I am a middle-aged male in a relationship with a sweet, kind, successful woman who seems to suffer from a shopping addiction and who can never stop herself from taking home free food. When we first started seeing each other, she wouldn’t let me into her home. At first I thought this was because she wanted to make sure we had something real before I met her young daughter (I have children too), but when I saw her home I realized it was because she had a hoarding problem. At that point I already cared for her very much. I have very serious rescuer tendencies, and I know better than to follow such a path. Now we’ve been together for almost two years.
Last year, she bought a new home and recruited me to help her move. I pitched in but also gave her space to deal with the masses of shopping bags that had never been unpacked full of duplicate bags of chips and other storage bags, unopened Amazon boxes, stacks of old luggage, etc. I had hoped she would want to pare down on her own, but that didn’t happen. She ended up needing a later move-out date and became very distressed as we started moving stale and even decayed food to her building’s dumpster. We filled the dumpster and her new detached garage. Evidence of rodent and insect activity was revealed with each peeled layer. Nearly a year after this move, her garage is still stuffed, she hasn’t unpacked any of her wardrobe, and new boxes are starting to arrive. I spent a weekend organizing and rearranging her kitchen, but she never committed to the new setup. There’s not an inch of open counter space.
I’ve shared my concerns with her and have been accused of being judgmental and hypercritical. I am terrified that her daughter’s nascent compulsivity will blossom into the shame and loneliness her otherwise very sociable mother fosters. After an argument following the exhausting move, she bought self-help books. She seemed committed to cultivating some self-denial strategies. Last week, I visited her place and had my own stress attack when I navigated a cavernous path from her front door to her kitchen. Her attractiveness to me is waning. I love her, want to help her, want to help her child, but I am not a psychotherapist. We recently argued that I’m not moving fast enough, and my question, “Where exactly do I fit in your home?” remains unanswered. Should I stay or should I go? I’ve been dating on and off for eight years since my divorce, and I’m tired.
—Buried in Boxes