Unhealthy relationship?

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waterhyacinth
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Unhealthy relationship?

Unread post by waterhyacinth »

Hi staff. I've been in a relationship for a while that my friends call unhealthy but I'm not quite sure? I've been dating this guy since I was 14-15 (when the relationship started is kinda blurry, but I was either older 14 or younger 15), and he's been 23-26. I'm 17 now. My friends say it's unhealthy because of the age gap, but he's nice to me and doesn't abuse me or anything. I started dating him voluntarily too, its not like I was forced. Is this relationship unhealthy? Is age even enough of a factor to tell? Sorry if this is hard to answer or if I've been rambling.
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Re: Unhealthy relationship?

Unread post by Siân »

Hi waterhyacinth,

Can you touch a bit more on what about this relationship your friends are saying is unhealthy. You've mentioned the age gap, but is there anything else that your friends are picking up on?

I realise you're 17 now, but one thing to note is that in Ohio the age of consent is 16, so if your partner had sex with you when you were 14 or 15, then that is statutory rape in the eyes of the law. In fact, in Ohio any sexual contact between you and your partner was prohibited until you were 16 as your partner is more than 4 years older than you. If your partner disregarded those laws, that is a red flag to me.

You've not said a huge amount about your relationship though - can you expand on what you think is good about it, and anything you find not-so-good?

For what it's worth, this piece by Heather picks up on some of the reasons why relationships with a big age-gap sometimes need extra scrutiny: Why I Deeply Dislike Your Older Boyfriend
waterhyacinth
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Re: Unhealthy relationship?

Unread post by waterhyacinth »

My friend's main issue is with his age. I don't talk about him in a lot of detail around him because, like you mentioned, it was illegal for a while and I'm still not out of the habit of not talking about him. One of my close friends who knows a bit more does have an issue with the secrecy, ironically. He says that if it were a healthy relationship I would be willing/able to talk about it more freely around the rest of our friends.

As for what I think is good about it, I honestly really like his maturity. He doesn't act immature like a lot of high school boys do, and he has more experience than I do, so he's been able to teach me a lot about relationships. The biggest issue I have is the secrecy, as mentioned before. He really doesn't want me telling my parents. even now that it's legal, and I haven't told them but it's been weird dating him for so long without telling my parents. He doesn't seem to mind that I've told my friends, so I can at least talk to them about it, but he still doesn't like me bringing them up much since he gets jealous. He's still a really sweet guy though, he takes care of me and I can tell he likes me and our relationship.

Thank you for the article and sorry again if I've been rambling. I'll check it out :)
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Re: Unhealthy relationship?

Unread post by Emily N »

Hi waterhyacinth!

Did you have a chance to look at the article Sian sent? Age gaps in a relationship don’t inherently have to mean that the relationship is inappropriate. But secrecy, being underage at the start of the relationship, and imbalances in power are concerning. You also mentioned that “he takes care of me”, which is language that indicates a power dynamic, even if it is subtle. You also mentioned that he gets jealous of your friends - what do you mean by that?

The positive things I hear you saying about your relationship are “I wasn’t forced into it, he doesn’t abuse me, he likes me and is nice to me, and is mature”. These to me seem like basic foundational needs for any relationship, but don’t necessarily make it a good one. Does that make sense?
waterhyacinth
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Re: Unhealthy relationship?

Unread post by waterhyacinth »

I read the article yeah. I don't really know how to feel about it. I really hope he doesn't see me like the article says he does but I don't know. He calls me smart most of the time and compliments me but now I think he could be lying then? I'm not really sure.

He doesn't really like me hanging around a lot of my friends, since they're guys (I have my pronouns listed as he/him here since I'm a trans guy, but he doesn't know that and thinks I'm a cis girl). He thinks that I'll leave him for them, I think. He doesn't stop me from hanging out with them but does... discourage me? Like if we're hanging out and I have plans with friends later he'll try and keep me at his house and encourage me to bail on them, if that makes sense.

