Real life is not like the movies.
November 7, 2010 5:08 AM   Subscribe

Tell me about the good stuff in long-term relationships.

I’m considering going out with this guy and the potential for permanence is quite high. I’m getting a little freaked because I usually run the other way at the first whiff of commitment and at the moment, I can easily see myself in an LTR with him.

He’s a nice guy: kind, respectful. More importantly, we share the same values and goals AFAIK. My gut tells me that he is for real, and that I will most likely regret not choosing him.

So please, hivemind, help me get over commitment anxiety by sharing what is good in a committed relationship. I’m asking you versus reading a romance novel/watching a movie because fiction is rarely real. Warm fuzzy stories are fine, but what I really want is real life anecdata. If you have suggestions that will help me (or experiences that have helped you) get over this, please share them too.

Thank you in advance
posted by onegoodthing to Human Relations (59 answers total) 304 users marked this as a favorite
No joke, I was deathly ill last weekend, had surgery earlier this week, and my sweetie has taken care of me through it all, making sure I had someone lucid to discuss stuff with the surgeon, help take me home, feed me, dress me, make sure I take my meds. Without him I'm not sure I would be sitting here telling you all of this.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:13 AM on November 7, 2010 [15 favorites]

I started making a list but then realized it boiled down to the absolutely immeasurable improvement in my life when I found someone who loved me for my inner dork.
posted by dzaz at 5:14 AM on November 7, 2010 [55 favorites]

Like dzaz, I started to make a list, and I realized it was basically one single thing for me.

Every day, my life is better for having her in it. She makes every day better, somehow, someway. It isn't always the same way, but at the end of each day, she has added something to my day that makes my life even better.
posted by SNWidget at 5:27 AM on November 7, 2010 [16 favorites]

I was in the middle of a ton of work last night, with my hands totally busy with toxic chemicals, when it was time to order dinner. My partner is the only person in the world I'd trust to order for me without my input, because he's spent so much time focusing on getting to know my tastes in exquisite detail. No pause needed, everything went on smoothly. I'm so much more efficient and effective a person with him than without him!

That was a bit of a silly example, but it gets at an important idea. When you're in a long-term relationship with someone, you have the opportunity to become each other's back-up hard drives memory storage, extra set of hands, spare processing power, &c.

How many times have you thought, "If only I had a clone to take care of some of this important stuff that no one else will know how to do just the way I want it done, while I'm taking care of the rest!"? Well, a long-term partner tends to develop a better mental model of you than anyone else ever has, which will enable them to be there for you in all these small, everyday ways that add up to an improved way of living.

It helps to have someone around who you can really count on without having to tell them the backstory every time to make sure they understand what you need.
posted by Eshkol at 5:35 AM on November 7, 2010 [14 favorites]

He drives me absolutely bonkers on a semi-regular basis. I don't like the way he drives. He can be a nag sometimes. His little tics can drive me to distraction.

But I wouldn't have my life any other way. I absolutely cannot imagine my life without him in it. He gets me, totally and completely, and still wants me around. I miss him when we're apart. We've been together nearly 20 years and if we're lucky we'll get another 20 or more; it still won't be long enough.
posted by cooker girl at 5:36 AM on November 7, 2010 [9 favorites]

I have a partner in crime and in helping me navigate through life. Having to compromise between my way and his way is way easier than not having anyone there to back me up if I needed it.

And I'm still me, and not just half a person. I still do my own thing, I just have someone else around to listen to me bitch, help me make decisions, and go to hockey games with. Someone I enjoy being around - not 100% of every day all the time, but I'm happier with him than without by far.
posted by kpht at 5:38 AM on November 7, 2010 [5 favorites]

It's the commitment.

Seriously, there is something incredibly restful about having decided that you are going to stay with each other through thick and thin. The joys are sweeter and the loads are lighter because they are shared. And it's that lightening of burden, in particular, that is tremendous. Whatever it is, however hard, we will face it together, and neither of us is going to bail on the other.

