We have been living together for more than a year, but it’s starting to feel clear to me that we are moving apart, not together. And now I don’t know what to do.
I love him (I think), but he upsets me frequently and seems to care less and less when he does so. I don’t want to be single again, but this slow-motion drift is really painful. How do I know whether I should rip off the Band-Aid?
— Breaking Up
Breaking Up: Wait. Do you want to be with him, as-is, because that’s the only option we come in, or not be single again?
If it’s the latter, then this is a no-brainer. No one’s company will ever feel completely right if you’re not at peace with your own, because you will always feel the lurking threat of need.
Certainly talk to your boyfriend about what you’re noticing and feeling, because that’s what you owe a partner — but understand beforehand that if you go into that conversation with the sole aim of keeping the relationship together, then you’ll be vulnerable to giving away important parts of yourself in the bargain.
If instead you go into it firm on your values and ready to leave if you must, then you’ll be your own best advocate. Being okay with your own company means seeing it as a clear upgrade to cohabiting with someone who “upsets me frequently and seems to care less and less when he does so.”
Dear Carolyn: Besides just being sad, how do you come to terms when you realize someone isn’t the person you had thought they were for your whole long life? I’m talking major issues pertaining to character.
During the past few years, I guess people have decided to stop hiding their racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, fill-in-whatever-other-phobic traits, and now feel as if they deserve to be “respected” for their honesty.
Clearly I no longer consider them people I want to be around — but I am struggling with the fact that apparently I never noticed they were such [jerks].
Sad: Our moral arc may bend toward justice, but hoo boy, look where it comes from. Humans excel at finding new and horrific ways to alienate, mistreat and mass-murder each other.
But of course an impressive number of people resist that, too, embracing peace and progress instead.
So this push-pull mind-set is helpful for dealing with other-phobes. Just as we do an amazing job of getting along and absorbing differences that could end our social contracts on the spot, we also don’t need much provocation to turn on each other. Push and pull.
There are good arguments for both letting people suffer the isolating consequences of repugnant views, and not isolating them so they can experience and learn from inclusiveness. I’m still not sure what our mandate is individually, except to resist impulses to treat people unlike us as second-class citizens — please, please.
As for not noticing someone’s phobic tendencies, remember: Having to get along to get by is a powerful incentive to keep our hostilities, our “stuff,” tucked away. Social media and political winds have encouraged people to drag their stuff out on the lawn.
More from Carolyn Hax
From the archive:
A married mom pursuing an office crush — stupid, right?
He thinks making more money means less housework for him
After 5 years of staying mum about truth, it’s time to talk to therapist
Getting out of a circle of ‘friends’ and their mean-girl daughters
A boyfriend who won’t stand up for you shouldn’t sit well with you
Sign up for Carolyn’s email newsletter to get her column delivered to your inbox each morning.
Carolyn has a Q&A with readers on Fridays. Read the most recent live chat here. The next chat is April 28.
Resources for getting help. Frequently asked questions about the column. Chat glossary