Boyfriend is scared to think about the future. Should I be patient or leave?
November 23, 2010 1:49 PM   Subscribe

I'm in a new relationship that's going great, but he's scared of thinking about a future together, and we have different views on kids and marriage. Should I be patient, or is it better to cut my losses?

I'm in a fairly new relationship (4 months or so), everything is going well. I think I'm seriously falling for the guy, but I'm starting to become concerned with the fact that we might have different life goals, his capacity for commitment, and whether it's worth it to pursue further. I'm looking for advice on when you know a relationship is a waste of time, despite everything going great, or whether I'm jumping the gun and need to practice more patience (if this is the case, please give me a reality check).

We are in our early 20's and just beginning our careers. We have both been in relationships, some long term, in the past, but they weren't right. I've never been a romantic, and wasn't sure about my thoughts on marriage or kids, but I can see the long term potential with this guy. We are compatible most important ways, and I can see us growing together. It's early, but something in me lit up, and I can see myself with this guy for years to come and maybe beyond. I'm not picking out my wedding dress, but for the first time, I can see that it's possible, and it's exciting for me.

He hasn't even thought about the future of our relationship. When I mentioned that I saw potential for this relationship (I didn't mention anything scary like kids, marriage, or for life), he got scared that I've been thinking about it. Additionally, he's unsure if he believes in marriage, or whether he'll have kids, whereas I would like to have a family someday (I'm talking at least 5 years or more!) I feel besides this, our other goals and values in life are compatible.

We are currently in a monogamous relationship, and I don't doubt his commitment to me *right now*. Most of his relationships have been quite short, with the long ones being either many years ago, or just a dragged out, meaningless relationship. I don't know if he'll ever be ready for committing to a future, or whether he'll be ready for the right person.

I know he cares for me, and I don't question his feelings for me. We have a great relationship and we are happy. I just don't know if I'm wasting my time with a guy who is scared about the prospect of me thinking about a future together, and who is unsure about kids and marriage. I know we're young, and I have reason to believe he'll change his mind someday (he actually loves kids and he is a monogamous relationship-er), but who knows. Maybe he won't, or maybe it'll be 20 years before he's "ready".

I know our relationship is young, and we are young. But would it be better to break up before we get too involved in the face of such an incompatibility in life goals, because we'll probably break up due to this down the line, when it'll be harder? Or maybe I'm making a mountain of a molehill, especially considering we might never last long enough for this to even be an issue. I would like a sanity check-- am I jumping the gun by thinking about our future, and he'll come to it in his own time? Or will he never get to that level of commitment?

I think I mostly want reassurance that I just need to give him time and be patient, and his reaction is typical. But I'd also like to know if I'm just being silly sticking around and this is an obvious sign for me to leave.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Additionally, he's unsure if he believes in marriage, or whether he'll have kids, whereas I would like to have a family someday (I'm talking at least 5 years or more!)

My mother told me that a year after getting married (around 25) she got drunk and wept and begged to my father that she didn't want to have kids and keep being young and so on. Two years later she very gladly got pregnant and had me. Things can change a lot between mid-20s and late-20s/early-30s. If you don't even know when you want to have kids yet, give it time.

...but don't get engaged without working this stuff out.
posted by griphus at 1:53 PM on November 23, 2010

If he is saying he never ever wants to have kids and isn't open to it and you absolutely do, that's a deal breaker. If he's just "unsure" like you say, then that's not. He's young, who the hell knows what they want in their early 20s?

He's normal. He doesn't know what he wants yet. As long as he's open to exploring the idea somewhere down the line and hasn't shut down the option of kids and marriage (and assuming everything else is as good as you say), keep going with him.

Good luck.
posted by inturnaround at 1:55 PM on November 23, 2010

It's 4 months in. Chill out, enjoy the relationship, and just see where it goes. I don't think there are any obvious signs of anything here, given how new the relationship is. I am not stating that everyone always changes their minds about whether they want children or want to get married, but it definitely true that people are often much more guarded about discussing these things with an other before they've decided how significant that person should be.
posted by bizzyb at 1:56 PM on November 23, 2010 [7 favorites]

if you guys were in your 30s, i'd be giving the DTMFA advice - life goals are fairly set and unchangeable.

