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Am I being used?

Am I being used?


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Dear Cary:

Thank you for bringing humaneness to advice columns. I hope you’ll consider taking time to help me figure out a problem. I was raised in a tribal culture where women keep things to themselves in order to keep others from worrying. I have trouble speaking to friends back home to help me work this out, and I am in a very rural area with no therapists close by.

I do not have any friends where I am living.

In 2010 I started doing dissertation research in a small community far from my home. I met a man who was 62. I was 33. He seemed very young, was outdoorsy, and we spent a lot of time together on my project. He has been married and divorced four times. Only one of the marriages lasted a while, with “Sherry” (nineteen years). I have been married once (together for about twelve years, married for five)–the ex had an affair, and I will admit I have trust issues. My ex and I raised his son together, and I promised the son to love him like my own no matter what, and I do. Stepson still lives close to my “home”–far from the research community.

This older man and I started dating as a fling. We discussed that I was going to leave, write my dissertation, and seek an academic job. I’m of mixed heritage — American Indian, black, and white –  and I’m the first on my mom’s side of the family to have a doctorate, so this was a big deal, not just to me, but to my parents and Indian community. I actually did leave the research community and drove back home, to work and write my dissertation. However, a couple days after I left, a mutual friend called to say Manfriend had a heart attack and was in ICU. I immediately went back to take care of him and ended up moving in. His health generally declined from another condition, although he hides it well. He is now on disability, but it is not enough to support him at the level he likes.

Somehow helping him stretched out to three years. I love Manfriend — by which I think I mean I could not stand for him to be alone and killing himself trying to work, which is what he would do if it weren’t for my income.  I have supported him, cared for him, taken him to the hospital and to traditional healers, worried over him, taken care of all the work he can’t do around the house, advocated for him with doctors, etc. His kids rarely visit. He says he loves me, but he does not want to get married.  I did finish writing my dissertation, very slowly, while working two jobs to support both of us. There are no academic jobs here. I do other work in a high-stress but boring profession that does not pay well here.

Here are the hangups. He calls me “Sherry” sometimes. He speaks about Sherry to others and tells them how pretty she is, even shows off pictures of her and their daughter together and refers to her as “my old lady.”  Manfriend comments about how other men who are “shacked up” with women do so because they do not respect their girlfriends enough to marry them. About two years ago, Manfriend made comments about wanting oral sex from another woman in front of me and whispered to her something apparently salacious in front of me. He has not taken me out in about a year, so I no longer see him interact with other women, although he claims that the hitting on the other woman was only when we were “not as committed” (we had been living together and I was supporting him even then). He tells me that he thinks it is funny to tell people in town who ask about me and him (it’s a small town, and the age difference as well as my profession and race make us a curiosity for gossips) that he doesn’t even know me.

Manfriend is not as bad a boyfriend as it might sound. What I haven’t said is that he is also kind when he’s not being disrespectful. He cooks for me, listens to my frustrations with my job and my worries about Stepson and my elderly grandfather, and is very affectionate. When we are OK we laugh a lot together. We never go out together anymore. He does go out when I’m at work. By the time I get home and on the weekends, he says he is too tired or that I am too insecure and will get mad at him for looking at other women. But he doesn’t want me to go out by myself, so I have made no friends here other than “work friends,” not people I would share personal issues with.

I know I’m insecure and bringing my own old issues with trust into things. But I can’t get over the feeling that despite all this if Manfriend respected me or were committed to me much he would never have hit on other women (especially not in front of me), could manage not to call me Sherry during intimate moments, and could stop bragging about Sherry to other people. They’ve been divorced 15 years but apparently, according to her religious beliefs, she and he are still married since she does not believe in divorce. I also tend to think he would want to get married since, according to him, not getting married is a sign of disrespect. That we are racially different does not help. Sometimes I really think that if I were white he would not act like he was ashamed of living with me or try to shame me.

