Auntie SparkNotes: My Boyfriend Berates Me for Needing Space
Dear Auntie SparkNotes,
I've been involved in an on-again off-again relationship with my trans-boyfriend for about a year (most of the time being off and staying friends). He's been a good friend of mine since middle school and he came out to me when we started dating. He always comes to me with his problems and I try help him out. Normally I can, but once we started dating he seems to see me as a one-stop person for advice and affection.
All he seems to do is talk about how his family won't accept him and how it's affecting him mentally and I try to help him with this but he acts like what I do isn't enough. I had my own problems with coming out to my family as bisexual and now that that blew over I'm currently dealing with a bunch of changes with my family, but when I try to go talk to him about this he acts like it isn't as important as his problems and says that I really don't have anything to complain about.
When this happens I normally distance myself from him and all my other friends for a few days. I know this is a bad thing but I need to work things out by myself, and whenever I come back he always berates me for it. The latest thing he did this for, was when he got mad at me for talking to another friend and ending it with him storming out of the room. I left him alone thinking he needed space and then he yelled at me for doing that saying that I should never leave him alone especially when he's upset. When I try to tell him my side he turns it back around and ends up making me feel terrible about myself. I would talk to my friends about this, but I think that they would side with him because most of them have been friends with him longer and are constantly trying to make him feel better.
I was wondering if you had any suggestions on how to get out of this cycle or even this relationship because it's really draining me. He isn't all bad and I love him, but I really don't know what to do. It's our senior year and I know that we'll probably go our separate ways soon, but I don't know what to do about it right now.
In that case, I'd like you to do a little thought experiment with me. I'd like you to re-read the second-to-last paragraph of your letter, only I'd like you to imagine that these words were written by someone who is not you about someone who is not your boyfriend. Tell me: what word or words might you use to describe a person who behaves in the way described? Who refuses to respect his girlfriend's boundaries, dismisses her feelings, uses her as an emotional punching bag (and then blackmails her with veiled threats of self-harm when she steps out of striking range), and manipulates every argument to make her feel like she's the one at fault?
If you said "abusive," you'd be onto something. (You'd also be onto something if you chose a phrase that rhymes with "total grass mole" — only we're not allowed to print that one on our PG-13 website.)
And while I understand your reluctance to face that fact, or to condemn this guy's behavior in light of his own personal struggles, being trans and troubled doesn't give your boyfriend a pass to treat you any awful way he wants to, and particularly not in a way that's so unequivocally disrespectful, damaging, and manipulative. You don't have to stick around for that, sweet pea. And considering the effect that it's having on your self-confidence, I'm going to go ahead and say that it's well past time you put some distance between yourself and this relationship. It particularly kills me to see you say that you know it's a "bad thing" to take time alone when you're dealing with something difficult — when this is not only not a bad thing, but it's also the only way you can process your unhappiness in the company of someone reasonably supportive. It's bad enough that someone you trust enough to confide in would respond by flat-out refusing to acknowledge your pain — but to then turn around and get angry at you when you don't stick around to be invalidated? That's a whole other level of entitled selfish nastiness, and the fact that you've been made to feel like the bad guy for a basic act of self-care is gaslighting at its finest. You are not required to offer yourself up for abuse.
Which is why you need to take a step back, as soon as humanly possible. You need time and space away from this guy, and he needs to find another source of support. (The fact that he's come to see you as a one-stop human angst receptacle is most damaging to you, obviously, but it's not exactly healthy for him, either.) And while it is entirely possible that you guys might resume a friendship somewhere down the line, for right now, it's important that you enforce a period of no contact for at least a couple months — so that he can find other, better ways to deal with his problems, and so that you can get reacquainted with the idea of yourself as a person with needs and feelings of your own who deserves respect, support, and consideration from the people you choose to let into your life. This relationship has done a serious number on your boundaries; now is the time for you to get them back, without a toxic person breathing down your neck and complaining about every line you draw in the name of self-preservation.
Most importantly, you're going to need to do this because it's right and necessary, and to hold your ground against what is likely to be some major pushback. Even if your friends don't end up taking his side (and for what it's worth, you may find that some of them are just as exhausted by his constant demands as you are), your boyfriend is an emotional vampire — and emotional vampires don't like it when their favorite victim shuts off the figurative blood supply. You can probably expect a serious tantrum, including more veiled threats and emotional extortion, once you've delivered the bad news. But if you're prepared with a readymade response (something along the lines of "I'm sorry you feel that way, but this relationship isn't healthy and I need you to respect my need for space"), you'll be able to get through it without getting sucked back in.
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