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Head vs. Heart debate: can it work if I am not 'in love' with him?
March 1, 2014 8:13 AM   Subscribe

For just over a year I have been with a guy who is perfect for me on paper. He is sweet, kind, intelligent, hardworking, loves me and would do anything for me... we get on with each other’s families. We share values, interests, friends, ideas about where to go on holiday. But although I care about him a lot I’m not 'in love' with him, and I’m not sure I will ever be.

He, on the other hand, he has made it clear that he thinks I am the one. He often tells me he's waited for me all his life, that I'm the best thing that ever happened to him. But instead of feeling happy it makes me cringe and feel horribly guilty because I don't feel the same.

If I had to put a finger on what's wrong I guess the main reason is that he doesn’t have much grrrrr – he’s quite needy and apologetic, and he never really stands up for himself –a bit of a pushover, a yes-man, and I find myself getting irritated with him easily over little things. We also have totally different senses of humour. I often feel he doesn't 'get' me.

Don't get me wrong, we do have fun. About half the time all this doesn't bother me too much - I tell myself to be grown up, that everyone has faults and I should focus on the positives not the negatives, and then I can visualise it working out and us both being happy long-term. Yet at other times I feel this strong urge to get away asap, like I can't be with him a moment longer and in my head I start thinking about how I am going to end it. Sometimes I experience both extremes within an hour. (I wouldn't say I'm an emotionally volatile person usually - in fact I'd say I'm usually pretty calm and rational).

We both know how each other feels and we both know it’s not ideal, but at the same neither of us is ready to call it off.

Part of me thinks I should end it now so that he can find someone who gives him the love he deserves, and I can find someone who feels really right for me.

But… firstly, he doesn’t actually mind that I’m not in love with him (I told him this because he asked me straight - he thinks that as long I’m happy enough to commit eventually, it will work itself out.)

Secondly, if we did break up, who’s to say either of us will find those people? After all, I am 35 and he is 39, and we haven’t yet. There aren’t as many fish in the sea as people think. I’ve witnessed a lot of my friends now in their early 40s (all nice, normal, attractive people) play the dating game for decades and yet still miss the boat and go through all the pain that entails. Singledom isn’t usually a choice, and it doesn’t just happen to crazy people.

So the dilemma is this: do I stay with him and have all that entails: the predictability, the companionship, children (hopefully), a comfortable lifestyle, the close families, the network of friends … Yet all the while feeling like something is missing and I’ve settled for something that’s not quite right, and wondering ‘what if’. Do you think it possible for either of us to be happy in this scenario long-term?

OR… Do I break his heart (his fear) and risk losing everything and ending up single and bitter (my fear)?

This probably comes across as horribly selfish - I've just tried to be very honest and blunt, and have said things in this post that I haven't told a soul. In spite of how this sounds I know he hasn't deliberately done anything wrong and I want to do the right thing, not just for me but for him too.

Thanks in advance,
Jen.
posted by Britchick35 to Human Relations (65 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Singledom isn’t usually a choice

It is a far, far better option than an unhappy union.

From your description of him it sounds like you don't have a lot of respect for him (understandably; I lost respect for him just reading your post), and that's a big red flag. Relationships can survive a lot of challenges but lack of respect is a death knell.
posted by kmennie at 8:17 AM on March 1 [16 favorites]


You're not happy. Eventually his faults will cause you to hate him.

Break up and spare yourself the misery. From your writings, he sounds like a great pet for you, not a good spouse.

Do it now, or you'll be back in AskMe in a few years, wondering about an affair with your office mate.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:18 AM on March 1 [8 favorites]


If you're not in love with him, you are not a good partner for him, no matter what he feels or thinks right now. People who are in love with each other are the ones who survive when things get really bad. And they will, at times, be bad. Cut him loose now.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:18 AM on March 1 [1 favorite]


I think you already know the answer to your question. You just don't want to do it because you're afraid of the consequences.
posted by pharm at 8:21 AM on March 1 [2 favorites]


If it weren't for your lack of respect for him, I'd say sure, why not.

But you don't respect him and it sounds like he knows that and doesn't mind (which is a big reason for the lack of respect!), and that sounds like years of misery in the making. Good luck, I guess.
posted by rtha at 8:22 AM on March 1 [10 favorites]


I think that if you can regain respect for him, it's possible the relationship could be worth saving.

I was in a similar situation several years ago and ended up breaking it off because we weren't on the same 'wavelength'. However, I often wonder what would have happened if I had worked harder at the relationship. My situation was different in that I had tremendous respect for him.

This book is rather self-helpy, but I would definitely recommend it, especially for your situation: http://www.amazon.com/Will-Our-Love-Last-Couples/dp/0684864924
posted by rcraniac at 8:29 AM on March 1 [1 favorite]


This is not a head vs. heart debate. A head vs. heart debate is when you passionately love someone (part of you really thinks it's right) but have reservations because of x, y or z (part of you think it's wrong). This is actually a head & heart alignment - no part of you really believes that this relationship is the right one for you.

Part of me thinks I should end it now so that he can find someone who gives him the love he deserves, and I can find someone who feels really right for me.

This is the part of you that knows the truth.

If you marry this guy, you will definitely spend the rest of your life unhappy. Why would you choose certain unhappiness over great possible happiness?
posted by leitmotif at 8:32 AM on March 1 [3 favorites]


I was with a guy for 6 months. He seemed right on paper and a really great guy, but I just couldn't fall in love with him. I like being impressed with my SO. I broke it off and then find someone I absolutely feel in love with. I was 25 and did online dating though. I do hope my ex found someone great for him, because he was nice, but I do not want to be with someone that makes me cringe.
posted by Jaelma24 at 8:34 AM on March 1


He, on the other hand, he has made it clear that he thinks I am the one. He often tells me he's waited for me all his life, that I'm the best thing that ever happened to him. But instead of feeling happy it makes me cringe and feel horribly guilty because I don't feel the same.


