Skip

How should I deal with my on-again, off-again relationship? Should I try to fix it, or should I just break up with her? (Ridiculously long and detail-heavy question.)
February 16, 2009 8:12 PM   Subscribe

How should I deal with my on-again, off-again relationship? Should I try to fix it, or should I just break up with her? (Ridiculously long and detail-heavy question.)

So, some background info: First off, I'm a guy (in case that matters to people). This girl and I have been seeing each other on and off for the last 3 years. We got together when we were both in pretty bad mental states, so things like different personalities/goals/values weren't really on our minds back then. We both just needed someone to be in each other's lives so we wouldn't feel so bad about how empty our own lives were. And for a while, it worked, and all was good. We spent nearly all of our time together that first year, and somewhere along the way, we fell for each other hard.

The flip side is that spending time with someone allows you to learn more about each other, and over time we have both realized that there were a lot of ways in which she and I are "incompatible". Examples include:


PERSONALITY
- She's much quicker to jump to fighting, insults, and arguments. I have a generally more supportive, calming personality (and would like that in my significant other).
- She is also a lot more stubborn about her values and goals, and rarely, if ever, sees another person's point of view (namely mine).
- As a result of the previous two points, it's incredibly difficult to communicate with her. This one point is the most makes the fact that the following issues exist much more problematic.
- She's pretty outgoing and social, whereas I am much more content to stay in most of the time. (More a problem for her than for me.)

SOCIAL VALUES
- I'm definitely on the conservative side of the social values spectrum; for example, I place a high value on things like dressing modestly (it's a religious thing), and am strongly anti-smoking. She is a definitely more liberal than I in regards to these two issues (for example, she smokes on occasion).

PERSONAL GOALS
- She much happier in a big city setting, whereas I'm much happier living in suburbia.
- She also wants to be a hot-shot doctor of some type (think surgeon or cardiologist), whereas I want to live a life where I have a lot of time to spend with my (future) wife and kids. Ideally, I'd like to marry someone who also plans to spend a good deal of time with me and the family. (This is another aspect of my socially conservative tendencies.)

RELIGIOUS VALUES
- While she and I share the same religion, we have different understandings of the role that that religion should play in our lives. I definitely want it to play a very prominent role in my life, while she is content to have it play a much smaller role than I. (Another aspect of my socially conservative leanings.)


It's important for me to say that when I started realizing how different she and I were, I definitely started holding back in the relationship (e.g., not saying 'I love you'), and only recently have come clean with her about how much I was holding back. (This is mostly because I was in another relationship more than a few years ago in which I did not hold back at all, and was emotionally devastated (to put it lightly) after that relationship ended supremely badly.)

As it stands now, I am trying to figure out what I can do to either fix this situation, or extricate myself from it amicably and with a minimum of drama. To that end, there are many different thoughts that are running through my head:

First and foremost, I love this girl completely and with all my heart. That never fails to complicate things.

My brain tells me that if she and I do not share compatible goals and personality characteristics, then she and I will not have a happy and fulfilling future together, no matter how much we love each other [now]. My brain also tells me that our values are the things which make us successful, and that it is important that I find someone who shares the values that I hold dear.

My heart tells me that nevertheless, love is not something that should be discarded effortlessly, that it should be cherished and handled with care.

Another part of my brain, or perhaps my heart, makes me ask: "Am I overreacting about these different issues? Should these issues be less important to me than they are? Should I try to stop holding back from now on, and see where things lead?" It also makes me ask: "Should we try to work things out? HOW should we try to work things out, if we do? If I do decide to try to work things out with her, what indications should I look for that we're making progress? And therefore, when should I know to give up?"

And then my brain tells me: you know you're probably just trying to delay the inevitable by thinking that way. You already know what things are important to you, and you're just trying to find a way to please everyone and get out of what needs to be done. Your thoughts on love are wrong, or are at least misguided in this situation, and are holding you back from what you know you need to do. You've been in this on-again off-again relationship for the past 3 years, so do you really expect things to change for the better?

(For the record, we're both in our early 20's, so this is not a high school relationship. Also, this is only the second relationship I've ever been in, so that might explain why I'm having so much difficulty with either figuring out what our options are, or breaking up with her.)

So ... what the hell do I do? Should I re-enter this relationship with the mindset that I need to stop holding back emotionally, and see where things lead or how things improve?

Should I bring these different issues to her, and tell her that I want to be with her, but we need to come to some sort of compromise on these different issues?

Or, do I tell her that I have nothing but the utmost respect and love for her, but after 3 years, it's clear to me that our values/goals/personality/etc are incompatible ... and that it makes more sense for me to show her that love and respect by splitting up with her and allowing her to find someone who will share those values and goals with her?

(And if breaking up with her for good is the right decision, how can I justify it to myself and make me believe it so that I actually go through with it? If you couldn't tell from the post, I have a pretty bad case of breaking-up phobia...)

Thoughts, experiences, and general advice on how to get over my fear of being the one to do the actual breaking up are all welcome.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Get over it. Go out with someone else.
posted by Madamina at 8:24 PM on February 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


About half-way through reading your question, I started asking myself, "Why is he still with this person?" Over and over again. I got to the end without finding an answer. If you don't have a really strong answer to that question, get out, tout de suite.
posted by browse at 8:32 PM on February 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


Get over it. Go out with someone else.

I am so tired of all of the DTMFA answers in RelationshipFilter.

But they are right on here.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:35 PM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


You didn't mention anything about why you love her, or why she is special to you.

What's the point of putting yourself through this stress for someone you're clearly not head over heels about? End it.
posted by modernnomad at 8:36 PM on February 16, 2009


"Should I bring these different issues to her, and tell her that I want to be with her, but we need to come to some sort of compromise on these different issues?"

I don't want to provide too much detail but my husband had this conversation with me while we were agonizing over whether to get married or not. Years have passed since then and I have reason to believe he's happy. As for me I'm very grateful that we had that talk because I don't know what I'd do without him.

After three years, at least talk to her about it.
posted by txvtchick at 8:36 PM on February 16, 2009


It seems to me that your expected life outcome (heavily influenced by religion, family-centric, traditional) is very different from your anticipated life outcome if you stay with her. So the question is - what is more important, what you believe should happen, or what you can't imagine might happen?

Me, I'd go for the second. If my life had gone as I'd expected it to in my late teens/early 20s... I'd already be dead.

Look at it this way: which things are your expectations, and which things are your principles? Once you have that sorted in your head, you know what you can start to let go of, and what you need to stand by - and that will give you something productive to talk to her about.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:40 PM on February 16, 2009


I'm with browse. If your personal values, religious values, social values and goals don't match, what else is there?

Wait ... I bet the sex is hot. Yup, that'll blind you to the completely exhaustive list of incompatibilities in a heartbeat.

Seriously though, this is your answer: Or, do I tell her that I have nothing but the utmost respect and love for her, but after 3 years, it's clear to me that our values/goals/personality/etc are incompatible ... and that it makes more sense for me to show her that love and respect by splitting up with her and allowing her to find someone who will share those values and goals with her?

And a right kind way to say it. Move on. You're in your 20s ... You've got a bunch more "love lost and found" to do.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 8:40 PM on February 16, 2009


I'm so excited that I posted this question because it comes in handy as an answer to lots of others. Like yours.

I'll try to keep this short, but personality points 1 and 2 just sounds like you're more mature than her. It's frustrating, but I've been on both sides of the maturity imbalance and it just doesn't work very well when you're at different places in growing up.

Specifically to the doctor thing- well, I'd get out now because if that's what she REALLY WANTS I don't think you've got a shot with a foundation that's already so shaky. I, too, want to be "some hot-shot doctor" (hey, whats with the negativity, huh?) and if I was dating a guy who wanted me to be a housewife, it would be over already. I'm the one who needs a housewife and there are plenty of guys happy to take on that role. The stress of medical school and beyond, if she's serious about it, will only completely exacerbate any problems you might already have. i think you know what you gotta do but . . . yeah, it's hard.
posted by lblair at 8:45 PM on February 16, 2009


Wait ... I bet the sex is hot. Yup, that'll blind you to the completely exhaustive list of incompatibilities in a heartbeat.

