DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I really need your help. I’m going through mental anguish over the past and I’m at my breaking point. Here is my story:
One day, all of my longtime friends deserted me out of the blue. They told me they didn’t want to be friends anymore and that was it. To this day, I have not fully regained trust of women nor have I had a new female friend since this. I believe that if this event had not occurred, I would be a happy, functioning adult. But it sent me on a path of depression, contempt, and attachment issues. (These final two statements were only recently realized).
The next year I transferred schools due to the unbearable effects of being ostracized by my entire peer group.
I was the new girl: lonely, shy, and depressed. The first day, I was put into a group project with my current boyfriend. He was smart, artistic, funny, and a gamer (something that I had recently gotten into). It didn’t take long for me to develop a crush and then a full blown love/obsession with him. Despite only having one class with him 2-3 times a week, I thought about him constantly. I would spectate him playing games, text, and discord call. He was my best friend, in my mind. I didn’t care about befriending anyone else.
Anyone can see that the attachment I formed to him is unhealthy. I was so hurt from what happened with my friend group, I avoided girls. I was also worried he would leave me like they did. I relied on him for all happiness. I put him on a pedestal where he was perfect. I made constant hints at my feelings, even a few times outright discussing it. But he asserted his (valid) feelings that he didn’t want to risk things changing. Instead of taking obvious signs of disinterest, I never gave up. And most of all, when he hurt me the most, I ignored it.
We were friends for about 3 years before I asked him out on a date after realizing he probably never would. We went to a movie and then after that he still wasn’t sure. I remember finally breaking down on my bathroom floor in the new dress I bought for our date. Even writing this now, my chest feels tight.
After hesitation he agreed we were dating, and stupidly, I accepted that. I accepted the constant hesitation (as inexperience), the ignoring (as being busy with school), and disinterest (as my own inadequacy). My codependence was so powerful I was willing to accept anything. It’s all me. I carried the entire relationship. If any point I had stopped talking to him, I doubt he would ever reach out. In fact there was a 6 month gap of time over the summer in which there was no communication. I saw him in class, but he didn’t acknowledge my existence. I reluctantly was the first to text him and we started to talk again. But, if I hadn’t we never would have talked again. I feel like I deserve so much more. Anyone deserves so much more.
However, we started dating anyway and it was perfect happiness. What I was after all those years was finally realized. He introduced me to his friends. I was never popular nor did I make any friends of my own. But it was so much better than before. He met my parents, and I met his (after a few fights). Nothing could go wrong.
Then one day I unearthed my old diaries filled with pages of pain to recount what happened. I started fights occasionally and caused problems in our relationship (bringing up the past, insecurity, blame) when I remember those things. My most intrusive thought is: If I hadn’t asked him out he wouldn’t have asked me out.
You might think, what’s wrong with that? For someone like me who needs to know they are loved and wanted, that prospect hurts me deeply. Not to mention the fact that he must not have found me very attractive. He didn’t love me until I forced him to. I mean, that’s extremely problematic on my part. I want him to date a girl he loves, not a freak like me.
He loves me now. It’s been almost two years and a major life transition. But if he loves me because I manipulated and changed fate I can’t stand it.
As long as I forget the past, I feel content. There are other minor things he does, that annoy me. I end up seeing the connection between these current behaviors and the past. It sends me into a deep spiral. For example: “Why don’t you ever ask me out? I’m always the one who does it. I’m always doing all of the work. If you really cared you would enthusiastically ask me to go out without prompting. Just be honest and tell me if you even care.”
Sometimes I think, why am I so dramatic? Aren’t we the perfect love story? So what if the genders are flipped, that doesn’t make you any less of a woman. It’s the 21st century. Be happy now with what you have. But I know now that the initial attachment to him was one out of desperation, and some of it still lingers. Is it possible for me to move past such a stressful and heartbreaking past?
My boyfriend has truly grown into a much more dependable, loving person. I’m no longer codependent to him and slowly learning to make friends after therapy. We have talked about marriage and living together after college. We visit each other every week. My parents love him. We’re both each other’s firsts. We’ve had good discussions on the future and he’s incredibly talented, smart, and still nerdy. I love him, but the past hurts me so much. I’m worried that we will keep progressing and get married and there’s still going to be these feelings of inadequacy. That’s completely unfair to him. At this point, he has done everything to prove he loves me and finds me attractive and apologized for the past. There might not be a word or action that will ever disconfirm my thoughts. I really need your voice of reason.
– She Will Always Be A Broken Girl
DEAR SHE WILL ALWAYS BE A BROKEN GIRL: There’re a few things I want to take issue with here, SWABABG. First of all, you’re not broken. You’re clearly someone who’s dealing with a lot of pain, and it seems like you may have overlearned some patterns in your life to compensate for or to adapt to that pain, but you’re not broken. You aren’t broken if you were hurt in an accident, and you aren’t broken for having a hard time afterwards. Having emotional scars because of some traumatic experiences is normal and understandable. That doesn’t mean that you’re broken, it just means that you still have healing to do.
