I'm dating this guy who hasn't been active in years. He tried to kill himself by jumping off a bridge and lost a leg. Now he lives with his parents, consumes massive amounts of drugs, and reads a lot of literature.
Despite all his problems, he's the first boyfriend who I've really liked. We get along really well. He keeps breaking up with me because he says I should date somebody who is better. I'm the first person he's ever dated. I feel this huge responsibility on me because I feel like I am the first person he has ever trusted. But we keep going in this weird cycle of him pseudo–breaking up with me when I act too distant and preoccupied with my work, and then me begging him to be affectionate again and change his pessimism. He says he's always getting his feelings hurt by me. Is it obvious what I should do here?
Beguiled by Destructive Boy
Dear Florence Nightingale,
I know how good it feels to be needed. There's something so gratifying about having someone completely damaged and untrusting toward the rest of the world see something special in you. It can be very flattering, that feeling.
I'm not being patronizing here. I know exactly what you're going through as I have a long history of dating basket cases. These guys bring out everything in me that I despise—my maternal instinct, my oldest-child syndrome, my need to be needed. Blech. But as I've gotten older and presumably (ha!) wiser, I've learned to listen more carefully. When someone tells you that you deserve somebody better, nine times out of 10, he's correct.
It'd be one thing if your boy were actually doing something about his depression. But all he's doing is sitting on his parents' sofa, gobbling drugs (presumably on their dime), and reading books. Poor him. Snore. The fact is, he doesn't deserve a nice girlfriend. Hell, he doesn't even deserve a mean one! And as long as he has parents who feed, drug, and house him and he's got a girlfriend who dotes on him, why should he change a thing? I hate to bust out the recovery jargon, but go look up the term "enabler."
Oh! And he breaks up with you when you spend too much time at work! Those of us who aren't still sucking off the parental teat actually need to go to a job every day. Hell, some of us even enjoy working! But he wouldn't know anything about that, would he? I'm sure he has his good points (though damned if you mentioned any), but the fact is you are dating an emotionally stunted, exceptionally selfish, manipulative, most likely chemically depressed guy. And much like herpes or the flu, depression is contagious.
What are you getting out of this relationship except the ego boost of having some sad sack be completely dependent on you to meet all his emotional needs? Do you guys ever talk about you and any problems you might be having? Does he ever pat your head after a grueling day at the office and tell you everything's going to be OK? Can you rely on him in any capacity? Thought not.
The mentally ill can be very compelling people. You never know what to expect, and oftentimes they're brilliant in ways one doesn't normally see. But they can also suck you dry. Do you really need to work all day and then go visit someone who has spent the day feeling sorry for himself and who begrudges you any time you spend away from him?
A good relationship involves give-and-take. In any successful partnership, there's a certain amount of compromise, i.e., shit eating. But this guy sounds like he's feeding you a steady diet of feces while he dines on Cracker Jack and caviar.
Depression is a terrible disease, and I don't mean to make light of it. But he needs to do something about it for himself. Staying with someone simply because you're afraid he'll off himself if you go is no solution. I can't promise you he'll be OK if you leave him, but I do know that you'll be better off.
Dating a deadbeat? Write Dategirl at firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o Seattle Weekly, 1008 Western Ave., Ste. 300, Seattle, WA 98104.