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Old 2nd May 2011, 11:48 AM   #61
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Originally Posted by GreenCove View Post
Yes, I realize that now, that this dynamic is very familiar to me. My stepfather growing up was a daily source of stress and derision to me; he thrived on control and to survive nearly 10 years of living in his house I had to believe his love was just around the corner and I'd keep my optimism tied up in that even while I loathed how he treated me and eventually, loathed him. My mom has always been there for me but she to this day gets beyond irritated at how sensitive I am as she is very stoic and never discusses emotions and I am very expressive. My entire family, in fact, is emotionally tight-lipped; I always was a bit of a "black sheep" in that regard.
This is huge.

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I guess in this climate I never truly learned how to comfortably be myself, and how effectively to stick up for myself, and I pay for those lacks of skill in my relationships. It's funny because I can have a big mouth; you'd think I could be better at vocalizing my needs and feeling deserving of having them met.
More than that, GC. It's not just that your own skill set is underdeveloped due to your upbringing. You are (subconsciously) choosing men who recreate that same familial dynamic you describe above, either because that's what's familiar, or because you hope to finally "win over" a similar kind of man and thereby prove your lovability.

That's the realization that I eventually came to via counseling, journaling, being by myself, etc. In my case there was a mix of the dynamic w/ my mom in play, not just my dad. I didn't realize how deeply embedded my sense of (romantic) unworthiness was, particularly since I am pretty damn accomplished in most other areas of my life. When I finally unpacked how my family dynamics had created my broken "Man Picker" it was much, much easier to re-draw my boundaries and create a new vision of the kind of relationship I wanted, deserved, and would hold out for.

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Old 2nd May 2011, 12:32 PM   #62
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More than that, GC. It's not just that your own skill set is underdeveloped due to your upbringing. You are (subconsciously) choosing men who recreate that same familial dynamic you describe above, either because that's what's familiar, or because you hope to finally "win over" a similar kind of man and thereby prove your lovability.

That's the realization that I eventually came to via counseling, journaling, being by myself, etc. In my case there was a mix of the dynamic w/ my mom in play, not just my dad. I didn't realize how deeply embedded my sense of (romantic) unworthiness was, particularly since I am pretty damn accomplished in most other areas of my life. When I finally unpacked how my family dynamics had created my broken "Man Picker" it was much, much easier to re-draw my boundaries and create a new vision of the kind of relationship I wanted, deserved, and would hold out for.
It's so crazy how deeply entrenched some things can be. I mean, I paid for three years of psychotherapy in my early 20s, an invaluable thing that led to my discovery of my passion and talent for psychology. It truly changed my life. Since then and until I was about 31, I would go to therapy whenever I felt stuck. And after all that, I have come to feel that I have all the tools I need to solve my own life problems. I experience myself as so much more psychologically attuned than most people--to my own feelings as well as to dynamics around me--that it's frightening that I apparently have such a blind spot where my own relationships are concerned. I journal-ed my brains out all through my 20s and in every area of my life I am very accomplished, viewed generally as a strong person and a leader and as someone who always has it together.

I feel like I DID spend a lot of time working through how I grew up and looking at a lot of dark things in my family's recent past that affected the tenor of how I was raised. I feel very in tune with myself. So it's baffling how I can be where I am right now.

I don't think I have been blind to the dynamics of my current relationship, or even of my previous relationship. I think the issue for me is, given what I recognize, what do I do about it? When do you say, "Enough," and how do you say it in a way that guarantees the other person will get it? The thing that baffles me most is that I could articulate EXACTLY the dynamics that were going on in this relationship, from the get-go. So if I'm so clued-in there, then how did I fail to do something sooner to change it?

It sounds bad, perhaps, but I honestly feel like at this point there is not much new a therapist could tell me. I can't help wondering if there is also just an element of luck and experience and I have not yet had much of either in the romantic relationship department. I'm not saying there's not things I can work on, but this is only my third romantic relationship (I was a late bloomer) and so maybe it's not so much about what is "wrong" with me than about naivete?

I don't know. I'm just thinking out loud, trying to piece together what lesson I can take from all of this so that I bring something different to the table next time. For what it's worth, I feel I handled myself in this relationship MUCH better than in the previous two. I mean, one has to start *somewhere,* no?
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Old 2nd May 2011, 12:35 PM   #63
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I honestly am unsure what I was getting at in the previous post. I'm just thinking out loud.

I guess one bright side is that there are not many eligible men where I now live so after this relationship I'm pretty much guaranteed some quality time alone....
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Old 2nd May 2011, 2:54 PM   #64
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Wink There are better things in store for you!

