then blaming him for that one thing.

(None of which is meant to be unsympathetic -- long-distance relationships with guys having career and family crises suck, and I know that from firsthand experience. Like other people have said, just trusting that it will eventually work, rather than taking each new turn as a new major crisis, is probably a good baseline assumption to help get past how much it sucks.)
posted by occhiblu at 7:54 AM on December 29, 2006

If he has a degree in graphic design, I assume he enjoys being creative. Maybe you could get him a sketchbook, paints, a tshirt screen printing kit, turntables and records, or anything else that he could do in his spare time to lift his spirits and make him feel like he's accomplishing something creative.

Career-wise, perhaps it might be easier for him to find some freelance web design work by putting an ad in the paper or a local coffee shop or something. If you're really clever, I find the best way to suggest things to men is to somehow make them feel like they came up the idea. =)

I also suggest that you find a new hobby to occupy yourself in the mean time. Your boyfriend is being distant because he's going through something. Chill out on him and fill the gap by learning how to sew, hoola hoop, cook, make music, or anything else you're curious about.
posted by infinityjinx at 8:54 AM on December 29, 2006

Response by poster: Wow, lots to reply to this morning. I'll try and address everything...

1) When I said he hasn't tried looking for work outside his immediate area, I meant that he lives in a suburb outside Seattle and won't even look in Seattle for work. If a job is listed as being located there, he passes it over. It makes no sense to me. I've had to take three trains and spend hours commuting back and forth from work in the Boston area; to me, it feels like he's being a prima donna who just doesn't want to do anything that's not "easy." (And believe me, there's a history of this.)

2) In regard to the person who suggested he may be hiding that he's met someone new: Definitely not it. I couldn't even begin to explain why I know this for sure (it would take too long and you'd have to really know him to understand), but I do.

3) I'm ALSO looking for work. I'm making a career change and have plans to go back to school. For the last couple of years, I've been temping (doing administrative work) because it's given me he flexibility to spend time with him (him coming here or me going there). But it sucks. And now I'm looking for something permanent until I'm ready to move. So I'm also going through a rough job search, and I know how depressing and frustrating it can be. But falling apart at the seams just doesn't work. (This is why I can't afford to pick up and move out there, myself, right now -- finances.)

4) Um, yes, last I knew feminists could fall in love. End of discussion.

5) Really, the whole "pet names" thing was just me trying to express a symptom of the bigger problem.

Back in October, the last time we had a visit, something came up and we had a serious conversation about our future. He told me that he thinks of me as a "superhero," and that he feels like some peon who just got lucky to be with me. (NOT true at all... he's brilliant, talented, funny, gorgeous and we BOTH got lucky -- and I've told him this. I don't think there's a guy on the planet who should feel more secure in his partner's love than mine, because I tell him all the time.)

Anyway, part of this depression is that he's SO convinced that he has to take care of me and be a good provider... even though I've assured him time and again that we're going to share those duties, that we'll be equal partners. It's just that he saw a certain "template" for marriage laid out by his dysfunctional parents and he's been impacted that; and, as I said last night, the fact that everything's come so easy for him is only serving to make him even more terrified of the idea of actually taking care of himself and another person (which, let me repeat, is HIS own pressure on himself, not mine).
posted by Teevee's Bella at 10:52 AM on December 29, 2006

Response by poster: infinityjinx -- That's so funny. I've always said that my guy only takes suggestions if he lets time go by and then pretends they were his idea. ;)
posted by Teevee's Bella at 10:53 AM on December 29, 2006

Response by poster: Oops, and one more thing: I have a ton going on in my own life right now, but my relationship is important to me and he's my best friend AND partner. It's just very stressful to have things be in turmoil.
posted by Teevee's Bella at 10:54 AM on December 29, 2006

This is also really an opportunity for you to see how someone you sound like you want to be life partners with deals with stress and challenges. It's an opportunity for you to look at what he's doing and how it affects you and say, "Is this something I'm committed to for the long haul or not?" If this is really how he deals with difficulty - won't ask for help, won't get out of his mom's house to take life by the proverbial balls, that's something for you to consider. It's good this is happening. You don't want to move across the country and learn this for the first time while you're stuck in the rainiest city's suburbs.
posted by bash at 11:25 AM on December 29, 2006

