DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I have a question that is somewhat outside of the normal range, but I respect your view point and I have no one else to ask. In brief-ish, narcissist gas lighting mother is dating the guy that molested me as a small (under 5) child. I haven’t spoken to her in three years, and my dad in almost as long as his response when I tried to talk to him about it was “get over it already.” He is 2nd adoptive step-father, so he wasn’t around at the time. I am 36 and I have three younger siblings, 31, 24, and 18. The youngest is a senior in high-school, the 24 is so stunted (thanks mom!) he might as well be. The oldest has already once broken my rule about providing our mother with my contact info. That’s the history.
Here is the problem. I am getting married next spring. My initial urge is to not tell anyone. But I very much want at least one person at the wedding that has known me longer than 3 years. At my first (baaaaaaad choice) wedding, my sister closest in age was a giant a
le about the whole thing. Admittedly she was 14, but that’s just how she is about most stuff. In her 20s she threw fit on Christmas because the baby of the family got one more present than she did. She counted 15 vs 16. She is also the only person who could arrange for the younger ones to be here, as I live 1,000 miles away and have no money. I would also like to have my dad there, but I don’t know that I can trust him not to tell my mom. He is the epitome of the religious right wing privileged white man. Been supporting Huckabee since I was a teenager. Which is gross, but he does love me and would definitely hold a massive freaking grudge if he finds out later.
So….what do I do? Get drama llama sister involved? Sneak out the younger ones and hope they can keep a secret? Risk my mother crashing my wedding? I’ve spent the last three years undoing a ton of damage to my psyche and I desperately don’t want to invite all the BS back in. But I love my siblings very much. If none of them come, it will just be me and my partner’s friends and family. I don’t have any close friends, it’s hard to meet people when you are either crying or having panic attacks and can’t trust anyone.
Sorry so long and off topic, thank you for your time.
DEAR SOMETHING BLUE: I’m so sorry for what you’ve gone through with your family and the damage that it’s done to you over the years. It’s a tragedy when the people who are supposed to love and support you unconditionally are the ones who’ve hurt you the worst and the deepest. It’s entirely understandable that you cut off contact with your folks and that you have to keep the remainder at arm’s length; if you can’t trust them to respect your boundaries or not to leak your information to your mother, then keeping them at a distance is a necessary form of psychic self-defense. It’s sad that this is what you have to do to be healthy and happy, but frankly you have to put you first.
Before I get to your wedding questions, I hope that you’re seeking help with a counselor or a therapist. I understand that money is tight, but many counselors will work with you in terms of payment, and Captain Awkward has an excellent guide for finding low-cost (or even free) mental health care options.
Now with that out of the way, let’s talk about your wedding questions. Your wedding is ultimately about you and your fiancee. As such, you get to decide what it means, how it’s going to happen and who gets to be there. If you want to have a simple signing of the license and call it good, then whip out the pen and get it done. If you want to have a private ceremony for just you and your partner and a backyard barbecue later for your nearest and dearest, then go for it! If you want the full fairy-tale wedding, then knock yourself out. This right to define your terms includes who gets to know beforehand and who gets to be on the guest list. Somebody else’s hurt fee-fees don’t trump your right to celebrate things the way you want and once you get into obligation invites, things can spiral out of control before you know it.
Now from a personal experience, I have had a close friend get married who had a family member that she absolutely did not want to come; this was a person who had committed actual assault on other members of her family at a similar gathering. The catch: this person was married to her uncle, whom my friend loved to pieces and would have been heartbroken not to have at the ceremony. So when she invited her Uncle, not only was his name the only one that was on the invitation, but she reached out to him privately and explained that while he was welcome, his wife was not and if that meant that he couldn’t come, then she understood. Not having her uncle come was going to be the price of not dealing with the stress, drama and potential danger of having her at the wedding.
