Brandy Jensen, The Outline’s social media editor, has made a lot of mistakes in her life. Has she learned from them and become a wiser person as a result? Hahaha oh gosh no. But it does leave her uniquely qualified to tell you what not to do — because she’s probably done it.
My boyfriend, apparently, has anxiety. I understand what this feels like, as I have been struggling with anxiety and depression for most of my adult life. I currently treat mine with both medication and therapy. He has never sought professional nor medical help for this issue. I know how difficult reaching out for help is, so I do my best to help him manage it while gently encouraging him to seek real treatment.
The problem is that all of his anxiety seems to be about a constant fear of losing me to another man. In my own opinion, I don’t act or speak in ways that would allow him to “rationally” come to this conclusion. I try not to make light of his concerns, and we often (literally every day) have discussions about our relationship where I assure him that I am not leaving him and that I do not have any interest in any other man. I am open and honest with him. I tell him everything.
My boss is the man who causes him the most anxiety. He is constantly asking me if I have a crush on him, if we have high-fived or had any other physical contact, and how often we talk. He has a complete meltdown if I happen to receive a text or call from my boss outside of work hours. To be clear, it is literally always about work.
I have a lot of guy friends (and girl friends)! My boyfriend has never asked me, specifically, to not speak to these guys, but at this point when one of my guy friends texts me, I almost automatically delete it and don’t respond, just so I don’t have to deal with my boyfriend later. In this same vein, I had planned a trip to visit one of my best guy friends for a weekend. I canceled this trip last minute for my boyfriend. Again, he didn’t ask me to, but the days leading up to the trip were brutal enough (emotionally, for both of us), that I thought it would be easier if I just didn’t go.
At what point does “understanding” someone’s anxiety become being taken advantage of by someone else's insecurity? I’m afraid to speak to other men (including my own best friends) and share details of my workday out of fear that my boyfriend will twist the words into an alternate reality created inside his own head.
Am I being manipulated? I just can't get the nagging fear out of my head. I guess I just don't know where to draw the line.
PS: We have been together for six months and fell in love rather fast. I moved in with him after about a month. We talk about marriage and having kids and being together forever. He acts like “once we're married,” all of his anxiety will go away. I don't think that's true.
I would like you to read over your letter to me, but replace every instance of the word “anxiety” with “jealousy.” Does this change the tenor of your dynamic in any way? It absolutely should.
Because you have your own personal history of mental illness, you’re familiar with its attendant struggles and stigmas. So I understand why you have chosen an overly generous framework with which to understand other people; but this big-hearted instinct is getting in the way of seeing the truth — your boyfriend is manipulative and controlling.
Now maybe this guy does have some manner of anxiety disorder (I’m not a therapist and I’ve never met him so who am I to say), though I will admit I’m suspicious! The fact is, even with a solid diagnosis his behavior is still damaging and wildly unacceptable. It is not up to you to understand or accept actions which are making you frustrated, sad, scared, and increasingly isolated.
I have written in the past that, despite many narratives to the contrary, I don’t think the primary mandate of being a person in the world is learning to love yourself. Especially, and most importantly, if you’re behaving like a dick. I believe this because I am deeply invested in the notion that we have a duty of care toward each other, but that very sense of obligation can be warped or manipulated by people like your boyfriend. I want to be very clear about this: He is the one failing to be decent, not you.
I’m quite sure that the speed at which you fell in love is extremely relevant here. I’m not opposed to a whirlwind romance — there’s nothing inherently unhealthy about moving quickly — but the fact that this guy has managed to have such a profoundly negative effect on your work and social life in a mere six months is a huge red flag. It will not change if you marry, and you most certainly should not marry him.
I’m guessing that part of your accelerated courtship involved you opening up to this man about your history of anxiety and depression. He was able to pass off his own faults as something you would recognize. That we are all engaged in a larger project of medicalizing our personalities makes this that much easier. It’s become widely acceptable to disappoint each other under the auspice of self-care, or introversion, or any of the numerous ways we avoid saying “being an asshole.”
So while his jealousy may be pathological, it is not the same thing as having panic attacks, and the only one being crippled by it is you. There is an important difference between being open about our vulnerabilities and inflicting ourselves on others.
Please get out of this relationship. Your boyfriend isn’t temporarily waylaid by a chemical imbalance, he’s just a run-of-the-mill controlling jerk. And lord knows, there is nothing worse than a guy who treats you like shit and has the nerve to pretend he’s tortured about it.
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