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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

298

Photo Etiquette and the Modern Family

1. I need some honest, impartial advice here. From you, from other Hairpinners, from anyone really.

My boyfriend and I have been together for five and a half years. That is a pretty long time, especially considering we're both 23. We love each other very much, have very similar goals, values, senses of humor, etc. We are in the same work field but with different focuses, so we help each other creatively and work together well. Basically, it's all good. Marriage is forecasted at some point, but right now we are very new to the "real world" and thus have no money and no real clue where our lives are taking us. This is just fine, no big deal.

The problem is ... he's depressed. Like serious, long-term depression. It comes and goes somewhat, but it has basically been a factor for the whole of our time together. It used to be a few good months/a couple bad months pattern, but lately that has changed to weeks, rather than months. Regardless of the time, it's hard on us. He basically flat out refuses to get help of any kind. I try my best to be there for him, to listen/help/encourage, but it feels sort of fruitless. And, after years of this, repetitive.

At this point you're probably just like "break up!" right? I worry that's what anyone I talk to about this would say. But we love each other. Breaking up with him because he has depression feels the same to me as if I broke up with him because he had ... like ... kidney disease or something. I don't want to ditch someone I love just because they aren't perfect. But it would feel much more hopeful if he were getting help for it. And I don't know how to "make" him do that. Because you can't really make someone do something they don't want to.

Ugh. Sorry this is a novel. I'll stop and see what you and the others have to say!

Oh man, I'm sorry. This sounds really difficult. No, I don't think you should break up, but I do wonder why he refuses to get help. Regardless, he should be able see what it's doing to your relationship. Because at this point it's not just about him — his refusing to get help of some kind is affecting you, too, and the thing you've created together. Is there a gentle way to tell him that if he doesn't get help, at least as a favor to you, that it might be good to spend some time apart to recalibrate? See what it's like to be alone?

Again, I'm sorry, and I realize that this is definitely easier said than done. Good luck, and I'm sorry if this answer isn't good enough.

I'll add that since you're only 23, and have spent so many of your formative young-adult years together, maybe it would be valuable for both of you — not specifically to address depression, but just for stuff in general — to do more things independently. Do you think that being so together for so long might be draining either of you of anything? There was that article about the value of surprise that seemed interesting. And I don't mean to sound cold, but is it also possible he's unhappy in the relationship but too cowardly to end it, and is behaving this way to force your hand?

2. I have an awesome lady friend (the best kind!) who has perhaps gained some weight lately. I don't know for sure, I haven't really noticed a big difference, but it doesn't seem impossible. I think she continues to be an awesome, foxy lady (and from what I can tell, her boyfriend agrees). She's constantly making comments, though. Every time I see her she says she's so fat, she's so out of shape, she needs to go on a diet, etc. (and from what I can tell, her mom agrees). It's always the same, and I'm sick of hearing about it.

Sometimes I say "What? But you're super-foxy!" (which she just brushes off), sometimes I awkwardly say nothing. It probably doesn't help that I lost about 25 lbs during the first half of this year through, yep, good old-fashioned healthier eating and exercise, which she of course noticed and which seemed to bum her out a little, so for a while I would SOMETIMES respond to her comments with, "Do you want me to let you know the next time I'm going to the gym so we can go together?" but that never got anywhere and just made me feel like a jerk after, so I gave it a rest.

She's complained about herself since before I lost the weight, anyway. My dream response is to yell at the top of my lungs that I think she is an awesome lady and I'm sick of hearing her complain about her body, and that she needs to either do something about it or figure out a way to like herself the way she is and shut the @#&! up about it once and for all, but that doesn't really seem tenable. So my question for you, A Lady, is what DO I say? What does she get out of all this complaining? Is it worth saying anything at all? Do I just throw my invisible earmuffs on and start humming my favorite song instead?

But that's exactly what you should say. Seriously, why not. If it's driving you crazy, next time she does it, yell that you think she's an awesome lady and that you're sick of hearing her complain about her body. Maybe skip the "do something" part, though. And you probably don't even need to yell.

Or just respond with some non sequitur anytime she mentions weight. "Have you heard about the dog that built its own fax machine?" "Did you know they banned wallpaper in Missouri?"

And I'm not proud of this, but I used to complain about a particular physical feature when I was among a certain group of women, one of whom also had a similar variation of this feature (sorry to be vague). But this other woman never complained. She was just supremely chill and never mentioned it, and after a while I realized she didn't care, which somehow made what I didn't like about myself invisible on her. Because if she didn't care, why should I?

Also pointing out things you don't like about yourself can sometimes backfire if it's stuff the other person hadn't noticed or cared about, because they might subsequently care or subconsciously think they should, because you do. (And, I guess this response is now directed at your friend, so maybe it's pointless.) But then there's also the flip side, where people increase intimacy by nurturing one another through their insecurities, although I guess I'm not the Lady to talk to about that.

3. Basically the story is this: My parents (finally!) split up last year, and my dad is marrying (today, in fact), a woman who's six months older than me (26) and a year younger than my sister (28). My parents divorced because of my dad's long-term infidelities with a multitude of other ladies. Basically, he sucks. My mom and my sister all live in the same metropolitan area as the new couple, and so they see each other often enough for a little drama, but in a large enough city so that not everyone in town knows their business. My little brother just returned home from a mission for his church overseas, and has not been involved in the whole thing, but is coming home to a very different family than the one he left. Oh, I should maybe add that my dad dated his new bride for precisely one week before asking her to marry him. 

I haven't had to interact with the whole situation very much, because I'm in grad school at a state very far away. The far-away-ness has been a blessing and a curse, because I haven't been as capable of supporting my sister or my mom (or little brother) throughout the whole deal. But at the same time, I'm removed enough from the situation to have a degree of sanity and the capacity to work on my degree. I have been honest with my dad about my feelings and thoughts, from the time he cheated on my mom until today, when he's marrying this new girl. It doesn't seem to matter, and I'm just barely starting to allow the possibility that I don't matter as much to my dad as I thought I did. Pretty rough. 

Honestly, the dad and new-mom thing basically just creeps me out. She is like, the younger, hotter, skinnier, more submissive, more subservient, Latina version of my mom. We are basically Modern Family.

So the holidays are coming up, and I really would like to spend time with my siblings, my mom, and our extended family. We have all designated that we would like to spend Christmas in the same place, and so I am anticipating a lot of time with my "new mom" and my dad. Basically, I want advice on how to be normal with them when I feel like the whole situation is gross and weird, while also asserting that I matter to our family. Is it possible?  Do I have to hang out with her? Do I have to like her? Do I have to be their impending future kids' big sister???

And what about my dad? How can I be friends with him again? Do I need to be? We had a really great relationship while I was growing up, and I feel terrible about the way things have gone over the last few years. I would hate to just let my relationship with him die. Is it possible to be normal again???

Well, there's no such thing as normal, so — yes and no. And she's not your new mom, and thinking of her as "the new girl" is understandable but also not totally fair.

I'm also curious why you think you "don't matter," or what exactly you asked for or hoped your dad would do while you were being so "honest" with your "feelings and thoughts." Not marry someone because you asked him to? Fix things with your mom? Neither is very realistic, although I sympathize with your frustration and the suddenness of it all, and how jarring it must be that your father is romantically involved with someone who's basically your age. But why not accept that certain things are out of your control, and apply your energy to things you can control? Like, being friendly with everyone, trying to be the best version of yourself, and approaching things with a sense of humor.

You say you had a great relationship with your dad growing up, and I see no reason why you can't now. It's natural to be mad at him, but maybe you can let go of your anger when you get more familiar with the situation. And no, you don't have to like his new wife, but you do have to treat her with respect and give her a chance. And I know I'm not you, but I would give anything to be someone's big sister, at any opportunity.

4. My question concerns family photo etiquette. This Christmas we will all be together for the first time in several years. "We" comprises my parents, all of my siblings with their spouses and children, me, and my boyfriend. My mom wants to take the opportunity to have a family photo taken. But what to do about the boyfriend? The photo is being taken in the house, and he'll be present. I'm pretty sure that my mom won't want him to be in the photo because he's not officially in the family. And I agree with her, I guess –"Here's a picture of our family and my boyfriend" seems weird. But there's also something weird about making him invisible. I mean, if he ends up officially part of the family someday, then it'll seem weird and maybe awful that he was there in 2012, when, instead of the Mayan Apocalypse, the rare family photo happened, but there's no record of it because he didn't "count" that year. He does count, and I want him to feel included and counted and warm and Christmas-y.

I suppose an important question here is "Is he going to be officially in the family someday?" But I don't have an answer! We've been together for five years and I often think he's going to be a permanent part of my life. He certainly thinks so, and talks about marriage. But I'm an indecisive 30-year-old, so I don't know. 

What is the best thing to do here? I worry that if I ask my mom what she would prefer, she will assume I want him included, and do so begrudgingly, unhappily. Or flat-out refuse and then feel cranky? I worry that if I ask for some photos to include him, the fact that she will likely order the photos without him will hurt his feelings. (This kind of covering-all-the-details worry is why I’m indecisive.)

Just ... take two group photos? Your boyfriend should insist on being in the background for a few pics, beaming at you all looking so festive, and then your family/mom/whomever should cajole him into joining you for another. And then who cares which ones your mom picks. If it really does come down to one option, though, I'd err on the side of including him. "Oh that was the guy I was dating that year" seems about the worst-case scenario. I mean, I guess it could be accompanied by heartbreak, but that can happen with married people, too, or so I hear.

Wait. I just reread your question. Do you not like your boyfriend? Oh my god, I think you want to break up with your boyfriend!

"I worry that if I ask my mom what she would prefer, she will assume I want him included."

*Giving you a VERY pointed look*

 

Previously: "How Can I Tell If I'm Boring?"

A Lady is one of several rotating ladies. Do you have any questions for her?

Photo by Ina Schoenrock, via Shutterstock



298 Comments / Post A Comment

v=ir

INTENSE MOMS!

Emby

Yeah, LW#3, you're looking to break up with that dude. Womp womp, but it's true.

Emby

@Emby Also, you've been together for 5 years, he talks about marriage, and you're unsure about it. I know, I know, all the usual caveats apply and each relationship is its own special snowflake, but I've got a feeling your heart ain't in this one. He's your Elf on the Shelf and you're holding out hope for Santa Claus.

ETA: And oops, that's to LW#4, not 3.

Megasus

@Emby do you mean 4?

martinipie

@Emby omg, "he's my elf on the shelf" is BRILLIANT

noodge

@Megano! I think he means #3. I'd break up with my dad in that situation.

paddlepickle

@Emby I didn't notice it till A Lady said it, but it's totally true.

werewolfbarmitzvah

@Emby Yep. Before getting to the end of the letter, I assumed the LW was maybe 20 or so and she'd been dating the guy for about a year, so he might not be around forever, etc. But then she says she's 30 and they've been together 5 years? That sounds like the big leagues of relationships to me! If she still doesn't know if she sees him in her future at this rate, sounds like she's not a big fan of this guy.

smidge

@Emby I went to my boyfriend's dad's wedding--and they included me in some photos, and not in others, and there were lots of jokes about hoping it all worked out because otherwise these photos would be awkward. It did work out, I married him, and now the photos are especially not awkward. Which outcome do you want?

annebee

@Emby Yeah, photos are photos. If it's all formal then probably there will lots of different iterations and he'll be in some of them and not in others. Probably you shouldn't be worrying this much about it and hopefully your mom can relax too.

RNL
RNL

@annebee Yeah, and they cost like $3 to print. You should take a few with him in there, your mom should order a bunch of prints, send the ones with him to you, and choose whatever she wants for her mantel. Even if you DO want to break up! Easiest thing in the world.

If you're 30 and worrying about this, you either have the worst problem solving skills in the world, or you want an internet stranger to tell you what you can't tell yourself: despite the fact that you care about this dude's feelings and want him to have a nice Christmas, you don't want him to be part of your family.

RNL
RNL

@smidge I was at my ex's brother's wedding, there were a bunch of pictures with me, and a bunch without. We broke up soon after. When we got back together, I saw the album, and there were no pictures of me. Easy peasy to erase that painful reminder (my face).

We broke up again, and have stayed that way, and I'm happy that they don't have to explain who the eff I was to people in the future. But it would have SUCKED at the time to have not been included at all.

I'm Not Rufus

@When robot unicorns attack My ex came to my brother's wedding, we took some pictures with and without her, and I haven't scrubbed the "with" pictures from my apartment. They're nice pictures, she's still a nice person and a good friend, and my new ladyfriend doesn't care at all.

Bittersweet

@When robot unicorns attack When my cousin divorced her first husband, my grandfather spent HOURS artfully removing him from each family photo. Like, he became part of the Christmas tree for the 1999 Christmas portrait. Eek.

Mrs. Grundy

@smidge I have never totally understood why people freak out about exes in wedding, Christmas, etc. photos. The photo is of a moment in time. At that moment in time, that person was a part of the family. Now they are not. I get that one might not want to see 100 pictures of one's ex immediately post-breakup, but will it really be so weird to one day say to your kids, "That was Uncle So-and-So's girlfriend at the time" when looking at family photos?

liverwortlaura

To LW1: even though HE refuses to get help, it doesn't mean you're not entitled to help of your own! Lots has been written and documented about the toll depression (and other forms of illness) takes on the caregivers or those who are just dealing with it. Finding someone to support YOU regardless of what he does to help himself is vital!

wearitcounts

@liverwortlaura i was thinking the same thing. and said support-person would have a lot of helpful advice re: strategies to help your bf help himself.

noodge

@liverwortlaura truth!!!

one of the best pieces of advice I received when I was struggling in my marriage was when I asked an older/wiser woman how I could stay with this guy when he was so _______ (fill in the blank with whatever you want - mean, depressed, smelly) and she said to me "honey, if you're ever ready to leave him, you'll know when the time is right" and she was completely, 100% right. and if I hadn't waited, I don't know if I would have been able to get out as strongly as I did.

So, seek help for yourself, LW1, and the more you learn about yourself and how to handle the repercussions of his depression on your life, the better able you will be to answer your own question.

AmandathePanda

@liverwortlaura YES. LW1, I will share a little more of my personal life with the internet than my boyfriend likes me to. I personally struggle with anxiety and depression, and my boyfriend has what turns out is some serious anxiety. I have seen a therapist for over a year. It's someone who my boyfriend helped set me up with because I needed it, actually, which helped. Eventually, I told him I really needed him to come to a session with me and that it mattered, a lot. It helped, a little, and it helped our relationship.

This year, he had a serious issue with his mental health, and he turned to the same therapist. The therapist also helped me through the situation, and has been the most helpful medical professional I have ever known. But besides all that, having the therapist there for ME was so helpful, and helped me learn what I wanted and needed. It might also be a good example to your boyfriend.

Daisy Razor

@liverwortlaura I was just coming down here to say the same thing, and to add that even if he won't get help for himself, if LW1 points out that it's not just about him but about the relationship too, he might be willing to go for himself or to couples counseling.

angelene

@liverwortlaura Yes, I was also thinking this; LW1 will probably need support herself. I don't think it's reasonable to break up with someone because of their depression, but I do think that she should set limits as to the support he can expect from her, as he might be not-getting-help because she is there as a kind of substitute for a therapist, someone to act as a sounding board. One partner ends up taking on too much responsibility for the other's emotional state and it becomes an unbalanced relationship; a girlfriend is not a therapist and she can't be expected to fill that role. She should make clear that she can't help him on her own, and that he needs to seek outside help for his depression. Failing this, she should try not to take on too much resposibility for his feelings and look after her own emotional health; withdraw if he is behaving unreasonably, rather than feeling like you have to bring him round.

tealily

#1, I'm there too. Sometimes there's more depression than not, sometimes I forget it was ever there. He refuses help. I don't know what to do either. I'm hanging in there and mostly letting him do his thing when he needs to withdraw and focusing on taking care of my self and my spirit at those times. It's really, really hard, isn't it?

tealily

@tealily I've also dealt with depression myself, so on one hand I understand what he's going through, on the other hand his depression sets me off pretty easily. He's been very supportive of me getting help, but has made it clear he doesn't want any part of it himself.

joythemanatee

@tealily It is hard, and so unlikely my own personality that I am having a hard time understanding... and when he says "you just don't understand!" I want to tell him that it is inside him, he needs to talk to me for me to understand.... it's hard not to get angry, hard not to feel pity. I know he didn't choose this. I would like to kick his mother though, because she is the same and gave her son absolutely zero tools to deal with this.

Sister Administrator

@S. Elizabeth "ask her what kind of response she wants"... that is the best advice, I think.

angelene

@joythemanatee 'I want to tell him' - why not tell him? It might lead to more progress if you are honest: "Yes, I find it hard to understand how you're feeling, especially if you find it difficult to talk about, but if you want to talk I will listen". What you say here implies that it's your job to understand everything that he's feeling, but that's unrealistic. You can be there, listen, etc., and you still might not understand everything he's feeling at any given moment. That's ok. You're separate people.

Sarah Rain

@tealily This may not apply to you or the letter writer at all. But I have seen friends put in terrible situations by partners who refuse to get help with mental health issues. On the one hand, yeah, you don't abandon someone you love because they have an illness. On the other hand, my friends who were treated like dirt by their partners shouldn't have put up with that. In their cases, if their partners' bad behavior had been caused by a substance abuse issue they refused to address, everyone in their right mind would have begged them to leave. But because it was depression, the partner got a free pass to abuse.

I'm assuming you and the writer are not in situations like this. But if you ever are, or if your partner is doing things that hurt you, think about whether they have the right to leave their mental illness untreated given the impact it's having on you.

angelene

@Sarah Rain Yes, this is why I responded in the way I did – his refusal-to-get-help makes it seem like he's either not aware of her feelings, or he is aware and is thinking that his own distress trumps hers. I know mental illness is harsh in ways I probably can't imagine, and that people have to get help on their own terms, so her best hope to maintain a good state of mind within the relationship as it is is not to involve herself too much in trying to 'fix' his depression because she can't hope to do that. This doesn't mean being callous and uncaring, but don't 'mother' him. Mental illness can be kind of infantilising, I think. Maybe if he's treated as an adult rather than a helpless person, he might take responsibility for trying to manage his depression.

mangosara

LW4: make him take the picture! BOOM. problem solved. or just accept your unwillingness to put him in the picture as A Sign of your subconscious pushing him out of your life.

