We’re now back together, so it seems. We are sexually active, text each other daily, and he tells me he loves me. The only thing that is different is he does not want his friends, parents, or anyone to know that we are back together. I asked him why and he claims he needs no labels and to be out of a relationship for now because he needs to find himself first. Every now and then he tells me he is not happy and tries to re-break up with me, but then decides not to and tells me he’s just confused. He is also covering his phone up constantly and acts as if it cannot be anywhere near me. It was never like that when we were official. I know things were said in our break up, but if he wants me, why is he ashamed to tell his friends? Or is he keeping his options open? He won’t even tell his parents, and he sneaks around to see me. This hurts me more than anything and I need help on what to do. — Good Enough for Him?
You may be only seventeen, but this issue you’re having — this feeling like the person you love doesn’t love you back in the same way or doesn’t want the same relationship you want or doesn’t feel as proud to be with you as he should if he loves you — is an issue that plagues people — men, women, everyone — at all ages, all the time. I promise you, there are people reading your letter and nodding along because it resonates with them and they’re 22, 29, 34, 43, and up. And this is because the lesson here isn’t one that we master in junior high before we’re allowed to graduate to high school. It isn’t even one we have to prove we’ve mastered before we graduate college and head into the world of grown-up issues and challenges. It is a lesson we face over and over, throughout our lives, sometimes even years after we’ve thought we’ve mastered it. And the lesson here is this: not only are you worthy of deep love and respect, but also, if you don’t receive the love and respect you are worth from the person you are extending your own love and respect to, you need to move on.
Your boyfriend is not valuing your worth. He is not respecting you. He is not acting in a loving way. He is being selfish and unkind. And you are enabling this behavior. You are essentially giving him permission to treat you like you don’t matter. Like you aren’t worth more than the value he’s placed on you. But understand this: He doesn’t get to determine your value. He doesn’t! You do. You determine your worth. And you do that by not allowing people — anyone–your boyfriend, your friends, a boss, anyone — to treat you like you don’t matter. Or like you’re disposable.
When your boyfriend tells you he’s “confused,” what I believe he means is that he’s confused that you keep allowing him to undermine your worth. He knows you matter more than how his treatment of you would indicate. And he’s confused that you haven’t put a stop to his treatment. But he also knows that, as long as you continue allowing him to be selfish, he’s going to be. Because he values his time and his interests more than he values you. And that’s just the truth of it. He wants to use you for what you can give him — occasional companionship and sex — without the responsibility and selflessness of considering and addressing your needs. So he says he “doesn’t want labels” and he “needs to find himself” — code for “I don’t want to give the effort you are worth” — and he keeps you at arm’s length not because you don’t move him or because you aren’t worthy or even because he’s a bad person. He’s just lazy. And you’ve made it easy for him to be lazy. And maybe he doesn’t love you enough to stop being lazy and start putting in some effort.
But, please, don’t let the amount of love someone has for you or the amount of effort someone is willing to invest in making you happy or making your relationship work determine the value you set for yourself. YOU determine your value, and that value is eventually going to attract someone (or someones, plural, over the course of your life) to invest and to show you they agree with what you know and say you’re worth. And when you find someone whose self-worth is attractive to you, too, and you enjoy each other’s company and you’re attracted to each other and you treat one another with love and respect, that is a wonderful thing. Fortunately, that, too, is a lesson we get to learn at any age. Often, more than once.
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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at [email protected].
Skyblossom December 17, 2014, 8:54 am
“I asked him why and he claims he needs no labels and to be out of a relationship for now because he needs to find himself first.”
If he really needs to be out of a relationship right now then he shouldn’t be in one with you. He’s being hypocritical and he’s lying. He’s in a relationship with you, even though on his terms it’s hidden. He’s using you for sex while either waiting for someone else to go out with or while going out with someone else.
It’s up to you to establish boundaries in your life. Boundaries that say if you want to be in my life you must treat me with respect and dignity. There is no respect and no dignity in the way he is treating you, he is using you and nothing more. The sooner you learn to set and enforce boundaries the sooner your life will be filled with nice people who don’t leave you feeling hurt and confused. The best thing you can do for yourself is to cut him out of your life. Don’t talk to him, don’t see him, don’t text him. Be done with him forever. That leaves more time and room in your life for nice people, including boyfriends who are proud to be seen with you, proud to introduce you to their families, proud to openly date you.
