Tell me about your experiences with love.
January 11, 2009 7:45 AM   Subscribe

When it comes to love . . . where's the line between deserving to have certain expectations fulfilled, and having standards that are too high? In particular I'm curious to know if you ever ended a relationship with someone you were in love with, and then went on to fall in love with someone else in a deeper and more enriching way.

I've been having a lot of frustration lately with my SO and I'm awfully close to telling him that we need to either break up or at least take a break. Upon searching askmefi I found this thread and was suprised by all the responses. I was expecting to see things along the line of "you deserve to be happy, you'll find someone else," etc. Instead a lot of people are saying things along the line of "it's hard to find something like that, don't break up just yet," etc. So where's the line between compromising, and compromising your own happiness? How much sacrifice is normal? I'm in a similar boat as the OP from that thread- somehow my SO and I managed to fall in love despite being wildly different. but as the newness starts to wear off (we're going on a year) and reality sets in, the differences in our attitudes about life and relationships are starting to make things very difficult. out of many LTRs, this is the first time I have ever felt like I've been in love. but i'm having an extraordinarily hard time seeing how it could work in the long run.

Anyway, my situation is too long and complicated to explain and ask for advice about directly. Rather, I am just interested to hear your experiences with love- were you in love with someone who was totally wrong for you? Did you feel better or worse after you ended it? Did you fall in love again, and was it better? (I'm only 25 so I'd like to think I still have a lot to look forward to!)

For those of you in happy, long term relationships, i am simply curious to know what it is you love about your wife/husband/SO? what do they do for you to make you feel taken care of emotionally? What do you do for them? was this lacking in previous relationships? what makes them different than everyone else was?
posted by lblair to Human Relations (21 answers total) 72 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I personally think life is too short to be miserable in relationships that are full of conflict and frustration. Being in love is supposed to be easy--not always super simple, not without compromise. But it shouldn't be soul-sucking and looking towards the future shouldn't seem like drudgery or an exercise in futility.

All that said, I was not able to end a relationship when those were the reality but I was in love with the person. It has definitely better for me that the relationship ended, but it wasn't something I could initiate. I hope that now that I have a little bit more experience in life and love, I would be able to take that step.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 8:08 AM on January 11, 2009 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Life's too short, and from my own experience, it's too easy to be lured into thinking that your current relationship is what you've got to settle for. It's hard to quantify, so maybe only your closest friends might be able to tell you whether or not you're being realistic or not about specific aspects. But I think you've got every right to expect more, although you might have to search hard to find what you're seeking.

My previous relationship was unexpected: got drunk with a girl from work, ended up living together. It never really felt right: I sensed I felt more about her than she did about me, and that I was the one changing my life in order to fit in with what she wanted to do. The usual stuff about being stifled etc. But the biggest thing was a sense that she was happy to settle for far less in life that I was: little ambition, little sense of the possibilities of what we could build together as a life. It was clear that we wanted different things from life, both the small stuff like things around the house, and the big stuff about dreams and ambitions. And yet we still, within a year, were skirting dangerously close to talking about getting hitched. I dreaded my life ahead, but I didn't do anything to get out. Splitting up was a relief (she instigated it for reasons I never got to know).

Move forward a few months and I met the girl to whom I've been married for eight years, and I'm still annoyingly, smugly happy. Because once we'd got past the basics: (she likes me! she'll sleep with me!) I soon discovered all that missing stuff was there: shared interests, shared ideas and ambitions, and a real sense that with a bit of work, we could build the life that we really want together. So I chased her doggedly until she married me.

So how does it work? She values me for who I am, and doesn't try to change me too much apart from the odd habit or two that most people would appreciate me losing. She understands how my head works, and gives me the space to do the things that satisfy my individual needs. She supports me in what I do. And all of the above, I (hopefully) do for her, too.

