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Carolyn Hax: If he loved you, he wouldn’t say, ‘If you loved me …’

(Nick Galifianakis/Illustration for The Washington Post)

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: When I disappoint my boyfriend by, for example, not stopping by his office to see him when I happen to be in that neighborhood, he tells me I don’t understand what love is because if I loved him I would have come to see him. Or when I tell him “I miss you” while I am away, he will say, “Well, if you really missed me, you would have shared more details about your snorkeling trip instead of just telling me about it in eight words.” Is this just a normal case of him sharing his feelings? Or is something more going on here?

— Manipulating or Sharing?

Manipulating or Sharing?: Break up immediately.

You are showing your affection in your own way, and he is correcting you. That’s utter controlling bullstuff. Run. Seriously. And don’t look back, except to watch your own. People this manipulative tend not to take rejection kindly. (All the more reason to leave — just, carefully.)

Re: Manipulating: You can stop and ask yourself whether he is saying things to influence your reactions and feelings. It’s okay to say nothing, or “wait, I’m thinking.”

One question you might want to practice asking yourself — even in the moment while you say “wait” — is, what happens when you change variables?

  • Has he ever drawn the conclusion he wants from two opposite events?
  • Does he think this kind of statement is valid if you use it?
  • Does he ask you what you need to feel loved?
  • Would it make sense if your mail carrier said the same thing?

Change the variables enough and you may see better. And, it is not cynical to question, in any situation where you feel confused, whether someone is saying or doing something solely for personal or selfish reasons.

— Anonymous

Anonymous: These are all gaslighting tests, so yes, thanks. Though it’s easier to end a relationship, as a rule, with anyone who says, “If you loved me, you’d _____.” It’s classic manipulation.

Dear Carolyn: I struggle with perfectionism and people-pleasing tendencies. I burn myself out at work. I care about other people’s opinions too much. It used to be manageable but became unbearable in a new work environment recently. I have contacted a therapist and am going to start digging into this; I put so much pressure on myself to be perfect I am missing my wonderful, imperfect life that is happening before my eyes. Anything else besides therapy that you would suggest for this?

— Perfectionist

Perfectionist: I’ve got a kind of screwball suggestion: dance. I mean that specifically or figuratively, whichever works for you. It’ll work literally if you’re not a dancer or particularly coordinated and can go Zumba or swing or bounce yourself silly with a video or favorite playlist or an actual class, if/when available. Think figuratively if dance would only feed into your perfectionist tendencies.

Such as: Play a board game you're bad at and learn to be okay with losing, or sing off-key in the car/shower, or throw colors at a canvas, or go ice skating with friends and hang onto the boards for dear life.

You’re on the right track with these three components: 1. having fun 2. with no stakes. 3. and being bad at it. The therapy will help you get at the roots of the pressure you put on yourself, which sounds like a really good step for you to take. Think of my suggestion as working from the other side, waving your branches around without any hope or expectation of doing it “well.”