Break up. Your emotions are telling you the truth. Listen.

It's easier to be happy alone than with someone who is wrong for you.
posted by bunderful at 8:35 AM on March 1 [2 favorites]


Have you ever expressed to him the part where you feel that he's needy, apologetic and a pushover? And what did he say to that--does he feel any need for him to work on that part of his personality so

I think that is a big part of whether the relationship can be made to work.

If that isn't there, then break up with him for the sake of both you and him.
posted by Tsukushi at 8:36 AM on March 1 [4 favorites]


When I first got together with my husband, I told him (in one of my more blunt moments) that I needed him to have more of that "grrr" that you're describing. I had gotten out of a relationship with someone who was challenging in nearly every way, and for all the angst we'd gone through I found it "healthy" to work through arguments to their end, or to call him up and say, "I had a bad day at work. I want a nice angry fuck."

To his credit, my now-husband said, "I'm not like that, and I can't be like that." And he really couldn't; as the child of an alcoholic, he has a "high tolerance for inappropriate behavior" (a joke between us, but true) and could be a pushover, especially back then. I had to find new things to fill what I thought I wanted. Happily, we went on to find so many other things about each other that have changed me and made me happier than I ever imagined. It wasn't hard in the least.

You can say what you want to get out of a relationship, but if you haven't found what you're looking for in a year, it is absolutely not going to jump out at you tomorrow, or next month, or a year from now. And if you're unable to find the secret little delights that make you love THIS PERSON for who he is, it's time to move on. It won't change; it'll only get worse. I've been there, too.

End this, for your own sakes. It doesn't matter how old you are. There's joy and delight out there that will blow this mediocrity out of the water.
posted by Madamina at 8:40 AM on March 1 [11 favorites]


Do I break his heart (his fear) and risk losing everything and ending up single and bitter (my fear)?

You can't break his heart. He knows what's going on, so I'd stop that line of thinking. And even in the most horrific, sudden, rug-pulled-out-from-under-me-nightmarish breakup scenario, people get over it. People move on.

Ending up single and bitter? That will be your choice. But from what you've written, staying with him seems to be an almost-guaranteed situation where you will be partnered and bitter. Single seems a lot better. Bitter is up to you.

Break up with him. No, this does not guarantee you will ever meet someone else. But it does guarantee that you won't spend the rest of your life with someone you think is a needy, apologetic pushover.
posted by kinetic at 8:44 AM on March 1 [3 favorites]


It is ALWAYS better to be single than to be with someone you like but don't love. Don't shortchange yourself or this guy. You both deserve better.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 8:50 AM on March 1 [2 favorites]


Neither 'staying with him' nor 'staying forever single' are the only options you have, nor is staying single the horrible, dreadful thing you seem to view it as being. "Singledom isn't usually a choice, and it doesn't just happen to crazy people" --- you sound almost panicked at the mere thought that *gasp* you might not end up marching into the sunset two-by-two.

You can have kids without a permanent partner; alternatively, you can have a fulfilling and meaningful life without either a partner or kids, or you can have a partner but no kids..... and having kids while tied to a partner you don't respect (a partner who you admit makes you "cringe") is a recipe for disaster for everyone: you, your partner and those mythical kids.

Just because he's a perfect match for you "on paper" doesn't really mean a whole lot in real life. Break this off gently but permanently, because staying with him is a sure way for both of you to end up unhappy.
posted by easily confused at 8:53 AM on March 1 [2 favorites]


I've been married 20 years this summer and sometimes have felt a bit this way. We have been through a lot together, including having 3 kids and losing one. Time and time again we have returned to the roots of our relationship - that we were madly in love and still are for 2 months every other year or whatever it works out to. Otherwise I think we would end up hating each other. This sounds like a beautiful friendship (after 6 months) while you find someone else.
posted by Zen_warrior at 8:54 AM on March 1 [1 favorite]


A lifetime spent with someone who you often think doesn't "get you" and whose sense of humor is radically different is going to be very, very lonely. I think these things are bedrocks and the key to a lasting, intimate relationship.

Things don't have to be perfect by any stretch of the imagination. But at some level -- and especially when things are otherwise a real challenge -- you need to feel your partner does get you. And you need to enjoy a truly genuine laugh together on a regular basis. Otherwise I would say you are missing out, and so is he.

(That little "grrrr" is important too; it can help you overlook a lot.)
posted by beanie at 9:02 AM on March 1 [2 favorites]


If it was reversed, would you want to marry someone knowing that they were settling for you and secretly had a lot of contempt for you? Does anyone deserve to marry someone that secretly DOES NOT LIKE THEM?

Look: yeah, you might end up single for life if you don't marry this guy. He may be your last fish in an empty sea. I won't lie. You always run that risk. But some things are worse than being single until you die at age 95 and you never ever have another prospect again from age 35 to 95. And one of those things is marrying a guy that you secretly kinda can't stand and want to get away from. That will probably lead to you becoming emotionally abusive to the guy and eventually having a heinous divorce. And that will be even uglier if you had kids with him, so you'd all be stuck with him for life once you share custody. The words "partnered and bitter" already sound like they apply to you now after a year.

Please don't do it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:03 AM on March 1 [6 favorites]


Wow... I did expect some people to say end it, but didn't think it would be so unanimous. I had also not seen respect as the main issue but I can see now that it underpins all our other issues.

Yes, I have mentioned the neediness/insecurity to him before - in his group of friends he is the one people take the piss out of, and I once asked him if he minded. He said he didn't, as he saw it as a sign of affection, whereas I see it as a lack of respect - to me it's a classic bullying tactic to pick on one person because it helps the others to bond as a group (while subtly pushing that person out of the group). But he just doesn't see it that way.