A lot of it comes down to a shared outlook. We like lots of the same stuff, both in the small sense and about big things that shape your life. We make decisions together. We compromise with each other. We communicate a lot, so we have built a shared sense of who 'we' are and where we're going in life, that we're both happy with.

It was a gut feeling, really, that we were like the two proverbial peas in a pod. Knowing that, I knew things would work.

So don't settle for less than you hope for, because there's nothing wrong for having expectations that are above the mundane.
posted by dowcrag at 8:34 AM on January 11, 2009 [13 favorites]

Three signs of a good relationship that is healthy for you (IMHO):

1) Generally you feel like you can "be yourself" - that is, show most or all aspects of yourself as you are right now - without being led to feel that you are unacceptable to the other person, or that they are unhappy with you for "the way you are".

2) When you do change for the good of the relationship, it's not expected or even asked of you - you find yourself doing it because you want to.

3) The changes you make to yourself for the relationship lead in the direction of making you a better person in general - you see them affecting other aspects of your life in a positive manner.

Have you had a purchase that you really enjoy? No doubt that you got your money's worth? Economic transactions work because both parties are giving up one thing for something else more valuable to them. If one party is losing value, this leads to buyer's remorse after the deal is made. Love is the same way. I was under the impression for years that since relationships take work, compromise, and sacrifice, that I was expected to endure a lot of all three. And I did, although I resented it. The resentment was a big part of why those relationships eventually ended.

I'm now very (VERY!) happily married, and in this relationship the work, compromise, and sacrifice were all still there in equal amounts. The difference is that this time they felt effortless, and there is never any doubt on my mind that everything I had to give up or change was well worth it for what I was getting from the relationship. There is also no doubt that even if I didn't make the effort, that she will still love me for who and what I am at this moment.

Of course there are other aspects that can make or break a relationship, but these things matter a great deal. As soon as you start routinely feeling that you're unacceptable to the other person, it's time to do some serious thinking about the relationship. Some people, including my past self, suffer for years under this kind of situation and think that it's normal. Once you see what it can be like, you'll never settle for anything less.

Oh, and the level of work? I've never had to do more or sacrifice more to make the logistics of the relationship work. But I would do it again tomorrow with a smile on my face.
posted by tkolstee at 9:00 AM on January 11, 2009 [23 favorites]

My own experiences would suggest you need at least a break. Personally when I've been in a similar situation, I couldn't get enough perspective while still seeing the person all the time.
posted by nat at 9:08 AM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You can love someone and still have them be fundamentally incompatible with you.

I know earlier in my life I certainly loved a woman who was fundamentally incompatible with me, very intensely.

That didn't mean she was a good match for me... and in the -years- I was with her I never really thought we were compatible in a lifetime sort of way.

In contrast when I met my wife, within minutes of talking to her I already had the feeling that it would be a good idea to marry here and every minute since then has reinforced that.
posted by JFitzpatrick at 9:13 AM on January 11, 2009 [4 favorites]

I left a 4 1/2 year relationship with someone I was extremely close with, due to recurring feelings of dissatisfaction, frustration, feeling like we weren't quite connecting in the right way. At the time it was incredibly hard -- he was one of my closest friends, and we'd set up a wonderful home that really felt like someplace I could stay, get old, be happy. wasn't quite right, and we broke up.

It's hard to say if now things are better (in what seems to be a much happier relationship, but who knows? You always judge based on how happy you currently are -- and these things fluctuate) I'm in a different relationship now with someone who's similar in some wayst --- here, too, with an old friend, with a geek / techie character, with someone I love for many of the same reasons, bt which couldn't feel more different. What's different? What's great? I don't really know, but I think it has more to do with me than with them -- namely, that I'm a little older and smarter about what I want, and better able to say what makes a relationship work

Best things: Listening to music more often / reading together / cooking in company --> all indications that things are going well. No cuddling for entire days! Going out for coffee and talking to people in company.

Important thigns: K eeping separate living spaces - being OK with having quiet time -- working on making friends together. All things I didn't realize I needed before I forced myself to actively pursue them.

