I am in my sophomore year at college and this is my first semester after coming out of the closet. Recently I have been looking for someone to date and I found this really nice freshman (for the purpose of keeping his identity a secret I'm going to call him “Matt”). Unfortunately he is causing me a lot of problems.
When we first started to get to know each other, and I first told him that I liked him, he informed me that he was in an open relationship with a girl (whom I do not like at all but I’ll get to that later. I'm going to call her “Kelly”). I let him know that I was fine with it at first but if he found that he really liked me he would have to end the relationship with Kelly.
Over the next couple of weeks everything was fine. We took it really slow by just hanging out with each other. After a while things started to get weird. Matt would suddenly get really depressed and moody. It seamed like he would half ask me for help and when I tried to help him he would just pull away and not let me in. This happened a couple of times now and I have been so uncomfortable around him. This could be partly because I am still not used to actually being in an intimate relationship with another man. I want to help him so badly but I am just terrified that I am going to scare him off.
I feel like the source of all of his troubles is his girlfriend. I really can’t go too far into it because it is really personal but Matt and Kelly’s relationship seems to be very abusive. It is not just me who thinks that. The RAs in his building also think this too. Every weekend she comes up from her school so she can be with him. When she is here she is very rude to everyone. She has made no attempt to meet any of his friends and when she does hang out with everyone she just sits there and complains about everything. The thing that just pisses me off most about her is how she acts when I'm around her. First of all she tries to make out with Matt whenever I'm having a conversation with Matt. She also tries to argue and disagree with me at every chance she can. It drives me crazy.
Yesterday Matt went into one of his moods because of Kelly. I kind of had a mental breakdown. All my emotions just seemed to well up all at once and I had a one of the worst anxiety attacks I have ever had. It’s been over 24 hours and my body still feels drained and I am having intense back pain because of it. I could barely move all day. It would have been a lot worse had it not been for one of the RAs on duty who knew how to hit certain pressure points on my head to calm me down and put me to sleep. I am 99% sure that Matt saw me like that and knew that he kind of caused it. My friends told him that I just had a headache but I think he is smart enough to put A and B together.
I feel like I need to talk to him but every time I see him now I get emotional. I'm terrified that I could be sent into another anxiety attack, I don't know how I could handle another one. What should I do about this whole situation?
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Instincts are a highly underrated ability that humans possess, just like animals. When I read a letter like this and hear the writer’s suspicions, I can often perceive that they are spot on and that the writer is just looking for a little confirmation from an old bear because he or she is not confident in a tried and true animal capability.
Papabear has an instinct, too, that you are right, both about Matt’s girlfriend and that Matt probably knows how his relationship with Kelly is affecting you in a bad way.
Many people, when they think of abusive relationships, think only in terms of a man hurting a woman, but it happens more than you think. Papabear himself knows of a couple friends who are in a bad situation with their female partner. A recent study showed that about 40% of domestic abuse cases are actually women perpetrating it against men. Here is a useful article on the subject that includes a couple hotlines: http://www.oregoncounseling.org/handouts/domesticviolencemen.htm.
There are a number of reasons why people like your friend Matt stay in such relationships. One is that there are children involved, but I’m guessing that’s not the case here. More likely, Matt is suffering from poor self-esteem and blames himself whenever Kelly hurts him. The “I deserve it” syndrome. Papabear has a dear friend who is a classic case of this. When I first met him, he said “I’m sorry” so many times—for things he had no reason to apologize for—I almost wept to see such a beaten-down person.
Matt likely got into a relationship with you because his spirit desperately needs some affirmation and love. But now you, Timmy, are caught in a difficult balancing act between your desire to have a loving relationship with Matt and your even more important need to protect yourself from a pain you don’t deserve.
I would suggest you talk to Matt directly about this, but if it is going to cause you an anxiety attack we need an alternative. You mention the RA, who seems like a cool person who is also aware of the situation. Sounds like a potential moderator. Talk to him and see if you can find a way for the RA to sit Matt down and find out what is going on and if he is, indeed, being abused. There is help for both Matt and Kelly in this situation (Kelly needs help, too--I suspect a lot of this has to do with jealousy, but am not sure when the abuse started). If you can’t get the RA to do it, perhaps there is a health center at your school you can go to and ask for help. There are also the hotlines you can call (see above link). We need to find out better what’s going on in Matt’s head before proceeding.
If Matt can improve his relationship with Kelly, this will help you as well and you won’t have to work on any other solution. If the Matt-Kelly situation doesn’t improve, or gets worse, that’s when you have to take a deep breath and talk to Matt, despite the anxiety. (If it’s really bad, you could write a letter to him as a last resort). Offer your help and love, but explain to him that you can’t stand by and watch Kelly abuse him as it is making you, quite literally, ill. If he cares about you, he won’t put you through that.
It is a wonderful thing to help and love others. Do so as much as you can, but not to the point where you hurt yourself because then you are just as much a victim of Kelly’s abuse as Matt is.
This is going to take some time and patience. Thank you for writing me, and I hope the above helps. Please write again and let me know how things are going.
Hugs of Bear Love,
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