And I can't honestly say that every single day has felt better, but the knowledge that we will stand by each other is what has carried me through the days that weren't so great. So it's a huge overall improvement in quality of emotional life.
posted by bardophile at 5:39 AM on November 7, 2010 [29 favorites]

Don't let anyone tell you that great sex is necessarily a casualty of a long term relationship. I've been with Ms. Steady for 15 years now and our sex life continues to improve. When you have the time to really explore each others desires and fantasies, the sex can be fantastic.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:48 AM on November 7, 2010 [8 favorites]

You can bring up a child who loves both of you.
posted by Wolof at 5:58 AM on November 7, 2010 [5 favorites]

You'll be out somewhere and overhear a snippet of conversation or see something happen, and you'll just look at each other and know exactly what the other person is thinking. You form your own language and your own private little culture that no one else can ever be a part of. You get past all the early-relationship angsty crap and get comfortable. Sometimes "comfortable" is used as a pejorative in long-term relationships, but it doesn't have to mean you let yourselves go and stop trying to make each other happy. It means you keep making each other happy, but now you're just a lot better at it.
posted by tetralix at 6:03 AM on November 7, 2010 [44 favorites]

Don't let anyone tell you that great sex is necessarily a casualty of a long term relationship. I've been with Ms. Steady for 15 years now and our sex life continues to improve. When you have the time to really explore each others desires and fantasies, the sex can be fantastic.

This is pretty much what I was going to say (though adjusted for fewer years together). It really does get better and better -- you know the other person so well, and they know you, that you can keep ratcheting things up and up. You'd think there would be no surprises after a few years, but there are, and it can be really good. I don't miss being single at all.
posted by Forktine at 6:05 AM on November 7, 2010

Being alone together in a happy, long term relationship is different for me than it is in a newer relationship - it's much, much better.

The understanding that you can be yourself and it's always okay (with the right person of course), is a relief.

I've noticed in long term relationships that, if you are together long enough, both people will change. So the relationship changes. If you stay together, life can be sort of an adventure - subtle or otherwise, due to these shifts. The same thing obviously happen in one's own life without a partner, but with a long term partner there's (at least for me) the added element of what I might learn due to this other person's changing world view. Something that, now that I live with them /are married to them /are in a long term relationship with them, I consider with as much weight as my own feelings (best, again, if all parties are people who truly respect each other). This was a big surprise to me. And better than the crazy-love thing of newer relationships.

If it is long term and it's a healthy situation, then you always have someone to trust. Long term can mean something else, but if eveyone has been woking towards trust, then it's stonger than anything else. They are, for lack of a better description, your best friend.
posted by marimeko at 6:11 AM on November 7, 2010 [7 favorites]

No more dating! No more roommates! These things can be nice, but they can also be stressful. It's SO much more restful not to have to cope with them. I liked dating at the time but man can I not imagine going back to it!

Better sex. It's a function of getting to know one another's preferences and of developing trust enough to really let go.

Someone to call the mean customer service people for me. I hate the mean customer service people on the phone. I call the repair guys. He hates calling the repair guys. He cleans the litterboxes for me. I make his doctor's appointments or he would be dead of bubonic plague from failure to remember to go to the doctor. Someone's always got your back -- not just in the big ways, but in the little ways. It vastly improves your quality of life when someone knows those little bitty things about you, like that you appreciate a glass of red wine when you're grading final exams in the winter, but that it has to be white in the summer ... and then just magically provides that.

Having someone around who has seen you puke your brains out, get drunk off your ass, put your foot in your mouth, etc., and still thinks you're wonderful is very centering. I care a lot less about external opinion because it seems to matter less now that I have my husband. I did not, however, let him look when I had my C-section, because I felt like if he saw my intestines, that would be a step too far. Once someone's seen your intestines, the relationship is just different. ;) I have no idea if my intestines were actually visible, but I did not want to risk it. And you know what else is great? He just laughed and promised not to ever, ever look at my intestines.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:27 AM on November 7, 2010 [41 favorites]

I cannot place a value on being really, truly, deeply known. Having someone who knows and accepts and loves me for my private flaws and glitches is very reassuring and grounding.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:29 AM on November 7, 2010 [41 favorites]

You know when you were a kid, and you'd get excited about sleepovers because you could stay up all night watching movies and talking to someone who just cracked you up and really understood you? Remember how special those nights felt?

Every day is like that now. Except we get to have really good sex, too.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:29 AM on November 7, 2010 [83 favorites]

I grew up with parents who were loving but rarely affectionate -- love was expressed through sarcastic teasing rather than hugs and kind words. In high school I was known among my friends as "the one who didn't like to be touched" (which wasn't really accurate -- I craved physical contact, but it was such an unfamiliar thing to me that I couldn't engage in it naturally). I've always been uncomfortable with the earnest expression of love, admiration, pride... If you have commitment anxiety, perhaps this describes you as well.

Being with my current partner (6 years and counting) has opened up an entirely new dimension of what it means to be a loving person. He brings out a level affection that, ten years ago, I never would have thought I was capable of. And he lavishes me with the kind of affection that I would have sworn up and down I didn't want. I've become... a toucher. And an enthusiastic touchee. There's that little touch that you didn't even know you craved until you have it: a warm hand on the back of your neck while you're driving, a leg nudged against yours when you're lying in bed falling asleep. And there's the freedom to say "I love you" whenever you want, without feeling awkward and clichéd, and know that you'll hear it echoed back to you.