Dealbreakers: Spending all your time at home -- placing yourself as someone's caretaker, rather than taking their concerns at face value. This was, in fact, the only dealbreaker -- the first sign, in Old Relationship, that we had stopped listening to one another

That's my two cents!
posted by puckish at 9:17 AM on January 11, 2009 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: thanks, everyone, for your replies. they were what i was expecting, and also what i was hoping to hear.

i think i'm going to have the 'break' talk with him when i see him today. it's going to be really, really hard . . . but i am pretty sure it needs to be done.

please keep the replies coming though. i am enjoying hearing everyone's perspective, and I intend to keep this question open so that people can add replies to it for a while. i have a feeling the next few weeks are going to be a bitch, and that rereading this will help me remember why I had to do it.
posted by lblair at 9:27 AM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't have a whole lot in common with my husband. We're different religions, we like different foods, movies, and music. I'm way better at managing money and other organizational tasks. I'm an 8 on the neat freak scale (where 10 is OCD) and he's around a 2. I'm usually serious, he's often silly. He likes camping, I think "roughing it" is staying at a Days Inn. He's conservative, I'm liberal. And on and on.

So, why am I with him? Why do I love him? Well, I can list his qualities, but it's not about making lists. I love him because I just DO. I like chocolate ice cream because I just DO. I can't list the qualities that make chocolate better than vanilla. My husband is all sorts of wonderful things - intelligent, honest, affectionate - but love is not some sort of calculation.

Sure there are things I won't tolerate: cheating, alcohol/drug abuse, emotional or physical abuse. And if he really, really wanted children (I don't), it'd be kinder to let him go find someone who does. But these should be the baseline for any relationship. Beyond that, it's how that person makes you feel, and the person you can be for them. My husband's differences challenge me and expand my world. Without a doubt, he's made me a better person.
posted by desjardins at 9:32 AM on January 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm with some of the posters, life is too short.

Right now I'm going through a separation with my wife. I use to fight it tooth and nail saying "for better or for worse" but when she decided to separate I thought "you know, I'm not happy either" and all I was doing was putting fingers in the holes of a bursting dam.
posted by Hands of Manos at 10:01 AM on January 11, 2009

I was expecting to see things along the line of "you deserve to be happy, you'll find someone else," etc.

It sounds like you've already made of your mind, now you're just looking for validation. And judging by this statement "Anyway, my situation is too long and complicated to explain and ask for advice about directly," you're already resigned to do it. Your entire outlook, is focused on differences and the problems as opposed to "I LOVE hanging out with this person!" You're done, you just haven't realized it yet.

Some tv shows stay around to long, trying to milk the audience for all they've got. Relationships can be the same way, sometimes they've run their course and it's better to end them on a high note instead of dragging them out.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:53 AM on January 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It's not just that life is too short; it's that you only get one life, so you should make the choices you want to make. Even if they're mistakes, it's better to make them and to move forward than to live with so much caution that you don't do what you in your heart feel you should.

(This assumes a certain level of ingrained morality because, say, cheating and stealing would be exceptions.)
posted by salvia at 10:57 AM on January 11, 2009 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I stayed with someone I had once been in love with for years after we should have broken up. We started out close and grew farther and farther apart; it got progressively worse and we got more and more unhappy with each other until I just couldn't do it anymore. I was the one who finally made the break; it sucked and in many ways it's made my life much more difficult, but I've been so much happier for it.

I've since fallen in love with someone who is so much more than everything I could have ever dreamed that I wanted. He's amazing, and we're great for each other. My only regret is that I stayed as unhappy as I was for as long as I did.
posted by streetdreams at 12:19 PM on January 11, 2009 [8 favorites]

I'd just break up. Going on a break is gonna be hard for the SO. A break up is fairer to that person than a break.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:00 PM on January 11, 2009

Ditto Ironmouth. Breaks just waste both of your time, plus then you have to have another hard conversation later.
posted by salvia at 2:50 PM on January 11, 2009

Ditto break up. Otherwise you're wasting time.

