I'm an enabler at the end of my rope

I buy him things, I drive his friends around, he won't get a job -- why can't I just leave?

By Cary Tennis
Published July 13, 2009 10:11AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I'm at the end of my rope regarding my boyfriend. We've been together seven months now and, while I know it's a tough economy, he still remains unemployed and I have trouble believing that he's applied to as many jobs as he says he has. While part of this is probably due to his having a GED and a misdemeanor, a lot of it is, in my opinion, his wanting to be taken care of and not wanting to do any real work or reach for any higher goals than gaming all day. His mom has said I have replaced her, and she never wanted that for me.

He's a good guy -- he helped me heal a bit after the passing of my late fiancé and was the first relationship I had over a year after his passing -- but his priorities seem a bit screwed up. I've heard this from his friends and mom, and have seen that he won't really change. I'm hoping he will, but he's 22 to my 28 and I don't know if I can wait around for him to grow up while I pay for everything and drive him and his friends everywhere.

I'm probably being somewhat of an enabler by doing everything for him, but I've had this argument with him numerous times and can never get through. It seems he's in his own little world and I'm wondering if I should stay or go.

I realize I sound biased and possibly harsh, but there's a lot of resentment on my part. I'm afraid if he does grow up and get his act together, will I continue to resent him for living off my money during the first bit of our relationship? Also, I come from a different world it, seems -- I have some college education and have been able to hold jobs for more than a few months at a time, whereas he has not thus far.


Dear Enabler,

I dare you to let go of the rope.

You say you're at the end of your rope. So close your eyes and picture the rope. Where is the rope? Is it in your hands or around your neck, or around your waist? What kind of rope is it?

Follow the rope. How long is it? Where does it lead? Who's on the other end of it? Is it your boyfriend, dangling over the street? Is it that kind of rope? Or is it the kind of rope they keep dogs in yards with? Are you tied, straining against the rope? Who else might be at the end of the rope? Your mom?

I dare you to let go of the rope.

Handle the rope. Feel its texture. How old is it? Is it a rope you've had a long time or is it a new rope? How did you acquire it? Did you buy it after your fiancé died? Did someone give it to you?

Examine the rope. Feel its texture. Fee how taut it is. Then let it go.

You don't need it. You've reached the end of it. It's not your rope.

After all, you haven't reached the end of his rope. His rope is endless. You'll never reach the end of his rope. But your rope is only so long, and you're at the end of it. So just fucking let it go.

It's not a real rope. It's imaginary. You can't hurt anyone by letting go of it. So just let it go. Slip out of it and leave it behind.

Let go of the fucking rope.

I know about metaphors. I know that symbolic behavior does not alter the world. But it does allow us to experience our own feelings. It allows us to graphically, viscerally experience what we are doing and how we feel. So letting go of the rope is another way of saying dramatically change what you are doing. What you are doing is living for other people. So stop it.

I do know about this thing of living for others. I have it. I am acquainted with the martyr.  The martyr cannot stand to be alone. If you can take care of yourself, you can let people come and go and you don't have to drive them around.

OK, let's go over your letter again. You're at the end of your rope. OK, that's good. You've let go of the rope.

There's also his mom. She says you've replaced her and she did not want that for you. She's doing the same thing you're doing: She's expressing her needs as though they were somebody else's. You want your freedom. And she wants her boy back so she can take care of him. So it's a win-win. Let him go. Let his mom take care of him.

Of course he wants to be taken care of and not do any work. Who doesn't? I sure do. Would you come here and live in a cage and take care of me? That would be fine. I could live with that. Live in a cage and take care of me. Sounds good.

You're taking great care of him. The question is, whose job is it to take care of him? Why is it your job? Did you apply for it? Did you go out looking for such a job? Did you sit in a hiring room and answer questions? Did you say, I really, really need this job taking care of this guy for no money because ... because ... because that way I can avoid my own grief and symbolically atone for my inability to save my fiancé ...

And the pay? the hiring boss asks.

Oh, no problem, the pay is fine, you say. Whatever you can afford. I don't need anything.

So here's a question: What's the martyr's role in grief? The martyr, I think, says oh, poor me, I know I should grieve, I'd like to grieve, but, shucks, I really don't have the time, and I'm so important in all these people's lives, I have all these people who depend on me.

The martyr is the sinister servant. You are sacrificing yourself to this guy as a substitute for true grief, as a kind of penance, perhaps: You are doing penance because you weren't able to prevent your fiancé's death. So you have to take care of someone.

Luckily, you can take care of someone. There is someone who needs taking care of. There is someone who deserves to be taken care of, whom it is your duty to take care of, whom nobody else can take care of as well as you can. That person is not your mother. That person is not his mother. That person is not your boyfriend.

That person is you.


What? You want more advice?


Cary Tennis

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