That does make sense, kinda? The first parts I get. But I don't really see how it can be a bad relationship if it's not abusive and he's nice to me?
Sam W
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Re: Unhealthy relationship?

Unread post by Sam W »

Hi Waterhyacinth,

So, while he may not be abusive in big ways, some of the things you're describing to us are big red flags; the discouraging you from seeing your friends, the jealousy, the stopping you from telling your family about your relationship. The jealousy and trying to isolate you from friends in particular is worrisome, because that kind of behavior often escalates to greater and greater control. And that kind of thing can constrict your life little by little. For instance, what if there was school you wanted to go to, job you wanted to take, hobby you loved, and he started "discouraging" you from it because there will guys there and he was jealous? How would that feel to you?

Too, would you feel comfortable telling your parents about this without his permission? In other words, are your parents safe people to talk about this kind of thing with?

I'm also curious; do you feel like you'll be able to come out to him about the fact you're trans?
waterhyacinth
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Re: Unhealthy relationship?

Unread post by waterhyacinth »

I'm not really sure how that would feel, I've never really had a job or a lot of hobbies. I'm staying in the same city as I'm already in for school. That's what he wants me to do, though, and I've never really thought of doing anything else. I don't know.

My parents are kinda distant and I think they'd mostly get mad at me for dating an older guy. I've told my sister about him since the last post and she seems worried like you all are but she's promised she won't tell our parents.

I was questioning around the time we started dating and brought it up to him, he said that it sounded weird, and that I was a girl, and neither of us have brought it up since then. I'm not sure if that's being scared/over reacting on my part tho, I've avoided it as much as he has.

Sorry if this is a lot of "I don't know" and me being difficult. Thank you for talking to me about this. It's been a lot to think about over the last few days and I'm not even sure how I would bring all of this up to him if I wanted to leave.
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Re: Unhealthy relationship?

Unread post by Sam W »

It's okay! This is a really tricky topic to think about, especially when it's someone you care about it, so it's absolutely fine to say you don't know or ask us lots of questions.

Can I ask how you and he started dating? The more context we have for this whole relationship, the better we can tailor our advice when we're helping you out. And I'm glad you told your sister about this; the more people who you have to talk to about this relationship who aren't him, the better.

Honestly, it was pretty gross and dismissive of him to tell you that you're questioning sounded weird and that you were a girl. After all, you know your gender better than he does, and a supportive partner would, at the very least, give you space to question your identity and experiment with what felt right to you. When you think about coming out to him, what's your first reaction? And do you have a general sense of how he feels about trans folks?

Do you want to talk about how you would leave, even if you're still not sure that's a step you want to take? Sometimes, envisioning that conversation can help you work through your options and your feelings.
waterhyacinth
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Re: Unhealthy relationship?

Unread post by waterhyacinth »

We met through a friend who I think worked with him? I don't exactly remember how she knew him but it was through a friend. We all hung out together a lot, then just him and me, and he texted me a lot and eventually asked me out and I said yes

I try not to think about coming out to him since I just don't think it's something that's gonna happen, at least not anytime soon. He's straight and I'd rather stay like this than break up with him at this point. He's like a normal level of transphobic if that makes sense? Like I don't think he absolutely hates all trans people but he probably wouldn't like me much if I came out.

I don't really know how I would leave? I don't have any good reason to break up with him that I can think of beyond that it's kind of unhealthy. If I did have a reason it might not actually be so hard, we live in the same city but don't go to school or work together or anything. The absolute worst case scenario I can think of is if he showed up at my house and threatened me or something but I don't think he would do that.
Sam W
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Re: Unhealthy relationship?

Unread post by Sam W »

What if I said that being with someone who you cannot be out to is reason enough to break up? You deserve not only the chance to be out and live in the gender that feels right to you, but the chance to find a partner who you can be open with those things about. You can't find that with him, you know?

