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Auntie SparkNotes: How Can I Distance Myself from My Needy Sorta-Boyfriend?

Hi Auntie SparkNotes!

1. How can I help a trans friend who struggles with dysphoria and depression, whose parents refuse to allow them to go to therapy?

2. More importantly, how can I do this from a distance, because this “friend” is actually more of a non-official boyfriend who I kind of want to break up with?

3. Especially when he’s stated multiple times that I’m basically his sole support system? (While I don’t resent him for it, I can’t keep spending hours on a daily basis easing him out of emotional breakdowns.)

Let’s rewind: I’m a lesbian in an ultra-conservative area, and my friend set me up on a blind date with a “girl” who was actually a trans guy (assigned F at birth). I didn’t know if it would work, but I gave it a shot, and we’ve been going on regular dates for about three months. I made it clear I’m not looking for something serious. He agreed, and everything was a lot of fun. And then things got serious anyway.

He told me about his struggles with mental health, and I tried my best to support him. But the longer we knew each other, the more his mental health seemed to deteriorate. It started taking a lot of energy and time to try to help.

I’m started studying for exams that’ll determine my future, so I warned him I wouldn’t be available as much, and told him to contact me only during emergencies. But there would be emergencies every single day. I deleted all social media to focus on studying. He sent me 100+ emails within 24 hours. I ended up gave my phone and my laptop to my parents to study. The space made me realize I don’t want to continue a relationship with him, platonic or otherwise.

I feel like I put myself in this position: I genuinely thought I reciprocated his feelings, and things got deeper, and I realized too late that I’m not in love with him the way he is with me. I don’t want to hurt him. I really really don’t. But I feel like he deserves the truth? And definitely he deserves not to be in a relationship that’s based more on “pity” than a genuine connection. What should I do?

Well, that’s easy.

As in, easy for me to say, and damned difficult for you to do. I don’t have to tell you that this relationship isn’t healthy, or that your friend is seriously boundary-challenged and unfairly demanding that you play a role you’re completely unqualified for. (That would be true even if you were genuinely in love with him; the fact that you’re not just makes this a sad scenario in addition to a dysfunctional one, and it certainly doesn’t make it your fault.)

What I also don’t need to tell you, though, is that you’re doing him no favors by sticking around — especially since he’s made it clear that he won’t seek another, more appropriate source of support if you’re even a little bit available to lean on. And that’s not your fault either, but it does mean that your presence in his life is a direct obstacle to him getting the kind of help he actually needs. And yes, you already want to cut ties, but it’s also the right thing to do — even if it hurts him in the short term, and even if it makes you feel like a callous jerk.

But now that we’ve established what you should do, let’s talk about what you can do: namely, ending the relationship cleanly and completely on the first try. For you, there is no scenario in which this breakup doesn’t hurt the guy’s feelings; you’ll have to settle for only hurting them once, which you’re most likely to accomplish by being as direct as possible. Try some version of the following: “I can’t continue a friendship with someone who won’t respect my boundaries, and my presence in your life is clearly keeping you from getting the kind of support you need. I wish you well, but for both our sakes, I can no longer stay in contact with you.”

Be kind, be firm, and be decisive; this is not a discussion, and you should say as much if your friend tries to argue. (This is also why you’ll need an exit strategy for the conversation; I suggest doing it either at his house or over the phone, so that you can say “I’m leaving/hanging up now” and then make yourself immediately and decisively unavailable to be begged with.) Also, because your friend is dealing with some really difficult issues and some really unsupportive parents, you may want to take steps to make sure he’s got someone to lean on—by asking a mutual friend to make sure he’s doing okay after the breakup, and/or by handing him a list of resources for trans teens (e.g., The Trevor Project) and urging him to reach out to one.

And if he chases after you or calls you back, do not waver, no matter how bad you feel… and for the record, if you do this right, you should feel more or less like a pile of hot garbage. “I don’t have anything more to say to you. Please don’t contact me again,” is not an easy thing to say, but you’ve gotta do it; otherwise, you’ll just end up breaking his heart repeatedly instead of only once, and turn what would have been a single painful moment into a needless series of agonies. Letting yourself be the bad guy is the last, best thing you can do to push your friend in the direction of getting the help he needs.

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