This is all very far from my family, and I’m now 36–getting old if I did want to settle down and have a child other than Stepson. I’m terrified that I’m losing precious time with my parents, elderly grandfather, and stepson and obviously weakening my relationships with all of them because we rarely see one another, and that I gave my beloved and also now elderly dogs back to Exhusband (Manfriend is violently allergic), all to be with a man who I sometimes suspect is using me. But, again, I hate the thought of leaving him alone, or of not having him in my life, and I think I find satisfaction in caring for someone.

How do I make a decision I can live with or let wanting a more stable relationship go? We are wearing each other out fighting. When we argue that pain and humiliation of him hitting on that other woman in front of me and telling people he lived by himself and didn’t know me just bubbles up as if they were new. I want to talk about it, and he doesn’t, which means I usually unload it all it once when I figure we’re already in for an argument–not good for either of us–and he responds with sarcasm and exaggeration, which tends to make it hard for me to keep “fighting fair.” The last fight ended with me vomiting up all these worries, crying, and telling him I was scared and him telling me I was making him sick with my “tantrum,” so I’m sleeping at my office for a while.

Any advice would be very appreciated.


Not Sure if I’m Being Used or Just Poisoning My Relationship With My Old Issues


Dear Longest Pseudonym Ever in the History of this Advice Column and that Means 12 Years,

Thank you for your letter. I don’t think it’s helpful to simply say you’re being used. It’s more complicated than that.

You are in an unusual relationship. You get a lot from this relationship. You also give a lot. You sacrifice. It is an unequal relationship. But you are not powerless in it. You have some power that you are not using. You have the power of refusal and of withholding. I don’t mean withholding sex. I mean withholding yourself, and the things you do for him.

Rather than be doctrinaire, strategically cut back. Stop doing certain things for him, while still maintaining the essential bond between you. The services you provide are not just practical. They are emotional. You supply him with approval and esteem; you allow him to believe that he is king. It’s OK for him to be king some of the time. But he is not all-powerful. He needs to know that his powers are limited.

I think you’re smart and compassionate and deserving of more than this man is giving you, but it is your responsibility to even things out with him. So pull back. Let him see that he can’t just get whatever he wants from you whenever he wants it. Retire into yourself a bit. Let him feel some tension. Let him wonder. Let him see that his lack of respect has consequences.

You say you are living in a small community far from home. You are isolated. You depend on this man more than you would if you had friends to confide in. So you need to make some friends. If that means breaking certain customs, by confiding things that in your tribe generally are not confided, and by on occasion denying him the pleasure of your company while you go and be among people in more equitable power relationships, so be it. In other words, branch out. Find some friends.

As to the essential question of whether to leave him in order to find a man to have a child with, that is a deep, challenging and far-reaching question I can’t presume to answer. But I do know that though you feel responsible for this man, you are not ultimately responsible for him. If you leave him, he will be OK. He will survive.

I sense that there is something deep between you and him. It is clouded and sullied by his crude lapses. That is a shame. I sense that he is not crude morally necessarily; he is a man of a certain time and he is used to getting away with certain things with women. But it is not too much to ask that he not call you Sherry, and not make crude comments to other women. It doesn’t matter whether you are there to hear it or not. You should insist that he not do this. It is disrespectful to women everywhere. It is wrong. He should be chastised when he does this.

We have a long way to go in this culture; our history of violence and subjection of peoples echoes in the present. To be a woman, an African-American and an Indian is to be thrice blessed and thrice cursed. Most blessings are also curses. This is nothing new.

So go inside yourself and be strong inside yourself. Do not give yourself away to him so freely. Let him see what he has to do. Let him see if he can make it up to you for his crude lapses, his arrogance, his pomposity. You obviously are drawn to a deeper side of him. He is not just an arrogant, pompous man. He is someone you love.

Just don’t be a sucker. Be strong. Make him work for it.




  1. It isn’t subtle at all. You are being used by a classic narcissist… Sucking your lifeblood so he can survive. GET OUT NOW and also get some therapy! Your life is too precious to waste! Carey is way way off on this one!

    • Laura,

      Thanks for calling me out on my use of the words “subtle nuances.’
      Yes, this man is a true blood sucking psychic vampire.
      Plus, this situation is not subtle, for sure.