Laura Hope December 17, 2014, 9:00 am
If he dumped you because you and his mother had words, that would explain why he is keeping your reconciliation a secret. I’m wondering if you were disrespectful to her. I don’t know but at 17, I would not have had a confrontation with a boyfriend’s mother. I would have let him handle her and if he decided to break up with me because she didn’t like me…well, not much you can do. It’s really his decision.
RedroverRedrover December 17, 2014, 9:02 am
He probably still likes you, and he definitely still likes having sex with you. But unless you’re fine with just being friends with benefits and nothing more, then you need to stop sleeping with him. He’s shown you what he wants out of your relationship. If it’s not what you want, then you need to move on. Wendy’s right that these are lessons we learn throughout our lives, and this is a really good one. It doesn’t matter “why”, it doesn’t matter if he’s confused. If this is how he wants it, and it’s not how you want it, then it’s not working. It’s hard to do that from your first relationship, I know. But it’ll make college so much more fun. 🙂 You have a lot of exciting things ahead of you, you don’t need to be dragged down by someone who doesn’t value what you’re worth.
Kate December 17, 2014, 9:10 am
Here’s what’s happening here: You’re not back together. This guy is not your boyfriend. He used to be, but he’s not now. He clearly told you that he’s *not in a relationship with you*. What he’s doing is hanging out and having sex with you while also pursuing other girls. He may even have another girlfriend, and it’s extremely likely that he’s hooking up with someone or multiple people. Because he told you you’re not in a relationship, he now has free reign, with your tacit permission, to do whatever the hell he wants.
Listen, there’s no shame in this, it happens all the time, like Wendy said. But you have to get out of this pseudo relationship crapola and move on completely.
Kate December 17, 2014, 9:13 am
PS – it matters NOT ONE IOTA that he texts you daily and tells you he loves you. Do not get hung up on that. It requires no effort whatsoever on his part to do that. It means nothing. Even if he does love you, it doesn’t matter. It’s his actions and how he treats you that you need to pay attention to.
Addie Pray December 17, 2014, 9:13 am
Aw, that was a really good reply, Wendy.
ktfran December 17, 2014, 9:26 am
Agreed. It was a heartfelt response to a young woman, but also so valuable to people of all ages.
Dear Wendy December 17, 2014, 10:20 am
Diablo December 17, 2014, 9:40 am
LW, fuck that guy! By which, of course, I mean DON’T fuck that guy! Tell him to piss off and not bother women until he grows a soul. And find yourself a friend who values your friendship.
Addie Pray December 17, 2014, 9:54 am
Also, and I don’t know if this is going to come out the right way, but at 17, I really feel that romantic relationships shouldn’t be so … so serious and so all-consuming? At 17, you should be focused on school and hobbies and … learning and figuring out what you like and don’t like, and, sure, having relationships – it’s all good practice – but to be linked up to one guy for all those formative years, that doesn’t seem healthy. I think you’re really missing out on your youth. Aaaaaaaand now I sound like an old person.
Dear Wendy December 17, 2014, 9:58 am
Oh, but you remember teenage hormones and how easy it was to get lovesick and feel all-consumed by a relationship (not that different, really, from how one might feel even 10 or 15 or 20 years down the line!). You can tell someone to focus on other things, like school, and friends, and hobbies, but it’s much harder to really put that into practice when your whole being is like, THAT GUY, THAT GUY, THAT GUY! And nothing FEELS as important, in the moment, as THAT GUYYYYYY.
Haven’t most of us been there? At 17, 20, 25, 30, 40? Teenage hormones, and lack of life experience and perspective, can certainly intensify these emotions, but they can strike at any time, you know? And when they do, God, it’s hard to avoid tunnel vision.
Addie Pray December 17, 2014, 10:21 am
Yesh, I am feeling teenage hormones now!
Addie Pray December 17, 2014, 10:24 am
But I really hope my future kids, when they become teenagers, direct their all-consuming passion to SNL, pizza, and test scores, like I did. (Not really, I hope they get more relationship practice than I did at that age… but, man that’s going to be hard to sit by and watch.)
Kate B. December 17, 2014, 10:29 am
“He needs no labels and to be out of a relationship for now because he needs to find himself first” is code for “I just want to have sex with you.” (And anyone else that he can find.) That’s it. That’s what’s happening here. Dump him and move on to someone who will treat you better. That’s life lesson No. 1.
veritek33 December 17, 2014, 10:53 am
I have a rule that if someone doesn’t want to date my publicly, they dont get to date me. You deserve better. I hope you find someone better and let this guy go. He’s not worth it.
othy December 17, 2014, 12:12 pm
This is an excellent rule that all people should adopt.
