What happens when you marry someone you love but aren't deeply "in love" with?
July 22, 2011 10:46 AM   Subscribe

Have you (or someone you know well) loved someone but weren't "in love" with them (had a strong, warm, happy relationship but one that wasn't very intense, passionate, etc) and gotten married/been in a long-term partnership? Did it matter that you weren't "in love" exactly? If it led to problems, what were they?

Above the fold is the basic question, feel free to skip all the long personal background information below and just answer!

I've been dating my boyfriend for six years (we're both in our late 20s and it's the first really serious long-term relationship for both of us.) We love each other very much, are great friends, are very affectionate, have a lot of fun together, make each other happy, respect each other, are really compatible in ways big and small, etc. He's a wonderful person, and my life is better and happier because we're together. (And because I know people are going to ask, our sex life is fine and we're both satisfied with it.) The only issue is that our relationship is and has always been more warm-and-fuzzy-and-comfortable than intense and passionate, without butterflies or sparks.

He's been ready to get married for years now-- I've been reluctant, partially because I am an extremely indecisive person who agonizes over even small decisions let alone big ones like this, partially because I've really struggled with the lack of that intense in-love feeling (which I am mostly familiar with from a series of major crushes-- including several that occurred while dating my boyfriend, although none for the last couple years-- and a single dizzying short relationship that ultimately was not terribly substantial and flamed out.) Over the last few years, though, the importance of that feeling to me has faded gradually, although not completely disappeared... and my comfort level with the idea of marrying him "eventually" has gradually grown, although I still felt somewhat panicky and trapped thinking about actually finalizing the decision in the short-term. (He knows all of this stuff, by the way. He thinks we're a great couple, and that passion fades and is overrated, and that divorce is a risk worth taking, and he's willing to wait, at least for now, for me to be ready.)

Then last month, I finally got the gut feeling, "Yes. We should do this. I am ridiculously lucky to have a wonderful relationship with a wonderful guy who wants to marry me. So what if I can think of other things I'd like to have in this relationship but don't, including feeling really "in love"? There are so many fantastic things about him and us, why on earth would I throw that away to start hunting for someone else who I feel in-love with but who'll surely be missing some of these other wonderful things? It's not worth it, I'm happy with what I've got and I'm ready to stop waffling and commit to this path, this future, this partner. I want to marry him." I decided that night I wanted to wait at least a month before telling him this, in case the feeling went away, since the sense of confidence and readiness was so new and different. But it stayed pretty strong for the whole month, and I was getting pretty excited about getting engaged and getting married-- right up until last weekend, when I hit my deadline for when I could tell him, and then the nervousness overcame me. A whole bunch of what-ifs kept jumping up in my brain. I can still feel that gut feeling of rightness about the idea of getting married, but it seems tiny and distant and overwhelmed by this anxiousness and doubt.

And the biggest doubts are around this feeling that this is not what marriage is "supposed" to be like. I'm supposed to be crazy about him. I'm supposed to not be able to imagine myself without him or with anyone else. I'm supposed to want those wedding readings that everyone else has, full of the intensity of love and the amazing joy of getting to spend the rest of your life together, rather than feeling unnatural and insincere when I imagine reading those and wishing I could use Not Love Perhaps without it feeling like that's the wrong sentiment for a wedding. I'm supposed to feel powerfully "in love" with him, not just warm and fuzzy and happy. Part of me is ready to dismiss that as watching too much Hollywood, reading too many love stories. But a little voice says "Don't kid yourself. You know they're not just pulling that out of thin air. You've seen plenty of smart, real-life people on AskMe say that it's a mistake to stay with/marry someone you love but aren't "in love" with. It may be over-dramatized in fiction, but that doesn't mean there's not a real reason why it's important to feel that way about your spouse." And I worry that marrying him would maybe be irresponsible, would be setting him and me and maybe our future children up for a painful divorce, where I should've known better because everything in society was telling me I didn't feel the "right way" and I didn't listen. (Of course, postponing making a decision because I'm worrying about making the "wrong decision" that I'll realize I "should've known better" about is a broader issue for me, and one I'm working on in therapy...)