      It would be a shame if LW would stay, for whatever reason.
      Abused women are known to stay for years with a person like this. Sometimes, for their entire lives… sacrificing themselves for unworthy people with a parcel of excuses for her reasons to not change and to stay. Additionally, a person who has done so much damage to her…. via verbal, emotional abuse, gross negligence of your SELFHOOD, and his not acknowledging you in the positive ways you deserve…. as well as the negative messages you were raised with and those are part of your foundation of self beliefs…that you don’t deserve concern? You were raised with this belief system…don’t worry others. That message does not promote self acceptance, self love, or learning how to develop your own voice to ward off and recognize users and predators.
      A challenging combination to overcome, and, we All agree that LW has the ability to overcome. I hope she has the guts to save herself, despite possible and tremendous feelings of guilt.
      LW, guilt is a waste of time. Rise above its heaviness and weight. It is a deception of your truest self.

      I hope Cary is wrong. My sense is that he knows abused women stay…sometimes for their whole lives, in horrible relationships. This guy doesn’t deserve a second more of your thoughts or actions on his behalf.
      Yes, it feels complicated and hard.
      The reality is simple. Stay and die within. OR Distance/Leave him…and you have a chance to learn how to first survive, and hopefully thrive.

      Disconnect EVERYTHING, all at once!! HAVE A PLAN of escaping!! No forwarding address, telephone number or any calls. No letter writing, emails, texts, Skype, etc. Cut him off and out of your life for your chance of saving yourself.

      PLAN a specific emotional and physical cut-off from him. You will have to ignore your desires to stay connected in any way. Really. In this situation, you have NEVER had your cake…not even a crumb…and forget about it. A person that is such a taker, only gives False hope. Manipulated hope…for his ego and gain.

      This relationship is like a used car. He has shown you in thought, words and horrible deeds, there is no warranty. The odds for getting your needs met don’t exist with this person. Of course, you can be a martyr for wasted and sad, untrue reasons. You need to form a Healthy support network beyond all of our caring words of guidance, and wisdom.
      Go Beyond this column. To actually create something positive and tangible in the world you live in now and for the one you choose to live, in the future.

      Just realize that to re-gain your life and a healthy momentum…you need to get tough on your weak emotions starting NOW! And empower your strong, healthy thoughts, words and actions…as if you were advising another woman in need of help. That thought pattern might work better for you.

      Dare yourself to imagine a more peaceful, happier life.
      It will not work if you maintain any contact with this person.
      He is as dangerous as a drink for an alcoholic… sober or not. His abusive behavior is like heroin for you.
      Connection with him will help to keep your self-distain/hate alive within you. Do you want that frightening reality to be your life? Deep within, you don’t. I hope that for you. Unless you were writing Cary to just temporarily release some of your anger, in the moment. You are the expert on YOU. You know your motives and convictions.

      LW, at the very least…SOMEHOW get into a group for abused women at a crisis center, as a first step to start hearing survivors of verbal abuse, neglect and how to gain more Self-Respect…even by listening to others’
      stories. Get a sponsor, with a Long history of keeping out of any kind of abusive relationships, if the program you choose is patterned after a twelve-step program.
      AL-ANON could be a good resource. IT ALL COMES DOWN TO YOU AND ANY EFFORTS YOU CHOOSE TO GET AWAY from him!
      Many crisis centers offer free or sliding scale counseling.
      You are 37 years old. NOT 7 years old. You possess the ability to help others. Can you do what it takes to help you?
      No matter what happens, no matter how many “good” times you have ever had with him; he is NOT YOUR FRIEND! I hope you can accept these truths that are painful to read.

      LW, Save yourself as you have saved him. Please don’t continue abandoning yourself, your needs and YOU!!!

      Start taking positive action for You.
      NO ONE CAN SAVE YOU…ONLY YOU CAN TAKE ACTION ON YOUR OWN BEHALF! I sincerely hope you remove yourself from the life you are living now, ASAP.

      Choose not to be a person who chooses to wither on a dead vine of the tree of life.

