Hello, all you glowing Internet Sex Beasts. Welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the dating column that knows it’s dangerous to go alone.

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This week, it’s time to talk about relationships that are in trouble. Sometimes the hardest part about dating someone is knowing when it’s over and how to extricate yourself cleanly. Let’s get down to it, boppers…

Hey Doc,

I’ve been reading your articles for a while now, and wanted to say that you’re doing a fantastic job. As for my question, it’s in two parts. The first I feel like I’ve mostly figured out myself, the second I have no idea about. Let’s get to it.

The first part is about a current relationship. I’ve been dating a girl for around seven years now. We were high-school sweethearts, and we’ve been together since we were sixteen years old. As time has gone by we’ve both changed. I know that this is natural, and that part of the “joy” of dating somebody for so long is growing to love the new person that they’ve become. This isn’t happening for me. The little things that I used to love about her have vanished to be replaced by trends that irk me, and while she’s always been high maintenance, in the past two years I don’t know that she’s done anything for herself; cooking, cleaning, getting her meds, etc. I have often felt more like a butler than a boyfriend, and the strain it’s putting on me is driving me insane.

To make matters worse, I’ve met a girl at work. Every time I think about her I get butterflies in my stomach and chills down my spine. I feel more in love with this girl that I really have no right feeling this way for than I have for my girlfriend ever. She, as well, seems to have some attraction to me. And to be fair, I know that what I’m feeling is likely because of the current relationship woes that I’m feeling, grass is always greener and such, but I’ve met other girls, become friends, felt attraction from their end, and never have I felt anything like this. I want so much to pursue this relationship, and I’m not going to cheat on my current girlfriend. This is the part of the question that I’ve mostly figured out, surely the solution is to break up with my girlfriend for the multitude of reasons that I feel, but there’s a problem. I am, with at least 95% certainty, sure that my girlfriend would kill herself if I left her, let alone for somebody else.

My girlfriend has often remarked that she wouldn’t be alive without me, and that statement is a truth. She suffers from severe depression, and while her medication helps, sometimes the despair she feels grows too deep. Twice now, I have stopped my girlfriend from committing suicide. Once was when she started college, and she felt that she was letting down the people that she cared about my nearly failing out of the college she went to. I talked her down, we sought out counseling and medication, and for a time she was all right. The second time was again, she felt that she would never live up to the aspirations of her family and friends, and that she wasn’t good enough for anyone, especially me. I went to her apartment because I felt that something was wrong and discovered her writing her good-bye note. We got her to a mental hospital, and after a brief stay and some adjustment to medication again she was okay.

First, I would love some advice on my current predicament, something, anything that I can do. My second problem is one of ethics, and this one worries me more. It’s at the point for me where I genuinely want to chance fate and break up with my girlfriend because I have so much pushing and pulling me away from her. If you had asked me six months ago, before I had met the girl at work, I was resigned to date my girlfriend, marry her, keep her alive, and probably drink myself into an early grave. But now I feel that this has changed my morals and I don’t know if I can trust my decision making. I know I’ve rambled, but thanks for reading this, I sincerely hope that you can offer some shred of help, god knows I need it.

Thank you,

Hoping

Alright, Hoping, first things first: this was more or less inevitable. Not your girlfriend’s mental health issues - more on that in a second - but the fact that you’ve come to the end of this relationship and you want out.

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The cold hard truth of dating, something that people almost never tell us, is that our first relationships are almost never going to last. It is very, very rare for high-school sweethearts to find that their relationship survived college and even rarer for them to stay together afterwards. That period of our lives is so tumultuous and so protean that we’re literally not the same people we were. When you’re in high-school, you’re still in the process of trying to figure out just who the hell you are in relationship to your parents and your peers… and you just happen to be doing it in the social environment that’s far closer to being locked up in the maximum security wing of Belle Reve than real life. By the time you graduate - whether you go to college, go into the workforce or what-have-you, you’re finding yourself out in the world with the barest of guidelines to help you out. So now you’re trying this, that and the other thing, trying all these new identities and likes and interests out for size and realizing that what you may have wanted in high-school is night and day different from what you want now.

