Ask Dr NerdLove: My Girlfriend Won’t Let Me Break Up With Her

Ask Dr NerdLove: My Girlfriend Won’t Let Me Break Up With Her

Hello all you perfumed meatbags of impending doom, and welcome to Ask Dr NerdLove, the only dating advice column that patches a New Game+ into your love life.

This week, it’s all about doing the necessary, hard work. Last fortnight we heard from someone whose wife left him after changing up her lifestyle. This week we’ve got a letter from the other side of that equation. And in our second letter, what does it take to finally get rid of your boomerang ex?

It’s time to stop wishing you knew then what you know now, and start the game over. Let’s do this thing.

Hi Doc.

I am a 27 year old male. I have been in a long term relationship with my fiance, whom I met while we were 12 years old. We dated throughout high school and during undergrad. We moved in together in 2014 and have shared a home since.

Most aspects of our relationship are great. We are even getting married later this year. However, something has become increasingly difficult for me to make sense of (especially in the past year).

Early in our dating life, my fiancee was physically what I would come to view as “my type”. She was very petite. Around 155cm, and not lean, but slim. She was like this up until a couple years ago, with perhaps small changes over time.

But in the past year, she has gained around 18kg or more and it continues to increase. She doesn’t live the healthiest lifestyle – she loves fast food, chocolate, chips and soft drinks. She doesn’t partake in any regular exercise routines either. She also began taking antidepressant medication in the past half year, which may contribute to weight gain, I have heard.

The base of my problem is that the weight gain has started to cause me to see her as less attractive, and is interfering with my libido somewhat. I also find myself seeing other women that are in shape and wishing she would take better care of herself.

She keeps beating herself up these past few months, as she repeatedly finds she can no longer fit into certain articles of clothing she once loved. She is very sensitive about the issue. While I haven’t told her I am finding the weight gain to make her less attractive, I have used these periods of frustration with herself to gently suggest changes to lifestyle that could benefit us both.

I am by no means an Adonis. I myself have a gym membership, and aim to go three times a week for one hour each visit. Half for fitness, half to meet a quota for health insurance reimbursement of membership fees.

I have invited her to go with me, hoping we could hold each other accountable and make a healthier lifestyle something we do together. She refuses, for reasons including that gyms are unclean, that I go too early in the morning, or just that exercise is sweaty, painful, difficult with little payoff, and so forth.

If I suggest less processed food, sweets and sugar as an alternative, I am met with outright refusal.

She has made a couple of claims that she wants to start a running/walking routine, which is great. I am not the best runner, but I do some light running every week and occasionally participate in a 5K race. We could do it together. However, this never materialises. Or at least it hasn’t yet.

So nothing changes, the weight gain compounds, and both she and I are unhappy with this one facet of our lives.

I first sought advice on this on an online app where you could post anonymously, and the first response was from someone who told me that by wanting my fiancee to exercise, eat better, and resemble the body type she had several years ago, I was “forcing my obsession on her”, and that it “won’t end well”.

I do not fear our relationship will end, but that has weighed on me a bit since I read it. Am I in the wrong here? It it selfish or shallow for me to feel this way? I don’t expect anything of her that I wouldn’t expect of myself. There are plenty of times I decide to skip a gym day or that pizza and beer make a good dinner.

I understand that bodies/metabolisms change as we age, and that nobody at 50 has the body they did at 18. However, we are both young yet. If this trend continues, how will we both feel by the time the weight gain reaches 20, 25 or 35 more kilograms?

What should I say or do? She is unhappy with her weight gain, but cannot seem to motivate herself to make lifestyle changes. I have come to be unhappy with it as well, but I cannot say so for risk of hurting her feelings. I also avoid the subject unless she brings it up so as not to seem too interested in the subject. I feel that for me to even care about it makes me a shallow prick. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks!

– Bent Out of Shape

So last time, we had a letter from a guy who’s wife left him because she changed her lifestyle and — in the process — lost a lot of weight. Now we have you, BOoS, who’s on the other side of that equation. You live a fairly healthy and active lifestyle while your fiancée doesn’t. And that’s making life in general more difficult.