      It’s up to you and your inner voice of survival. Best of Everything!!!

  2. Change is difficult. Breaking up is hard to do. As the other women who have offered comments, I would say they have all had to at one point in their lives change and move on. So we know of what we speak. We see your heartache, we see your loneliness and isolation. Would you want this for a beloved friend or relative? If not, you have your answer. Life always has “what-ifs”. What if I leave him what will he do? What if I were to stay here with him the rest of my life, would I regret it? What if I want a child and he doesn’t? What if I could move somewhere and use my education to support myself and make friends and find happiness? You know or suspect you are being used. We can validate this. The things we regret in life are usually the things we didn’t do. You don’t have to regret this relationship, but it doesn’t have to be a forever relationship. You can do this. Take steps now. Write a plan of action on how you can disengage. You can do this.

    • Excellent reply, Shay!

      If LW can create the truly “be honest with myself list of true pros and cons” concerning this toxic and mostly one-sided relationship…then LW can do what’s next…your logical suggestion of an Action Plan to really move on.

      All of us that have replied do have life experience, as you suggest. This is a truth I recognize, as well.

      I really appreciated what you wrote and how you wrote it.

      LW has gotten some excellent feedback.
      Your wonderful reply is truly insightful, to the point, caring and DEFINITELY on the MARK!!

      LW, one more thing. I literally choked when I typed “Manfriend.” To me, he is no Man, no matter what his age is or ever will be.

      Find someone, if you choose to, down the line …that is a true Real Man. I don’t think you have met a real adult and sensitive man, as yet. So, that is why getting some very fine therapy, when the time is right, is so important, again…in my opinion.

      All who have replied have recognized and have acknowledged your strength and incredible accomplishments. You have the depth to make yours a much better life.

      Shay summed up the emotional hardships that accompany this journey, if you choose to take it, with heart and accuracy.

      Again, thank you, Shay, for your heartfelt, and thorough reply!

  3. Its time to move on. He is very disrespectful in front of you, no less. If you can write a dissertation, work two jobs and take care of an invalid you are strong enough to follow your own dreams.

    • PlainJane,

      Another Great reply, so full of truth!!

      I feel LW got some really valuable feedback from Everyone.!!

  4. I think you need to get a job in academia in the field your PhD prepared you for. This will not be in the town that you are now living in, by definition. I think your manfriend has mixed feelings for you — he loves your private time together and your support, but does not consider you to be in his social class. While Cary is right about you giving less of yourself, I do not think that will resolve anything. Can you start applying for academic positions now? Will you have to sleep at your office to do this, and will the responses have to be sent to your office or a PO box?

    There are long-held traditions at work in this relationship. Both you and manfriend have expectations, and both of your expectations have emotional consequences.

    I do not know what discipline your PhD was in, but I will generalize across graduate degrees in general. A dissertation is typically an examination of a problem and a set of results that demonstrates clear thinking. The results must be defensible. Can you apply that sort of thinking to your current situation? If you knew someone who had, at great personal expense, gotten a PhD and instead of using it was emotionally entangled with a man who does not show respect what would you advise? Clear thinking would say that this situation needs to end. Once you do get a job in academia you can seek out therapy.

  5. Yes, I believe that Cary presented some true subtle nuances, but I say this: TIME IS MOVING ON, AND SO SHOULD YOU!!

    I am in sync with both India’s well thought and written reply, as well as true blue…who really laid it on the line with strong truth, TOO! India, your reply had these all important elements, too!!

    I agree with Cary, that if you choose to leave…Manfriend will be OK!!

    Look at YOU and what you have accomplished!! BRAVA!!!

    It’s YOUR turn, babe! Time to stop accepting the Abusive Behavior, move to a place where you can have the Calling/Career you have worked SO HARD and LONG for!! And, develop new friendships/healthy relationships Yesterday!!

    Make a better living…get into therapy with a GREAT WOMAN THERAPIST!!!

    Don’t hang around waiting for this guy to change! What you see is what you’ll get…even if you withhold a bit.