TB, it sounds as though he loves you, but these days isn't able to tap into the mood of affection and enthusiasm that would come across on the phone and make you feel valued. My guess is that the deep feelings are present, but the frosting on top (the fun, the joy) is diminished. So maybe you guys can work on some long-distance fun and joy. You're both creative people -- how about a project that you work on together just for fun? Such as a web-comic where you both contribute something (I'm partial to A Softer World). Or a co-blog where you post photos of what you're up to and reviews of sites you've each found or shows you've each watched. I'm thinking that a little creative fun might awaken his spirit and in turn make you feel more connected to him.
posted by xo at 11:26 AM on December 29, 2006

I don't think there's a guy on the planet who should feel more secure in his partner's love than mine, because I tell him all the time.

If he’s the stereotype guy that HMS Beagle describes—which I find I am, a particular conversation sticks in my mind where I was complaining about a flatmate and my friend said ‘ah well, I'm sure talking about it is therapeutic’ and my reaction was ‘not remotely; remembering that I’ll be moving out in three weeks is therapeutic’—bear in mind that telling him all the time won’t be the lift it would be for you. The first couple of times, yes; subsequently it’ll raise his hackles a little about what your motivations are, and then if you’re lucky he’ll classify it as one of your quirks, which may make him love you more for it, but won’t make him believe it.

I don’t have any real answers for you. If his expectations of the jobs available are unrealistic I can’t imagine that will change without experience and failure or input to that effect from someone he respects in the field. Were I just out of college and looking for a job, I would network through the local relevant clubs and associations; but I don't know that that phenomenon is so strong in graphic design.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 11:58 AM on December 29, 2006

The worst part of all is that, as far as he's concerned, things between us are fine.

That's either true or it isn't, but how can that be when you say you've had an extended conversation about it?

I want to point out one other thing here.

Oh, no, that's definitely not the issue. In fact, since I made this first post, he told me that he has some ideas about how he wants to propose when I'm there in October.

It's (barely still) December and you're calling him your boyfriend. So, apparently, you still don't have the engagement you want. Did he sweet-talk you into conceding this point and moving there without it?

I see a pattern here of you not getting what you tell him you need and one or both of you blaming it on his life situation. Man up and demand what you deserve. Some people upstream have told you to butch up, he's having a rough patch (while latching onto the word depression, which is your diagnosis, not a medical professionals).

I say you need to do the exact opposite: you're not married to this man yet. Odds are if you do marry him this won't be the last bad time either of you experiences. A relationship is a two-way street and if he can't demonstrate that he's there for you in good times and bad now then he's not going to do it as the years go by. Demand the level of treatment you feel you deserve.

I also notice that "8 weeks is such a very short time, really." as b33j says and that just coincidentally seems to be the amount of time since you went to visit and didn't get proposed to. Did he finesse you just long enough to get you to drop one demand and shortly thereafter cease giving you something else you want?
posted by phearlez at 12:00 PM on December 29, 2006 [2 favorites]

I went through a very similar situation with an ex so I sympathize with you deeply. The position you're in is such a hard one.

In my case I dated my ex long distance for a year then he moved across a few states to live with me and quickly fell into a deep depression. I really loved him so I knocked myself out reading books about depression, trying to help him, trying to be a good, supportive girlfriend, etc. I even offered to moved back home with him. Meanwhile he was rejecting me, pushing me away, treating me like a roommate that he didn't particularly like, and basically making me feel like shit. (For instance, he would say it annoyed him if I tried to hold his hand and sit away from on public transportation). It took me several months to reach the end of my rope. I begged him to seek professional help. He wouldn't. I broke up with him and he moved back to where he came from. Best decision I ever made.

However, in my case, I had known my ex so briefly beforehand and long distance at that, that I had no real norm on which to base his behavior. Was depression turning him into an asshole or was he an asshole with depression as a convenient excuse? I'm still not sure. I'm assuming you know your boyfriend better than I knew mine though and that he truly is a good guy.

My advice would be to take care of yourself first and foremost. Go out with friends a lot and enjoy your life.

As for him, be sympathetic and supportive but don't put up with abuse of any kind. Also, don't put up with him self-medicating (i.e. alcohol, drugs) and honestly, I'd give him an ultimatum on getting professional treatment, whether meds or therapy or both.