Let’s start with the obvious question: Is it shallow of you to be less attracted to your fiancée because of her weight gain? In short: No. While physical looks are only part of attraction they are an important part of it, and when either partner lets things go that can affect our attraction to them.

It’s true that time and gravity make fools of us all; no amount of diet and exercise are going to beat ageing and entropy. But at the same time, part of what makes a relationship work is the idea that both partners want to put in the effort to be attractive to each other.

When we’re single, we’re much more motivated to do the work that’s required for our upkeep; after all, we want our metaphorical plumage to look bright and luxurious to help attract a mate.

But once you’ve landed a partner? The motivation tends to slip a little. It’s very easy — too easy, really — to fall into a rut in a relationship, especially a long-term one. You get lazy, just a little. You don’t dress as sharply as you used to. You aren’t as rigorous with your diet. You let go of the little things you used to do for your sweetie just because it made them smile.

But those little changes have a cumulative effect. And when you lower your expectations for yourself and for your partner, then things start to slip. And before long, you’re looking at who you used to be and wondering just what the hell happened.

Part of the key to a long and happy relationship is that you expect more from your partner, and you give more of yourself in exchange. The more you treat your relationship the way you did in the early days, when you were still courting, the happier you both are in the long term.

All of that having been said, BOoS, I think the problem here is less the weight gain and the underlying issues surrounding it. I think the weight gain is less a cause and more of a symptom of your fiancée’s depression… as is your increasing lack of attraction to her.

Now, before I get into this, I give my standard disclaimer: Dr NerdLove is not a real doctor. But I’ve also had a lot of firsthand experience with depression, and a lot of how you describe her behaviour tracks with what I went through.

That lack of motivation your fiancée feels to do anything? That’s a major symptom of depression; you’ll often have no energy and feel even less of a reason to do anything. It’s all pointless and bullshit anyway, so why bother?

I am willing to bet that, at some level, her diet and sudden weight gain has a lot to do with her depression as well.

A lot of people who suffer from depression will try to self-medicate with things like food or alcohol or drugs… and others will use those same tools for self-harm.

Depression whispers all the things we hate about ourselves in our ears. It’s like constant confirmation of all of our worst fears and beliefs. And part of what makes it so insidious is that it does so in our own voice. Because we already believe we’re worthless, awful people, we often end up doing things to punish ourselves, such as overeating.

While this may not be a conscious decision, it’s a common one, and one that’s hard to shake. “I’m already a fat piece of shit that nobody likes, I may as well just stuff my fucking face with garbage like the garbage person I am.”

This is also why people wrestling with depression will often resist the idea of doing anything to make things better. On the conscious level, the thought is, “none of this will work, it’s all bullshit so what’s the point?” On a deeper level, however, the thought is, “I don’t want to change because I deserve this because I’m awful.”

People who suffer from depression will also push others away, especially their loved ones. It’s equal parts “this person will eventually leave me because I’m awful so I need to make them go now” and “I don’t deserve to be loved, so these people need to go”.

The point of all of this is to say: It’s can be really goddamn difficult to help your fiancée get motivated to lose weight. It’s a Sisyphean struggle under the best of circumstances to pull out of that particular spiral.

And in a lot of ways, it’s going to feel like a no-win situation for you; if you hide how you feel, she’s going to pick up on it and take it as confirmation of all her negative emotions. If you tell her that her weight gain is affecting your libido… well, same story.

The best option, ultimately, is a combination of therapy and positive support, even if only to get her up and moving at all.

Now, you can voice your concern about her weight without framing it as “it gives my penis a sad”. I would phrase it along the lines of “I think that it makes you unhappy, and I’d rather see you happy again”.

Similarly, you might stop suggesting exercise qua exercise and instead suggest “hey, let’s go for a walk and get fresh air” and just make taking a post-dinner stroll around the neighbourhood part of your daily routine.

