What do you want and why don't you mention that part as much?
My amazing boyfriend of going on three years, who I know is plotting a proposal, lights up when I wake up in the mornings, because now we can hang out. He tells me at least once a day how much he loves me and how much joy I bring him, he thinks that nearly everything I do is adorable and delights in it, he does things for me just because he knows I'll appreciate them having been done. It was weird at first! As someone who had been into ~ flinchy dudes in the past, and as someone who had never been loved or IN love before and to whom exuberant affection and affirmation did not come naturally, there was a nonzero amount of self-reflection and choice involved in taking him seriously and letting it fuel my own delight and confidence and love for him rather than Getting Weird About It. And the skeptical version of me isn't wrong, it IS delusion-- I am a perfectly loveable person, sure, but I am obviously not the goddess he worships me as. He is a wonderful man, but I probably do not need to be tearing up in the middle of the workday because I randomly thought about how much I love him. But who cares? Happy, healthy love is building a religion together. All religions are a lot of nonsense, but they are also very, very real. Like Polly says, it's about belief. We all deserve to love true believers, and to become ones ourselves.
"I did my best not to demonize him for this behavior, since he has been called heartless and robotic by previous partners."
I knew where this was going the second I read this. When his partners called him heartless and robotic, they weren't 'demonizing' him - they were describing how HE hurt THEM. If I was given this feedback by multiple partners, I would get myself in to therapy because I know that no one wants to be treated without compassion or understanding (and that's exactly what this is describing). It's incredibly telling that, when given this feedback, this guy instead resolves to find someone willing to put up with his poor treatment of her and frames HIMSELF as the one being insulted. He sitting there saying, "Other people think I don't treat them well, which is so MEAN to ME!"
Dump this guy and don't look back. He may have some good qualities, but he's not a good partner. Making threats to the relationship (either to end it or change the terms) after every argument is a manipulation tactic, pure and simple. It may be conscious or unconscious, but this guy is definitely trying to get you to keep your complaints to yourself. It's not a coincidence that he suddenly loves you less the second you start having needs and options that are different from his. He doesn't particularly like having to be considerate or accommodating of other people, so the second you try to bring up a conversation that could involve that, he immediately starts thinking of getting rid of you. Being considerate of others is a prerequisite for having a relationship of equals, and this guy should just be alone if that's too much to ask of him.
It's a losing game to try to keep a relationship with someone who doesn't want to give you any effort or consideration.
I dated a broken robot during lockdown. Believe me when I say NOTHING is a bigger relief than putting down the dead weight you've been trying to drag up an emotional hill with you. It's a little lonely for a while as you break the habit of trying to convince scrap metal to feel love, but it will be worth it.
I can say I successfully ended my long strings of robots by saying nay to the last mr. Robot. I found love in a man who's vulnerability I would gagged over 10 years ago. Why? Because he wants me and has no hidden agenda. It took me a while to get used to his sensitivity and unmachoness. I realized I deter nice men to keep things 'just like home'. And boy what a place 'home' was! This type that used to be a boring no-no to me, has completely transformed me. Opened me up to sides of me I never thought I had. Showing feelings, being flawed, messy, honest, broken, alongside of my really cool trades, which he never stops to see. I get back what i put in. This is a wonderful human being to be with, as am I. We show up for ourselves and eachother. And it does not matter the gender we call ourselves, as there are many defected women out there with 'princess syndrome'. Bottom line is self-development, and to stop creating toxic environments for men.
I agree with Heather, run and run fast. I married this same guy despite the signs that you are seeing now: wishy washy about me, avoidant, ambivalent, unexpressive, unempathetic, incapable of having a conversation where I didn't leave more confused than when it began. There were never any reactions, empathy, sympathy - it was like living with a ghost and it only worsened after my daughter arrived.
And then one day, several years in, after making a home, having a beautiful child, and lots more, he, out of nowhere, says he doesn't love me anymore and wants a divorce. And, bam all done! It has taken me a few years to pick up the pieces and realize I wasn't ever deficient like he made me out to be. I was not wrong to have needs and wants and express emotions. He was just allergic and incapable. Although it's been character building and there were times I did not think I would make it through, I am starting to come out the other side. Thankful for my freedoms, my ability raise my daughter when she is with me with emotion, love and humor and sometimes craziness (in a good way) and that I can be the REAL ME. He never knew who I was as I always tiptoed afraid that too much expressiveness would make him run. And you know what, he ran anyway.
