Hello, Internet! Welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the only dating column that comes to you live from the Water Gardens of Dorne.
This week, it's all about fixing unhealthy relationships and the need for strong boundaries. One reader is at his wit's end with his toxic marriage while another wants to know how to tell her friends to keep their hands to themselves.
It's time to shake some spears and stir up some sand snakes. Let's do this thing.
I have a big issue and I am simply at my end line. I found this amazing girl some time ago. It was my first date, but she loved it. She always said that I made her feel special since day 1. We went on a couple more dates and became boyfriend and girlfriend. This is where things took a funky turn. Her apartment had a foreclosure notice, she had nowhere to go, and had been homeless once and did not wanted to happen. So I offered for her to live with me. She accepted and was very happy, at first. Soon, I found out that she had horrible mood swings, hated people, had attempted suicide before I met her, and was controlling. I figured it was all due to her horrible life experience, which I will not go in detail.
I basically cut my ties with friends just to make her happy, thinking she would improve over time. She did, but just me being away would trigger these anger burst all over again. I changed my career path and had to even put my new one on hold. Eventually, we got married. I love her and i thought if she felt I would never leave, she would feel better. It helped, but again, only a little.
Now, I am simply trying to find a job. She says is OK, that I need to find one, but when I am starting the job, she gets angry and threatens to leave me if I don't come back. I come back, and she judges me about being lazy and not having one. I should also mention, she does have a job, which took her some time to get due to her dyslexia.
I have left about 4 jobs in 2 months at least. We need to pay rent now, and I have no idea what to do. Her emotions have improved, but she hates everyone in my side of the family. I should mention, she also has no one in her side. She is the perfect definition of antisocial. I have broken down many times from her yelling, and I cannot take much more. I want to be with her, but I do not know what to do, please help!!!!
The Sad One.
Divorce her. Divorce her right the hell now, find a new apartment and for the love of God get the hell away from her. You're in an emotionally abusive relationship and the only way things are going to get better is if you dump her and get the FUCK OUT.
I'm not gonna lie, TSO: this woman has been waving more red flags than a military parade through Tiananmen Square. The over-the-top "you're the most amazing person in the world" treatment is known as love-bombing; they endear themselves to you by lavishing you with attention and praise and it makes it that much easier to convince you to commit quicker than you might, otherwise. Convincing you to abandon your friends is classic abuser behavior; it's known as "isolating", separating the victim from their support network, people who might bolster the victim's self-esteem and help convince them that they need to leave. Removing you from your friends leaves you dependent on the abuser - they're the only person you've got now.
Blowing hot and cold, those unpredictable mood-swings? Those keep you off-balance and unable to think straight. You're feeling like you're tip-toeing through a minefield when you're with her, always trying to figure out the exact right thing to keep her from getting mad. It's part of how abusers make you feel like you're to blame for your own abuse; it's your fault for getting her mad, you know what she's like, etc.
And then of course, there's the fact that you can never do anything right. Get a job and you're abandoning her. Leave that job because she makes your life a living hell and you're lazy. It makes you doubt your own instincts, it makes you blame yourself and it leaves you perpetually wondering if maybe she's right and you are so horrible. You're basing your entire existence on trying to keep her from being upset… and that's right where she wants you.
Here's the thing you need to understand, TSO: you're not the only person who's gone through this and it's not your fault. Your wife is the one who's fucked up and she's hurting you.
The fact that she's had a shitty life doesn't excuse her behavior. The fact that she's attempted suicide before, that she seemingly has mental health issues… none of these give her a pass. I'm sorry that life may have been shit for her, that she may have deep pain, even abuse of her own in her past. None of that excuses what she's been doing to you.
Cold hard truth time: there's nothing you can do to "fix" her. Staying with her forever isn't going to save her, it's going to break you. You can't make things better because she doesn't want them to be better. There is no "saving" this, no helping her emotions, no improving the relationship. You are not her doctor. You are not her priest. You are not her shrink. You're her victim.
It's time for you to leave. And it's going to be hard. Odds are that she's going to pull every trick in the book to keep you around. She'll guilt-trip you about leaving her all alone. She'll call you weak and selfish, and insist that you're the one who's fucked up and list way after way that she's "supported" you. I will bet a not-insignificant amount of money that she'll threaten self-harm if you leave her. Abusers will frequently hold themselves hostage as a way of keeping their victims around - implying or even flat-out stating that they'll hurt or kill themselves if you go.
Again, I'm going to be cold: if she does, that's not on you. You are not responsible for her.
You need to get out and you need to do it yesterday. Move out, divorce her and get your support group back. You're going to need people who love you, who care about you and who have your back. Reconnect with your friends, strengthen your ties with your family.
You should also see about finding a counselor or therapist - someone you can talk to. These relationships can leave scars and having someone who understands and can guide you through the healing process is worth everything.
Don't blame yourself for this. It's not your fault.
Just get out. Now.
Good luck. And write back so we know how you're doing.
Doc, I'm a girl in need of some advice.
I go to a class with almost only guys (and pretty geeky ones), and this is going to sound really arrogant but I sometimes feel like I'm getting a bit too much attention. I'm pretty attractive, outgoing and like to play games and read fantasy and scifi books. This makes me pretty popular and I have a lot of male friends (some that I suspect of having crushes on me).
