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I'm afraid I just made the biggest mistake of my life (Breakup filter)
October 21, 2012 6:28 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend of five years couldn't commit fast enough, but things were improving. Was I an idiot to break up with him? Is it wrong to hope fervently that we'll be together again in a few months?

Last January, I told my boyfriend that I wanted to be engaged or very clear about the engagement timeline by October. I mentioned it probably wouldn't be good to wait until the last minute, because the delay might make me anxious. We talked about the kinds of improvements we wanted to see in our relationship to get to proposal stage; most of these improvements were things he wanted.

I got anxious. My anxiety manifested itself as inordinate upset about small mistakes and oversights, about my perception of his rate of progress on items he wanted to see changed. I'm embarrassed by how petty and non-constructive I could be. These bad moods and their resulting arguments became more frequent (e.g., weekly) by September. I apologized and explained several times that most of the energy behind my disappointments and criticisms came from a deeper pain from feeling rejected. He told me, very reasonably, that these arguments kept him from feeling close to me, that just when he thought things were wonderful, I'd get upset about something inane. Things were otherwise wonderful.

The dynamic was unstable. As time went on, I expected more evidence of commitment. He gave more, but not enough. We had a huge discussion in September, made up a list of what we wanted to see changed and how we'd change it. This was the thinnest thread of narrative coherence I could stand--I was nearly breaking my earlier promise to myself to move on if not engaged. We half-joked that it was "instant elimination round," that his deviating from the list was evidence that he really wasn't ready.

You can guess what happened. He deviated, and I realized the other day that I couldn't look my friend in the eye at lunch and tell her why he and I were still together. I ended the relationship this afternoon.

The thing is, we're still very much in love with each other after five years. He told me that he regrets not proposing to me a year ago. I said I had messed things up too much with my worry and impatience to continue. (Who wants to coerce someone else into a proposal?)

Salient facts: I'm in my early 30s, he's in his late 20s (3.5-year age difference). This is his first LTR, and this is my fourth. I've no problem proposing in theory but have otherwise been the pursuer in this relationship, and he knows I wanted to reverse this pattern for the proposal. His parents were never married because his mother resisted commitment, and they later separated. Marriage has always been a big, well-communicated dream of mine. He wants to get married someday too, but this desire arrived much later for him. The main problem he identified in this relationship was our arguing, which was 80% driven by the dynamic described here. (The remaining 20% could be fueled by my being stressed from work. This is something I've been working on but remains a flaw.)

This seems selfish and immature, but I badly want him to date a few people, realize he wants to have an awesome marriage with me, and to come blazing back all goal-oriented in four months. I hate myself for not having been able to wait cheerfully. I'm afraid my impatience and worry have destroyed the best relationship of my life.

Is it okay to communicate this desire to him? Have I behaved very immaturely?
posted by civicDuty to Human Relations (52 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
You made the right decision to break up, imo.

And no, it's not okay to tell him how good he could have had it with you and I think you already know that. You need to move on and allow him to move on.
posted by Pranksome Quaine at 6:37 PM on October 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


This is either a dynamic you can live with or one you can't. It seems like your guy is laid back (seriously he is responsible for none of your arguing?) and you are not. There are upsides and downsides to this dynamic but it seems like it's not really working for you. Honestly if someone you've been with that long is balking at the "I'd like to be engaged" part of the whole thing, that's red flag territory. At the very least, even if you're maybe on the fence but it's very important to your partner, you take some time to make a choice and handle things. Your partner did not handle things.

You are a worried and impatient person. That may or may not be immature or a larger personality flaw but it's true about you. This doesn't work with the way you wanted your engagement/future to go and that's a fine choice. I think the "If I told a friend this I would be embarrassed" is a decent litmus test because it's tough to look into your loved one's face and say "No more chances" but it's maybe something that needs to be done to keep yourself sane and honest.

So, if it were me, I'd chill on the "How do I talk to him about this?" and sort of live in the breakup phase for a little bit. I have had friends who have come back from similar situations and managed to get married and be super happy. but BOTH of them had to be on the same page. Right now your (ex) guy needs to figure out if he's on that page or not. If he does, he knows how to get in touch with you. At this point, other than telling your close friends how you feel [i.e. if he gets his shit together and gets serious you'd be willing to talk] I'd just leave it alone and tell yourself you'll check in with him in a year. I think you made the right decision, honestly, it sounds like a bad fit that was limping along.
posted by jessamyn at 6:40 PM on October 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


This seems selfish and immature, but I badly want him to date a few people, realize he wants to have an awesome marriage with me, and to come blazing back all goal-oriented in four months.

Okay, sure, good plan. Give it exactly four months. Four months on the dot. Clock strikes midnight on month four, and you have to promise yourself to utterly abandon the idea of getting back together. Not four months and a week. Not six months because he's whatever. You give yourself an exact period of time and you stick to it like it would be a life-destroying mistake if you didn't. Because it very well could be.

Expecting someone to evolve as a human being and make the unprompted decision to come back to you and marry you is unrealistic. Expecting it out of a guy who was only ever in one long-term relationship, who had a family home where marriage wasn't just not around, but something his mother was basically allergic to? Double-extra unrealistic. But give it four months, and then move on.
posted by griphus at 6:44 PM on October 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


I hate myself for not having been able to wait cheerfully.

I know several women who hate themselves for waiting cheerfully through their thirties with men who were not serious about them, thus forever ruining their chances of having children. I think that's a harder regret to have to live with, myself.

Five years is plenty of time to know whether you want to marry someone. He didn't want to marry you. You have time to find someone else. It's perfectly normal and fine to fantasize about your ex crawling back to you but ugh why warm up those leftovers?
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:45 PM on October 21, 2012 [58 favorites]


All this back story is totally unnecessary. You two didn't agree on something that was a dealbreaker for you. You each bear whatever measure of regret you feel and don't share it one with another. You set your expectations anew in your future relationships with other people. That's all. It happens. When you're ready to dictate terms to somebody, you're not ready to continue with a healthy relationship.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:46 PM on October 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


(I came out of a family where "marriage" was not a concept of love and devotion, but a transaction revolving around financial security. It has taken me a lot of work to understand that being married is something that could be great, and a lot more work to get over the idea that I am doomed to fuck it up because of the way I grew up. If he's not going to put that work in, you don't want to marry him, even if he's willing to go through the ceremony.)
posted by griphus at 6:47 PM on October 21, 2012


[Folks OP is not, in any way, asking if you think they are a suitable mate for you. Be constructive with your answers or pass this question by.]
posted by jessamyn at 6:48 PM on October 21, 2012


Sounds like he will probably regret it and he was doing an immature pushback thing so he could feel like he had the upper hand. You were both being immature.

Give it some time. Date other people. He will probably be back.
posted by discopolo at 6:49 PM on October 21, 2012


I think you made the right decision, and I think there are more reasons to support that decision than you really realize, given your current perspective of living with the status quo for so long.