You have the right to do this too. You can invite the siblings and family members you trust and specifically leave out the ones you don’t, with instructions not to let them know until it’s fait accompli. There will probably be grumbles, but if you can live with that then that’s the price that comes with having them there. If you want to weigh the chances, you can reach out some tentative feelers to those family members you would want to attend – have some conversations about your relationship, your relationship with your mother and how this affects your plans for the future and see how they respond. If you feel secure in trusting them with more information, then you can make with the actual invitations.
Alternately, you are also perfectly welcome to give a carefully edited version of the truth (or just straight up lie): circumstances and monetary limitations mean an incredibly small wedding and limited guest-list of people who were already there; then you can have a simple post-wedding get together for select friends and family later when finances allow. I suspect this may be easier than convoluted levels of skullduggery, especially when you can’t trust certain members of your family to not leak the information to your mother.
I’m sorry I don’t have anything more concrete for you. You’re in an awful situation and there really aren’t any clean-cut or easy answers to your predicament. I just want to you make sure that you take care of yourself first and foremost; you don’t need the toxic members of your family doing any more damage to you than they already have.
But there’s other thing I want you to consider: we have two families in life. We have our family by blood and our family by choice. Sometimes the two are the same. Sometimes they are not. Part of the point of a wedding is that you’re joining your partner’s family, just as they’re joining yours. I presume (and I hope) that your partner’s family loves and respects you and that you love and respect them – this is part of what makes them your family by choice. While I totally understand not wanting your side of the metaphorical aisle to be empty, if you can’t risk the damage it does to you then it’s not worth it to have them there.
But their absence doesn’t mean that your family won’t be there… it just may be that it won’t be the ones you share blood with.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I have a problem (or more likely, a laundry list of them, haha): I can’t stay interested in a guy for longer than a couple of months after we start a relationship. And it’s not just losing sexual interest. In the beginning, I am completely happy to boink like bunnies at every available opportunity. But at the end, my sex drive is still high and totally functioning, I just don’t want his assistance anymore. Most of it is that all the things that seemed minor and easy to look past in the beginning while everything was sunshine and puppies starts to really drive me nuts and seem like insurmountable obstacles that, frankly, I don’t have the emotional investment to even want to try. Like the fact that a guy (like my current BF) just doesn’t have an opinion on anything or initiate anything. I’m as happy as the next girl to get to do what I want sometimes, but I hate being the one who has to make ALL of the decisions (including big things like being the one to ask him out or little things like what to have for dinner EVERY. SINGLE. TIME we go out). And I know that a solution could be reached, but I’m just not motivated enough to keep him to try.
And this happens every time I try a relationship. And it isn’t that I just don’t know them beforehand. Even with casual encounters I prefer to be friends first, much less trying a relationship. So I’ll have been friends with the guy and crushing on him for a month or two before I ever agree or try to initiate something more. And for a couple of months, it’ll go pretty well. But it takes me a long time to get truly attached to people. And in every relationship I’ve had, the man gets way more emotionally invested way quicker. And then they usually start to get upset that I don’t want to spend as much time with them as they do with me (even though I’ve told them from the outset that it takes me a while and that I’m one of those introverts who requires several human-free hours a day to unwind). And I resent their demands though I try to accommodate, and then get irritated over little things, and then run for the hills of singledom.
I’ve never even been in love. It’s starting to get me worried that I’m defective or something. Surely a 25 year old with an otherwise healthy social life and plenty of romantic opportunities should have fallen for somebody at some point by now, right?
I thought that maybe it was just that maybe I needed another introvert and the magic would happen. Current BF has the same level of social interest, is a great guy, and we even geekgasm over the same things. Plus I’d known and been friends with (and totally crushing on) him for a little less than two months before I asked him out. And the beginning was so promising! But yet again, after three months, I’ve hit that wall where I’m thinking, y’know, I’m not really that interesting. I have never, even in the beginning of any relationship when things are happy-fuzzy-funtimes, been emotionally invested enough to muster more than a vague sense of disappointment at the thought of a breakup. Am I broken?