It’s worth keeping in mind that antidepressants take a while to build in the system before they start to actually work… and even then, she may need to try different medications before she finds one that both treats her symptoms and doesn’t have intolerable side-effects.

Your fiancée should feel free to tell her doctor that a given medication isn’t working for her. With luck, the two of them will find the right medication and dosage and this problem will start to be easier to resolve.

You’re both in a rough place, BOoS, and I feel for you. Just remember to take care of yourself, too. Good luck.

Dear Dr NerdLove,

I broke up with my girlfriend for the second time earlier this week, having been deeply unhappy for a long time. The first time that I broke up with her she sobbed, she shouted, she literally got on her knees and begged me not to leave her and I felt so awful because I care for her so deeply and never wanted to hurt her. After hours and hours of conversation, I was eventually persuaded to give us one last chance.

Six months down the line (this time last week) I was still deeply unhappy and we still had awful arguments – we could argue for an entire day about the way in which something was said.

I was also in a constant state of worry because things that seemed so small to me (a mark on a shirt or a scuff mark on a shoe) would make her erupt spectacularly, and when I tried to fix things she would scold me and say that I was not letting her feel things.

I have tried for a long time to adapt my behaviour to see if things got better but they never did, and I think we truly shouldn’t be together any more as we both clearly have a lot of growing and learning to do.

However, when I broke up with her last week, it was pretty much the exact same situation – she begged and pleaded and kept the conversation going for hours. I must sound so weak but it’s just so draining talking for hours about how things that just won’t work out that I eventually relented to her terms – that we can technically be “broken up”, but we can’t tell anyone, or see anybody else.

To make matters worse, she doesn’t have enough money to live on her own, so we are still living in my apartment. She texts me all day and wants to spend time together in the evenings, she buys me flowers (which she never used to do) and won’t listen when I ask her not to do things for me.

I feel like I’ve been manipulated into being in what is essentially still a relationship. I want her to move out but she has nowhere to go. I feel awful enough for breaking up with her, but I want to move on with my life. What can I do?


Weak and Trapped

Dude, you haven’t been manipulated into “being in what is essentially still a relationship”, you were manipulated into getting back together. There’s no such thing as a “double secret break-up” where you’re broken up but you can’t tell anyone, and you can’t date anyone else, and you still live together and spend all your time together.

That’s called “a relationship”, my dude, and it’s a toxic one. The way she blows hot and cold, exploding at you over minor issues and then exploding again if you try to fix them, crying if you try to leave and then being super sweet afterwards… those are abuser tactics.

It’s all designed to keep you off-balance; you’re never sure when or how she’s going to react, so you’re constantly on guard. You have to perpetually maintain her emotional state or else.

But you already know this. You also know what you need to do: Dump this woman so hard her grandparents divorce retroactively. The problem is that you’ve been going about it the wrong way, and that mistake has given her the openings she’s needed to pressure you into giving in. Again.

To be fair, breaking up with someone is difficult, even when it’s something that you know, intellectually, needs to be done.

But she’s leveraging your guilt and hesitancy against you and it’s causing you to make one of the classic blunders, the most famous of which is “never try to send someone an invoice for a bad date” but only slightly less well known is this: Never agree to bargain when you’re trying to dump someone.

Here’s the thing: Yeah, it’s hard to stand up to hours upon hours of pleading and crying. It’s totally understandable that she wore you down. But you should never have let the conversation last that long. The conversation you had should have been like a knife: Short, sharp and to the point.

Look, break-ups are a unilateral affair. You’re treating this as a two-party system where everyone has to agree to the break-up and that isn’t true.

While it’s sweet that you want to explain why you want to break up with her, it’s also the reason why you haven’t been able to end this relationship decisively. As soon as the conversation went beyond “it’s over” it quit being a break-up and started becoming a negotiation. At that point, she was simply able to exhaust you until she got her way.

While your desire to spare her from pain is admirable, the truth is that some pain is inevitable. There’s no such thing as a truly painless break-up. The only thing you can do is not cause unnecessary pain. And the easiest way to do that is to make the break as quick and as clean as possible.

