My boyfriend turned out to be... terrible?
" I’m not stupid, I’m not naive, and I pay attention. This is like some sick Jekyll and Hyde shit."
OUR FAVORITE, OUR BEST FRIEND, WE LOVE HER:
I dated my boyfriend for 3 and a half years. It was extremely serious - he was my best friend, we talked about marriage, we were close with each other’s families, etc. The last 7 months, though, we were long distance due to my work situation. We knew it would be hard, but we were on the same page about sticking it out until I could come back.
After I left though, I noticed that he started to make all of these new friends, including lots of women, and I immediately started to feel nervous. I never doubted that he loved me, but as he started making all these new friends, I started to feel him pull away a little bit. He started saying how stressed he was, and how he needed a new outlet, and he started partying a lot harder than he did when I lived there (He’s 33, by the way).
I made sure we had multiple SOTU conversations where I aired my anxieties and asked him if we were still on the same page re: monogamy and love and where we were headed, and he would affirm that he loved me, we were still monogamous, that he didn’t want to date anyone else, but that he maybe just needed space from me for a while. When I would call him freaking out over something I saw, he would tell me I was “crazy” and “insecure” and that there was nothing going on. I had no concrete proof other than my intuition and his followers list, so I decided to trust the man I had spent THREE YEARS OF MY LIFE WITH.
Come to find out - on Thanksgiving! - that he had been seeing another woman since the WEEK that I left. She was one of his “new friends” - and so I immediately contacted this girl when I found out. I ended things with him (brokenheartedly!) and blocked his number. He showed up at my door 900 miles away to beg for a second chance, saying that he didn’t love her and that it meant nothing and that I’m the love of his life, and that he was ending it with this other girl, which was never supposed to be anything more than “fun” (LOL). He then went back home and apparently changed his mind and never told me because I saw on her page that he spent Christmas with this girl’s FAMILY. So I sent her another message.
Basically, he cheated on me, showed up at my door begging for a second chance, then went back and changed his mind. And she’s evidently forgiven him after both of my messages, even though the ENTIRE time he was with her, he was also in a relationship with ME. I don’t understand how she could possibly forgive him for this and I don’t understand how he could have done this to me and I don’t understand why he showed up to tell me I’m the love of his life and that he doesn’t love her only to change his mind again days later and not even have the courtesy to call me and tell me.
This is not the man I fell in love with, Sophia. I can’t believe the man I loved and planned a future with could do something like this. I’m not stupid, I’m not naive, and I pay attention. This is like some sick Jekyll and Hyde shit and I feel so, so stupid for not trusting myself and believing him every time he told me that he loved me. I’m in shock, I’m heartbroken, and most of all I want some fucking answers. What do I do? How do I move on from this? What is the truth? Did he love me? Does he love her? Why did she forgive him?! I feel like I’ll never recover. Please help.
HI HI HI! What the fuck on earth! What the absolute fuck on earth was this man thinking!!!!! We’re all wondering!! Let’s get into it! I’m JAZZED to rip into this man (and also address the issues at hand).
OK FIRST THINGS FIRST: you asked the question, “Did he love me?” to which I must insist you remember that he did. Not well, not faithfully, and maybe not for the entire time that you were together. But he loved you. Your (correctly placed) anger towards him cannot erase that. His incredibly cruel actions at the end cannot erase that. He loved you. At the very least for three of the three and a half years! He might still have a dollop of love in his broken, piece of shit heart for you. I don’t know!
🚨SO! THE QUESTION IS WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED!?!!?!??!?!???? 🚨
The Good News: I have an answer.
The Bad News: Knowing the answer doesn’t = accepting the answer, coming to grips with it and feeling better. (Also I could be wrong, but I’m not).
What happened is that your boyfriend freaked out about dying. I know that sounds…bizarre. But I’d bet dollars to donuts that’s what’s going on. When you’re 33 and looking at your life and you’ve got everything under control—even though that is many people’s dream!!!!—sometimes that feels like being trapped or suffocated. Sometimes it feels like you didn’t get enough youth or excitement in and 33 isn’t that old and maybe you can sneak in a few more years before you have to face the music.
For people like your boyfriend, stability = getting older and getting older = one day dying. And there’s a whole lot of messaging out there that’s adjacent to the Helen Keller missive that “life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” As westerners (I’m assuming you guys are American because I didn’t see you type the words “cheers” or “favour” but I could be totally wrong!) we’re taught that living life to its fullest means constant thrills, excitement and entertainment with a dash of working yourself to death for a corporation that undervalues your labor. We’re also taught that the ways to get excitement, to feel alive, to celebrate youth are things like drugs, alcohol, sucking, and fucking. We’re told that the fun stops at the wedding. That you’re never going to have a good time again after kids come.
That messaging is wildly at odds with the more “traditional” wisdom that prevailed for a few decades that children are the best things to ever happen to people and also at odds with the reality that when most older people look back on their lives, they don’t tend to be like, “Most of all, I loved fucking a stranger in that hotel in Jersey that one time.”
The point is: your boyfriend is a lost little ding dong who doesn’t know what the hell he wants, what will make him happy, or even how to go about getting what he thinks he might want in the meantime. Instead of sitting in the winter of his discontent and actually figuring out what he felt he was losing out on (probably excitement, youth, adoration, attention), he took what looked like the easy route: FUCKING A NEW PERSON.