I'm not asking whether we should get married, that's not a question for Internet strangers. I'm not really asking about whether I should wait awhile until I feel more comfortable to move ahead, or whether I ought to swallow my anxiety and make myself jump off the diving board, so to speak (although I wouldn't reject advice about that, either!)

What I really want to know is-- do you think, from personal experience, that it's problematic to marry/partner with someone you're not "in love" with exactly? If your relationship is good and strong but without a lot of spark? And if so, what specifically are the problems you've seen it caused, for you or someone you know? I'd really like to know the details. I know there are some people here who've said they married someone they weren't in love with, and it was a mistake, and they got divorced. It would be really helpful for me to hear your analysis of what happened. I want to try to understand the underlying dynamics of how this has been problematic for other people, so I can think more about whether it's something to be concerned about for us, or something just to remember to keep an eye on, or something that's totally irrelevant to us. (Of course, I would also really really love to hear stories about people who didn't have that traditional in-love feeling and are still happily with with their partner!)

I would prefer more focus on the emotional side of things and less on the "but the sex won't be as good" angle, if possible-- I know that sex is an important part of a healthy relationship, and if that's really the key issue you've seen destroy relationships then by all means mention it, but our sex life is fine and I don't really care much about the range between an okay sex life and a fantastic sex life, it's just not that important an issue for me.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (54 answers total) 95 users marked this as a favorite
You're supposed to get along, be happy, have interesting conversations, minimal fighting, respect for each other, enjoy each other's company, deeply care about the other person, can see a lifetime with them, can see (perhaps) having children with them, want to travel with them, would stand up for them in times of conflict, can trust them, support them in times of sickness and need, can defy the odds with each other and turn out ok.

Butterflies, sparks, etc.....not necessary to have a very good, healthy relationship.
posted by stormpooper at 10:57 AM on July 22, 2011 [31 favorites]

That poem is beautiful, and if that's how you feel about each other, it seems like a damn good foundation for a lifelong thing to me.
posted by corvine at 10:59 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've really struggled with the lack of that intense in-love feeling (which I am mostly familiar with from a series of major crush

Exactly. You don't have much intensity after six years. Your defintion of "love" is actually closer to infatuation. Everything you've stated about your relationship sounds like "in love" to me. You're not a teenager anymore. Drop your teenage expectations.
posted by spaltavian at 11:08 AM on July 22, 2011 [10 favorites]

Before I married Mr. Darling, 21 years ago, my father advised me against it because he "just didn't see a spark" between us. My husband is an introvert who feels things deeply but didn't grow up in a terribly demonstrative family. I wear my heart on my sleeve and cry on a moment's notice but have lingering effects from my parents' divorce when I was three.

We met when we were very young, in college, and were friends first. I had a number of intense relationships that went from crazy crush to obsessive need to be together to crash and burn. I'd been cheated on and been the cheater. And throughout it all, Mr. D was there to listen and laugh and commiserate and share the newspaper crossword puzzle and laugh at bad TV and drink a twelve-pack. And one night I looked across the campus bar and thought, "I love him." And thanks to beer, I was able to tell him; and it turned out he loved me too, and our relationship began. Hardly anyone noticed, because to the outside world we looked and acted exactly the same as we did the week before.

We never fought much, never obsessed much over where the relationship was going, never wrote each other longing notes. We have great talks and good laughs and satisfying sex. Kids, dogs, cats, houses, jobs, laundry, groceries ... our lives are consumed with the mundane and the every day.

There have been times along the way that I've longed for the spark ... the magic that happens right before you kiss someone for the same time, the thrill of a relationship where you lose yourself in the other person.

But his loyalty, his protectiveness, the fact that he knows me better than I know myself... I wouldn't trade that for anything.

Just this morning the Billy Joel song "You're My Home" (shut up, don't judge) came on my iPod as I was driving to work, and I cried so hard that I had to pull over. I sent him a text to tell him I love him, because he truly is my home and I cannot imagine what my life would be without him.

So, anecdotal datapoint: marry the guy you love and don't worry about what "in love" means.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 11:09 AM on July 22, 2011 [151 favorites]

“Love is not so much a matter of romance as it is a matter of anxious concern for the wellbeing of one’s companion.”
— Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

To me, love is not always sparks and butterflies, that describes infatuation. They often exist side-by-side, but they often do not. Put another way, I think you're asking what "love" is, or asking what marriage-able "love" is.

This question and its answers may be helpful to you. FWIW, I read the consensus there to be "yes, you can have love without infatuation and butterflies."
posted by craven_morhead at 11:09 AM on July 22, 2011 [8 favorites]

I used to get these same feelings about my husband from time to time before we got married and was also nervous about if I was making the right decision about our wedding. However, once we got married, I never thought twice about it. I have been EXTREMELY happy with him and our life.

In regard to that "in love" feeling...I had never really went through a phase of infatuation with my husband as I had with other boyfriends (which is probably why I felt like you a little). We have been married now for 3 years and,all of a sudden, recently, our sex life exploded into craziness (discovery of new interests and such). After this happened, I got that same infatuation and craziness I had remembered with others... it was weird and unexpected - but that's what happened to me. Don't mistake love with infatuation.

All that said - I have no idea how you are feeling really, so take my experience with a grain of sand obviously. In general though, I would say that love isn't necessarily what society say's it is "supposed" to be at all, that just makes for better movies.
posted by LZel at 11:10 AM on July 22, 2011 [5 favorites]

I question your assumption that there is something called "in love" that you're not in. No, a real relationship does not feel like a crush. But butterflies in the tummy won't raise a child with you or hold your hand during chemo. You love him. He's a great friend and a wonderful person. What you have together is far harder to find than simple chemistry -- do not underestimate its value.
posted by libraryhead at 11:10 AM on July 22, 2011 [15 favorites]

To me this sounds like a wonderful loving lasting relationship. The only thing to think about is whether you have a personal need to go seek out those sparks and butterflies. If they are something that you are expecting, and feel like you'll be missing, it could become an issue later on. The "falling in love" rush is pretty hard to capture in a long term relationship, but there are tons of other wonderful things you get instead. Probably not telling you much you don't already know, but the question is whether you are ready. There is nothing objectively wrong or dangerous about your relationship, and I'm not sure if you are confusing the rush of falling newly in love with the long term, occasionally plodding, experience of maintaining it.
posted by meinvt at 11:11 AM on July 22, 2011 [6 favorites]

It sounds like you two have a good thing going. That said, you reminded me of this question. It might be helpful for you to read the question and see if you can recognize yourself in it. I think it's telling that you can't even imagine giving a heartfelt reading at your wedding, and that you are right to be very cautious in proceeding.
posted by millions of peaches at 11:12 AM on July 22, 2011

Was there every a time where you had that intense in-love feeling for your boyfriend?

What you're describing is limerence - a chemically driven infatuation that most go through at the beginning of a relationship that slowly ebbs over time.

What concrete things would be different in your relationship, in terms of things you two would do, if you had this mysterious spark you seem to be chasing? Is this something you can articulate? What are those what ifs that are plaguing you?
posted by canine epigram at 11:16 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

While I agree that the poem is beautiful, and that massive, all-the-time sparks are not necessary, I'm unclear if you never feel that spark for your boyfriend, or just not all the time.

In a long-term relationship, it's just not realistic to have that OMG SO IN LOVE feeling all the time-- life is full of dull, boring, and unpleasant bits, like grocery shopping and having the flu and visiting relatives that you maybe find slightly tiresome. For those bits-- which is a lot of your life, honestly-- you need a partner that you like and enjoy spending time with, who you trust, who can support you, who respects you and is willing and able to be there. Sparks are great, but sparks are not the thing that makes one willing and able to support a partner through difficulty, or grief, or illness.

However, if you never, ever feel that with your partner, ever... well, that might be tough sometimes. I was with my ex for 12 years, and have been with my current SO for a little over three, and having those moments of remembering, you know, "he's pretty f'ing cute and I really hope he thinks I look pretty in this dress" before a date night, or feeling excited and a little blushy when I'm on the way home from a trip because "I'll get to see him soon YAY" are valuable reminders that, yeah, I do love this guy, even though sometimes things get bumpy.

