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Love Letters

We stopped dating, but I still worry about his depression

If it weren’t for the illness, they would probably still be together.

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Q. I met a guy about four months ago on a dating app. We’re both in our late 30s. We would text and talk almost every day. We made plans for the coming year, including future trips.

About a month ago, his low self-esteem/rediscovered depression started rearing its ugly head. He would say he was “useless,” not worth my time, and that he didn’t know why I liked him. I would beg to differ — truthfully, not just to placate him — but it started getting really dark.

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It was draining, but I wanted to help him through this difficult time (the winter and the holidays can be so cruel!). But about two weeks ago, he told me to stop trying. It made him feel worse when I’d ask him to do something, because he never feels like doing anything or being around anyone anymore; constantly saying no was making him realize I deserve better. I respect his request, though I’m sad. I’m not even hurt by it. I understand he’s in a dark place, and if he wasn’t depressed we’d likely be together.

How can I help him? We met because we were dating, but this goes beyond hoping for a relationship. He did tell me he was seeing a therapist he liked. Is there a way I can make him understand that I care about him not just in the relationship sense of the word?

— Help

A. Before you tell this man that you’ll be there for him no matter what, you should think about your own self-care. You wanted a romantic relationship with this person, but you’re not going to get it. While you don’t have to cope with the bad feelings rejection brings, you are experiencing a loss. I don’t want you to have to push those feelings aside because of this other person’s needs.

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I mean, would you feel comfortable dating others and finding happiness while helping this ex with his sadness? Would you be able to give real energy to someone new?

This isn’t to say you should forget about him altogether. You can talk to him about if/when it’s appropriate to check in. You can also ask him who else is around for him right now. It’s great that he’s seeing a therapist, but does he have a wider support system?

I’m sorry this is such a complicated breakup. Just know that it’s not on you to be the one person who makes it all better.

— Meredith

READERS RESPOND

This is a medical issue and no kind and caring words from you are going to cure him. What you can do is encourage him to seek professional help and support him through that process. However, if he says that he doesn’t want you to be part of his support network, you need to accept his wishes and move on. SURFERROSA

A great first date, followed by eight weeks of dating and lots of talk about the future, doesn’t mean this relationship was going the distance, depression or no depression. I think you’ve built it up in your head as something it never was, which is why you still feel invested even though it’s over. BOSTONSWEETS21

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Just some food for thought — maybe your paths crossed for a non-romantic reason.

MHOUSTON1


Meredith Goldstein is in her 10th year of writing Love Letters. Column and comments are edited and reprinted from boston.com/loveletters. Send letters to meredith.goldstein@globe.com.