“Dear Prudence,Three years ago I met a man who was wonderful, smart, kind, funny—and he loved me. He was the first person I’d been seriously involved with since I left an abusive relationship, and I pushed him away, which hurt him badly. Over the past few years I’ve seen him around occasionally, and I’d think about how much I missed him. A few months ago I saw his profile on a dating app, and we talked a little. I asked if he wanted to go for a walk. He said yes, to my amazement. We started spending time together again, and I realized, more than ever, what I had given up. He said he wanted to take things slowly, and I agreed.Then he started bailing on me…. http://www.slate.com/articles/life/dear_prudence/2017/07/dear_prudence_i_m_a_military_officer_and_i_m_sick_of_being_thanked_for_my.html
I didn’t break up with him, but in 2010, we hit a real low point. He was struggling with professional school and exams, and I was in a very stressful job. In addition to being severely overextended, he had unresolved health problems. Specifically, untreated sleep apnea that made him a zombie 24/7. He had taken to sleeping during the day, and at night, and was pretty well checked out whenever he wasn’t sleeping. Any time I tried to get him to spend some time with me was met with angry protests that he was too busy to do anything.
I went to a weekend event without him, because he was too busy to go. I met up with some people who I played with and really enjoyed. I wanted to do more, but it was not an open relationship at the time and didn’t have permission for that.
After I got home, I felt incredibly frustrated. I really wanted to pursue more contact with the people I met, but he remained unwilling to give permission for that.
As the excited and elated feelings of that weekend wore off, they were replaced by sheer panic. I felt like I was falling out of love with my partner. I was terrified at the thought of losing him. I didn’t want to feel that way. After feeling terrible for a few days, I told him I had to go somewhere else for a little while. I stayed with friends for a few weeks. This was right before his exam, and the last thing I wanted to do was add more stress to his life. I felt that just getting some space would be the only reasonable solution.
After the exam was over, I came home, and I began to feel better. The intense feelings subsided and I was able to think more clearly. I really didn’t want to leave him. What I wanted was for him to get through his struggles and feel better, so we could have a healthy relationship again. I also wanted a different job, but things were still pretty rough in that department.
Things got a bit better. He got tested and treated for sleep apnea. He didn’t pass the first exam, though, so he had to do that again.
That’s when he told me he was going to move back to his home town so that he could work for the family business. I knew it was a safe option for him, definitely not his ideal, but I understood why he had to do it. It would allow him to make some income while still having the flexibility to continue the exam process.
We wouldn’t have enough resources to get our own place until I found work, so I had to stay behind. Soon thereafter, the panic set in again. I felt abandoned. This time it didn’t subside so easily, and I checked myself into the hospital. I got a med change and began to feel better. I got a little time off for work on temporary disability.
Eventually I found a job that would allow me to move, and we were together again. But the past year had been very difficult, and in some ways, I feel like we never really recovered. At one point he said that he felt like he didn’t get all of me back. There was still some distance, emotionally, but I didn’t know how to fix it myself. On some level, I feel like he still felt hurt by my leaving the first time. I think he never really let that go or figured out how to get past it.
I still wanted more variety, and our sex life was not great. He refused to put even the smallest effort into our play. I told him that just saying we would have play time on Saturday and then spending all day Saturday in front of a computer screen not interacting with me did not work. I felt like he was distant and unhappy. He told me that he was having difficulty at work. I tried to be supportive, but he generally disliked being helped. His way of dealing with problems was to withdraw and isolate. There was little I could do.
It wasn’t long after that that we opened the relationship. I still feel like his motivation for doing that was more guilt than anything. He knew that I was frustrated, and he felt bad about that. But his efforts to change that were minimal. Any time I said I didn’t like something or asked for something different, he seemed to take it personally, as a criticism. And then he would continue doing the same things. I really feel like he wanted some way to punish me, to express his hurt and anger. He wanted to feel powerful, but he didn’t want to do the relational work of understanding and respecting limits. I often felt very isolated during our playtime, because he would be detached. He wouldn’t touch me with his hands, or talk to me, or do anything to increase the intimacy. At one point he said that thinking about those things took him out of his headspace. He wanted the power, but not the responsibility.
I guess it was inevitable, but I still can’t help but feel that if he had only been willing to talk to me. If he had only opened up to me about his feelings. But there’s nothing I can do about that.