Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

Why Can’t I Break Up With My Girlfriend For Good?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I tried to break up with my girlfriend of one year last night, and after telling her I loved her, but I wasn’t in love with her, I started to cry and feel pain from it. She asked me why I was hurting so badly if this is something I wanted.

Some history on her side… she’s had more negative experiences than I’ve ever heard happen to someone. Bounced across the nation as a child because her broken family didn’t want her, had a series of really bad relationships as a young adult, got married, decided she was polyamorous for a while, then got into a series of really abusive relationships.

When her and I got together, she was raped by one of her exes, and I know that it caused a massive amount of trauma. I’ve been trying to be supportive of her. She’s not been able to hold a job for longer than a few months, has a lot of enmity towards people as a whole, and I feel like she’s needed something truly stable and solid in her life to act as a support.

We have been together a year now, and I feel like things have deteriorated. I have borne witness to emotional outburst with her while in public, been called names, and was told (in anger during our latest fight) that her dog comes before everyone else, that she’s been the only constant in her life, that her dog is the only one who’s never left her… that she could kick her dog, and the dog would still never leave (she doesn’t, mind you). When I tried to leave her last night, we both cried and hugged and said we were sorry for all the things said, and that I changed my mind and I love her, but we need to work on communicating, me being myself, and her being the best her she can be… but now, after the exhaustion has worn off, and I’ve woken up from a night’s sleep, I feel like I did right before I told her I wanted to end it… she’s staying with a friend for a day or two, and I’m here at home alone.

What do I do? Am I being manipulated? Am I not giving her the chance to heal and prove herself to me? Am I being a coward? Do I tell her “it’s not you it’s me”? I am so lost right now, I feel like I’m in an emotional storm with just a dingy, no oars, no sail, no life preserver… she’s had a VERY troubled past, much of which wasn’t her fault. Am I being unfair to her? I need help…


Without a Compass

DEAR WITHOUT A COMPASS: Let’s be honest here, WAC: your relationship’s already over. You’ve got a foot out the door already. The only question remaining is how long it’s going to take before this relationship actually ends.

And that’s why you wrote to me. You want permission to pull the trigger on this.

I get that you feel bad about wanting to end things. Breaking up with someone can be incredibly difficult, even when you know it’s something that you need to do. You don’t want to be the bad guy. You start to second-guess your reasons for breaking up with them and wondering if they’re legitimate or not. You start coming up with reasons why you shouldn’t leave and why the things that make you want to leave aren’t bad enough for you to go.

Here’s what you need to legitimately break up with someone: you want it to be over. You can break up with someone for any reason. The reasons may not be “good” in the sense that you can point to them and have strangers say “yes, you should definitely leave”, but that’s ok. Break-ups aren’t like passing legislature; people don’t get to vote on your motion to leave or veto your break-up. If you want out, then you want out. Staying in to make a point or until you have a “legitimate” reason just makes it worse. Hell, imagine how it feels for your partner when you do finally leave and they realize that for the last however-long it was, you’ve been dying inside.

Now, if it helps: you sound like you’re being treated pretty badly. Blowing up at you, weaponizing your guilt at how you feel… that’s all damn s

tty. I empathize with your girlfriend for the s

t she’s gone through. She’s had it rough, and that’s a tragedy. But at the same time, having had a troubled past doesn’t give someone license to be an asshole to people who care about them.

What you need to do now is to end things, quickly and cleanly. It’s the kindest option. It’s going to hurt – it’s pretty much impossible to break up with someone and not have it hurt – but it’s better to make it fast than to drag it out. While in general I’m a proponent of giving your about-to-be ex an explanation, sometimes the only reason is “I’m done”.  And you, WAC? You’re done.

Do her the dignity of making it fast and direct. If you’re really worried about her, then give her friends or her parents a heads up that she’ll need them in the coming weeks. But stop waiting around and do what you know needs to happen.

Good luck.

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: My question is short but it’s been really bugging me.

I’m a 24 year old (mostly) straight male, social enough with a good group of friends and a reasonable past with women. I’ve had ups and downs but I’ve always said what I meant and tried to be sincere as possible. It’s been a little more difficult lately though.

Over the past year, I’ve come to realize I have some pretty strong feelings for one of the women in my group. She’s great and a good friend, we click really well though I’m savvy enough to see that she hasn’t displayed the slightest interest in me like that. She’s ace, too, though not aromantic, far as I know.

So my question is this- do I tell her about these feelings?

There’s a little bit of hope in my heart she might give it a chance but not much. If she doesn’t, I won’t be too devastated or anything. We’re both so far back on the scale of chill that I’m sure it won’t be awkward or anything. That’s just not me and not her either. We let things go easy. So that’s not a problem.

It’s more that I don’t want to put the pressure on her. I KNOW she’s going to feel bad saying no. But I really want her to know that she’s amazing and every bit of deserving of that kind of affection. It’ll be tough but the communication of those feelings is important. I want to learn about myself through that communication and hopefully she’ll learn something about herself. To be clear, that does NOT mean “she’ll learn she liked me all along!” Just maybe something, anything about life, ideas, feelings, romance. Is it worth saying something or should I just say nothing?


Hoping For The Best

DEAR HOPING FOR THE BEST: You know, if it was “Should I ask her out on a date”, I’d tell you to go for it. That’s fairly simple; either she says “yes” or “no” and the two of you go on about your lives with minimal awkwardness afterwards. But confessing your feelings for someone? That’s a different story altogether.

Let’s game this out for a second HFTB. Let’s set aside the fact that she’s asexual, if not aromantic. What, exactly is your goal in telling her how you feel?

You’ve already said that she’s given you absolutely no indications that she’s into you romantically. So… what do you think you’ll gain here? Are you hoping that your confession is going to make her want to give it a shot, despite not being romantically interested in you? If it’s just about your journey – learning about yourself through telling her – then you’re using her as a prop in your own adventure of self-discovery and that’s kind of a s

tty thing to do to a friend. What is it she’s going to learn about herself by having a platonic friend tell her he’s interested in her? Because, your protests to the contrary, it sounds like you’re hoping she’s going to change her mind about how she feels about you.

Let’s zoom in on this bit here: “I KNOW she’s going to feel bad saying no. But I really want her to know that she’s amazing and every bit of deserving of that kind of affection.” So… you feel like she doesn’t know this already? Like she needs your validation to feel that way, despite no indication in your letter that she doesn’t believe that she deserves love and affection? Because that sounds like you’re hoping that that this confession is going to trigger some grand revelation in her that will… what, exactly? Change her sexuality? Confessions of love aren’t magic. Unless they’re already interested in you, it isn’t going to change how they feel. Hell, most of the time, they already know; lots of people have the experience of trying to ignore someone’s crush and hope they don’t have to actually do anything about it. And to be perfectly honest, that’s 99% of what your friend’s going to learn about herself: what it’s like being stuck in an awkward position like this.

This isn’t something that needs to happen, HTFB. You’re not going to die if she doesn’t know how you feel. You don’t have a long-simmering relationship punctuated by moments of “Can’t Spit It Out”. If you just let things continue as they are… well, things will continue as they are and you’ll still be friends. You’re letting your hope that your love is so magical that it’ll overcome what you already know to be true: she just isn’t into you that way. So put “we’ll learn something about ourselves” rationalizing away. If you like her and don’t want to make her feel bad or put pressure on her, then just enjoy the friendship you already have.

A crush isn’t a mandate to act, and friends are pretty damn awesome. Don’t mess that up.

Good luck.

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