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Thread: Taking Space from Long-term Boyfriend (20 year age gap)

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    Taking Space from Long-term Boyfriend (20 year age gap)

    So to begin with, I don't believe that every facet of the story I am about to tell boils down to the 20 year age gap between myself and my boyfriend of 3 years. Being at different life stages certainly plays a role in the problems I'm about to touch upon, and ultimately I thought I'd post it here, as it's where I sought help exactly 3 years ago upon beginning the relationship with the same individual. Please be gentle on me. I should also mention that this is my FIRST serious intimate relationship with anybody. I was 20 when we met and I'm soon to be 24, while he is 43. Though I had been on dates and had one guy show interest in me prior to this relationship, I had been very socially isolated all through my teen years. I was diagnosed by my psychiatrist as being on the autism spectrum (high functioning i.e. Asperger's) a couple months ago, which I had effectively masked my whole life by being outwardly put together and doing well in school. I can't sustain close friendships and have bad social anxiety. My boyfriend is my closest friend, and I am his. My psych also agrees with me that he is also probably on the spectrum. He is highly intelligent has specific intense interests, likes routines, etc. just like me. We seem to have all of the same issues which led me to feel like we understood each other on a level that no one else ever could.

    Two nights ago I expressed some of my feelings about possibly ending our relationship that I had been mulling over in my head for months. The conversation itself was somewhat unplanned and I hadn't intended it to be "THE" break up talk.

    We both struggle with major depression but his is more severe than mine, and more resistant to treatment. A lot of his depression is tied to job loss (he has been unemployed for two years, and taking care of his sick mother who had cancer for the past year- now in remission). When we met, things were on the upswing as he had just landed a good job. But after not being re-hired and starting to isolate himself at home, the first sign of a crack in our relationship appeared. He is too depressed to make consistent efforts to find work, and he has already spent over a decade in school getting a PhD that has not helped him become financially stable. I am just beginning my PhD and being a lot younger than he is and "having my whole life in front of me" also makes him feel sad and that he is depriving me of a chance to meet a guy closer to my own age or maybe only 5-10 years older who would be better suited to me. I wanted to date someone older because that is what I am attracted to and I was also looking for a person whom I could look up to for life advice, dependability and emotional security. As time went on I had to discard some of these expectations, but I had already fallen deeply in love with who he was as a person I related to and held in such high esteem. We both have become dependant upon the consistency and familiarity of seeing each other, and the memories we've shared. I don't regret the laughs, joys, and high points whatsoever- he is also kind, patient, and a has provided guidance in terms of avoiding his same mistakes and reminds me of the potential I have to go far in my career. We have rarely argued during our 3 years together.

    Basically, my desire to take space away from the relationship stems from my own sense of what I ultimately feel like I want in a long-term partnership, which he does not or cannot fill. He has tried to apply for a community college program to become an archivist (ironically enough he taught as a liberal arts instructor at the community college) as well as another Master's degree in information studies to become either a librarian / data analyst. Unfortunately, being in school for another 1-2 years means not becoming any more financially stable while waiting for a golden job opportunity to show up if he sees through the program. I also had a dream of us having our own apartment, and ideally both being employed academics. Instead, I'm living alone in a studio apartment and he is still living with his mother- rent is extremely high in our city.

    Since we are each other's closest friend (for all intents and purposes I am his ONLY friend- he has lost touch with most of his former friends) the looming break up seems all the more disastrous to me because I am losing my crutch and main source of social and emotional support. My mom is supportive but besides that I have few close friends, and nobody that I feel I could lean on to help me through a break-up. I admit that a lack of other social companionship is a main reason why I have stayed in this relationship as long as I have. We still have good times together, but it mostly consists of staying in and watching movies/tv and cuddling. I am always the one to instigate plans to go outdoors or plan an activity/ date. He says things like he would be content to just sleep forever and also that he feels that the vital inspired part of himself is gone forever. He says he is unable to go for therapy because he can't afford it, and is skeptical of it helping. I was hoping to save our relationship but I don't realistically know how he can snap out of the deep depression he is in.

    Both of us still love each other, but I am no longer hopeful that I can have the future with this man that I would have wanted. I have explained to him my desire to have one week of self-reflection to process my emotions and also urged him once more to seek therapy, even giving him the name and location for a free depression meet-up group. After the week is up, I'm leaning towards suggesting more time apart, maybe one month, in which to focus on self development separately and then touch base to see where we are at. I'm also very scared to go no contact after daily contact for 3 years of texting and sharing everything. I guess I need for someone to tell me if I'm being too naive- I know some people don't believe in breaks and feel like it's only preparation for a break-up, but in our situation of extreme insularity and codependence, could it be the gentlest way forward, and still preserve a glimmer of hope that things might change?

  2. #2
    Gold Member Delacrank's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by emrhi
    When we met, things were on the upswing as he had just landed a good job. But after not being re-hired and starting to isolate himself at home, the first sign of a crack in our relationship appeared. He is too depressed to make consistent efforts to find work, and he has already spent over a decade in school getting a PhD that has not helped him become financially stable

    Basically, my desire to take space away from the relationship stems from my own sense of what I ultimately feel like I want in a long-term partnership, which he does not or cannot fill. Unfortunately, being in school for another 1-2 years means not becoming any more financially stable while waiting for a golden job opportunity to show up if he sees through the program.Instead, I'm living alone in a studio apartment and he is still living with his mother- rent is extremely high in our city.