I know that I do have some issues with emotional intimacy. My first real relationship threatened suicide if I ever left him within the first month of dating. (And really, what does it say about me that I left anyways?) The next one wanted both a mother and a girlfriend all rolled into one. (Which really bothered me since I’ve been completely self sufficient since 19 and am proud of it. I really value my own and any partner’s independence.) He repeatedly told me that I was the only reason he wasn’t getting back into drugs, and I had to very carefully extricate myself from that one, since he was also very emotionally fragile. So guys getting really emotionally attached rather quickly really freaks me out. And I’ve told everyone that I’ve tried to date this. I’m rather upfront about it. And they insist on doing it anyways. And once they start showing obvious signs, I get irritated at that, and then at everything, and then I just want to escape.
So any advice, Doc? Any way that I can possibly have a relationship that lasts into the longterm? Because while I’m not one of those girls who can’t be happy single, I do at times think I’d like to have a partner in life. Which results in me trying the whole relationship thing over instead of ignoring my crushes, which inevitably ends up with me feeling like a bitch for breaking up with yet another guy after just a few months. Am I doomed to serial short-term monogamy?
—Maybe I’m a Robot?
DEAR MAYBE I’M A ROBOT: I don’t think you’re defective, MIaR, I think you’re still working on your relationship style and needs. When someone is right for you, it doesn’t mean that they’re going to be right for you forever. Not every relationship is meant to be a long-term one, and the fact that you broke up didn’t mean that the relationship is a failure. Some relationships are just short-term by their nature; that doesn’t make them lesser or not valid. You may well just be a serial monogamist who has short-term flings and gets her emotional needs met through other means besides a long-term partner, and that’s totally cool, as long as you’re cool with it.
Now with all that being said: if you’re seeing patterns in every relationship you have, then you need to look at what they all have in common. And sometimes the only common denominator is you. And if you’re having the same issue over and over again, I think a lot comes down to who you’re picking and why. It seems to me that -based on what you’ve told me here – that you hold yourself back in relationships. It’s not without reason; your first two relationships were pretty bad, and you don’t want to get hung up in a bad situation again. Totally understandable. It could also be that there’s some part of you that thinks that you don’t deserve to be happy or to let someone in. This is a different situation entirely, and something you may need to work out with a counselor.
But regardless of the root cause, I have to wonder if you’re not necessarily dating people out of a sense of obligation that you should be dating someone and you end up picking people who’ll do, rather than someone you really connect with. If that’s the case, then I’m not surprised that you’re continually finding deal-breakers; you may well be subconsciously choosing people you know on some level aren’t a good fit because it makes it easier to leave them later.
And if I’m right – and you’ll have to tell me, since you know yourself better than I do – then it’s no real wonder that your boyfriends get more attached than you do. After all, if you’re holding yourself back from opening up and really connecting with someone, then of course they’re going to fall for you faster and get more invested than you do.
If that’s the case, then the first thing I would suggest is to change your dating style until you’re ready to let people in. Right now, your boyfriends are going into this with the assumption that you’re both on the same page and looking for something that has the potential to be long-term. If you aren’t letting yourself open up to connecting and caring for them… well, you’re kinda dating in bad faith, and that’s not fair to them. It may be easier all around to stick to more casual dating then aiming for something more committed; without the pressure and/or expectation to be “official”, you may find that your interest lasts long enough that you feel comfortable opening up and investing in them.
Or, like I said, it could just be that you’re 25 and this is how you date for now. As long as you’re cool with it – and upfront with your potential partners about how you work so they can make an informed decision – there’s no real reason why you need to change if you don’t want to. The fact that this is how you’re dating now doesn’t mean that you’re going to be dating like this for the rest of your life, and it may be a while before you’re in a place where you’re ready for a long-term partner. There’s no cut-off point where you’re no longer able to have a life-partner and finding one in your late 20s (or 30s or 40s or any age) doesn’t make it any less meaningful or special.
So unless this really bothers you – not just in a “I should have an LTR” way – then it’s really not that big of a deal. If it does bother you and you want to change things, then do some soul searching, maybe talk with someone and work on it. If not then, hey, you do you.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com)