Do not undervalue your partnership... if he's your home and you cannot imagine your future without him (as Sweetie Darling so nicely expresses), that's the foundation of a lifelong relationship. You don't need crazy infatuation to be in love, and if you enjoy his company, miss him when he's gone, and smile when you think of him, that's love.
posted by Kpele at 11:26 AM on July 22, 2011 [11 favorites]

Putting aside the definition of "in love with" I would tell you that I was in a similar situation, but from your bf's side. We got married. She was young (er than me.) 18 years later after 3 terrific kids and a very nice life in the suburbs, she woke up and decided that this was not the life she had envisioned or wanted and was leaving. While she "loved me" all this time, she was not "in love" with me. She wasn't even sure what it is she was looking for, but knew that being a suburban mom wasn't it (although she is and was a terrific mother). We still get along well. In fact I had dinner with her the other night.

I am not sure what my point is other than you may find that you are settling for a life (not a guy) that you don't want.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:29 AM on July 22, 2011 [7 favorites]

I think you are chasing Hallmark feelings in lieu of real feelings. That in itself may mean something about you and/or this relationship.

Do you want to be a team with this man? Does it make you mad when someone hurts him, do you wish he was awake when you hear a scary noise in the middle of the night? Do you want to give him just the right nudge when he's a little bit scared to do something that you know he's totally going to rock if he'd just try it? When something good happens to you, do you want to tell him about it?

That's real love. It's not that fizzy stuff from when you're first getting to know someone and you can't keep track of sitcom plots because your head's too full of him - nobody can function like that perpetually, you'd lose your kids in parking lots and never pay any bills. Are there moments of that? Yes, hopefully, at least every once in a while you are overwhelmed by how awesome he is and how good your life with him is. (Or sometimes, when life is not good and things are hard, you realize how much worse it would be without him on your team.)

I know a few people who are really obsessed with this idea of "in love." To me, it seems as if they have mistaken drama for love. Or maybe at some point in their lives they were told "I love you, I'm just not in love with you" and took it to heart that "in love" was a mysterious force of some kind. But actually, that phrase means "I don't want to be with you, though I don't especially hate you." If you want to BE with this person, that is the feeling you seek.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:39 AM on July 22, 2011 [24 favorites]

The sparks and butterflies? They are designed to move people to the place where the two of you are now. Then they go away. You two just skipped to the front of the line. Celebrate!
posted by jbickers at 11:39 AM on July 22, 2011 [7 favorites]

Take this or leave it.

I've had your relationship. It was a good, solid, loving relationship filled with mutual respect and admiration. I screwed that all to hell and back. It may or may not have lasted a lifetime, but I know now that those things are more important than any spark.

Sparks and intensity are great for what they are, but they cannot last a lifetime. Marry this dude.
posted by FlamingBore at 11:43 AM on July 22, 2011 [9 favorites]

I still have moments of "spark" with my husband, but what makes me happy to go to sleep and wake up next to him is this:

"And then the finding we can walk
More firmly through dark narrow places"

I married my husband because of what he brings to my life every day, not because of the chemistry we had when we first started dating.

What would your life look like without him in it? Can you, do you want to, live like that?
posted by freshwater at 11:58 AM on July 22, 2011 [6 favorites]

Are you the type of person who can be OK without feeling that "spark" long term? I was once in a loving relationship, felt like I could share everything with this person, it's difficult to describe but we were best friends and things were "perfect" in that aspect. But the romantic spark wasn't there. At first I was in a "don't care about chemistry" mindset because of how transient sparks are. Buut, as time went on I found myself seeing this person as more of a best friend than a lover. I missed the spark I'd felt in previous relationships.

So, for me, it just wasn't going to work long-term. I'm not the type of person that can skip to the "deep love" stage without going through the "infatuation" stage because I'll feel like something is missing. But I'm also not the type that hangs everything on the initial "whee!" feeling - I need things to develop into something akin to what you have with your guy to be happy.