    I guess I need for someone to tell me if I'm being too naive-
    This is literally all i took away from your post. Everything else just seems like filler or fluff to me. Let's just be honest, if he found a better paying job then would you even be posting on this forum right now. I admit 2 years is a long time to be unemployed. Let's just say for the sake of discussion it was 2 weeks or 2 months, would that change anything for you.

    My attraction doesn't necessarily stem from a persons ability to be financially successful, especially not if I am going to get a PhD and eventually take care of myself. I just hope this doesn't become a problem for you in the future, when other men cannot meet your expectations.

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    I don't think a break will help. But a break-up will do wonders.

    You already know this isn't heading in the direction you'd hoped and that he isn't a good match for you. Further, you concede you're still there because you don't have much else going on. That isn't something a break is likely to fix, as the problems run much deeper than a couple weeks apart could even begin to address.

    Suggest it if you want and see if that motivates him to make some changes, but I personally would not hold out hope that changes will stick. He's 43 and has had plenty of time to get comfortable in his habits. Learning new habits, sustainable ones, is going to be a long road. Ask yourself if you're really up for that type of challenge.

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    Platinum Member Wiseman2's Avatar
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    You will feel much happier when someone like this is out of your life. If there were a pill that causes depression, he would be it.

    Unfortunately, he's dragging you down and has from the beginning. : [Register to see the link]

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    Men deal with social pressures when it comes to finances. Many men will not pursue relationships when they are unemployed. Socially women do not deal with the same problems.

    On the other hand, the most successful couples have dealt with much greater challenges than what you describe. There are stories of couples sleeping out of their car. Later, with perseverance, they realize enormous success. All the while the women never gave up or was disappointed in her man.

    One, I wonder if you are seeking a reason to be disappointed in him. That way you can justify jumping ship. Two, are the 2 of you engaged in any conversation about what you are building together? Men like to build things businesses, homes, plans, etc. Is there something the 2 of you can rally around today? Even if it is baby steps, he needs to be in action and see progress. That will require brainstorming together. Great relationships are built on a foundation of 2 people pulling the best out of one another. Its your turn now. Next time it will be his turn to do the same for you.

    If you spend all of your time judging him, you could miss out on great relationship. Most likely you will judge the next man, regardless of age or economic status.

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    Platinum Member Rose Mosse's Avatar
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    I'm sorry his mum was ill but glad to hear she is in remission. If he does have depression, it needs to be addressed properly by the right professionals. He should be seeking treatment.

    When I was dealing with illness and loss, I distanced myself from a lot of people including my husband. Loss and illness is capable of creating immense isolation. Since his mum is in remission, he may be just now dealing with his own emotions that he hasn't had a chance to deal with while everything else was going on. I know what sadness and isolation feels like (total blackness and isolation) but I know nothing about autism or depression personally so I cannot help you there. There are other members here who have much more hands on experience with depression and dealing with the pain of seeing their loved ones in the past deal with depression. If you feel that you need a time out, that's fine. I don't suggest you take consecutive or repeated one week long time outs after this one period. It's unkind to yourself and him. If it needs to be over, you need to find that strength and restart your life.

    I don't sense that you are happy at all. You should be free to explore your life and find someone more compatible with you. I think you've fallen into a cycle of commiseration with this person and you've bonded based on a few common denominators: intellectual, autistic, both having depression. I don't doubt your bond is very special and every relationship has something to teach us, something we can take away from and learn for life. I'm here to tell you however that there's far more to a relationship. It should be inspiring, loving and even electric. Take as much time as you need to think things through but not too long where it becomes unnecessary and unkind to both of you.

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    I have spent most of the past 3 years not judging him for his depression, his debt and bad financial choices, his living with his mother after being unable to save up enough as a precariously employed college instructor. I have tried to be a strong support that could motivate him to take control over his life circumstances and fight to push past them. When I suggest working towards a goal like taking a minimum wage job, saving up enough to move out, he complains that minimum wage jobs won't hire him because he is over-educated. I send him job posting after job posting in the educational field but he doesn't hear back, perhaps because of the gaps in his employment history on his resume. He is stuck because because he can't move out and can't find work, can't borrow any further money because he is still paying back his student loans. If I knew what sort of baby step I could urge him to take next I would to it in a heart beat.

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    Platinum Member Rose Mosse's Avatar
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    I'm afraid you can't really help someone who doesn't want to help him/herself. I think it's time to cut your losses and stop playing this parental role with him. It's over, in my opinion.

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    Thank you for your comment. You're right that I'm not happy at all. I suppose I am unsure of how to go about restarting my own life when I have built what seems like a life around another person. I know it's not healthy to have that kind of dependance on another human for all of my support system. I know I need a healthy mix of friends that I hang out with and can lean on in bad times, but my conditions makes that hard to find.

    Also I will try to heed your advice of not taking too long to think things through.

  11. #10
    Platinum Member Rose Mosse's Avatar
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    It's fine. We've all more or less made that mistake and there are different strokes for different folks. The way I treat my social circle or "support network" may be radically different from how someone else engages with theirs. You may find that you're not a very social person in general and that's no slight on your character at all nor is it actually a measure of how deep your friendships are or how long they last. You may be inherently independent anyway and that's not a bad thing. It's good to have friends and family to check in with now and then but everyone treats those relationships differently. I believe in healthy boundaries. What conditions do you have aside from depression and autism? You mentioned you're getting treatment and you are high functioning. You may be limiting yourself automatically with that type of thinking.

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