Hi Green Cove,

I've been watching this thread with a lot of interest. I am really impressed with your self-insights regarding your family of origin. I was going to post earlier with the question, "What are you getting out of this relationship", but I see that you and Sunshine Girl pretty much answered it (recreating your FOO/relationship with primary male.)

I think you are getting into really deep territory with this relationship. It sounds like you've been getting better at your relationships, you are no longer picking overtly bad guys. It seems like this relationship might mark a crux in which you resolve your family of origin issues (trying to change What Is/How Another Person Is in an attempt to get love/acceptance). Next up would be an Acceptance of What Is/How Another Person Is, and drawing boundaries so that you are able to seek and maintain the kind of treatment that you want.

You said you are "trying to piece together what lesson I can take from all of this so that I bring something different to the table next time"

I propose that the lesson for you this time around is boundaries. Really, you sound pretty mentally healthy otherwise. It sounds like you bring quite a lot to the table (loyal, hard-working, forgiving, motivated, insightful, educated). The next thing to bring to the table is enforcement of the boundaries you communicate.

An example of a chance to enfore a boundary would be the glass-half-full situation. He got you water, but teased you about it and didn't get you a full glass. You expressed that you didn't like this and asked him to get you a full glass.

He continued to tease you. You did not enforce your boundary and continued to stay in the situation as he continued to tease you. The situation escalated until he actually threw the water on you.

I do not want to take away from his poor behavior, because throwing water on you was extremely poor behavior at best. But you can't control his behavior, you can only control your own.

Your behavior was to Not Accept that he was continuing to behave in a way that you didn't like. You tried to keep fighting it. You didn't enforce a boundary of "I don't like it when you tease me and will not allow you to do so." To enforce the boundary, you would have had to end the opportunity for him to continue to tease you. You could have just accepted the glass that he gave you and drank it or gone to fill it up yourself; you could have stated, "this isn't much fun for me, I am going to leave now," etc.

He probably would have given you a hard time had you stepped out of the situation, but again, you can't control his behavior. You can only control your own. You decide how you wanted to react to him (thank him for his feedback, tell him you thought he was out of line, tell him you weren't up for his teasing, etc).

You've described earlier scenes, when you DID leave the situation and he followed you. The only thing I can think of to do in that case is to say to him that you find his behavior unacceptable and continue to leave the area.

You are giving him another chance, and that is entirely your call. I think the best thing you can do is to state and enforce your boundaries frequently and immediately, as they happen. Whether or not he can respect your boundaries is one of the guidelines for knowing whether he is the right guy for you, and whether or not it is time to call it a day regarding your relationship.

For me, my relationship changed when I stopped twisting myself, trying to get my partner to respect my boundaries by stating them in different ways, trying again and again to help them "see" where my boundaries were, basically doing everything I could to get them adhere to them but rarely actually enforcing them myself. Once I actually started to just ENFORCE them, things got much, much better.

As you improve at enforcing your boundaries with N, your relationship with him might also improve, because you will be giving him immediate, clear, action-oriented feedback as to how you want to be treated.

Or maybe the reason for this relationship is to help you learn to recognize and enforce your boundaries, and your next relationship will be with someone who treats you the way you want to be treated (because, since you will be enforcing your boundaries, you won't end up in a relationship who doesn't treat you the way you want to be treated.)


Either way, I truly believe you are headed in the right direction and are going to a better relationship. Even if you perceive there to be a lack of good men- I'll bet a few cross your path. You only need to find one really good one. Best of luck, and please keep posting!
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Old 2nd May 2011, 3:02 PM   #65
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It sounds to me like, in your next relationship, you should re-consider what selection criteria you use to select a partner.

You are well versed in the psychological aspects of life.

You want someone who has a kind and generous spirit. Someone who is loving.

But that doesn't always come in the same package with extreme physical attractiveness/professional accomplishments/wealth and other "externals."

You almost sound kind of confused by your current bf, because I assume he must have a decent amount of the superficial characteristics--maybe he's good looking, accomplished, high status, etc.--but what he lacks is what you (or anyone, really) needs a partner to have the most--a soul.

The inner person--you don't get to know that too easily, very often.

I'm not telling you to "settle," but maybe you need to change your mate selection priorities to be more consistent with the way you really are.
I totally get that my man-picker needs a refurbishment, but I am hardly after "status." Yes, N. is attractive and accomplished in many ways, but with his current living and employment situation, a more "status"-driven woman wouldn't give him the time of day.

Previous boyfriend had just purchased his first, modest home...at age 49.