It's made me a better person, I think. Certainly a better friend -- I'm able to lower my sarcastic defenses from time to time and tell my friends that I genuinely admire them and love them. It makes me happier, and it enables me to make the people around me happier, when affection is something I feel comfortable expressing. And I don't think I would have that level of comfort without the unflaggingly supportive environment of a committed relationship.
posted by pluckemin at 6:50 AM on November 7, 2010 [26 favorites]

People in LTR's tend to live longer. Part of the reason for this is because if there is something amiss with you, physically, your partner will be on your ass to get to a doctor to get it checked out, oftentimes taking care of something while it is relatively more minor. You will get tired of listening to her or him bugging you about this, and you'll go in.
posted by Danf at 6:55 AM on November 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

When you're not together, you always have someone to call, no matter what the reason. Yesterday I took our son to the movies, got home, and realized I had lost my cell phone. My husband was at a football game two hours away. I freaked - my whole life is on that phone!! I called him, he calmed me down and talked me through it. I could call other people, but I know he'll always be there and he won't mind the interruption (even if he's in a stadium full of people watching his MOST FAVORITE TEAM EVER!!!).
posted by fresh-rn at 6:57 AM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Everyone here mentions wonderful stuff -- and it's true! -- but a big part of the wonderful stuff is that you're doing the same for someone else. Having someone else's back is just as terrific a feeling as someone having your back. Picking up something special you know he likes, calling the dentist for him to cancel at the last minute because he just really really can't face going today, helping him get over a tough moment with a comment or a hug -- knowing is as satisfying as being known. I can't tell you how sweet it feels when you have both.

And you make each other richer. Not right away, but it builds up. Mr. K finds great satisfaction in yoga and meditation, and would never have tried them if he weren't with me. And because of his interests I'm familiar enough with Shakespeare to throw around the odd quote, and I can make jokes about George Armstrong Custer.

This doesn't always come with commitment. It takes time, and luck. I was committed to a marriage for 10 years, but ended up divorced. Mr. K and I just celebrated our 25th anniversary. He made me a card: "What larks!" on the outside (we read out loud to each other, and love Dickens), and inside "30 wonderful years, 25 of them legally sanctioned." No big deal to anyone else, but honestly -- because it's our private joke, and it mixes love and laughing, it just .... well, it's just swell, that's all.

And a note about getting over commitment phobia. I certainly had it big time after my first husband left me with two small children. Never Again was my motto. Just looking for company (and sex), don't want to go to the grocery store with a guy ever again. But if it has the possibility of being a real, long term relationship, you'll just keep gravitating towards each other, and wanting to spend more time together, because it feels so good to both of you. It's not like buying something, or voting. It's more like gardening. And one day you'll look up and damn! you're in a long term relationship!
posted by kestralwing at 6:57 AM on November 7, 2010 [31 favorites]

He knows me really well—better than anyone else—and he likes me. Even my deepest depressions and insecurities can't hide that fact from me.
posted by heatherann at 7:04 AM on November 7, 2010 [10 favorites]

I'm with kestralwing above. You'll just keep being together because it's good to be together. And knowing that your partner wants to be together, too - well that's what it's all about.
posted by unlapsing at 7:07 AM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Having someone around to bounce ideas off of is awesome - your partner can be the ultimate brainstorming partner, really. I can talk to Mr. Mirror about anything, and we'll half finish sentences and he'll say something brilliant and that will give me an idea about something else, and before you know it we're taking over the world. Or at least, it feels like it. I can snark with him, I can be silly with him, I can be as smart or as stupid as I feel in a moment.
posted by lriG rorriM at 7:11 AM on November 7, 2010 [4 favorites]

I’m considering going out with this guy and the potential for permanence is quite high.

Thinking you can know that right now is... not really something I can understand, especially after being with the same person for over 7 years now.

I always thought the main attraction would be having someone to share memories with, until I ended up with a partner who says, "Who?? I don't know him/her," every time I mention any friend whom we haven't seen or talked to in more than a few months.

For me the best part of being in a partnership is doubling of my range of awareness, having spent years seeing the world partially through someone else's eyes, filtered through someone else's reactions. It has deepened me and broadened me by the length and width of a whole other person. I no longer consider myself and my thoughts to be as important or sovereign or impermeable as I did when I was younger. He and I have learned to embrace essential difference and still proceed, three-legged-race style, toward a mutually forseeable world.
posted by hermitosis at 7:21 AM on November 7, 2010 [17 favorites]

it's nice to know that there's someone out there in the world who recognizes my handwriting.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:32 AM on November 7, 2010 [6 favorites]

People in LTR's tend to live longer.

