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Here's the Thing: Dating Someone Who Isn't Doing Well
I've been officially dating a really great guy for about 2 months now, and we had been seeing each other for ~6 months before that. Over the last few weeks, he's been going through a rough patch where he feels, in his words, lost and depressed.
He's been having a hard time finding the motivation to go out and do things, and that has recently started to affect the amount of time that we spend together. I've been trying to support and encourage him as best I can, and have been proactive about inviting him to activities or events that I'm attending and think he'd enjoy. It's gotten to a point, though, where he declines every invitation that I make at the last minute or just suddenly stops responding to my messages.
I know that it's a result of the rough place that he's in, so I'm trying not to take these rejections personally, but it's really starting to hurt. I can't help but feel that I did something wrong and that he just doesn't want to spend time with me, and this is making me want to withdraw and stop asking him to spend time with me. Is there a way that I can continue to support him and show him that I'm there for him without having a negative impact on my self-worth?
This is going to be you, taking some time for yourself, having a nice relax.
I think it’s time for a break. I don’t know—can’t know—if the break lasts forever or for two months and sixteen days or if it develops into a great friendship and then three years from now you guys try romance again. But this is not working right now, and you need time off.
This is not AT ALL to suggest that people who have depression cannot be or are not attentive and loving partners. Or to say that he will get to a “better place” and then stay there forever with no problems that ever affect the two of you and you will both buy a sailboat and have no issues. I’m just saying that this relationship is good for neither of you at this point. I’m sure it feels like it’s good for him and I’m sure that in some way, it feels good for you (Otherwise you wouldn’t still be in it). I’m also sure that it seems unimaginable to walk away from him (Would that be cruel? NO. Will I regret it? From time to time, perhaps. Is it necessary? YES).
Right now, he does not have the capacity to be a good partner to you. No one, of course, is a good partner 24/7. We’re all little shitbags to ourselves and to one another on occasion. Sometimes, we’re Real Nightmares to date. But this, my dear, is untenable. You are two months into a relationship, which is quite an early point for things to get dire (and they, in my humble opinion are very dire since you’re starting to question your own self-worth). This ought to be when a relationship is at its easiest and most fun (if life were fair). The beginning of a relationship ought to be full of cutesy dates like apple picking and trying new sex stuff. Right now, you are doing the work of someone who has been with a person for years, whose partner has has bought you emergency hemorrhoid cream, a partner who was cordial to your terrible step brother, a partner who deals with your shit, too. You guys do not have a chance to establish a mutually healthy, loving dynamic because he needs a disproportional amount support currently. And that is why I think you both need to take a break.
Is this unfair to him? Most certainly. The whole situation SUCKS for him. Sucks balls. What terrible, unfair, awful timing. You two can and should both stamp your feet and get good and mad about that. But, please, please do not forget that it also sucks for YOU. It sounds like you have a tendency towards selflessness, and I want to give you the written permission to say, “THIS IS ASKING TOO MUCH OF ME! I CANNOT HANDLE THIS!” That’s ok to say. That is not cruel. It’s not going to ruin his life, ok? Read that again. You taking a break from dating him will not ruin his life.
YOU are not the one being unfair to him. Life is being unfair to him; all of your glorious love cannot negate this shitty timing. Staying with him out of a sense that your love will help him is misguided. Love and support are, of course, wonderful things to have when facing a mental health issue. But no one person’s specific romantic attentions can be enough to undo depression.
Do you need to stop talking to him during this break? No. Do you need to see other people and “move on with your life”? No. Do you need to not offer support during this break? NO. I’m not suggesting any of that. (Sorry for all the double negatives). I just think right now you’re trying to reconcile your highly reasonable vision of new dating (hot sex/apple picking) with what’s going on in your reality right now, AND HOW CAN THAT NOT BE DEEPLY DISAPPOINTING OVER AND OVER??!? And then you’re probably beating yourself up for feeling disappointed because wow he’s going through such a hard time (which we all get, but this is about you). And then you’re stuck between doing stuff by yourself (sad) or sitting inside doing nothing (also sad). You’re fucked. You have been fucked by this situation, and I’m sorry.
I know, from experience with dating people with depression, that it can feel like “If I leave this person, they will get worse and then it will be all my fault.” PLEASE PLEASE put that idea down. You are not liable for his depression. If one indivdiul person could “fix” someone else’s depression we would all just pair up with one another and fix each other’s depression abrafuckingcadabra. That is not how depression works. You are not in charge of it. You are certainly not responsible for giving up your own feelings of self-worth as penance, in hopes that it might make him better. Dating you will not make him better. Ever. Sorry. You are not magic. You’re a loving kind person and even loving kind people cannot undo mental illness.
I don’t know what the break looks like. I’ve typed up and deleted about six different “scripts” for how to tell him that you cannot keep putting yourself through this because it serves neither of you (as a note: I’m sure that he does not want you to feel like shit for his sake). But ultimately, I don’t know what you need. I can’t write a script asking for what you need because I don’t know enough. I don’t know if you’ve dealt with depression yourself before. I don’t know your guys’ history together. I don’t know what boundaries to bring up and ask for. I can’t tell you if you guys should see other people during the break or not. I have no fucking clue what you need. But you do. What I know is this: you have to do some painful work to carve out space for yourself in order to avoid an even bigger amount of pain, and that probably involves being more separate from him than you are right now. It likely involves spending more time on other hobbies, on other friends (whom you should lean on heavily right now), and on calling any mom-like figures in your life a bunch of times. You need to rebuild your own life right now because right now you’re chipping away at yourself in order to give him fragments with the hope that that will make a relationship.
If you don’t take a break, if you don’t create a boundary of “I cannot take this on right now; it is not working; something must change,” this will implode, and it will be so so so so so much worse than a break could ever be. It will be crying on the bathroom floor for months ugly. If you stay and give all of yourself to him on the off chance that it helps his mental health, you two will grow around his depression like how tree roots grow “around” sidewalks, where both the tree and the sidewalk are warped as hell. The dynamic you two build now will always be central to your relationship, and your guys’ relationship must involve taking care of your needs as well as his.
Sophia Benoit writes this very newsletter, she also writes about sex & relationships for GQ, tries to write about Fleetwood Mac for GQ, avoids writing by tweeting at @1followernodad, works full-time as a researcher for Lights Out With David Spade, and has had bylines in The Guardian, Reductress, Refinery29, Allure, and The Cut. She’s also working on a book and at least five TV pilots at any given moment. (But for real, there will be a book soon). You can reach her or yell at her at firstname.lastname@example.org.