Trust me, if you are already having these feelings and seeing these reactions from him, it will only get worse. Being alone is far better than living with this shell of a person. Think long and hard before you accept this and free yourself of what I suspect will be years of confusion, sadness, questioning, and anxiety if you stay. Wishing you all the best!
I have a beautiful toddler girl and have to say I didn’t really know love until that they way I do now. I know this is supposed to be about men but I hope this LW can picture her beautiful inner toddler showing someone a sock or a leaf or how she can put on her coat BY HERSELF, and ask herself how she would want a loving adult to react. Like this flinchy dude? “That’s a cool leaf but I bet some other toddler out there has found a nicer leaf…” heck no! Harness mama bear energy for yourself and your own precious inner open-hearted toddler.
When I first met my ex of six years, he convinced me that non-robot love existed. After an adolescence spent negotiating half hearted situationships with men who treated me like an object and a body, this man SAW me. He treated me like I had changed his world into living color. He accepted me and loved, more than anything else, all of the qualities of my personality that I thought were embarassing or nerdy or too much. We met abroad and I remember traveling with him on long, hot days, days where I hadn't showered or had no makeup on or had developed a rash on my face from the stress of the travel or the hard versus soft water or whatever. He took photos of me like I was the most incredible, fascinating person he'd ever met, photos of me where I had fallen asleep in the back of a hot bus winding its way through mountains, with my hair over my face or in my mouth, photos that made me feel beautiful, photos like he was in awe of me. He wrote me poetry. He cried when I moved to another city and confessed his love for me way too early. I was avoidant at first, and hesitated to let him in, but once I felt safe I trusted him. I became completely myself: my messy, loud, bossy, emotional, empathic, "too much" self. About a year and a half into our relationship, after I'd begrudgingly agreed to move in with him, even though I didn't feel ready to move in with anyone (I was in my early twenties), he stopped. Stopped all the loving looks, stopped the random flowers or little things he'd pick up for me on his way home. Stopped putting his arms around me when I'd stand in the kitchen cooking for us, stopped listening to me when I spoke, actually winced when I walked into rooms, never sat next to me on the couch in a group of friends, never seemed to be in the same room as me at a party. He tried the same bullshit as the man in this letter, telling me he wasn't sure about us, telling me he had crushes on other people, telling other people he had crushes on other people, and then the second I would start to wake up and run, bringing me back over and over by promising to change. I would point blank ask him whether he wanted to be with me when he never seemed to want to be around me; he would swear he wanted to recommit to the relationship and then say, calmly, the cruelest thing he could think of the next day. He developed a substance use problem that exacerbated all of this and made it even more confusing and painful to imagine leaving him. And I wasted six years waiting for the beautiful, loving, shy, man, a man who took photos of me asleep in the back of a bus during the most magical year of my life, to come back. Surprise: he never, ever came back. He's gone. He ended up being just another robot. I can understand why he was a robot, given the trauma and difficulty of his childhood, but I never deserved what he did to me. It's taken me a year of therapy to finally, finally begin to heal and put myself back together. I write all of this to tell anyone who's confused by a "kind, adventurous, and independent man" who is now confusing, someone who treats them like garbage but once treated them like gold—it's utter pain and it feels impossible to leave him. But you have to leave him. He's never, ever changing. He wasn't the exception to the rule.
My god. there are so many broken men out there managing to hold the attention of wonderful women, my mind fucking boggles.
Thank god for my therapist 💛
I have been this robot! The only way I grew from this was to recognise (finally) that the right partner wasn't going to come along and 'fix' me; nothing was going to change unless I made different choices. And I was deeply motivated to change by the suffering I kept causing myself and others: this was not in line with my values in any other part of my life, yet there was a very broken circuit where romantic relationships live. When I learned that the power to change lived *inside me* it was tremendously liberating. Reading Ask Polly has played no small part in that. Now I read Polly and practical attachment-theory-based advice books as a way to reflect consciously on how I am growing, to seek joy in the everyday things, and to invest creatively in my relationship with a Good Man. Something as simple as 'Try actually listening to your partner!' - and then showing up for that deep listening - can be enough to feel a robot circuit soften into something more human.
