Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Email from a guy with an impolite boyfriend

Just before the end of November last year, a reader sent me the following email:

Dear GB,

My boyfriend and I have been together for almost three years.

My boyfriend was, for a year and a half, amazing, wonderful, and essentially the most loving person I have ever met. He was extremely kind, not only to me, but to others, was very positive and charming, and was very open minded. I love this man deeply, and I truly feel honoured to be with him. I know for a fact that he loves me the same, and we would go to extreme lengths to make each other happy.

But for the last year and a half, he has become quite the opposite. He is extremely rude to others (not me, luckily). He purposely walks in the way of others in public to assert his self-defined superiority, causing one older woman to ask him "Are you okay?", with him responding snarkily, "Don't get in my way." He stares at himself in the mirror for very long periods of time, brushes his hair obsessively, and often mentions how beautiful he is. He regularly mentions how he is so financially successful at such a young age, which is true, but then makes it a competition between him and his similarly successful friends. He thinks all of my friends are a waste of resources, since they are mostly following a traditional career path in their respective fields. He buys $2,000+ articles of clothing and apparel not to look good, but to make others who can't afford it feel inadequate. He is cunning, and uses his people skills and good looks to manipulate others to do things for him. He purposely treats people in the service industry poorly so they feel as if they must overcompensate to earn a tip or good rating. He ignores people when spoken to while staring at his finger nails, and often responds to complex questions with overly simplified and off-topic answers to turn the tide of the discussion in his favour. I have spoken to him about all of this.

I know everything I've stated above seems like he is the worst person to ever walk the face of this planet, but he wasn't always this way. He *tells me* that he has always been this way, but from the first year and a half of dating, that is completely untrue. I have confronted him about this by stating that I believe, when he is acting terribly, that I am staring at someone else, and I cannot recognize him. He is very stubborn, and at first, refused to believe me and tried to make it seem like I'm imaging things, but I was so overwhelmed by his idiocy that burst out in tears, and he finally listened. He told me he will try to be more nice, more focused on how to be a better person. He is extremely romantic and tender in these situations, and really kills it as a boyfriend when it comes to caring for me. He loves who I am on the inside and out, and finds me very attractive. He loves my family, and I love his, and we get along wonderfully as best friends. I've seen some improvement in the recent months, but it's more of a 15% improvement than anything else.

Overall, I'm not happy with the current state of relationship, directly due to his bad attitude. Things could be infinitely worse, as in, he could be treating me badly or not love me, or he could be cheating, etc, but he is not, and I shouldn't take anything for granted. However, I still find myself unhappy with him. His bad attitude makes me want to disappear sometimes, or fall asleep and wake up to a time when he was still acting normal. Even his own mother has noticed a severe change in attitude, and told him that she did not raise him to act this way to others.

Finally, he is not going through any trauma or severe change in his life. We talk about his work life, family, friends, and personal well-being all of the time, and he is very comfortable and happy. He is not stressed out, nor is he worried about the future. He is not self-conscious, more so like overly self-confident. I am more of a quiet person, and much more observant and self-aware. We are both very young, as I've already alluded to, and I believe that we both have much to learn. He believes that he knows all that he needs. Despite all of these changes, I still love him deeply.

Thus, I am unsure of how to act on this. I like to address a problem, and solve it. He is having difficulty understanding the problem, or seeing that it exists, making this a particularly difficult situation for me. Do you have any advice? Is there advice?

Thank you for taking the time to read this, I really appreciate it.

I sent him a reply within a day, in which I said that it was very strange for his behaviour to change like that, and that it was obviously real given that his mother had also noticed the change.

It seems to me that the boyfriend has some kind of physiological or even psychiatric problem. I'm not trained in either of those professions, so perhaps the best advice would be to seek the help of someone who is. However, like a lot of people, I find it interesting to think about these kinds of issues.