Boyfriend before that, okay, he was in finance so he had money.

All of these boyfriends came from modest middle-class families. So I don't feel it's necessary for me to take up mind-space worrying about how I evaluate externals. I am accomplished and well-educated and so yes, I want a partner who is the same. I'm hardly "in money" myself and frankly I don't care what someone makes as long as we are happy together. I don't think I let externals blind me--certainly not with this current boyfriend.

I think I need to learn how better to assert my needs, and how to feel more confident that my needs are not unreasonable or superficial and I deserve to have them met. I need to figure out a way, a game plan, to learning this, so that when a situation arises I have a different set of tools to engage that hopefully will lead to a different outcome.
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Old 2nd May 2011, 3:59 PM   #66
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[QUOTE=knitwit;3376975]

Hi Knitwit,

Thanks for your insights here. You've given me something to try out the next time I encounter a possible encroachment of a boundary. I feel like you have just handed me a tool; that's what I need, new tools.


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I think you are getting into really deep territory with this relationship.
Yes, yes, yes. This relationship has triggered SO MANY things in me--wonderful things and terrible things both. A dichotomous tension which, I realize thanks to some books I consulted, is not atypical of abusive relationship dynamics. But even amidst the terrible triggers, I have felt I can't just walk away, not yet, because I sense I am very much a part of this dynamic. I don't mean that I blame myself for his bad behaviors; I mean that I recognize that my behaviors have done much to condone and perpetuate this dynamic. And until I recognize what those behaviors are and try, in this relationship, to introduce something new into the relationship, I can't call it quits (unless, of course, he demonstrates by his behavior that he is not doing any self-examination or work to right this relationship. If that is the case I WILL walk).

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It seems like this relationship might mark a crux in which you resolve your family of origin issues (trying to change What Is/How Another Person Is in an attempt to get love/acceptance). Next up would be an Acceptance of What Is/How Another Person Is, and drawing boundaries so that you are able to seek and maintain the kind of treatment that you want.
You put this so well. That's exactly it. I get into a dynamic like this one with N. and I react the way I reacted to my stepfather--showing up every day for more of the same while wishing and hoping that somehow something would change (something outside of me) and things would be different and he would be loving and kind and the family tension that made me dread coming home from school each day would finally ease, like air from a taut-as-a-drum whoopie cushion. And getting so hurt and angry that it was always the same.

I "accepted" that my stepfather was an a*shole the day when I was 21 and he twisted my arms so hard I was sure he was aiming to break my wrists (because he'd threatened things like that over the years). I finally had had enough and while he was bent over me (I was cowered in a chair) I pushed my foot against his nuts. He fell down, I called him a "f-ing a-hole" and ran out of the house and when I returned I refused to speak to him ever again...and I didn't: a year later he left my mom and I never saw or spoke to him again after that (and neither did my mom, once she settled the divorce proceedings). So I got that toxic crap out of my life...but now here I am, not knowing how to handle a bad dynamic WHILE IT IS GOING ON so that things turn around, thanks to changes in MY behavior (rather than pathetically hoping for changes in someone else's behavior).

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I propose that the lesson for you this time around is boundaries. Really, you sound pretty mentally healthy otherwise. It sounds like you bring quite a lot to the table (loyal, hard-working, forgiving, motivated, insightful, educated). The next thing to bring to the table is enforcement of the boundaries you communicate.
Thank you. I think so, too. I have worked very hard on myself, and while I know it's an ever-evolving process with no end, the fruits of this work show up in every area BUT my romantic relationships. Even in the friend department, I have expelled a number of bad friends from my life with no regrets or second thoughts, and I have enjoyed the lightness not having those soul-sucking people in my life has brought me.

The alternative response you propose to the water situation is awesome. Here's what's weird about how I operate at present: I am always blindsided when he pulls stuff like this. At first I was perfectly fine with a little ribbing for never managing to finish a drink even as I ALWAYS pour full glasses of everything. But then it continued well past the cut-off point, and I did not at all foresee his letting the water spill over the side of the glass and into my lap (to clarify, he did NOT throw the water on me; that would have been a frightening other ball game). I just could not conceive that he really would let it go that far. So I was not prepared for it; I was totally caught off-guard. Someone earlier in this thread said I should by now not be blindsided as I know well how he is, but the truth is I AM perpetually blindsided by how infantile he can be at times.

And it's not just with him. I go into social situations generally anticipating that people are going to be polite and friendly. I'm always thrown off guard when someone emits hostility to me that I know is completely unprovoked. I never know how to respond, so I either pretend not to notice or I just avoid that person in the future. With N. because he is my boyfriend I get upset, but it's always a weak protest where he always has the upper hand.