So.. everyone is different. IMO there's no right or wrong way to go about it, just do what makes you happy. Other people would have been happy to get married in the above circumstance, and that's fine. I felt like something was missing, and that's fine too.
posted by biochemist at 11:59 AM on July 22, 2011 [9 favorites]

It sounds like you are in love but not infatuated. In love isn't always an intense and passionate feeling. That quickening of the heart and rush of intensity, those fade, and if you are lucky they mellow into the kind of relationship you are describing. Day to day love is something deeper that you build upon and grow in different ways. It's not romance story love, and not every good relationship/life partnership has to have any kind of root in that.

If after six years you have the kind of relationship you are describing, I think you're doing pretty darn well.
posted by mrs. taters at 12:02 PM on July 22, 2011

OK - I'm getting divorced right now, complete with custody battles and paying alimony to my soon-to-be-ex-husband. I married him because I loved him, and I thought the "in love" part would grow as we spent more time together. It didn't, of course.

I had the sparks and intensity with someone else, a long time ago. I blamed my "toned-down" feelings with my husband on medicine, post-partum depression, stressful job, etc. I spoke with a friend who told me on her anniversary what she and her husband were doing to celebrate. She explained that she'd loved him from the moment she met him, but more importantly, he was her best friend. Shortly afterward, my husband asked me about my hopes and dreams, and I didn't have any. All I saw for the rest of my life was a struggle, and I didn't have a friend/partner/lover to help me through it. I was actually a little afraid of him sometimes. It was easier to do things alone. That's when I realized that I didn't love him anymore, and there was no way I'd ever be in love with him. Getting a divorce is one of the hardest things I've ever done, and it's definitely the hardest thing my kids have had to deal with so far. It's still the best decision I could have made in the situation I put us in.

So. If you're not 100% sure you don't want to get married, then don't get married. You don't really have to anymore; life can be managed without being married.

None of us can tell you whether or not you're in love, which is what it seems like you're asking. If you're not certain, take the time to be certain, and hopefully, he'll be waiting for you.
posted by mitzyjalapeno at 12:07 PM on July 22, 2011 [11 favorites]

I think it's fine to not have the spark, but if you feel a niggling sense that something is wrong and that it really should be there, then I would be concerned that you are going to spend the next bazillion years pushing down your feelings and telling yourself, "Oh, self! Never mind that true love stuff! It's not that important!" and all the while wondering if you are missing out, which sounds to me like a recipe for depression. If it is important to you to have big love feelings and you do not have them with your partner, then it doesn't matter whether other people require them in their marriages.
posted by Wordwoman at 12:07 PM on July 22, 2011 [28 favorites]

Here's my take. I knew my husband was the one for me not just from the butterflies or the sparks he brought on (they were definitely there and I had hardly experienced them before) but because from the day I met him I've never been able to imagine NOT being with him. Even when we hit rough times, and I was quite unhappy with our relationship at that point, I never doubted that I was in love with him down to my bones, and I don't think I'd ever find any other person who would make me feel how he does. I don't really believe in "soulmates" or "The One", but ever since I met him he has been *it* for me. (And - probably key - I fully trust him when he says he feels the same way about me.)

Marriage is hard work - monogamy is hard work - and having kids is REALLY hard work. My personal opinion is that it's not worth it if you don't have that rock-solid foundation to get you through when the chips are down - that knowledge that THIS IS IT and WORTH YOUR ALL.

What I see here is not that you don't have "sparks" because people can not have sparks and be fine with that. It's that you have questions. If you're going into it questioning, those questions are probably not going to go away, and you're going to feel like you're missing out on something more, and you're going to be dissatisfied - even more so when you say this is the first serious relationship for both of you - you don't KNOW what's out there, really, do you?

When times are difficult, what's going to get you through? If all you have is "a sense of duty" or "I made a promise", that's pretty bitter. It's pretty bitter if you figure that's his reason too. I think most people want to feel that their forever-partner thinks "out of everyone out there in the world, I chose you, and I am so lucky, because it's the very best choice I could have made". It's not as satisfying to know they're thinking "you're the best I found, so there might be better out there, but you'll do", and when times are difficult, that's going to put a big crimp in working together and pulling through.
posted by flex at 12:19 PM on July 22, 2011 [27 favorites]

(Mature) Love is something you decide, not just something you feel. Any niggling doubts you have about not feeling like you expect you should feel is just reality colliding with unrealistic expectations fed by popular culture. Niggling doubts are part of the process of outgrowing unrealistic expectations.

