Dear Dana is a bi-weekly advice column for humans who engage in romantic relationships. Please send your dilemmas, issues, conundrums, assumptions, conflicts, anxieties, worriments, obstacles, complications, predicaments, queries, questions, and any other synonyms for “problems” to firstname.lastname@example.org.
My boyfriend and I will be having our one year anniversary next month. For the past months, basically most of our relationship, I have been debating if I should break up with him. Lately, my feelings for him have become numb and subsiding. The small things, I used to think were cute and made him who he is, just irritate and disgust me now.
He is also very controlling. I haven’t been home in weeks. I have not gone to school or work in months. I stay at his place but every time I want to go home, he argues that I’m going to do something dishonest so I can’t leave. I’ve been dreading breaking up with him for months, but I love him. And he is a great guy and my best friend, I don’t want to lose him. But what if I love him but I’m just not in love with him?
Ever since I started dating him, I have became a drinker and drug user. Usually whenever I get a good amount of money, I try to budget it for myself but he pressures me into buying more drugs. I guess I can’t really blame him for how I spend my money since it’s my decision? Even then, I have started doing more drugs because I just wanted to have a good time with him, no drama.
I have been dealing with major depression since I was diagnosed at 14. I also have daily suicidal thoughts. Since I have not been home, I have not taken my antidepressants like I’m prescribed. My boyfriend says he’s been through what I’ve been through so he treats my depression as if it’s nothing. He believes my loss of motivation in anything is just laziness. He gets mad and shouts when I struggle to communicate my feelings to him. I end up just crying and apologizing, feeling so guilty for no reason. I just take all the shouting and criticism. He never believes my tears are true because once I calm down, I get angry. He calls them “crocodile tears,” which probably makes him feel better since I cry practically every day.
I know this is all makes him sound like a bad guy. I, too, have flaws. I don’t want to make myself seem selfish, but I feel like I could be happy again. I just don’t know what to do. Please shed some light on what you think I should do.
In Need of Light
Dear In Need of Light,
I’m not going to keep you in any kind of suspense and I’m going to jump right into the call for action: Break up with him. Break up with him, break up with him, break up with him, break up with him, break up with him. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE:
Even if you’re still in love with him, it doesn’t matter, you need to break up with him. It’s entirely possible to love someone who isn’t good for you. It’s entirely possible to love someone who’s actually very bad for you. Depending on your age, it’s even probable. We fall in love with people because they show us something new about ourselves while also reminding us of something old and familiar. You don’t have to discount your love for him in order to walk away from him, just as you don’t have to give up drinking all milk forever once you find a single carton has gone bad. This guy has curdled, so put him down and walk away.
You are getting irritated with this man because of course you are. It is very irritating to be emotionally abused on a daily basis. It is incredibly agitating to have your partner not trust you and to basically hold you captive as some sick sort of proof of your loyalty to him.
It’s clear that you still have love for him, which is what allows you to refer to him as a “great guy” and your “best friend” even as you tell me that he doesn’t let you go to work, doesn’t let you go to school, berates you every day, gets angry at you when you cry, and pressures you into doing drugs. This guy is not a great guy. This guy is not your best friend. This guy just wants you to think those things so you’ll stay with him and allow him to continue to use you as his emotional punching bag, but those things are not true.
A great guy doesn’t yell at you. A great guy doesn’t dismiss your tears. A great guy doesn’t encourage you to buy drugs and then berate you for not having money. A great guy doesn’t introduce you to drugs that you weren’t doing before he met you. A great guy doesn’t want you to drop out of school. A great guy doesn’t want you to quit you job. A great guy doesn’t want you to suddenly go off your meds. A great guy doesn’t keep you from your family.
Of course you have flaws, too, we all do, but the presence of a flaw in your character doesn’t mean that you deserve to be bullied and belittled by your boyfriend. Everyone has things that they do wrong and everyone is deserving of a healthy, stable, respectful relationship. My guess is that when you mention any of your boyfriend’s on-going horrible and abusive behaviors, he counters with some bullshit like, “Well you hurt my feelings one time too and now we’re going to talk about that and how much you suck for the next 45 minutes as a way to deflect from the fact that I am, like, the complete worst.”
I’m so sorry that you’re depressed and I’m so sorry that you’re having suicidal thoughts. You are by no means alone – please know that. Your situation is particularly difficult right now because it’s as though your partner is your depression personified. Depression tells you that you’re worthless – so does this guy. Depression tells you to not to do anything, what’s the point in trying – so does this guy. Depression tells you that everything wrong is your fault – so does this guy. But both of them, your boyfriend and depression, are giant fucking liars. And in order to fight back and reclaim a corner of yourself, you’re going to have to take action against them both.
This man is not your man, just as this depression is not your life. They’re working together, in conjunction, to keep you stuck, still, isolated and scared. I’m so glad that you wrote me this letter. I’m so glad that you reached out because you deserve so much more than what this man is giving you. Wanting to be happy again isn’t, in any way, selfish. Wanting to survive isn’t selfish. This man is the mouth piece for your depression and they say, together, that you don’t deserve happiness, or relaxation, or warmth, or kindness, or caring. They are so, so, so wrong.
First of all, you have to take care of yourself. If you’re having a difficult moment and thinking about killing yourself, I want you to call this number: 800-273-8255. It’s the National Suicide Prevention Hot Line and it’ll connect you immediately with someone who can help. Your life is worth so much more than this one relationship with this one man.
There are lots of ways to decently break up with someone involving long discussions and heart-to-heart moments and tears and a feeling of mutual sadness but respect, but I don’t want you to employ any of them. You’re not going to get anything but more and more bullshit from this man, so I encourage you to just pack up your stuff and leave when he’s not around. Don’t tell him you’re going. Don’t give him a heads up or a warning because any forewarning you give him will be used by him against you to try to guilt you into staying. He’ll use the techniques he’s been using against you, telling you how awful you are and how lucky you are to have him, only he’ll increase their velocity and their vengeance.
I believe in you. I want you to be safe and happy. And that’s why you need to call your family, pack up your stuff, and leave immediately without telling him first. Let him know you’re done via a hand-written note that you leave behind, which is ideal because I also want you to block his number on your phone and block him from contacting you via all social media. Did you know that you can even update your email to automatically delete emails from him? You can! Definitely block him from communicating with you in any way.
Once you’re back home, and back on your meds, I want you to start doing another kind of dating – searching for a kick ass therapist. If you aren’t able to afford therapy through your insurance, or if you don’t have insurance, there are a few online tools that are pretty helpful. Talk Space allows you to access therapy 24/7 for a monthly fee.
It’s OK to be selfish when ending a relationship. In fact, it’s necessary. Choosing yourself is the only way anyone gets out of a bad situation. You are not obligated to take this man’s abuse. You are not obligated to stay with him so he can inject you with his misery. Know this: You were not put on this earth to sit in this man’s house, buy him drugs, and be upset. That is not your purpose and it is not why you are here. You are here to do more, but to do more you first have to go. So go. Break up with him. Run, run fast. And take care of the person who matters the absolute most: you.
Dana Norris once went on 71 internet dates, many of which you may read about here. She is the founder of Story Club and editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine. She has been featured in McSweeney’s, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Tampa Review and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. You may find her on Twitter at @dananorris.