I'm a friendly person and I like to talk to people, sometimes maybe flirting a bit without even noticing. The guys in my class are pretty touchy and poke me all the time which is usually just fun but sometimes gets a bit annoying. There's also a guy who has squeezed my but and my boobs in a "joking" way which I was really not very comfortable with. I told him to stop but I fear that I wasn't really firm enough.
There's also a guy who tends to hold me down and force me to be close to him even when I tell him repeatedly that I don't want to. Sometimes this is fun but usually just annoying. I don't wanna make a big deal out of these things because it seems pretty much accepted that people do this in my group and I don't want to seem whining or like I'm a bitch.
I'm also afraid that I might be leading some guys on by being friendly to them and not telling them off. I could just live with these things, they are not that annoying but it would be nice if I could get them to back of some. They are also my friends and classmates so I don't want to make them too upset. They are pretty socially awkward so I don't think they know better. I also feel like it would be weird of me to say something now when I haven't really objected to it much for the past six months.
Slightly creeped out girl
Hey, SCOG, can I ask you a serious question? Just between you and me… how cool are you really with the way they're acting? Are you legitimately ok with this as just being wacky hijinx?
Or are you trying to convince me (and yourself) that it's all good and they just cross the line on occasion? Because I'm gonna be honest: it sounds a little like you're putting their comfort ahead of your own. Women are frequently socialized to not make a fuss, especially when it comes to inconveniencing or upsetting men and men's behavior. There's a lot of pressure to be the "cool girl" who's totally OK with dudes acting like jackasses because calling them out means making a fuss and that can lead to those same dudes getting annoyed and pissed.
I dunno. I'm not in your head. You tell me. But while you're thinking about it, let's talk a little about what you can and should do about things.
The first is not to take "it's just how things are done" as an answer. Here's the thing about "accepted" behavior: just because a lot of people put up with other people's shitty behavior doesn't mean that you have to, too.
And your classmates? Are engaging in some seriously shitty behavior.
I mean come on, grabbing your boobs and butt? I don't give a shit how "joking" that is, that's not goddamn cool. Same with Captain Clingy, the jackass who holds you down or squeezes you up against him. This behavior is going into sexual harassment territory - hell, sexual assault with the "joking" boob-honks. Amongst the women in my social circle, grabbing someone's breasts without invitation, no matter how much of a "goof" it may be, is an invitation for a visit from the slap-fairy. If you're lucky.
Now I want to make something absolutely clear: you are not responsible for their behavior. They are choosing to act like this. They're the ones who're fucking up. They're the ones who need to clean up their act.
Being friendly to someone is not "leading them on". Being nice isn't an invitation for harassment or permission to grope you. Neither is the fact that you haven't called them out on this "firmly" enough. Anyone who tells you otherwise is full of it.
And here's the other thing you need to keep in mind: social awkwardness is not an excuse. I'm sorry, but if they're so ignorant of social norms that they don't get that grabbing a woman's tit is not something you do then they shouldn't be allowed out of the house.
(Want to know how you can tell this is bullshit? Are they grabbing the teacher's boobs? No? Then they fucking well know better.)
Frankly, I think you'd be better off reporting their behavior to the professors and to the Dean of Students. But you're there and I'm not; you're in a better position to decide just how egregious their behavior is.
So if you don't feel that things warrant bringing them before a disciplinary committee, then you need to establish some boundaries and pronto. You're not cool with them grabbing you? Tell them, straight up, that you're not cool with them grabbing you. And enforce those boundaries.
Johnny Grab-Ass wants to paw at your chest? Slap his hands away and tell him to keep his goddamned hands to himself. Same with your clinger - he doesn't get to touch you, force you down (again, holy shit, really??) or squeeze you against him without your express permission.
That's not whining. That's setting the ground rules for your own body.
If they don't (or won't) respect your limits? Then it may be time to find new friends.
Will it be weird to establish boundaries now after you've endured their bullshit for so long? No… but some folks will sure as shit try to make it weird. People who like to do what they want don't like it when people put up boundaries and they'll pressure you into dropping yours.
Straight talk: these guys are trading on the way women are socialized to go along to get along and they'll use social pressure to try to convince you that you're in the wrong for the heinous crime of not letting them do whatever they please.
Yes, they may call you a bitch. Fine. Be a bitch. Be Queen Bitch, First of Her Name, Lady of Bitchatonia, Ruler of Hands-Fucking-Off-Or-You-Pull-Back-A-Stump.
They may tell you that it's just a joke. Your response is "That's nice. This isn't a joke: hands off."
They may tell you that this is just what they do. "Not to me it isn't."
They may complain that you didn't say anything before. "Well I'm saying it now. Back the hell off."
They may get upset. So? Why does their comfort rate as being more important than your desire to not have your body pawed and groped?
You and you alone get to decide who gets to touch you and how. It is not a democracy. Other people don't get a vote. You get to decide where to set your boundaries and with whom.
Straight talk: if these guys have been missing or ignoring how uncomfortable this makes you, then I honestly question their value as friends. But like I said: you're there, I'm not. Establish your boundaries. Let them know what you're ok with and under what circumstances. And if they try to push past your boundaries, then shut them down, hard.
Do you have suggestions on healing after an abusive relationship? Have you had to lay down the law with your so-called friends? 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 firstname.lastname@example.org and put "Kotaku" in the subject line.
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 book Simplified Dating is available exclusively through Amazon. 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.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby.