I am finding myself stuck in a super clingy relationship. Things started off well enough, but when my new boyfriend celebrated our two-week anniversary, I began to worry. At this point, I desperately want out, but this is my boyfriend's first time ever being loved, and I don't want to break his heart. Any idea of how I could go about ending it without doing cheesy stuff like telling him, "It's not you, it's me"? I really don't want to break his heart.
Received via Telegram (name withheld)
I'm sorry to hear that the excitement of being in a new relationship has given way to terror now that you're feeling trapped. In this situation, I think the first thing you need to ask yourself is whether you're happy in this relationship aside from what you call your mate's "clinginess," or whether this relationship was simply a mistake from the beginning.
Keep in mind, your mate is experiencing a very intense form of new relationship energy. When someone has never been in a relationship before, their feelings tend to be very intense, especially at the outset of the relationship. So, if the fundamentals of the relationship are solid and you feel good about your mate aside from the clinginess, there is a chance that time will solve your problems as your mate gets more accustomed to being partnered with you.
If indeed you do decide to try this wait-and-see approach, I would recommend that you work on setting boundaries with your mate and on ensuring that he is respecting the boundaries that you set, as it is often the case that people who are new to relationships do not have a good sense of personal boundaries.
Indeed, when someone very young or inexperienced fails to respect your boundaries, chances are they have no intention of being abusive, but they just don’t know any better based on how they were raised and how they saw their parents interact. Perhaps his parents were pathologically non-confrontational, expecting each other to magically read each other’s minds both in terms of how much intimacy, time, attention, and affection to give them and in terms of how much of each of these resources they have to give. If such was the case, this situation with your mate will be an opportunity to teach him something that will be valuable whether he stays with you or moves on to another relationship.
Now, when you’re teaching your mate to respect your boundaries, try not to get mad about a boundary getting crossed until it's a pattern of behavior that you've kindly corrected more than once. If you fly off the handle every time your mate does something you don’t like or that you perceive as clingy, your mate is likely to perceive your behavior as you disliking *him*, not as you disliking his behavior, and, paradoxically, he might begin to fear the loss of the relationship even more and therefore his clinginess levels may increase. Definitely not what you want. Instead, offer your mate gentle-but-firm reminders that your boundaries exist and that you aren’t happy when your boundaries are crossed.
Let’s say for example that your mate is driving you crazy by blowing up your phone with notifications even when you don’t have time to respond right away, such as when you are at work or in class. The first time you notice this behavior, tell your mate that it bothers you without accusing him of doing anything wrong; remember, what he’s doing isn’t immoral or evil just because you don’t like it — it’s simply something that you do not prefer, and the fact that many other people also don’t like getting spammed with texts still does not mean that you are justified in blasting your mate for his behavior or in judging him too harshly.
You might consider saying something like, “When you send me so many messages all at once, my phone vibrates a lot and distracts me. I have a need to focus when I am working or studying, so all these messages just get in the way of what I am trying to do. I know you mean well and that you just miss me, but I get the hint that you’d like to talk to me after I receive the first notification, so it doesn’t do any good to send me multiple messages at once. If you can’t reach me, please be patient and understand that I check my messages multiple throughout the day and that I’ll reply as soon as I reasonably can. If there’s an emergency, try calling me! I’ll take that as a hint that what you’re trying to reach me with is urgent, and I’ll check my messages right away.”
Ideally, your mate will apologize after hearing you communicate your needs so non-judgmentally and non-violently, and he won’t require any more correction than that. It’s certainly possible that your mate’s clingy behavior might still continue though, either because your mate is overexcited or because he is forgetful. In such a case, again, don’t jump to being judgmental or assuming your mate means to piss you off.
Instead, try a friendly reminder, something like, “Hey, remember how I told you that I didn't like getting more than a couple messages in a row without me responding? I’d really appreciate it if you’d try a little harder to respect my wishes regarding sending notifications to my phone.”
I’d expect your mate to respond to such a reminder apologetically and for the behavior you don’t like to decrease; if instead your mate responds very defensively or attacks you for exerting your right to set boundaries, those are the kinds of red flags that would suggest breaking up might be the correct course of action.
Now, if there are problems in this relationship other than the fact that he is (in your opinion) too clingy — that is to say, you just don’t like him very much or you aren’t into him more than just sexually — then you do indeed need to break up with your mate, or at least express to him that you don’t share the romantic feelings that he has for you.
I usually suggest that, except in cases of abuse, if a relationship is valuable to you, then breaking up should be the final resort. There’s always a chance you might grow to appreciate your mate more after you learn more about each other and have more time to connect! However, you don’t want to lead someone on or make them think you have feelings for them that you do not have, either.
If you decide you don’t feel for your mate what he does for you, but you’re still open to the idea of getting closer, you might say something like the following: "I think it's really amazing how much you love me and want to spend time with me, but I don't know if I am capable of loving or desiring someone else that much right now. Is it okay with you if your feelings for me are stronger than my feelings are for you, especially while I work on figuring myself out? How would you feel if later on I determined I could never match the intensity of what you feel for me? Would you prefer to end things now, or would you rather enjoy what it is that I can offer you as we get to know each other better?”
In some cases, you might hear that your mate would rather stay with you until you know for sure how you feel; in other cases, your mate might want to leave and seek someone who is more passionate from the very beginning. Either of those options is okay; just let your mate choose what is best for him, and don’t make that choice for him by hiding how you feel or breaking up with him in a cruel or uncaring way.
No matter what happens, remember to follow the “campsite rule” popularized by Dan Savage: Try to leave your mate in better condition than you found him, in terms of both his emotional state and his personal development.
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