Judith Slutler

Hey LW#1, I am going to go ahead and say some things that may sound harsh. Maybe I should just state my credentials, I had a mental breakdown last year and spent until oh, August of this year, completely mired in a depressive episode. My boyfriend stuck with me the whole time and I think he is a champ for doing so. ANYWAY.

I think that by comparing mental illness to kidney disease, you are trying to acknowledge that mental illness is real illness. Good job on that, but keep in mind that you wouldn't get kidney disease from staying with your boyfriend if he were suffering from kidney disease. Depression is different. If a depressed person doesn't have good coping methods and is not in treatment, that person surely can drag you down into depression as well. I think you can already feel that this is true. Take care of yourself in this difficult time. If he won't go to therapy, get your own self to therapy, for real.

Also, about that whole "not in treatment" thing. People in general and men in particular have a hard time admitting mental illness and going in for treatment. It still feels like copping to personal weakness or defeat, and depression destroys your motivation to do anything, including seek treatment. However, untreated depression kills. Going back to your kidney disease analogy, you might not leave a guy because he had kidney disease, but would you consider leaving someone who had kidney disease and was entirely refusing medical treatment? Basically he needs to get a handle on this. If it's been going on for years, he might need to go to the doctor, but feel completely unable to do so.

Anyway, again, please care for yourself. You're right that you can't make him do anything he doesn't want to do. All you can do is make decisions for yourself. None of this shit is easy, and my heart goes out to you and him.

You might find this useful as well: http://captainawkward.com/2011/11/05/question-130-my-partner-is-depressed-and-i-am-drowning/

nik
nik

@Emmanuelle Cunt Yes yes yes. I've been pretty much exactly where LW#1 is now, and if there's anything I regret, it's that I didn't get my own ass into therapy sooner.

AmandathePanda

@Emmanuelle Cunt Also agreed. I was on your boyfriend's side in a recent situation with my boyfriend, and it has done unexpected and scary things to my own occasionally precarious mental health. So I would also agree that her boyfriend really does need to get in treatment, and that might need to be something she expects of him. After my boyfriend's incident I have firmly (and possibly excessively strongly) insisted that he take care of himself and keep getting the help he needs, because I will not go through something like that again if it happens because he has neglected his mental health. I've put him through a lot myself, and I know that even in treatment things can go bad, but now I expect him to not neglect the situation. What we went through was horrible.

LW1 might also be able to help him by offering to get him started a little - couples counseling can be a start, or offering to help him look for a doctor or a therapist, or go to an appointment with him at first if he needs it. My boyfriend now needs to see his therapist alone and that is good, but there was a time when he needed my help and I was happy to give it.

tealily

@Emmanuelle Cunt The difference is that not feeling like you can handle treatment isn't really a symptom of kidney disease, but it *is* a symptom of a lot of people's depression. I understand feeling shitty about not being patient with that, or at the very least, feeling confused about where to draw the line with your sympathy.

Judith Slutler

@tealily I understand that too, but it is one of the reasons she might want to really ask herself, "what if this doesn't ever change?" Like, I know she loves him, and with my experiences I am the last person who'd ever yell BREAK UP BREAK UP BREAK UP in this situation. Yet patience only goes so far, and too much of it can be enabling to his situation.

Judith Slutler

@AmandathePanda Oh,for sure there are ways to to help if he is willing to consider treatment! My boyfriend and I sat down and printed out a list of therapists for me to call, and scheduled time for me to call them. Just that helped so much.

Blushingflwr

@Emmanuelle Cunt Your points about it being hard for men to get treatment for depression and also about the apathy of depression are spot on. Also, depression isn't always easy for the sufferer to see. "Everyone feels this way" or "other people have it worse" thoughts are common.

Poubelle

@Emmanuelle Cunt Thank you thank you for this comment. I've suffered from depression since my adolescence, and I think some the disease analogies for depression (like the ever-popular diabetes one) are more unhelpful than not--yes, it's a real illness and not his fault, but otoh, it's not something that's as well understood and is much less straighforward to treat (nobody has ever talked their way out of kidney problems or diabetes, but there's many forms of talk therapy that are valid and helpful for alleviating depression). Not mention that when it comes to getting help, insurance coverage is a lot more clear-cut with physical ailments than mental ones.

And having Been There on the I Don't Need Help train, sometimes it takes something huge (like, for example, people you deeply care about breaking up with you) to give you the kick in the pants to seek out help and realize that, actually, it's much worse than you thought.

(And I mean, it's valid to say that addiction is disease, too, but if the letter were about how the boyfriend's alcoholism went in cycles of good and bad, but the bad periods were getting worse and longer, would anyone really be okay with breaking up not being an option? And like depression, addiction takes a major toll on the loved ones who have to deal with the person suffering from it, in ways that physical ailments don't.*)

*not that a loved one suffering from kidney disease or cancer or what have you doesn't take a real toll, but it's a very different sort of toll than someone who won't get help for their addiction or depression. And honestly, "you may want to seek out support/help, too" is still valid advice in that case.

solaria

@Emmanuelle Cunt Exactly... #1, at the very least you need to find a way to make him understand (this conversation is really likely to not go well) that the situation is wedging apart. It is building tiny instruments of (somewhat earned) resentment that will build to a full-on symphony of discord. It's one thing to not have yourself 100% together, it's another to not have yourself 100% together, patently refuse to work on it, and place a small millstone around the neck of your significant other.

SarahP

LW1, I know this sounds harsh and I'm sorry, but if your boyfriend's depressive cycles are getting worse, he needs help, and you are enabling him by providing (psychologically inadequate) support when he really needs something more.

You (two) need to figure out why he's so resistant to getting help. If he's afraid, maybe you could do some couple's counseling, which would help work out some issues AND allow you to be with him for something he finds scary. If he just refuses to get help because he thinks he doesn't need it, that is BS. I am not a fan of ultimatums, but I think you should consider telling him (and meaning it) that if he doesn't get help, you two shouldn't be together.

SarahP

@SarahP Also, LW1, you should get help and support yourself! This is al ot to go through!

Again, sorry if I sould harsh. I went through something similar with someone who got increasingly mean to me until I eventually had to cut her out of my life. It was really hard, but it was the healthiest thing I could have done for myself at the time.

laurel

@SarahP: I'm with you here. Couples have responsibilities to one another, including seeking treatment for illnesses that impact their shared life. I think LW1 has a right to expect more from her partner than an unpredictable life with a spiraling untreated depressive.

smidge

@laurel Yeah, this reminds me of the question a while ago about the guy who wouldn't help clean. People in relationships have a responsibility to each other.

len132

@SarahP Yes. I don't know how he can be convinced to get help, but he desperately needs it.

My mom stayed with my father for over 20 years. He has severe bipolar disorder, and kept going off his medication, routinely refusing to get help. Mental illnesses do often have a treatment, even if it's hard. Not getting help ruins families and relationships. I really hope that it won't ruin LW1's.

martinipie

Maybe I just have an abnormally gigantic family (five aunts/uncles on each side, plus a half-sister and her assorted relations) but every family event photo is like, an hour long process of arranging different combinations of family members in ways that only vaguely resemble sense. Now the sisters and half sisters! Now the cousins! Now the grandparents and the tiniest kids! Now the middle-aged aunts and uncles and the older kids! It's never One Photo To Rule Them All and In the Darkroom Bind Them.

wee_ramekin

@martinipie Hmmmm, you bring up an interesting point: maybe the mom doesn't want the LW's boyfriend in the photo because he looks like this?

BoozinSusan

@wee_ramekin Aww, I think that'd be rather cute. And hey, I Gollum like I see 'em.

Quinn A@twitter

Oh, God, LW4. What is your family. You think that if you ask your mom to include the man you've been with for 5 years in a few family photos, she will passive-aggressively agree and then only order the ones he's not in? Does she hate him? Do you hate him? Does she hate you?

I am just feeling so sorry for you right now! This seems like the sort of thing you should be able to have an honest conversation with your mother about, and then just take two separate pictures. :/

SarahP

@Quinn A@twitter It also seems like something she should be able to have an honest conversation with her partner of five years about, though, too. "Honey, my mother's really into family photos, and I just want to give you a heads-up that she might consider spouses 'family' but not boyfriends and girlfriends. I can talk to her about it beforehand, but I don't want you to be surprised or upset if it happens that way."

Then again, she sounds like she herself doesn't know if her boyfriend should be included.

Quinn A@twitter

@SarahP Also a good point!

Ellie

I feel like this is one of those situations where there actually just isn't a good solution, so the best thing to do is to just pick one of the available options and then get over it afterwards.

Lily Rowan

@SarahP Yeah, are they partners or are they dating? Even five years in, that would be the distinction I'd make. We have a family photo that included a boyfriend and at the time, I thought to myself, "Man, I hope they get married!" And they did, so I think they knew they were in it for the long haul at that point.

itiresias

@Lily Rowan I took a family picture with my boyfriend of 6 months in it at a wedding this summer. We most likely won't get married? Life is temporary and photos show that.

My biggest wonder at this LW was, have you not come across this 'issue' at ANY function in the past 5 years?

piekin

@Quinn A@twitter Yes! Sometimes my partner's family or my extended family have gotten weird about our respective involvement in "family things" since we're not OFFICIALLY HUSBAND AND WIFE, so I kinda get that. But a long time ago we mutually decided to go tell those people to go suck an egg. And even if LW4 isn't into taking a public stand against heteronormative marriage expectations, why is she making this so. weird.?

Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that)

@Quinn A@twitter Honestly, before LW mentioned that they'd been together for five years, I thought this was like a new-ish boyfriend. It's been five years, though. I know that they're not *married* or anything, but he's got to at least sort of be part of the family by this point, right? Like, he's going to be AT Christmas.

Dancercise

LW2: Tell her how you feel, preferably without the yelling.

"What?! But you're super-foxy!" is easy to brush off. Earnestly and honestly tell her she is amazing and loved just as she is. Let her know that hearing her complain about her body is wearing on you and you don't know how to deal with her constantly getting down on herself because you just don't see her that way.

I'll disagree slightly with A Lady, though, and suggest that you do say something about your friend "doing something." Not in a "God, would you just shut up and go on a diet already?" way, but in a "Look, this seems like it's important to you, and you keep talking about it, so maybe you should try something and see if it makes a difference. But please don't feel like you have to. Know that I still think you're wonderful and funny and I love you. And who cares what your mom thinks?" way.

Megasus

@Dancercise I would be like, "OK, NO MORE BODY SNARKING IN MY PRESENCE."

entangled

@Megano! yep, exactly.

It's not Do Something. There are a lot of areas in which people don't know what steps to take or aren't sure how to do something about it. Weight loss is not one of them. She is probably hearing the "Do Something (mean inner voice adendum: you unworthy slob)" message from everywhere. Even women whom the societal message is not targeting are hearing this. It is out there and it is loud.

What she needs to hear from you is that body hate, whether her own or anyone else's, and the idea that weight/food/fitness/attractiveness/etc is a measure of personal worth is unacceptable in your presence and should be unacceptable in hers as well. It's OK to yell (or at least be gently forceful) because there's a lot of other, destructive messages getting through to her right now.

SarcasticFringehead

@Megano! That has generally been my response - something along the lines of "hey, I'm not in the healthiest place with this either, so it can come up maybe once every time we hang out, and then no more of that," or a variation on, "would you let someone talk about your friends the way you're talking about yourself?"

Either it gets them out of that mindset and into a happier place, or you at least don't have to hear it.

Elsajeni

@Dancercise I also like Captain Awkward's standby response to other people's negative self-talk, which is, "When you tell me things like that, how would you like me to respond?" Delivered not with exasperation (UGH what do you WANT from me), but with sincerity and kindness: what are you looking to get out of this conversation? Compliments? Commiseration? Advice on what to do about it?

brooklebee

@Dancercise Yeah, I have that kind of interaction pretty regularly with a friend (who I love a lot but has body dismorphia). Like:

Her: "Ugh, I hate my thighs."
Me: "Please don't say mean things about yourself to me. It makes me feel sad."
Her: "But they're sooooo big!"
Me: "OK NO MORE BODY SNARKING OR I AM WALKING AWAY."

Usually it works? For a few weeks. But ultimately I can't change the way she feels about her body, no matter what I do or say. Praise she either discounts as empty flattery (because she doesn't see herself that way) or undercuts by pointing out some other flaw, and requests to at least not express it around me are only a temporary solution. But I do love her, so I keep trying.

msmas

@Dancercise I find not responding or responding with "you're being ridiculous" works. If it goes on, I say "I find weight loss discussions to be very unfeminist, so I don't believe in talking about people's bodies like this." Nothing shuts down a conversation like bringing up feminism! ;)

Elsajeni

@Elsajeni (Also, based on my own experience of being a self-hating, negative-self-talking, stressful-to-be-around friend, she may not even really be aware of how often she's putting herself down or complaining about herself. I know that, when I was doing it, I was constantly going around and around about [problem] in my own head and didn't even realize how much of that was spilling out of my head via my mouth. I would have really benefited from someone saying, "You know, it seems like we've had this conversation a lot lately, and I'm getting worried about you. Is there something I can actually do to help?", and I think the LW's friend might, too.)

remargaret

@Elsajeni I like the "Hey, that's my best friend you're talking about" response - I think I've had that pulled on me before, and it usually elicits a laugh and a change of topic.

Bebe

@remargaret I have used something similar - "Hey - no one talks about my best friend like that. Not even my best friend." and it worked. Temporarily, so I do have to repeat it once in a while, but I think it is getting through to her.

usually just lurking

@Dancercise I used to have a habit like this of negative self-talk, my boyfriend used to not respond or tell me "you're being ridiculous." But what cured me of the habit was when he started responding with "it makes me sad when you say things like that about yourself."

PistolPackinMama

LW#1, I am so sorry. Depression fucking sucks, and survivors of depression are motherfucking heroes, in my book. Mental illness is hard.

I can understand not breaking up with someone because they have depression. But I CAN understand breaking up with someone for having depression... and refusing to do anything about it.

People don't choose to be depressed (oh god, no they don't), but eventually they do choose how they will cope with it. If it's a chronic thing, then refusing seeking help is denying that depression is going to be part of life forever. It also means a depressed person needs a set of tools to manage their depression as best they can.

Can you imagine your partner having unmanaged depression when you have a little baby in the house? How about when your mom or dad dies? When one of you loses a job? Can you do those things with the kind of help/support you would get from your BF when he's at his least functional? Can you imagine how working towards your own dreams and goals will work if your partner is not-functional with depression? How will it affect your moods and self esteem?

Sometimes admitting how bad things are/can be is a necessary step in finding a coping system. Refusing to deal with depression isn't doing that.

Living with depression is possible, but it does take committing to the fact that you can't do it on your own, and you can't expect to ride out the cycle every time it comes around without some other resources to help manage it.

PistolPackinMama

@PistolPackinMama In other words... your boyfriend's depression is his own grim little gremlin to manage. But it does affect you, and yes, if he's not doing anything to make it bearable when it's bad, you can (and maybe should) split.

You're not a bad, ableist person if you do. You're taking care of your own health and needs.

I am not saying ditch him right now and run far away. I am just saying- keeping in mind that in fact breaking up is a legit thing to do might help you feel less stuck when looking at other options.

Love, a person with depression

noodge

@PistolPackinMama yes, totally. let's take the analogy to a logical conclusion: if her boyfriend had kidney disease and wasn't seeking help for it, he would be increasingly sick, not able to work, unable to participate in life, and would start wasting away... meanwhile help is a phone call and some office visits away. I'd say that in either circumstance, breaking up with someone who is being that stubbornly self-destructive is completely understandable.

(I, like you, struggle with depression, and I realize that taking it on and seeking help for it is the most loving gift I can give my husband, because it means I can love him and live with him more fully, and not hurt him or myself... everyone wins)

stonefruit

@PistolPackinMama Yeah, seconding this. Also, as a very smart friend once said, mental health issues are like puppies. It's okay to have a puppy, but you have to take care of it, and you can't just let it pee all over someone else.

Judith Slutler

@stonefruit Best puppy analogy ever!

hotdog

@PistolPackinMama I cannot thank you enough for this. I am currently 2 months out of a relationship with a very depressed man that I love very, very much. I was willing to be there, I was willing to help. However, in his case, he eventually externalized his depression and blamed his job, his family, and eventually...me.

He became fairly verbally abusive, and I stuck it out, because he would have breakdowns and breakthroughs and everything would be great until...it wasn't, again.

I stayed because I empathize with mental illness, and I empathized with the excuses he made for not getting help (not enough money, not enough time). I empathized until things were awful, and I was isolated because I didn't want to tell anyone things were so awful. My self-esteem went out the window, I didn't make any friends (did I mention we moved back to his hometown, in part to get him out of his 'funk'?), and eventually, he hated me and saw our relationship as the cause of his depression. So yes, your partner's depression can harm you, and yes, I wish I had gotten out earlier, and YES, you can break up with someone for not helping themselves.

PistolPackinMama

@hotdog Oh god, I am so sorry. I hope you are recovering and finding your way, because that is a hard road. xx <3 <3

(Also, you can get out because they are trying and it isn't working. If the outcome on you is this kind of detrimental... you can love someone and know it's not working. It sucks and isn't fair, but it happens.)

joythemanatee

HI LW1, I am sitting in the same boat ... well, he's my husband, but other than that, same damn boat. Sometimes he is willing to get help, others not. He's actually gotten help before, but that was before I was in his life, and apparently the therapist was awful and "just out for money." I dunno. I just don't know. I will not divorce him over this, although we are currently in a super dark phase and he is lashing out more and more... but I understand, it's a new country and a new job with new management responsibilities... everybody would be overwhelmed, and with him it's just more dramatic. I am still hoping we find our way, and that's that. Honestly, I talk to my mom and sister a lot, and that's my help for coping. Whether or not I get him to see a therapist, I don't know yet, but I hope to give it a try. Anywhoo, long blathering here, I am in your boat.

tealily

@joythemanatee That sounds like my situation too. He went to a counselor years ago, but it "didn't help." So therefore NO counselors could be helpful to him, I guess. :/ He also doesn't want to be put on medication, which is fine (I don't think that's for everyone). But I don't know how to communicate to him that he needs to learn coping skills that aren't lashing out against others. I've said that directly, but he's not hearing it.

joythemanatee

@tealily Can't decide whether or not to feel better or worse, hearing that so many others are dealing with this same shit. It is astounding, in any case, how "common" it is and how tabu it is to say out loud.

tealily

@joythemanatee Yup. I feel the same way.

whateverlolawants

@joythemanatee It was really nice recently when one of my coworkers spoke openly about being on antidepressants. He didn't have a trace of shame in his voice as he talked about seeing a therapist, either. I know why it's so hard for people to do as he did, but I wish we all could.

joythemanatee

@whateverlolawants That is really impressive! I wish we all could be so honest, too... but I honestly would have zero faith in my boss respecting me for making such a declaration. But my reaction to reading what your coworker said is respect and admiration, knowing what he has to deal with and that he's taking the steps necessary to do so.