In fact he sees himself completely the opposite - very self assured and confident. He said that at school no one would dare pick on him, and he was never bullied. I didn't know him then but I find it so hard to imagine. And It's not just me who sees him this way now. My more honest friends - although they like him - have expressed concern that he is a bit meek/ unconfident/ wet. And when we hang out with our friends' kids they will kick and punch him and scream in his ear. He is good at engaging them, they like him, and they would much rather play with him than me - but they don't respect him.

All this said, and I know it's a big one, it is pretty much the only criticism. In case my first post was unbalanced, what I really like about him is that he is knowledgeable (about history, art, music, politics - and I love that) he is kind, interested, considerate, likes the same stuff as me - walking, cycling, art, theatre, and I don't want to be that person who overlooks the nice guy because he's too nice and walks away from something that is fixable.
posted by Britchick35 at 9:12 AM on March 1


You've been in this for a year. It's not "fixable." Nor is it fair to him -- he IS a nice guy, but it sounds like you'd be much better suited for other people.

End it.
posted by Madamina at 9:15 AM on March 1 [1 favorite]


You're not overlooking him. You have both given this a shot - a fair shot. You don't respect him and yeah, that's important. There are other people out there who are kind and considerate and knowledgeable and who like stuff you like and whom you can respect.
posted by rtha at 9:33 AM on March 1


he thinks I am the one.

Apologies for recycling an old comment, but I think it might help clarify things to see that "the one" is not a person; "the one" is a relationship. I'm sure he's genuinely a nice guy, and I'm sure he sincerely feels very deeply for you. But those factors, by themselves, are not enough to build a solid, healthy, happy, mutually satisfying long-term relationship.

This is not a personal failing on your part, nor a personal failing on his. You are both good people who care about each other, and simultaneously do not have what it takes to get married. It's not your fault, it's not his fault, it's just the (sad) way it goes sometimes.
posted by scody at 9:34 AM on March 1 [9 favorites]


As you noted, the weight of opinions upthread is to end the relationship now, before it gets ugly. But only you can decide that...

So, before you take the irrevocable step of breaking up you need to ask yourself some things. Are his faults driving you away, or are they justifications for leaving him? Is he so afraid of losing you that he's more submissive than you want him to be? In other words, are there motivational aspects on your (or his) part that are causing you (or him) to act in ways that are counterproductive for the relationship?

Something my first boss used to say was very profound: We fall in love with whomever fits the other side of our game.

Only you can answer those questions, but IMHO you owe it to yourself and him to answer them before making a final decision about the relationship.
posted by DrGail at 9:38 AM on March 1 [3 favorites]


"you sound almost panicked at the mere thought that *gasp* you might not end up marching into the sunset two-by-two." (easily-confused)

Yes, that's absolutely right. And I'm not proud of it. I am maternal, I have always liked and wanted kids and can't imagine life without them. I have a job that I love but I'm not a career girl and a family is the only think I have ever *known* I wanted from life. So it's hard to give it up when it's dangling from a string in front of me.

I have ended relationships before because I (or the bloke) didn't want to compromise, but I guess my mind has become more open to compromise now - I'm just confused about how much compromise I can deal with and in what areas. *Obviously* I couldn't, wouldn't and don't want to bring kids into an unhappy home, put them and my partner through divorce and misery etc. But if there's a possibility of it working and being happy in this I want to find it. I honestly wouldn't go ahead with it because of some selfish desire to reproduce.

Perhaps I am clutching at straws but when I look at the people around me and see that they are either settling, or breaking up with the person who they thought would be the love of their life, or regretting leaving it too late and hating being single... I wonder if the happily ever after is a total myth (or even the happily enough ever after).
posted by Britchick35 at 9:39 AM on March 1 [1 favorite]


[Hey there, Britchick35, moderator here. Just to let you know, at AskMetafilter it's not really customary for the asker to get into a back-and-forth processing discussion. You've asked and presented the facts, now you can read people's answers as they come in and choose the ones that seem most useful to you.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:41 AM on March 1 [1 favorite]


Reading more of your follow-up, and of your boyfriend's self-image, convinces me more that by breaking up, you would do yourself and him a favour.

In terms of my first and only relationship at age 31, I've actually been you... and him.

Entering the relationship, I had a rather weak sense of self and was too nice for my own good; this was one of the things that my ex had been worried about. I had been relying my ex as a source of emotional comfort. The fear that I would be single again and would never get married--when that was exactly what I desired--prompted me to try to hedge and be the cool girlfriend.

When we broke up, it spurred me to re-examine both my tendency to be too nice for my own good as well as whether being single would entail that I've failed in life. I'm happy to report that I'm much more assertive and have a much better sense of what my values are, as well as knowing that being single isn't the end of the world. I now have very fulfilling friendships and hobbies that I might not have considered if I had been in the relationship and continuing to use my ex as my emotional support.

As for "happily ever after"--not everyone's idea of "happily ever after" necessarily needs to conform with what society considers "happily ever after". Take a look inside you and your values, and you might find the "happily ever after" you're looking for.

Wishing you all the best!
posted by Tsukushi at 9:59 AM on March 1 [1 favorite]


This is a potentially fixable relationship!

For most men, their assertiveness is very situational, based upon what they perceive to be necessary and who holds the cards in whatever social environment there is. No man with a good education and a good job is going to be a constitutional sniveling coward, and no man who is not in a locked ward is going to be every and always an alpha dog.

If you can say to him with conviction, "if you love me and want to keep me, you'll do what you want without asking permission, and tell me what to do and refuse to accept no for an answer" you may be surprised with what you get.
posted by MattD at 10:14 AM on March 1 [3 favorites]


but I guess my mind has become more open to compromise now

I definitely changed on this score in my 30s, too, which was how I became open enough to my current relationship (going on 9 years), even though on paper we actually looked like a not-great match. But the thing is, there are some things that are open to compromise, and some things that aren't. You can be open to compromise on a lot of things (I used to think, for example, that it was important that my partner have at least a college degree and preferably more education beyond that, but I realized that I was being a snob and that education didn't matter as much as curiosity, which is why it doesn't matter to me that my partner didn't go to college -- so you could say I compromised, or even abandoned, my previously held requirements). But I don't think it's possible to compromise on the essential qualities of a healthy, long-term relationship.