I just can't jive between what you describe as a wonderful relationship and these two separate episodes of creating a relationship "punch list" of pending issues that need to be corrected before the two of you considered yourself ready to be engaged. You say that most of the issues from the list back in January were things that he was expecting from you, and yet you seem to have had a lot of "disappointments and criticisms" that you were constantly measuring and taking progress reports on.

It sounds exhausting and dispiriting for both of you, frankly. Relationships are enough of a struggle after 10-15-20 years and the stress of kids/houses/etc.etc.; when you're 5 years in and not even to engagement yet, and you've got a laundry list of things that need to be "fixed" first...I think it's time to give up on this "fixer-upper" and keep shopping for the one that feels like your dream home when you first walk in.
posted by drlith at 6:50 PM on October 21, 2012 [21 favorites]


Yes it is okay to communicate this to him. And you might have acted immaturely, but give him a chance to respond. Be prepared if it's not the answer you were looking for, but it just might be the thing that allows you to feel comfortable either waiting or moving on. Sometimes our expectations are unrealistic and we don't realize it until after we've pulled whatever trigger, but your feelings are your feelings.

As they say, if it was meant to be, it'll happen. If not, you'll move on to greener pastures. Good luck and don't beat yourself up too much.
posted by getmetoSF at 6:54 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Last January, I told my boyfriend that I wanted to be engaged or very clear about the engagement timeline by October. I mentioned it probably wouldn't be good to wait until the last minute, because the delay might make me anxious... These bad moods and their resulting arguments became more frequent (e.g., weekly) by September. I apologized and explained several times that most of the energy behind my disappointments and criticisms came from a deeper pain from feeling rejected. He told me, very reasonably, that these arguments kept him from feeling close to me, that just when he thought things were wonderful, I'd get upset about something inane. Things were otherwise wonderful.

Bolding mine... as I was reading this part, I was thinking to myself, "that sounds kind of deliberate." You know, maybe I am totally wrong here. But it sounds like he was kind of setting up the little incidents that he knew made you anxious, and he knew you react anxiously to them. And then, when you did so, he could point and say look! The only reason I don't want to get married is because you're so crazy/immature/wrong/bad/fill in the blank. The only reason I don't want to get married to you is because you just can't or won't change in this way! Things are so wonderful otherwise! And it's just YOUR fault for not be able to - as you put it - "wait cheerfully."

The thing is, it seemed like deliberately set up so those things would NEVER stop happening, so he would NEVER run out of things to point to.

Okay then I got to this.

We half-joked that it was "instant elimination round," that his deviating from the list was evidence that he really wasn't ready. You can guess what happened. He deviated

Surprise, surprise. I think this guy does not want to get married to you and is avoiding marriage with you in this weird passive way, by hiding behind the idea that there's just a list that's never fulfilled or there are just rules that aren't properly followed, or whatever, whatever. He doesn't want to get married to you. He is passively avoiding a confrontation about that IMO, and letting you believe you are the bad guy who fucked up and if you hadn't fucked up he would have TOTALLY gotten married to you! No.

Move on, yo. If you are at the stage in life where you want to get married soon, I would say that you don't have time to waste. Move on to someone else. And I would say, really try not to sit around hoping he will just go and date people then come running back to you. I am just an internet stranger who doesn't know either of you but I have the feeling that won't end up happening as you want it to.
posted by cairdeas at 6:58 PM on October 21, 2012 [46 favorites]


You want a guy who wants to marry you. Now. This is, alas, not the dude who wants to marry you now. After all this drama and "you'd better propose ASAP" stuff you've had going on, he didn't. Now it's time for you to find a guy who actually wants to be your husband. This guy, for whatever reason, doesn't.

You did the right thing. It's nice to think that in four months he'd come crawling back with a ring, but what if he doesn't? Heck, what if he does and you have the sneaking feeling that he is only doing it because of the ultimatum? What if he proposes and then drags his feet on the date setting and planning and you have the sinking feeling that you'll be going through this breakup again?

He's younger than you are, this isn't a rush thing for him, and he's got an upbringing based on NO MARRIAGE MARRIAGE IS BAD. Unless he gets hit with a marital anvil of miracles on his head, I don't think it is likely he is going to change on his own in the way that you want.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:09 PM on October 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


You say you didn't want to propose but then you set out a friggin' road map and timetable about when and how he had to propose, plus added 'are we there yet?' pressure. It's not a conventional romance, you must admit.

It sounds like you had a potentially good thing going with this guy but if things are going to work out you may need to chill out on the preconditions and laundry lists. Only you can decide whether he's worth it to you.
posted by unSane at 7:19 PM on October 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


But it sounds like he was kind of setting up the little incidents that he knew made you anxious, and he knew you react anxiously to them.

OP's dude doesn't sound that evil to me. The way I'm reading it, OP was going to be more and more anxious until he proposed/improved, and the longer he didn't, the worse it became. Heck, I kinda feel for the guy, he's in his first LTR and getting ultimatums from a serial longterm dater. "Yeah so what's up, bub...what's it gonna be, we in this forever or what?" The whole chasing and agreeing that you wanted to "turn the dynamic around for the proposal" is weird to me, like you were imposing all of the structure in the relationship and then tasking him with rising to the occasion, which you actually name "the proposal stage."

I do think you did the right thing, because you two sound pretty wrong for each other. How many of the improvements, "we wanted to see in the relationship," involved any effort on your part? Was there any chance of you deviating?
posted by rhizome at 7:21 PM on October 21, 2012 [11 favorites]


I think you need to work out why being married became more important than being with the man you love. Pressuring someone to propose by a certain date is not a loving gesture but a selfish one driven by some anxiety. Maybe if you are able to pinpoint your reasoning for pushing for marriage, you can make the changes necessary to restore your loved one to you.

Frankly, you sound demanding and controlling. Lose those traits and you may win him back.
posted by the fish at 7:25 PM on October 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


I'm afraid my impatience and worry have destroyed the best relationship of my life..........Is it okay to communicate this desire to him?

I would not communicate this to him, and here is why: 5 years. Yes, his desires towards marriage have changed in those five years, yes you have also changed in those five years, but the most important point of all of is that:

Marriage has always been a big, well-communicated dream of mine.

He has known for a good long time that you want to be married. Regardless of his personal feelings about marriage, he has always known that this is what you wanted. He had five years to decided if marrying you was an option for him, and he had to have known that the decision would have to be made eventually.

This isn't a "Surprise! I want a wedding!" question. He knows what you want. Secretly, he probably knows what he wants. After five years, nothing you say will change that, the words don't exist. He has made his decision.

The problem is that despite the fact that he doesn't really want to marry you*, he still loves you. Enter one of the most dangerous fucking statements of all time (that I literally shutter to read on Mefis):

He told me that he regrets not proposing to me a year ago.


Please, Please, Please, think that statement over. Whenever I have heard a "I should have married you" phrase, it has ALWAYS been a carrot on a stick. Just dangling the possibility of you maybe getting what you want, if you would, you know, just let him have whatever he wants for an unspecified amount of time. Do not fall for that trap. If he really believes that he should have proposed a year ago, he would be at your door with a ring, correcting that oversight.

Let me put it another way. Let's say that I ask you to do a major project for me that will take a long time (a year? two? who knows?). I say that you are so great that I will have to make sure that you are well compensated for it. However, I don't provide any concrete proof that you will be rewarded, give you a down payment, or sign a contract. All you get is a "you're so great, I should pay you". Would you take the job?

You need the carrot in your hand, not on the stick.

You argue? Most couple argue. Some during the wedding. People learn to deal with arguing and work out their issues while on the road to marriage all the damn time. Most couple spend their entire lives working out the details of communication. "I can't marry you because we argue" -> "stop arguing and cheerfully be agreeable all the time and maybe possibly I'll marry you" -> Red flag + deal breaker + BS.

You have anxiety that your five year relationship isn’t resulting in marriage? Welcome to the club. Tons of people are there with you.

What I hear from your ex is: "I'm going to drop the P word in hopes that it will make you stop expressing your discontent and cheerfully live life how I want it. I want things to go back to how they were, where you require no extra commitment from me. Is the P word enough to get you to bury your needs and desires and shut up for a while? I wonder how long I can keep you around without a commitment...."

Unless he shows up with a ring and an apology, I would not say anything to him. He has made his decision. Don't be baited into believing that casually mentioning "proposal" in sentence means that if you shut up and do whatever he wants, it's going to happen.

*You can always tell if someone really wants to marry you because they talk about how excited they are and look forward to it with pure mirth.
posted by Shouraku at 7:33 PM on October 21, 2012 [33 favorites]


Sometimes the right people meet at the wrong time. You're a person who's had a string of long term relationships you were hoping were leading towards marriage. He was in his first relationship coming from a background where marriage wasn't a priority or the norm.

Honestly, it sounds like you're happier apart than together. Sure, "in theory" you and he had a great relationship. In practice, the relationship caused your great anxiety, you were inordinately upset, and you argued all the time. Enjoy the peace you have in your life right now, and mourn for the fact that things didn't work out with someone who sounds like he probably would have made a great friend but "not the marrying type."

I might also add that it's a hard sell to convince someone that a relationship dynamic driven by a lot of arguing and anxiety would suddenly change just because he propsoed to you. He's suspicious of marriage to begin with, and the idea that the relationship would be much more pleasant with a proposal is a pure hypothetical. The stress, anxiety, and arguing was the tangible reality. Relationships shouldn't be this difficult. When you find the right one, you'll see how well things click.
posted by deanc at 7:36 PM on October 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


I kind of hesitate to say this because I feel like it may fuel neurotic behavior on your part but my exhusband finally got with the program and committed to marrying me after I dumped him. However, I was not waiting for him to come back or something. I was getting flowers from another guy and exploring that possibility. He had engaged in dealbreaking behavior and he was so through in my eyes.

So, yes, things sometimes work that way. But, gee, I have a much longer list of men in my life that I fantasized would get back with me later who didn't. So I don't think that is the way to bet.
posted by Michele in California at 7:58 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I badly want him to date a few people, realize he wants to have an awesome marriage with me, and to come blazing back all goal-oriented in four months.

Oh no no no no no. Life is like a Choose Your Own Adventure, except there are about 4,000 options on each page. The only guarantee is that the complex chain of events you've set up in your head won't happen. You need to take action or understand that inaction may precipitate any vast number of results.
posted by threeants at 8:06 PM on October 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


Move on. Leave him alone and give him time to reframe his life without you in it.

You were clear about what you wanted, you gave him a serious ultimatum, he didn't want what you want and you broke up with him. It's over now. Move on and don't nurse fantasies of him running back to you after sowing wild oats.

In my experience, ultimatums end up like this more often than not because most people resent manipulations enforced with threats.

Find someone who wants what you want. Learn from this and don't waste time waiting around for a rom-com resolution. He's not ready. If he were ready for marriage and wanted what you want, you'd already be engaged and/or married by now.
posted by quince at 8:22 PM on October 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


You wouldn't have been able to get through the break up conversation if you didn't know deep down that you needed to do it. Having rules and boundaries and clearly communicated expectations are really healthy normal things that adults use to keep themselves sane, and it's a good thing we humans have figured out this strategy for containing our emotion addicted drama town brains. You are likely experiencing the emotional whiplash that comes with shaking up something that's been otherwise stable, but wait it out. Give it a few months (at least three) and see where you are then.

Cold Hard Truth:
My two friends just went through this exact thing, right down to the timeline starting in January. Lady friend was dismayed to have to resort to metaphors involving free milk and buying the cow or whatever... it was a time. Dude bro is my very good friend and I was about to sit him down and have a Talk with him until all of a sudden in July he texted me two rings on a Friday and then proposed to my lady bro friend that Saturday. They got married last weekend.


Give your feelings time to catch up with the boundaries you are maintaining. I think you did the right thing.
posted by skrozidile at 8:39 PM on October 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's good to be judicious about commitment. Better than good, but the apt adjective does not come to mind. But it doesn't take five years to make a judicious determination of whether you want to commit to someone. Ergo, he doesn't. Ergo, you should put him behind you and move on.
posted by bricoleur at 8:54 PM on October 21, 2012


This sounds like a really, really intense relationship. Timelines? To-do lists of relationship fixers? Being forthright about your desires for marital commitment is a good thing. Drawing lines in the sand so you don't get dangled along is a good thing. But your boyfriend should not be treated like an employee who requires biannual reviews and TPS Reports Re: Engagement. Nor should you feel anxious and on edge because you are not seeing sufficient Progress on that Engagement Project. It sounds like a really unhappy dynamic for everyone involved.

I wonder if your guy isn't having trouble because this is his first relationship. If he's in his late 20s now, it means you got together in his early-mid-20s. If that was when he entered his first relationship, then I'm guessing he was pretty damn happy you guys got together. And if you lasted for five years, it means you had a good thing going. Maybe he's thinking "She's more experienced, she's older, all these points she makes about my failings and our relationship failings sound like good ones, and how can I leave? I don't know anything else!" But at the same time--you are his first one, no other relationship experience, so part of him has to be wondering if there isn't something else out there and whether he's really ready to take the Forever step.

Meanwhile--you know what you want, you are ready for it, and you are getting pretty impatient that it's taking him so long to go for it.

I think it is best if you guys stay apart. As much as you love each other you're in very, very different places. You do not want a marriage where ten years down the road he feels resentful and shoved into commitment he was not ready for, and you do not want a relationship where ten years down the road you are still not married and you feel like you've wasted the best years of your life on a see-saw guy.