You're too young too get dragged into a situation like this long-term.
posted by Jess the Mess at 12:10 PM on December 29, 2006

Oh yeah and whatever you do, DO NOT accept any proposals or move the relationship ahead any further until he gets help. Seriously.
posted by Jess the Mess at 12:15 PM on December 29, 2006

On his job search: you mentioned he is perhaps being too selective in the jobs he'd consider applying to. Of the jobs he has applied to (there are at least a few, yes?):

* has he received any interviews? (how have they gone? what happened next?)
* has he turned down any jobs in graphic design? (what kinds of jobs were they, why did he turn them down)
posted by little miss manners at 12:24 PM on December 29, 2006

Sorry if this sounds harsh, but I've read this thread all the way through, and I hear a lot of what you think he needs to do. You seem to have a rather rigid set of expectations, and I'm sure that in his depression, your boyfriend knows that he is not living up to them. I very much doubt that is helping him feel motivated- chances are that in spite of all your best intentions, you are only adding to his feelings of inadequacy. People need room to make their own mistakes and sometimes it takes getting to a very low point in one's life to realize how crappy things really are and snap out of it. This is not something you can orchestrate. You're projecting too much of what you would do and how you would solve problems onto him, and that's not fair. No matter what you say, your boyfriend can only solve his problems himself, whether that means finally getting sick of living with his parents and looking farther afield for a job, getting therapy, or suddenly calling you one evening and saying "I need your help organizing my life". This is totally up to him, and you can best help by not adding to the pressure. Make it clear that you will help him in any way you can, and then back off. Do not tell him you've seen a wonderful job on Seattle craigslist, &c. Do tell him that you know he is perfectly capable of doing what he needs to when the time is right, and that he should know you support any decision he makes, and that he is not to worry about you. Let him know that you are there to help when and if he asks, but first make it clear that you are giving him space to figure things out, and then let him do so. You can't solve his problems for him, and frankly, demanding the love you want in the form you require it expressed is not going to motivate a depressed person. You have every right to make clear what you like; but you have to understand that he may not be able to deliver when he feels he has no control over the rest of his life.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:37 PM on December 29, 2006 [3 favorites]

TB -- I might have suggestions for getting him a job in the Seattle area. Email me if you want -- address in profile. My battery is about to die so I can't add more than that, but: good luck.
posted by librarina at 10:23 PM on December 29, 2006

I've been there - on both sides.

First, a few months is nothing. I was under-employed for much longer after the dot.com crash, and it was really rough on my relationship. But I temped where I could, and job-hunted (though I freely recognize I probably wasn't as efficient as I could have been), and that showed my now-wife that I was serious about changing this. And so it has.

I think you need to back off, and see what he does. The safety net of living at home is definitely slowing him up - he has no immediate incentive to do better. I had an ex who lived in an apartment subsidized by her mom. I see a lot of similarities - a smart, educated person who won't "lower" themself to do a crappy job as a spring-board to something better. Stupid me, I moved in with her, and we broke up a year later, after 2 years of LDR, and 1 in person before that.

Don't move out there (unless you'd be okay living in that area without him), don't move in. Don't get engaged. Think of this, as others have said, of how he handles challenges. Stop trying to solve the problems unless he asks for help.

If he's refused to do anything to improve his chances of landing a job in the next few months - I don't mean tried and not have it work, but flat our refused... that's sending a clear message.

Only you can decide how long you can play the white knight. I have a lot of sympathy for people battling depression, but the world doesn't stop for anybody. Maybe being alone is the jump he needs to start clawing his way to self-sufficiency.
posted by canine epigram at 1:18 PM on January 2, 2007

I've been there too, a long distance relationship with a seriously depressed boyfriend. I very highly recommend
Depression Fallout: The Impact of Depression on Couples and What You Can Do to Preserve the Bond
by Anne Sheffield. There is also a website and accompanying message board
posted by someone else at 6:42 AM on January 3, 2007

Response by poster: canine epigram and someone else: Thanks for your responses. I'm sorry I didn't check back sooner.

canine epigram: What you said makes a lot of sense to me and you're right -- the situation sounds very similar. Thanks for validating my feelings about his efforts (or lack thereof).

someone else: I'll go check those links out right now. Thanks so much!
posted by Teevee's Bella at 1:21 PM on January 15, 2007

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