Here’s what you need to do: You need to tell her that it’s over. Period, the end. There is no room for negotiation, there is no changing your mind, there is no trial separation. It’s over. Now normally, I believe that break-ups should be done face to face, if only out of respect for your partner. In your case, however, it may be easier to do this over text or email. This way, she can’t turn on the waterworks and wear you down.

Yeah, she’ll cry. She’ll scream. She’ll beg. No matter what she says, your answer is “I’m sorry. It’s over.” She still loves you and wants another chance? “I’m sorry, it’s over.” She’ll change? “I’m sorry, it’s over.” Really, it’s kind of your fault too? “I’m sorry, it’s over.” Whatever will she do, wherever shall she go? “I’m sorry, it’s over.”

Afterwards, the only conversation you should have should be about when she’s going to get her stuff out of your apartment. Though, to be honest, it may be better all around for you to have boxed up her stuff for her and put it out front, if only to keep her from finding one more fingerhold on your life.

I’m sorry that she doesn’t have the funds to live on her own (though to be honest, I have my doubts about that), but her staying with you is just one more way that she will try to force you back into a relationship with her.

If you want to go the extra mile, you may want to let friends of hers know that this is happening and she’ll need a couch to crash on… but at the end of the day, you need her out. Out of your apartment and out of your life.

The microsecond she’s gone, you take the nuclear option. You block her on every form of social media out there, you spamfilter her email and you block her number. To be extra-secure, make it clear to your friends that you want no contact with her and they shouldn’t give her access to you.

And between now and your next relationship, work on building stronger boundaries. Remember: “No” is a complete sentence.

Good luck.

Did you have a relationship with someone dealing with depression? Did you have a break-up that you could had trouble getting to stick? Share your story in the comments below and we’ll be back with more of your questions in two weeks.

Ask Dr Nerdlove is Kotaku’s fortnightly advice column for matters of the heart, hosted by the one and only Harris O’Malley, AKA Dr Nerdlove.

Harris O’Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr NerdLove and the Dr NerdLove podcast. He is also a regular guest at One Of Us. He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook and on Twitter at @DrNerdLove. Dr Nerdlove is not really a doctor.


  • I was once in exactly the same kind of relationship as the second asker and grew to understand why people behave like that. Unlike other run-of-the-mill abusers (who’d never stoop to beg crying), people like that don’t abuse and manipulate for the feeling of power, but rather, out of a combination of self-loathing and deep lack of satisfaction:

    Self-loathing tells them that they don’t deserve a good thing. Lack of satisfaction tells them that their self-loathing made them settle down for someone who is not perfect for them (hence the continuous fighting and yelling over minor stuff). Then, when you break up with them, self-loathing kicks in and they panic, thinking that if they lose you, nobody will ever take them again.

    As long as you are weak and are not able to put down the foot yourself, this situation only has one way of ending: the other person will eventually meet someone somewhat more aligned to their expectations. Then, they will break up with you and. boy, will they be insensible to your tears, your reproaches over all the times that you took them back or the fact that you supported them when they were basically homeless.

    TL;DR: The relationship is doomed because they’re just as unhappy and dissatisfied as you are, but their insecurity will make them cling to you until the very moment they are assured they can move onto a better thing. Definitely get out first.

  • If the first guy really loved his partner it wouldn’t matter if she put on weight. If she doesn’t want to change drop her.

    The second guy needs to take a day off work, move out, then change his number, email address and block her on all social media.

    • If you love someone then you want to push them to have a healthier lifestyle, accepting them for who they are is the right thing however it’s not right to accept something that’s ultimately self destructive.

  • As someone who has lived with a person with mental health issues (including depression), but who is high functioning, for over twenty years, I will give the advice that numerous health professionals gave me (and which I didn’t follow, to my cost): Get out as cleanly and as soon as you can. That sounds terrible, but fact is, it’s better in the long run.

    Second guy, not much difference…she’s an abuser, exploiting your emotions for her gain.

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