What stood out to me the most in your letter was the brief aside in the second sentence about your parents’ quick and nasty divorce, followed two lines later by the admission that you and your boyfriend moved in together just two months after dating. Are these two items related? Do they have anything to do with your relationship woes now? Possibly. I’d even say probably. After all, you don’t mention your parents’ divorce again in your letter. I could have even edited out that line and the content of your message would have been the same … but the subtext would have been different.
You included that information for a reason, and I think the reason is to explain that you were feeling vulnerable and perhaps a little emotionally raw. You were looking for something to cling to — a bit of stability in your life — when the most stable structure of your formative years suddenly began crumbling. Your boyfriend provided that stability, but now, a year and a half later, you’re realizing that maybe he — and your relationship — isn’t the beacon of stability you saw it as in your more vulnerable state.
I’ve been there. I’ve been exactly where you are. I started dating a guy exactly two months after ending a four-year relationship with a live-in boyfriend — a boyfriend who provided a lot of stability and security through my mid-20s. Suddenly, I was untethered and probably a little uncomfortable being so — even if I didn’t realize that on a conscious level at the time. Then, I met this guy who was also recently single and the two of us quickly became an item. It wasn’t long before I, too, became suspicious of his ongoing “friendship” with his ex. He texted her quite a bit, and even had what sounded like a “lovers quarrel” on the phone with her one evening while I was over at his place. Like your boyfriend, this guy also referred to his ex as “crazy,” but seemed determined to keep a friendship with her, explaining that they had been through a lot together (beware the man who calls his ex crazy and yet cannot stop reaching out to her!!!).
This went on for months. As you might imagine — as you’re probably going through yourself right now — the situation took a real toll on my self-esteem. I felt out-of-control. I wanted to believe my boyfriend when he said he didn’t have feelings for his ex anymore and that I was just being jealous and crazy (there’s that word again!), but my gut screamed the opposite. And yet, I stayed with him. I was scared to be alone. Scared to re-build the unstable foundation below me and create a secure life as a single and independent woman. I guess I just didn’t have confidence that I could.
Luckily — though it didn’t feel so lucky at the time — my boyfriend made the decision for me. He broke up with me. We’d been fighting a lot lately and just weren’t connecting. He was finishing medical school anyway, and getting ready to start a residency in a different state, so the time was right to cut ties and move on. And, move on, I did. I spent the next year and change building my own life, creating my own stability, setting some boundaries for myself in terms of relationships and what I would and wouldn’t accept in a potential partner. Eventually, I met Drew and, well, you know the rest of my story. What you don’t know is this: that old boyfriend of mine? He eventually married someone else too. And guess who he married. Yep, the “crazy” ex who came before me. I guess my suspicions weren’t so off after all.
So, what does all this mean for you? It means for you to trust your gut. Listen to your heart. Pay attention to clues and signs from your boyfriend. Think about your motivation for being and staying with him. Are you truly in love, or are you hiding from something — avoiding a different kind of reality? If you aren’t happy with yourself right now — you talk about your “comfortable” weight gain, for example — it’s up to you to do something about it. If you’re not secure in your relationship, you need to talk to your boyfriend about the way you’ve been feeling (and if you can’t, that right there is a serious red flag). If you suspect he’s not as committed to you as you’d like him to be or you don’t trust that he’s truly cut the bonds with his ex, it may be time to consider moving on. Being in a halfhearted relationship can wreak havoc on your self-esteem. If you already feel things teetering in that direction, you have to summon the power to put an end to it. Really, the best gift you can give yourself is the opportunity to feel better than you feel right now. Unfortunately, you may have to feel a little bit worse first before you get there. But sometimes, that’s how you know you’re moving in the right direction.
*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to follow me on Twitter.