Ultimately you'll be happier embracing reality. Just make sure you both are committed to a clear-eyed and determined approach to make love work, often despite how it will make you feel.
posted by cross_impact at 12:30 PM on July 22, 2011 [8 favorites]

(Skipped below the fold, answering only the part above) Yes, this is me. I've been married for 18 years to a dear friend without the sparks and butterflies. To me, those are signs of infatuation or limerence, which are neither necessary nor sufficient for love. But steady affection, respect, cooperation, caring and tolerance don't make very entertaining movies, so Hollywood mostly focuses on the dramatic parts of romance, which kind of skews our view of what relationships should be.

What happens in this/my kind of marriage is that you keep on being dear friends, steady and dependable, who care the world about each other without constantly expecting passion and fireworks. Since I dislike drama in general, I find this kind of relationship the best.
posted by Quietgal at 12:31 PM on July 22, 2011 [8 favorites]

I think it is perfectly ok to be in a marriage or long term relationship where your heart doesn't skip a beat, or there's not this intense fire. It's ok to love someone in that way, if he loves you back. Is that enough for you? Do you need passion in your life?

I have been in that situation and we got married. We didn't have passionate relations...ever. There never was the spark. We were good friends who ended up roommates (really, it did start that way) who ended up in a relationship. (if you want to me-mail me, I can share more intense details than I am really willing to publish to The Interwebs at whole.) We got married partly because I was tired of feeling guilty that we were living together without being married. He wanted to have kids from day 1, I managed to stave him off.

Anyway, at some point it stopped being enough. It wasn't a bad marriage, but it wasn't a good one... I wanted to be attractive to my spouse (and not just the "She's nice and a good wife and would be a good mother" kind of attractive). I wanted to be attracted to my spouse, as well. I know the "butterflies"mostly go away in any long term relationship, but we had never had any. My (now ex) husband said that he was happy the way things were and he didn't want a divorce (but wouldn't go to therapy with me to try to fix things, because in his view, they weren't broken). He is now re-married, and so am I. I have never regretted ending that relationship.
posted by getawaysticks at 12:33 PM on July 22, 2011 [6 favorites]

...and of course I just saw your small text about the sex part not being an issue :) It wasn't only sex that caused our split, but it was a big part of it for sure.
posted by getawaysticks at 12:36 PM on July 22, 2011

Mrs. Randomkeystrike & I have been married over 20 years. We started out in our teens, which I think makes a big difference. Traditional ideals of crazy, butterflies kinda of L-O-V-E as popularized by girls with guitars tend to fade in youth. It's just possible you're kinda past that, or never was all that much of that kind of person emotionally. If the sex life is good, I think you have a physical attraction to each other. If the rest of your life is good and you trust him, I think you're emotionally compatible. Extra bonus points to him for still being interested despite all the transparency, meaning some guys would have been bummed out by all this and taken a hike.

There is such a thing as a marriage between two people who just kinda barely like each other, for the convenience of finances or a living arrangement or even sex. This doesn't sound like that. From what you've said, I think your relationship is about as good as it gets, long term.

The difficulty talking to him may be nervousness about taking a big step, shyness, or just the feeling that you're outside some kind of emotional comfort zone. My wife and I don't talk much mush to each other and even way back when nixed the idea of lighting a unity candle at our wedding because we thought we'd crack up looking at each other while someone tried to sing some stupid song.

Go for it.
posted by randomkeystrike at 12:45 PM on July 22, 2011

It really depends on the reason you got together with him in the first place. Love is just the most common reason why people get together. Not-love means there's some other reason, and it could be a number of things. For example, money. Wanting children. Wanting to feel desirable. Sex. Friendship.