The second thing is that you’re ascribing way too much power and influence to yourself and — in the process — denying your boyfriend’s own autonomy. I mean, you literally say “if he loves me because I manipulated and changed fate”. Unless you’re secretly the Scarlet Witch, have access to a Delorean and a flux capacitor or you’re somehow in contact with The Norns, you didn’t change “fate” somehow. Nor did you somehow manipulate things to make it all work out in ways that it might not have otherwise.
Now, the timeline is a little unclear, but it seems like so much of why you seem to think you “manipulated” him or “forced” him to love you seems to revolve around having asked him out on a date, that you had a freak-out during it and that afterwards there was a weird nebulous point where you were kinda dating but also kinda not. And this has, somehow, turned into your “forcing” him into being in a relationship with you and “making” him love you. I mean, it’s not like the dude couldn’t walk away or end the relationship. In fact, it seems like that’s exactly what he did at one point. But there wasn’t any point in this relationship where you were holding the metaphorical gun to his head — or yours, for that matter — and saying “LOVE ME OR ELSE.”
Assuming I’ve got the right sequence of events, allow me to offer a differing interpretation: the first time you asked him out on a date and he still wasn’t entirely sure if he was interested in you that way, you had a panic attack. He talked you down the only way he knew how — saying “ok, we’ll give this a try”. After you calmed down, it was pretty clear from his end that this wasn’t really a relationship; in fact it seems like it was more on your end than his. It sounds like, at this point, he was going along with things to a limited extent, but he wasn’t treating it like this was serious. And ultimately, this pseudo-relationship functionally ended over that summer where you and he didn’t talk.
But over those six months, things changed. Maybe he realized that he did like having you in his life. Maybe you were starting to make progress on your healing. Maybe it was a case of his realizing that he missed you more than he thought. Regardless, you reached out, the two of you got back in contact and from the sounds of things, it’s been happy — if a smidge rocky, with your issues — since.
Now I will be the first to say that yes, this wasn’t the healthiest start to a relationship. There were a lot of things that both of you did wrong. It would have been far better for you to put your energy towards getting yourself into good emotional working order, rather than pursuing a nasty case of Oneitis. He, on the other hand, did himself and you no favors with his half-hearted, neglectful “ok, we’re dating but not really” stance. It would’ve been better for both of you if he hadn’t been willing to let things be in this quantum relationship where you were both dating and not dating at the same time, and you hadn’t been willing to roll with it. It probably would have been much better for the two of you if he had made a clean break of things early on.
But he didn’t, and you didn’t. And yet here we are.
The thing is: lots of relationships have rocky starts. There are plenty of times where people may have their hearts in the right place, but their heads aren’t. Some relationships start off as godawful drama bombs, or two people who end up hurting each other as they flail around trying to figure themselves out. Many times those relationships flame out for good. But sometimes, people actually manage to get their s--t together. Sometimes things that started off badly finally manage to click as everyone finds their groove; the gears finally mesh after grinding against each other.
Does that mean that everyone who’s in a rocky, dramatic or even toxic relationship should hang in there in hopes that they can wait it out and s--t will get better? F--k no it doesn’t. But in this case… things managed to click into place. And it sounds like the two of you have put serious effort into actually getting past things and making things work, which is good.
Now, you don’t say just what happened with your friends and why they all left at once, nor do you say that you’ve addressed the start of the relationship with your therapist. If you haven’t… those are things that should definitely be handled by talking with your therapist, not a loudmouth with an advice column. Similarly, if you and he haven’t gone to a relationship counselor, I think that would be a good idea. Not because your relationship is broken or doomed by your past, but because it may be helpful to have someone talk you all through what happened early on, how you both felt, and how aspects of it still clearly linger — for you, at the very least. That might help you get past the feeling that you’re inadequate, or that you “forced” him into this relationship. It may also help with feelings that this relationship still isn’t “real”.
If it helps, think of couples counseling as a form of preventative maintenance. Think of your relationship as a car that had some significant mechanical issues when you first got it. While it might have been smart to call it a lemon and return it to the lot… you didn’t. You managed to tighten some belts, cleared some valves, resealed some tubes and it’s running as intended. Is it understandable that you’re still a little nervous when it judders on the acceleration? Yes. But that’s not a sign that it’s about to catch fire, just something you may want to keep an eye on — possibly even something to bring up with a mechanic when you get the oil changed.
Ok, so I may be stretching that metaphor to the breaking point, but you take my meaning. You’ve got things running more or less smoothly. There’re some quirks that make you worried, and you can’t help but feel like the rough start has never been fully fixed. That’s understandable. It’s reasonable, even. But that doesn’t mean you’re doomed. It just means you want to be mindful of things and be sure to put in the effort to maintain it… and yourselves. But that doesn’t mean that your relationship is fatally flawed, any more than it means you’re broken.
Put in the effort to keep it — and yourself — running. Talk to your therapist about these issues and see if they can recommend a couple’s counselor. That’ll go much further to helping you let go of the past, being able to accept your present and look forward to your future.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com