Dear Auntie Sparknotes,
I don't know how to start this letter, so I might as well just get to the point: My boyfriend is failing college and I am extremely worried. We've been together for a year and a half and are very invested in each other, (in other words, we are 95% percent sure that we're going to get married some day.) So I want to help him in any way that I can, but he won't let me.
The other day we were talking about Christmas and out of nowhere he started saying how he doesn't deserve presents because he's a piece of s**t and that his parents are wasting their money on him with college and everything. He kept saying that there is no way to get his GPA up and that he just can't do it. I tried to convince him to talk to his academic advisor, but he just wouldn't stop being negative and said that it wouldn't help anything. He's had hard times like this before where he will just break down sobbing and repeating phrases about his perceived worthlessness, and I just can't stand to see him like that.
I love this man very much and I want to see him succeed, but I don't know how to help because he's so damn stubborn. I know that the best thing for him is to finish college and get a good job so we can start our lives together, so how do I help him achieve that? Also, is it possible that he has clinical depression or some other personality disorder?
I know your heart's in the right place, Sparkler, and I also know how much it sucks to watch from the sidelines while someone you love slowly self-destructs. Which is why it pains me to tell you that when it comes to helping him achieve the proactive outlook and energy to break out of his unhappy rut... you don't.
And the reasons just don't matter. Whether he's clinically depressed or just plain old pessimistic, this is your boyfriend's problem to solve. You cannot keep him from failing college. You cannot make him take action. You cannot help a person who refuses to help himself.
You can, however, avoid pinning every last one of your hopes on a guy who would rather wallow in misery than do something about it.
Because while there's nothing wrong with being in love, there's something very wrong, and very dangerous, in letting your relationship be the sole defining point of your future. You're throwing all your energy behind this guy, trying to propel him toward the starting line of your lives together. But what about your life, the one you live separately from him? What about your goals, dreams, and passions? Do you have a vision for your future that goes beyond being with him?
Because if you don't, there's a warning line that applies here about the dangers of putting all your eggs in one basket... particularly when that basket is being carried by a person who can barely take care of his own eggs.
Of course, there are things you can do to support your boyfriend. When he starts to bemoan his GPA, you can ask him what he plans to do about it. If he begins beating himself up, you can tell him you won't be a party to any more pessimism and that he needs to see a counselor. When he says it's no use, you can point out that bitching and crying aren't exactly serving him, either. You can stop playing pick-me-up when he puts himself down. And if he fails out of school, you can accept that this failure was his to experience and not yours to prevent. Maybe it's what he needs. But what's more important is that you take the energy you've been using to make sympathetic noises in the face of his negativity, and channel it into your own life, education, and ideas for the future.
Do this no matter what he does, and regardless of the status of your relationship. Do it every day, for the rest of your days. Because much more worrisome than your boyfriend's flailing and failing at the expense of starting your lives together is the fact that you seem to think your life hasn't started yet. It has, and it needs your attention.
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