Essie December 17, 2014, 10:58 am
LW, please read, and re-read, Wendy’s comments about moving on when people don’t treat you with respect. I’m 55, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my own relationships, my friends’ relationships, etc, it’s that if they don’t respect you, it’s just no good. And never will be. It’s guaranteed misery.
You want a guy to be proud to be dating you, right? You want him to be so happy to be with you that he wants the world to know you’re together. You want him to be telling his friends how amazing you are, nonstop, until they tell him to shut up already. 🙂 That’s the way it’s supposed to be. That’s the way it IS, when you’re with the right guy.
When people here are saying he’s using you, I know it’s easy to tune that out and say “no, he’s not mean like that”. Well, using isn’t always a conscious thing. You have sex with him pretty much whenever he wants. You give him lots of positive attention. You tell him you love him. There’s no downside for him in continuing this. All he has to do is send you a few texts a day and say “I love you”, and he gets easy, uncomplicated sex and ego-boosting attention with no commitment.
It’s tempting. And to an immature guy, it’s hard to walk away from. He’s been trying, though, because he knows what he’s doing is wrong.
Put an end to it. There are guys out there who will love you, and not hide it. Go find ’em. 🙂
bondbabe December 17, 2014, 11:01 am
If a relationship has to be kept a secret, you shouldn’t be in it.
mylaray December 17, 2014, 12:26 pm
“When your boyfriend tells you he’s “confused,” what I believe he means is that he’s confused that you keep allowing him to undermine your worth. He knows you matter more than how his treatment of you would indicate. And he’s confused that you haven’t put a stop to his treatment.”
I love that!
Moneypenny December 17, 2014, 12:56 pm
This is such a great reply from Wendy! I have *totally* been there. I wish I’d heard this a few years ago.
karenwalker December 17, 2014, 4:51 pm
Oh gosh! I remember being in love with a guy in high school. He was cute, we had a shared interest in theater (that’s how we met), we were friends…I, and my friends, thought we were perfect together. Never mind that he had a girl friend. He and his friends would tell me how awful she was and how poorly she treated him and how much better I was for him. I soaked this in and believed every word, ignoring the fact that he remained her boyfriend and wouldn’t break up with her. While this guy and I figured out a way to salvage a friendship (and that’s a strong word for it), we never ended up happily ever after. No matter how much I convinced myself we were meant to be or how perfect we were for each other. LW, the guy you’re writing about may not have another girlfriend, though given how sneaky he is, he might; however, he is no good for you. Your boyfriend should be excited to be with you, and will not want to keep it a secret. The fact that he is hiding you is not a good sign. He is comfortable with you and with what you can give him, but he does not want to make a commitment to you. So say good riddance to him, and focus on college.
Do well in your classes and immerse yourself in the social scene by participating in clubs and going to events. Focus on making friends and learning about what makes you happiest. Do you enjoy volunteering, traveling, playing sports, organizing events, leading a club? Meet people and don’t let yourself be held back by a guy who refuses to admit your presence in his life, and who would break up with you based on what mommy says. You deserve better, and you will get better if you give yourself a chance.
Leslie Joan July 2, 2017, 9:29 pm
He wants to be with you – but he doesn’t want his mom to find out, because otherwise he’d have to hear about it from her. I don’t think there’s anyone else, other than his mother, who doesn’t approve of you.
The only thing that is confusing him is his own bad behavior. He knows he’s treating you shabbily, because he’s telling you that he loves you, which even though it is true, isn’t consistent with sneaking around and refusing to acknowledge you. He doesn’t feel he can stand up to his mom – and he’s angry at himself for not being able to do that. But he still wants you, and you are allowing him to have you, all completely on his terms.
The thing is, you don’t need to make his problem your problem. You aren’t really “together” if you aren’t really “official” . He can blather on about not wanting labels, but that’s a bunch of baloney : he’s either your boyfriend or he’s not, and if nobody else can know, then he’s really not your boyfriend, no matter how many lovey texts he sends or how sexually active you are. It’s really not fair to you. It may seem like a good thing to be back with each other again, but under the circumstances, it’s really a profound insult to you, *and he knows this* and feels conflicted. That’s the reason for the confusion. He’s too weak to walk away from you, so he essentially keeps insulting you on a regular basis.
This really can’t end well. At some point you’ll rightfully decide that you want to have an honest relationship where you and your partner are both proud to claim each other openly. You won’t get that from him again, or at least, not for years, until he is on his own and able to stand up to his mom. I’m sorry. But you sound like a strong and amazing lady, which is why you deserve better than he’s giving you.