Damn . . . wish you would have posted this BEFORE i started my reply . . . I would have quoted it for super ultra mega truth. in case anyone was wondering why I'm still with my SO after all my fucking griping. I mean . . . come on, our problems aren't THAT bad!!! nothin' we can't work out with a little quality talking time.
posted by lblair at 8:50 PM on February 16, 2009


"- She also wants to be a hot-shot doctor of some type (think surgeon or cardiologist), whereas I want to live a life where I have a lot of time to spend with my (future) wife and kids. Ideally, I'd like to marry someone who also plans to spend a good deal of time with me and the family. (This is another aspect of my socially conservative tendencies.)"

Most of the cardiologists and neurosurgeons I know have been married at least twice, and work about 80-90 hours a week. Do with this info what you will.
posted by HopperFan at 8:59 PM on February 16, 2009


Listen to your brain. (The big one.)
posted by ottereroticist at 9:08 PM on February 16, 2009


You don't say how she feels about you, the relationship, etc. If she's nuts about you, as I was about my more socially conservative, more religious, more calm husband-to-be, and if she is basically a well-grounded person...as in, not just sharing your religion but having strong values herself, while being a lot different personality-wise than you...well, you might want to go all in emotionally, be very communicative, and see what transpires. For me, she is the unknown--not you. My now-spouse was crazy about me and I about him, but we fought a lot...he was quieter, I was quite demonstrative. I became more spiritually involved over time, but I had always shared the values he had, just had a few hang-ups about the outward "religious" expectations of me. He never pushed it, and I always respected him and due to my personal religious beliefs stayed involved with church, etc. while putting on the brakes A LOT re: things I thought were hypocritical, meaningless religious exercises, etc. We've each come closer to agreement on a lot of these issues over time...I couldn't be married to anyone else, I think..and I know I've been very good for him. You may each be very different from us...but that's just one quick snapshot of a relationship that had its upsides and downsides, and now, many years later, has mostly all upsides.

Blessings!
posted by mumstheword at 9:12 PM on February 16, 2009


Have you seen the movie "eternal sunshine of the spotless mind"?

*Spoilers*

In the film, two people discover how incompatible they are but then also discover that they love each other enough to overcome those incompatabilities. Not like the problems vanish and everything is great, but like it's worth it to continue. If seeing this film resonates with you and you see yourself in that position, then it's worth it.

But I have also been in a place where things were fucked in my relationship and I really loved him, and I told myself that because I really loved him, I couldn't end it, but then one day I woke up and realized it wasn't the right kind of love anymore and it hadn't been for a long time. And then it was over.

Only you can tell whether your love for her is the kind of love that conquers all or not.
posted by mai at 10:12 PM on February 16, 2009


First and foremost, I love this girl completely and with all my heart. That never fails to complicate things.

If "love" means anything at all, no, you don't. You can't be as incompatible with someone as you have described, and love them with "all your heart."
posted by jayder at 10:22 PM on February 16, 2009


You already know what things are important to you, and you're just trying to find a way to please everyone and get out of what needs to be done....You've been in this on-again off-again relationship for the past 3 years, so do you really expect things to change for the better?

If you'd had any other kind of reservations besides (a) everything you value morally and (b) your entire vision for the future, I would've disagreed with you. But those two together, yeah. Sounds like you guys might want to start admitting that things would never work and begin moving on to your future.
posted by salvia at 1:07 AM on February 17, 2009


Yeah this is over.

But for future reference "chalk and cheese" can absolutely make it work. If you won't listen and you don't have the ability to think then even "peas in a pod" are doomed to fail. Miserably.

...Your differences are not what's gone awry here. Or why this is so hard.

Another thing you might like to consider is that problems don't just fix themselves. "Wait and see" is pathetic! That's what you do when it's all beyond your control and that's the only real option you have. If you're not both trying solve this, you're both wasting your time.

It struck me that the only area where you indicated she actually met your standard (and where you may have had room for improvement) was:
- She's pretty outgoing and social, whereas I am much more content to stay in most of the time. (More a problem for her than for me.)

There was a laundry list of sacrifices she'll need to make in order for you to not give up on your dreams of happiness but other than the reluctant gesture of once again uttering three meaningless little words and "wait and see" - what sacrifices are YOU planning to make? Sans martyrdom, of course.

