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August 4

He’s the death of the party

Filed under: Advice — posted by Breakup Girl @ 9:13 am

The Predicament of the Week from July 27, 1998

Dear Breakup Girl,

I am a 20-year-old college student slated to live next year in the same campus housing as my current (21-year-old) boyfriend. “Mark” and I have been going out for 11 months, in what is my first serious relationship and his first relationship, period. I love him and know that he loves me dearly, but lately he’s been breaking my heart. Mark told me when I met him that he was a loner with a dark disposition and antisocial tendencies. Among his first words to me were, “I don’t have fun.” I started dating him anyway, and was pleasantly surprised when he turned out to be a funny, gentle, loving individual who shares several of my most important values. Neither one of us wants to have children, because we feel that passing on our genes would be a form of child abuse (sure, they’re great in adults, but kids like us get hell in school). We also take a strong stand against premarital sex, a position that most of our friends and acquaintances do not share, and something that we both worry about in regards to possible future partners. We both love nature, eating cheesecake, and good drama of any sort, and are addicted to computer games. We have younger siblings who we alternately despise and tolerate, and parents who we have tried not to emulate (completely, anyway) while growing up.

Other personality points proved problematic. He is easily depressed, looks for things to go wrong before they actually do, and has a tendency to put me in damned- if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don’t situations, where he won’t let me change my mind to avoid p*ssing him off with a decision I was going to make. But what is really giving me fits now is his absolute refusal to participate in anything social. We recently went to a banquet-type social function that I thought he wanted to attend. Mark spent the hours before the banquet agonizing about whether to go at all, which was partly the fault of a mutual friend who had invited a guest who we all knew would cause problems. Mark didn’t want to be around either of them, but since he’d already paid, and since he did want to be around me, he decided to go. Within the first five minutes, he was sulking in the corner because someone had cut in front of him in line to sign a guestbook that he really didn’t want to sign anyway. It took me ten minutes to persuade him to go inside and say hello to the friends that hadn’t p*ssed him off yet. He had chosen to stake out a seat at an empty table, which had since been filled by guests of the head honchos running the banquet, and when I said I’d be sitting at the table with the rest of our friends, he ran out the door. He came back when we started getting food and asked if he could sit at that table, and I moved some chairs for him to sit by me. Problem solved? Nope. Partway through dinner, something I said made him run out the door again. By then I was fed up and let him go. He came back after a long slide-show presentation and told me he was going home. I was almost too mad, both at him for ruining what was supposed to be an enjoyable evening with friends–for all of us–and at myself for thinking he’d be able to have fun there, to tell him good-night.

At this point, I was seriously considering just dumping him, but I didn’t know how. So I went home, thought about it over the weekend, and started to give him a breakup speech when I got back, but I couldn’t go through with it because I still love him. I’m convinced now that that was supposed to be the end of it, because we recently went to the Renaissance Faire and I did not have a good time. Like the banquet, I had to convince him to buy the ticket and go through the gate; and like the banquet, he ended up going in just because of the investment (in this case, driving) that he’d already made in going, and we decided to aim for leaving at about two. We had a pretty good time at first, especially once he got used to the environment. Then, while we were eating lunch, we came across two friends of ours who had told us they’d be there. We teamed up for an hour or so, and Mark got sulkier and sulkier as I tried frantically to divide my attention between the three of them. Finally it got to be two o’clock, and Mark decided that he really wanted to get the heck out of there. When I took too long talking with the other two, Mark sat down on the ground and pouted embarrassingly until I dismissed the other two and promised to make my final purchases and leave as fast as possible. I’d have dumped him on the spot if he hadn’t been my ride home, but we went back to his house and watched videos, and then I didn’t want to dump him anymore.

I don’t want to spend any more of my life shackled to a sulking liability. The problem is, if I were to break up with him, he would get the indelible impression that women aren’t worth it. I don’t want to be responsible for possibly wrecking his life any more than I want my life wrecked by someone who finds the worst because he looks for it. Every time I want or try to break up, he turns too nice for me to do it. I could deprive him of the chance to be nice, but we’re going to be in the same house next year, and I don’t want him killing mad at me, so I can’t do an angry breakup. There doesn’t seem to be any easy way out of this. Any advice?

— Too Nice for My Own Good

Dear Too Nice,

Wow. Your letter made me realize how little I ever want to see the word “pout” in a letter about grownups. Mark is allowed to not like social functions, but he is not allowed to sulk at them — or, God forbid, run out the door. Even at a Renaissance Faire. Either he goes and puts on a game face, or he stays home.

What this over-the-line behavior tells me is that, yeah, you’re dealing with more than some personality difference along the lines of, say, “I’m more outdoorsy than he is.” In my humble superhero opinion, his behavior is not only antisocial in the colloquial sense; it’s antisocial in the psychological sense. Sociopathic, even? Meaning that I can’t see this as something you work out as a mutual relationship project (as in “so, sometimes we hike, sometimes we play Riven”). He may need more help than you can really give.

Where I’m leading up to is where you already are: the realization that you need to unshackle. I know things are “nice” sometimes (like, when you’re alone and not talking), but if they were nice enough to carry the day, you wouldn’t have written. And of course there’s no easy way out of this; if there were, you wouldn’t have written. If/when you do do the deed, remember that you can’t actually prevent him from being mad at you — which does make next year a bit of a problem. But don’t worry about that now. Worst comes to worst, you move, yes?

Will he decide that “women aren’t worth it?” Oh, I don’t know, he might — but look, he’s gonna think what he’s gonna think: you actually can’t be responsible for how he chooses to globalize his pain. And if you stayed with him to prevent his drawing that conclusion, what, you’d be taking a giant step on behalf of womankind? I think not.

Finally, you may have — and thus need to let go of — the martyrish, oddly satisfying little notion that you’re the only one who understands/can deal with him: what will he do without you? Well, probably pout.

Breakup Girl


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