It doesn't matter if you two have things in common; it matters only if, at the end of the day, you have each other in common. And by that I mean that there's no one else either of you would rather have on your team -- the person you like as much as you love, the person who is the first person you want to share your joys with and who you can lean on during your sorrows, the person who makes you laugh and who makes your heart skip. And sure, while passion frequently eases into comfort after years together with someone, the essential quality of being bonded with each other on a deep level is what persists.

This is not something you can talk yourself into. Believe me, I tried with my ex-husband. Super nice guy. Smart, funny, loads of common interests. But you'll notice he's my ex-husband. We're still friends and he's a wonderful man, but we were never made to be life partners, and in my heart of hearts I knew it the day I walked down the aisle.

*Obviously* I couldn't, wouldn't and don't want to bring kids into an unhappy home, put them and my partner through divorce and misery etc.

Then don't marry someone you don't love. Because without love, an unhappy home is eventually what it will be.

I know this is hard for you, and my heart really goes out to you. I know you are afraid that you will not have the things you want in your life, and that settling down with this boyfriend seems like your last shot. But I think there's a different option: sitting with your fears for awhile. Accept that you may not go down the get-married-have-kids path. And then ask yourself in a spirit of genuine curiosity: OK, what then? For example, how might you fulfill your love of children in the event that you don't have children of your own with a husband? Would you consider becoming a single mom, either biologically or through adoption? Are there ways you could be a loving, important, regular presence in children's lives through volunteering, mentoring, coaching, running a girl scout troop, etc.? Are you interested in a change of career in order to work with children professionally in some capacity?

These aren't really questions for you to answer here -- more just a thought experiment. Think about the qualities that are important to you -- in this case, being a nurturing person -- and consider all the ways you might be able to express and pursue those qualities, regardless of your relationship status. Or, as Tsukishi says so well (and much more succinctly!): Take a look inside you and your values, and you might find the "happily ever after" you're looking for.
posted by scody at 10:14 AM on March 1 [29 favorites]


You have no business being in this relationship. It's really horrible. Neither of you is doing the other any good.

It sounds like he thinks you need to be treated with kid gloves and protected from any kind of upset or insecurity.

There isn't a man who's on earth to help you achieve your life plan.

If you end this, maybe you'll find a relationship that works.

Good luck.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:28 AM on March 1


Your boyfriend has an unrecognized fetish where he fixates on an unattainable "goddess." For him, in order for this to work, you can't ever truly love him or see him as an equal. He likes the dynamic of being the "underdog."

Only pursue this relationship if you have control issues and like being always in the dominate position.

----

I think you want a partner, not a submissive. Turn this fellow loose. He'll find someone else to live in unrequited love with. I promise.

I married and divorced at 30. I met my forever husband at 38. We're very happy, and we have a great kid, too.

Find your "forever husband." Do not settle.

Best to you!
posted by jbenben at 10:28 AM on March 1 [12 favorites]


Oh, and one more thing: when you say you're afraid of ending up "single and bitter." Remember that one of those things is something you have 100% control over. Bitterness is not a necessary corollary to singledom. This isn't to say that it isn't difficult being single in a society that constantly sends the message that BEING IN A COUPLE IS THE ONLY WAY TO LASTING HAPPINESS!!!! But you can either buy into that message, in which case being unhappy with being single is the default, or you can start to examine that message with a more critical eye, in which case being single just means living your life in a different way. It is possible to be single and happy. Maybe it's not something you can conceive of right now, but maybe if you can start to tease out your assumptions about "single" being a synonym for "bitter," it will be a little less frightening to think about your future.
posted by scody at 10:29 AM on March 1 [10 favorites]


Sorry, one last thing. I fear that my comments have reinforced the idea that if you don't stay with your current boyfriend, you will remain single, and so your only option is to make peace with that. I don't think that's a done deal at all; I think it's an open question, and that just about anything can still happen to you after 35, including getting married and having children (as jbenben's example shows!).

Again, it's worth examining social/cultural assumptions that are at play here. The same messages that are sent to women about coupledom/motherhood being the only way to happiness also suggest that 35 is the magic do-or-die number to become a wife and a mother, after which it's pretty much a life of desperation and loneliness for single women and harrowing fertility treatments for married women without children. These are the dominant images, but they are also extremely reductive. They largely leave out the women who do find their life partners after their mid-30s, and render invisible women who craft fulfilling lives without a partner and/or children. (They also usually don't mention the women who settle down into loveless marriages out of fear, either, and come to see that being married didn't actually make them happy.)

tl;dr: If you don't get married at 35, it doesn't mean you've closed the book on ever having another relationship or being able to live a fulfilling life.
posted by scody at 11:21 AM on March 1 [8 favorites]


>>>Part of me thinks I should end it now so that he can find someone who gives him the love he deserves, and I can find someone who feels really right for me.

Listen to this part of you. You're setting him up to be a sperm donor when you it's very unlikely this will work out in the long term. Don't do this to him or your future kid/s.

From your response, it sounds like what you really want is to have kids -- so go have kids. I mean it. If that is what you would regret missing most on your deathbed, don't let it depend on the timing of finding a partner. Start researching and, if feasible, working on pregnancy or adoption if you know that's your heart's desire. Then you can find someone who's right for you when the time comes, without forcing it.

