There's this guy. I've known him for ages, and we dated for a short while in middle school, but it didn't work out because neither of us was mature enough to maintain a real relationship. However, he's always consistently been a really important part of my life.
We've been there for each other through various relationships (and the ensuing breakups) with other people, and I care for him deeply. The caring is mutual, and recently we started seeing each other and talking in a way that could potentially lead to something serious (of a romantic nature). He's funny, smart, sweet, and interesting, and he always encourages me to be the best version of myself. With him, I get involved in activities that would normally be way out of my comfort zone, and I always end up being happy that I did. In addition to all of that, he's insanely attractive, and (obviously) I'm very attracted to him.
There are two problems with this situation, though, hence my letter. This guy has some serious trust issues. If I send or respond to a text from my parents while I'm around him, he accuses me of texting other guys. He often looks through my phone to make sure I'm not lying to him, and he sometimes accuses me of not caring about him. It's easy - too easy - to set him off. He also talks often about past girlfriends and girls he's dated (yet if I bring up my own, he gets upset and moody and gives me the cold shoulder), and he’ll compare me to one particular ex, telling me that he'll never love me or care for me as much as he loved and cared for her. He tells me I'll never be able to understand what he's going through (though I've recently been through a similarly painful breakup) and accuses me of using him. It's incredibly painful and hurtful, and I often feel like I'm walking on eggshells around him.
That said, he makes me so incredibly happy, and when things are good, it feels like I'm on top of the world (he's a total gentleman, and is proof of the fact that chivalry is most certainly not dead). So, Auntie, should I put up with the moodiness and anger and stay with him? Or should I respectfully and politely back out and remain friends with him?
Um. May I suggest a third option, darling? Perhaps one in which you back away to a safe distance and then run like hell?
Because this guy—this controlling, insecure, manipulative, jealous, abusive guy—is no gentleman. Seriously, all the gentlemen in the audience just read that, spit out their coffee, and went, “What? NO! This guy isn’t one of us, he’s an ASSHAT!”
And while I have no doubt that the good times are really, really good with him, you’ve got to realize something:
THAT'S THE WAY ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIPS WORK.
If abusive people were an unmitigated nightmare all the time, nobody would ever stay with them—or find them difficult to leave. But they’re not, and it’s those good times, those shiny, happy, basking-in-the-light-of-his-affection times, that you stick around for. Because you know he’s capable of being such a good guy! And he'd be like that all the time, if only you could remember to avoid setting him off by mentioning your exes. Or getting a text message. Or looking at him the wrong way. Or, or, or.
Meanwhile, Sparkler, this guy is doing his utmost to undercut your confidence (see: comparing you unfavorably to exes), control and isolate you (see: snooping through your phone, accusing you of disloyalty), and, above all, to make you feel like his angry and jealous behavior is actually all your fault (see: walking on eggshells to avoid setting him off and prove your love—because getting him to act like a decent human being is totally your responsibility, right?)
And in fact, even the things you consider positives, like the way he pushes you outside your comfort zone, are another angle on the same harmful dynamic. It may not be so terrible on your end to get out and try new things, but for him, encouraging you to be "better" (and, by extension, implying that who you are now isn’t good enough) scratches that same old itch to control your behavior. Loving, equal, respectful relationships don't include one person constantly challenging and pushing the other, and for good reason.
And the only bright spot in this situation—and fortunately, for both your well-being and my own sanity, there is one—is that you seem to have caught a whiff of just how much this whole thing stinks.
Right? Because if you hadn’t, you wouldn’t be writing to me.
And lest you think that you can stick around to fix things, please know this: it’s possible that this guy will one day grow out of his insecurity and awful behavior, but it’ll never happen as long as his anger, tantrums, and pettiness are rewarded with your companionship and affection. All you'll do by staying is feed the beast.
So please—seriously, I’m begging you, I am actually on my knees as I type this—extricate yourself from this nightmare in the making, and do it before you fall into the trap of tying yourself in knots in order to keep him happy. (Hint: Nothing you do will ever be good enough.) The jealousy, the undermining, the moodiness—these things are dealbreakers, no matter how charming he is on the flipside.
Also, will you write back and let us know how you’re doing? I worry.
Got something supportive to say? Share it in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Related post: Auntie SparkNotes: The Ballad of the Control Freak