Welcome to Tough Love. We’re answering your questions about dating, breakups, and everything in between. Our advice giver is Blair Braverman, dogsled racer and author of Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube. Have a question of your own? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I can’t tell if my partner of a year and a half has intense unidentified baggage, doesn’t love me, or is genuinely a foreign intelligence asset. He speaks several languages and is constantly out of the country, and his travels come up suddenly. I don’t have a single picture with him. He’s never available to talk on the phone when he’s out of the country. I’ve not been introduced to many of his friends, and I’ve never met a member of his family.
We initially had a strong connection, and enjoyed having fun together and talking about what we wanted for our future, but almost everything lighthearted about our relationship evaporated within six months. He’s always stressed, exhausted, and overwhelmed with nebulous tasks. I’ve only asked him to be part of three events involving people I love, and he’s bailed on all three at the last minute.
For my brother’s wedding, I flew home between the bachelorette party and the wedding because I thought spending quality time together would lower the risk of him somehow bailing. That week, he spent less than four hours with me. The nightmarish thoughts of him abandoning me kept me up every night, and I got on the plane anxious about having scheduled separate flights. Sure enough, I received a message when I landed that his flight had been changed because an institution asked him to give a talk for an event—something he only told me after I asked several times.
“Just promise me you’ll be there,” I told him. He promised he’d still come.
The day before the wedding, he sent me a text message while I sat next to the bride at a salon, four hours before his flight was supposed to land. He said he was tired, he was in Europe, and he couldn’t bring himself to go to the airport. He said he just didn’t have it in him to be present for me.
I have reason to believe that he didn’t even have tickets booked (he had deflected every request to see his travel confirmation), and had been lying to me for weeks—despite telling me, that whole time, how excited he was to see my family.
A few members of my family and close friends believe he’s either married or an intelligence asset. Trying to talk your loved ones out of thinking your partner is an adulterous spy is WILD. And I have to admit they have some points. But there’s something I’m missing here, because I really do believe that he cares about me and wants to be with me. He could have some kind of classified job that causes these issues, or he may have a lot of family and relationship baggage that’s made him this way over time.
I can’t fix a man, so I won’t try, but having no real explanation for his behaviors keeps me from having closure. I want to be with him, but not like this. How do I get the clarity to move forward?
This sucks; I can’t imagine how sad it must have felt to be at your brother’s wedding alone after so much anticipation, anxiety, and buildup. It sounds like you tried to be extremely clear with your partner, and took the brave risk of letting yourself hope that this time he’d show up for you. Sometimes it’s that kind of hope that hurts more than anything, because you wanted so badly to trust that things could be different.
Is your partner a spy? Maybe. There are spies in the world, and some of them are people’s partners, and there are certainly ways in which the theory seems to fit. As you mentioned, he could also be leading a double life, or just have major commitment issues, which are slightly less romantic ways to explain his behavior. But what’s striking to me about this situation isn’t his possible intelligence career; it’s that on some level, you are looking for any explanation that would make this behavior OK. If you knew he was a spy, it might put some of the pieces together: How can this man love you, but not take pictures with you? How could he want to build a life together, but fail to show up for your family? And not just fail to show up, but lie to you for weeks beforehand?
But even if he is a spy, these things still aren’t OK.
And that, I think, is the clarity you can move toward—clarity that doesn’t depend on the quality of his excuses, on what he chooses to reveal or the clues you manage to put together, but on the standards of respect and care that you know you need to uphold for yourself.
Here are some questions to ask yourself: What do you expect from a relationship? What do you require? What does it take to trust that even if someone falls short, they’re trying to meet you partway? What feels joyful in a partnership? What do you need to build a future with someone? These answers aren’t necessarily simple, and they may change, but they’re entirely up to you; they shouldn’t be compromised to excuse any one partner’s behavior.
There is a small chance that you’ll answer these questions and determine that your current partner is totally OK by your standards. For instance, if you determine that what you genuinely want is a casual relationship with no long-term (or, frankly, even short-term) commitments or plans… well, sure, he could still be your guy.
But that’s not what I’m hearing from you. It sounds like you want someone who loves to spend time with you, and does what they can to make that time happen. Someone who is honest about what they can and can’t commit to—and, if they realize they have to change plans, tells you the truth as soon as possible. Someone with whom you can reasonably plan for tomorrow, next week, next year. Someone who does what they can to show up for your family. Someone who’s proud to be yours.
These are not unreasonable expectations. They are, in many cases, the bare minimum.
If you break up with your partner, it will be sad and painful, but it’s unlikely to be more painful than being let down by him again and again. And if you know you’re going to break up with him, it’s best to get it over as soon as possible. Surround yourself with loved ones, do things you enjoy, cry, talk it over with friends, and mourn both the wonderful things you had together and the relationship you hoped could have been. Know that closure isn’t something that someone else gives you; it’s something you create for yourself. I don’t even think you have to rule out dating spies in the future. Just make sure they’re spies who can love you in the way you deserve.
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