I knew I very much wanted to be a mother, and was willing to give up many other things (my fulfilling but demanding career, disposable income, etc.) to achieve it. I ended up not having to give those things up, but I was very clear in my own mind that I was willing to because they were far less important to me. It is really a blessing to know what you want, as it makes your prioritizing so much easier.
posted by ravioli at 11:31 AM on March 1 [3 favorites]


I know so many people in relationships like this, where one partner is super-engaged and the other basically doesn't give a fuck. If you think about it, you probably do too.

Are any of the ones you know happy? Because none of the ones I know are. And among mutual friends, the sympathies are all with the in-love partner and never with the more detached one.

I've been single for years, and sometimes feel loneliness, but I would *never* give up my bachelorhood for the sort of relationship you describe.

By all means stay till you're bored, but please leave before you have kids. Or if you do have children with this man, please remember when the time comes that most kids would rather have two separate happy parents than parents who are together and wish they weren't.

"The one" is a myth. "Happy ever after" is also a myth. Committing long-term to someone you do not love, or (as in his case) who does not love you, is not a healthy reaction to this knowledge.
posted by Pallas Athena at 11:39 AM on March 1 [4 favorites]


In many ways I am you in my relationship. We're married. I am so happy that I made this choice- I have the best companion, some one who loves me, someone who will make a great father, someone whose desires in life are as close to 100% compatible with mine as is probably possible on this Earth.

Yes, I miss the sparks that I've previously felt with others. But what did it mean when, before I met my guy, I had CRAZY fireworks with another guy who ended up being married? Were those fireworks a GENUINE indicator of love? Clearly, not. Even if you argue that married men could fall in love with others, he wasn't honest with either of us.

What I don't miss about others that I've finally found with him, is that the others were simply not compatible with the life that I wanted for myself. I learned to love him based on his worth as a human being, my desire to build a life with a good person, and his seemingly unconditional love for me (cause it's awesome to be able to honestly say to someone why you're not sure he's it, and have them still want you, and to be patient in their love in hopes that you'll come around. I came around).

I know that others aren't giving you this advice, and others I went to before committing to this relationship also gave me the advice to leave. But I'm so happy with my relationship and how reliable it is and how much I can grow in it in the direction that we're both committed to. I'm happy that he had the patience to wait for me to love him more than I could when we first met. That lack of ability to love him may have been disguised as a lack of respect or value for certain of his attributes, but I think it had more to do with a deep-down fear of loving in case I lose, coupled with wanting the bad boys or whatever cliche you'd like to insert, instead of someone reliable.

Good luck! If you are spiritual, it helps to spend some time meditating or praying that God or life show you the answer to your questions about him and whether you should be with him. When you seek answers with your full heart it's amazing what sometimes happens.
posted by cacao at 12:05 PM on March 1 [11 favorites]


Call it off now, before it's been two, five or ten years and you're finally out of strength fighting yourself.
posted by ead at 12:06 PM on March 1 [1 favorite]


I should mention that I also love him now, deep full appreciate love, but maybe not OMG I AM TOTALLY OBSESSED kind of love...and my love feels deep and good and I'm happy.
posted by cacao at 12:07 PM on March 1 [7 favorites]


It doesn't sound like your boyfriend deserves your lack of respect.

He's happy with himself, and sees himself as confident. It sounds like he is laid-back and may not feel the need to strive and prove himself. That actually is a variety of confidence. You, however, don't see him as he sees himself. He may not "get" you, but you don't "get" him either.

You say that he knows how you feel, but does he really? If he knew the extent of your contempt for him, he might well stop being able to see you as The One. I know that if I were with someone who thought of me the way you think of your boyfriend, I'd end the relationship.

I don't think you're being fair by staying in the relationship--to yourself, to him, and to other potential future partners who might understand you, and him, more than either of you understand each other.
posted by xenophile at 12:46 PM on March 1 [7 favorites]


I think it's great for people to be happy single and childless, but for some people that is just not realistic. It sounds like it's not realistic for you. You're 35 and it's 100% legit for you to think about settling, IF you can love him and appreciate him and be loyal, loving and respectful to him. If not, then I agree you ought to set him free. But I know plenty of women married to schlubby guys who seem to have very nice lives together.

Try this: visualize yourself married with a kid with him, and you meet someone at work who DOES "get you" and your humor and you vibe like crazy. Like you never did with your husband. Would you be able to gracefully turn away from that and continue to appreciate your husband and everything you have together? Or would it gnaw at you?
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:16 PM on March 1 [5 favorites]


Your feelings won't get better, they'll get worse. This isn't the right relationship for you. You know it. You know it deep in your soul.

Panic is never a reason to settle, and this awesome guy deserves someone who loves him so much that she thinks he hung the moon.

I wouldn't want to be with someone who would be okay with me not loving him. That is someone with horrible self-esteem issues.

So end it kindly, you've searched your heart and soul and it wouldn't be fair to either of you, or to any potential children.

You will regret it the second the words are out of your mouth, so have a plan to get away with some friends for a weekend of fun and sun and moderate drinking.

When you get home, do a purge of things that are emblematic of your relationship (or better yet, have someone do it for you).

Clean your house, change your bedding and buy a new outfit.

Take some time to get your head on straight. Really think about the kind of guy you want to be with, to have a family with. Write it down.

I promise, it'll happen, you have to have faith. You don't have to settle, you can have someone in your life who is exactly right for you. He won't be a perfect person, but he'll be perfect for you!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:43 PM on March 1 [2 favorites]


Part of me thinks I should end it now so that he can find someone who gives him the love he deserves, and I can find someone who feels really right for me.

That part of you is the part you should be listening to. He may say he's okay with you not loving him, but in the context of him being a pushover/butt of jokes it sounds, perhaps, like he's just used to this so may as well deal with things as they are. Personally, I would not stay in a relationship that was unbalanced in this way; when I love someone I do so completely and I--everyone--deserves the same.

