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December 4, 2000   CONTINUED e-mail e-mail to a friend in need


Dear Breakup Girl,

I'm a 23-year-old male, in a long-term relationship with a 22-year-old bipolar female (thankfully on medication). We're doing the shared living quarters thing, but barely holding it together. Dealing with mental health issues is, being charitable, rough. Sometimes, it can make you question your own sanity, but then you slowly change your habits to fit those of the person you're with. Over time, your reactions get more and more distorted and you lose your identity. Meanwhile, the person who's really sick begins to depend more and more on you for support. The only defense you have is educating yourself. So, I've done my homework. I'm still in the counselor's office, though, and we're not here to talk about how I could be doing better at home, etc.

Aside from the mental issues (which, one might think, would be enough to send Mother Teresa running for the hills), me-n-mine have problems. I think we're doomed. I've been close to walking out so many times I've lost count. My friends don't want to hear me moan anymore. My best friend has even apologized to me, because he thinks it's his fault we got together. Here comes the laundry list:

Communication. It's as if we used up all the intelligent conversation we're ever going to have in the first year. Now we're coasting on fumes of "how was your day?" When we TALKtalk, I usually get skewered for "blaming our problems on the relationship." Then she lays out a carpet of roses, says it will get better in a month or two, and by this time I'm struggling to get oxygen to my brain and beat a quick escape.

Resentment. When she gets in one of her moods, she won't move off the couch. If she needs something, she waits until I'm in its general area and then asks me to fetch it. This is better than what she used to do -- calling me out of one room to get something from another room and bring it to her -- but it's still annoying and slothful.

Money. We don't have any. When she goes manic, her purse leaks money like a sieve. When she gets really depressed, she shorts herself hours at work. For a good while there, she wasn't working at all. Then she was fired from two jobs in two weeks. Now she's playing catch up, holding two jobs at once. That won't last long, I don't think, before she gets herself canned again.

Sex. Mostly, just to keep the peace. Every once in a while, we have a real good romp.

Health. I'm one of those accursed I-Can-Eat-Whatever-I-Want-And-Not-Gain-A-Pound people. She wishes she was. She signed us both up for a health club that I don't need to go to and she won't go to. More money down the drain.

Commitment. She's talking diamonds and diapers. I'm thinking suitcases and bubble wrap, with a large box in the corner labeled "Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt." Too heavy to lift. Too ugly to leave it there.

Now, taken together, all that sounds like a really damning situation, eh? All my friends are screaming "RUN!" But I stay. Why? Because in my view, she hasn't done anything wrong -- it's all her illness' fault. She has an illness that isn't her fault and it makes her poor relationship material -- but she hasn't shown any of the violent or suicidal tendencies that make her illness dangerous for both sufferers and significant others. So, staying around isn't necessarily KILLINGkilling me, but I'm afraid it's killing me all the same.

I'm stuck. Stuck because I can't really separate her from the illness, but I'm supposed to act as if they're two different things. Stuck because I don't have the means to live on my own, and I don't have the will to stay where I am. Stuck because over the last four years our lives have become so entangled.

Today I woke up and had a thought...I'll pick a day. Some arbitrary day. I'll write it down and set it in stone. That day will decide all. If the day goes to hell, I walk. If not, I stay. I doubt I'll do that, but it shows my mindset, eh? Help, please.

-- Stuck

Dear Stuck,

There are many wonderful -- if challenging -- reasons to stay with people. To stand by them through thick and sucky. To adore them, warts, boils, locusts, suspicious moles, bizarre jaw-cracking noises, ironing of jeans, and all.

Guilt is not one of them.

Many will agree with me on that, and our own Belleruth is one of them. She says:

"I totally understand how stuck you feel, and how little you want to hurt her for something she can't help. True, her illness is not her fault, and it can be such an accursed thing. And very hard to control, even with meds (which can indeed put on the pounds).

But staying with her primarily out of guilt will amount to a truly sucky relationship that will be -- already is?! -- horrid for both of you. You're actually not doing her any favors by staying with her out of obligation. No one wants to be the stone around a person's neck, even when they're desperate. It takes a huge toll on their self-esteem, and can also feel patronizing.

So it's not her fault, and it's not yours either -- the difference being you're not stuck with it. You can't separate her from the illness, and that's just the thing. If you know you're this unhappy and disaffected now -- before you're committed -- what, I wonder gently, do you reckon it will be like inside your head a year from now...or two, or three? You, yourself, have made a pretty solid case for leaving. If you need 'permission' to do so -- responsibly and kindly and non-blamingly, of course -- I hereby give it to you."

See, Stuck? We truly do not mean to be uncompassionate. Rather, we are suggesting that unsticking both of you may be the compassionate thing to do. (And if you make it your business, you will muster the means. Poor people break up.) "Grit your teeth and endure out of righteous resignation" is not what you do under the mistletoe, or under any long-term, permanent circumstances. So -- if, as it sounds, this is what you truly want, complications and sadness and all -- pick the day, Stuck, pick the day. Without the "if." Set it in stone before you guys petrify. (Just maybe not Christmas, though there's always a Christian/pagan festival... .) Be strong.

Breakup Girl & Belleruth

"He hasn't called...does my vote count?"


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