Am I right that he was probably your first serious relationship? And can you tell me a little more about what benefits you're getting from this relationship? Right now I hear you saying he's not bad, but I don't hear a lot about what he's giving you as a partner or how this relationship is feeding your life and well-being.
waterhyacinth
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Re: Unhealthy relationship?

Unread post by waterhyacinth »

I don't know if he'll take that as an answer tho you know? He might not care if that's the only reason I have. It would be nice if I could date someone as a guy, tho.

You're right yeah. And he's nice to me, and takes care of me, and gives me life advice and gifts sometimes. I'm not really sure what else he would give me? I don't wanna be greedy and ask for money or anything. Is that enough for a relationship to be healthy? I'm not sure how that's defined.
Sam W
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Re: Unhealthy relationship?

Unread post by Sam W »

So, if you want to leave a relationship, that's a unilateral decision. It only takes on person to break up. He can think it's a bad reason as much as he wants, but he can't just keep you in a relationship you want to leave. If you tried to leave, or even asked for a break to think things over, do you suspect he would argue with you and demand you give him a good reason? Does he tend to demand a good enough reason for other things?

I think it would be great if you could date someone as a guy! It's awesome to date someone who knows you as the gender you are and is cool and accepting of it. When you picture that, dating someone as a guy, what does that look like? How does it feel when you imagine it?

Since it sounds like you've gotten limited information on healthy relationship, I'm going to give you a few pieces to read over. If you have questions about them, or there are things that jump out at you, we can certainly talk about them.

Does Your Relationship Need a Checkup?
Hello, Sailor! How to Build, Board and Navigate a Healthy Relationship
Potholes & Dead Ends: Relationship Roadblocks to Look Out For
waterhyacinth
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Re: Unhealthy relationship?

Unread post by waterhyacinth »

He'd probably ask for a reason yeah. He's done that before, like when I say I'm gonna hang out with my friends, he asks why, and then says that the reason I give isn't good and I should just stay with him.

Dating someone as a guy sounds... Really nice. Just imagining it feels a lot better than dating this guy right now. I kinda picture the person I'm dating knowing me better, and treating me better since he isn't accidentally misgendering me all the time. I think you're right when you said that him ignoring that I'm a guy is enough reason to dislike the relationship.

Going through the first list you sent a lot is standing out. It mentions boundaries and now that I'm thinking about it I don't think I have a lot? Like when we have sex we especially he just kinda does what he wants, I don't get to say a lot. I know the list isn't just about sex but that's what came to mind. And now that I'm thinking about it it feels like a lot of our communication is just him kinda bossing me around, not back and forth like the list says.
Sam W
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Re: Unhealthy relationship?

Unread post by Sam W »

I'm going to be a little blunt okay? I think this is not a healthy relationship, and I think you start making plans to leave as soon as you can.

Part of why I say that is because it's clear that this guy doesn't want a partner; he wants someone he can boss around and control (which, quite frankly, is probably why he went after someone almost ten years younger then him who he could groom to behave how he wanted and who had no past partners to compare his relationship to). And from years of doing this work and from all the research around this, I can more or less promise you this behavior will escalate. You deserve so, so much better than this.

That demanding a reason, by the way, is a really common control tactic, and it allows him to move the goal posts for your behavior to be only what he wants you to do. You deserve to be the boss of your own decisions, not him.

That might have been a lot to take in. How are you feeling about what I just wrote?
waterhyacinth
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Re: Unhealthy relationship?

Unread post by waterhyacinth »

Scared? I don't really know. I talked to my sister last night and she said really similar things as you did so I think you might be right. I don't know how I would leave him either. I know you said that breaking up only takes one person but what if he doesn't accept it? What if he tries to keep dating me? I don't really like the idea of being alone without him either even if the relationship is bad.

I wanted to say thank you too though. "You deserve so, so much better than this." is a really nice thing to say and it's really helped to talk with you and the other staff.
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Re: Unhealthy relationship?