After five years where nothing egregiously terrible happened it is natural to believe this was the best relationship of your life. But if after five years the two of you are in such a different place then it is pretty clear this is not the best relationship of your life--the best one will be with a man who joyfully enters the commitment you want, without timelines and TPS reports.
posted by schroedinger at 8:58 PM on October 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


You can guess what happened. He deviated, and I realized the other day that I couldn't look my friend in the eye at lunch and tell her why he and I were still together. I ended the relationship this afternoon.

You ended a five year relationship just hours ago? Of COURSE you are freaking out and second-guessing yourself right now! It's okay. Breathe. I'm an impartial observer here, and from where I sit? You did exactly the right thing.

I agree with cairdeas 100% on this one. I think your boyfriend was telling you what you wanted to hear while sabotaging the relationship because he doesn't want to get married. That doesn't mean, as someone said above, that he is "evil"! You love this man, and he loves you. I think that's really true. He's just young (in years and in experience), in his first LTR, and he isn't ready. He may not be doing any of this deliberately; he just doesn't see what the big hurry is about, and his heart isn't in the Let's Get Married plan.

Meanwhile, you've already waited 5 years, hoping he would get on board. Marriage is important to you. You communicated to him very clearly that this is where you saw the relationship going. This stuff some user said about you maybe being controlling and all that, forget it.

You are just in your early 30s, and your biological clock is ticking, and unless you're a woman who has dealt with that I don't think you can know what that feels like, to have all your hormones screaming at you, "If you are going to have a baby you had better do it soonsoonsoon!" Lots of women don't even go through that, because they have no desire to get married or have children. But if that's what you want, it becomes a huge deal, and you shouldn't feel guilty about what you need to make you happy. You were upfront about it, and honestly communicated your needs, and he just wasn't ready to meet them.

We like to think that love conquers all, but sometimes when it seems like there are a lot of obstacles in the way, that's a sign that this particular love is not the one we're meant to end up with.

You did the right thing. Do NOT contact him. Grieve over your loss as you would any other, and then get on with your life.

It may be that your boyfriend will have an epiphany. You leaving him may serve as the wake up call he needs to get him off his butt and proposing. I am not sure that would be the best ending for you, though, to be honest.

If THIS is what it takes to make him realize he loves you and wants to spend the rest of his life with you, after all you've been through, that is a huge red flag for any future together. Suppose you want to start trying to have children in a couple years, and he isn't ready for THAT? Do you want to have to go through this hassle, all the fighting and drawing lines in the sand and emotional turmoil, all over again?
posted by misha at 9:02 PM on October 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


You ask if you acted foolishly, and I'll say that I think you did some parts of this foolishly, but not the breaking up part.

I've seen several couples in situations where one has given the other an ultimatum about commitment (four women and one man were the ultimatum issuers) or children. In every case except one, the relationship has not survived longer than a few years. The final one is currently in the final stages of divorce right now (and is one that featured two high-stakes ultimatums about getting married and having a child).

So I think you were exactly right to end things with this person who does not want to get married. At the same time, I think the ultimatum strategy is always a fool's game.
posted by yellowcandy at 9:10 PM on October 21, 2012


I think both of you needed to kind of get a reality check at some point during "the proposal stage," and neither of you did... but I think you made the right choice in breaking up. (Not knowing what to say to your friend was a good sign you weren't in the relationship you wanted and couldn't be honest with yourself.)

Five years without a proposal is a long time if one party wants to get married. It's possible that he might have came around-- but is it likely? Hard to tell. All this "to-do" listing and everything was honestly probably a stalling tactic. I've been with lots of guys I knew deep down I didn't want to be with forever, and how did I deal with that? By constantly coming up with little problems and trying to push away or escape... without ending the relationship. Because I liked them okay, and I was kind of waiting for something better to come along.

The "why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?" metaphor is outmoded only because it paints all men as... mere milk-drinkers, and assumes everyone wants to get married. But if you want to get married, there is a point there. There's a world of difference between growing in a relationship with someone willing to commit, and someone who's not, and I doubt you would have gotten a satisfactory change of mind from him any time soon. And who wants to pressure someone into marrying them?

Someone wrote an answer on AskMe once about how there are lots of people out in the world. You're a MarriagePerson, and you need to meet a MarriageGuy. When you meet, it will feel like you just click, because you're looking for the same thing. None of these ultimatums or checklists.
posted by stoneandstar at 9:21 PM on October 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've been in shoes similar to yours before. Here's what I wish someone had told me:

You did a hard thing that was necessary to remain true to yourself and honor what your needs are. You should feel good about this. It was tough to leave this situation, but it was the right thing. You need to keep your mind on two simple things, which are the brass-tacks facts at the heart of this matter:

- You wanted to marry this man and told him so honestly. After a long time together, you communicated to him that this was necessary in order for you to have the kind of relationship you wanted, and that if he didn't want the same thing, you would need to leave.
- He did not want to marry you. Despite knowing your feelings and the fact that you needed to marry or move on, he declined to take that step with you due to his ambivalence about your relationship.

I suggest keeping those facts foremost in your mind and resisting the temptation to anguish over what his motivations or reasons were, and whether things could have been different if you had done x, y, or z. Do not obsess over whether you put too much pressure on him, and whether that pushed him away. This type of second-guessing will prevent you from moving on and will make you crazy, but it will not change his mind. Ultimately, whatever his reasons, you wanted to marry him, he did not want to marry you, and the only way forward is forward.

I know it's scary right now, but you owe it to yourself to put one foot in front of the other and not doubt your strong feelings here. If he misses you and comes back with a marriage proposal, great--THEN you can spend time thinking about him and how to make it work together. But until then, you are only hurting yourself. Back-burner your feelings for your now-ex and concentrate on moving on to a more fulfilling situation for YOU. To be honest, you were not his priority, but you should be your own.

This really will get better. It just takes time (and guts).
posted by anonnymoose at 10:12 PM on October 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


P.S. To answer your last question, no, I really do not think that communicating the desire to have him date other people and then come back to you would be constructive right now. The constructive thing is to stop focusing on his place in your life for awhile and focus on you and your own needs, which he was not able to fill. Why not try some space? You just broke up. No contact while you sort your head out and let your feelings settle.
posted by anonnymoose at 10:18 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you want to give it another crack, you know, call him up and ask him to. You certainly need to ditch the fantasy of him discovering the dry desert of the dating pool and coming back to you transformed - just like you both need to ditch all fantasies of some sort of rapid, fundamental transformation of yourselves or your relationship. Because that shit doesn't happen. Now of most of the people in this thread I am potentially more on your side. My now-wife and I broke up briefly and I think it was necessary. We both had to decide we wanted what we had more than we were bothered by what wasn't right and some serious changes had to occur. For what it's worth one of the things I had to let go of was demanding certainty from her about the relationship. It needed room to breath and I wasn't giving it that. Another related experience I'll note is that going back to it I firmly decided not to give a shit about what anyone else thought of it: a family member whose opinion means a lot to me frankly told me they thought I was making a mistake, for example. That's fine and I still love that person and they love me (and my wife, incidentally). It wasn't their relationship it was mine. You're friends don't need explanations from you as to why you're with your boyfriend. The question is whether you have an answer you can live with yourself.