however - you're in your early 20s and you've been together 16 weeks. this is a blip on the radar. i think he reaction is fairly standard and typical for a lot of people your age - especially since his mostly knows short relationships. give him a few more months if you really like him. try to calm down a little - stop looking towards "will we still be together in 50 years" and spend more time with "who is this person, right now, in front of me" -

i think that some people (stereotypically women, but not always) have a plan and try to find someone to fill that plan. i think other people find the person and then work the plan around them. when the first person meets the second person they think "oh, they will never want a long relationship because they can't even consider it!" and when the second type meets the first type, they think "oh, this person doesn't even care who i am just as long as i fit into their plan!"

i used to be very much the first type - my husband pointed it out to me long before we were together - i worked on becoming more of the second type because there seems to be a lot less failure and failed expectations there.
posted by nadawi at 1:59 PM on November 23, 2010 [12 favorites]

Where would you go if you left him and why would you leave him right now? For something hypothetically mythical down the road? You're young, enjoy what you have and let the chips fall where they may. Life teaches us that the best laid plans of mice and men etc
posted by The Lady is a designer at 2:13 PM on November 23, 2010

Honestly, you sound scary. It's been four months and you're wondering whether you should dump the guy because he's not on the same page as you? For early 20s, that's pretty intense.

Or will he never get to that level of commitment?

Seriously, chill out. Breathe. Give it time. You're way over thinking this and might harm the relationship with the seemingly obsessive WILL HE BE READY OR NOT.

Relax. Revel and enjoy The Happy®.
posted by nomadicink at 2:14 PM on November 23, 2010 [11 favorites]

Cut your losses. If he's being wishy washy, that just translates to more trouble in your life. It means his goals for dating aren't the same as yours.

Your being young doesn't mean anything. You seem to know your mind. If you want to get married by 24 and have a baby by 25, there's nothing wrong with that. It's not the popular route for so-called educated people these days, but wasting your time with someone who scares easily sounds frustrating and potentially complicated. Be careful who you decide to emotionally invest in.
posted by anniecat at 2:16 PM on November 23, 2010 [5 favorites]

the only guys i've known who were thinking about marriage in their early twenties were the types of guys who would have married anyone. is that the kind of guy you want?
posted by lblair at 2:23 PM on November 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

I went from being someone who wanted a Jewish wedding and four kids to someone who is Childfree and getting a domestic partnership tomorrow.

People change.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:29 PM on November 23, 2010

Not everyone waits until their 30's to get married and have kids. MeFi probably skews that way, but it varies a lot by region, culture, etc. Most of my (educated, professional) friends from Georgia got married in their early 20's and are doing fine (now in their mid-30's).

That being said, the real question is your timeline. If marriage/family are something you see much further down the road, then this isn't really a dealbreaker yet. Both you and he may change your mind on all sorts of life goals in that timeframe. And of course as you say, since you're only 4 months in who knows how long this will last anyway.

But if you want to get married and have a family soon, then it's no different than if you were in your 30's: you need someone at least marginally on the same page, and this guy isn't (at least now).
posted by wildcrdj at 2:30 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd say stick with it. He's just unsure, so you're not necessarily incompatible. Might as well see where this goes.

However, I also want to qualify that by saying I think everything you've expressed here is totally reasonable. I don't think you're being "scary." You know what you want. That's a good thing. You just don't know yet if he's the one who'll give you all you want later on.

These relationship AskMe questions where the people are in their early 20s often bring up a lot of stereotypes about how you're not supposed to know what you want yet! You're in your early 20s! You're just supposed to be having carefree fun as much as possible! Well, life isn't a movie script where the director can step in and say, "No, don't feel this way yet — that doesn't happen until later." Maybe most people in their early 20s don't know if they want kids. I don't even know if that's true, but let's say it's true. That's still no reason you need to be like them. I know people (male and female), who knew at least since they were 20 years old that they absolutely, definitely wanted to have kids, and that this would be a top priority in their lives. It's not for us Metafilter commenters to say whether this is the right or wrong way to lead your life. You get to set your own priorities.
posted by John Cohen at 2:40 PM on November 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

Don't be so ready to sacrifice the good times now for an imaginary being (fetus) down the road, and who knows how long down the road.
Live in the now. Seize the day. Smell the roses....pick your cliché.
posted by BostonTerrier at 2:43 PM on November 23, 2010

You describe yourself as suddenly seeing that hey, maybe you might want family and kids. From a practical point if you can see it with this dude then it's possible with someone else - there's a LOT of people in the world. There's someone else you can love just as much, if not in the exact same way.

