My Boyfriend is Selfish. Why Won’t He Change for Me?
My boyfriend, age 59, and I, age, 50, have been together 6 years. We were each previously in long term marriages and have kids.
During the course of our relationship there have been enough rough spots, many, I believe, stemming from his undiagnosed ADD, and perhaps even mild Aspergers, to push for counseling. After years of defensive resistance, we now see a therapist who diagnosed him, he is cautiously trying out different meds (with little effect thus far), and is helping us work toward a better relationship. The issues are his distractibility, impulsiveness, forgetfulness and frequent inability to see things from any perspective other than what works for him. Quite often our disagreements spiral down the proverbial rabbit hole. Weird, nonsensical, insensitive and incredibly frustrating. He has a difficult time processing concepts where the circumstances change and nuance is involved. It is sometimes maddening. And yet, I do love him – very much.
But I’ve also realized that who he is because of how his brain is wired might remain a constant source of frustration and angst. Me wishing he would just “get it”, and he resenting being reminded when he doesn’t. When things are good and I have his attention, I can’t fathom leaving the relationship. And other times, when care and consideration just take flight because something more exciting has caught his attention, I wonder – what am I doing here.
We are both highly educated, financially secure – he more-so (and then some) than me on both counts, well-traveled (something we do very well because I get the companionship I desire and he gets the stimulus he craves), well cultured, well read, politically aligned and family oriented. He is appreciative of me always, generous and genuine with his compliments, tells me and shows he loves me (when I have his attention) and wants to please me. He’s endlessly energetic (also exhausting), effortlessly outgoing (to the point of attention seeking), always up for something new (though sometimes ill conceived), great with my kids (he’s the fun Dad type), affectionate (sometimes in over-drive), handy, helpful (so long as it interests him), and easy-going (unless it interferes with his pursuit of pleasure). You get the idea. Some days he is the best and most wonderful person to be with, other days, it’s like watching a micro-burst of frenetic busy-ness while I’m stuck swinging at the top of a broken Ferris wheel.
Within the first year of our relationship he cheated on me while on a solo trip halfway around the world. Seems he just couldn’t resist the temptation of a pretty young thing at a party at his hotel the night before he flew home to see me – the girlfriend he missed.
Somehow, I knew he strayed. I asked repeatedly, and repeatedly, he lied. The nagging feeling lingered for months. I realized I’d not seen since his return the journal I had given him before he left – in which I lovingly inscribed “write it all down – share it with me” – as it was his habit – to keep little notebooks and jot down memorable tidbits. Months later, there was still no sharing. No journal in sight.
I found the journal sealed and tucked out of sight. The one night stand was succinctly but plainly noted, just another tidbit, referencing her age-25, “blue blood” and “spent the night”. His first reaction was not to console me, apologize or even express remorse. I was crying in a corner and instead of even approaching me, he announced from across the room how he should not write things down anymore. Huh???
He found it difficult to empathize and said he’d understand if I left him. Though he did everything I asked of him, missing was an intuitive understanding of what he could do on his own to make me feel better.
Fast forward to present day. Out of the blue he announced two days ago that he IS taking a SOLO two month trip around the world in a few months, to explore, surf and kiteboard in an “Endless Summer” experience – just because he is turning 60! He doesn’t seem to understand why I’m not fully trusting, or his enthusiastic cheerleader in this hedonistic self-absorbed pleasure driven adventure. He also doesn’t seem to understand why announcing this to his ex wife – not seeing their 12 yr old for two months – is going to result in legal fees for failure to comply with the detailed parenting plan in their divorce decree. It is ALL about him. I told him NONE of it was ok with me. Not the way he presented it as a done deal without even thinking about my reaction, Not the 2 month duration. Not with the trust issues, Not with a sense of nauseating entitlement that pursuit of this sort of pleasure was more important than his obligations to our relationship, his child, his family, his businesses, etc.
I told him if he pursued it I would lose all respect for him and he would lose me. He got defensive and angry and cast me as a controlling, leash tugging gate keeper – just trying to spoil his good time, but that he was doing it anyway. The next day, I wrote a letter detailing all the issues. He heard me, understood my points, and agreed with much of what I said. I’ve never spent two solid months with him, ever, not in 6 years. I see him 2 nights a week and every other weekend. He’s been away at his summer home most of the summer, and only occasionally with me when I make the effort to go to him. Otherwise, if it’s his time to be on the family compound he doesn’t leave.
This type of thing happens all too often. It’s like Jekyll and Hyde. This one, like the cheating, is among the worst.
Do I stay? Do I jump ship?
If it were not for his ADD that I believe leads him to these impulsive, random, illogical, impossible, reckless and insensitive thoughts and actions, I would have left long ago. It does not excuse his behavior – he is a grown up after all, but I have seen up close the strange and darker forces that can dominate his uniquely wired brain when that bright shiny thing is in the cross hairs of his pleasure seeking.
You get hundreds of letters. I know this one is WAY too long, but the telling was somewhat cathartic for me. So thanks for reading. I love your spot-on assessments. Your wife is lucky to have a consistent thinking, feeling, empathetic life partner.
“If your aunt had balls, she’d be your uncle.”
I said that last night to the women in Love U in response to a similar question about a man who was not living up to expectations.
My client was wondering what to do with this guy – whether she should cut bait, how to get him to change – and I simply pointed out something crude I heard from my wife twelve ago.
What it means is that it may be only one change, but that one change fundamentally alters the essence of the object:
If your aunt had balls, she’d be your uncle.
If Ted Bundy didn’t murder people, he’d be a really charming guy.
If Ted Bundy didn’t murder people, he’d be a really charming guy.
If your boyfriend were less selfish, he’d be an amazing catch.
But he’s not.
You know it. I know it. Anyone reading this email knows it.
a. He doesn’t want to change. He likes who he is.
b. He doesn’t have to change. You’ve stuck with him for six years despite this behavior. Why would he think that this time would be any different?
c. He can’t change. Whether it’s old dog/new tricks, ADD or, as I suspect, narcissistic personality disorder, it doesn’t matter. This is who he is. Take it or leave it.
Like our president, your boyfriend is an overgrown child who acts out but doesn’t pay any price for his selfishness.
Since there are no consequences to his behavior, he keeps acting out – whether it’s cheating, failing to find empathy, or taking off for two months without you.
You can make all the excuses in the world for him – what a great man he is – how charming, fun, and energetic – but that is just to ignore his big design flaw: he’s a shitty partner.
Thus, it doesn’t matter how much you like him when things are good.
How do you like being a second-class citizen within your own relationship?
If you don’t like it, get out.
If you stay, don’t expect things to change.
You’ve already taught him that he can get away with whatever he wants and you’re not going to do anything about it.