We were engaged less than a year later, that was over a decade ago. Stranger things happen.

I have to say this: "proposal stage"- "rate of progress" - "instant elimination round" - "deviating from the list"? Your relationship sounds like an unpleasant job. I went to talking therapy for over four years working on issues that obviously went back a lifetime but had been focused through an awareness generated by that brief breakup. I can't imagine what this would have been like if I'd been under some sort of dire onus to transform myself on a timeline. For the most part people can only change their behaviors slowly and incrementally. It certainly seems possible that he is simply unready or unwilling to finally, ultimately commit - and after 5 years that is very not good. But have you considered the possibility that the cure was worse than the disease? I cannot imagine a relationship flourishing under the conditions described. If you want to try it again maybe you should call off all the timelines, the lists, the conditions, the stages. Try to be happy, forgive one another, try to have fun and enjoy one another. You know? Just let it be for a while and see what it feels like. You say it was otherwise wonderful, and honestly it kind of seems like all the otherwise has to do with it being wonderful not being enough. Now if he is even up for this he might just go back to complacently avoiding the issue, in which case, you know, there's your problem (again). Then again he might actually get that failing to commit is the main problem he brings to the relationship and, given some space to appreciate what he has without such gawdawful pressure to perform, actually be able to follow through.

When we broke up I was sick in my heart and I knew down to the soles of my feet that it was wrong. In all my previous breakups I had been sad, sometimes resisting like hell and sometimes accepting the inevitable but I always knew in my heart that it was right. And that's what decided me. Good luck.
posted by Luke Skywalker at 10:23 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have been where you were, and I so understand the growing anxiety and the frustration that comes from not knowing what to do. My comment might be too late, but since you're still seeking solutions, maybe it'll help.

The problem seems to be that you guys ended up in a zero-sum game where either your needs or his needs were going to win, and the other person would have to do something that they don't want to do. That doesn't lead to a sustainable step forward, particularly when that "something they don't want to do" is get married.

Just like you couldn't change your feelings, he couldn't easily change his own. Just changing his behavior probably wasn't ever going to work. Being in a committed relationship is something you have to continually choose, not like jumping off a diving board where you can successfully overcome your fear via a split-second of action. If he had an irrational fear of commitment, then undertaking the actions on your improvement plan, such as say, opening up a joint checking account, might've only increased his fear and desire to flee. The underlying problem would remain, or intensify.

What might have helped, or might still help, would be to address the underlying emotions driving you both, probably best via couples counseling. The counselor could help him talk about his reservations in ways that you could understand. The counselor could help you talk about your anxieties about waiting in ways that he could understand. That exploration might've led you to find alternative pathways through this seemingly win-lose situation in which you both could win.

How? Sometimes even just having others hear your feelings with compassion can help those emotions shift. Maybe by expressing all of his fears around marriage, and having you respond compassionately, he might've felt reassured that your marriage wouldn't have to be those things. Maybe he'd come to realize his fears were irrational, and let them go. Maybe your feelings and beliefs would've shifted some. Maybe you two would have come to agree upon a vision of marriage that you could both share. You guys could have done the communication and emotional growth necessary to move forward together here.

You probably tried really hard to do all of those things, but it might've been impossible to do without outside assistance from a couples counselor because this was so such a charged and tense issue for you both. I don't know if it's too late for that or not. And I don't know if it would even be worth your time. It might work magic, or he might be unwilling to do any work, or you might spend two years in counseling only to discover that there really is no solution that works for you both.

Was I an idiot to break up with him?

No. Given that you guys didn't have an approach to solving an issue that was a dealbreaker for you, breaking up made sense and might still make sense.

Is it wrong to hope fervently that we'll be together again in a few months?

Wrong? No. Realistic? I don't think so. This sounds like you still just trying to "win" rather than the two of you doing the work to find a solution where you both win. To put it another way, his fears about marriage are unlikely to go away on their own.

Also, to be honest, the solution you proposed -- to undertake steps that weren't comfortable for him, or else -- maybe felt kind of coercive, maybe felt like you prioritizing your needs and feelings while his were not valued. I think most people would hesitate to resubmit to that.

I hate myself for not having been able to wait cheerfully.

Wait cheerfully? No, that's a terrible idea. That's an alternate win-lose solution in which you lose. Plus, he might not have ever dealt with his fears without a good reason, such as your desire to move forward. You guys needed better communication that respected the importance of both of your feelings, not for you to hide your own.

Good luck. Since you're going to be hung up on him either way, I'd consider asking him if he'd go to counseling with you. It's not that uncommon for separated couples to come to couples therapy wanting to either finalize their breakup or find a way to reconcile.
posted by salvia at 11:33 PM on October 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


(Who wants to coerce someone else into a proposal?)

Nobody. But who wants to stay indefinitely in a relationship that isn't going in a direction they're happy with, while biting their tongue and 'waiting cheerfully' for it to change? Because that's your alternative, here. And I understand it can be tempting to blame yourself entirely after a breakup (after all, if it's your fault then it's under your control and there's a conceivable way for you to avoid pain like that again), but I don't think it's at all helpful.

Look at it this way: Imagine you had been able to 'wait cheerfully' for him to change his mind about marriage. Imagine you'd been able to stamp down on your wishes and hopes and fears enough that not a smidgen of them showed through, that you'd never got into any arguments about it, and that you never even mentioned it to him in anything other than a totally casual way. What would have happened?

Option 1: you argue less and there's less tension between you, and he still doesn't want to get married. Maybe he talks about it sometimes in a vague would-be-nice-in-the-future way, but he doesn't move from that to actively wanting it, here and now. This goes on. He's happy with the status quo, and you work hard to convince both of you that you're all right with it too. You either don't manage that and grow increasingly, silently, frustrated and resentful to the point where you break up with him anyway a few more years down the line, or you do succeed to some degree and continue with a relationship that never really gives you what you want.

Option 2: you argue less and there's less tension between you, and because of that, he changes his mind and proposes to you and you start planning a wedding. Yay! Except, wait, no, because now you've established that the way to be happy in this relationship is to shut up about your hopes and desires. Not a great start to your marriage.

This seems selfish and immature, but I badly want him to date a few people, realize he wants to have an awesome marriage with me, and to come blazing back all goal-oriented in four months.

It is fine and only human to wish this would happen at some level, but I don't think you should devote mindspace to daydreaming about it, or make any plans on that basis. Probably it won't happen, but even if it does - would you rather rush back into a relationship that might or might not be any different, just because you'd been thinking of nothing else for months? Or would you rather be in a good place with your own life, where you could thoroughly evaluate whether restarting the relationship would be a good thing for you?
posted by Catseye at 2:41 AM on October 22, 2012 [8 favorites]


Your stated goal is to find a suitable man who will formally marry you. This guy is not going to do that. (Read below for explanation.) Now it would be nice if he could find the clarity and strength to say so, but...not everyone can function at that level. In the minimum time it would take to potentially (?) reformat this guy's brain to meet your needs, there is a high probability (though not a certainty) you can find a guy already running the correct operating system who will walk the aisle with you.