You know why? BECAUSE FUCKING A NEW PERSON IS VERY FUN AND BUILDS THE EGO FASTER THAN ALMOST ANYTHING ELSE. I know we all don’t want this to be true, but it’s true. In an ideal world your spouse/partner of 19 years going over their day at work gets you as riled up as Oscar Issac shirtless by a pool begging to **** your ****. But that’s just not the case. New people, the attention of new people, and most especially the sexual attention of new people is wildly validating and fun. (Of course, the high ends very quickly and ultimately the interactions don’t offer much substance, but this isn’t about the reality of a new person, it’s about the temptation).
So, your boyfriend was in pain and decided to stop feeling bad as fast as he could instead of as well as he could which meant replacing your female attention with new female attention.
Your boyfriend is a ding dong because he had so much good stuff and threw it away for fun stuff. He had a life which required hard work (examining what made him feel bad!) and he didn’t want to do it. That is and only ever will be his loss. That cannot be your loss. You were part of the good part of his life. Maybe even the largest part. I mean who on earth is lucky enough to have a partner who moves away for work, notices you aren’t doing well, and tries to address it multiple times very maturely? We should all be so lucky!
And I’m sure—100% sure—he realized pretty quickly after you guys broke up just how much he was throwing away HENCE THE BEGGING FOR YOU BACK. Now, I think you are a goddess on this earth for turning him down. Good on you!!!! But since you said no, he’s kind of… stuck with his choice (for the next few months at least).
The reality is, while your options look stellar from here out (faithful, new job, good partner, thriving!!!) he has no good options. He will always have to live with being cruel to you, with throwing away a really great relationship. He can’t undo that and until he addresses what went wrong inside of him— which he doesn’t seem to want to do—he will keep bearing out this pattern over and over. He will keep going to peoples’ families for the holidays, not realizing that what freaked him out about dating someone seriously hasn’t been resolved.
You were never the issue. EVER. Never. You were not the problem. I know that’s pretty impossible to believe because he cheated on you. But his issue is with him. It’s with his fears, insecurities, and lack of awareness. Fortunately or unfortunately, that also means that there was really nothing you could do to change the outcome of this. You couldn’t have made him realize what was wrong, you couldn’t have made him talk to someone about it, you couldn’t have made him work on the relationship. He isn’t ready for hard work. He’s freaked out. He’s scared. He’s blowing up his life because of it.
As to the new woman in his life, there’s frankly nothing there. I mean, you can (and may very well!) obsess over her all you want, but who she is, what her job is, what she looks like, etc have almost bearing on why she and your boyfriend are together right now. He didn’t leave you because someone had different tits than you. She was giving him easy, no-requirements attention that felt good when he was looking for that. At the time (and maybe this has changed) her standards for what he provided her were low enough that he could meet them, and meet them without effort. I feel very sad for her. I encourage you to feel as little as possible for her because honestly she has as almost little to do with your boyfriend leaving as Colonel Sanders does. She was in the right place at the right time (really, the wrong place at the wrong time when you consider the prize is your shitty ex).
No matter what, he can’t have a good relationship again (at least until he does the work). You can. Please do not take away from this that you are unloveable or that you’re bad at picking people— you aren’t, you picked someone who was great to you for three years. Please also don’t think that your “instincts” are bad—you knew he was getting distant!! You knew! What he did was random and internal, and not a reflection of you or your love.
His problems never had anything to do with you, but it’s a whole lot easier for him if his problem is “My girlfriend and I aren’t a good fit,” and not “I’m filled with existential dread and the longing of youth which I can never fully get back and no matter how much attention I get, it’s not enough.”
Give yourself time. Wallow. Be sad. Be angry. Grieve the future you thought you two were going to have. Grieve the past that you did have. Whine about it to whomever you want at appropriate intervals.
Don’t rush into dating someone else, please please please. Find out who you are without him. Find out what you do, what you like, how you live your life. Wait until life without him isn’t just “not painful” but is instead “really fucking great.” Then, if you should wish to, invite someone else to join that really fucking great life.
Remind yourself that your reward is that you don’t have to live his life. You did the right thing, you stayed, you tried, you were faithful; that’s it’s own reward. You don’t ever have to be the person who hurt their partner like that. You get to live life knowing you treat people well.
Also please block the both of them on every social media site you can think of. Give your best friend his phone number (just in case) and then block his number, too.
GOOD LUCK!!! YOU’VE GOT THIS AND YOUR LIFE IS GOING TO BE SO GOOD!!!!
❤️❤️❤️NOTE: because so many sweetie pies have been asking questions, it can take up to a month or two to answer them. I’M SORRY. I try to answer “urgent” / timely letters ASAP and more general questions later.
IF I HAVEN’T GOTTEN TO YOUR LETTER, PLEASE FEEL FREE TO RESEND!!! I DON’T MIND AT ALL!!!❤️❤️❤️
Sophia Benoit writes this very newsletter; she also writes about sex & relationships for GQ, tweets about everything else at @1followernodad, is a researcher for Lights Out With David Spade, and has had bylines in The Guardian, Reductress, Refinery29, Allure, and The Cut. You can reach her or yell at her at email@example.com.