Relationship Advice

Self-mutilation

woman grad student hold elbow in one hand

I started dating a man two and a half months ago. We live 700 km apart because I am away at university, but we have nevertheless been seeing each other every two weeks or so. This is his first relationship in over five years.

Just when we seem to be getting closer, he pushes me away with a cold or rude comment. Sometimes it's about the long distance and the uncertainty over where I will be living after school, but sometimes it's much more personal. For instance, he will tell me I'm too quiet, too shy, too young, too blonde, too unsettled, too inexperienced, too small, or too vegetarian.

At other times, he searches for critical flaws in my lifestyle. It's almost as though he is expecting me to admit I'm a cocaine addict, have a serious mental illness, or work as an escort. I don't understand what makes him so suspicious and condescending.

I am only slightly younger than him, and I'm very dedicated to my doctorate program, which certainly doesn't leave a lot of time for cocaine binges or moonlighting as an escort.

These incidents leave me feeling terrible and inadequate, but just when I back off, he apologizes, reverts back to an affectionate sweetheart, invites me to stay at his place again, and brings me to dinner with his parents. Then we go back to being a normal new couple until he decides there is something fundamentally wrong with me and the cycle starts all over.

Normally I wouldn't stand to be treated like this, but I have been crazy about him since the day I met him. I just don't know what to make of this ambiguous behavior and am feeling a little manipulated.

If he dislikes me so much and we are so incompatible, why does he keep maintaining this relationship, and why do things feel so right when he's not pushing me away?

Kiki


Kiki, Disney’s animation, The Princess and The Frog, gives the fairy tale a novel twist, but the version most of us grew up with delivers a different message. It says a girl can kiss a frog and turn him into a prince. That’s an unfortunate idea because in real life the frog remains a slimy amphibian and the princess spends her life in the swamp.

As a university student you’ve probably learned about many cycles, like the Krebs cycle of cellular respiration and the Calvin cycle, which explains photosynthesis. Your letter describes another cycle. It’s called the cycle of abuse.

He insults you, you try to appear worthy, then he insults you again. Just as you are ready to leave, he apologizes, and you deliver yourself to him. The cycle continues. If you don’t break this sequence, he will ramp up his behavior until you lose all self-respect.

You question why he is doing what he is doing, but he’s not questioning it. He’s looking for a woman he can do this to. Why are you volunteering to be that woman?

Wayne & Tamara