Footnotes follow:
After an earlier marriage and divorce, I was single in my 28-32'ish time of life. Multiple times I would start dating and find myself in 60-120 day relationships where everything was going amazingly. And then, there would be a talk (played out in many varieties) where the woman would start communicating her hopes/ideals/expectations. Perhaps I am an outlier, but I found myself responding:

...no, I do not share your religious beliefs...I would never join your church...
...no, I do not want to have children...with you or anyone else...
...I do not want to spend so much time with your family or have some of them live with us in their old age...
...I honestly like my career -- I would not consider downshifting to some 40 hour/week "job"...
etc., etc.

Now most guys would not act like that -- they play for more time. They act noncommittal. Talk about how they need to think about things. Pretend they need to see how things are going so they can evaluate. Etc. But I wonder can someone who is 10-15 years past high school really be so unclear?

I don't think it is deliberate cruelty or manipulation. It is just...fear? Our human need to not be alone can make cowards of us all. So it infinitely easier to defer. In a way, you (the OP) are also a coward (not a personal attack) for staying with this guy for so long just as much as he is a coward for stringing you along. But you can't defer life...the clock keeps ticking and then you are 20-25 years past high school age. So my advice is to get over your fear. There are men out there in your age bracket looking for what you want. Go find one of them.
posted by 99percentfake at 4:43 AM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Thank you for helping me see and feel my way through this.

...chill out on the preconditions and laundry lists....

I just can't jive between what you describe as a wonderful relationship and these two separate episodes of creating a relationship "punch list" of pending issues that need to be corrected before the two of you considered yourself ready to be engaged....

This sounds like a really, really intense relationship. Timelines? To-do lists of relationship fixers? ...[Y]our boyfriend should not be treated like an employee who requires biannual reviews and TPS Reports Re: Engagement....

I want to provide some context, although I might be digging myself a deeper hole here. When I said, "I'd like to talk about getting married," and my boyfriend said, "Some things things that make me hesitate are X and Y," my way of taking his concerns seriously is to ask about them in more detail and figure out what (behavioral) progress would look like: steps x1, x2,...; y1, y2.... We write it out, and it's always something we discussed together. We've always both had things we want to work on. It's mostly self-nomination spurred by the discussion--we don't dictate tasks to the other, although some pressure is intrinsic to the situation. If the behavioral changes don't follow, I take that as a sign that the heart's not in it, that something about our model of what we have and want is wrong. (I firmly believe Pascal's "The heart has its reasons of which the mind knows nothing.") And in the case of proposing, I realized recently I could no longer explain the consistent gap between what he said he wanted and what he did. I told him this, and he didn't reply for several days, and then said, "I'm with you because I think we have a beautiful future together." I often (not always) feel stupid for needing more.

As others have suggested, some of the items on the January list (mostly inspired by him) felt in retrospect like red herrings. I was surprised he thought we argued much. The September list was more about things I needed to go forward.

This post made me realize how cold and rigid I sound, but I also think it's a damn shame when important stuff doesn't happen because of a failure to communicate or get specific. I'm technical (a scientist) and romantic (Myers-Briggs INFJ). I think this partially explains my use of "growth rate," "deviation," and "phase." It's possible my tone is too crass and destructive, and/or I'm doing a lot of things wrong.

Heck, I kinda feel for the guy, he's in his first LTR and getting ultimatums from a serial longterm dater.

I don't like ultimatums either. Functionally, though, there's little difference between saying, "This is where I stand, and I think we're approaching my personal limit" and issuing a strategic ultimatum. My telling him my timeline after four years of dating was an attempt to help the relationship and not blindside him. We didn't have timelines before. (While "serial longterm dater" is strictly true, I've spent almost half of my adult life not in a relationship.)

If he really believes that he should have proposed a year ago, he would be at your door with a ring, correcting that oversight.

Except I told him yesterday not to do this. In September, after our big talk, he asked me what kind of ring I wanted. I said I didn't want an engagement ring. Yesterday, he asked again, and I said, "You asked me this a few weeks ago." He didn't remember for a minute, and then he said, "Oh, was it cubic zirconia?" I've never talked about wanting CZ rings of any kind. This wasn't the precipitating factor for my decision by a long shot, but it reinforced to me that this is not the context in which to decide to get married. He's sad to lose me but has never been excited to marry.

It's so hard to cut things off when he clearly loves me and is trying. Describing all the ways in which he and I have grown in this relationship would take days. In six months or so I'll be moving far for a new job--it's a place I chose partly because he could follow me there after a year, and we had both discussed what our future might look like. Maybe he would've proposed if I'd just held it together until then. (In January, I didn't know I'd get this job and be moving.)

Thank you all again.
posted by civicDuty at 5:30 AM on October 22, 2012


In a way, you (the OP) are also a coward (not a personal attack) for staying with this guy for so long just as much as he is a coward for stringing you along.

I actually think you're not a coward, for having the self-awareness and wherewithal to break up with this guy. Five years is basically the upper limit at which you should have realized "this guy is dragging his feet," and you did, so kudos. I do think stringing someone along is a shitty thing to do (having done it myself and having eventually learned to stop), and there's no shame in taking someone for their word and then gradually waking up to the reality of the cognitive dissonance encroaching on you.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:45 AM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


You know, I read through this and wasn't planning on posting, but your latest update struck me in a couple ways.

and then said, "I'm with you because I think we have a beautiful future together." I often (not always) feel stupid for needing more.

No, no, please don't do this to yourself. It seems that in his mind, you had a beautiful, unmarried future together. You need what you need. Wanting to be married to someone you love is not an unreasonable thing to want. Please do not feel ashamed or like there's something flawed with you for wanting this. There's nothing wrong with his desire to not be married, either, but - these are incompatible things, which makes the relationship incompatible for you.

You're worried that you're letting a perfect relationship go ... The One, as it were. The One does not come with huge, obvious mismatches like "Everything I want except the one big thing I want".

It's so hard to cut things off when he clearly loves me and is trying. Describing all the ways in which he and I have grown in this relationship would take days. In six months or so I'll be moving far for a new job--it's a place I chose partly because he could follow me there after a year, and we had both discussed what our future might look like. Maybe he would've proposed if I'd just held it together until then.

I've been in this place. This place where you think, "If only this one more thing happens THEN everything will be fine." Except... it doesn't. It doesn't happen. If it was going to happen, it would have happened. When he said, "I regret not proposing a year ago", but didn't have a ring in his hand, that shows his ambivalence.

It's been five years. It won't come down to a simple "if I only would have fixed this one thing then everything would be fine." It doesn't, because there's always another one more thing behind that thing. And one simple thing wouldn't be the tipping point in a five year relationship.

