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Is he just depressed?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein  April 26, 2010 09:21 AM

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It's almost May. How did that happen?

Q: Hi Meredith,

I met my now ex-boyfriend Alex about six months ago. Right from the start we made each other laugh, we could talk for hours without noticing the time passing, and I felt like we genuinely connected. We were even planning to take a vacation together. Once, as he was leaving my apartment, he told me that he loved me. I was excited, but a bit taken aback, and it took me a few weeks before I felt I was able to reciprocate by saying it back.

While all of this was going on, Alex was dealing with a very difficult work situation that was taking a toll on his emotional health. He wasn't sleeping well, often seemed upset, and was reluctant to go out with other people. In spite of all this, he usually seemed happy when we were together, and he never once took out any of his issues on me.

A few days before we were planning to leave for our vacation, Alex showed up at my apartment unannounced. He told me that he had been to see a psychiatrist and had been diagnosed with severe depression. As a result, he wanted to end the relationship. He said he felt like he had a lot of issues to deal with on his own, and it wasn't fair to involve me. I told him that relationships weren't supposed to be fair, and that I was willing to stick with him through tough times. It was then that he told me that he felt my feelings for him were stronger than his for me. He said it was clear to him that I was falling in love with him, and while he cares about me and has strong feelings for me, he doesn't love me. In fact, he's not sure that he can ever love anyone. (At 26, this was his first relationship.) He felt it was unfair to let the relationship get serious when he wasn't sure how he would feel about me in a few months. In spite of all this, he repeatedly expressed his desire to remain friends because I was the "best person in his life," and he promised not to disappear.

Almost a month has gone by and I still can't stop thinking about what happened. I suppose that we can never really know how another person feels, but I thought he really cared about me. I care about him deeply, but I'm only 25, and I had no intentions of getting "serious" in any committed sense any time soon. It's starting to dawn on me that maybe I wasn't the one that Alex was trying to protect by ending the relationship so abruptly.

Since it ended, I've been hoping that his cloud of depression lifts and that he realizes he wants to be with me. But so far, he hasn't contacted me. A part of me wants to reach out, because I want to be there for him, and because I still have that glimmer of hope that he just needs time and therapy in order to be ready for a relationship. My friends say I should be angry about the way he ended things, that he's demonstrating that he doesn't care about me, and that I should cut him out of my life. But I just can't be angry at someone who's so confused.

So I'm wondering ... was I fooling myself in thinking that we had something we didn't? Is it crazy to keep hoping that we can reconcile? And considering what he's going through, should I be the one to reach out? And -- is it possible to stay friends when I have hopes of reconciliation?

Thanks Meredith. I'm sorry about the novel.

– Do I Move On?, Brighton

A: We've had a lot of letters lately from dumped people who are stuck wondering whether the love they felt in their relationship was real, and if so, why the relationship ended.

Just because a relationship ends doesn't mean it wasn’t rooted in love ... or extreme like. Many of our divorced letter writers still love their exes, even after the paperwork has been filed. The breaker-uppers who write letters rarely seem 100 percent comfortable letting someone go.

DIMO, your guy's decision to end your romantic relationship doesn't mean his feelings weren't legitimate. It just means that he doesn't want to commit to being your partner.

I'm irritated that he brought depression into this. I believe him -- I'm sure he's quite depressed. But he implied that his depression is what stands in the way of your relationship. In reality, I think the more important thing is that he feels as though you care for him more than he cares for you. That seems to be what ended things.

Did he break up with you to protect himself because he's scared? Maybe. It's a good theory -- and a less hurtful one, for sure. But does it matter who he's trying to protect? Relationships take courage. If he ended this to save himself, the relationship was doomed from the start.

He has made it clear that he's not your mess. He's seeking help about his depression, so you don't have to worry that he's alone, ignoring his problem. That means you can focus on you. You can write him the "I'll always be here if you change your mind e-mail," but after that, give yourself space and lots of it.

As far as remaining friends with him ... well, not surprisingly, I think that's a bad idea. You'll wind up spending all of your energy making him feel good, trying to read his signals, and strategizing about how to change his mind. There are better uses for that energy. If you get to the point where you feel indifferent about him and are hoping to date someone else, I give you permission to be his friend, assuming the desire is still there (and it probably won't be).

Readers? Should he have told her about the depression? Is it relevant? Will he rally after he gets therapy? Should she be his friend? Does the break-up mean his feelings for her weren't legitimate? Discuss.

– Meredith


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ABOUT LOVE LETTERS: Welcome to Love Letters, the place for love advice (giving and getting). Globe relationship columnist Meredith Goldstein and Boston.com readers are ready to take your letters and tell you what's what. Have a question? Click here to submit or email us at loveletters@boston.com.
Blogger Meredith Goldstein

Meredith Goldstein is a Boston Globe columnist who follows relationship trends and entertainment. She offers daily advice on Love Letters — and welcomes your comments. Meredith is also the author of "The Singles," a novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith at www.meredithgoldstein.netand on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.

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