The feelings you have aren't going to go away. They will get worse. If it's not working for you after a year, it's going to really not work for you after 10. By which point kids will probably be involved, which makes everything more difficult. And trust me, you don't want to model a mismatched relationship for your putative children, to say nothing of the resentment that will likely build. Kids will pick up on that.

All I can do is quote Beaches: "We have to let go of us before us gets bad."

He sounds like a really great guy to be friends with, though, given where your interests overlap. So end it, give each other some breathing room for a while, and try to forge a friendship.

Best of luck.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:10 PM on March 1 [1 favorite]


I guess I am going to disagree with the tone of the room. I would stay with him. If you were a decade younger, I would tell you to break up. But you're a 35 year old woman who wants children and he's great on paper and in love with you and would probably make a better dad than a lot of "spark" guys, not to mention, they might not make dads at all, as in you wouldn't have time to have children.

You have it pretty good, IMO. Lots of people settle at 35 for children and a good dad to them. I hope this doesn't sound awful and horrible- the thing that most concerns me is your strong feelings of revulsion- that's a really bad sign. I hope you're kind of exaggerating that.

My feeling is settle, but what do I know? Do what you really feel you have to to be happy.
posted by quincunx at 3:52 PM on March 1 [6 favorites]


But you're a 35 year old woman who wants children and he's great on paper and in love with you and would probably make a better dad than a lot of "spark" guys

I don't think this is just a matter of not having a spark. The OP describes her boyfriend as someone who regularly makes her cringe -- someone she feels a visceral desire to run away from about 50% of the time. That's her gut reaction, and it's telling her something.

If this was just a matter of two people who were basically well-suited and were mutually in love, but just happened to be missing the crazy fireworks passion factor? Sure, I'd absolutely think they should stay together, too. But based on the OP's description, there's a lot more missing here than just crazy fireworks.
posted by scody at 4:08 PM on March 1 [14 favorites]


Yes, I have mentioned the neediness/insecurity to him before - in his group of friends he is the one people take the piss out of, and I once asked him if he minded. He said he didn't, as he saw it as a sign of affection, whereas I see it as a lack of respect - to me it's a classic bullying tactic to pick on one person because it helps the others to bond as a group (while subtly pushing that person out of the group). But he just doesn't see it that way.

In fact he sees himself completely the opposite - very self assured and confident. He said that at school no one would dare pick on him, and he was never bullied. I didn't know him then but I find it so hard to imagine. And It's not just me who sees him this way now. My more honest friends - although they like him - have expressed concern that he is a bit meek/ unconfident/ wet. And when we hang out with our friends' kids they will kick and punch him and scream in his ear. He is good at engaging them, they like him, and they would much rather play with him than me - but they don't respect him.


Quite honestly, the friends that take the piss out of him as a group sound like insecure idiots- who does this once they're out of highschool? And what the hell is up with parents who let their children kick and scream at their friends? What you've written here makes your boyfriend sound like an easy-going, even-tempered guy who doesn't let silly crap get to him. But if you're not feeling it, you should move on. You don't appreciate this aspect of his personality. That's cool, people like what they like. But if you feel ashamed of him you will never be happy.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:21 PM on March 1 [8 favorites]


If he makes you cringe, what exactly keeps you from running away? Because in that moment I doubt you're thinking, "Well that was awful, but I want kids so..." (Unless you are. Then I don't know. It seems a little cold and calculating.)
posted by autoclavicle at 4:28 PM on March 1


Things very much against staying with him:
- You don't respect him
- Lack of congruence in terms of sense of humour / point of view
- You don't feel understood

These would be deal-breakers for me.

Possible reasons to stay:
- Babies (although there are alternative ways of working this out)
- Some older (50s) women I know say they're happy in their marriages (i.e. lifestyles, i.e., ways of living, not necessarily feelings of romantic love) because they deliberately chose men who got soppy for them. This, they say, has given them the upper hand (which might mean, objectively, an equal hand - arguable) when it comes to everything from laundry to big life decisions. Maybe this is rationalization, I don't know; plus, they're from a different generation. It sounds kind of manipulative to me, honestly, but maybe it's a kind of solution to a certain kind of problem. (Note - I am just reporting this view, not endorsing it.)

My question:
- Is this the first time you've been the object of this kind of devotion, been the apple of someone's eye? Are you more in the habit of doing the admiring / being in a submissive role? I remember once being completely turned off by a boyfriend who adored me, because he adored me. It didn't fit with (damaging) patterns that normally felt right and exciting. If anything like that's going on, it might feed into the lack of respect. (if this is happening it might be something to think about longer term, for insight into your choices, not necessarily in re this relationship.)

when I look at the people around me and see that they are either settling, or breaking up with the person who they thought would be the love of their life, or regretting leaving it too late and hating being single... I wonder if the happily ever after is a total myth (or even the happily enough ever after).

Yeah I think that's just the human condition. What would people write about, otherwise? I think the divorce stat is still around 50%. Of the remaining 50%, it's probable 1/3rd of them are genuinely content, and the other 2/3rds tolerate being married, more or less. I am talking out of my ass on this though (maybe the 50% who stay married are really into being married and that's why they are). "Happily enough" I think is a possibility.

But - contempt is one of Gottman's famous four horsemen of divorce, and you haven't even seen a ring.
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:58 PM on March 1 [11 favorites]


Yeah, I kept looking for the thing which would make me think, "well she is just looking for that teenage fireworks and needs to kind of adjust to grownup love," but nope. You aren't chasing a "spark," you are fundamentally REALLY un-fond of this dude.

I tend to think "settling" should apply so much more to the material and external facets of a relationship. Settle for a guy who doesn't make as much money as your ideal dude would. Settle for a guy who's shorter than you envisioned. Settle for a guy who's a little nerdier, a little messier, or a little cleaner, or a little less educated (or more educated) than you dreamed of. Partly because these factors can change and be changed, and partly because they just seem to matter so much less as time goes on.