Megasus

LW 1: Yes, you guys need to do some stuff apart, including you getting help for living with the bf's depression. It's tough being someone's life raft. But he needs to get help. This is probably harsh, but if you refuse to get help for stuff like this, you're a jerk. It's not just about him anymore. If he won't get help it's just going to get worse, and there is a point where his depression will become a crutch for him not doing things you need from him.

up cubed

My family has a family calendar and this year one of the latter months was dedicated to a wedding that happened last year and has since been dissolved. We were issued a page to replace the photos with those of a new baby. Families change all the time, so just take it as a commemoration of the group at that holiday party.

fuck fuck fuck

@upupandaway your family sounds...organized. but fun!

Old Katrina

LW1 - This isn't a "break up!" message, because that's something you'll have to decide for yourself. It sounds like you're generally happy in the relationship and you genuinely care for him. But if there's one thing reading Dear Prudie has taught me, it's this:

Our laws are such that if you have a mentally ill loved one who will not go in for treatment, then there's often not much you can do. (These laws need reforming, but I don't see that happening.) So what I'm left with is giving more advice along the lines of after you'd done what you can, you just have to sometimes accept people won't or can't be helped.

(linked from The Hairpin itself - http://thehairpin.com/2012/12/is-good-advice-timeless sorry I'm not fancy and I don't know how to link things in comments)

Just because you love someone or they are family doesn't mean they deserve to be in your life. And just because they have a mental illness doesn't give them carte blanche to act however they want if they actively do not seek treatment. If you had cancer and didn't seek treatment, my sympathy would go out the window for you. (For the record, I have all the sympathy in the world for cancer patients... My grandfather died of lung cancer and it was awful) But if you're going to say, "I can't hate on him for having depression because I wouldn't for having some other disease," then you have to take a step back and realize yes you would if he were just letting himself slowly and painfully die of that disease and force you to watch every single day and refuse to get professional treatment when he very well could. Because that's what he is doing. Currently. I mean, maybe he's not actively dying, but he is affecting your life.

Exene

@Old Katrina "(These laws need reforming, but I don't see that happening.)"

What in the world does she propose?

Springtime for Voldemort

@Old Katrina We need to change the laws to make it easier for people to force others against their will into therapy? What?

prefer not to say

@Springtime for Voldemort

I know that sounds horrible, but I think that's a fair argument that makes a lot of sense to families who deal with people who are severely mentally ill. See this article if you want to understand what would lead people to espouse an idea that probably seems to you unfairly coercive on the face of it:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/24/magazine/when-my-crazy-father-actually-lost-his-mind.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

This probably isn't the situation LW#1 is in, though. She certainly doesn't make it sound that dire. But I do know several families where the scale of the harm of mental illness is incredible, and there's nothing they can do to require the mentally ill person to seek help even when they absolutely know (because they have a long pattern of past behavior that predicts it) that the outcome will be violence and possibly harm to others.

every tomorrow@twitter

@Springtime for Voldemort I think she's referring more to cases of people who are clearly a danger to themselves, if not others, but whose families have no way to force them into the inpatient treatment they obviously need.

The example that leaps to mind for me is the daughter of a family friend, who is schizophrenic and has repeatedly run away from home and gotten into extremely dangerous situations. Her family has no way to force her into any kind of inpatient treatment for more than a short period. When she's in inpatient treatment she is on medication and is better (and also safe). As soon as she is released she goes off her meds and runs away from home and does crazy dangerous things. Last I heard she was in jail several time zones away from her family.

Another child of another family friend developed SEVERE bipolar disorder in college, and when she's manic she goes on booze, drugs, and risky sex binges, spends all her money, steals stuff, and wrecks cars. She also refuses treatment, her family cannot force her into treatment, and she is very obviously self-destructing.

Basically I suspect both of them are going to end up either joining the severely mentally ill homeless population or dead eventually, barring some kind of extraordinary intervention... And basically since they're adults their family can't do much of anything, since they resist treatment. I feel like there needs to be some kind of way for people to intervene, but I have no idea how that would work legally.

Ugh. Basically it sucks and seeing people I know to be awesome self-destruct due to untreated mental illness makes me totally sad.

(Somehow I hear about all this because my mom is fairly open about her own and her family's history of mental illness, so she gets all the "my child is mentally ill and I don't know what to do!" phone calls.)

Springtime for Voldemort

@every tomorrow@twitter @prefer not to say I'm trying not to get into the pros and cons of involuntary commitment with people who weren't the OP, because that seems like an unnecessary, if interesting, threadjack. But when a specific scenario (x) is presented - as tends to be the case in advice columns - and the a commenter references Scenario X but doesn't bring up any other scenarios, I tend to assume they are talking about Scenario X and not Scenarios Y, Z, or N. I have no reason to believe based on the comment that Old Katrina is talking not about this LW's boyfriend, but about some hypothetical involving severe paranoid schizophrenia. I do have some reason to believe that she is using Dear Prudie - who's in pretty much no way a mental health advocate - as a source on mental health and the law.

leonstj

LW4 reminds me of a story. On my parents 20th Anniversary, my father got my ma's name in a ribbon across a heart tattooed on his arm. Pretty standard stuff.

One of my ma's siblings joked "Shit, what are you going to do if you ever get divorced?"

My grandfather (my mom's dad) replies "You can always get IS A BITCH added."

Good times. My parents eventually got divorced, about 6 years after that. My old man never added "IS A BITCH", and never covered up my mother's name. I asked him why once.

"You spend a lot of time with a person, you're always going to carry a part of them with you. Mine, YOU can see a little of. But how's that any different for me than if it was all invisible?"

Maybe your dude will be around forever, maybe he won't. But he's a part of your life now, and that's all that photos are for. Records of the now. There's no permanent official record that matters, it's all just a bunch of moments that happen to have happened.

SarahDances

@leon s Yup. Five years with someone is long enough that you will not ever look back at that picture and go "Ugh, there's that random dude, what was his name?" Five years is enough that even without rings on fingers, he counts as a part of *your* family, as in the family we all create for ourselves as adults.

Reginal T. Squirge

Pretty much every day I get out of bed, I'm trying to be your dad. I hope that isn't... as weird as it sounds.

Emby

@Reginal T. Squirge I assume you mean you're trying to get his mom into bed all the damn time.

laurel

@Reginal T. Squirge: ...and getting Leon's ma's name in a ribbon across a heart tattooed on your arm?

leonstj

@laurel - Everyone should get my mom's name in a ribbon across a heart tattooed on them.

fabel

LW3: you sound weirdly detached from this situation, & maybe this isn't going to be the best advice, but---I think you should *remain* weirdly detached during whatever events you'll be meeting this New 26-year-old Step-Mom of yours. Like, don't even think of the re-routed family ties & awkward dynamics stemming from your "relation" to her. Instead, just be polite as you would to any other peer (ahh, she's your peer!). Hopefully she & your father aren't doing things like sitting on each other's laps, so it's easier for you to be all "Okay, this is Jasmin. She's just some woman who's in attendance. She seems nice!"

I know this is basically...bury every emotion! But I'm mainly trying to help you through Christmas dinner, or whatever. Other people will hopefully jump in with more sage suggestions. Good luck!

MilesofMountains

@fabel That's what I would do. Just treat it like your sister brought a boyfriend/girlfriend you're not particularly fond of. She's there, you're not rude, but you don't have to pretend she's someone you're interested in hanging out with, either. Be nice if you can, but to be honest, I couldn't be too welcoming in that situation even if I tried.

Kristen

@fabel Yeah, I have some conflicting thoughts about the situation. First, LW3, I wonder exactly what "I've been honest about my feelings" means in this situation. A polite phone call in which you gently advise your dad that marrying someone half his age might not be the best idea? Or a screaming, sobbing fight in which all of your emotions that were on the inside came to the outside?

In the first instance, speaking from my own experience, there is a kind of violence that happens when parents expect their children to hold in their feelings and "behave" and "get along" in the face of huge familial upset & trauma, and this is particularly true in the cases when the bad marriage has limped along, bleeding, for decades. In that instance, I think maybe you do need to scream and sob a little. You also have a right to throw a fit and refuse to see your dad at Christmas. I'm not saying you have to, but you certainly have the right to, and that might be better than pretending everything's okay when it's not. The new wife may well be able to tell that you hate her and don't respect her, and it could be worth postponing Christmas together until the air has cleared. Kids who feel divorce looming on the horizon tend to get really practiced at holding in and muting their feelings because they're afraid that if they let loose, the world will fall in around them, and it takes time to realize, post-divorce, that this can't happen anymore.

If you do scream and sob and your dad responds with any version of "I love you, and I'm sorry that I hurt you, but I love my wife and that doesn't mean I love you any less" - in other words, if he hears you - then you can still skip Christmas if you want. Or, you can go and just kind of muddle through it, trying to be nice in any way you can. What you can't do is show up at their house, seething with rage, and "assert that you matter to the family" in a way that will be satisfying to either yourself or to them, because what does this mean? Do you really believe that your dad can't love you and love his new wife, that his marrying her means that you don't matter, or that he can't be kind of a dummy when it comes to marriage but also a good dad? Because he can, and you know it; or if you don't know it, trust me, cause it's true.

On the other hand, if you have raged and sobbed and shared your feelings and he just kinda blew you off and assumed he'd see you at Christmas - in other words, if he didn't respond empathetically and appropriately to your pain - then yeah, you have a problem, but it has nothing to do with the new wife. It has to do with your dad being cruel, and selfish, and a person who is probably never going to meet your emotional needs, no matter how many Christmas dinners you show up to. That sucks. It sucks it sucks it sucks. But it has nothing to do with this immediate situation, this wife or your Christmas dinner, it has to do with your dad as a person, and you have your whole life to figure out what to do about it. I think maybe some therapy might be in order, and limited expectations, and recognizing that all is required of you is to do your best and protect yourself in a difficult situation.

Oh man, this story is sad. Especially "I'm just barely starting to allow the possibility that I don't matter as much to my dad as I thought I did. Pretty rough." I hope that's not true! From what you've given us, it's not necessarily true! But if it is true, my heart is with you.

jule_b_sorry

@fabel If I'm being honest, I would bug the fuck out if my father married someone a few months older than me. My dad is really old, so maybe I'm an unusual case - when I was 26, he was 61. Good childhood, good relationship, whatever. I know myself, and it would probably take years before I could speak to him, let alone to his new wife. And even then, I'd be holding back biting remarks pretty much the whole time.

Maybe that's not "being fair", but that's just too insane a situation for me to validate through tacit acknowledgement...b/c I would worry that basically any tolerance in social settings would be read as approval.

(Also, thanks for summing up a HUGE problem I have with "Modern Family", even though I like the show).

beeline96

@fabel Off topic, but I'm currently 25 and my parents are 61... this is becoming more and more of a thing as people are putting off having babies. They're "old parents" to me and older generations, but they'll soon just be... normal-aged parents. (See also: recent Slate article about waiting to have kids)

Totally agree, though, that if my parents split and my dad remarried someone my age, I'd flip the eff out and/or go into shock wondering how the hell he got someone attracted to him, so... I'd probably need to be hospitalized.

Passion Fruit

Hm, perhaps I am being overly harsh, but in regards to LW1, I would break up with someone that refused to manage their long-term disease. Once we established that there was indeed a problem, I would give them time (along the lines of a year or two) to get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan going. But, to continue the kidney disease analogy, if they're not going to weekly dialysis and doing their part to be healthy, then maybe the relationship can't be fully healthy.

leastimportantperson

@Passion Fruit Right, because the overall thing here is that he is telling her that this is not going to change. This is what is going to happen forevermore. LW1, this is the relationship he's offering you. That's what you need to confront.

AnnieM

@Passion Fruit I want to reply to all the answers to LW1 because it's my letter, haha, but I am short on time so for right now I am answering here.

Random thoughts in no real order..
- Thank you guys! Honestly. Hearing others thoughts/experiences/opinions is great. And cathartic?
- I don't think he necessarily thinks it will happen forevermore? I think it will but I think he thinks he's going to figure it out. Because he does seem to figure out for periods of time..such as the period of time between when I wrote this letter and now (a couple months?). I know it's just cyclical but yeah. Point is, I don't think he's outright saying "I'm going to be terrible forever so just get used to it!" I think he really assumes he's going to get better.
- I think he assumes that because he thinks he can just fix it himself. He's more or less said this when I've suggested getting help, that he just wants to do it on his own.
- I have talked to a counselor once. Then I moved and haven't found someone new to talk to. At the one appointment I talked about my relationship so much that the therapist basically said "You seem ok, but maybe you should bring your boyfriend with you next time." Couples counseling (or going with him for support, or whatever) is something I'm all for.
- I get the points about my imperfect kidney disease analogy, you're all right about that.
- I need to bookmark this article for the next time it's bad, I guess. Right now things have been so good for awhile that I think he would be even more unlikely to listen to any suggestions about help. But I will look into options for therapy because I have my own issues as well..and then I'll have something to fall back on when things get worse.

Thanks again.

joythemanatee

@AnnieM Hi Annie, just wanted to let you know I am in your damn boat and I hope things do get better for you and your boyfriend.

Judith Slutler

@AnnieM I'm glad to see you replying!

As far as the cyclical thing goes, I can tell you from experience that it is very difficult to get self-awarenes about that type of depression. When it goes away, one does hope that it's just all better now and things won't go downhill again. However, as you know - he doesn't "have it figured out" during his upswings. He may be coasting along without running into a depressive trigger for a while, or he may actually be suffering from something more complex and experiencing a manic period.

I may be projecting like a motherfucker here but the thing is, he can't "figure out" and fix a disease that is there due to brain chemistry blips or deep-seated neuroses or both. That whole "no wait for a second, I can fix it" mentality is extremely typical of depressive people, who tend to figure that feeling bad is our fault and thus we have to struggle through it ourselves.

My point is, look, of course he isn't doing this on purpose in order to complicate your life. But still, he IS doing it. You sound like you know this and have a realistic idea of what's going on. Good luck.

sevanetta

@Emmanuelle Cunt agreed with everyone else... you cannot figure depression out on your own. you need help. you need a counsellor/psych, you need to find out the cause of the depression, you need to find out if it is depression on its own or actually bipolar disorder or Seasonal Affective Disorder or post-traumatic stress, you need to consider herbal meds or regular meds, and you need proper exercise, food and sleep. I cannot stress enough: he is not going to work this out on his own and he needs this information at least. I have known plenty of people with depression, am close to some and have had it myself. no matter what the cause, and from my anecdata there are two trends: people who get help manage it, people who don't get worse.

up cubed

@AnnieM - [Caveat- this is just my response to anxiety; it might not be applicable to you/your relationship] I feel more able to do constructive things when I already feel good - such as taking meditation/mindfulness classes, exercising, and journaling.
In the "down" phase, I don't believe these techniques work, even though I know (from doing them) that they help. I just want to hide and wait it out.
Although your partner seems less interested in getting help when he doesn't' think he needs it, it might be the best time to start.

teaandcakeordeath

@AnnieM
Hey - Im not sure how helpful this is but I thought Id pitch in. I was in a very similar situation and I remember feeling a sense of shame for wanting to get out of the relationship. I completely related to you when you said in your letter:
"Breaking up with him because he has depression feels the same to me as if I broke up with him because he had ... like ... kidney disease or something. I don't want to ditch someone I love just because they aren't perfect."
I remember feeling like I would be a bad person if I didnt take on his depression and try to help him with it.
For me, I realized I should be out of the relationship when that became the only reason for staying in.
When you are with someone going through something so absorbing you sometimes forget that youre allowed feelings too but just remember you are. You're even allowed a right to happiness. So if you decide this relationship isn't what you want then please know that is absolutely ok and that you dont need to stay out of guilt.
Sorry to sound so melodramatic, but this was something I ended up learning the hard way.

Maryaed

@AnnieM You sound like you're a kind, loyal person, but I would think long and hard before treating a youthful five year relationship like a ten-year marriage with kids. The fact is, you don't owe him a lifetime of care. The only reason you need to breakup up is that you want to see if there is something better. And you should see, at your age.

If you two are totally fantastic future partners you'll get back together at some point.

OxfordComma

@AnnieM : Hang in there, lady!

BethH

@AnnieM Something to consider for the next time he's in a depressive cycle and refusing to get help--maybe phrase it as getting some on advice on coping mechanisms? like, if you had a broken radiator, you'd hover when the repair guy so maybe next time you don't have to call him (bad example? maybe something with cars?)? Also, as a depression sufferer, one of the best things I got from therapy (which my mother forced me into during my early teens) was the ability to RECOGNIZE when I was starting to become depressed. Before my work with various therapists, I wouldn't understand what was happening, but now I'm generally able to catch it so much sooner, and employ my coping mechanisms.

Also, somebody brought up medication earlier and that it's "not for everyone". I have to say, I generally disagree, especilly in a situation which thi sounds like, where he's never gotten adequate help before. Depression screws with your brain chemistry, and since this seems to be a chronic problem, a reset may be in order. Honestly, I don't think I understood HOW bad I felt until that Prozac kicked in. Of course, finding the right therapist to perscribe you the right medication is super important. (Beware anyone who ONLY wants to give you meds)

OxfordComma

@BethH : That's exactly what the fiancé said, too--he didn't know how bad it was until he was able to feel better with medication.

Get a solid doctor who will talk to you about any and all of your concerns, and won't dismiss you in any way. It's worth the work.

lizaboots

@AnnieM Hello LW1! I'm sorry you're going through this. I'm 24, in a five-year relationship with someone I love, I immediately identified with your letter--except I'm the one with the illness. (Bipolar disorder, but more depressive than manic.) ((I'm also the daughter of a bipolar parent and the woman who has been married to him for over 30 years.)) I have some thoughts, but (no duh) this is just one imperfect perspective on a delicate issue, so here's a grain of salt too.