So how, without taking a cynical approach to social interactions, do I keep from being blindsided by bad behavior--N's bad behavior in particular? I had fully expected N. to just pour the full glass of water.

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You are giving him another chance, and that is entirely your call. I think the best thing you can do is to state and enforce your boundaries frequently and immediately, as they happen. Whether or not he can respect your boundaries is one of the guidelines for knowing whether he is the right guy for you, and whether or not it is time to call it a day regarding your relationship.
Yes.

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For me, my relationship changed when I stopped twisting myself, trying to get my partner to respect my boundaries by stating them in different ways, trying again and again to help them "see" where my boundaries were, basically doing everything I could to get them adhere to them but rarely actually enforcing them myself. Once I actually started to just ENFORCE them, things got much, much better.
This is so awesome, Knitwit. If you wouldn't mind, it would be really helpful to me and to perhaps other readers of this thread who struggle with similar issues if you gave some examples of how you USED to respond when your boundaries were crossed versus how you respond now. And what is the difference in your thought process?

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As you improve at enforcing your boundaries with N, your relationship with him might also improve, because you will be giving him immediate, clear, action-oriented feedback as to how you want to be treated.
This is my hope, though I'm equally fine with the outcome outlined below:

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Or maybe the reason for this relationship is to help you learn to recognize and enforce your boundaries, and your next relationship will be with someone who treats you the way you want to be treated (because, since you will be enforcing your boundaries, you won't end up in a relationship who doesn't treat you the way you want to be treated.)
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Old 2nd May 2011, 4:37 PM   #67
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I "accepted" that my stepfather was an a*shole the day when I was 21 and he twisted my arms so hard I was sure he was aiming to break my wrists (because he'd threatened things like that over the years). I finally had had enough and while he was bent over me (I was cowered in a chair) I pushed my foot against his nuts. He fell down, I called him a "f-ing a-hole" and ran out of the house and when I returned I refused to speak to him ever again...and I didn't: a year later he left my mom and I never saw or spoke to him again after that (and neither did my mom, once she settled the divorce proceedings).
GC, my friend, THIS is what you should be doing to N. THIS is the appropriate enforcement of a boundary that has been repeatedly violated for close to a year, with your concerns and requests repeatedly ignored or derided.

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I mean that I recognize that my behaviors have done much to condone and perpetuate this dynamic. And until I recognize what those behaviors are and try, in this relationship, to introduce something new into the relationship, I can't call it quits
I'm sorry GC but this is utter baloney and what it says to me is that you still think you can save him, save this relationship, win his love and validation and thus conquer that horrible dynamic (that you have noticed is similar to the dynamic with your step-father). I think what you have not really grasped is that it is possible to be in a relationship in which you don't have to strive so much just to make it work.

You do not need to 'work' on whatever you think needs improving on your side from within a relationship that is fundamentally and deeply broken. You can't fix the white noise, GC. You can't. You are still writing as though you can, or that you hope you can.

His issues seem to be much, much bigger than you, and quite honestly I wonder why you are even considering taking on the partial boundary advice of "I know - I will stop him from spilling water on me by filling the glass myself" when it would mean that you are in a CONSTANT state of boundary-enforcing. If he's not pushing your buttons on one thing, it's another. Frankly, that sounds exhausting to me.

I think it's great advice when the boundary violations are infrequent or limited to one particular setting or context. But to think that these mini-enforcements can eventually transform this relationship into the mutually supportive, caring, respectful, uplifting, expanding relationship that I know you want is....well, unrealistic. Extremely so.

It's like saying "Look! I have a new flyswatter!" when you are locked in a cage with rotting meat piled up to the ceiling.

I'm saying: walk away from the cage.

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Old 2nd May 2011, 4:57 PM   #68
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It's like saying "Look! I have a new flyswatter!" when you are locked in a cage with rotting meat piled up to the ceiling.

I'm saying: walk away from the cage. Please.
I see you you added that last line after the fact, JUST IN CASE I came back with, "Well, what if I had the analogical equivalent of a flock of turkey vultures to tackle the ceiling-high pile of rotting meat! THEN I'd have the right tools to handle the situation!!!!" Which yes, sadly, I'd probably have tried to say. Thanks for making me laugh

On a more serious note, I want to wait to respond to what you have to say until others respond to both Knitwit and you. Both of you make smart arguments for different ways of handling this situation (Enforce Boundary vs. Exit Situation Altogether). I'm torn between which way is more right for me for the immediate future (meaning, the next month).
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Old 2nd May 2011, 5:03 PM   #69
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I see you you added that last line after the fact, JUST IN CASE I came back with, "Well, what if I had the analogical equivalent of a flock of turkey vultures to tackle the ceiling-high pile of rotting meat! THEN I'd have the right tools to handle the situation!!!!" Which yes, sadly, I'd probably have tried to say. Thanks for making me laugh
LOL.

