At a crossroads

I've been waiting for his ship to come in so he'll stop being depressed and be with me. Will it ever happen?

By Cary Tennis

Published August 18, 2004 7:36PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I've been in a relationship for the last two and a half years, and I now find myself at a difficult crossroads. The relationship has been wonderful at times and a real struggle at other times. My partner is a funny, warm and extremely talented guy. When he wants to be, he is extremely gregarious, and everyone loves him. He is also a writer and has been effectively unemployed for the last two years, though since he's fairly well-known and well-connected he's managed to put together a living by doing freelance work. However, he thrives on stability, and so the constant worry of whether this next paycheck will be his last has put a strain on him and thus on our relationship.

He's currently on the cusp of breaking into Hollywood and is a lot further than most hopefuls ever get. He's extremely talented, and deals are being set up that could set him up for life -- but nothing is a definite in Hollywood until the check's been cashed. And so the constant worry and stress have made him self-focused, self-indulgent and self-absorbed. He doesn't ask me about my life, how my day has gone, or how I'm feeling. It just simply doesn't occur to him. For quite a long time, although I've been very clear, open and honest with him about how I feel and what I need, I've been carrying this relationship on my shoulders, doing all the work, going to his house to hang out, and patiently waiting for his sex drive to return.

Because of all this, he hasn't really made an effort to become part of my life. He hasn't made any effort to get to know any of my friends, which they now resent -- because after all, one can only go so long before "getting to know the friends and family" is so overdue as to be ridiculous. He balks at coming to my house, preferring to stay close to home in his cavelike environment.

I've brought these things up to him many times, and we have nearly broken up over them before, and every time he asks me to be patient, that this cloud of depression will lift as soon as he is financially stable, that he loves me as much as life itself and that his life would be miserable without me. He doesn't want to go to a therapist because of the expense, as well as his insistence that it won't help him. (He went before because he was abusing alcohol as a means to deal -- or not deal -- with his depression. He has since stopped drinking, but lately I worry since he's starting to have drinks now and again, he will sink back into it.) He probably needs to be on some sort of antidepressant medication, but he can't afford it, and for various reasons, he doesn't qualify for state assistance.

I am starting graduate school in a month. I have a history of depression (though I've not had problems with it since I was an undergrad about six years ago), and I have been clear with him that our problems have to be sorted out before I start school, or else I can't continue in the relationship. He says that he wants to be supportive, but that I just need to continue to be patient and wait along with him for his break to come. And much as I love him and believe that he's really a good guy in an awful place right now, I just don't know what to do. My friends are telling me that I've given him enough chances and that I should probably just make a clean break before the world of papers and dissertations and all of that swallows me whole and a breakup would be exponentially worse.

He is one of the few people that have really gotten me in my life. I'm reluctant to give up what we do have. We've talked about marriage and kids in our future, which really makes me happy, as I think he'd be a good father. But I just can't carry our relationship on my own shoulders any longer, and there's really no telling how long it will be until he's financially stable, or if that will cure his depression. How do I resolve this?

Philosophically Flummoxed

Dear Flummoxed,

Sadly, I think you go. I think you stop carrying the load. If he wants you he can find you. He can win you back. Maybe he'll rise to the occasion. The only way to find out is to stop carrying the load.

He says he cares for you. What the hell does that mean? What does it mean if I say I care for you? Does that cook you dinner? Does that feed your cats? Does that make you warm between your shoulder blades? What if I say I care for Julia Roberts? Do you think she'll come over tonight and read me Shakespeare? I care about the homeless people I step over on the way to work. I care a lot about them. I love them! I care about the dead Iraqi women and children, and the dead soldier boys from small towns in Iowa. I care for you.

What the hell does that mean? It means I want you to like me. It means I'd like to keep you waiting around. It means that what you think about me is more important than whether you're happy or sad.

You need more than some guy who keeps you on hold. You need more than a guy who can't get out of his little cave of an apartment to drive you to the beach. You need somebody with a car to put your umbrella in, and your little hibachi, who will drive you to Venice and back just for one of those little corn dogs they sell from a stand.

Sure he needs help. So put him on your health insurance and hook him up with a psychiatrist. But don't hang around and be his girlfriend. You're not helping anybody that way.

I know this guy. I know the kind of self-involved artistic hell he's in, and I know the fear of oblivion and the need for approval and worldly success that drives him to trudge deeper and deeper into that hell. We are brothers in our fear of oblivion and our lust for approval, and we will do anything for it, and it is not pretty, because we are the young dead bodies found by housekeepers at the Chateau Marmont, and we are the overdosed rock stars in fabulous hotels who never got to hear the final mix, we are the writers who burned out after a novel or two because they couldn't take it, we are the critics who wish they had the courage to try it themselves, we are the bitter executives screwing starlets on their leather couches from Pottery Barn, we are the dull sick soul of television, we are the limp prose of writing schools and the slack-jawed hunger of MFA programs, we are the reason no one respects journalists anymore, we are trudging into hell and we like it, because it proves what we thought all along, that we're really not worth shit and everybody knows it, and we resent you and your graduate school but we don't admit it because we're just trying to keep you around until we score big and then we're going to dump you anyway for Kirsten Dunst, who we're suggesting we cast on our first feature film.

We're just a couple of cheap punks trudging into hell with a film treatment and a card from a cast supervisor at Miramax who said she'd call but never did. Let me warn you, don't follow us; we'll promise to call, but don't count on us.

Maybe he'll stop. I can see him in the distance there, pausing at the gates. Maybe he's turning around. Maybe he'll be rescued. Maybe that's his Lincoln Town Car I see rounding the turn. Or maybe he's going all the way down to the Chateau Marmont for a fabulous party that never ends.

You don't need to go with him. It wouldn't be much fun anyway. And don't wait up. It could be a long night.

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Cary Tennis

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