1. You sound like a very compassionate and well-informed person. The kidney disease comparison makes me want to cry; your partner is lucky to have someone who knows that this is not a character flaw or a show.

2. None of those things will be less true if the day comes when you decide you can't stay with someone who doesn't get help.

3a. To stay with the kidney disease comparison: his illness is not your illness. His illness is not your illness. His illness is not your illness. But then again...of course it is. How could it not be? It affects you. Someone made a great point above about contagion, which I really like, because it says neither, "His depression is your problem," nor "If his depression interferes with your life, that's your problem."

3b. I think it's only realistic to acknowledge that if you're with someone with a chronic illness, there will be times when you are called upon to be generous, to be patient, even-occasionally-to nurse. I don't think your partner is entitled to that, but I think that's part of a loving relationship--if that makes sense.

4. It follows, though, that your partner should do what he can to reduce the frequency and extent to which you are called upon. And to make an effort to be in a place where, should you endure an injury of your own (mental, physical, familial, career..) he can take his turn to give care.

5. "Do what he can" is where things get so difficult. In my experience (in my own brain, and observing my father) mood disorders do this awful thing where, in an episode of depression, you can barely wrap your head around brushing your teeth let alone seeing a doctor. But they also skew your perspective--like how, if you study for a test drunk, you should take the test drunk?--memories don't always last between states of mind. So the swings that are so obvious to you might blur together for him.

6. One thing you can do, then, is to try to talk to him when he's down, and--this might seem sneaky, sorry--but really make a note of things he says, or days he doesn't get out of bed, or whatever, and bring it up when he's well. "Do you remember saying...?" He might be surprised, and see his illness in a new light.

7. If his attitude is less an absolute refusal to seek help and more procrastination or dismissal...try taking those initial steps. (Transparently) call for the appointment. Drive him there. Minuscule as these hurdles seem, they could be obstructive. There are arguments to be made that this would set a dangerous precedent for your level of involvement. I see it more as driving someone with a broken leg to the hospital. You're not promising to drive him to the gym every morning for the rest of his life. You're intervening once so that he can reach a place where he can take care of himself.

8. Don't make ultimatums just to be manipulative...but if you are at a point where you really are going to leave because he is not getting help, though you would stay if he tried (knowing that a long road of "trying" might lie ahead), say so.

I'm writing even though bipolar disorder is different, but also because bipolar disorder is different: being manic feels wonderful. But it causes other people suffering, and that's unacceptable. My treatment is as much for the sake of people I love as for my own. And really, because I love them, I sometimes doubt there's an actual difference. Don't feel guilty!

up cubed

@lizaboots This is very honest and excellent advice. Thank you for sharing.

sarahmcl

LW3, the Modern Family family gets along great.

melis

LW3, Modern Family is a terrible show.

melis

this has been Missing the Point with Melis

SuperGogo

@melis But not as terrible as Big Bang Theory.

NuckingFux Nix

@SuperGogo .....I kind of like the Big Bang Theory.

I know, I know! But I hang out with a lot of engineers and can relate to the shallow stereotypes...

Springtime for Voldemort

@SuperGogo Big Bang Theory is like the perfect amount of bad, for when I need something extra-light while I study.

stonefruit

@NuckingFux Nix I do too. We can just sit over here together and be ashamed of our terrible taste in sitcoms.

saul "the bear" berenson

I am finding myself in similar shoes to LW1. I'm older though, and so is he. We've been together a year. He's in therapy (started maybe 6 months ago), I am too, and have been for a long, long time. He's working really hard to deal with his depression, but it's major, and it's really, really hard. Any advice beyond the "get him in therapy" part would be awesome.

AmandathePanda

@Moxie I bet you already know a lot of this, but with my guy (we're both in therapy, yay!) some things I try are to get us on regular, healthy routines. I try to encourage him to exercise, which is good for depression, and to remember to eat, and to do things he likes when he's having episodes even if he wants to avoid stuff. I also encourage him to remember that I want to help him and if he needs to talk to me about things I am happy to listen, or talk to him, or just lay there and rub his back, whenever necessary. Also, therapy together - not couples' therapy really, but therapy to help you two learn how to help each other - might help.

tealily

@Moxie I would also add, remember that it goes in cycles. When it's really bad, it's hard to remember that sometimes, but it does get better. Just make a pact to take care of each other and take care of yourselves.

Side note: My bf of 5 years has depression, and it can be really hard, but the flipside is that he understands a bit of what I'm going through when I'm depressed. One of my best friends also has depression and her husband does not. It's extremely difficult for both of them when she's having an episode. She feels like he's pestering her, he feels lost and confused about how to help or why him being there for her isn't fixing it.

OxfordComma

@Moxie : Is he taking meds? (there are many reasons not to--no judgement--but you may want to consider them if he's had long-term, severe depression)

saul "the bear" berenson

@Moxie He isn't yet. My personal feeling on the question of meds, for him (not for everybody), is that he has a lot to work through in therapy and it's worth taking a stab at them medication-free. During the times that he's not feeling depressed, it's harder to sort out what's going on and where the depression is coming from or what it's about, so I worry that meds would start a cycle of not dealing with it. If therapy really doesn't help then yes, meds might be necessary.

Here is a question - do people ever go on anti-depressants, and then go off of them later, and find that they don't need them anymore? That sounds silly, but how does that work?

OxfordComma

@Moxie : It's totally worth taking a stab at depression without meds at first! I mean, for God's sake, if therapy works, why bother taking medication?

Here's the thing: Sometimes, therapy just isn't enough. A good doc will start you out on a very, very low dose of a generic med like Prozac, and give you six weeks to see how you feel. Mood journals are useful to keep track of daily feelings and emotions, especially since the process takes a while before results show.

Some folks *can* go off their daily medication after time--the fiancé's mom is off of hers after 10 years of being on them, and she's doing fine. It's kind of like the medication allowed her body to rebuild its natural levels of hormones--she was depressed for years before getting medication, and her body took a while to get better.

It can take a while, and sometimes, no, you won't be able to go off your medication. But? If you get your self back? If those meds WORK? It's totally and completely worth it.

Honestly, we tried everything before turning to medication, and it is the only thing that has worked for us. I am grateful for Prozac.

taco-salad dot com

@Moxie I was on antidepressants for 2 years, have been off them for more than a year and a half now, and am doing well. Some people need to be on them indefinitely. Others take them off and on periodically for life. For all I know I'll be back on them someday myself, but for quite a while now I've been okay :) My experience was not that they magically made the depression go away so I didn't have to deal with my problems. It was more that they alleviated the depression enough to help me get back into a good place where I could handle life better. I had been SO reluctant to give medication a try, for many of the reasons you've mentioned. I was afraid of having to rely on it for life, too. But once I gave it a shot and it WORKED, I felt so silly for having dismissed a treatment option that turned out to be extremely beneficial to me. In all honesty, it was the most useful tool I gained from therapy (of course YMMV). After a couple years I gradually weaned off, and so far so good *knock on wood*

OxfordComma

@faceifer : Exactly! ...but don't feel silly for dismissing it--depression meds (or any meds for a mental illness!) can be seriously scary--it's okay to make them a last resort.

TheLetterL

LW2: I had a long paragraph here, but the upshot was that you are not responsible for your friend's jerkbrain, and do not let HER jerkbrain make YOU crazy. Do as A Lady said and make some boundaries.

Jaya

When my sister-in-law was dating her husband, he came to Passover one year. Photo time came along, and her uncle yelled for him to get on the edge of the group, "In case we have to crop you out."

...so that's one solution.

PistolPackinMama

@Jaya

o_O

Would he have said that to, I dunno, a foreign exchange student? Or something? I can't even.

tealily

@Jaya Humor diffuses so much, no?

Jaya

@tealily I think at their wedding they made the uncle stand on the edge of group photos as a joking payback.

lisma

@Jaya oh I wish I could downvote her uncle for saying that. BOOHISS, UNCLE.

Lustful Cockmonster

@Jaya This has always been how it's handled in my very large extended family...my uncle also was the one that initiated this, and can totally get away with doing shit like that. It became a running joke that stands to this day. Ironically, the ones who laughed and stood on the ends are all still around, the ones that ended up in the middle of the photos are gone, to a one...

LW2 has probably been told her whole life that she's fat and it's awful. Why in the world do you think this is going to change because you think she's foxy? Oh, it's bothering you that her possibly entire adult life problem makes you feel.... no really, makes you feel how? What is going on here?

Step back. Take into consideration that she probably feels awful about her body and there are big societal factors playing in there. And also, you keep bringing it up.

I have so many (irrational) feelings about this. I am totally that girl.

Kira-Lynn@twitter

@S. Elizabeth Good for you for mentioning societal factors here! Thank you for that.

craygirl

@S. Elizabeth

Wait, I thought it was the friend who was bringing up her own weight - not LW2 bringing it up? Did I misunderstand the letter?

@craygirl I see bringing it up as "let's go to the gym together." Ugh I hate that bullshit.

Jaya

@craygirl It sounded to me like the friend was bringing it up, and LW2 only suggested the gym in response to the complaints. Though I am really curious about how to respond to stuff like this, since I have some friends who do this too. Sometimes I feel like, of course everyone needs to complain, but if you're this upset about it for this long and either don't make an effort to lose weight or to accept and love yourself for the way you are, what is complaining going to do? How would you guys suggest responding instead?

noodge

@S. Elizabeth yeah, i think the LW would be glad to leave it alone, sounds like her friend is the one bringing it up and the LW giving the (ill advised) gym advice. Either way, body hate sucks, and wanting to help a friend stop is good, no?

TheLetterL

@S. Elizabeth Agreed that it could be horrible, but she did say that it was a response. So the conversation COULD also have been

"Ugh, I am disgusting. I have to exercise."
"Oh. Do you want to come to gym with me?"

maevemealone

@S. Elizabeth Seriously with this?! I think it's totally fine to say "Hey, if you're as bummed out about this extra weight as you sound, I wouldn't mind a gym buddy sometimes." Maybe calling her bluff on this weird bonding style can open her eyes to how unproductive it is and maybe make her realize she doesn't want to solve it. Which is fine, she doesn't have to do anything. But it gets to be a real drag to hear someone bitch about a problem that they don't actually want to take action to fix, or stop bitching about.

smidge

@Jaya Also, and I hope I don't sound like a jerk, how do you respond to this when weight isn't really an issue you struggle with?

wee_ramekin

@S. Elizabeth I think the LW said that she stopped saying stuff like that once she saw it didn't make any difference. It sounds like this issue both pre- and post-dates the time when she responded to her friend's complaints that way.

I think the LW feels uncomfortable hearing her friend be so down on herself on herself. You're right, in that the issue is probably a much bigger one for her friend than it is for her, but her friend is also enlisting a response from the LW, and the LW is unsure of how to respond. Various responses don't seem to have helped the situation.

@Jaya I hate the gym stuff because it's implying that the woman in question is clueless. Fat ladies know that the gym exists, trust me. It is not a novel idea.

How about asking her about her feelings? Not asking her about fatness, or implying that you think she should go to the gym, but maybe asking her about what is going on. Or maybe what kind of response she wants.

If someone is snarking on their body badly enough that it makes another person feel uncomfortable, the snarking person probably feels a whole lot worse. So how about we talk to the body snarkers in our lives in a manner that's more in depth than "how can I help you lose weight" or "I think you're pretty!"

The other thing to keep in mind is that weight is not as simple as "calories in, calories out!" which I swear to god is only uttered by skinny people. It is a shitty, complicated situation when you literally cannot manage to lose weight. And when you are stuck in a body that you hate and can't change and society shits all over you because if it, refraining from "body snark" is really really hard. So maybe a sympathetic ear and an understanding that this is probably more about feelings.

I was placed into a body that I didn't ask for. I didn't consent to my metabolism or having PCOS. I'm allowed to hate that. And I'm allowed to complain to people I'm close to that things are really, really shitty and that I hate my body. The fact that another person finds that body pretty is lovely, but doesn't necessarily change the way I feel about it. I don't personally feel obligated to stop disliking my body for the sake of another person's comfort.

noodge

@S. Elizabeth

I hear you. It's not just about losing weight though, it's about loving yourself. If you can't do that then - it's complex, but a big part of the equation (and the only one you can control - you're sure as shit not going to change all of society) - is going to be addressing this body hate from within, maybe with therapy? self hate isn't ok, and it's not something that's everyone else's fault - at some point, the person who hates them self would really benefit from taking an honest look at things and realizing that they're worth the effort it would take (not talking about gym and dieting) to feel better about themselves.

planforamiracle

@S. Elizabeth I think the LW is approaching it from a place of wanting her friend to feel better for her own sake, not the LW's own comfort.
When you say asking her what is going on, or what kind of response she wants, do you literally mean "Friend, when you talk that way about your body, what do you need from me/what do you want me to say?"
I am genuinely asking. Out of curiosity, what response might YOU want if I were the LW and you were the friend, if you're comfortable sharing?
Hearing your perspective is really valuable. Thank you :)

packedsuitcase

@S. Elizabeth God, this is a great response and really helps me - I'm really lucky, body-wise, despite being currently unhappy. I'm active and naturally stay a socially acceptable thin/curvy as long as I don't eat *too* much junk. My sister has a very different body type and I have no idea how to handle it when she complains or struggles. I want to help, but so far it's just been me sitting there helpless, saying, "I'm sorry. We have different bodies, I don't know what to tell you." But this gives me much better places to go with that conversation. Thank you thank you thank you.

@planforamiracle Yes. "Friend, you keep talking about your body that way. It sounds like it's really bothering you, and as your friend, I want to be nice/supportive/helpful. What can I do? How do you want me to respond? I want to validate your feelings, that you have, and are entitled to. How can I respond? I think you're gorgeous and lovely. I also want to respect your feelings."

@noodge That's way easier said than done, and really oversimplified. Self-love is good, self-hate is bad. Lovely. But that doen't really address the issue in the moment, which is "friend feels shitty." Giving someone a lecture on self love is not productive, and doesn't validate anyone's feelings. And everyone is allowed to have feelings, even "bad" feelings.

@planforamiracle And what you suggested as a response? Perfect. Forget what I said. Your response is perfect.

planforamiracle

@S. Elizabeth thank you! I like this response especially because of the 'acknowledging bad feelings' part. we can't just pretend they don't exist!

noodge

@S. Elizabeth trust me, I know self love is hard. and seeking therapy can be hard. and admitting that you are struggling and that it's something you have to take responsibility for (even though the reasons for being down feel external) is hard. i let myself be really down on myself for many years for reasons that seemed outside of myself, and it took a lot of work to find my gonads and decide i'd had enough. i don't think it's simple by any means. however, if a friend feels shitty, you can acknowledge that and be a sounding board, but at some point they've got to take the problem on themselves. it seems like my response makes you think that i would lecture my friends and make these black and white "good/bad" statements without being sympathetic and helpful. believe me, that's not the case.

itiresias

@planforamiracle @S. Elizabeth

I totally hear what you're saying, but I am interested in this response as well. It's all too common for ladies to express self-hatred through complaining to friends, and all too easy to respond incorrectly. I know I've been guilty of both in the past.

Personally, I recently had a friend snap at me after she asked if a dress was flattering on her and I told her that it was, only to be met with "YOU DON'T HAVE TO LIE TO ME, OKAY? I KNOW I'M FAT." I had no idea what to say. And then the more I thought about it, I realized that while the friend is overweight, I never thought she was uncomfortable with it simply because I don't see her pursuing any lifestyle changes - and by that I mean changing her diet and exercise habits, which I'm aware of and are not healthy. Because I know every body is different, and a lot of factors come into play and a healthy weight is entirely different for everyone, but at the same time, I am continually working to maintain my weight because I like how I feel when I do so, and I've been doing that since puberty. And I fundamentally do not understand looking in the mirror and being unhappy with oneself, but doing nothing to change it in the ways that are available to everyone.

That is by no means a snipe at you, or to say in any way that you "do nothing". Just a recent occurrence and resulting thought process for me, I'm sorry if in any way it comes off as rude.

@planforamiracle I know I'm projecting here. My girlfriend could easily be the LW (except she lost 25 pounds because of cancer, long story). She used to do the "let's go to the gym together!" thing because to her it was obvious -- let's run around and the fat will come off and you'll be happy, and we LOVE when you're happy! Happy, right?

And then I think she realized that when I'm talking about my body and subsequent hate (I'm in therapy, I promise), I'm talking about the feelings that come with living in my body. And a lot of my feelings have to do with helplessness, because I can't change things in the way that I want, but there's an immense pressure to change! The world is saying "CHANGE, S. ELIZABETH! YOU NEED TO CHANGE!" and I literally cannot change, and I am supposed to for so many reasons, and there's shame because it's a visible thing.

It's about feelings. Weight and body and acceptance have a lot to do with feelings. So talk about feelings. Sometimes I think typical responses to "I hate my body" are just further driving the point home that fat is bad.

likethestore

@S. Elizabeth Thank you for this and rock on.

@noodge See, I don't hate myself. I hate my body.

@maevemealone "But it gets to be a real drag to hear someone bitch about a problem that they don't actually want to take action to fix, or stop bitching about."

Are you kidding me?

Springtime for Voldemort

@noodge I get the idea that self-hate* is bad. But here's the thing: we really, really think that self-hate is bad. To the point that we hate people who hate themselves; that's why "those women don't have a shred of self-respect" is such a stinging insult. Nothing makes me feel worse than someone telling me I hate myself. And in that instance, my desire isn't to be ok with myself, it's to show that other person how much I love myself so that they will back off and be ok with me. Not once has someone telling me to "love myself" ever helped me, and it has pretty frequently made things harder.

Additionally, there's a reason it's called "SELF-love": you cannot do it for another person. You might think that it's totally better for that other person if they would just love themselves already, but you can't really do much to get them there. The people I feel the safest with around whatever issues I might have are the ones who aren't trying to play savior.

*Honestly, self-love vs self-hate is so reductive as to be pointless as a construct. Self-hate is this thing people used to have for themselves, whereas now they have self-love; very, very few people actively identify in the moment as hating themselves.

hollysh

@Springtime for Voldemort Right on with this. However, in this eternal battle with the self love/hate spectrum (cause it's obviously a spectrum) I've found that hearing a friend openly hate on herself can be harmful towards my own self-love/hate/like/whatever. In the same way that I distance myself from people who encourage more conventional bad habits, I find myself pushing away friends who verbally express hatred for themselves. It doesn't matter if I recognise their perceived flaw (none of this "why don't you do something about it?" bullshit), it's much more about not back-sliding on all the work I've done to feel good about my body.