Can't tell you if you'll find someone better but look at it this way. People break up because they have grown apart and the relationship has ceased to grow. So the ideal situation is two people who can grow together and who help each other grow.

All my breakups were with people I was semi-in love with, deeply in love with - the whole spectrum. It sucks for awhile but each one was a learning experience that made me stronger as a person and affirmed what I want out of life & what I'm willing to compromise.

My model relationship is two of my friends - they just got married - two free spirits that I really thought would never settle down found each other and it was really clear that they work on their relationship every day, are committed to each other and seriously, the rest of the world falls away and they're all they need.

It's insane how ... cinematic? Literary? they are together.

Or you know, David Bowie and Iman.

Anyway, when you start to feel that something's up, it's usually a good indication of where it's headed. So arm yourself emotionally - you will both be alright in the end.
posted by HolyWood at 2:09 PM on January 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think that looking at other people's relationships is only going to show what works or doesn't work for them, everyone is different so if you have niggles about your own relationship then thats something that needs to be focused on internally rather then externally. When you doubt a relationship it is either because its something about them or its something about you. If you move from relationship to relationship and its always wrong its probably the choices you make. I got engaged over Christmas to a wonderful man I have been going out with for 2 years, at first I did not think he was for me, but as I grew happier with my own life and the relationship between us blossomed. I think a lot of the time its not what the other person does but how you perceive them and how happy you are with your life and the choices you make for yourself. I wish you the best for the future.
posted by lilyflower at 11:27 AM on January 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks again everyone.

It's been really hard- I've tried a couple times to make the break but then it just turns into a "conversation" and I lose my nerve and it doesn't happen. I just look at him and can't imagine going through with it. When he says he wants to make things work, I just want to believe it, even though his actions haven't reflected it. each time we have this conversation, the next day it's like it never happened.

i guess this is the true definition of ambivalence. i never imagined i could love someone so much, who makes me feel miserable so often. it's terrible. but ultimately, all the examples you've given me (as well as those in this other thread that was referred to, and the one i referred to in the original post) of what the foundations of a good relationship should be . . . mutual emotional support. being on the same page as far as future goals are concerned. the ability to have open and constructive communication. these things are all just . . . lacking for us, and he knows it, but seems unable to work with me on it. He seems to think ignoring problems makes them go away. I can't do it anymore.

So what it ultimately comes down to, I guess, is that i know what to do but am having a terrible time going through with it because that little glimmer of hope keeps coming back into my brain at the last second. all the good things come flooding back into my mind and i suddenly think "oh my god, what am i doing?" then a day later when he acts like a jerk i find myself asking the exact same question- what am i doing? I don't know how to get past it but i am working on it.

this post is 3 weeks old, but my issue is ongoing, apparently. any new replies are more than welcome. i've enjoyed hearing what you all have to say about your wonderful partners, and i'd love to hear more.
posted by lblair at 9:42 AM on February 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I don't know if you'll see this, since the thread is pretty old, and your issue may well be resolved by now, but...

I had a 3-year relationship with a guy who I loved madly and deeply, and he felt the same way about me. When the relationship began, we knew we had one--and only one--point of incompatibility, but we went ahead with it anyway, thinking we'd find some way to work it out eventually. Love conquers all, right? Anyway, most of the time we could just ignore that one little thing. It hardly ever came up.

We never worked it out. As time went on, though we never stopped loving each other, we both felt trapped and miserable because of our "one little disagreement." We finally, painfully, over the course of a couple of months, separated. Towards the end, we were still sleeping in the same bed, still desperately in love, but both shedding a lot of tears because while the relationship was 99% perfect, that last 1% was killing us.

As intensely painful as that breakup was (and the long period of missing him afterwards), I'm glad it happened, and I only wish one of us had had the sense to but the brakes on the relationship before it got to that point. It gave us both the freedom to find that last 1% with someone else.