    I really liked India’s analogy of the frogs in the frypan. You deserve SO MUCH BETTER!!
    But, YOU have to believe and OWN this fact as YOUR personal truth!

    You are 36…go grab the world by the balls, so to speak! Come out of your shell, smell the roses and GO FOR IT!! This Huge age difference is another bad omen.

    You give too much and settle for too little, in my opinion.

    Try taking care of YOU, for a change. How demeaning and abusive this guy has been to you!!

    I am on board with India and true blue, all the way!!

    I read and felt what Cary conveyed to you. Yes, you do love him. But, my gut tells me you will live a life of serious regret if you spend the rest of your life caring for this guy.

    Yes, you have shared some good times with him. But is that Really enough?

    Here’s a an exercise that is meant ONLY for your eyes, so keep what I suggest you do hidden from him and never discuss what you have discovered…through this exercise with him. NEVER!!
    Simply: Take a piece of paper, when you are alone…and draw a line down the middle of the page. Two wide columns. HANDWRITE THIS and tuck it away…plus you can add to it. Above the Left column, write
    a “+” Plus sign. Above the Right column, write a”-” Minus sign.

    Then go to it! Write the things you like and dislike about this guy.
    Write when you feel good about him…and Definitely write when you are justly or unjustly angry about him.
    You may need more than one page. But, really…this exercise id “FOR YOUR EYES ONLY!” KEEP THESE TRUTHS for just YOU…to review, to challenge yourself, when you write some excuses for his behavior, maybe?

    Allow no more than 2-3 weeks to complete this exercise. BE TRULY HONEST WITH YOURSELF!!! It’s possible you will be done sooner. Let your truth out on these pages and Compare what you have written in both columns…all the qualities and the Value of each line. REALLY BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF!!!

    By the way, this exercise can be used about the pros and cons on just about anything…a job, a friendship, where to live, etc. AGAIN, for your eyes only.
    It’s a way to begin a relationship with YOU.


    Remember: You are the WRITER, DIRECTOR and the TRUE PLAYER in your own life. Everyone goes thru some shit. We do not control everything.

    WE ALL HAVE FREE WILL and CHOICES to make. BE LOVING to YOU in all areas possible, and let that list REALLY GROW… from this day forward! OK?

  6. You say where you come from you hold in stuff that would make others worry. Even though this seems unalterable, it’s possible for this to change. You say that he would get hurt if you left. But sacrificing yourself is reserved for your future children, or for someone who honors your sacrifices. Also, you can’t foresee what he would do if you left.
    There is laughter, he listens to you and is affectionate. Those are good things. But here are the two flags I saw: “…we spent a lot of time together on my project.” I think this may be how he seduced you, how he made you feel valuable. That would mean that you are predicating your view of him on something that isn’t real.

    Flag number two, and by far the bigger one: “But he doesn’t want me to go out by myself, so I have made no friends here other than “work friends,” not people I would share personal issues with.”
    That sounds like classic abuser behavior. The idea is that, as long as you are isolated with him you don’t have support and access to confirmation of your impressions, which allows the conditions to continue as they are.
    In therapy there is a saying that we are like frogs in a frying pan under which the heat has been turned up slowly so we’ve acclimated. That’s why we don’t jump out when it gets too hot. If you can, look at your circumstances, just the facts. Without explanations or justifications. Once you have the facts written down, ask yourself if that’s what you want. If not, then start to make changes. You’re awesome, you finished your dissertation while holding down two jobs and caring for a sick lover. Not many people would accomplish that. I believe you have the power to get what you want and you certainly deserve to.

    • Sorry, I forgot to give my info. The above response is mine :)

  7. LW, Cary’s response is gentle and kind, but I have to jump in here and say that you deserve so much more than you’ve got. I’m so sorry that you don’t have someone to talk to; when you wrote this all out and read it over, did it strike you that there’s really not much positive in this relationship for you? You’re young, you’re smart and you have your whole life ahead of you. Don’t settle for this. Your life can be so much more fulfilling than this. My wish for you is to find someone you trust to talk to and to love yourself enough to treat yourself with the same compassion you are showing Manfriend.

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