Springtime for Voldemort

@hollysh Yeah, I totally get that. I've had to work a bit at saying that I want to be supportive, but I don't really have the ability to be their therapist, so could they please not talk about it in detail with me? But lots of hugs. Sometimes I'll add on that it's just issue x that's a bit triggering, and issue y is fine.

hollysh

@Springtime for Voldemort Someone said down thread that they actively shut down body shaming to the extent that their friends just won't bring it up around them anymore. Sort of a more forceful version of what you are getting at.

Springtime for Voldemort

@hollysh Yup. I've never had to get quite that far, but basically, yeah.

stonefruit

@S. Elizabeth About this -- "But it gets to be a real drag to hear someone bitch about a problem that they don't actually want to take action to fix, or stop bitching about."

I am trying to sort through my feelings here. On the one hand, I think I see what @maevemealone is trying to get at, which is that when you are trying to support a friend who raises the same problem over and over again, and is unable for whatever reason to take (what you might see to be obvious) steps to resolve the problem, it can be frustrating. Especially if, like me, you are A Fixer, and you have to fight to restrain yourself from offering fixes when they're not at all wanted.

On the other hand, this is where, please G-d, my compassion reflex hopefully kicks in. Because the fact that someone can't take the steps to resolve whatever the problem is, is in itself probably a symptom of another problem, and when that's going on, what the friend really needs is someone just saying, "how can I help, what can I say or do that would let you know how much I am here and how much I want to support you." Telling the other person that they're frustrating you because they can't fix their own problems seems ... I don't know, something more than unhelpful. Like actually counterproductive?

And on the other other hand, we all (or perhaps I am projecting and it's just me) have instances where our frustration just carpet-bombs our compassion instinct into oblivion.

noodge

@Springtime for Voldemort
I completely hear you, and everyone else here. I've been rereading my comments to see how/why people seem to be reading such hard-lines in what I've written, and I'm not seeing it, but maybe I'm blind because it's my own thought. I don't hate self hate, and never said I did - I love self love. sounds like splitting hairs, but there is definitely a difference. I have so much compassion for people who have body hate or self hate because of my own experiences. I think my firmest stance in this whole thing is that it's something that the individual experiencing the hate would benefit from taking that on... which - obviously is super complex, I'm not saying they just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. But maybe the letter writer is asking the wrong question? like, a zen monk should pop out of the woodwork and say "re-ask the question!" - she can help and support but she can't CHANGE her friend's current issues, that is something only her friend can do.
I think my journey to hate myself less lasted me 10-15 years, one failed marriage, and many therapy sessions.

S. Elizabeth: I can't tell your intention with your comment "I don't hate myself. I hate my body." It maybe sounds a bit self-deprecating/wry humorish? (having a moment where I'm frozen in my usual literal interpretation, and the interwebs are muddying the waters even more)

@noodge I don't know why that's hard to understand. Truly, there is more to me than my body. So the idea that "self-love" or "self-hate" is the dominant idea in how you feel about bodies is a little ridiculous. It is possible to like/love yourself as a full human being and not like your body, or not like aspects of your body. Just like it's okay and fine to say "I like this part of my personality, but I don't like this other part."

I just don't like this idea that because I don't like my body, I hate myself.

noodge

@S. Elizabeth

I think you can generally love yourself and dislike your body, absolutely. But hating your body is hating a significant part of yourself. Everyone at some point dislikes their body, sometimes that moves into hate - and I would say that when it does that it's going to really impact your self esteem.

If someone says: "I love myself, but hate my skin color" or "I love myself, but hate my emotions" most people would agree that their struggling to love themselves - that their statement would be paradoxical, because these aspects of themselves are significant to who they are.

hands_down

Re: #2, I'm fat and the behavior the LW is describing is mystifying to me. I've known women like that my entire life and I just don't get why you would essentially be asking someone to judge/condemn you for how you look. The LW mentions her friend's mom, so I have to assume the mom's behavior has normalized her friend's instinct to put herself down.

Just recently a bunch of attractive, smart ladies I know got together for a fun activity, and looking at the pictures afterward, several of them could only comment on how fat/ugly they looked. Which wasn't the case at all! That destructive self-hating shit is the worst.

Lily Rowan

@hands_down Isn't what you're doing really asking for people to say, "Oh no! You look great!"

tealily

@Lily Rowan Yeah, but how many times can you compliment a person who doesn't take it well before it become grating.

Lily Rowan

@tealily Oh, of course -- I'm just saying, when you say, "Ugh, I'm disgusting" to your friends you aren't actually asking them to judge/condemn you.

hands_down

@Lily Rowan Yes, exactly. Own that shit, if that's what you're doing. If it that isn't the reason, then it's neediness. Which is equally grating over the long term.

Donovan Gentry@twitter

@hands_down when I see myself and feel awful about how I look, I don't need or want anything from anyone. I want to say how awful I look because it's "true" (to me). If anything, I need to let other people know that I know how bad I look.

hellmouth

@hands_down Cosigning the points made by @DonovanGentry@twitter. Usually, my looks-based complaints come from the assumption that everyone else in the room has already cringed inwardly at how repulsive I look in a particular photograph. Sooo I suppose I'd rather be merely awful-looking than awful-looking AND clueless?

ETA that all of these feelings are super toxic and shitty to experience and ugh. Hugs of solidarity all around.

PistolPackinMama

LW#2 when in this sitch I say any of these things:

1) Hey, stop talking about my gorgeous friend that way.

2) I don't want to listen to or participate in any body shaming in my house/ in my presence. It's not good for you or me.

3) I do know it sucks to feel bad in your own body or be upset about your own looks. But you know what? I have just got no concept of you not being attractive because of your weight. In fact, I honestly can't see the weight that's bothering you so much and it wouldn't matter if I could.

4) *hard tone* You need to knock it off right now. Negative body talk makes me feel like shit and I can't listen to it.

noodge

@PistolPackinMama
i <3 and admire your hard line against body hate. we need more of this.

Judith Slutler

@PistolPackinMama so many high 5s

@PistolPackinMama If someone said #1 to me, they'd be my favorite person for a really long time. I love that.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@PistolPackinMama I went through a pretty self-destructive phase in my late teens that didn't have to do with weight, but other Big Issues, and I remember my mom saying, very gently, "Please stop hurting my daughter." It shocked me to the core and got through to me more than anything else ever had.

PistolPackinMama

@PistolPackinMama My quality of life has improved SO MUCH since I adopted a no-negative-self-ody-talk-in-my-house rule. I overheard a friend at a bar tell another friend (who had just ordered bacon fries and was all "ooh these are so baaaad") "don't let PPM hear you. She won't put up with that." It's catching!

Anyway, yeah. When someone says "don't talk about my beloved friend that way" it does shift the frame, doesn't it? Like someone somewhere here or HFC who said she caught a glimpse of a photo and said to herself "who is that fox?" and when she realized it was herself reversed to "that's wrong, that's wrong that's wrong." Only in reverse.

We don't realize how brutal it sounds until we think about how it sounds to say about someone else.

timesnewroman

You say you had a great relationship with your dad growing up, and I see no reason why you can't now.

Um, maybe because she's just starting to have the realisation that her dad is an emotionally unstable cheating creep?

werewolfbarmitzvah

@timesnewroman Bingooooooooo!

Crackity Jones

@timesnewroman Yessss! I totally came down here to say that. I have to disagree with A Lady's advice on this one... LW3 is entirely entitled to be pissed at her dad. He could not be demonstrating more tiresomely obvious mid-life crisis ickness were he douching around on a motorbike with hair plugs and a bandanna. Blech. I tend to subscribe to the idea that mere biology doesn't guarantee you a place in my life, and this feels like one of those times...

wee_ramekin

@Crackity Jones Registering my agreement that A Lady was waaaaaaaaaay off on her advice to LW #3. I'll also disclose that after my parents divorced, my father married a 26 year-old (he was over 50) that he had known for about a month, so I've got both skin and experience in this game.

LW #3, I am sorry about this situation. It *really* sucks. A Lady was correct in one thing: you talking to your father about this isn't going to stop him from marrying this woman. Right now, he does care more about her than about how this marriage affects the rest of his family. Your father's history of cheating and the fact that he's marrying this girl a week after meeting her speak to him emotional immaturity. It's a bitter pill to swallow to realize that someone who raised you has the emotional intelligence of a 15 year-old.

My advice is to let your father know that you're uncomfortable with the situation, both because of his poor treatment of your mother and because of his young bride. Tell him that you will be polite to her, but that you expect him to respect your need for space from her and from his relationship with her.

Then give it time. That's really the only thing to do in this situation. You may come to like his new wife, you may not. Try to be polite to both of them, but you don't owe them anything more than that.

RNL
RNL

@timesnewroman Yeah. But he's still her dad. It doesn't just go away, having and loving a dad, even when he's a creep.

sevanetta

@timesnewroman thank fuck - I'm so relieved a few other people think this. LW3, you have every right to be extremely angry with your dad. I would be! You need to put yourself first. Whatever gets you through, gets you through. Wee_ramekin put it best, I think.

I think it's easy to forget how betrayed others can feel when someone cheats, even if it wasn't you. Hug

hollysh

@timesnewroman Ughh this Lady is so off with her response. OF COURSE LW3 feels like she doesn't matter to her dad! He did things that were harmful to their family as a unit and hurtful to her, her mother, and her siblings. I can't believe this Lady had the gall to suggest that LW3 was simply whining because her dad wouldn't call off his wedding.

dontannoyme

@timesnewroman thank god I found you all right down here at the bottom of the comments list. This was strangely off-kilter advice, given how great the rest of it is. Wee Ramekin's advice is better. Dad is being a total idiot and while LW3 should probably not kick up a huge fuss just because it won't help, that doesn't mean that she should view her dad's new relationship as totally cool and legitimate and worthy of her respect. At least not now. Maybe one day this hot new girlfriend will turn out to have been the best soul mate LW3's dad could ever have asked for and then LW3 will be happy to have her in her family despite mourning the loss of her own unit and the sadness of her mum. But we are years off that (and frankly I'm sure LW3 is not holding her breath for that moment). As for being happy to be a big sister - give the girl a chance. Her father has upturned their family and LW3 will have to deal with her grief and sadness over that. If one day she feels like being a good big sister then she should get points for that - for being the better person. But don't make her feel bad for not relishing the opportunity to be better, more self-sacrificing, more caring than her own father.

adorable-eggplant

@dontannoyme Yeah this advice kinda read like, "Geeez, you have feelings. Well get over them." And honestly, fuck that noise.

LW3 Feel free to have feelings, strong feelings even, about this. I think a lot of children (people) can be put under pressure from their parents to subsume their feelings in order to not make ripples or cause disturbances. Anecdotally speaking from what I've observed, this pressure might be extra strong on the lady people. But really, there's nothing to be gained from swallowing your feelings here. My relationship with both my parents improved exponentially when I was able to talk openly about their failings as well as the stuff they did well.

Emotional intimacy requires a certain level of honesty (which you have been, so kudos there) but also some mutual respect. It seems like your dad is ready to make some choices (some pretty hasty, weird, bad choices it would seem from the outside) and you've told him how you feel. That's all you can do.

Maybe reach out to your siblings/people you trust to talk about this. A counselor might also be really good at this juncture. Don't give in to pressure to feel a certain way (happy for a little sister? Super side-eye, A Lady) or behave a certain way. Take all the space you need to process and trust that relationships can be rebuilt (stronger! with more integrity!) once you've had time to reflect.

This would be really tough to deal with, LW3, and you have my total sympathy.

jule_b_sorry

@adorable-eggplant So glad you said it - the "I would love to be a big sister!" made me make a horrible noise in my cube. I would be an emotional basket case if, after 26 years of having a stable family life, my dad completely turned it upside down and expected me to be totally cool with his brand new, crazy-choices family that I had no say in creating. And the pressure you mention, to be a "good daughter" who doesn't make waves and is sunny and positive and supportive and LOVES ALL BABIES and never makes anyone feel bad about their choices ever, doesn't help AT ALL. Her feelings in this situation are totally valid - it feels like it's the father in this case who doesn't have much respect for everyone else.

Tafadhali

@jule_b_sorry Meeeee too. I love my siblings more than anything and I basically want to be surrounded by kids and family all the time, so I would be super in favor of MAGICAL NEW SIBLING PRODUCED THROUGH ASEXUAL REPRODUCTION or something, but I would feel so angry if my dad were having new babies as part of his big midlife crisis that had completely uprooted my family.

My mother, my siblings, and I just found out this year about a long-term affair that my father was having with a younger woman, and while my parents are still together, it has been devastating. You can say that what happens in your parents' marriage is between them, but it never really is -- infidelity breaks a trust with the entire family. I've personally been trying to put that aside for the sake of my relationship with my dad (and because I really don't have the energy to be angry after everything else that's gone on this year), and I think that has mostly been the right choice for me, but -- it really bothers me that when I can't do that, when I do slip up, that I am made to feel like I'm being selfish or unfair or like I am the one who is damaging our family.

Basically what I'm saying is that, while I clearly don't think CONSTANT RAGE is the way to go if you want to eventually rebuild things with a parent, LW3 is entitled to the response she's having.

TheBelleWitch

LW #1, I would step this up higher than online advice columns. You might try the National Alliance on Mental Illness's Helpline. They may have recommendations for support and local education for yourself, which may help you come up with strategies to nudge your boyfriend toward taking care of himself. But be sure to take care of yourself too! This is a lot to handle and I wish you lots and lots of good luck & strength.

kariface

#1: GO. Get out now. Please. DO it for yourself. I'm 30, just got dumped out of nowhere (with no reasons or explanations) from my wonderful, amazing and supportive fiance. He has a history of depression and thought he was "fixed"- now we both know he's not, and instead of taking initiative to help himself, he's pushed me and our life we spent years building, away. You have no idea the heartbreak, confusion and pain it's caused - not only to us, but to our families as well. You're young, you're not jaded, and you've got a lot of life to live. Get out now.

sevanetta

@kariface hug, my god what a situation. Two of my exes dumped me because their lives didn't go as they wanted and they got depressed. (top of my list for 'what I want in a partner' after that: must be happy with job and self.) It's a common thing for unhappy, depressed men to do - push their support away. I'm so sorry, just know that I am sending you hugs.

kariface

@sevanetta Thank you. One day when I'm out of the dark, and healed, ill submit the whole damn story to the pin for everyone's amusement. The strange thing with a broken engagement is that people don't talk about it. It's bigger than your average relationship end, but all people can say is "at least it happened now" - as if that is a comfort. It's incredibly bizarre.

sevanetta

@kariface I think 'broken engagement' falls into the category of really difficult breakups, which I feel like I specialise in. and I hear ya, people just don't know what to say. but don't assume it's because they don't care. just find people you can talk to if you need it. one of the exes I mentioned convinced me to move overseas, and then he decided he didn't love me anymore, and left me there. my cousin just found out that her boyfriend is actually married with three kids. there really isn't a breakup guidebook for So You Thought This Guy Was It, And Then He Pulled A Swifty On You. there's also extra frustration when you knew they had a problem and :you: thought :you: were the one putting up with stuff, and then they bail. I also hated hearing 'you dodged a bullet'. that is for later when you are feeling good again; when it first happens that is just painful and bizarre, totally agree. it is not a comfort! (and even when life becomes peachy again, sometimes you still don't feel glad you dodged a bullet, but instead more like 'why the fuck did I have to do that?') anyway, just wanted to sympathise! and you should def submit your story to the pin later!

Slutface

LW1: I wouldn't give him an ultimatum to get help or you'll leave (or whatever variation you choose). He needs to get help because he wants to change. If he goes only because you asked him to, he most likely won't do the outside work for the therapy to actually work because he's not fully invested in it.

As much as we want to be the one our significant others "change" for, it doesn't happen.

iceberg

"You say you had a great relationship with your dad growing up, and I see no reason why you can't now" um how about the abominable way her dad treated her mum and the cavalier attitude he seems to have to all of his children now? I dunno maybe I'm a bitch but that feels like pretty good reasons why?

@iceberg Seriously. You're not obligated to have an awesome relationship with your parents. You're not. So I can choose to not be friends with someone because I dislike their spouse. Same goes with parent.

noodge

@iceberg yeah, that advice made my internal mind record needle go "BRRRRAAAAAPPPPPPP!!!!!" - ...say what?!?!? yes, our parents are just people and they make mistakes, but this situation isn't just "dad farts all the time, and accidentally totalled the car" - it's completely fair that she feels squicky about it and if she doesn't want to hang this year, then maybe it's cool for her to take time to sort it all out for herself? and not feel bad about it because it wasn't her doing all the nasty stuff.

annev6

@iceberg Yeah, your dad just kind of blew your family to hell by choice. He should have to do SOMETHING to earn SOME of that trust back over a VERY LONG PERIOD OF TIME. Sometimes I think people forget that their parents are adults.

polka dots vs stripes

@iceberg Yeah, if my father did that to my family, I would Cut. Him. Out. complete with Uncle Joey hand motions. And I have a great relationship with my dad. That would end it, no doubt.

harebell

@iceberg
Also, what's up with him choosing a new wife who is exactly an average of his two daughters' ages? It would be hard not to feel weird about how the dad views her/views women in this scenario -- hard not to feel sexualized oneself.

And finally: the dad asked the other woman to be his wife after one week of dating?! Maybe LW3 just doesn't know how long the story has been going on, but if she's right -- that is also weird, and potentially a sign that there is something seriously wrong with the dad's judgment/mental state! Not that people can't fall in love quickly, but marriage at the dad's age when you have adult children and money/who knows what else is different, and can create a big nasty tangle that you want to at least *reflect* on before rushing off to legally marry.

Lily Rowan

@iceberg Yeah, sounds like dad turned out to be kind of a dick!