Which is what’s happened with you and your girlfriend. It’s sweet that the two of you have hung on this long, but not every relationship is forever. Not every relationship is meant to last. This doesn’t mean that things have gone wrong or that you two didn’t love each other, it just means that you’ve both outgrown your relationship. This story has come to its conclusion and it’s time for the next to begin. Maybe it will be an epic poem. Maybe it will be a short story. Maybe it will be a dirty limerick. You don’t know, but part of the joy is finding out what it will be.

But before that can happen, you have to end things with your current girlfriend. And that’s where things get tricky.

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Now to be fair: it’s very hard at times to tell when the problems you have are just the natural result of being in a long-term relationship or if the relationship has hit an extinction-level event and it’s time to bail out. One of the signs that things are over is that you want them to be over… but in your case, you’re afraid to make that call.

And also to be fair: it’s a very understandable reason. You have some legitimate concerns about your girlfriend’s emotional and physical well-being. She has some problems, ones that your leaving could - and notice very carefully how I say could, not will - exacerbate.

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But here’s the thing: you’re not in a position to help her with these things. You are not a doctor. You are not a nurse. You are not a trained counselor or therapist. You aren’t trained to deal with this, period. Your staying isn’t going to fix her, and sacrificing yourself isn’t going to actually achieve anything other than making you miserable in the process. Dating somebody isn’t a blood-oath where you’ve bound yourself to somebody and forever forsake your own self-care in exchange for them. You are allowed to leave, and in this case, it’s likely the best option for you.

But at what cost?

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I’m assuming she hasn’t made any overt or explicit threats about killing or harming herself in the event that the two of you ever broke up. Occasionally, a toxic partner will keep control of a relationship by turning it into a hostage situation. At that point, they leverage their control over their partner by threatening to shoot the hostage… they just happen to be both the hostage taker and the hostage. It’s a horrible situation to be in and one that leaves the non-toxic partner wracked with guilt and worry about what might happen.

In your case, it sounds less like your girlfriend is threatening to kill herself and more just an awareness on your end that it’s a possibility. And as cold-blooded as this may sound… that’s not on you. If the only thing keeping her around is you being near enough to smack the pills out of her hand, then she needs help you can’t give her. But at the same time, you’re a good person and you legitimately care for her. You don’t want to cause any unnecessary pain (some pain is inevitable in a break-up, no matter how amicable) and you certainly don’t want her to hurt herself. What can you do?

You start making arrangements before you go out the door. You can’t control her behavior, but you can set things up to minimize the possible damage in the aftermath. If you’re close enough with her parents, you give them a heads up that this break-up is imminent and you’re worried that she might need them. You tell her friends that this is coming, so they can be ready to check on her and support her after you leave. You give her the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, connect her with their website and leave her with the resources she’ll need.

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But beyond that, it’s on her. You’ve done all that you can to be as gentle and compassionate as you can and to get her the support she needs. The rest is up to her.

At the end of the day, she’s responsible for her own behavior and you can’t sacrifice the rest of your life waiting for the day when it’ll be “safe” for you to leave.

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So lay the groundwork and make your exit. The clean break heals quickest, so make it fast, make it clean and make it final. And then take some time for yourself. Leaping into a new relationship immediately afterwards is going to be a mistake. You’ve been in pain for a while. You’re going to need time to recover and heal too, and to just be single for a while to find out who you are when you’re not in a relationship.

Good luck.

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Hey Doc,

Long-time lurker, fan, and first-time LW (like ever, in my entire history on the internet). I’ve got a nagging feeling in my head and I’m hoping you can help.

I’m a 25-year-old video game geek who’s spent my last two years in a new city for my Master’s. I’m introverted, socially awkward, and typically solitary, likely contributing to a 4-month-bout with anxiety and depression I had while having to rapidly grow up during those years. I have, however, been to therapy and learned to work with my introversion to understand how I can best relate to other people and make friends in healthier ways.

About a year ago, I took up parkour and it was great! The community was welcoming and I felt like I could make great friendships while also learning a kick-ass skill. After a half-year hiatus (due to an injury, life), I recently got back into it again. The community is still as fantastic as ever, except for this new element who gives me the creeps.