And I couldn't help but wonder at your use of the word compromise?
What won't bend breaks.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 5:10 AM on February 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


On-again, off-again is an EXTREMELY bad sign in my experience. Relationships are work, but it shouldn't be THAT much work.

In every relationship I've been in, the first breakup should have remained the last breakup. So that's where I'm coming from, and I'll be applying that knowledge to my current relationship if we ever feel like we need to break up or take a break.

It's entirely possible to be in love with someone and realize that you shouldn't have a future together. When you realize that, you should end it, cleanly and finally.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:52 AM on February 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


- She's pretty outgoing and social, whereas I am much more content to stay in most of the time.

This sounds fine to me. In fact, almost all of your laundry list of differences sounds fine to me. I always value differences in a relationship. I've dated carbon copies of myself, and it sucks.

However...

- She's much quicker to jump to fighting, insults, and arguments. I have a generally more supportive, calming personality (and would like that in my significant other).
- She is also a lot more stubborn about her values and goals, and rarely, if ever, sees another person's point of view (namely mine).


DTMFA. These 2 things are unacceptable (insults? really??) She sounds like a 15-year-old.

My relationship philosophy is this: If my SO's behavior at this moment (meaning every moment) is not something I would accept in the first month of a relationship, then I would not accept it further into the relationship.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:56 AM on February 17, 2009


- She's much quicker to jump to fighting, insults, and arguments. I have a generally more supportive, calming personality (and would like that in my significant other).
- She is also a lot more stubborn about her values and goals, and rarely, if ever, sees another person's point of view (namely mine).

DTMFA. These 2 things are unacceptable (insults? really??) She sounds like a 15-year-old.


I still maintain what I said before- these two things, although infuriating and sucky, IMHO are just signs of immaturity. while i agree that nobody should try to CHANGE anybody else, i think that it's reasonable to expect someone to be able to grow up. that's a change that everyone needs to make eventually to become a mature and functional adult. i think it's fair to tell her she needs to CHANGE these things if you need to.

However . . . the kind of changing-a-person you should not do? expecting her to give up her hotshot dreams to be your housewife.
posted by lblair at 1:44 PM on February 17, 2009


You don't sound like you like her very much, let alone love her. You regard her career aspirations pretty flippantly and you sound like you look down on her liberal views. Sorry, you're not going to tame her or make her give up her goals.

If family life is as important to you as you say it is, I think it's really important to have some core values aligned. Particularly in regards to religion and social values. If you guys are always fighting over these things this is does not make for a happy home for your kids.

You can't expect her to compromise on her values because honestly, are you willing to compromise on yours? I doubt it or you would have already. You can love someone all you want but that doesn't necessarily mean you should be in a relationship with them.
posted by like_neon at 8:30 AM on February 18, 2009


The things you describe as incompatibilities don't seem insurmountable to me. Stranger couples have been known to happen. My favorite example is my good friend who is a Christian, very liberal, well-traveled who is about to marry (and convert for) a quite conservative workaholic Jew who's never strayed very far from his comfort zone. Granted, it took them a long time to come to the conclusion that they could live with these 'incompatibilities', and who knows if their marriage will work out in the long run or not. But the point is that you have to be ready to commit, compromise, put in the effort to make it work, and love your differences as much as your similarities. Generally though the OP's tone has a stridency that suggests he doesn't know the kind of love that's involved in a lifelong partnership. (This mind you coming from someone who isn't involved in one either but thinks she has some sort of idea...!)
posted by goalie at 2:02 PM on February 21, 2009


I am sure I am not the only person here who has written a long, hand-wringing AskMe question to try to figure out what the hell to do with a messy, long-term relationship... only to see it, really see it, smack myself in the forehead, never submit the question, and DTMFA.

See all that stuff you wrote? It's not supposed to be that hard. Most of your relationships will end and it will SUUUUUUUCK each and every time. You love her, but it's time to let this one go.

I have to say it again: It's not supposed to be that hard.
posted by juliplease at 9:49 PM on February 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


« Older We've eloped, everything is gr...   |  I want to test the silver cont... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.


Post