But you just plain can't settle for someone you don't like very much. At the end of the day, your mutual friends and families aren't in the room. You can't do hobbies every second of the waking day. There's just you, and this dude. You have got to look deeply forward to the moments where it's you, and the dude. You CLEARLY do not. You can try and fake it, but it ain't gonna last, in my humble opinion as someone who's tried to do this more than once and failed miserably and made everyone else unhappy in the process and REALLY hopes that never happens again.
posted by like_a_friend at 5:11 PM on March 1 [9 favorites]


I speak from a marriage where we are strangers to each other and don't get each other beyond a surface level, so when I say your idea of "settling" is not going to work it is a sincere assessment. You seem to have, at its best, lukewarm feelings towards him. It is not genuine attachment that keeps you by his side but fear. The fear of being alone, the fear of having needs unsatisfied, the fear of censure for letting a good guy go and a host of other things. Fear is not a good reason to stay with someone.
posted by jadepearl at 5:37 PM on March 1 [5 favorites]


I married that guy when I was your age, and I told myself I could be okay with all the deficits, because he was so nice.

I made it a few years, then broke his heart in half when it got so bad that it was either suicide or divorce. I lost six years and, in the end, I lost my family because they couldn't forgive me for hurting him.

I moved across the country, and had a few very lonely years. Never, even with the terrible price I've had to pay for making the mistake in the first place, never have I once regretted leaving.

Please don't stay with him.
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 6:59 PM on March 1 [5 favorites]


Just to clarify, yes I agree it is not good to marry someone who makes you cringe or revolts you. But this doesn't sound like that to me. This all sounds pretty darn good to me: For just over a year I have been with a guy who is perfect for me on paper. He is sweet, kind, intelligent, hardworking, loves me and would do anything for me... we get on with each other’s families. We share values, interests, friends, ideas about where to go on holiday. But although I care about him a lot I’m not 'in love' with him, and I’m not sure I will ever be.

The "cringe" part came in after he said "I love you" I believe, not like, she sees him walk into the room and cringes. That is understandable to me- it is a guilt cringe, not a horror cringe. Apologize if I am misreading.

In any case, I do believe this is really worth a real, solid go at fixing things before you give up. Honest communication, soul searching, perhaps pre-marital or couples counseling, whatever. Not just "bin it immediately" like many would recommend.
posted by quincunx at 7:01 PM on March 1 [3 favorites]


Yet at other times I feel this strong urge to get away asap, like I can't be with him a moment longer and in my head I start thinking about how I am going to end it.

What happens when you start feeling this even more frequently and you have kids? What happens when you start feeling this a lot and you are officially married?
posted by rtha at 7:13 PM on March 1


The "cringe" part came in after he said "I love you" I believe, not like, she sees him walk into the room and cringes. That is understandable to me- it is a guilt cringe, not a horror cringe. Apologize if I am misreading.

Honestly, a relationship that requires the parsing of difference between frequent guilt-cringing vs. frequent horror-cringing is not a relationship that just needs to find some better ways to communicate in order to succeed. Cringing when someone says they love you is a terrible, heartbreaking sign. The OP and her boyfriend are missing what is arguably the single most essential ingredient for a happy, healthy relationship that has any chance of weathering the intense challenges of marriage and parenthood: namely, a mutual, loving regard that is built on respect, admiration, and attachment.
posted by scody at 7:33 PM on March 1 [5 favorites]


he thinks that as long I’m happy enough to commit eventually, it will work itself out

He's making a mistake. "Love the person, not the potential."
posted by spbmp at 9:04 PM on March 1 [4 favorites]


But… firstly, he doesn’t actually mind that I’m not in love with him (I told him this because he asked me straight - he thinks that as long I’m happy enough to commit eventually, it will work itself out.)

Okay. I haven't seen this addressed before so here goes. Despite sounding like the sad, heartbroken, cri du coeur of a pining doormat, this is actually your boyfriend being manipulative and deeply, deeply controlling. He is literally telling you to your face that he doesn't care about your feelings because he plans to change them to his liking over time, after legally binding you to him, and he's 100% confident that he can pull this off. He doesn't have much "grrrr" because he solves problems by playing this kind of slow-burning, passive-aggressive long game rather than being confrontational and direct. That kind of attitude and tactics are much scarier to me than the prospect of being with someone you don't like-- being with someone who will spend your marriage slowly and deliberately grinding you down into his ideal of "the One." Run. I know the dating market is scary, but you're not too old to find true love, and you need to not be with a manipulator like this who is guilting you into staying with him.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 11:47 PM on March 1 [5 favorites]


Seconding moonlight in vermont.

he thinks that as long I’m happy enough to commit eventually, it will work itself out.

I read this as "He thinks he knows the future, or can control it, including my feelings, and he cares more about the relationship staying stable than he does about my happiness."

And his definition of "the one" does not include "someone who loves me and who I'm sure I can make happy".

This is not healthy...
posted by mmoncur at 12:07 AM on March 2 [2 favorites]


And even in the most horrific, sudden, rug-pulled-out-from-under-me-nightmarish breakup scenario, people get over it. People move on.

Sorry, this is not always true. Leaving people can cause lifetime hurt that even drugs, therapy and time can't heal. REALLY.

At the very least, try going to couples counseling before you throw this relationship away. You've been with him over a year; I think you owe it to him to give it your best shot.
posted by Violet Hour at 12:44 AM on March 2 [2 favorites]


(Not to get into a back-and-forth but just to clarify a couple of things where people are wondering what I meant...)

It is a guilt cringe - I'm not usually embarrassed by him but him saying these things reminds me that our relationship is not even and that makes me feel uncomfortable. Sometimes I cringe when he wants to have sex and I don't but talking to my friends I think that's more normal!

I tend to lose respect for people who put me on a pedestal (yet I have a history or dating these people - I never chase men, so I only end up dating people who will make a massive effort to chase me. I realise that is my issue & something I need to work on).

