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I burst into tears when I saw how my boyfriend lives in squalor, what now?

Tagged as: Health, Troubled relationships<< Previous question   Next question >>
Question - (31 March 2015) 14 Answers - (Newest, 2 April 2015)
A female United Kingdom age 41-50, anonymous writes:

My 38 year old boyfriend of one year knew I was on my way round. What I saw horrified me. He is living in complete squalor. Dirty filthy conditions I would not put a dog in. He smoothed over it all saying he's busy with work and replacing a chimney breast and ceiling. I understand that but the stacks of food covered dishes filthy bathroom and bedroom linen appalled me. He usually drives to mine at week ends. I have gently approached him about his appearance but now see why it's do hard for him to be clean living with a cement mixer in his front room and dust in his wardrobe. Its not just dirty its uninhabitable.

My father was a builder and I'm not exaggerating here. His living conditions scare me. I'm finding it hard to get those pictures of his place out of my mind

: (

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A female reader, anonymous, writes (2 April 2015):

I didn't expect so much understanding here. You guys have blown me away. I agree with what you say about me needing an adult relationship for myself. Thank you so much for being there at my time of need and for all your words of wisdom. I can't tell you how much I appreciate your time here. It has helped me enormously. I often reply to problem here and will continue to pulling from my life experiences.....

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A female reader, Honeypie United States + , writes (1 April 2015):

Honeypie agony auntI don't think you are being "selfish" in a NEGATIVE way here. YOU have learned the you two are NOT a great match. You want to go out and DO thing, SEE things, he doesn't. YOU like clean and tidy... HE doesn't.

I'm OCD. And I told my husband about that when we first started dating. He didn't know anything about it prior to meeting me. But the funny thing is, his Dad had a LOT of the OCD traits. So when we started living together it wasn't a problem for him, as he had ALREADY living with a person who was in need of certain structure.

So it's not like whatever disability he has is what you don't like - it's the differences in personality that just doesn't WORK as a relationship. THAT happens.

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A female reader, CindyCares Italy + , writes (1 April 2015):

CindyCares agony aunt You know, OP ?, I have been at times accused of being selfish or self involved or a me-first type. Generally by people who would have an all too evident benefit from me being instead all meek and selfless and prone to sacrifices !.:) but, yeah, there may be a pinch of truth in that and I am not saying that I am proud of it. But then again, in reading posts like yours, I have to say , if I am selfish- thanks God for that !!,honestly.

You say you feel guilty - guilty about what , OP ? Of caring about your needs, of knowing that you are as worthy and deserving as any other person ??...

OP, you are a normal, functional woman who wants a normal, functional, ADULT partner. You want a love partner, a significant other, not a grown up child who needs to be mothered all the time and shown the ropes of adult living. If you had wanted a child, you could have MADE one, or adopted one, or taken in a foster kid. But you want instead a husband or a bf, and that this guy CAN'T be one because of his own issues is sad , of course,

it may be heartbreaking even, - but how's that your fault or responsibility, and why should you have to get involved with a person who's not what you want and can't make you happy , just because he's got issues ?...

Why would you ruin your life accepting what for you is a totally inadequate partner ?

If you care for this person, by all means try to be a good friend to him, give him support and advice ( and try to convince him to seek professional help ! ) , assist him whenever it's reasonable and feasible , etc. etc.- but, that you have to feel guilty for wanting to be the companion of a man , and not the MOM of an adult kid , no please, don't think and don't say that.

Same as people with mental challenges / other disabilities count too, they are not second class human material-

SO are non- impaired, mentally healthy people. They should NOT be asked / expected to compromise and sacrifice and put up JUST, or precisely because, they are mentally and emotionally sound.

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A female reader, anonymous, writes (1 April 2015):

Hi it's female anonymous again.

Yes, I forgot to mention that being clumsy is absolutely a trait of people with ADHD. My ex seemed to have almost a 'knack' for breaking things - he'd drop things or just be so forceful and awkward with things that they'd keep breaking. He broke bath taps, chairs, countless glasses, ripped clothes - the list was endless and it was one of the things that drove me to despair. It's almost as if they are physically misaligned with the world.

Yes, the not wanting to go anywhere is also a common trait - because it usually involves a bit of planning.

The not looking after you when you are ill - and possibly sometimes not seeming affectionate - is very often mistaken for being classic signs of the so called 'emotionally unavailable man'. To be fair, it very nearly is exactly that - emotional unavailability - but it can be a trait of people on the Autism spectrum ie. they don't seem to show empathy for others.

It sounds to me like you are making the right decision in leaving him. If you wanted to be kind you could suggest he look into the possibility that he has ADHD and get help for it.

I was brought up by parents who effectively forced me to be very self-sacrificing and giving to others. I stayed with this person for nearly two decades through sheer naivety on my part and, later, because we became co-dependent. I became 'addicted' to looking out for him and I honestly cannot explain to anyone just how much of my care and socialising has allowed him to become the 'normal', functional human being that he is today. It's hard not to feel used.