It's going to be hard, and you're going to freak out and wonder if you did the right thing. But please, OP - make yourself some tea, take some time, and then start looking forward to your move and starting over. I know I don't know you, but I'm very proud of you for paying attention to your needs and staying true to what you need to be happy. Wanting to be married is not an unreasonable thing. It's not something you should sublimate to try to stay with someone. There is someone out there who wants to be married, who will be a good match for you. Please stay true to you and what you need, and take care of you.
posted by RogueTech at 7:07 AM on October 22, 2012 [13 favorites]


Never marry people that you argue with all the time. Then you will have a marriage of arguing.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:37 AM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


What RJ Reynolds said is true. He just summed up my 22 year unhappy marriage. It is part of why I made my peace with getting divorced. I did not want my old age to still look like that.

(And you might note that I am the same poster above who got your fantasy of my boyfriend coming back after I dumped him, finally serious about marriage.)
posted by Michele in California at 9:32 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


You're not that powerful. Your words aren't magic. If he wanted to marry you, he would make it happen. Everything that "keeps him" from making it happen, including your words and actions, is an excuse.

Stupid example scenarios:
1. I want ice cream. Step 1: I eat ice cream. Step 2: I feel guilty about how my nice suit doesn't fit any more.
2. I don't really want ice cream that much but the thought of ice cream enters my mind and I mention that I could have some but really, I need to watch my weight because I am NOT buying new expensive suits.

You're in scenario two going WHAT IF I GIVE PREFPARA A GIFT SUIT FOR FREE IN A LARGER SIZE? THEN WILL SHE EAT ALL THE ICE CREAM? Nope, because I never really wanted it. And believe me, if you were in scenario one, all the suit-based arguments in the world would not keep the ice cream from me. I would physically fight you in order to get my hands on the ice cream. I am hitting "post answer" and going to buy ice cream ASAP because I want it and do not care about reasons.

If he wanted to marry you, he would be fighting for it. Aggressively. He's not. He doesn't want to marry you. It doesn't matter what you did or did not say or do. It's not about that. You were right to move on.
posted by prefpara at 2:42 PM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


If he wanted to marry you, he would be fighting for it. Aggressively. He's not. He doesn't want to marry you. It doesn't matter what you did or did not say or do. It's not about that. You were right to move on.

As compelling as prefpara's comment is, I do know TWO couples that had been in this situation where one person wanted to get married and the other didn't. They went to counseling, the hesitant one explored whatever issues were blocking the way, and voila, weddings.

It's not like there are two kinds of people in this world, people who were born wanting to marry the OP and people who weren't. Sometimes you can work through relationship blockages with the right kind of skilled support. Whether it's too late to do this now, and whether that work would succeed, I don't know.
posted by salvia at 5:08 PM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


If he wanted to marry you, he would be fighting for it. Aggressively. He's not. He doesn't want to marry you. It doesn't matter what you did or did not say or do. It's not about that.

My ex-boyfriend has asked me the past two days* if I'd let him try to convince me out of it. I've said no both times. I also said the break-up was non-negotiable when introducing it. I kind of agree with salvia, however, that his acceptance might not be the best litmus. My ex-boyfriend and I have always taken each other's words very seriously--no second guessing, "Are you sure you're not cold?", that sort of thing. I also know he comes from a background in which he doesn't break or even think to break these kinds of "rules." If a return policy says "No returns," he won't try talking to the manager.

But the larger issue holds. He's more worried about losing me than he is excited to marry me, though he insists he wouldn't have kept dating me had he not seen marriage as a very real possibility.

I wonder if your guy isn't having trouble because this is his first relationship. If he's in his late 20s now, it means you got together in his early-mid-20s. If that was when he entered his first relationship, then I'm guessing he was pretty damn happy you guys got together. And if you lasted for five years, it means you had a good thing going. Maybe he's thinking "....[H]ow can I leave? I don't know anything else!" But at the same time--you are his first one, no other relationship experience, so part of him has to be wondering if there isn't something else out there and whether he's really ready to take the Forever step.

I think this is a lot of it. He started dating late and told me that he hadn't seen himself as real boyfriend material until I came around (and it took a while). Although he says he doesn't want to date anyone else, I can see how this lack of experience would undermine conviction that I'm the one, that what we have is awesome. He's seeing himself in a new light with new potential.

I feel like he has to go out and figure out what he wants and what else is possible. To realize that he doesn't have to settle for me because no one else will have him. He's really quite a catch, both superficially and deeply attractive, and almost done with his training in one of those professions that women fifty years ago were supposed to swoon after. He'll have options.

I've never broken up with someone I was still in love with, and I've never been this in love. I still badly want him to go get several years of experience in a few months and come back to me. I realize this is unlikely, and it's taking me all my power not to ask him to call me in the spring if he changes his mind. I realize I've probably lost him. It's fucking excruciating and I hate it.

Thank you for helping me come to terms with what has happened.

*We've been living together for the past three years, and we've been sleeping in separate rooms the past two nights. I'm moving out very soon.
posted by civicDuty at 6:11 AM on October 23, 2012


Loving deeply doesn't use up a person's capacity to love. It grows it. The odds are high you will love again, if that is something you want in life.
posted by Michele in California at 9:53 AM on October 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


For what it's worth: a few months would not be long enough for anyone to rationally evaluate whether to re-enter their five-year-relationship. There is this rule of thumb that it takes half the length of a relationship to fully get over someone. Inexact for sure, but it does get across the point that when you've been in a long relationship it will take a long time before the heartbreaking, irrational "mustgetbacktogethermustgetbacktogether their smell makes me swoon" feelings dissipate enough for you to be able to tease out the difference between them and a rational analysis that says the relationship is really what's best for the both of you.
posted by schroedinger at 5:30 PM on October 23, 2012


When you say this --

My ex-boyfriend has asked me the past two days* if I'd let him try to convince me out of it.

- what do you mean by it? Is he proposing to you, or does he just want to get back together as you were before, with no clearer timeline for if/when a proposal/marriage will happen? If it's the latter, it seems pretty clear to me that it's time for you to move on. If it's the former, my answer might be different. What is his vision for you two, if you get back together?
posted by UniversityNomad at 9:41 PM on October 23, 2012


He swears he had decided Saturday night (he hadn't slept much, apparently) that he wanted to propose to and marry me soon...i.e., to propose in the next month or two. He was thinking about how. I was looking for closure last night and asked him to tell me to my face that he hadn't committed in his heart to marry me, and he said he couldn't. I had to run out to see a sublet, and he called me up to tell me about Saturday night. He said he had to tell me, or he'd regret it for the rest of his life. (I ended the relationship Sunday afternoon.)

I also learned he thinks that marriage is about "being there for someone when they fall." While he was sure he could be there for me, he was worried I wouldn't be there for him. This worry, he said, kept him from falling as deeply in love with me as he could have and was part of his (IMO) extreme sensitivity to arguing. I was shocked he hadn't trusted me.