After that, I made absolutely sure I knew what my relationship dealbreakers were, and refused to compromise on them. I've been married now for over 6 years to a wonderful man I'm 100% compatible with. He's my lover and my best friend, he thinks like I do, he laughs at the same terrible jokes I do, we have exactly the same goals and desires when it comes to future and family, and every single day, I see his smile and think about how lucky I am to have him in my life. When I look at what I have today, and think about the 99% happiness I had years ago, there's just no comparison.

To some extent, it's perfectly natural and healthy to compromise on your ideals. For instance, I'd always daydreamed about marrying a scruffy long-haired guy with glasses and a swimmer's body, but all I got in my husband was the scruffy. But there's a big difference between a "nice to have" and a dealbreaker. If something feels wrong about your relationship, it most likely is, and if you're making a serious effort to fix it with no progress...then what you've got is a dealbreaker, and I wish you the best of luck in finding happiness with someone else.
posted by tomatofruit at 12:08 PM on February 10, 2009 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, tomato- no, this thread isn't too old. I wanted to leave it open on purpose because i think it'll be useful to other people who may search or otherwise stumble across it. and the more responses it gets, the better, in my opinion anyway.

i might as well update, then. we're still together. i tried to break up with him but he really wanted to try to make it work, so we agreed to a break and it actually improved things (for now.) a lot of the things we disagree about are stemming from his lack of maturity/ responsibility. but when i told him i wanted to break up over these things, he said really wanted to work on them. Not just for me, but for himself too. (Although apparently he really does not want to lose me over said things, either.) so i said OK but at least he knows now what i want and what i can't tolerate, so . . . if we do end up breaking up over these things it wont be a surprise to anyone, and we can't say we didn't try. and now if things don't work out i will know that it wasnt because i didn't communicate with him enough, but just that we were truly incompatible. but at the moment things are really looking up, so let that be a lesson that its always worth it to try and resolve your issues before breaking up over them!
posted by lblair at 5:50 PM on February 10, 2009

Response by poster: Well, I know people are still reading this, because it is still getting favorite tags (thanks, btw.) So here's an update- nearly three months after my original question.

I broke up with him this past weekend. The first couple days were horrible- I tried to keep distracted, but I couldn't stop myself from breaking down and crying every time I let my mind wander back to "us." (sounds normal, i know, but I've handled all my previous breakups a lot better and with a lot more confidence.)

Anyway, last night I was scouring the internet for articles and stuff to read to help convince me I'd done the right thing, and I came across this article. I liked where it was going, so I decided to take a trip to Borders and read the book that it's an excerpt from.

Wow . . . I don't generally get into self help books, but the woman who wrote this has apparently been counseling couples forever, and imagine my shock when I discovered that one entire chapter described my (now ex) to a T- and described how slim the chances of him ever outgrowing it were. So apparently it was NOT all in my head, and I feel confident I did the right thing. To be honest, I'm feeling better already. So if any women reading this question are having a hard time figuring out whether it's you or him, I'd give that book a shot.

I also want to thank everyone again for answering me. In particular there were two lines that stuck in my head and became almost my mantra for the past three months while I struggled over what I should do:

It was a gut feeling, really, that we were like the two proverbial peas in a pod. Knowing that, I knew things would work.

Two proverbial peas in a pod we were not, and I decided that I wanted one. I want my pea that makes me feel confident.

You can love someone and still have them be fundamentally incompatible with you.

This, seriously, could not be more true. I think I was having a really hard time reconciling the fact that despite the fact that I felt like we loved each other, things just seemed impossible. Once I accepted the above idea as fact, it made it easier for me to move on. Some people you find compatibility with, others you find love with. You don't always find both in the same person- in fact, I think it's the exception rather than the rule to find both in one person. But it IS possible. And worth holding out for.
posted by lblair at 6:42 PM on April 7, 2009 [7 favorites]

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