Unread post by Elise »

Hi there waterhyacinth, firstly let me start by echoing Sam, you really do deserve so much better than this, and whilst it seems quite confronting an idea at the moment, you will be able to get through this.

With the idea of being "alone", whilst it can seem like that would be the case, abusive and emotionally manipulative partners are really good at trying to make their partners feel that their relationship is the only meaningful one in their lives, and that they would be "alone" and "helpless" without them. However I can already hear from you that you are not alone, you have meaningful relationships in your life, with friends who care about your well-being, and a sister who does too! A good support network needs more than one person, and a romantic and/or sexual relationship is not inherently superior to other kinds of relationships, and certainly you will not be alone just because you don't currently have a romantic partner. You can read a bit more about why friendships are so important (and awesome), here: Why Does Friendship Matter to a Sex Ed Organization?.

With regards to your concerns about breaking up and your boyfriend not accepting it, even in this case, you are not in a relationship with him. Planning for potential issues and outcomes like you describe is called safety planning, you can do this before you do the breaking up, and it can help to do it with people you trust, like your close friend, and your sister, and write down what you're going to do if certain things come up. Is your sister older than you? Having an adult you can trust in this experience can really help, acknowledging that you are almost an adult yourself, someone with the autonomy, resources of an adult on your side can really help.

I will put some more links to safety plans below, but to start with some ideas on the issues you mentioned:
If he tries to keep contacting you, you have every right to block him on every form of social media etc. you have. If you can, you can get a new SIM card for your phone and a new number. If people who you don't feel comfortable sharing the reason with ask (most won't), just say you got a better deal with a different carrier.
If he will turn up places, make plans to be there with your sibling, friends, and get really busy hanging out with them, even if it's busy playing games or video chats with them if you're not going out much at the moment because of the pandemic. This will also help you focus on the great people in your life, rather than him.

Safety plans: I hope this helps, as always, please feel free to share your thoughts and feelings about this with us here.
waterhyacinth
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Re: Unhealthy relationship?

Unread post by waterhyacinth »

My sister is older than me yeah, she's 19. I talked to her some more tonight and she says she's willing to back me up with my parents if things get bad, even move out with her when I'm 18 if things come to that. that's absolute worst case tho so hopefully it won't.

thank you for the list. I checked them out and I'm writing some plans down now. There's one thing that kinda scares me tho? In a lot of articles here it says that if you've been in a bad relationship when you're younger it's more likely to happen again, and I know nothing bads happening right now but I just feel kinda anxious about it. like what if I'm destined to end up in a bad relationship when I'm in college or something? I'm just kinda venting, I know that's not what this thread's about.

I think I'm gonna talk to my friend about staying with me when I'm around him and out in public. Just in case. thank you for the list again
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Re: Unhealthy relationship?

Unread post by Urna »

Hello waterhyacinth,

I'm going to respond to the fear you spoke of, regarding being "destined to end up in a bad relationship" if you've been in an abusive relationship before. Thank you for bringing that up. I want to assure you that this is not a general rule, by any means, and usually, only those folks who have not done the healing work necessary to recover from toxic relationships keep gravitating towards them. This applies also to people who haven't recognized that their first few relationships were toxic. Here's a little analogy: suppose you love peanuts. Your tongue swells each time you eat peanuts, and you feel out of breath, but you don't make the connection between the two events, and you just assume that this is what eating peanuts does to everybody. So you keep eating peanuts, and each time your tongue swells painfully and you get breathless, but since you don't know that those two things are related, it just never gets better. This is kind of what happens to people who have never identified the toxicity of their previous relationships, or have never done the difficult work of healing from them. Now, let's suppose you realized that the peanuts are causing the swelling and the breathlessness, and that you have a peanut allergy. With this information, you know better than to reach for peanuts next time. Sure, you may get tempted at times, because you used to love peanuts, but over time you realize that the pain and hospitalization risk isn't worth it, and that there are other nuts (and other foods, in general) out there that taste just as good, maybe even better, and that you aren't dangerously allergic to. So, your painful association with peanuts comes to an end.

