Hi, I’ve been dating this girl for 9 months. I was head over heels for her since the minute I met her. Then I became a caregiver for my grandmother and became very burnt out — but still used every last ounce of my energy to spend with her. She told me at the 3 month mark that she loved me. (I’m 44 and have been through 2 long term relationships with people that I also thought I loved and saw them fall to a complacent bland and then dramatic existence and I am not quick to say these words. Not even with family. I clam up. I’ve always been very shy about these things. My good friends never knew who I was interested in until I was deeply involved.) So I clammed up and that started what became the 6 months of insecurity hell.
I would literally be trying to get all my work done faster so I could spend time with her but then when I’d see her she was upset that I didn’t text her all night. Or sometimes my grandmother would decide she wanted to stay up late in the living room watching movies until midnight, which would prevent me from being able to come out. I also started knitting my girlfriend socks while I was trapped watching movies — another thing that prevented me from power texting. So then when I saw her again she was worked up that I was avoiding her where I’ve actually been so excited to give her the socks I’ve been making her. She loves blue and rainbows and black so I make socks with this and was really excited to give it to her.
Then I became more burnt out and when we’d hang out I would pass out. Or I really started not getting any time alone and when I’d mention that I’d need some down time, she would end up really upset that I don’t want to spend time with her or anything. And she would start telling me I’m using her etc. I really care a lot about her but she has started getting advice from the internet and friends that I’m bread-crumbing her and lying to her when I’m not with her. It makes me panic and sometimes angry because I’ve done so much for her with time I really didn’t have for myself. I bought her dog training classes, i bought her leather things she likes, I went on dog walks with her if my grandmother was napping, I brought her xc skiing with me, I paid for her to come to the climbing gym with me, I slept at her house many nights that I should have actually been watching my grandmother (she wants someone there during the night while she sleeps, but I would sneak out). I rented AirBNBs and got a grandmother sitter so we could go away on weekends to have time alone together. I text a lot, I really have strong feelings for her too. But she words things in ways that I can’t win and she is making me want more space when I know that’s not what she actually wants. But her language becomes kind of abusive in an indirect way and I don’t know what to do.
All the advice online seems to really push the u-haul advice, and so according to stuff she reads online confirms I’m moving too slow, bread-crumbing her or stringing her along.
I already really loved her but she’s not feeling it from me and I don’t know how to make her feel more loved when it feels like she is cornering me and demanding I love her more.
I’ve read about anxious and insecure attachment styles and I’ve also noticed this comes up once a month…
She’s now just decided yesterday we can only be friends because she’s convinced I’m uninterested.
How do I bridge the gap between how I feel for her and how she feels?
Oh, friend. First of all, I want to acknowledge the huge amount of labor that you’re currently doing for your grandmother — both physically and emotionally. I know both first-hand and from my day job that caregiving for our older loved ones can be really rewarding, but it can also be really draining, especially when you don’t have sufficient opportunities for respite. Having to stay in and stay up late to watch movies with your grandmother when that’s not a choice you would make for yourself, sneaking out… it feels to me like you’re describing a situation that is not going to be sustainable long-term. You shouldn’t have to do this alone.
This isn’t exactly what you wrote in to ask us about, but I’m curious whether there are other family members who could help to share the load of this caregiving with you. If family members aren’t an option, there may be some other opportunities to get some respite and put a little bit more balance into your life. If you live in the US, you can start by googling your location plus “area agency on aging.wp_postsArea Agencies on Aging are state-licensed nonprofits that help to coordinate community resources for older adults and their families, and may be able to connect you with other low- or no-cost services, like Adult Day Health Care, home health aides, etc. Reaching out for help can sometimes feel impossible when your energy reserves are already sapped by the work you’re doing, but hopefully, if you are able to get some services in place, you may be able to start to bring some balance back into your life, and have the space and time for dating and for all of the other intricacies of a full life.
Which brings us to your relationship! I’m going to say this bluntly: I don’t think this is the right person for you. When I first began to read your letter, I thought there might simply be a communication disconnect, but when you really get down to the nitty-gritty, it honestly sounds like she’s looking for something you just can’t give her. The fact that you can’t isn’t a moral failing on your part; wanting or needing different things from a relationship is a value-neutral issue. She wants someone effusive with their language and lavish with their time, someone who can upend a lot of their life to be with her. Meanwhile, your life is very full at the moment. It’s not too full for the right kind of relationship, but it is too full for THIS relationship. This mismatch is not something you can make up for by buying her other things, like dog training lessons and passes to the climbing gym. Trying to do so is only going to drain your mental reserves even more.
You mentioned “all the advice online,wp_postsbut I think that we can take her at her word when she says what she wants. It’s very possible that you two are simply in two different seasons when it comes to dating and sharing a life. I do remember a time, in my twenties and early thirties, when my life had a lot of space in it; when embracing a new relationship could happen at an accelerated pace, and I could spend a ton of time with this new person in my life. Now, at 39, I’m in a place where my life is much fuller, with obligations and with joys. There is space in my life, but dating looks different than it did when I was younger. And that’s okay! When you find someone who understands and can relate to the season you’re in, things will progress more naturally and feel more balanced.
At the end of your letter, you mentioned that the person you’re writing in about may have basically broken up with you when she said “you could only be friends.wp_postsI hope that in the time between then and now, you’ve been able to talk together and clarify your status. If you haven’t, it’s time to do that now. Whatever has happened and will continue to happen with that relationship and/or friendship, I hope that you’re able to take some steps to get some support in your caregiving, and that you can start to seek the type of relationship that you deserve — one with a person who respects the fullness of your life, and who can provide a little bit of support, joy, and glimmers of goodness, just as you do the same for them. I’ll be thinking of you. Good luck out there! 💙
You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.