I just want to call out the conventional wisdom on this, it's not so straightforward.

So, while I'm sure you'll get plenty of people chiming in about all the other wonderful things relationships provide, don't get married or committed to a LTR for health reasons...not that I can imagine that being the first reason anyone would (although that'd be funny, huh? "I'm just with you for statistical reasons, honey").
posted by innocuous_sockpuppet at 7:39 AM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Dan Savage says this in his video about the price of admission, so I'm cribbing from him.

When you meet someone, you aren't completely honest. You are presenting the best version of yourself, and that is the person who is attractive. Not the miserable snotbox with the flu, or the person who got puking drunk because of stress from work, or who thinks "Friends" is the best show ever. Usually, the person presented is groomed and charming and attentive, and we aren't that all the time.

But the thing about a long term relationship is that you make yourself vulnerable while at the same time wanting to maintain that level of attraction that was based on the presentation of your best self. You integrate yourself, rendering your imperfections lovable. In the best relationships, you transform yourself into that best version of yourself, so that you are both honest and attractive, charming, lovable.

I guess I'm cribbing from "As Good As It Gets", too, when Jack Nicholson tells Helen Hunt that she makes him want to be a better man? It really is the ultimate compliment. When people talk about "growing" in a relationship, this is what they are talking about- learning to love someone else because of, not in spite of, their flaws, and learning to see themselves in that same light.

In the best relationships, that embrace of the total of your partner becomes the embrace of your total self, too. And what grows out of that- assurance of someone who has your back, the inside jokes, the way just a hug or a hello is enough to relax you- that is more than a comfortable place to be. It's a beautiful way to live.
posted by Leta at 7:49 AM on November 7, 2010 [32 favorites]

Having someone who gets my twisted sense of humor and shares a great deal of my references is really great. The other day I was waiting to see if I was going to be let go from my job, so I called my husband to let him know what was going on. He told me not to set fire to my desk just yet, and I (jokingly) said, "I could put strychnine in the guacamole" and we were able to laugh together which made me feel much better and calmed me down. I can't think of a single other person with whom I can slip into silly-snarky-playful mode so effortlessly.

Over the years he's learned that black humor makes me feel better when something crappy is happening; and he also knows that I'm not comforted by being told "x bad thing isn't going to happen" as much as I am by him saying "if x bad thing happens, here's how we'll get through it."

Our sex life has gotten better in a lot of ways over the course of ten years. We're more comfortable with each other, less self-conscious, and we know what we're doing now. He knows exactly what to do to make the fireworks go off for me, and on the rare occasions that doesn't work, he knows exactly what else to do. I know how to push his happy buttons too, even when he thinks it's not going to happen.

There's also the snuggle factor. I don't have to worry about being too clingy or demonstrative, I know he's up for a hug or cuddle or playfight pretty much any time I want.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 7:58 AM on November 7, 2010 [8 favorites]

And a note about getting over commitment phobia. I certainly had it big time after my first husband left me with two small children. Never Again was my motto. Just looking for company (and sex), don't want to go to the grocery store with a guy ever again. But if it has the possibility of being a real, long term relationship, you'll just keep gravitating towards each other, and wanting to spend more time together, because it feels so good to both of you. It's not like buying something, or voting. It's more like gardening. And one day you'll look up and damn! you're in a long term relationship!

This is really beautiful, kestralwing.

I always think about how if I was given the chance to leave *myself* when I didn't want to be with myself anymore, I would have left myself (and those new selves) a hundred times over. But the really interesting / difficult / rewarding part about being a human is having to deal with the self we have and live it, with all the complications our personality presents.

I have always wanted another person who was just as permanent to me as I am to myself.
posted by PersonAndSalt at 8:01 AM on November 7, 2010 [12 favorites]

This might sound odd, but I've always been quite a private and relatively solitary person. Now I'm in a long term relationship, I get to be private and solitary....with someone else there.

It is amazing to have someone who I can be in the same room as, and still feel as peaceful and relaxed as if I was alone in my own little private space.
posted by knapah at 8:02 AM on November 7, 2010 [50 favorites]

If you've read this far, you've seen the point about sex, which I agree with. When you're starting to date someone, you have to spend so much time fumbling around with "Is this OK? Do you like this? Am I doing it the right way?" etc. Once you've done it a lot, it's still fine to check on these things, but you don't need to worry about them as much, which means you're freed up to enjoy the experience more for its own sake. You can still introduce new experiments and surprises, but even then, you'll be more confident that you can move on if they don't work out, instead of being all "Oh know, what if this means we're not compatible?!"