Apart from all the negatives I describe - and there are many more, believe me - he seemed to others, on the outside, to be an adorable guy - outwardly very charming and very at ease with people and able to by-pass normal social codes of conduct very quickly, to make people feel very much at ease with him. So, no-one had ANY idea what he was like when you got to know him as a partner or just more intimately. Behind closed doors he was just so chaotic and unempathetic it was a highly dysfunctional scenario. It really was like being with a (disobedient!) child in an adult's body, and it's only now that I see that. The absolutely enormous stress that it placed on me is something I wouldn't wish on anyone. So please don't feel guilty at all - he sounds like he needs help, but for goodness sake don't become his 'carer'!! Good luck with your future.

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A female reader, anonymous, writes (1 April 2015):

I am OP once again thanking DC for all your individual input here : )

Dear female anonymous. I read your reply twice with my mouth open!

This all makes sense now. He often describes the way he 'needs to focus' completely on his projects in order to get a job done. During the days he says he thinks about nothing else. He also works flat out all day nearly every day so that by 8pm he is totally exhausted which is no fun for me. His sister was diagnosed with ADD and his brother with dyspraxia and his father is very socially awkward and his mother long suffering to the extent where she often holidays alone for respite from his father. His behaviour exhausts her.

My boyfriend is clumsy and breaks things quite often. He is also outspoken and can be quite offensive with his comments but does reflect and feel apologetic afterwards. He has difficulty reading between the lines and is quite literal. He is also full of energy and enthusiastic about life which is an attractive quality. He is cuddly but quite non sexual but can be coaxed into giving and receiving and is willing to try.

I have found that I am continually reminding him to brush his hair or change his top as it has food on it. When I was ill with bad flu he still focused on his work and I felt abandoned. This is a major red flag for me. He was sorry afterwards but at the time I felt abandoned.

I now realise all this is not his fault but his lack of thought through the way his brain is 'wired.' He is not flawed just maybe not your 'average' and the best way I describe his behaviour. As the saying goes 'What is normal? ' I would never point the finger intentionally at him for things I believe he cannot help.

I am sad to say I cannot tolerate his ways any longer and my love as a romantic partner has faded through the last six months duration. I love him as a human being but am not in love with him.

I am a caring and compassionate person but I am missing out on so much being with him and I feel a sense of selfishness here. Our intimacy is limited and he never wants to leave the house to visit places of interest or travel. I want him to be ok and will always try to be a friend to him in the future if that is possible, in time.

I do appreciate your time and you have no idea how your reply has helped me to clarify my feelings for him and ease my confusion and anxiety over his behaviour xx

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A female reader, anonymous, writes (31 March 2015):

My ex partner used to be terribly scruffy - to the point that I once refused to go anywhere with him as he looked like a tramp AND did not care about it. His flat was disgusting in the extreme. Not just disgusting but a little 'crazy'. He would do things like eat his dinner on the sofa and then, when he was finished, push the plate down the side between the arm and the seat - but then forget about it and someone would find it months later. I wont go into more detail except to say he REALLY could not see a problem. It wasn't until AFTER we split up (many, many years later) that I finally figured out he'd had ADHD all along. We'd been very young when we met and I remembered just how bad his symptoms had been and realised he'd become increasingly 'socialised' as time went on - it took years to 'educate' him about how to choose clothes and to wash properly - yes, I know it sounds disgusting but he didn't really know how to wash himself properly either. His flat is now not quite as bad as it used to be but still makes me cringe. In the brief spell that we actually lived together I became ill with the stress of trying to live with him as he was just so dirty and chaotic.

After we split up and I was trying to figure out where everything had gone wrong, I did loads of research and the ADHD issue came up. I vaguely remembered his mum saying he'd been hyperactive as a kid. When I questioned him about this and 'made a case' (we were and remain close friends after the split) he said he would ask both of his parents (who divorced when he was eleven). BOTH parents said that yes, without doubt they knew he had ADHD but they'd decided not to ever really make an issue of it because they didn't want him to grow up feeling like he had something wrong with him. To be honest, I was so furious, especially with his Mum, for taking this stance because I felt and feel that, if we'd known what the problem was, we could have possibly worked it out and it would have saved me becoming ill with the stress of trying to cope with him.

I'd really recommend looking up ADHD - not everyone with it is the same, obviously, but ADHD is on the Autism spectrum along with Aspergers and some common traits are a lack of consideration for personal appearance and hygiene AND struggle to run and look after one's home or environment in an orderly way. They also tend to have huge problems in planning anything ahead AND they often really cannot see what the 'problem' is. Quite often when people with ADHD have become socialised and accepted by others, they will mimic the behaviour of others in order to 'get by', but in a relationship this can eventually put a strain on the other partner, who constantly feels that they have to be 'in the lead' and/or is just being copied all the time like a child copies a parent. They will sometimes just be considered eccentric but if the situation is more extreme can also be mistaken for being mentally ill.