But his new wife could be very nice, and I'd recommend giving her a chance. (I have a relative whose Bad Idea Second Wife was actually a lovely person, just ridiculous to be married to him.)

coconuts

@iceberg Yeah, I'm a grudge holder and if my dad ever behaved like that I would have a hard time letting him be a part of my life in any capacity. I think LW#3 has a very good reason not to want to be around her dad.

sevanetta

@iceberg totally agreed

whateverlolawants

@harebell Dear Prudie would be urging her to take her dad in for a "full physical and mental work-up", whatever that is.

jule_b_sorry

@Lily Rowan I know I'm a terrible person, but I just would throw my hands up and yell "DONTCURR" if anyone tried to get me to know his "lovely new wife". Hell, I don't get along with most people my age ANYWAY - the fact that she'd be the type of person to marry someone 26 years older than her who she knew just ditched his family and only knew her a week (and showing all the signs of "major midlife crisis)...I likely wouldn't be friends with a person socially if I knew that was their style, and definitely would have some serious issues if that person came to me all "Hi, I'm your new mom! You're required by the Good Girl Code to give me a chance!" UGH NO.

Wow, this is all a total hypothetical, my parents are super old and have been married a million years, and for some reason I'm getting upset just even thinking about the possibility. My heart goes out to LW3 in a big, big way.

annev6

#3 - I would sit this one out. If your dad dated a woman half his age for a week before proposing, I'm guessing this won't end so well for your dad. So, I'd wait to see if she's around next Christmas before you worry about "getting to know" this one (while remaining civil, of course), and instead use your time at home to support your mom, who's got to be feeling fragile right now.

#4 - Yeah, if after 5 years and at age 30 the question you're asking isn't "Oh, maybe if I point out that only MARRIED/LEGALLY COMMITED couples are allowed in the photo it'll light exactly the fire under his ass I've been waiting for" I don't think you're very into this dude. Or maybe you're just not as manipulative as I am. I would re-evaluate. What you're really asking is "Do I want this man to be a part of my family?" and that's something you should kind of know at this point.

Ellie

@annev6 Eh - I don't know. Some people just don't want to get married! Some couples are together for literally years and years, stay together forever, and still don't want to get married for whatever reason. And some people are together like ten years and THEN get married. Don't get me wrong, I am leaning towards everyone else's take on this too, myself, but I would give her the benefit of the doubt. I think this picture issue really is just a picture issue.

annev6

@Ellie I totally get that, and I think my marriage joke was a bit beside the point, but I think the underlying issue is that she is afraid of committing to even just having him in a photo. And really that's not that big of a commitment. After 5 years I think she's gotta ask herself what about making him "part of the family" freaks her out so much. My guess is probably "because next year he might not be here."

sevanetta

@Ellie yes, but most couples I know who didn't want to get legally married had discussed it and specifically decided that they wouldn't get married. they have moved on to cranky rebuttal of family and friends who ask when they are going to get married. they aren't wondering whether he/she should be in the family photos.

Mrs. Coach McGuirk

LW#3: My parents split in very similar circumstances when I was 19 and away at college. So many times it felt like it would be impossible to repair my relationship with my dad, and I definitely sometimes still feel like he doesn't care about me as much as I thought he did. He lives with new lady (who I have only met once, and before they were together), and her daughter, who is a little older than me, but not able to support herself, which sometimes makes me very angry because hey! he already has an awesome daughter, why deal with this dead beat? BUT, in the end, I came to the conclusion that I love my dad, and I can't imagine a life without him, so I have to work through my emotions about the situation and learn to accept it.

We have set up boundaries, he knows that my brother and I aren't really interested in having a relationship with his new family, and accepts that (strangely I think he is also happier this way), and so we meet for family events in neutral territory. But we still have a close relationship. Its not perfect, but its sort of one of those things that requires time. Lots and lots of time I guess!

I would say that its perfectly natural for you not to want to spend time with his new wife, especially if the relationship went that quickly! Who knows if she will be around for long, and you are not obligated to be her friend, or even friendly. Think about what you want in a relationship with your dad, and then decide what you can take and what you cannot. See if it works for him, and go forward.

Daisy Razor

Oh man, it's a good thing I'm not A Lady, because my answer to LW3 would be to tell everyone to go fuck themselves and spend Christmas drinking fruity drinks on some tropical beach by yourself.

planforamiracle

@Daisy Razor Me too! I missed the part where she explained why spending time with her siblings and mom (it sounds like this is the part of her family she cares about and wants to see) means that she also has to see her dad and his new girl (which sounds like the part that makes her feel creeped out and alienated).

ironhoneybee

@Daisy Razor I don't understand. How could this answer possibly cast aspersions on your obviously excellent credentials for A Ladyship?

jule_b_sorry

@planforamiracle Agreed, I didn't quite understand why seeing mom and sibs meant also seeing dad and his child bride. I would def be either a) fruity drink beach "fuck you all" reading self-help books or b) helping mom, who might be going through an even tougher time than LW3. Dad seems like he's spent plenty of time helping himself, after all...wouldn't see any reason to try to make his holidays brighter.

automaticdoor

LW1: I have [mental illness I don't wish to mention on the internets] and I manage it not just for me, but for my loved ones. Part of my mental illness is depression. It's not an excuse. If I had, say, diabetes and refused to treat it, or kidney disease, or whatever, it would have a huge impact on my loved ones. Untreated depression is no different. But, all the begging and nagging in the world won't work. He has to want to get help. Sooooo... my advice? Don't put up with it. It doesn't make you a bad person to leave.

KeLynn

#1 If someone had a kidney disease that severely affected not only his life but my own for years, AND refused to even talk to a doctor about treatment options, then yes I think a breakup would be justified. It's not cruel.

#2 I think after you try the honest "I love you and you are beautiful and while I don't see the flaws you keep talking about, I acknowledge that this issue is bothering you and blah blah blah feelings" thing (which, let's be honest, probably won't change her), you just have to stop reacting to it. Ignore it, pretend she didn't say anything, and just change the subject. It might not stop her from saying that crap (I've tried this with only varying success with people in my life), but at least you won't have to engage with that topic anymore because, as we know, it just goes nowhere and helps no one.

#4 I don't know why everyone's being hard on her. I don't think they're necessarily going to break up. Maybe she is indecisive about marriage in general, or long-term monogamy, not HIM. Or maybe 5 years is a drop in the bucket when you think of the 90+ you probably expect to live, and you don't want to rush into something just because "5 years." Anyway, just take a lot of variations of the photo. One with him. One without. One with only the immediate family. One with the ladies, one with the men, one with the kids and one without (are there kids? I don't want to scroll all the way back up). It won't be weird, and everyone can have the photo they want. But also, say you do break up a week after Christmas and you only have photos with him. So what? There will be a trillion more family photos in your lifetime, and in 2012, it sounds like he is part of your family. Families change over time and that's what family photos represent. It's not like you take one family photo to last the rest of your life.

Tuna Surprise

LW1, I feel your pain. My on-again/off-again boyfriend has some serious mental health issues that he hasn't tackled. We had a conversation about what it would take to be a more permanent 'on' couple and I told him that he needs to get control of his issues on his own. I love the guy to death and would support him as much as I could but it was a liberating moment to realize I can't do it for him. He needs to do it on his own. I can't pester him about finding a shrink or following up with treatment. It needs to come from within.

Even though I know he's not going to do anything about his issues and we're never going to make it work, I could literally feel the relief of knowing I've saved myself years of a bad relationship where I would be constantly fretting and nagging and he would steadily growi more resentful.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

LW1: Depression is such a time/emotion suck. But think about your comparison to kidney disease: If you were with someone headed for renal failure who flat-out refused help, would you stick it out, or would you look out for yourself for a minute and decide you can't put yourself through watching him slowly kill himself?

If he refuses help, but continues to take his depression out on you, that's selfish. As person who has been through this on the depression side, I can assure you, he's self-centered, self-focused and probably hasn't given two honest thoughts about how this is hurting you.

I don't know what advice to give you, other than you have to start looking out for yourself in this relationship, because out of the two of you, it doesn't seem like anyone is doing that right now.

Oh, squiggles

This is all your advice, ever:

Break up with him/her, make an outrageous ultimatum so that he/she is forced into changing, alienate everyone in your life, then accept that things/people/relationships aren't perfect and never will be.

Those were supposed to be in a very specific order, but the magical tablet that revealed this wisdom to me disappeared after I read it, so you just kind of have to wing it I guess?

ann aunamis

#3, ugh, my best friend's parents split up while we were in grad school and first he asked me out (GROOSSSS!) and then he started dating a woman who was two years younger than my friend and I, and five years younger than her brother, who he eventually married. We all tried to be pleasant and nice but she ended up causing a lot of drama because as a 23 year old woman married to a man in his sixties, she obviously felt a little odd with his friends, and she didn't fit in with us because she tried to be "mom" to people that were older than her. They ended up getting divorced (I'm guessing shortly after she got her green card).

EmmaBlogs

This is so far down this list I doubt that it'll be seen, but here's my two sense for #1. If you do decide to break up, make sure he knows that it isn't because he's depressed; it's because he refuses to do anything about it. To take care of himself, and by extension, your relationship.

planforamiracle

Re: LW#1.. Here I go on kind of a big tangent...

In general, it is one of my personal bugbears when people close to me (partners in particular, relatives too) do not take responsibility for their own health and well-being, do not advocate for themselves when receiving care, and behave as though wellness is a right that they have earned simply by being alive and anything that goes wrong is outside of their control. From mental health, depression, and whatnot, to injuries, illnesses, etc. I have noticed that the male people in my life seem to be particularly susceptible to this defeatist, lazy (yes I said it), stubborn attitude, and it really really bums me out.

I get that depression can be debilitating and prevent people form taking initiative, but outside those cases, what is going on that so many people (in my experience) can't seem to care about their health? I am not a fitness or nutrition maniac, but when something is wrong (I'm talking sprains, bronchitis; not a sniffle here and there) I go to the doctor.

(PS I live in Canada and going to the doctor is free. There are still cost barriers to dental care and some mental health treatment.)

End rant. sorry guys.

honey cowl

@planforamiracle Going to the doctor in America is the opposite of free. For instance, even with health insurance, I have a "mental health deductible" of $4000+. Aka I cannot go to the therapist because no dollars.

a small sea

@planforamiracle Depending on where you live in the US, there can be cheaper/free options out there. Many therapists in my area have a sliding scale payment system to make care more accessible for people who aren't rollin' in dough. There are some therapists in my area who even do pro bono work for people. Another possible option is some sort of group therapy - those sessions usually tend to be cheaper and, if you have a good therapist as the facilitator, can be just as helpful as one-on-one sessions. A final thought is that if you can swing the money for a couple sessions, you could find someone and tell them that and the tailor your few sessions to "how can I do this largely on my own" - you know, have them recommend some workbooks or activities or coping skills to practice every week and then do that on your own and then check in once a month (or whatever you can afford).

cuminafterall

If I were LW3, I'd treat Dad's new wife as a new acquaintance who happens to have really poor taste in men. Hopefully your dad will be the mistake she made in her 20's. Make small talk, etc. Be nice and keep an open mind-- she's probably going to feel super awkward, too. You don't have to like her, but maybe you will anyway? Who knows. Has your sister met her? What does she think?

Probably this is way harsh toward your dad, but as an Internet stranger I can afford to be vindictive here: Do you want to keep him in your life? Avoid him in public and yell at him in private (unless you come from a scene-making clan, then yell at him in public). Do you not care if he stays in your life? Avoid him in public and in private.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@cuminafterall "If I were LW3, I'd treat Dad's new wife as a new acquaintance who happens to have really poor taste in men."

BOOM ROASTED! Damn. That was nice.

PistolPackinMama

@cuminafterall Hahah... yes. The mistake she made in her 20's indeed. Who wants to be that guy? Noone, I hope. Poor, clueless dad.

Chrestomanci

@cuminafterall I'm not LW3 but I am in a very similar situation - the timing if this Ask a Lady is eerily good. My Dad's new girlfriend went to my high school, and was actually a few years below me. He hasn't talked to me about any of this, but just casually dropped into the conversation the fact that she would be there at Christmas brunch. I have been struggling with how I will interact with her, and I think that treating her as an acquaintance with poor taste in men is perfect!

Well probably better than my other idea, which was to reminisce about high school with her at length, in the hopes of making dad feel really uncomfortable

BoozinSusan

@Chrestomanci A few years BELOW you at your HS? Just, ew. A thousand times ew.
Both of your options for treating her sound good, though.

hollysh

@Chrestomanci Haha I almost think you should bring up high school at your dad's expense.

jule_b_sorry

@Chrestomanci Wow, you are a really good person to even be going. Honestly, as an internet stranger, that sounds really manipulative of him to drop in all casually like that as if it's NBD, when I'm SURE he knows it's something that's going to be weird for you to deal with. I like your reminisce idea, although if it were me I would probably start getting vicious by the end of the convo and it wouldn't be fun at all.

Also, who ARE all these women in their 20's willing to date/marry men in their late 50s - early 60s? I'm torn between wanting to say "well, love doesn't have an age/personal choice/all parties willing adults it's cool" and "OMG GROSS LADIES PLEASE STOP ENCOURAGING THESE OLD DUDES UGH." I never in my 20's did anything but laugh at the old dudes who hit on me...I can't imagine ever taking them up on the offer!

autoclave

LW1, here is a different perspective: my awesome parents have been married for 30 years, and my dad has had depression for longer than that. They love each other and have a couple of ridiculously attractive and talented children, and generally I think they have been happy. But it wasn't till I became an adult ("adult") that I realized how very difficult it has been for my mom, as my dad goes through periods of getting help, help not working, ups and downs etc etc. She is basically the superest super lady, and it's hard for her.

You are SO young, and that's a good thing. If you love this person, you should want him to get help, and try to make him get help as much as any of us can make anyone do anything. But maybe you both could do some growing on your own.

leonstj

I can get all of the rage at LW3's dad, and he's clearly like, not a dude I would want on the old pub crawl with me...but, I also feel like "F him, that's way over the line, you're allowed to cut him out," is...I dunno.

It's hard for me to judge, cuz I have a good relationship w/ my parents (above) but also, I mean, I have Adults in my life (I'm 30, but the older generations are still Adults & I am still A Kid in some ways when it comes to this stuff) who...I just don't actually like, at all, whatsoever, as people.

Old, grumpy racists. And I think being an old shitty racist is WAY worse than doing stupid/immature/sketchy things romantically with other consenting adults once you're kids are old enough that they're out of the house & adults themselves. And, despite the fact that they are old crummy people, I still go see them now and then because...family? I dunno. I've lost a lot of my family over the years, and even the ones I don't like, the ones I would never be friends with under any circumstances other than WE ARE BLOOD....that blood thing matters? To me, anyway.

I dunno. I feel like there really is no advice for LW3. Maybe my experience and family bond is just me, and so I just put up with a lot of "ugh, these people," because I personally have a need to have at least some connection to what I came from. If the LW is like that, then there's nothing she can do but struggle through. But maybe she is like other people, who are different than me, and capable of saying "You're dead to me." to their parents? And I mean, I guess that's okay too, I'm not hear to judge. I dunno. I just feel like it's a situation only LW3 will ever really know what to do in her heart (HAHA i would be the worst advice columnist -a story about me when you're here to hear about you and "JUST YOU DO YOU" for all of my answers.)

cuminafterall

@leon s I get what you're saying. I think there's a middle ground between cutting him out completely and just gritting one's teeth and dealing with it. If she wants, LW3 could keep her distance during this trip and send an email afterwards saying "Hey Dad, this is too raw for me right now, I'll reach out when I can deal with it better." That's probably what I'd suggest if I were LW3's friend and not a vindictive Internet stranger.

jule_b_sorry

@leon s Maybe this is wrong, but I would much rather have a grumpy old racist dad than a dad who broke up my family and married someone younger than his 28-year-old daughter. At least with racist dad, I can argue with him, try to change his mind, bring over friends of other races so he gets to know them, etc. With LW3, she's had no choice in this situation that's been thrust on her. I would feel like my trust in my father was totally broken, plus the squick factor of "what does he think of me, if he thinks women my age are in his dating pool?". I would also hate to see my mother treated that way, and I think would reflect a lot on his character.

But I'm the kind of person that will seriously just cut you out if I think you've crossed the line. And, my family is the same way - witness drama created by my grandmother this thanksgiving when she told her daughter (my aunt) that aunt's husband was straight up not invited to dinner because my Grandma doesn't like the way he treats her(her being my aunt), and so he wasn't welcome in Gma's house. And yeah, he's a shithead, and I was totally like "YAY Grandma for saying it". Honestly, this tactic has mixed results and sometimes I've missed people I've cut out...but it's also a way for family to send a strong message that "Hey, what you're doing is NOT OK with us" and I don't think there's any problem with expressing that opinion. Maybe that's not how other families do it, and some prefer to grit their teeth and say "well, they're family"...but at least in my family, it's not considered an excuse for shitty behavior.

Princess Slaya

LW1 - DTMFA if he won't get help. You wouldn't stay with someone who had a kidney problem if he was not getting help for his kidney problem. What if he had a really bad case of gangrene and he wouldn't go see a doctor? You are 23! You're young! And yes, you love him, and yes he loves you, so he has to prove that he loves you by at least saying he has a problem with depression and trying to do something about it. He will run you ragged and suck your life-force. It's not going to get better if he doesn't get help.

shadowkitty

LW 1) I don't think it would even be unreasonable to dump someone with a physical disease if they refused to get help and it was affecting me.

LW 2) Depending on the closeness of your friendship, I can vouch that "Shut the fuck up!" works surprisingly well.

laughingwoman

LW#3--Like others piping up here in the comments, I, too got to be party to the "gray divorce" of my parents and the subsequent new marriage to a younger woman the week after the divorce was final. Like you, I also had what I thought was a good relationship with my dad prior to this, and even though I was conflicted I was willing to give his new life/wife/choices a chance. My story doesn't end so well; I am now on year two of No Contact with my father. I met his new wife twice, on my time and my dime, and tried to be accepting (gave them wedding gift, inclusive Christmas gifts, etc). She was very threatened by him having contact with his "old family" and basically sabotaged me to him on my last visit. My dad's judgement had been seriously impaired, as he suddenly believed all the crazy things she had made up about me, but what I've learned is this:

You have a right to feel how you feel. You also have a right to not know how you feel, what you want to do, how you want to act, when and if you even want to be around them. You have a right to take things slowly, to be cautious and suspicious and angry and hurt. You can explain this to your father or not, you can set up some boundaries and ask for them to be respected or not. One strange aspect of our parents divorcing when we're adults is that we are still caught in the parent:child dynamic, while at the same time being expected to be peers, collaborators, enablers and dumping grounds for some very adult and hard emotional scenes. I hated that my parents thought they could open up about every sordid detail that I DID NOT WANT TO KNOW about their marriage and missteps. I say all this to say that it's important to know that you *do* have agency and power in these situations, and you can shut them down when and if you need to. "I don't want to talk about this," is good and direct, as is, "I'm not comfortable spending time with both you and New Wife right now." State what you need and what you can and are willing to do, and if you get push back or emotional manipulation on that front, stand your ground with firm kindness.

