Sunday 11 December 2016

I feel trapped but boyfriend's loneliness stops me breaking up

Patricia Redlich

Published 26/09/2010 | 05:00

Q: I've been in a relationship with a guy for five years now, and have wanted to end it for perhaps the last 12 months. But I feel trapped.

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I think my boyfriend is depressed. He sends me texts when he is drunk that make me worry about him, just stuff like he has no friends, no confidence, and never has a good night out without me. If we do head out for the night he just talks to me.

Even after five years, I barely know his friends. Professionally he's stuck too, lacking self-confidence and dodging projects whenever he can. And again, I'm the only one he talks to about all this.

I love him and he's my best friend. I want to be there for him, but not as a girlfriend. It's not that I want another boyfriend. I just want some time by myself. I don't want to constantly feel bad if I head out with the girls, or go home for the weekend.

I don't want a relationship any more and this is quite independent of my boyfriend's problems.

My fear of his loneliness and lack of confidence makes me reluctant to break his heart. And it will break his heart, because he tells me so. He also tells me to break it off if I'm unhappy, but he thinks it's all to do with me wanting another boyfriend.

I want to travel, to do girly things, to live by myself and feel free. As things stand, I feel I can't do any of these things. To avoid rows and hurt feelings, I turn down opportunities to do simple things such as seeing my friends.

I feel terrible that this is the way I see things, and I know I should tell my boyfriend. But I worry about what will happen to him.

I feel my life is passing me by. I also get dejected and upset quite frequently. I feel trapped.

A: Of course you want another boyfriend. Sure, you haven't got one lined up right now. And no, another man, per se, is not the reason you want out of your relationship. But let's be clear. You want a life. Part of that life is love, marriage and children. So yes, you want someone else, sometime.

The reason I'm harping on this is to demolish guilt. At the moment you feel guilty -- which is why you're hanging in there. Your boyfriend knows this. He may be depressed but he's not an idiot. He sees the truth. It's guilt that binds you to him. He also knows that you want a life. You want out. He's just not strong enough to send you on your way, even though he knows there's no self-respect possible in the status quo. Just as you're not strong enough to admit the truth to him, well not openly anyway. So instead he's inviting you to leave, but in such a way that makes it difficult for you. And you're pretending you just want to do girly things.

That's what we do in relationships. We try to get off the hook, while at the same time refusing to let the other person off the hook. Courage is just so hard, so we dodge instead. The sad part is that in the process we are destructive, rather than kind. Your boyfriend is clearly depressed and dependent. Those two go intimately hand in hand. In mopping up his distress, you reinforce his dependency. Certainly you mean well. But you are doing him no favours. Because it's not him you are actually indulging. It is yourself. You don't want to feel guilty. So you stay with him.

What's so wrong with walking out on him? Has your presence brought any discernable change in his situation? Is it not at least possible that the crutch you provide has hindered him doing something about his distress? Could it even be that he remains so dependent because he feels, not without reason, that this is the best way to keep you hanging in there? He says that you leaving would break his heart. But maybe his heart needs breaking. We have to leave our comfort zone in order to heal. Sometimes the crutch has to go before we can change.

It is, of course, manipulation on your boyfriend's part to say his heart will be broken if you go. But just so you know, manipulation is not a dirty word. It's what we all do, all the time, with everybody. We wend and weave. It's called social intercourse, communicating, making life work. It's his way of trying to get what he wants -- maybe not what's best for him, but what he wants. It's your responsibility to make sure his words don't deflect you from the truth, don't trap you, to use your own phrase. That means facing your own weakness, which is the strong desire to be seen as good, and your faulty belief system that you are responsible for your boyfriend's happiness. Said differently, it's your failure to face the fact that you are part of the problem. The crutch is always co-responsible.

Look, you are both trapped. And in terms of solving the problem you're ahead, if nothing else because you bothered to ask for advice. Stop pussy-footing around. Stop trying to remain in your comfort zone by trying to insist that you stay close as a friend. Say goodbye. If he asks for advice, from a safe emotional distance, give it. Be a real friend. Go live your life.

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