After ending things with my college boyfriend, a relationship that lasted just short of 5 years, I felt like I had worked myself up to a solid point. I was confident again after years of being told I wasn’t blonde enough, thin enough, or smart enough. I had gotten to a secure place with my spirituality where I was learning more about myself and my beliefs every day. And most importantly, I had learned a lot from the mistakes of my past relationship. I felt ready to love and this time, be loved in return.
Once I had made the conscious decision to take dating seriously again, it wasn’t long before I matched on Bumble with the person who would become my next boyfriend. In the beginning I was giddy with excitement and hope of where this relationship could lead. He was smart, kind, gentle-hearted, and we shared similar values. It was clear that this wasn’t going to be another person would put me down or belittle my feelings. He was giving and I had high hopes that this would be a reciprocal relationship.
The only caveat was that like my ex, this new guy came with some demons of his own. He was pretty open from the beginning that he battled anxiety. Coming from a family full of mental health issues, that’s not a deal breaker for me. Instead, I actually found it reassuring that he could identify his issues and was working on them with weekly therapy appointments and medication. Steps that I had practically begged my ex to take instead of taking out his suspected mental health issues on me. “They’re so different!” I thought to myself.
However, over the next couple of months I began to learn more and more about my new boyfriend’s demons. While he had led me to believe he had a good handle on his anxiety, he actually seemed to be too often debilitated by it to the point where dinner dates or Costco trips would unexpectedly become stressful and disheartening. Or, when we seemed to be having a great time he would suddenly become sad and withdrawn over the idea that I might move in a year (something I had been very upfront about wanting to do). I also began to notice that his communication skills weren’t quite to the level that he had led me to believe (another thing I was very upfront about needing in a relationship) and that more mental health issues began to creep up – anxiety and depression and ADHD.
As my partner began reacting in ways that made him seem fragile, insecure, and at times also childish…I began feeling the need to protect him from my own thoughts, fears, and insecurities. Especially because the more patient I was, and the more I went into my default setting of Caretaker, the more I would hear from him, “No one’s ever done this for me before” or “I’m afraid of my anxiety pushing you away“. I began feeling a little less like a girlfriend each day and a lot more like a mother. My energy was dwindling and I wasn’t getting much in return. When I would communicate that I was feeling a little exhausted from it all, his response was to disappear and give me space as opposed to making an effort to give back some of the energy he had been taking.
And yet, because this person was indeed kind, showed he cared deeply about me, and was an all around good person…I felt the need to keep giving him and the relationship more time. That is, however, until a neutral person shed light on the reality of the situation for me. “It’s a different wrapper, but the same problem” she said, in regards to my current relationship versus my previous on. “Oh. My. God.” I thought. “She’s completely right“.
Once my eyes were open to the fact that this relationship didn’t have long-term potential what with my desire to move and such, and it lost the connection and lightheartedness that had made it fun and enjoyable…I really didn’t waste much more time. I had decided to give it one more day. We had plans for a double date that would be at a beer festival. It would be a fun event, a fun day, and great opportunity to see if there was still something salvageable. Yet, after a couple of days of radio silence from him I woke up in the morning to a half-hearted interest in attending. He was transparent in that he was feeling depressed this week, to which, I gave him an out. After having him attend a couple of events when he had been in a depressive mood, I knew it was better to go alone than to ask him to fake it for me. That being said, I also knew it was over. I was young, our relationship much younger, and I had made a promise to myself not to waste time anymore in relationships that made me unhappy and left me feeling drained.
So later that evening, I ended things. As I sat on the phone with him (I had tried to schedule a time for us to talk in person, but alas, he wasn’t having it) I felt obligated to let him say whatever he needed to get out. And he had no problems taking advantage of it. For what felt like hours, he informed me of all the ways I had supposedly mistreated him. He blamed me for causing his depression. Told me that lately he hadn’t even wanted to be around me or take me out. Someone I thought was so unlike my ex was employing the same tactic in a last ditch effort to feel better, which was to put me down. What was most shocking about his monologue wasn’t that he was saying feelings and thoughts that he had failed to communicate during our relationship, it wasn’t that he was guilting me for not “trying harder” in a relationship that wasn’t even 6-months old…no, what was most shocking was that as he was putting me down he was also trying to get me to stay. With that, I knew I had made the right decision.
Since then, I’ve only felt more and more happy and confident about ending things. He was a good person with a good heart. And I’m sure as he grows he’ll learn more about himself, his mental health, and his communication skills that will make him a lovely partner for someone else. But I know that will be his journey to take and not mine to hold his hand through. For now, the only person I should be pushing is myself.
One perspective could be that I found myself in a similar situation to my ex. That perhaps I hadn’t learned as much as I thought I had. But my perspective? My perspective is that this time, I got out in 5 months…not 5 years.