Well, here's the thing: that isn't just about sex. It applies to everything you do together: choosing what movie to watch, what restaurant to go to, what conversations to have, etc.
posted by John Cohen at 8:04 AM on November 7, 2010 [6 favorites]

I'm not really long-term yet - we're approaching a year, depending when you count from, in my current relationship - but as someone who came out of a ten-year thing (just about a year ago) and was so commitment-phobic at that time that I couldn't even countenance the idea of holding hands, I will tell you this: take it a day at a time. You don't have to declare it's forever right away. You don't need to get married next week. Let it be what it is.

I am still kind of scared to truly commit and I still can't really think about staying with him for life (because hey, I tried that once and it didn't work) but I'm getting used to (and liking) the idea that that's how it might be. Slowly. I tried my damnedest not to get into it, but I'm there with him because the thing we have is too good to pass up for the sake of me being an idiot.
posted by corvine at 8:08 AM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

You're considering going out with this guy -- as in, you're not even dating? Thinking about permanence and this being a long-term relationship before it's a relationship, well, it sounds like you're getting ahead of yourself. I know you're asking about what's so great about long-term relationships, but you're also asking to not be freaked out about the possibility of commitment, and the fact that it's too early to be worrying about commitment is another very good reason to not freak out about it.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:09 AM on November 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

(basically, what kestrelwing said)
posted by corvine at 8:09 AM on November 7, 2010

Almost everything already said here goes for me too, but I'd have to say that getting to wake up every morning next to someone I love and who loves me is pretty great.
posted by adamrice at 8:10 AM on November 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

Never feeling starved for physical human contact. Having someone to wake up in the middle of the night when I've had bad dreams who will comfort me. Having someone to share the nerdiest things with. Sometimes, she knows something is bothering me before I do because she can see me being stressed out before it percolates up to my conscious brain. Laughing so much -- even when one of us has done something (comparatively trivial) wrong, it becomes a source of amusement. Sort of like uandt's FailDancetm (so awesome). Reveling in being our utterly dorkiest selves with each other. Sometimes it's much more like being in a slapstick comedy than a romantic drama, and I'm okay with that. And, yeah, the sex keeps getting better.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:17 AM on November 7, 2010 [8 favorites]


ME: hey, wanna do it?
PARTNER: okay!

M: hey, wanna do it?
P: naw, I don't feel like it
M: cool, let's watch project runway

P: you smell really funky
M: oh snap, thanks for telling me

M: I am dying of a fever, come check my forehead
P: let me check, yup, you're totally dying, I'd better give you attention and hugs

M: where are we? we are lost and we are going to starve to death and die
P: no, I know exactly where to go

P: I am so hungry and I forgot to bring a snack
M: I knew you would be hungry so I brought snacks

posted by the young rope-rider at 8:55 AM on November 7, 2010 [196 favorites]

He nags me, he thinks I'm weird, he rolls his eyes at my jokes, and he's always making lists.

I don't clean things right, I can't do the laundry the way he likes, and I don't brush my teeth enough to his liking.

JEEZ that man drives me crazy! Pisses me off to no end on a regular basis.

But he loves me. When some incredibly cheesy moment pops up on some TV show we're watching, he reaches over to hold my hand and cries.

Couldn't imagine life without him.
posted by matty at 9:27 AM on November 7, 2010 [4 favorites]

Yesterday my husband of 15 years was at a networking event by himself that I usually accompany him to. I texted him to see how it was going, and he mentioned it was harder this year because I wasn't there. Then he said...

"You're my spinach."

That's a long term relationship in a nutshell. You make each other stronger. You make each other healthier. And you get each other's silly Popeye jokes.

And he's my spinach too.
posted by platinum at 9:51 AM on November 7, 2010 [36 favorites]

When life/work gets overwhelming, it's great having someone who knows exactly how to talk you off a ledge.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:08 AM on November 7, 2010 [5 favorites]

Memories. I've been with my husband for 12 years now, and there is no one else on earth who knows about all the stuff that's happened over that time. And you wouldn't believe how awesome the in-jokes get at that point!

Knowing that no matter what goes wrong, no matter how badly I screw up, I can come home and snuggle with someone who thinks I'm totally amazing anyway. He will always have my back. It's very comforting.

And the best things about a long-term relationship compared to a new one are:
you can fart in front of each other (and giggle about it)
you can turn down sex if you aren't up for it without it being a big deal
there's no drama or second-guessing what every interaction "means"
you build up a tremendous level of trust
posted by lollusc at 1:56 PM on November 7, 2010 [4 favorites]

I'm not currently in a long term relationship, but I am a relationship person.