Basically - and I've thought this for a while - I am Madame Bovary.
posted by Britchick35 at 4:42 AM on March 2 [2 favorites]


You've been together over a year. He is in love with you. Not only are you not in love with him, but you I fact do not respect him and do not even like him all that much. I don't see how there's any choice here: you should break up immediately.

I don't know if you'll find someone better, or when, but I do know that the longer you stay trapped in this bad relationship, the worse that will make things. You'll resent the relationship, you'll have to extricate yourself, and your search for a better match will be delayed.

I'm not going to tell you it's okay to stay in this relationship. It's not, and you know it. So get over yourself and do what needs to be done, and then go see a therapist to work on your issues.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:57 AM on March 2 [1 favorite]


Your answer lies in your reaction to all of this- when you read these answers does your heart scream No they just don't understand, somehow this will work despite these issues? Or are you thinking that everyone telling you to leave him is helping you give yourself permission to leave?

Memail me if you want to talk about this, I really find my old self in your situation
posted by cacao at 8:07 AM on March 2 [1 favorite]


I'm wondering if some relationship counselling would be in order here. There are some things that could be clarified for the both of you no matter what you decide.

But yeah, if you don't respect him, don't marry him.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:57 AM on March 2


Thing is, if he's experiencing limerence right now .... well, that can change. If the limerence fades he's going to feel differently about (perhaps) being married to someone who does not love him.

I was in your shoes though with a much shorter timeline. Wonderful man, I kept hoping I would like him more. Eventually he realized he was putting a lot of effort into a relationship with someone who wanted him to change before loving him and dumped me, and the intense relief I felt was a revelation.

And a friend of a friend married a man she didn't love because she felt she was running out of time. At first he was very accepting of the situation, but after a couple of years he became resentful and the dynamic changed dramatically.

There are several different was your post can be interpreted - since we tend to use interchangeable terms for some of these it can be hard to figure out what is going on. "Chemistry," "in love" ... people don't always agree on what these mean.

1) If you enjoy being sexual with him and find him sexy and love who he is, but aren't experiencing the intense sensation of "falling in love," with butterflies and obsessive thinking, keep seeing him.

2) If you don't much enjoy being sexual with him and like him but wish he could change in significant ways, move on.

Based on the things you've said here, like this:

Yet at other times I feel this strong urge to get away asap, like I can't be with him a moment longer and in my head I start thinking about how I am going to end it.

it seems to me that 2) more accurately describes what is going on. You know, you can always take a break and see how you feel not seeing each other for a while.
posted by bunderful at 11:24 AM on March 2 [3 favorites]


I don't know you, I only know what you've written here and given that you are asking this question, I do wonder if at some level it's one of those things where you aren't comfortable with yourself, so you look at the person who expresses love for you and project those feelings onto him--ie there must be something wrong with him for loving you. Self-sabotage.

There's a great Ask Polly column your question reminds me of: Ask Polly: I Am Severely Chafed By My Gentle, Compassionate Boyfriend

I have no idea if you need to dtmfa, though any dude who tells me I'm "the one" is gonna ook me out.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 6:19 PM on March 2


There's two halves of me fighting to answer your question, so I'm just going to let them both out:

The part of me that is very self-driven says: you are never going to respect this guy. Sex is going to be kind of meh, because if you can't respect someone, you can't be attracted to them. You are going to be bored by this guy. It is not going to be a fulfilling marriage.

The part of me that is traditional says: so what? You are 35. You are near the end of your baby clock. The guy sounds like he'll be a good husband and a good father. Just like some people say that you can be very happy being single, some people are also able to have very good lives living for their children and their friends and their hobbies, and not really prioritizing their husbands. This is how a lot of women in my family have historically done things. They just don't expect to have those magic moments, and find a lot of happiness elsewhere. If you think you can stay, and not cheat, and make it work, then do it.
posted by corb at 7:31 PM on March 2


Basically - and I've thought this for a while - I am Madame Bovary.

OK yeah. You need to leave this relationship. If you are literally thinking of yourself as the tragic, self-destructive heroine of a 19th century novel, you need to put on the fucking brakes and stop living your life according to that narrative. Don't marry Mr Bovary-- don't do something so massively self-destructive, something you know deep down will be so bad for you that you're hyperdramatizing it in terms of literary suicide and ruin. You do not have to follow this Bridget Jones/singleton/Madame Bovary/whatever narrative. Take your fate into your own hands. Also, work on "I never pursue men, I only go for men who chase me so hard I can't respect them" in your next relationship. But seriously... run, Emma, run. Don't do it.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 7:56 PM on March 2 [6 favorites]


With all respect, Madame Bovary was an idiot. So was the great Jay Gatsby. They are not tragic heroes but failures who were responsible for their own unhappiness and could not enjoy life for what it really was and the blessings they had in front of them.

Be sure you are pulling the right moral from your literature and sympathizing with the right characters!!
posted by quincunx at 9:58 PM on March 2


The part of me that is traditional says: so what? You are 35. You are near the end of your baby clock. The guy sounds like he'll be a good husband and a good father. Just like some people say that you can be very happy being single, some people are also able to have very good lives living for their children and their friends and their hobbies, and not really prioritizing their husbands. This is how a lot of women in my family have historically done things. They just don't expect to have those magic moments, and find a lot of happiness elsewhere. If you think you can stay, and not cheat, and make it work, then do it.

Hmm, ok, but those are a lot of ifs, and those hobbies would have to be damn compelling.

I think the prioritizing behind this kind of arrangement involves a number of perhaps demographic-specific background beliefs you can't easily just make yourself have, past a certain age. If sex and romantic love and connection are part of the script, they kind of are, I think. And harder to deny their pull given fewer personal and legal obstacles to divorce than has been the case, historically.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:25 PM on March 2 [3 favorites]


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