He's still confused and cautious--it takes him a very long time to say anything about his feelings. I'm not convinced he knows clearly what he wants. I'm now sure, as others wrote here, that he would seal himself off and move on if I moved out and we had no contact. He said both that he wants to get back together and also that he's not 100% sure yet that getting back together is the right thing to do. He's afraid to hurt me. I don't know if this a kind, prudent fear or indicates something more. Sigh. If we try again, there will definitely be counseling.
posted by civicDuty at 4:45 AM on October 24, 2012


Sounds like the same sort of "I dunno, maaaybe, I guess" hemming and hawing thing you say he's been doing the whole while. When he says he's afraid to hurt you, you can safely assume because that is an option for him.
posted by griphus at 5:04 AM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


he wanted to propose to and marry me soon...i.e., to propose in the next month or two. He was thinking about how.

From an outside "I don't know either of you" perspective this seems totally crazy. Proposing is just a promise to make a promise. If your guy has anxiety about how to do it right (which may be compounded by the fact that you seem to be a little particular about how you want things to go) that is his problem to solve which, in my opinion only,maybe is something he needs to manage when he's not currently enjoying a relationship with you in the meantime. Some people feel that in the absence of knowing something for certain that they don't know anything at all and should refrain from action. Other people feel that in the absence of compelling reasons to NOT do something they should do it and work out the details later.

So, your call, of course, but from an outside perspective it seems like the two of you have been stuck in the stupid dance phase of this relationship that you were hoping would be clarified by your breaking up with him but instead has just made it higher stakes stupid dancing. I know it feels like the right thing to maybe help him through yet another crisis of "I don't knoooooow!" but man, I wouldn't.
posted by jessamyn at 7:31 AM on October 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


He's afraid to hurt me. I don't know if this a kind, prudent fear or indicates something more.

Whenever a guy says something like, "I don't want to hurt you," it's not kindness or prudence. It's a red flag that he doesn't intend to give you what you want, but refuses to come right out and admit it - because he's too spineless to tell you the truth, and/or because he's hoping to keep stringing you along. It's bait that he wants you to take, so then when he does hurt you, he can't be held fully responsible since he warned you and you took him back anyway. This "I'm afraid to hurt you" line is the toxic cherry on top of everything that has caused you so much heartache throughout the relationship.
posted by keep it under cover at 4:12 PM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


While he was sure he could be there for me, he was worried I wouldn't be there for him. This worry, he said, kept him from falling as deeply in love with me as he could have and was part of his (IMO) extreme sensitivity to arguing. I was shocked he hadn't trusted me.

Remember when I said, there's always one more thing? This is yet another Thing. And if you somehow manage to make yourself happy with whatever he gives you and not worry and not fret and he somehow comes to trust that you'll be there for him ... there will still be something else. Something else that needs fixing, but after that, really, after that, then he'll think about marriage. He'll definitely think about it.

This is not tenable. I know it hurts. I really, really do. The few times I've had to break up with someone I was in physical pain for days. But it does get better. And what you want is perfectly reasonable, and worth trying to find someone with compatible goals.
posted by RogueTech at 8:12 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought I'd post an update for future readers and as a thank you for all the comments.

I was shaken when my boyfriend swore up and down that he had been on the verge of proposing. He asked to get back together, and we did. He wanted to keep talking about marriage (on his initiative, we started reading Gottman's Seven Principles) and get counseling. I asked roughly what timescale he expected for reaching a decision one way or another, and he said two months.

We had five or six counseling sessions and read halfway through Gottman. I was worried when my boyfriend kept bringing up what seemed to be new issues or old ones that I'd thought were long resolved (e.g., the frequency of housecleaning, which I didn't think we'd argued about in years and which I didn't know bothered him). It made me so sad to hear that he thought he was suppressing his preferences and priorities and inferring criticism where none had been intended. One day, he said he was afraid he was in the relationship due to comfort and inertia, and he told me last week that he didn't think his urge to propose in October came from a good place. He furthermore hadn't consistently wanted to propose since then. He wasn't sure if his resistance was specific to me/us or marriage in general. I asked how I could help him reach a decision, and he suggested we physically separate and he use the space to think. A few days later, he said he couldn't marry me; he needed to get more experience and date other people. I've moved out, and I'm probably not going to see him or talk with him for years.

It's awful how the favorite person in my life has become the one person with whom I can no longer share it.

I had asked years ago and more than once if, on some level, he ruled out marrying his first girlfriend on principle--if our relationship felt like a "starter" one to him. He said no. I had also asked him to let me know if he ever felt that marrying me was off the table, because marriage was what I was ultimately going for. I'm certain he didn't mean to deceive me. He just didn't know.

Many of you nailed the dynamic and inferred correctly what was going on. He told me that he finally realized he was using the "issues" as a cover for his indecisiveness.

The One does not come with huge, obvious mismatches like "Everything I want except the one big thing I want".

Thank you--this line has become my mantra in the past 48 h. Otherwise, this feels like the biggest, most perverse Wrong Ending ever.

[emo romantic alert] I think of dreams of the relationship like a garden that grows around us. Five years is a lot of dreaming. There's a formal garden of housing dreams we discussed for our next move, with a large pot of bulbs about to burst open for our next big international trip. There are vegetable beds and orchards leading off into the distance of parenting methods and tricks we had discussed using on our future kid, labyrinths of boxwood and wisteria for the art we'd do together, magnolia trees under which we'd run D&D campaigns and other games in retirement, a stand of weedy professional obligations to keep pruned and in check, benches for resting and contemplation throughout, rows of hydrangeas for morale, roses with stupid names to make us laugh, bunnies, guppies and capybaras, a stand of pine trees with tables for family, and an unexplored forest beyond. I'm standing at the center of this beautiful space, alone with a rototiller, and I don't want to start. But Fate is basically blowing Agent Orange over all of it. I guess that if I walk far enough, I can, in theory, start over somewhere else.
[/end alert]

Thank you all for helping me come to terms with what has happened.
posted by civicDuty at 11:04 AM on January 2, 2013


So sorry, civicDuty. :( :(
posted by salvia at 7:52 PM on January 2, 2013


I am so sorry this happened to you, civicDuty. I think the way that you were jerked around was cruel. And, I totally know what you mean about the garden. Sometimes, for me, the most painful thing of all about breakups has been feeling like my future plans were taken away from me. It's been especially painful when I've felt like I was sticking it out through rough times and the anticipation of those happy things in the future was what kept me going. It really hurts, but I believe you will be able to create a very happy life for yourself in the end. Change can be shocking and very hard, but we adapt with time and in the end, we often can't even remember how intensely bad it felt at first.
posted by cairdeas at 9:23 PM on January 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Thanks for your update, OP. It's natural to feel sad and it will take time to heal, but I'm glad you're finally rid of him. I know so many women whose LTRs broke up in their late 20s/early 30s, and 2-3 years later were married and pregnant, you have no idea. I'm sure this will work out for you.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:31 AM on January 3, 2013


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