As a former girlfriend of flinchy robot boys (one ex-boyfriend of mine told me he wasn't sure he knew what love was, after being in a relationship with me for nearly three years), I am here to confirm that there are open-hearted dudes out there! Life can be different and sweet and lovely!
Since my new-ish boyfriend and I started dating this spring, I've never once doubted his feelings for me. He is unfailingly kind, loving, and considerate, and does big and little things to make me happy without expecting anything in return (although of course I do the same for him!). He tells me all the time that I'm his favorite person, and that he is just happy that I want to be with him. After dating several robot boys, it took me a while to adjust to being on the receiving end of this torrent of love and affection, but it turns out that it's actually really nice! As someone who can be a bit guarded myself, he gives me permission to let my guard down and be as sappy as I want to be deep down inside, and that's when the good stuff can grow. Love is a little bit cringe, but it's also amazing. LW, you deserve to be with someone who loves you the way you want to be loved.
So glad that "Dump him" were the first words of the response. Writer, I completely identify with where you're at right now -- you're sitting there trying to figure out how if you were just prettier, or cooler, or less boring, etc. you might be good enough for this guy to want to be with just you. But I guarantee you, you could not be enough of anything for this guy to truly stick around at this point in his life. You could be literally anyone and he would be doing this exact same thing. What I would love to see for you is a mental shift in where you think the power in this situation lies. You're giving him the power to reject you, but in reality that's not the case. The TRUE story here is that this guy is showing you his real colors. You didn't have all the information before, but now you do...and so you get to decide what to do with it. You have the power to not choose someone who isn't capable of what you need.
Also, a quick thought on vulnerability. Yes, a huge part of love is being vulnerable with someone. But there's good vulnerability and bad vulnerability. When you're putting yourself in a situation where it it is clear from the beginning that harm to yourself is inevitable (which is the situation if you stay with him), then that's bad vulnerability. It's dropping yourself naked into a bear pit covered in honey. You can make the decision now, before you get deeper, to instead choose a relationship that is safe enough for the kind of vulnerability Polly is talking about. And you are gonna get to that safe place eventually, and you'll find the kind of secure, fulfilling love you deserve!
Oh Polly. Thank you so much for publishing this letter and the advice. My own robot broke up with me a month ago - we had a fight and since then his feelings have changed. And here I am me too, sitting in my childhood room, and even though part of the sadness is gone, the despair was washing me over after an afternoon of Christmas shopping. I picked up the phone and read the letter (I am not alone) and the advice (it is not ok to break up like that). I’ll read the comments later tonight but this is literally the best I could put my hands on at this precise moment. So thank you so much Polly and all. ❤️🩹
This kicked me right in the teeth. As Brene Brown says, the truth will set you free but first it will piss you off.
“Your romantic future will be about showing your vulnerable heart” may need to get that on a coffee mug or a dainty tattoo. From one people pleaser lover of robots sitting in her childhood bedroom to another, We Always Go Home Again, sending you sweet messy vulnerability and the courage to try something new (courage I’ll be mustering too).
Also, the men! Why are they so meh! Second the question WHO IS GROWING THEM and can you please stop!!!!
I feel for this person. She has done a lot of work to identify the pattern but that does not mean she has escaped. And once she does escape, how likely is she to find the love we all believe in? Your advice is great, as usual, but I gotta say from experience that the more you heal and not settle for less than you deserve, the less likely you are going to want to sign up for a relationship with most men currently on the market. The large majority of dudes do not do even a tiny fraction of the kind of self-work that your single women readers have been engaged with over the years - the single men in my age bracket, especially (50-55). I still believe in love, but honoring yourself is a lonely business.
YES nailed it! I wish I could email this to so many men (but that would necessitate unblocking them, ha). Fuck those bad robots.
I just got out of a somewhat similar situation---although my ex was more loving and affectionate than I ever had previously and wanted to be with me until he didn't. We talked about opening our relationship (both agreed it wasn't for us) and then he wanted to put an arbitrary end date to our relationship "while things were still good" so that we wouldn't hurt each other in the future. I ended up ending things because that doesn't make sense and I didn't want to countdown to the end of our relationship. Not sure what breed of broken robot I ended up with but I think I'm on my way to finally being with a non-robot.