And very interested in hearing from those well partners who did choose to leave -- what was the tipping point for your choice and how ha our life been since the separation?
And I would be interested in hearing from those ill partners - what was your life like after the separation?
HERE'S THE ADVICE COLUMN:
Q: I enjoy reading your columns everyday -- it provides such a welcome distraction at work. I find myself in a difficult, sad situation, and would appreciate any advice you and your readers have to offer.
I have been in a relationship for about four years. My boyfriend and I are very young -- we started dating when we were about 20 -- and we’ve had a great relationship and are very much best friends. We agreed early on there was no need to rush and get married, but we frequently discussed our desire to be together for a very long time. Two years ago we moved in together and it was wonderful; we had a great life, great experiences, great friends.
My boyfriend has always had health problems, but a little over a year ago, things really got bad. There’s no need to go into the details, but suffice it to say, it isn’t going to go away, and it has impacted every aspect of our lives. Because it is often difficult for him to move around, we started going out less and less. Our home became less social as he didn’t like having people over as much. His interests narrowed, his mood soured (he’s being treated for depression). Our sex life dried up. I took it upon myself to do whatever I could to make life better for him; I have taken on more and more responsibilities; I physically take care of him; and I have been patient, accommodating and understanding as our lives changed.
Now I’m at a point where I have accepted that this is not temporary, and I feel increasingly hopeless. I have all of the responsibilities in the relationship, with no help from him; I ask for help when I think it is reasonable, but the general rule is, if I don't do it, it won't get done. What's more is that we basically have no lives. His only real interest now is sitting on the couch watching our favorite TV shows, and it’s the only activity we really do together anymore. I’ve told him on more than one occasion that I miss the things we used to do together and with others, and that despite his pain, I hope we can try to have some fun again, even if it’s limited. He tries sometimes, but even if he manages to get out the door with me, we usually can’t stay out for long before he wants to come home. I’ve tried to broaden his interests beyond the TV even within our apartment (books, board games, video games, anything) but that hasn’t really worked either. His interest in other people has also reached new lows, so socializing beyond the infrequent visits of our few remaining close friends is rare. I have started going out on my own from time to time just to escape the negative and monotonous atmosphere of our home (I always make sure to invite him), but it’s not the same, and since our jobs take up much of our time, it doesn’t feel right to spend a large portion of my limited free time elsewhere. I’ve brought up all of these problems separately on numerous occasions, but I have to be delicate about it because he quickly begins to feel massively guilty and depressed, and sees himself as inadequate.
I feel isolated, stuck, and sad, and have been fighting the urge to flee. I think he may suspect my feelings, because he is reminding me more frequently how he loves me and couldn't go on without me. But I just don't know. On the one hand, I have all the responsibilities of the relationship, and none of the emotional or physical joy that should come with it. I don't think he is either willing or capable of living beyond the lifestyle we currently live. I’m 24 and I am terrified at the prospect that this is it, that this is going to be my life. On the other hand, he’s still my best friend, and I love him and deeply care for him. He’s in pain, both physically and emotionally, and he needs me. If I left, it would break his heart, and when I think about the reality of that, it absolutely shakes me.
What should I do? It’s been over a year, and I feel I have tried everything, and things are not getting any better. Am I a horrible person to be thinking about leaving him?
-- Stuck and Hopeless, Boston
A: S&H, You’re allowed to leave. You’re 24. You didn’t sign up for this. I fear the longer you stay, the worse it will be when you bolt.
He’s your friend. You owe it to him to be honest. Tell him you’re not up for this. You can’t commit to this life, at least not as a romantic partner. You can explain that part of your decision is about age and place in life. I truly believe it’s not just his illness. You want to discover more of the world. You want to get to know yourself better. That's what unmarried people do at your age. You will feel like a jerk -- but being a jerk is better than being a martyr.
Give him the whole picture. Explain that you’ve thought about leaving for a number of reasons, but that his health and depression has kept you around. Tell him you've lost track of how serious the relationship would be if his illness wasn't a factor.
If he can’t get his mind around losing you -- if he begs you to stay (and he probably will) -- assure him that you’ll be there as a friend if he wants you around in that capacity. Remind him of all of the other people in his life who care for him. Tell him to seek out as much support as possible. Dealing with a chronic is miserable. He needs to learn to cope without alienating everyone he loves. If you fear that leaving him will send him into a dangerous depression, talk to his friends and family -- even his doctor. It's their job to get him through this.
There’s no way to avoid feeling like a bad person. It's going to be ugly and there's going to be a lot of guilt and shame. But that's life. You can’t always be the good guy. And frankly, I’m not sure that sticking around would make you the good guy. It would just make you miserable.
Go be 24.