Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

Do I Need To Dump My Boyfriend So He Doesn’t Have To Watch Me Die?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: There is this saying that, when people talk about a certain dilemma, they actually already know the right answer and just hope the other party will tell them what they want to hear, essentially giving them the go-ahead for the dumb decision they have been craving for.

I’m afraid mine is one of those dilemmas. Care to listen anyway?

My boyfriend and I are living together for nine years now. Peacefully co-existing gamers with their cat having the pants on. Essentially, on the most basic level, we have a good and loving relationship, and try as I might, there is not a man in this world I would trade him for. I love everything about him; even his angry stuttering when we fight is adorable. He once most gallantly presented me with a toy lightsaber, which I consider to be the most romantic gift I’ve ever received from a man, delivered in the cutest way. So… everything’s perfect, right?

Well, yeah. Except for my epilepsy and cancer. None of this makes him love me less and he takes care of me in the same way I took care of him when he had his femoral neck fracture. There’s a difference between tending for someone who is going to get better and tending for someone who’s taking the chemo in a worse way and has no real chance of surviving, despite the best efforts. It’s not the cancer that’s worrying me, though. I must sound like a total mensch when I say this, but my foremost concern is my boyfriend. His is carrying all the burdens, and his health is starting to go. He is often ill, worries too much to even be happy for a merciful few seconds, and he’s always exhausted. For his sake, I want to leave. I brought the topic up a few times, but he bursts into tears when I even mention not being here with him anymore.

Back then, I did have options. Not very attractive ones, but still: options. I left my home, my family and friends to live with my boyfriend. A lot has changed, but I could have gone back. This is not an option anymore. Besides having to live with my mother being a torture I would not want to inflict upon myself, she is very poor and cannot take care of me, too. I need a lot of attention and a lot of medication, and she simply cannot provide for what I need. Also, she’s still pretty traumatized thanks to my brother’s suicide three months ago, and I don’t loathe her enough to have her watch me, her last living child of three, die too. My father is alive, but unwilling to burden himself with me. Can’t blame him. We don’t know each other. No other family to speak of.

Now, the way I see it, the only way to cancel myself out of my boyfriend’s life is to go to a hospital, taking my chemo there, and ask random nurses to take turns holding my head while I vomit. I don’t want my boyfriend to go to pieces, and there is really no need for him to be there for me the whole time, going down with me and having a harder time getting back on track after I’m gone and can’t do, again, I apologize, fuck all for him. I told him he’d be better off without me as a constant burden. But he insists that, when I’m gone, he won’t ever recover from it. Which is very sweet, and very theatric. You know, I thought a hospital somewhere around here would be good, so he could visit me when he felt like it, but last time we tried that he visited me every day, sacrificing his whole personal life on it.

He just doesn’t get it. Or doesn’t want to get it. Because I will be gone soon and that is something he’ll have to live with. But once I even start talking about it, he tells me I’m immortal and leaves the room. When I tell him he should do something for himself for a change, he doesn’t know what. I tell him, something that takes his mind off things. And then he either says me gaining a kilo or us going outdoors for a short walk so I get a little fresh air would be something I could do for him. Doc, in all honesty, what the you-know kind of thing is that to wish for ONESELF? Two things I know: I’m probably the luckiest girl in the world, boyfriend-wise, and he’s a nutcase.

I really don’t know what to do anymore. I even asked his father to sit down with us and talk things through, but it won’t go in my boyfriend’s head. Is the right thing to stay here and have him go nurse on me until the inevitable occurs (which is MY best case scenario), or is the right thing to remove myself, a definitely negative influence, from his life? 

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

DEAR BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE: Sometimes it’s impossible to know what to say. Sometimes there are no answers.

BRHP, I feel for you. You’re facing down something terrifying and you’re being insanely brave about it and it’s remarkable. I feel for your boyfriend too; I’ve been in the position of being a caretaker for someone I care about, knowing that all that remains is making them comfortable and easing their passing. It’s a difficult situation; you feel impotent and angry that you can’t do anything, mourning somebody in advance and wanting to someone to comfort you, feeling guilty because you feel like you’re being selfish when this person you love is so sick and you feel like you shouldn’t be feeling anything for yourself…

Your boyfriend is staying by your side and doing everything he can for you – even at the expense of his own health and happiness – because he wants to do SOMETHING. Feeling helpless can be maddening – we want to believe that somehow we can push back the tide, that there has to be something, some secret that’s been left unexplored that can change everything. We want make things better just through sheer force of our willpower if that’s what it takes. But to sit there and admit that there’s nothing we can do makes us feel like we’ve failed. So he may not be able to save you, but he’s damned determined to make every remaining moment count. He wants to do something, anything because he knows he’s going to have to let you go eventually and he’s just not going to do that without a fight.

Pushing him away isn’t necessarily going to make this easier on him. It’s noble to want to spare him the suffering. And I can imagine that there’s a part of you that doesn’t want him to see what’s going to happen. It’s been 18 years since my father lost his battle with cancer, and it was hard for him to see the looks on our faces when we saw what the treatments had done. But making him leave you isn’t going to make him improve; if anything I’m going to guess that things would get worse and he’d spiral into a deep depression. He’s trying to show you how much he cares in the only ways he has left to him. He doesn’t want to talk about it because he’s trying to be strong for you in the only ways he knows how. You stayed with him when he broke his neck; how could he do any less for you?

And you’re right: you’re probably one of the luckiest people in the world. The dating advice industry is full of stories of husbands, wives, boyfriends and girlfriends who ditched at the first sign of trouble or who abandoned their significant others when they were needed most. He’s trying to show you that he’s going to be there with you all the way until the end of the line. If he can’t stop you from he’s going to make sure that you are cared for and loved and will not be alone at the very end.

This is a man who’s ready to fight God for another minute with you.

Sometimes there are no answers, just ways of making things less shitty.

There are two things that I see here that you can do for one another.

For his sake, you may want to look into finding in-home care . It’s not cheap, but it can be less expensive than going to the hospital and if you have insurance, that should help cover it. It’ll help ease the effort and stress of helping care for you and hopefully let him recover some of his health.

For YOUR sake, he should start seeing somebody – a counselor, a minister, someone – that he can unburden himself to. He’s going to need an outlet to express how he’s feeling and to process the grief and the anger and the pain he’s going through right now. Part of the problem is that he’s holding it all in – guys have a tendency to feel like we have to be rocks in times of crisis and never admit to needing help ourselves – and the stress of keeping it all inside is hurting him.

And you should be aware:  just as you’re lucky to have him, he’s incredibly lucky to have you. It takes an incredible person to be going through what you’re experiencing and to be worried about how it’s hurting someone else. You’re an incredibly strong and caring person and love like the two of you have is rare and hard to find.

Saying good luck seems trite under the circumstances but…

Good luck.

Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (; or to his email,