Here is an example of why. It's another "it is comforting to be known" example.

I am difficult, especially with eating. My long-term-exboyfriend and I were going to order in food one night. I looked at all the menus and nothing seemed really appetizing. I said "just pick whichever place you want, and I'll pick something from the menu." He said, okay, Mexican. I looked at the Mexican menu and nothing seemed appetizing and it was full of pictures and I wasn't in the mood to make a decision. I said "you know, I'm not that hungry, so you just order and I'll find something later." He said okay. He ordered a platter and some tacos a la carte. The food arrived. By this time, I was hungry and regretting my choice to not just choose something. He opened his platter and started eating. I made big eyes at him and said "canImaybehavesome?" and he pointed at the bag and said "I ordered you the tacos. I knew you'd be a moop."

That's it. A long term relationship is support from someone who knows you will be a moop.
posted by millipede at 3:04 PM on November 7, 2010 [24 favorites]

My two arguments: one is my own deep-set wish for why I want to be in a long-standing relationship, and one is a moment from the last relationship I had.

The real moment first. My ex seemed vaguely down about something once, and I wanted to ask him what was wrong. But I also knew that he had a thing about opening up about things before he was ready to talk -- and sometimes he just wanted to sulk for a little while and then he'd feel better. So instead of trying to get him to pry, or ignoring it, I just squeezed his hand or something and said only, "when you're ready." He just blinked a little bit, but said nothing. Then about two minutes later he gave me a big hug and said that just the mere fact that someone even noticed he was unhappy made him feel better right then and there.

Then my own argument: imagine this. You have had a really long, exhausting day at work. You want nothing more than to get home, change immediately into your pajamas, heat up some leftovers and zone out to TV. You get in, you change, you start making your dinner -- but then you remember that you were also supposed to get dog food, but you forgot.

I have lived this moment again and again and again, where I forgot to pick up the dry cleaning or the cat food or the milk or the toilet paper or the stamps, or to run this errand or that errand, or where I felt sick but had no cold medicine in the house, or had the runs and ran out of toilet paper. And -- each and every time, having to change back into street clothes to get the cat food I forgot, or pull myself together in my sickness to walk to the corner for some cold medicine, those are the times I have felt more alone -- simply because there was no one else who I could lean on to take care of me in just that small way. No one I could call to ask "could you pick up some dog food on your way home so I don't have to get changed and go back out?" No one I could turn to and say, "I feel like crap, can you go get me some cold medicine?" I am right now the only one looking out for me - and on the days when "looking out for me" is just a little more involved than I have the energy for, there is nothing more I want than to have a little help, and not having that help makes me feel so alone.

So for me, having a long-term relationship means that someone else just...has your back. And you have theirs (I also want to be the one that someone calls from work to say "I've had a crap day, can you make sure we've got chocolate in the house so I don't have to worry about it?")
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:54 PM on November 7, 2010 [11 favorites]

A few months ago, around midnight, I was feeling sort of sick. Twenty or so minutes later, it was apparent that I had food poisoning. Really apparent. Can't get to the bathroom in time for 8 hours apparent.

He took amazing care of me. Changed me in and out of three pairs of pajamas, gave me two baths, cleaned the apartment four times, rubbed my feet, went to the pharmacy at 4am for ginger ale, and then, let me sleep for 16 hours in total silence, nearly impossible in a 2 room apartment.

Also, he lets me beat him at Jeopardy! sometimes.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:35 PM on November 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

I've been with my husband for 8 going on 9 years. He has this nasty trick of being so awesome that it's nearly impossible to stay mad at him no matter how much I want to be on the occasions he's being a jerk. When I apologize for being crabby or unreasonable, he tells me he hadn't noticed. When I have a bad day he goes out of his way to make sure I am surrounded by things I find comforting. He's incredibly nice and helpful to my family and especially to my mother. If I screw up he just lets it go and has taught me to do the same. He has seen me at my worst and told me how much he loves me with equal enthusiasm as the times he has seen me at my best. He is perpetually proud of me and I want to be a better person because of it.