I will add this HUGE caveat, though: toxic and abusive people are difficult to identify, especially during the first stages of a relationship. There is no guarantee that even after the healing work, you will escape such people's clutches, and that's true of everybody, I think, regardless of whether or not they have been in a bad relationship before. Speaking from personal experience, though, having prior experience of toxicity can be helpful when it comes to recognizing red flags in other people in the future, if you are alert, aware, and committed to putting yourself first and exiting bad situations. I think you can get there, waterhyacinth. It's difficult work, but it's the greatest gift you can give yourself. Does that help, at all?
<3333
waterhyacinth
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Re: Unhealthy relationship?

Unread post by waterhyacinth »

That helps a lot actually. thank you. I wasn't really sure why that pattern happened but that's a good explanation.

An update on breaking up with him, I talked with my sister and I'm gonna call him tomorrow. I don't know if thats too soon but he's been really nice and relaxed recently and the article Elise sent said that that's a good time to split, I just don't want to wait too long in case he gets annoyed again or I change my mind. My friend also recommended that I get tested for stds and stuff, so I'm doing that later this week. I don't have any symptoms or anything but better safe than sorry I guess?

Thank you all for the help and the reassurance.
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Re: Unhealthy relationship?

Unread post by Carly »

Hi waterhyacinth -- I don't think it's too soon to split, it sounds like you've taken in a lot of resources about the situation and your gut reaction is telling you it's time to leave. I imagine this may feel impulsive, especially because you've been with him for a while, but consider how much you've thought about it this week and how much you've learned. I agree, this sounds like a good time to act quickly.

With regard to getting tested, is there a specific reason why your friend recommended you do that in this situation? I'm so sorry if I missed it in the thread.
waterhyacinth
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Re: Unhealthy relationship?

Unread post by waterhyacinth »

You didnt miss anything, its alright. We've had sex without protection before so I think he just reccomended because of that? I'm not a doctor, I don't know if it's absolutely necessary, but it's better safe than sorry I guess.
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Re: Unhealthy relationship?

Unread post by Carly »

Thanks for clarifying, waterhyacinth. In that case, I also don't think getting tested for STIs and pregnancy (not sure if you're using birth control at the moment) would hurt. It doesn't sound like you're especially concerned, so I encourage you to keep this at medium-low priority while you primarily focus on entangling with your boyfriend and getting the support you need with that.

How is that going?
waterhyacinth
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Re: Unhealthy relationship?

Unread post by waterhyacinth »

Hi. I just got off the phone with him.

He seemed upset, and then really mad after I didn't go along with his asking for reasons thing. I did give him some but I hung up after he tried to convince me again. I don't know if hanging up was the right idea in case I could have explained myself but I kinda panicked. I'm gonna go through and block him on everything I can remember after I finish here. He's at work pretty much all afternoon and tonight so hopefully he'll stay away physically at least through today.

It feels really weird. I feel really alone, even though I still have my sister and all of my friends. I do feel really relieved though, which I didn't think I would feel, so I think I made the right decision.
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Re: Unhealthy relationship?

Unread post by Sam W »

I just want to say I am over here in my chair giving you massive applause for making that call!

I honestly think hanging up was the right thing to do; you were effectively asserting the boundary you needed to set, and showing him you are not just going to hang around and let him try to talk you out of the decision you know is the right one.

It makes some sense that you'd feel a little lonely; that happens even with the break-ups of health relationships, let alone the ones where someone has been trying to make sure they're the main or only focus of your world. Break-ups and leaving an unhealthy relationship can leave you with all sorts of seemingly conflicting feelings, and those are all okay things to feel.

Do you have some time in the next few days to set aside to hang out with friends or your sister, even if it's just something low-key like playing a game remotely or watching a movie? It might be nice to fill the time where you're feeling lonely with some interactions with people who care about you.
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