Q: Dear Meredith,
I met my most recent boyfriend (now ex) at church. He's an alcoholic/addict. We're in our mid-20s. When I first met him, he was smoking pot (more and more as time progressed) and drinking a lot. We slept together the first time we hung out. In the beginning, we were happy and had fun, although I always noticed he seemed unable to have reciprocal conversations. About six months into our relationship, he decided to get sober again, but declined to go to AA or NA meetings. He took on more things in his life (music, school) and had less and less time and mental space for me, as well as himself. We were together for more than a year.
I recently expressed my issues with his inability to be present and engage me in conversation, as well as his lack of time to spend with me. He felt attacked, got defensive, and broke up with me a few days later. He told me that unless I could accept who he is and think of a way to move forward, he felt that we were out of options to continue our relationship.
Then last night we went for a walk. He told me that he wants to make time for me and for himself. That he realizes now that he is just dry and the things I've been wanting in him (and him for himself) occur naturally when he is in a program. He apologized for blaming everything on me and explained that he is now seeing that he was just being stubborn, and the things I wanted were not hard for him to provide. He said he wanted to cut down on his involvements so he can have a personal life again (he literally spends all of his free time doing homework and music). I told him I wasn't sure, that he broke my heart and I don't know if I should compromise on my needs from a partner.
I told him that I wasn't totally closed off to the idea of seeing how he is when he's in a program. We wound up being intimate that night and were both confused afterwards. He kept asking what it meant, and feeling scared that he had ruined his chance of being with me. I'm feeling a little foolish, unsure of where my desire to be with him is coming from. Would it be totally ridiculous to see if this could work?
– Confused in Arizona
A: It sounds like your ex has a lot of potential and that he's working hard to create a better life for himself, CIA, but I'm not so sure about what's going on in your head.
What drew you to him in the first place? What compelled you to stick around when you realized there were problems? Did you feel obligated to stay? Or was it something more?
Rather than focusing on this guy's habits, I want you to focus on you. See a (say it with me everybody) therapist and talk about what comes next in your life, with or without him. I don't know enough about your past to make guesses about why you were with someone who wasn't capable of "reciprocal conversations," but something tells me that it's been easier for you to worry about him than it's been to focus on yourself.
While you figure this out, please be honest with him. Tell him that you don't know what you're doing and that this isn't just about whether he can cut it as a boyfriend. You're not sure about your own motives and you're also in a period of self-discovery.
He's learning how to have a personal life without succumbing to temptation. You're learning about why you need a partner, how you choose one, and what fills your life. For now, I'd put this whole thing on hiatus -- not because I think he's going to relapse, but because you both need to sort out your motivation for being with each other and what you want and need as individuals. Take some space.
Readers? Am I right to say that this is just as much about her as it is about him? He's in a program now and seems quite motivated, so should she stick around to see how it goes? What's happening here? Discuss.
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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 new novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith here and on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.