So you can chalk this up to something you learned in this relationship and maybe it'll happen with this guy, maybe it won't. The question isn't really should you wait around and see if his mind changes, the question is whether you can continue being happy in this thing if his mind DOESN'T.

By which I mean, I disagree in concept with the "just chill" answer. There's nothing wrong with not being ready for a commitment in your early 20s. But there's nothing wrong with being ready for one either. Or being ready or not ready at 40. It's not a good or bad thing, it's a right for you thing.

Your goal in dating should be to meet your needs. If those needs are earth-shattering sex then that's what you should try for. If it's to meet a forever partner then you should be working for that. If it's important for you to be on the path to a lasting commitment then you shouldn't deprive yourself of that because of someone else.

So decide - has this man opened your mind to a new possibility? Or has your outlook evolved to where your relationship with him must go in that direction for you to be happy with it? Have your needs changed?

If they have then you should make some sort of decision about how long you'll go without your needs being met. Don't think of it as right or wrong or good or bad, because it's not. Don't hide this way you feel because he's uncomfortable with it. You CAN be open and honest that you see and want a relationship to go in a certain direction without being pushy or unfair about it. If he can't handle that... then that means something.

When you can no longer be open about it without being pushy or he can't take your being open about where you want things to go then that's a sign it's time to move on.
posted by phearlez at 2:58 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Here, fill in this blank:

"A guy in his early twenties should know whether he wants to marry a girl after dating her for __________."

If you said "four months", then break up with him. If you said something longer, then CHILL.
posted by 23skidoo at 3:23 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Honestly, you sound scary.

I'm not sure that scary is the word, but you definitely seem to be jumping the gun a little. You mention multiple times that you both had "long-term" relationships before, but you're only in your early 20s. Unless these relationships started when you were 12, they weren't all that long-term.

I see 2 ways you can go:

1) Relax. You're young. If you're happy with this guy otherwise, just stick with it and see what develops.

2) If you're really interested in a long-term, marriage-type thing right now, this ain't your guy. Move on.
posted by coolguymichael at 3:23 PM on November 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

This really can only be answered by you. If you feel you need to be with a guy who isn't acting the way he is, then move on now; if you feel you have time to wait and see how he feels as he grows older with you, then wait. I will say that, in your early 20s, the pressure isn't exactly on.
posted by davejay at 3:33 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd keep going for a while. These things will work themselves out. If he has questions, tell him honest answers.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:40 PM on November 23, 2010

When I mentioned that I saw potential for this relationship (I didn't mention anything scary like kids, marriage, or for life), he got scared that I've been thinking about it.

I met my boyfriend five years ago when I was 21 and he was 23, and we were pretty upfront about marriage and children and all that within the first few weeks of dating. Even at that time, we were both delighted about our long-term compatibility (we're getting married in July).

I hate to say it, but maybe he's just not that into you? I mean, don't you want to be with someone who is just as excited about you as you are about him?
posted by halogen at 3:49 PM on November 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't really know the answer but a question for you. You said you guys are in your early 20s.

How long do you expect his relationships to be??
posted by xm at 4:24 PM on November 23, 2010

I realize you're young, but the kids/marriage issue is a big neon arrow shaped sign pointing at a red flag.

What if this relationship lasts years, but he still doesn't want to have kids? Maybe you'll have had some wonderful time together... but you could have spent that wonderful time building a relationship with someone else who wants a future that fits with the future you want. Time is such a precious thing. Be careful not to waste it.

My advice? Keep looking.

Best of luck!
posted by 2oh1 at 4:40 PM on November 23, 2010

Because you're both in your early 20s, I think it's too early.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:23 PM on November 23, 2010

This stuck out at me:

I've never been a romantic, and wasn't sure about my thoughts on marriage or kids

I would think a bit harder about whether or not this is a hill to die on. You've only had a few months where you've decided on marriage and kids. How do you know if it's hormones or limerance or something more substantial.

When you're just starting to fall in love, it's so easy to have absurd thoughts about eloping to Vegas and buying a boat and living off the sea just you and me. And it's super fun to have someone there who will entertain these huge absurd fantasies. Hell, my parents lived that fantasy and married at nineteen, and managed to make it work.

But that's not where a relationship actually happens. So don't be upset that he isn't getting as excitable as you. It might be great for you to have a cautious partner who wades into things slowly. Only you can make this call.
posted by politikitty at 5:23 PM on November 23, 2010

Funny, a female friend of mine and I were talking recently about this very topic, and I mentioned how I keep wanting to ask about it here.