My life just makes more sense with him in it, and even though we fight sometimes and things aren't perfect, every day that he is with me feels like a gift.
posted by Kimberly at 4:52 PM on November 7, 2010 [8 favorites]

Ordinarily, this would be a pretty terrible time in my life. But it's not, 'cus she's asleep in the bed next to me and I've got my hand softly in the middle of her back.
posted by dudekiller at 5:02 PM on November 7, 2010 [27 favorites]

how old are you and how many other LTRs have you been in?

not to say that people don't meet in high school, get married, and stay together forever. i read this whole thread and all the answers people have given you sound great- but they sound especially great to me now, whereas 5-10 years ago this list wouldn't have really resonated with me. when i was 20 or something i had a boyfriend who probably would have done all the great things listed above. but i wasn't in a place yet where i needed/wanted/was ready for the good things that come with commitment. now, i cringe looking back on it and how i didn't appreciate it, more recently having been in relationships that are the exact opposite of those described here. i honestly think it takes, well, at least one, but for some of us several crappy relationships before we begin to truly understand how great all those little, understanding, taking-care-of-each-other things are. especially if you've never been in a crap relationship before, sometimes it can make it harder to recognize when you've actually got something really great. in other words, its easy to take all the nice little things for granted when you don't stop to realize that lots of guys will not be interested in doing those nice little things.

i know that maybe doesn't exactly answer your question. just based on the fact that you're a self-proclaimed commitment phobe, it made me wonder why. because if you're just young and haven't dated a lot, it can be hard to accept commitment/ permanence, no matter how great someone is. and if that's the case you can't beat yourself up over it. but i think the entire list above has really nailed it, so if you do end up dating him, it'll give you a nice reference point.
posted by lblair at 5:07 PM on November 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

The private language, the referential humor...
posted by Jacqueline at 5:28 PM on November 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

In the movie 'shall we dance', Susan Sarandon says something that has stuck with me.

We need a witness to our lives. There's a billion people on the planet... I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you're promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things... all of it, all of the time, every day. You're saying 'Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness'."
posted by cynicalidealist at 6:01 PM on November 7, 2010 [61 favorites]

We just got back from dinner out, and I remembered one more thing: there is no more early days of dating stress about eating. I can order spaghetti if I want it because I'm not worried about what he'll think of me if I end up with noodles hanging out of my mouth and sauce spatterings on my blouse. This man has watched me sneeze with a mouthful of corn, and while he did laugh until he about cried, I didn't worry for a second that he thought any less of me as a person.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 6:02 PM on November 7, 2010 [10 favorites]

Your inner life -- that continuous unfiltered conversation you hold with yourself, including the serious and the silly and the selfish and the sexual -- gradually becomes shared. It is validating, liberating, and comforting not to feel inhibited about giving voice to your train of thought.

From a practical standpoint, this means that you no longer need to choose -- as single people almost necessarily must choose -- between (1) getting multiple points of view on a given matter or (2) shielding yourself from those who might judge you.

This, in turn, makes you grow as a person and as an intellect, as you come to understand, to empathize with, and to internalize perspectives that would not naturally have occurred to you.

It's wonderful. Try it.
posted by foursentences at 10:22 PM on November 7, 2010 [9 favorites]

knapah's comment reminded me of something from Jane Eyre:

To be together is for us to be at once as free as in solitude, as gay as in company.

Jane Eyre being fiction is not what you're looking for, but I bring it up because I felt exactly like that from the beginning. So much so, that I quoted that sentence in my wedding vows. I should say that despite this certainty, we did have a lot of issues to work out in the first, oh, five years of commitment. It was touch and go, a few times.

But we have worked them out and are in a good place now. What makes it good is knowing that we care enough about each other to have continuously recalibrated our behaviour, expectations, communication styles, to be more considerate and respectful of each other. To help each other to grow into the potential we initially saw in each other. To let ourselves learn and change ourselves for the better. That "as free as in solitude, as gay as in company" feeling is still there. Difference is, before, it was planted tenderly and hopefully in successful baby-steps of conflict resolution, and large dollops of faith. Now it's rooted deep in the security borne of our history of shared struggles, successes, and laughs.

Writing this brought to mind a line of poetry by, IIRC, Kim Morrissey in her book Batoche: "cradle me, it hurts to be born"

yeah. Growth can hurt, but the committed partner's right there to help you make it through to the sunlit side. Year after year.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:26 PM on November 7, 2010 [11 favorites]

There was a very similar question yesterday. Maybe it's a coincidence, but it seems like this question has something else in common with yours, which is that very little is revealed about the anxiety itself or the situations where it comes up as an issue. Instead, you ask us to talk about ourselves, our anxiety, how we dealt with our commitment issues, etc. Maybe the problem is repeated in the act of trying to solve the problem, the instinct to keep others at a safe distance paradoxically by making them talk, making them knowable to you.

The problem of writing an AskMe question is that you don't know who you are speaking to, the imagined person you address your question to is radically strange, more so than asking a stranger in real life. There, you know something about them because you can see their face and other external characteristics; there is lots you don't know, of course, which is concealed by the fact that you aren't friends with them. But here, as you write your question, the true addressee of your question is not just concealed, it's radically open - there's a void, an empty place or an enigma where a person should be. You don't know who is reading, what they think, what they want or what will they want from you. Another paradox: in the presence of this empty space without a real person, we feel the most naked and exposed. By substituting another person's "innermost" thoughts and dreams and personality into that place, we cover up the real innermost void, which is why for Freud, the face is the ultimate mask, concealing this unfathomable, impenetrable abyss that's in every other person, which is that thing we want to keep at a distance.