He invades my space, stares, and interrupts the (male) instructors when they are teaching/helping me. Whenever he opens his mouth, it’s either to complain about something he hates or how much money he spent on something when I’m in earshot. Full-disclosure: I have ZERO interaction with him outside of class and barely talk to him while within it. He even made this bizarre attempt to ask me out, but I acted like I didn’t understand the question, leaving me to suspect my lack of a “definitive” answer means this is not yet over.

I’m supremely annoyed because I DO NOT want to give up this community because of this dude. I want him to leave me alone, but I keep fearing it’s all in my head and that he would have deniability if I were to raise the issue with other people. Thing is, I rarely carry this suspicion and my instincts have not been wrong before. I came to make friends and unlock my inner awesome, and he’s not helping.

Any advice for getting him off my back?

Laché Away

Use your words, LachéAway.

The best thing you can do here is to establish and maintain your boundaries by making it clear that you’re not cool with his behavior. You’re not obligated to let him roll over you in the name of being “nice” or “giving him a chance because he’s really a decent guy.”

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When he invades your personal space, tell him to back off. Physically move him if you have to; don’t back up (he’ll just advance forward), take him by the shoulders and push him back. Tell him to that you don’t appreciate his getting all up on you. If he tries to explain that this is just what he does or that you’re mistaken, then say “That’s nice. I prefer you standing this far away from me.”

Similarly, if he butts in when the instructors are teaching you, then make it clear: you’re working with the instructors, not with him and he’s getting in the way. If he continues to do this, then take a moment with the instructors and ask them for their assistance; that’s part of what they’re there for, after all.

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If he asks you out, say “no”. Don’t pretend to misunderstand; be direct. Don’t give an excuse or provide a qualifier like “I can’t, I’m busy.” Say “I’m sorry, I’m not interested.” If he plays the “I didn’t mean it like that” card, then you can say “OK, I misunderstood. But I’m still not interested.”

Maybe he doesn’t mean to creep you out. Fine… but he’s still doing it. Maybe he’s socially awkward. Fine… now he knows exactly how you feel and he can change his behavior accordingly, because being socially awkward is not an excuse for creeping on someone.

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I realize you don’t want to make a scene… but that’s precisely what he’s relying on. The longer he can coast on your hesitancy to call him out, the more he can surf the plausible deniability wave, the more room he has to push himself on you.

So lay down the law. Establish some boundaries and make it clear he’s not permitted to cross them. Enlist help if you need it. Not only will you be happier, but these will be more steps on your path to unlocking your inner awesome.

Good luck.

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Hey Doc,

So, my best friend proposed to his girlfriend at his birthday party recently.

I’m the only one of our friend group who has yet to tie the knot with my girlfriend. We’ve been dating almost two years, and I know she’s the one. I definitely want to marry her.

How long do you think I have to wait until I can propose to her, without stealing my best friend’s thunder? I don’t want to be a Proposal Vulture. And, how long do you think I have in general to propose?

Thunder Thieves Anonymous

You’re overthinking things, TTA. As long as you’re not doing it at somebody else’s celebration—proposing at somebody else’s wedding is tacky as fuck, for example—then you’re not really stealing anything from anyone. The fact that somebody proposed doesn’t mean that they’ve taken ownership of that block of time.

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Go propose to your girlfriend, TTA. And if anyone gives you shit, tell them that your buddy getting engaged inspired you and made you realize it was past time you did the same.

Just make sure your weddings don’t overlap.

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Good luck.


Did you have a rough break-up? Did you have a hard time leaving your partner, for fear they’d hurt themselves? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments, and we’ll be back in two weeks with more of your dating questions.


Ask Dr. Nerdlove is Kotaku’s bi-weekly dating column, hosted by the one and only Harris O’Malley, AKA Dr. NerdLove. Got a question you’d like answered? Write doc@doctornerdlove.com and put “Kotaku” in the subject line.

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Harris O’Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr. NerdLove and the Dr. NerdLove podcast. His new dating guide New Game+: The Geek’s Guide to Love, Sex and Dating is out now from Amazon, iTunes and everywhere fine books are sold He is also a regular guest at One Of Us.

He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook and on Twitter at @DrNerdLove.