I am a 30-year-old man in a professional job. My career is going well, but the one thing in my life I am not enjoying is my relationship. My girlfriend, 25, has a beautiful five-year-old daughter, who I adore, and a job, but is restricted due to being a single mother. I am no longer in love with her, but when I try to finish the relationship she cries, and it breaks my heart. I end up taking it back and telling her I’m just stressed by work.
She is a very anxious woman, and clingy, which I hate. If I don’t text her back she sends me messages which appear normal, but I can sense the panic in them. She constantly needs reassurance and it’s now becoming very annoying. What do I do?
This letter appeared last week in the Guardian.
Interesting introduction (possibly edited by the Guardian, but I’ll treat it as if it wasn’t). “A professional job” is an odd thing to say, but I think it means you feel you are doing well for you age, since your age is in the same sentence. You state that life’s going well in general, but your relationship is not going well. That’s striking because relationships are the most important part of our lives.
The message is – if I could just get out of this relationship then things would be perfect. So, already there’s a big red flag waving. Perhaps you need to be in a bad relationship so you can provide yourself with an explicable reason as to why you feel so guilty and hounded (the real reasons being much earlier)? Is the relationship a defence against thinking about things that are really going on for you? Have you been in this kind of relationship before? (Probably).
You say your girlfriend is “restricted” and I wonder what that means here. Perhaps you mean it’s hard to go out in the evenings or on holiday? Presumably, however, you knew she had a child when you got into the relationship, so these restrictions are unconsciously self-imposed. You chose someone whose personal freedom is limited and who perhaps feels very trapped. I wonder why?
Perhaps (taking the hint from your intro about being successful) having a girlfriend who very much needs you feeds a kind of omnipotent fantasy – if you are the powerful, successful one without needs then you don’t have to acknowledge the very frightened, needy side of yourself? Maybe, at least initially, it made you feel powerful to be with someone who has less freedom, money and power than you have? Interestingly, her daughter is described as beautiful and adored. [Were you brought up by a single mum, I wonder?] Probably the child is able to like you without needing you?
You go on to say that you “try to finish the relationship”, rather than that you do finish it. You are quickly manipulated by her need and your own guilt (about what, fundamentally?) keeps you in. Her love for you breaks your heart, particularly as you have none for her. I’m slightly tempted to leap to your mother here – was she very vulnerable, did she/does she need you, use you as a tool to meet her emotional needs while ignoring yours? But I think you are really in touch with a desperately needy side of yourself that has never been allowed out.
Perhaps your needs were never met – the people you wanted to stay did not stay? Something in you imagines that you know how your girlfriend feels – you know what terrible loss feels like. You also know (or are in some way in touch with the fact) that you are inflicting it, this pain, as a way of avoiding being that one, the left one, the lost one, the unwanted one. I think you have been in this position, or felt yourself to be in this position, in early life and it’s so unbearable that you must make sure you’re never in it again. An effective way of doing this is to do it to someone else, but because you know how it feels you are tortured by what you do. (In fact, of course, you do not know how your girlfriend feels – her loss may feel very different to yours, or to what you imagine).
It’s also important to point out that she probably would not want to stay with you if she knew what you really thought of her. So, in some ways, you are staying with her in order to protect yourself and her from the knowledge of what you are really like. You find it too difficult to admit your true feelings for fear of….? Being hated? Retaliation? Shame? You are, in fact, protecting yourself by staying with her and not protecting her at all. If she had all the information she would almost certainly leave you very quickly. But you continue to lie to her.
You say you hate anxious and clingy women (real loathing there – for all women excepting powerful newspaper columnists?), yet you chose one. You may hate them (again, seeing an unwanted part of yourself in them), but you are drawn to them. This might be you trying to rescue your mum as well as a projection of uknown/unwanted sides of yourself.
I’m fascinated by the messages that “appear normal” but in which you sense the panic. How, if they appear normal? The panic is yours. You are sensing panic. You want to believe it’s hers but, in fact, the messages are normal. And you then panic. I think this is probably because being needed is so absolutely unbearable. And yet it’s also so necessary to you, so that you don’t have to feel needy yourself. Again, if your mother was terribly needy and anxious then perhaps your own needs weren’t met so you ended up desperate too. Wild guess, obviously.
You say this woman’s need for reassurance is annoying and of course it is because you can’t offer it sincerely. If you did love her you’d be able to reassure her. But if you did love her then she wouldn’t sense that you didn’t and need reassurance. What do you do? Well, obviously, you leave in a clear and clean way and don’t get cowed by her manipulation. In an ideal world. But then what?
Then you have to look at what magnetic pull the very needy have on you, why you need to be in that position of power and how to allow yourself to be needy and thereby to allow others to need you. Easier said than done, of course….
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