In a sense, the fact that you are afraid of commitment is not a sign of dysfunction, caused something that happened in your childhood, it's simply accurate knowledge about how others sometimes appear. This is even a precondition for real intimacy, which involves the breathtaking intensity of a traumatic encounter with this monstrous abyss of the Other. Any practical benefits are beside the point - the reason you drive off a cliff is not because it's faster than taking the road to the bottom. The only reason to do it is because it's ultimately what you want.
posted by AlsoMike at 11:31 PM on November 7, 2010 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow, you guys are amazing. Thank you so much! I didn’t best answer anyone because I’d end up best-answering everyone. Hopefully, I will also have heartwarming stories to share when I am older.

@J.Wilson: Yeah. It’s a cultural thing. Also, I think in the US, there are people who date with a view to marriage. Not sure though. In any case, your point is quite valid. The thing is, once we start dating (as opposed to going out as a group), it basically means that we will more or less arrive at that endpoint (unless there are dealbreakers, which is a different metafilter question entirely.) To back out at this stage will lead to much embarrassment amongst the parties involved.

@lblair: I think I’m afraid of commitment because I used to not be able to imagine spending the rest of my life with another person who wasn’t family. The last serious relationship I had was eleven years ago (I’m thirty); we broke up because we wanted different things in life. Also, I don’t think it’s this guy, because he’s great. It really is me.

@AlsoMike: yeah the question is really similar. But it’s not. I’m not scared of intimacy. I’m apprehensive about commitment. The responses to your linked question were a little too meta for me though. Stories are helpful, so I asked for them. Maybe, in knowing someone else’s story, I can find my answer.
posted by onegoodthing at 6:47 AM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I will note that, man, sometimes when things get headbutty and you're grumpy at each other, it hurts way more than you expect. but then just sitting or laying together and holding each other and talking and all the negative dissipates.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:34 AM on November 8, 2010 [5 favorites]

Since you point out that its cultural, I'll share what I have seen with my parents who will have been married for 46 years come February. I guess I've seen their relationship evolve over my lifetime, considering that it was an "arranged" marriage. But I had no doubt all my life that those two were in love. If she pampered him to bits, he spoilt her at every opportunity. I often wonder as I see them now, a little slower, a tad grouchier yet with the comfortable patina of long understanding and habit, leaving a few more spaces in their togetherness in order to let the fresh air blow any cobwebs away, if in some special way, I was very lucky to have seen that all my life. To have walked past their bedroom door after he returned from a trip abroad and to hear distant giggles (I was past thirty then I think and it stopped me short to realize they were still "a couple"). Its an investment of time and effort and reaping the returns of that. I wish you the same fortune.
posted by The Lady is a designer at 8:51 AM on November 8, 2010 [6 favorites]

Ah, seeing the comment about culture, I shall add that having that definite endpoint in mind is scary when you're starting out, but it also removes a lot of uncertainty from the equation. Both people tend to take the information gathering and communication building part of the early relationship very seriously, because dating is, by definition, serious business.

He’s a nice guy: kind, respectful. More importantly, we share the same values and goals AFAIK. My gut tells me that he is for real, and that I will most likely regret not choosing him.

This sounds like something I might have written about Mr bardophile shortly after we first met. I would do a little more searching on the "AFAIK" part about values and goals, but really, if you've found someone with whom you are deep-down-comfortable, that's pretty hard to beat.
posted by bardophile at 9:30 AM on November 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

Regarding your apprehension about commitment: the potential rewards overwhelmingly outweigh the potential risks. Maybe this thread kind of makes that self-evident, but I don't think anyone said it outright.
posted by AugieAugustus at 5:07 AM on November 9, 2010

I have been with my boyfriend 11 years in December I met him when I was only 16 at the time. He is my best friend and I can't ever imagine being without him. You have nothing to lose by entering a relationship and everything to gain. If things don't work out it was not meant to be.
posted by awebuser at 6:18 AM on November 9, 2010

My husband and I have been together for eleven years.

I didn't realize how alone I had been until I finally found someone who always has my back. Taking care of each other and our dog has been the best experience of my life.

Also, the micro-civilization the two (or three, if you count the dog) of you build gets richer and richer: more jokes, more code language, more customs and ceremonies.
posted by Lizzle at 5:27 PM on November 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

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