My relationship with and to my father went through so many upsetting and painful twists and turns, and every conversation we were having over a period of six months or so descended into rage screaming and tears. He would never take any responsibility for anything being wrong--even when some things clearly were--and he would ALWAYS side with his new wife. At some point this became unacceptable and untenable, and it became apparent to me that whatever relationship was going to be possible was always going to be on his terms, and part of those terms were that I would always be someone that was trying to undermine his new wife and his happiness (according to her, and by extension, him).

One of the most maddening aspects to me of this happening in my life, and reading it in your letter here, is how crazily PEDESTRIAN middle-aged male behavior this is. Like, TEXTBOOK. I still can't quite get over it. I wish you lots of quiet and calm space around yourself and your feelings, and emotional strength. I found a therapy during this time of my life to be very very helpful.

RNL
RNL

@laughingwoman Doesn't it make you SO ANGRY that men do this kind of thing all the time? Like heart-pumping, maddeningly angry.

Springtime for Voldemort

@When robot unicorns attack Yes, it does. You will notice the dearth of commenters chiming in with the time their mom dumped their dad and hooked up with a significantly younger man? And then how incredibly common it is for men to leave their wives for newer, thinner, younger models.

itiresias

@Springtime for Voldemort yeah, it's insane how many people can share similar stories about this.

i have a friend in san diego who's a personal trainer and pretty much her entire market is middle-aged ex-wives of dudes who want to get back in shape after their husbands have left them for young girls.

jule_b_sorry

@laughingwoman I think it's why I've found myself getting really angry and upset commenting on this letter (like, as already said, heart-poundingly angry just THINKING about it) - it's totally related to a fear of my own father doing this, or my husband doing it in the future. It just seems so shitty, shallow, predictable and...sad. You would think these smart, caring, intelligent men wouldn't dos omething that seems so disgusting and cliche...and yet it seems to happen SO OFTEN. Ugh.

OxfordComma

@laughingwoman : The fiancé's dad is doing this--on a much milder level--with his new wife and her kids, including dismissing my concerns about the creepy stepson, who, during a visit with them, walked in on me several times while I was sleeping, hugged me in that uncomfortably long, "I want to feel your tits" way--I mentioned these things to the fiancé's dad, and I got, "Oh, he's just a little awkward. You know how guys are."

Additionally, when we asked his dad if he could pay for the rehearsal dinner (which the groom's family usually does, since the bride's family--and in our case, the bride, ME--is shelling out for everything else), he gave us this whole huffy, guilt-inducing lecture about how tight he is on cash, how hard he's been working, and that he just can't promise us ANY HELP...and then two weeks ago?

Found out he's taking the new wife and her kids to a resort in fucking Cabo San Lucas for Christmas.

SO.
ANGRY.

And all of this is because the fiancé's mom loves us, and consequently, dad has decided he won't.
It's like, excuse me? ARE YOU FIVE?????

adorable-eggplant

@OxfordComma Oh MY god if someone tried to hug me in my sleep unauthorized, there would be screaming and yelling and that kid would have to write me a sincere apology letter before we spoke again (no guarantees even then). My skin is crawling. Also, people who dismiss that kind of boundary crossing behavior = part of the problem. Although it sounds like your FIL is part of a lot of problems, there. Sorry he's being a jerk.

Also, "You know how guys are." The next person who says that to me is going to hear: "What, rapists? .... [icy silence] I hope you don't mean to imply that guys can't modulate their behavior or adhere to basic standards of human decency. I know several people (guys) who would be offended to know you thought that of them."

ecj88

LW#2 I've been dealing with something similar with one of my friends, and she'll tell me things that worry me and I don't know if I should offer solutions or just be a sounding board. I think it's important for you to consider, what do you think she wants from you? And maybe you can ask her just that, "How can I help? Do you need my help? Do you just need someone to complain to?" I think most of the time we just want someone to be on our side and say, "I understand how you feel, that's tough!"

notpollyanna

LW1: As a certified depressed person, I'm against most mental health care because I have been mostly abused by it (I'm currently stable, this isn't crazy talk). Knowing that is a possibility makes me very very cautious about recommending anyone seek out mental health care. (I'm sorry well-intentioned people, but it makes me cringe! You are already so vulnerable and you go into a situation that statistically perpetrates more abuse than the general world. Eek!) I would try everything I can before going to a mental health care professional. Ask what he can think of that might help. Anything. Try it.

But as a cautious way in... acknowledge his wariness of getting help, ask why he refuses. Is it that he thinks it will be hard and scary? It can be and it can be worth it. Is it that he doesn't want to do X? Lay the smack down when you call to possibly make an appointment: "Hey, I want help to feel better, but I'm not willing to deal with X. Are you willing to respect that?" Would it help if you went together to begin with? Would it help if he knew you would advocate for him if the therapy made him uncomfortable in a bad way? Even if it wouldn't, make sure you advocate for him. Please please please. It can be so bad and serious mental illness robs you of your ability to advocate for yourself. I don't want people to not go somewhere that helps them, but I more don't want people to go somewhere that hurts them.

(Sorry for the novel, I have some strong feelings about this. If you want to know why I am so cautious, what happened that I am so anti-mental-health-care: www.madewithawesome.blogspot.com)

Judith Slutler

@notpollyanna Oh man, I really should've mentioned this in some way. I have had just a couple of appointments with therapists who were unhelpful (one was outright sexist and implied that I had no real problems; I was having multiple daily panic attacks at that point) and even just those types of experiences were scarring and made it very difficult to continue seeking treatment. I agree that LW should ask him about any prior experiences, and be ready to act as a sounding board to help her boyfriend pick a good mental health team.

sevanetta

@notpollyanna I'm sorry you had such a terrible experience :(

hotdog

@Emmanuelle Cunt So, this is also why getting help is so hard: the therapist I am seeing in Chicago is my FIFTH therapist, and hopefully my last. I stopped seeing one because of distance, one because she was unhelpful, one because she was wayyyy old school and said my boyfriend wasn't of my 'class', and one because...I don't know, it just didn't click. If I didnt' have AMAZING insurance, I have no idea how I would have handled any of this, at all.

Poubelle

@notpollyanna Yeah, I'd co-sign this. If he's not seeking out conventional psychotherapy and medications, it's still valid if he wants to look at alternatives--and obviously way better than not seeking out help at all. And if the LW is willing to take up the job of advocating for him, that means a ton and would likely make a huge difference if he knows she's up for going to bat for him.

(I don't talk about it much--mostly because I don't know how to without sounding like I'm proselytizing--but what ultimately helped me more than anything was rediscovering my faith, and I found religion a lot more helpful for me than anything else I'd tried. Maybe it wasn't the most perfect therapy, but I'm still here and lot more functional than I was before, so for me, that's a lot.)

Springtime for Voldemort

@notpollyanna Yeah, I think the problem I had was how she worded it "He basically flat out refuses to get help of any kind." That seems like more than a skepticism of institutionalized mental health - and I am fairly critical of the MH system (while also being a really big fan of what many therapies can do) - but it sounds like he also isn't exactly doing anything else. There are tons of things that you can do with little to no therapist guidance, but they do mean that you're doing CBT workbooks and guided meditations and exercising and taking St. John's Wart, etc, etc. There are many more ways to deal with mental illness than seeing a therapist, but it sort of sounds like he isn't trying anything.

OxfordComma

@notpollyanna: I made sure I offered to go with my fiancé to his first doctor's visit--he needed to know that I was there to be his advocate.

Additionally, he got help from a family physician, which I appreciated, since this doctor's focus is about whole health, and not, "Oh, hey, depressed patient! YOU ARE FUCKED UP."

*shudder*

I did a lot of research before recommending five doctors to the fiancé--it has made a huge difference in his treatment.

(All that said, I am so sorry you've had shitty-ass experiences. That blows. :( )

SarcasticFringehead

My dad/stepmom's holiday photos (the ones for cards, not the day-of ones) tend to include anyone who happens to be there - friends, boyfriends/girlfriends, neighbors' pets, a stuffed cow, whatever. I think it confuses the relatives, but I enjoy it.

Poubelle

@SarcasticFringehead Wait, a stuffed cow as in a toy cow or a stuffed cow as in a taxidermied one? Either way, your family's winning at holiday photos.

packedsuitcase

@Poubelle Agreed. I want my holiday photos to be like that.

SarcasticFringehead

@Poubelle (Un)fortunately(?), it's a toy cow. About the size of an actual baby cow, though, so it makes an impression.

Queen of Pickles

@SarcasticFringehead This holiday-photo philosophy makes me happy.

RNL
RNL

I think people are missing the point a little for LW4. Of course she is entitled to be pissed at her dad, and to tell him that she is sad/mad/disappointed/devastated. She's entitled to shut him out, judge him, take a break, whatever she needs to do.

But it sounds like she is grieving over a perceived loss of a parent. Telling her she has a right to be mad does not address that. Her question as I read it is: how do I not lose my dad?

That's a whole other story. It involves buckets and buckets of forgiveness. It may very well involve being ok with the fact that he will never face how hard this is for her because he doesn't want to. He wants to get married to his hot wife and have that be ok. Accepting that it's not it pretty destabilizing.

Listen, my dad is a creep who dumped my mom and went on the marry his divorce lawyer. He lied and cheated, sued for sole custody to avoid child support, told me my mom was crazy (I mean, she is a little, but not really), alienated both my siblings (he left my sister's birthday present in her mailbox when she turned 15), went to court to stop me from going to the school of my choice, and generally made me feel like absolute garbage from 13 until some nebulous age in my early 20's. He is emotionally vicious when attacked and has literally never admitted wrongdoing or apologised for making me feel bad.

But he's my DAD. I considered letting go, but I couldn't. He's my dad. He's a part of my heart, a part of who I am. I have dug through a mountain of shit to come to where I am now: 100% strong in my own truth of my family, completely ok with the fact that my dad does not see or accept that truth, having forgiven him for his failings, and able to accept the love he has to give in the way he can give it.

It's not perfect. My dad has broken and wounded me in fundamental ways. But he's my dad. If what the LW wants is to know how to have a relationship with someone who refuses to accept her emotional reality, the answer is time, forgiveness, and self work. And an unwavering conviction that her feelings are valid, even if he will never validate them.

RNL
RNL

@When robot unicorns attack I mean LW3.

laughingwoman

@When robot unicorns attack Wow. I commend you. I haven't been able to get there myself, and don't know if or when I ever will (I am still so angry, and from what I understand, to progress to forgiveness or relationship I have to stop being angry).

I think what I also hear in LW3's message is, "Can we ever get back to normal?" and that question (as well as her "Do I need to be?" friends with him again query) has an answer that has a lot to do with what kind of expectations does she have of relationship with and to her father. If normal is whatever normal was in the past, I think it's likely not to be that. If normal is a new normal where, her expectations of him are non-existent, and she accepts that she may never be heard or validated but is willing to understand and forgive that in exchange for whatever kind of contact is possible, then yes, that kind of normal is achievable. And maybe it will be a whole lot better than that, but color me cynical.

I admire what you say at the end of your comment, your unwavering conviction in the validity of your own feelings, even if they'll never be validated by your father. That kind of stunning compassion is a really amazing goal to reach for. I miss my dad and reading your answers give me a lot of pause. But I also know that what I miss is largely a construction of what I want "dad" to mean and be, and which he actually has not every really been or is capable of being in my life.

RNL
RNL

@laughingwoman I want you to know that I'm sorry this happened to you. We didn't deserve it, and we don't deserve to be hurt and angry. While, as Philip Larkin said, our parents fuck us up, we deserved better. I used to be so very very saddened when I came into contact with loving families who did not seem to have weathered internal storms like mine.

I have had more than 15 years to figure this out, and 5 in therapy. I'm a grown up, and I've let go of the things that happened to me as a child and an adolescent. One day I was just not angry anymore.

As you say, I have a new normal. It works for me. It took me a very very long time to get here, and it's pleasant, and happy. I hug my dad, and he sends me articles on the internet. I know about his life, and he mine. I'm so grateful to have that. My siblings come with me to his house, and have relationships with him, and that is something I am so, so proud of. Maybe the proudest thing in my life.

You know the story of the scorpion and the fox? My dad is not a scorpion, but just like with a scorpion, there's no use railing against his nature. I accept him for who he is, flaws and all, and accept what he has to give me and don't expect more. It's not how I interact with those I choose in my life. I expect more from them. I don't accept neglect and gaslighting from anyone. But people can only neglect you when you need something they can't or won't give you.

My dad is my dad. I love him and want his love. And I have it.

lemur_niemer

LW#1: My boyfriend is currently depressed, and the thing that makes it work is that he's invested in helping himself. If he weren't interested in moving forward/getting better, I really don't think that I could do this. In contrast, the days that are the worst are when he says things like "You shouldn't be in a relationship with me - I don't deserve this."
Self-indulgent venting/advice: Definitely, if you can, get some sort of help/outlet for yourself. The hardest part for me has been the absence of support right now. We're still in college, and all of our friends are mutual. As he's keeping this (understandably) very private, I can't really talk to any of my friends when something comes up. I'd usually talk to my mom, but she's a psychiatrist. While I'd gladly talk to her if it were my problem (not as a therapist but as a mom) I just don't feel comfortable sharing this with her. I've realized in the past week that I really need to take care of myself too, and I'm looking into it.

saul "the bear" berenson

@Liz the Lemur If I may... would you reconsider sharing this with your mom? I ask because my dad is a therapist, and talking things through with him has provided some of the most important support I've had in some of my worst times throughout life. He has been crucial. You say that you'd talk to her if it were your problem, but it kind of IS your problem, you know? This isn't only your boyfriend's issue - being in a relationship w/ a depressed person can be incredibly hard, as I'm sure you know. Your experience of it is a big deal, and you deserve plenty of support for it. It isn't your job to go through this alone so that he's protected. If you can find one trustworthy friend to confide in, that might be good, too. I feel kind of like I'm butting in saying all this, but as someone who's been there, just wanted to share my two cents.

Joey

To Lady Writer #1 (I loved all the answers but may I chime in, too?) Lady, please give more information about how your boyfriend's depression is influencing your life. You wrote "it's hard on us" which is a great place to start, and I just want to hear more about you and how you feel. Is he reliable, does he empathize with you? Depression can turn people into narcissistic, irritable shells of who they truly are. Or not. Just wondering what it all looks and feels like to be you. I was in a relationship were I asked, explained, encouraged, and even once pleaded with a man to get help for his depression. He would not, and he reacted with anger, as if I were making this all about myself. There are many reasons why someone who is depressed will not seek help, but finally, I could not take it. We have mirror neurons. Living with someone depressed who is not taking an active role in being the healthiest he can be can make his partner sick or depressed. I finally told him, with so much love and sadness and anger that I was done, I was leaving, we were broken up. And he got help. And it wasn't an easy happily ever after but he continued to get help, and we got back together. I love him so much, and I am so happy. I think depression in a way can't be compared to another illness like kidney disease. It is so different, and it can just create such a horrible, dark, anxiety filled home. I wish the absolute best for you and your boyfriend, you both deserve the best of health and happiness. xoxo

Joey

LW #3 I just want to chime in with: I am so sorry you and your family is going through this. I can understand you feel two ways: "he sucks" and "I still want a relationship with him." It can be so hard to reconcile the memories of childhood (Dad equals safety and fun and love or whatever) with the current information you have, and the context in how you see him. So, I have some questions. I'll just ask: has he apologized to you? Do you think that he *gets* that he has done things that have hurt your mother and you, your whole family? If someone can't express regret and apologize, then that is a bad sign. Would it make you feel better to have a superficial relationship with him, where you keep in touch, whatever that would mean, and see each other rarely? And your expectations for his emotional development would be dialed way back, so you would not get hurt? Do you think he may be a narcissist? Whatever your thoughts are, and whatever your decisions are, I send you strength!

sevanetta

@Joey loved your response. and YES HE MIGHT BE A NARCISSIST! LW1, read up on this!

OxfordComma

LW #1:

I have been exactly in your shoes.

No, seriously.

My fiancé had severe depression for...six years?
We dated for four of those, and girl, it was HARD.
And I wanted to leave.
And I was so FUCKING annoyed that he wasn't getting medical help, particularly since severe depression runs in his family, AND HIS PARENTS TOLD HIM TO GET HELP.

I still have feelings about this, obviously.

He finally sought help, last year, and I can't even tell you how wonderful it's been to have *him* back.
Prozac is a godsend.

That said...

You're not stupid to stay.
You're not stupid to go.

Avoid making it an ultimatum, like, "Get help, or I'm leaving!!!", because, to a depressed person,
that just confirms all of the horrible shit their illness makes them believe about themselves. It won't help, and it won't encourage him to seek medical attention.

I can highly, highly recommend reading, "How to Survive When They're Depressed"--it's just good to know that you aren't alone, and to be cognizant of the different therapies that are available for whenever he is ready to seek help.

One of the things that stopped my fiancé from seeking help was just how daunting it seemed to him.
I did a lot of legwork and found five physicians near his house who were well recommended, and it encouraged him to see that getting help wasn't impossible (one of the hallmarks of depression is that it makes EVERYTHING feel impossible). He knew that I was well-versed in the various medications that would be recommended to him, and above all, he knew that I was his partner, his teammate, and that I was there to walk with him through all of this.

It wasn't easy, and there are times when I resent him for taking so long to get help--
I'm pretty sure we would have gotten married two or three years ago if he had--
and that's difficult to deal with, honestly.

(There's been a lot of praying for serenity and grace in that area...)

Try to find out why he's resistant to treatment--is it a family thing? Is it a dislike for doctors in general? Is he afraid of the side effects?

When things are quiet, have a gentle discussion about how his depression directly effects you, and how willing you are to partner with him in getting help. Sometimes that help can start with eating good food, taking a supplement like St. John's Wort or 5-HTP, and taking walks together.