Based on my own experiences, the amateur psychologist in me would say that this kind of behaviour might be rooted in some feeling of inadequacy that the reader's boyfriend has. Were there any events that occurred a year and a half ago which might have made him feel that he was a failure in some way? Or what event from his distant past might suddenly have resurfaced in his consciousness to give him an inferiority complex?

There's an analogy here with situations where someone feels that they might be gay, but wants hide their feelings, especially from other people. When that happens, the person often becomes become homophobic and anti-gay. Some of the best examples of this can be seen in politicians who support anti-gay policies in an attempt to *prove* their heterosexuality, which makes it all the more embarrassing for them when their gay experiences are discovered. So with the reader's boyfriend, his constant assertion of superiority could be because inside he's feeling inadequate and inferior in some way.

Maslow's pyramidHowever, I'm not sure what the best course of action is for the reader to solve the problem. Perhaps one place to start would be for the reader to discuss this amateur psychological analysis with the boyfriend. And as part of that discussion, it would be good to point out that genuinely successful people always treat people with respect. I'm thinking here of "self-actualized" people at the top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

Also, if the reader's boyfriend is at all religious and in particular if he follows the Catholic faith, it might be worth pointing out to him what an excellent example Pope Francis is setting at the moment. I was brought up as a Christian (protestant not Catholic), and although I don't follow it anymore, I am hugely impressed by what Pope Francis has to say about most issues. His famous line "Who am I to judge?" and now his new book "The name of God is mercy" are a breath of fresh air. However, the reader's boyfriend is taking the opposite approach, because he is judging people and failing to treat them with them with dignity and respect.

I think this is quite a difficult problem to solve, so if any other readers have any insights that might help, I'm sure the reader who sent me the email would appreciate it :-).


close encounters said...

it's also possible that with his high flying career, he spends a lot of time with Alpha-male types who are constantly fighting to prove that they are king of the jungle ... and that 1.5 years ago, it finally started to rub off on him ...

GB - i'm not sure you're right that "genuinely successful" people are nice - many may well be, but i'm sure that there are plenty of examples who aren't !

GB said...

But, close encounters, I'm defining "genuinely successful" as "self-actualized people at the top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs". Your alpha males who're not nice people are still craving wealth and esteem, so they're still one rung below real success!

GB xxx

Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting state of affairs - and just goes to show how complex human beings are. I do feel for the writer though as it clearly shows that the person that you have grown to love now displays the very traits that are not congruent with your values. I also agree with close encounters that the environment that boyfriend is, is very alpha and competitive and certainly rubbed onto him, and there is an element of being infallible.

Unless he comes to the realization that his behavior is not right, then chances of him changing are very slim. Its a good thing that your have brought this up with him and the mum has mentioned that as well. Some people can not differentiate what is acceptable behavior when you are in that high flying environment, and when you are down on earth the rest - so what happens is that the behavior is carried over.

Quoting the bible - there is somewhere which says that pride comes before a fall - normally life has a way of readjusting things. I just hope that it does not come to that as it can be messy - and the realization that he is not infallible can be devastating. But what do you do in the meantime. You already has his mum who thinks the same as you do about his behavior SO I suggest you discuss with the mum, and sit him down before he self destructs - and not talk to him individually - I think this will carry more weight. And hope that he will change.

Anonymous said...

The reader's story reminds me of another I heard several years ago about a man who had a big personality change over a two-year period. He went from being happy-go-lucky to grumpy and mean. It took a long time to figure out, but the cause was a benign tumor in his brain. I believe it was removed and he recovered, but not fully.

In this situation it's natural to assume the cause is psychological. But since his mother also noticed a change, perhaps there is a physiological cause. At a minimum, a physical cause should be investigated and ruled out.

close encounters said...

sorry to be rather grim ... but reading the brain tumour comment made me think ... another possibility is that it's a side effect of drug use :(

GB - it's sounds like you are defining "genuinely successful" as being nice !

P said...

The scientist in me puts to:

He lacks self-awareness, not sure how this can be fixed.

The Voice of Reason said...

