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Dear Wendy: “My Boyfriend Dumped Me Because I’m Depressed”

I’m one year out of college and really struggling with anxiety. It recently got to a point where I would talk about suicide with my (now ex) boyfriend and my mother, and I felt I couldn’t function in daily life as far as doing my work or waking up at a decent hour. My boyfriend moved away for a new job, and told me he wanted us to break up for awhile until I got better. We were still talking on the phone, but I told him it was too hard for me — not knowing where we stood — to be talking and that we should just completely breakup. In my head he was still my boyfriend, and it was hard hearing him talk about us “not being together” that way. A few weeks before he left, when things were better, we’d talked about moving in together. Is it right, in a relationship, for one person to tell the other to sort of “go off and get better”? Aren’t you supposed to stick together through hard times? We had been together for about a year. Also, I’m seeing a therapist and working hard on improving and being positive about the future, but when we did talk about it he wasn’t very encouraging and didn’t seem to want to know what I was going through or whether I was feeling better. He’s been too busy settling into his new life, and it’s just been so hard. What should I do? — Left Behind

When I was 22 and recently out of college, I too, suffered from anxiety that took a toll on my relationship. I was having a hard time finding a job in my field and felt depressed and isolated in my college town after most of my friends graduated and moved away. But I had a boyfriend — my first serious one — and thought with his support I could get better. The problem was, it was a lot of pressure to put on a young relationship. We hadn’t been together very long before my anxiety and depression really started weighing us down. We fought a lot. And even when we weren’t fighting, there was so much underlying tension. I felt utterly confused about my future — about whether I wanted to stay in that college town where jobs were few and far between but I could remain with my boyfriend, or whether I wanted to move to a bigger city, like most of my classmates had done and have more career opportunities and social outlets. I started resenting my boyfriend for holding me back. And he resented me for being such a Debbie Downer. In the end, after about nine or ten months of unraveling, my boyfriend broke up with me. He left a note on my doorstep early one January morning that said, “Live your life,” or essentially: “go take care of yourself. This isn’t working.”

At the time, I couldn’t imagine someone turning his back on me more than that boyfriend did. I felt alone, rejected, and angry. Like you, I felt it was my boyfriend’s duty to stick with me as I sorted things out. I mean, wasn’t he supposed to love me? But hindsight is 50/50, and now, nearly 12 years later I can see clearly what a favor he did for me. A big part of my anxiety was worrying about how to fit myself into our relationship. In order for us to have a future together, I had to make a lot of sacrifices that, at that young age, I simply wasn’t ready to make. I hadn’t yet figured out who I was and trying to fit a template of what my boyfriend wanted in a partner felt disingenuous to me. I wanted to be free, and luckily, he saw that need and granted it to me. What felt like such a mean action at the time was probably one of the kindest things he could have done. A year and a half later I moved to Chicago where I had a wonderful life for seven years. Three years ago I moved to New York where I’m now happily married and in a career I love. I’ve had so many opportunities I never would have had had I stayed in that relationship. I shudder to think where I might be if that boyfriend had “stuck with me” and helped me sort through my emotional mess.

Sometimes, we have to be let go to find our way. Sometimes, the very thing we think is our anchor is really just holding us to a place we no longer belong. When you’re young, it’s so easy to pin your emotional well-being on something outside yourself, like a relationship. It’s easy to drag someone along with you in your journey to self-discovery. But there are certain trips that are best traveled alone, and it seems like your boyfriend understood this about yours. Try not to think of it as desertion or rejection. He’s simply given you the space you need to stretch and grow. Take this time to do the emotional work you need — both on your own and with the help of a therapist (and the support of your mom) — to figure out who you are and what you need to feel fulfilled and happy. Once you’re whole and healthy again, you’ll be available for a relationship in a way you weren’t with your ex. And when that happens, I suspect you’ll learn how rewarding a true partnership can be — one where both people are emotionally present for each other because they’re emotionally present for themselves first.

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