See if he's willing to start there--small, gentle changes that let him see that getting better *is* a possibility.

I know that my fiancé will struggle with this for the rest of his life,
and it is conceivable that Prozac will stop working, and we'll have to figure something else out.
But for me, for us?
It's worth it.

I am so glad I stayed with him.

For you?

It's okay to leave if you need to.
It's okay to stay if you need to.

Know that you are not alone--I'll be sending you good wishes and prayers. *hug*

prefer not to say

@OxfordComma

Oh, LW1, listen to OxfordComma. She knows. If I could promote her comment 30 times to make you pay attention, I would.

I also was involved with a very depressed man during my college years, one who refused to get help. We wound up breaking up -- but mostly because I was also immature and co-dependent, and needed to deal with my own issues. If I had been a different woman, maybe I would have had the wisdom to make it work.

So the only thing I would add to OxfordComma's post is that one of the worst things about that relationship was that because we were young, and because neither of us had much perspective on depression, we had a lot of trouble mastering the "Ok -- I'm having this particular feeling and am responsible for dealing with it. You are having this other feeling, and are responsible for dealing with it. Just because one of us has a feeling doesn't mean both of us are responsible for it."

If you're serious about staying with this man, go get yourself to a therapist now and master that skill. It's a GREAT skill for every relationship. It will help you.

OxfordComma

@prefer not to say : *This*

p1000

LW#3: start dating one of your dad's male friends who's around his age.

LW#1: I was in a situation like this (along with twenty other commentators?) and we eventually broke up for different long-distance-commitment-related reasons, but I'm sorry you're going through this difficulty. In some ways, it's easier to be friends with someone in that situation than to be his girlfriend. As his girlfriend, I always thought the depressed periods somehow reflected badly on me. As his friend, I just want to help him through them in any way I can. I hope that you and he both have friends you can rely on when you need someone outside the relationship to listen to you, or reassure you, or show you different ways of being.

Springtime for Voldemort

LW1: I think my question is, what kind of help is he refusing? Are we talking, he refuses to go see a licensed mental health professional and/or take prescribed medication? Or are we talking, he refuses to do anything in any way, shape, or form?

The first can be rather "easily" managed by providing him with resources, and helping to destigmatize mental health issues. I think everyone else has got that covered above.

However, the second one is trickier. Because if we're talking he refuses to go to yoga once a week, or do some guided meditation from YouTube videos, or make sure to go to worship services, or channel his emotions into painting, or watching Monty Python every night, or order a few used books on cognitive behavior therapy on Amazon - whatever, really, and effectiveness isn't so much of a concern right now as the trying is - that's more indicative of a passive person.

Don't marry a passive person.

Passive people are probably not going to be really active people if they were to stop being depressed. When you two go to buy a home, a passive person will not put a whole lot of effort into trying to get you the best loan rate. When your kid gets a shit deal at school, a passive person isn't going to advocate on that child's behalf.

There is nothing wrong with dumping someone who refuses to try to make their life better.

Springtime for Voldemort

LW3: Ok, a couple things I have found helpful in my similiar situation:

1) I pointedly refer to my dad's wife as "my dad's wife". She was not there when I was growing up, she has not filled a mothering role (and I do not want her to), and I already have a mother. She is not my step-mom. She is the woman my dad married; she is not a parent in any way to me.

2) Asking for more alone, quality time with my dad. This has had varying degrees of success, because my dad is mostly a dick and our relationship has been (up until very recently) mostly shite. But, I deal a lot better with the amount I have to see her if I don't have to see her to see him. He wants me to come over for Christmas at his place? (And she would obviously be there.) Ok, well, then we need to have our own holiday tradition (perhaps seeing the Parade of Lights or something), just him and me. (Or, just him and me and my sister. But Old Family Only.) If he gets into a phase of only inviting me over for dinner, I'll text him and see if he wants to grab dinner at a restaurant, "just the two of us". And you might have to be really explicit and boundary setting if he has a tendency to invite her along to things he agreed would be just the two of you.

3)I don't really like his wife. And I doubt anyone is under the impression that I do. But, so long as she maintains proper boundaries and doesn't act like she's an authority/parent figure to me, I am civil and sometimes friendly to her.

Bittersweet

@Springtime for Voldemort Wow, are we related? I also refer to my dad's wife as "my dad's wife." I honestly think she'd be weirded out if I called her my stepmother. We have a very adult relationship that sounds a little friendlier than what you have, but that's also based on mutual respect and civility.

One thing that really helps is that she's only a few years younger than my dad, not a few years older than I am.

Springtime for Voldemort

@Bittersweet Yeah, when their relationship started... the super-short version is that some really unethical, boundary-violating, "why the fuck would you have thought this was a good idea?" shit went down that really makes it hard for us to bond over much more than our agreement that Cat Walk hair products are great. So, I don't really respect her all that much - though, there are definitely aspects of her that I have intense respect for - but find that civility is the most pragmatic response.

Snowy

Can I just say really quick, LW#1--if his depression is coming in waves that are months or weeks long, consider that it might be Bipolar Disorder II, even BPD-NOS. Signs that he might have BPD include if SSRI's and other traditional antidepressants are ineffective, and if his depression began before the age of 20. Also, he doesn't have to have the classic hypomanic episodes where he splurges or gambles--he might be angry or anxious instead.

My best friend had crippling undiagnosed BPD for over a year--constant suicidal ideation, sobbing on the floor every night, couldn't leave the house, could talk only to me. We thought it was severe anxiety/depression like he's had all his life, but after 4 months of episodes every other day, he allowed himself to be talked into seeing a therapist. Eventually his therapist (so smart!!) diagnosed BPD, except instead of euphoric moods he had irritable moods. Now he's taking Lamictal and has made an unbelievable recovery--not a single episode for several months now, and he's so, so, so much happier. He's doing creative things again, got a sweet girlfriend, and is even thinking of finding a job!

I don't know about the severity of your boyfriend's condition but if it's bad, he might not be willing to get help for himself because he doesn't care what happens to him, thinks it's hopeless anyway, or feels that the depression has been with him so long he wouldn't be himself without it. But tell him that even if he doesn't think he needs help, *you* need help from him, because being his support is really painful for you as well. Like I said, I don't know that it's this bad for you, but in the worst moments, when my best friend didn't care about what happened to him anymore, he held on and got help because he cared about me, how much pain I was in holding him together during his episodes, how much I cried when he said he wanted to kill himself.

Anyways, it's completely understandable if you don't have the energy to deal with him and want to split up, because it's not really 100% healthy for you to be in that situation. But if you want to stick it out and see if he'll get help, remember to keep an eye on your emotional energy, set boundaries so you don't get totally drained, and take really good care of yourself. Good luck, either way!

sevanetta

@OK Chickadee agreed - I have commented above that this depression needs to be checked out and make sure it's 'just' or 'only' depression, because apart from the fact it won't just get better on its own, it sounds to me like there may be a broader condition or cause that needs to be addressed.

ohwhistle

I went to two weddings with my ex while we were dating (one for his brother, and one for his dad) and his family was VERY insistent that I be in all the photos. We hadn't been dating very long at that point, and it made me SO SOOOOOO uncomfortable.I know that LW3's relationship is more established and probably a lot different than mine was at the time, but I usually take a back seat when it comes time for photo's at sig. others family events. Then again, I def. have an instinct to hide, and a strong fear of mugging in some photo when no one really wants me there. I think A Lady's advice is pretty good-take a few with and a few without your boyfriend. I think of those wedding photos sometimes, and it definitely brings back old weird feelings, but mostly it's just kind of funny. The ex was an abusive asshole and I dumped him a year or so afterward, and he was not happy about it. Whoops, sorry I ruined all your photos!

hollysh

While I don't like this Lady's brand of advice, I really, really love this stock photo Lady.

whateverlolawants

Oh man. I have been there, LW 1. The wonderful guy you love who is taken over by a dark depression. The thing is, it's affecting you. It's true. If it's bothering you, it's affecting you. With my guy, it took the form of some unintentional emotional abuse (chilly silences, blaming me, twisting my words, etc.) There was also some codependency -- he would use me as his therapist, more or less, and I let it go on for a long time, and I took responsibility for scheduling his therapy sessions (once he stopped refusing outright) and following up on them. I was really emotionally invested in it. But it doesn't have to go that far. Once I realized things were bad for me, I gave it some thought, talked with a therapist, then talked with him about it. I couldn't stay with him while he acted like that.

Yes, it was mildly abusive, but that isn't a necessary justification for making that ultimatum. In my mind at the time, realizing it was abuse gave me an "out" -- I could feel better about being "selfish", or in actuality, taking care of myself. But I shouldn't have felt that was the only reason I could stand up. I just had a people-pleasing mindset and I had a lifelong history of sweeping away my own feelings, so only something dramatic could get through to me.

This story ends both happily and unhappily, depending on your perspective. We split up tearfully. I still loved him. He still loved me. But we needed to be apart. The relationship wasn't working. It was scary; I feared he would get even worse, harm himself, etc. But I decided I needed to do this, and I knew his friends and family would keep an eye on him. And after a few days, I made the controversial decision that we could stay friends if we adhered to certain boundaries. (I'm not good at pulling off bandages, but also, we lived about 100 yards away from each other on a tiny college campus.) I knew I could quietly monitor his mental health and step back in if he really showed signs of being a danger to himself.

He tried to convince me to come back after a month (when I was in the hospital dealing with mono complications... it was a bad time in my life.) I told him I needed time out of a relationship, and we could stay friends only if he respected that boundary. He couldn't ask me that again until at least four months away (when we were set to graduate college.) If he still felt like getting back with me then, I thought, I'd have a clearer perspective, and we'd also be in different life situations. It's similar to the rule some Pinners endorse: after a breakup, go X months without speaking. Things will be clearer then.

Well, we stayed friends. He respected my boundaries. He never showed himself to be a danger to himself, either -- at least not that I ever heard about. And he didn't ask me again. And we remain friends to this day, 5 years almost to the day of our breakup. I can't speak for him, but from what I've heard, he doesn't pine for me. He's said he wouldn't want to marry me, and that didn't hurt to hear. He's moved on, and he's happier now, although he's still a bit of a melancholy soul. But I don't think he despairs like he did, and I think he can access his joy with more ease. I don't know if he sought more treatment for his depression.

And me, I'm happy we aren't tied together as a couple, and I'm happy he's still a friend. We've both grown in the last 5 years and become different people, and that's a good thing. And we've still got that connection at our core, and that shared past intimacy, that makes us the kind of friends who just "get" each other. We can skip a lot of the pretenses.

In any case, I saw a lot of myself in your letter, despite the differences. (We were 21 and had been together a bit more than a year.) I had all the same thoughts you shared. I wish you both the best, no matter how you handle it and what happens.

ccard

Geez, my boyfriend wasn't even officially my boyfriend when my mom started including him in [much hated by all] family holiday photos. Why your mom be stone cold, LW4?

OxfordComma

@ccard : Sounds like my family's photos--digital camera, blinding flash turned on, terrible angles of people's noses and chins?

Angelena@twitter

in my family we include bfs/gfs/spouses in some and not in others. then there are some that are for FAMILY ONLY!!!!! and are for like blood only family relatives. (um yeah my grandma is weird). but past bfs have been included in pics (well only my sisters haha) but we just kinda look at the pics like "oh there was that guys he was ____" insert negative/positive word. basically what I'm saying is my family is completely insane about photographs and so is the letter writers.

Diana

LW#3, here's a tale for you.

My grandpa died last Wednesday. My grandpa was a dick.

My grandfather basically did this exact same bullshit to my mom and my grandmother, leaving them to start a new family without so much as a 'my bad'. My grandmother moved far away to sunny California and my mom struggled to rebuild her relationship with him. Empathy, compassion, kindness to his new family, etc, she tried it all. But you know what? My grandpa was a dick. Your dad sounds like a dick. And that really sucks. But I find this sort of all-forgiving compassion that some people in these comments are advocating is not only exhausting, it's futile. What have they achieved? "Haha! I now have a relationship with this loser in which I have no expectations of them whatsoever, they provide me with zero emotional support, and they continue to hurt me in new and exciting ways on the regular. But he's my dad!" YOUR DAD IS A DICK. WHAT DOES HE CONTRIBUTE TO YOUR LIFE?

Over the next 20 years my mom met my dad, got married, moved out to join my grandmother in sunny California, and reduced her contact with my grandpa down to one phone call a week. Every week it was the same fucking phone call: he would call and complain and never listen to her and generally be a selfish, needy, useless fuckaround. My sister and I had no relationship with him whatsoever. That asshole didn't even think about us. He never changed, because his actions to my mom and grandma were expressive of who he really was: immature, unstable, incredibly selfish, and needlessly hurtful.

How does this story end? My mom married my dad, who came from a wonderful, loving family who immediately adopted her as one of their own. That family has enough love to go around for her, my sister, and myself without us needing to turn to that jackass for emotional support or strength. My father HATED that jackass for the way he fucked up my mom and my dad went out of his way to make sure his family knew how much she needed to feel their love and support. We have all had happy Christmases, thoughtful birthday presents, warm phone calls and a good life filled with love and kindness and support. Even better, other members of my mom's family went out of their way to contact us, and that side of the family began to sort of coalesce around the space my grandpa should have filled. Last week that asshole died the way he apparently wanted to live, alone and without any of his family around. Oh well. In two weeks, the rest of us are going to celebrate the holidays together, as a loving family. My mom and my dad and my sister, my dad's entire extended family, and the best apples from my mother's family - we are the people who have decided to invest in our relationships to one another, we are the family who chose to be a family.

Family is a strange amorphous thing. This isn't the 18th century, we don't live in clans anymore. We're not required to hold onto blood ties in order to work the family estate and reap enough food for the winter. Going through years of emotional abuse and crying jags for the sake of saying, "I have a relationship with my dad" is a really poor trade-off. There are billions of other people in this world who can become part of your family, most of whom sound like they will do a better job than your dad. Spend this Christmas with your mom and your sisters - they are the ones who not only need your love and support, but who will give *you* the love and support that *you* need. If you want to send an olive branch, send your dad and his wife a polite Christmas card. If he starts to reach out to you in a way that demonstrates compassion and love - if he starts acting like a dad, in other words - you can slowly work to develop a new normal that incorporates his new life. If he continues on the pattern he has so far demonstrated and reaches out to you in a way that demonstrates selfishness and cruelty, then fuck that guy! I think it's disturbing that some folks in this thread would put up with behavior from a father that they would NEVER tolerate from a boyfriend. There are many worse things in life than building a life away from your own father. You should try to start things off on the right foot, and leave yourself open to the possibility that things can improve and your relationship can heal over time. But if that doesn't happen, don't be afraid to prune the rotting branch of your family tree. The rest of the tree has roots strong enough for everybody else. Good luck this year.

Mira

@Diana I wish I could give this comment every thumbs-up. Your family sounds awesome.

wee_ramekin

@Diana OH MY GOD YES. Thank you Diana. Just...thank you.

piekin

@Diana Perfect, all of it.

Queen of Pickles

@Diana
Yes. Thank you. Healthy emotional boundaries.

Liz W@twitter

Hey everyone! I am LW2 and wanted to give you an update. First of all - a big THANK YOU to everyone who's weighed in, whether because you've been in my or my friend's shoes. I really appreciate all of your perspectives on top of A Lady's advice.

In between sending this question in and having it get answered, I did ask my friend - after she made a self-hating comment yet again - how she expects me to respond when she says things like that. Her answer? "I don't expect you to say anything. I'm saying it to remind myself what I need to do." I was so floored that I didn't respond, but her answer on top of everything I've read here has made me feel pretty good about asking her please to stop saying those things in front of me the next time she brings it up, and maybe throwing in one last "that has nothing to do with the awesome person I know you to be" to boot.

notfromvenus

LW4 - Do you consider him your long-term partner and (emotionally if not legally) part of your family? If yes, tell your mom you want him in the photo, spouse or no.

If not, then I guess you should let him know that.

Run-on sentence

Re: LW3. First, I’m really sorry that you and your family have been hurt by your father’s behavior. You’re dealing with a lot of issues, and it’s perfectly okay to take your time to figure out how you’re going to deal with it. Perhaps you could have separate Christmas celebrations with each parent, or even one with each and a combined day/meal, rather than trying to deal with a single large, awkward event?

I wrote a huge essay about all my thoughts and feelings about divorces and blended families and dealing with disappointing fathers, but in the end I just want to throw this part out there, because I feel like it addresses an angle of your question that hasn’t really been brought up in the comments. This is all a completely theoretical, since from the sounds of your letter there are no new babies currently on the horizon, but it’s a point of view for future reference (or not). I’m the child of my dad’s second marriage, and my relationship with my half-siblings is complicated to say the least.

How you deal with any potential new siblings will ultimately depend on how you decide to conduct your relationship with your dad and his wife. Be aware that if you dislike or don’t get along with your dad’s wife, this will likely make it difficult to get along with their kids (this is, or should be, pretty obvious). You are rightly upset on your mom’s behalf over your dad’s rejection – the potential sibs will likewise be upset by someone rejecting their mom. Given the age gap, you might end up playing more of a ‘cool aunt’ role. You won’t be growing up these kids, so you will have an opportunity (if you choose to pursue it) to mold the relationship pretty much as you like, with whatever boundaries and explanations that you like. If you find that you don’t want to have much/any contact with your dad and his new family, that’s okay. What’s not okay is taking out your hurt feelings with your dad on any new kids that come along. No one chooses their parents, it’s not their fault that your shared dad acted the way he did, and unless he has some kind of emotional growth spurt (unlikely), they will be subject to the same flawed parenting you got. Kids will pick up on your behavior if you constantly act like you would rather they/their family were not around or make a big deal about ‘the original family’ and ‘the new family’. I know I spent a lot of my childhood following my older half-sibs around and wanting to be included in, only to be told that this or that event/photo/meal out was just, you know ‘our family, dad and the kids’ and being confused because wasn’t I one of the kids/their sister/his daughter also?

Basically the thing you need to bear in mind if/when your dad and his wife have kids, is that they will be a part of his life and just as much his children as you and your siblings. That means they will take up time when they are little and that you will probably have to accommodate them, hear about them, etc, when you see your dad, just like you would with any other family member with a new kid. That also means arbitrating between the old and new families, and understanding that sometimes child-aged children might need a bit more support or time than adult-aged children – which is not the same as thinking you are unimportant or undeserving of support or love.

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