I'm with P on this one, his personality sounds either narcissistic or anti-social in some other way, or both. And the fact that the reader has noticed a change in his behaviour doesn't necessarily mean that he hasn't always been that way underneath. I knew my ex for 8 years before his behaviour suddenly changed from being caring and sweet to devious and manipulative. Eventually I found out he had been nasty to other people during the time I'd been with him, but I hadn't known about it and couldn't believe it at first when I found out. Some people have two sides to their nature and will keep one firmly hidden from you for as long as suits them. Then when they think they've earned your undying loyalty and don't need to charm you any more, the mask slips and suddenly, you don't recognise them any more. And in my experience, once the mask has come off, it stays off.

The reader says he's not happy with the relationship in its current state. If the relationship is making him unhappy, and clearly talking to his bf hasn't helped, then I think it's time to start thinking about whether this guy and his changed behaviour are what he really wants. Unfortunately there are some people with thoughtless or unkind personalities, and in these situations it's naive to hope that they will change or to make excuses for them. I hope the reader's boyfriend isn't one of them, but from his description, I'd say it doesn't sound promising.

Was Once said...

The Voice of Reason has a point, plus one is judged by the company one keeps. It is a good sign that he is becoming more aware of it, since the whole relationship is being examined. The writer may have to be the "better half" and leave him for his own sake, loving himself more and feeling the pain of others abused by the BF.

Anonymous said...

Hello - this reply mirrored what first came to mind for me, too. I recently heard an acquaintance describe how he's unwittingly been attracted to narcissists (falling prey to their charisma). He described how difficult it was for him to see that he was competing with them and attempting to simultaneously connect with them, one-up them and win their approval. I wonder if the same might be true of the poster's boyfriend.

So my points are 1) being entranced by narcissists (when one is at heart a nice person) can look indistinguishable from being a narcissist; and, 2) the ways that being in the midst of narcissists can change you -- and how that can reset one's perception of what "normal" is in terms of how badly one can cavalierly treat people -- seems to be really elusive to recognize while it's happening. It seems to be a quite insidious type of blind spot, the awareness of how corrosive it is.

My advice to the poster would be to try to be as consistent as he can in his own behavior, by expressing love and affection while still also picking his battles and selectively confronting his boyfriend.

I'm not sure if this couple lives together yet. If so, my personal bias is that if one sees a behavior that feels intolerable (but leaves you ambivalent, due to the offsetting good behavior) is to make a plan to move out and leave, while continuing to see the person. I did that with a partner, and it was only after I moved out that he grasped that his behavior issues were serious to me.

I can very much identify with the poster saying his initial complaints produced only about 15% improvement, though! My boyfriend and I got into couples therapy while we lived apart, and eventually moved back in together. His behavior is better, and I still love his good points, but I'd say that instead of 15% improvement in the bad behavior, I now live with something like 40% to 60% improvement, given his bad and good days. The things I don't like seem to be pretty tied in to his undetlying personality (his mother has volunteered that some of his bad traits were evident practically from the womb, and worried her then!), but the improvement I've gotten makes it mostly tolerable.

Nobody's perfect, and you take the good with the bad. But, again, my bias is to push for changes sooner rather than later, to find out how much the person is capable of changing.

Anonymous said...

I concur with other previous commenters that the email writer's boyfriend sounds like having narcissistic personality disorder, which maybe was only latent before but found an opportunity to break out with his professional success.
If you watched Breaking Bad, think of Walter White's character parable as a fictional - and admittedly extreme, but clear to understand - representation of narcissism breaking out.
I am sad to say that the email writer would be advised to end the relationship before he suffers psychological damage, unless the boyfriend commits to doing psychotherapy. In that case, maybe there is hope for the boyfriend and for this couple.
I write this wishing the email writer the best of luck, having personal experience of the terrible psychological trauma that a relationship with a charming narcissist can inflict on you over the long term.
And yes, narcissism has painful insecurity at its root, so narcissists, too, deserve compassion, but unfortunately this reality does not make them any less dangerous.