Obviously, I don't really have a concrete answer for you. I'm 3.5 years into a relationship like this (started when he was 19 and I was 20) and he still freaks out a bit about the future and he doesn't know yet if he wants to have kids or not. We're now 23 and 24. I've decided to pick him over specifically searching for someone I can marry and have kids with, but there's a very real possibility that I'm picking him over ever having a husband and kids.

We're still young so I'm not worried (most of the time), but maybe it would not work for you if three years in, things are still pretty much the same on these fronts.

To more directly try to answer your question:
No, you are not jumping the gun to think about things so early. Some people just do.

Will he come to it in his own time? Some men will. Some men won't. I can't tell you which he'll be. The only thing I can say is that if he ever flat out says, "I don't want to get married" or "I don't want to have kids" then believe him and don't wait for him to change his mind.

If you really like him a lot and feel he's someone really special for you, I would say stick with the relationship. It's early, and you guys are young but older than I was when I started dating my boyfriend. It's not an immediate red flag that he's never thought about these things before. According to a book I read, it's very normal for this topic to completely take guys by surprise and for them to have not thought about it before their girlfriend brings it up. I don't necessarily recommend reading that book, btw, but I did find that bit of info and some other statistics in it comforting.
posted by quirks at 5:25 PM on November 23, 2010

Had a girlfriend of mine started talking about the future and kids and marriage after a few months of dating in my early twenties, I probably would have freaked out a bit too. You're having fun and it's too soon for you to be broaching this stuff with him. Stop freaking him out and just enjoy him.
posted by fso at 5:25 AM on November 24, 2010

I agree with everyone who said that if you want marriage and kids, and you know this for a fact, you should cut your losses and move on. Some people really do know what they want in their early 20s. I think it's a bit ageist to advise someone in their 20s that they're still just an adolescent and should keep it casual. One size does not fit all.

However, if you aren't sure, it won't hurt you to give it some more time with this guy. Perhaps give it a set number of months, say six more. Observe him, observe yourself, enjoy yourself, then re-evaluate.

And, I came upon a great site about relationships that I can't recommend enough. Check out BaggageReclaim for awesome advice about waiting for someone, being in a relationship, keeping it casual or not, breaking up, etc.
posted by xenophile at 9:49 AM on November 24, 2010

Oh, my advice sounds a bit harsh on second reading today, but fso sums up my thoughts minus the harsher tone.

Basically, it's like this, if you're never felt this way before and this particular guy is bringing out these feelings, then wondering whether to dump him after 4 months 'cause he's not on the exact page seems a bit premature. You sound conflicted a way. First you wonder whether the guy will want a family or be faithful, then you note he loves kids and is a serious monogamist.

It's good to talk about this things and you of course ask for what you want and need in any relationship. But dumping your awesome boyfriend who you feel has long term potential after 4 months, who loves kids and has a history of monogamy, right when you're starting to really fall for him? Waiting a bit, say another six months, to see where things go and enjoy them in the meantime seems like a win win to me. You can leave later, if you realize if it's not what you want. But leaving now means you'll never know what could have been, cause you never gave it a chance.

Good luck!
posted by nomadicink at 10:04 AM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

As someone who married a 19 year old when I was 20, you sound a little ... intense.

On marriage (which, incidentally, doesn't necessarily imply children) - we didn't even start discussing it until about 8 months in (after falling head-over-heels for one another about a day into the relationship). We got married *very* early on - only 18 months after we first started dating. The fact that we're still together makes us very special snowflakes, because most of the time, relationships like that end in divorce pretty fast. I would not usually recommend getting committed that fast, because frankly, you don't know each other that well. Especially not at the age you are at - people tend to change rapidly in their 20s. So, think about it yes - but don't assume your own attitude is fixed, much less his. And yeah, way early to start discussing about whether it'll happen in specific between you two, although perhaps not so much talking about it in the general case.

On kids - hell, when we got together, I definitely didn't want kids, and he was assuming he would have kids. Today (a decade on) I still don't want kids, and he's ambivalent at best. Attitudes and ideas change - even firmly held convictions change. And frankly, he and I married each other, not our unborn hypothetical children. In any case, you don't sound certain you want children yourself. So why should it even be an issue?

Frankly, I think you're making a bit of a mountain out of a molehill. No one can predict the future, especially not where people are concerned. Give it a few years, see how things go.
posted by ysabet at 10:02 PM on November 24, 2010

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