I know my language was a bit strong above, so I hope you took it in the spirit in which I intended it. I really do believe there is something much better waiting for you out there.
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Old 2nd May 2011, 7:54 PM   #70
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This article showed up in my Google Reader today. Since it is oddly apropos of this thread, I thought I'd pass it along.

Oh, and to your comment below, I would say "why on earth do you want to live in this stinking cage swarming with turkey vultures when there's a wide open field of wildflowers across the way?"

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I see you you added that last line after the fact, JUST IN CASE I came back with, "Well, what if I had the analogical equivalent of a flock of turkey vultures to tackle the ceiling-high pile of rotting meat! THEN I'd have the right tools to handle the situation!!!!" Which yes, sadly, I'd probably have tried to say. Thanks for making me laugh

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Old 3rd May 2011, 5:05 AM   #71
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I posted something yesterday but apparently it was removed although there was nothing offensive in it at all.

I just told you, GreenCove, that a relationship should in my opinion be easy and comfortable. Yours is not.
Don't make the mistake to stay with someone just because you see potential in him. You can wait a long time for it to be realised.

Cut your losses. Your boyfriend is abusive and there is nothing you can do that will change that. He will change when he feels the need to change and apparently he has not felt the need so far.

I have been in difficult relationships myself and I regret the time I lost with them. I should have done something nice for myself instead. I am older now and well aware of the fact that life is short so I don't want to waste my time on men who don't treat me well.
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Old 3rd May 2011, 5:57 AM   #72
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This article showed up in my Google Reader today. Since it is oddly apropos of this thread, I thought I'd pass it along.
I think it is a very good article. Someone with good intentions will not deliberately hurt his/her partner, even if his/her partner might not have established good boundaries.
Imagine that you pass by a house of which the door is open. Some will see that as an invitation to steal from the house, others will respect that it is someone else's house, even if the door is not locked.
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Old 3rd May 2011, 8:26 AM   #73
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[QUOTE=GreenCove;3377063]
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This is so awesome, Knitwit. If you wouldn't mind, it would be really helpful to me and to perhaps other readers of this thread who struggle with similar issues if you gave some examples of how you USED to respond when your boundaries were crossed versus how you respond now. And what is the difference in your thought process?
Hi GC,

I only have a few minutes, but I think my worst issue is that I try to figure why someone did something, will make allowances for their behavior, thinking that if I just explain it right, they will get it & things will be fine. I do this & it just does not work. This behavior is deeply ingrained, even though I am more aware of it now, I still fall into the same behavior patterns at times.

I will be back online later tonight and will try to put up some concrete examples.
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Old 9th May 2011, 10:50 AM   #74
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Hi GC, how are you doing? You've been quiet in recent days so I just wanted to check in and see if you're all right.

(((hugs)))
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Old 13th May 2011, 11:08 AM   #75
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Thanks so much for the replies. You guys are collectively a very good influence!

SSG, thanks for that article; that is awesome. I'm out of town visiting family and friends, which is why I haven't been on here as much.

I can feel myself developing a picture of what the relationship I want looks like. I can "feel" the picture in my mind. I'm also taking this time away from N. to really suss out my spidey sense of what I feel in this relationship. And I realize: I often feel unhappy. I don't feel like N. really cares for me...or he does care, but he has deep-seated issues that distort his caring into belittling tactics of which I believe on some level he is not even aware. In short, I don't feel like N. is really very nice to me.

And so, when I return home, I intend to break up with him.

I feel stressed out about it, while also feeling a calm firmness that this is the right and only thing to do.

My challenge: I have to end it in a way that takes into account the fact that he lives right down the street from me, we live in a small town, and so I will definitely see him around. Also, I have to take into account that his family, especially his mother, will be very disappointed; also that his family and I really like each other and so I want to do all I can to preserve that feeling as much as possible. I plan to meet N. face to face after I return, saying, "We really need to talk," and then laying it all out to him. I honestly have no idea how he will react, and that makes me nervous. I plan that same day to contact his mom, tell her I broke up with N., and ask if we can meet up to talk.

I realize a lot depends on his reaction, which I of course cannot control.
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