The other thing about ADHD sufferers is that they hyperfocus, usually on one thing that they are almost addicted to. With my ex it was paint. He was an extremely talented painter because (although we didn't know it back then) he was actually hyperfocussing on paint. It's almost like the one part of their life where everything starts to connect up and make sense in a way that nothing else does. If your partner has this hyperfoccusing issue then that's another sign he may have ADHD. But, so far, what you've said suggests he may have it.

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A female reader, Tisha-1 United States +, writes (31 March 2015):

Tisha-1 agony auntSo the tears are the dawning realization that your boyfriend may have mental health issues..... that must be difficult to cope with.

But perhaps some of the mysteries surrounding his appearance now are clearing up?

My family had a neighbor who was a hoarder. She kept the kitchen and living room clear but after she passed away it was discovered that she would 'rescue' items from people's rubbish bins and store them away in her home. Her rooms were, no joke, floor to ceiling junk. Junk junk junk.

Her poor daughter spent about a year emptying the house as they were concerned they might miss a document or item of value.

I would have to talk to him and tell him. "My dear, your living circumstances are filthy. This isn't normal upheaval of doing work in the home. Dishes covered in crusted food, the state of the bathroom and the unsanitary linens are not normal.

"It would seem you are having difficulty coping with keeping your home clean. This isn't healthy. I've seen homes like this working with the NHS. What do you think about the state of your house?"

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A female reader, So_Very_Confused United States +, writes (31 March 2015):

So_Very_Confused agony auntI understand that it's upsetting OP... what you need to figure out is why this is so upsetting to you.... it will help you figure out what you need to do.

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A female reader, anonymous, writes (31 March 2015):

I am the OP

Thank you all for your replies. I burst into tears because the only times I have seen living conditions like this have been at work in the NHS in patients with severe mental health issues.

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A female reader, So_Very_Confused United States +, writes (31 March 2015):

So_Very_Confused agony auntWe had a rehab of our house done a few years back. it took 6 months.

there were never dirty clothes or food laying about. my sheets were clean... my dishes when we had any washed...

So did you burst into tears because you were appalled that you have been intimate with this man or at the thought of trying to figure out how to break up with him?

what made you cry?

clearly his cleanliness standards are lower than yours.

this will not change.

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A female reader, Honeypie United States + , writes (31 March 2015):

Honeypie agony auntI'm sorry a pile of dirty dishes IS not the "norm" when someone is remodeling. If you don't have running water, you (general you) shouldn't be living there. And he should be using paper-plates/cup if he can't do the dishes. That way it can still be somewhat clean. All I can think of is all the bugs (cockroaches and the likes) he can end up with, disgusting.

IF he HAS running water, he is just a slob, and a nasty one at that.

I had new windows installed in my old house - it was 2 week of having EVERYTHING under sheets of plastic, it was getting up at 3.30 am to SHOWER before the workmen got there. Thankfully they did the from of the house (bedroom/living-room/dining room first and the kitchen later, so I was able to have my clothes in places where they didn't get nasty.

YOU can remodel and NOT CHOOSE to live like a filthy pig.

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A female reader, Anonymous 123 Italy + , writes (31 March 2015):

Anonymous 123 agony auntI dated someone briefly who lived in what I would say was worse than a pig-sty. I tried cleaning up and making his place livable but there were times when I would go to his place and see food rotting on the floor, cigarette stubs, and I cant even imagine what other rubbish. Its safe to say that I couldn't continue and although there were broader issues to deal with, this was certainly a deal-breaker for me.

The ball is in your court now. Now that you know that given a chance he would live like this, do YOU think you can be with him? Do you see a future with this man? Love is great as long as it lasts but when the practicalities set in, love goes out of the window.

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A male reader, SensitiveBloke United Kingdom +, writes (31 March 2015):

SensitiveBloke agony auntThis is what you would have to look forward to if you ever lived under the same roof together. He doesn't see it as a problem. He sees it as normal.

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A female reader, malvern United Kingdom + , writes (31 March 2015):

malvern agony auntWell, there are two things you can do here. One is that you help him, the other is that you leave him. You need to find out why he is like this. A lot of men (and women) are not particularly house proud or domesticated. Very often they can be busy people with an enthusiasm for a hobby, or they spend all their time working, or they're just slovenly. I had a partner who lived in a very untidy house but it was because he spent his entire life in pursuit of the great outdoors, so I put up with it, I didn't live there anyway.

Do you want to continue seeing him? Do you like or love him enough? Only you can decide that. If you enjoy being with him it would be a shame to give up on him just because of his living conditions.

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