I feel like many people here have experiences where they were ready to get married, wanted a life partner to have a stable home with, and then decided that a certain person would be a good husband even sans sparks and that's why they married him.

There are other people who get together with a man because they can, because they wanted to feel wanted, because they didn't want to be alone temporarily, and then it turns out you're still with him years later. You build the relationship on his devotion. Turns out he wants to get married. You don't have anything else going on, so you're like, maybe I'll get married.

I think it's better to do it the other way around. It's better that you decide your goal is marriage and then interview candidates for that position, even without love, than to "fall into" marriage.

So think back to why you got together with him, and whether those are lasting reasons or not. Did you get together with him because you could, because you wanted to feel wanted, or some other temporary passing whim like that? It won't hold up long term. Especially if you've been lying or holding back your true self to some extent this whole time, because you weren't in love, and you still feel like you can't completely be yourself and speak your mind around him. Double especially if his devotion to you might fade in time. On the other hand, if you got together with him because he was "good on paper" IE had dad-like qualities or whatever, and you think that translates in the modern day to "good husband" then those reasons are probably still current. You need to reevaluate him on that basis.
posted by Nixy at 12:58 PM on July 22, 2011 [7 favorites]

It really depends on what kind of person you are - in general, do you prefer a sort of a even-keel existence or do you need excitement and deep emotion fairly regularly? I would be sad if I never had even any bursts of passion or intensity. Sure, limerence fades and you go from being gooey to being comfortable.

My partner and I might be generally warm and fuzzy day to day, but for example, she made a random comment during a movie that made us both completely lose it. And I was, spontaneously, just so amazingly joyful to be with the one person who would say something so funny to both of us just off the cuff. There are plenty of other people I could have a fuzzy, warm, long term relationship with out there, I think, but there is no one like her. To me, it is necessary to be with someone who makes you feel amazingly joyful - not all the time, of course, because life isn't all fireworks - but enough to keep surprising you.
posted by nakedmolerats at 1:05 PM on July 22, 2011 [17 favorites]

nothing that it isn't about whether you've had a crush on this man to date.

The real question, which only you can answer, is -- is this the person you can't do without? A secondary but useful question is -- does this person bring out the best in you? If these things are true, then you are looking at your true love without realizing it. And if they aren't, then no, you don't want to marry him, because you will feel sad and deprived and eventually it will end anyway.

I have a very dear friend who has not a romantic bone in her body. She married her husband because he loved her and was a good, reliable man. She stayed with him because they had two (wonderful) sons together. And then she left him. She just was miserable with him and there was no good reason to stay when her sons had grown up. She met someone else -- whose wife found HIM insufficiently exciting -- and they have been truly happy together. They just enjoy spending time together, talk easily, and find life much better together than apart. First time, she wasn't in love, second time she is.

Hope this helps. You need to ask yourself some questions about your own feelings, I think, and listen to your internal answers. Your own compass can steer you most truly.
posted by bearwife at 1:25 PM on July 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

For what it's worth, I was deeply, sparkily, over-the-moon in love when I married, and all those wedding readings still made me want to puke. Some of us just aren't that schmoopy.
posted by cyndigo at 1:31 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

One final thing. If you can reveal or have him do the grossest of things for you (just wait, we all get there), he is the one.

You can't pop zits off of someone you have intense spark for.
posted by stormpooper at 1:48 PM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've been there. I don't know if I've been exactly there, but what I mean is, I've been there with something a lot like your set of values/beliefs (it seems like). One thing is, I was young & 'not ready' for him, so that's a factor; he came along when I was getting over a flaming 'in-love' crush that ended badly, and I wasn't ready to get into another relationship but he insisted. So that colors things somewhat. But this is my experience, which is what you asked for. So.

I think lots of people will tell you that it doesn't matter and marriage is supposed to be warm/fuzzy/friendshippy, and that's fine because that's what they value. That's what they dream about, want, etc. There are people like that, where for them, what you have is their dream. In my case, it wasn't my dream. I won't say my ex and me were omg-so-compatible as partners in every way or anything, but it really was an amazing emotional/mental compatibility. The differences were never jarring, just things to work on and things that could definitely (and did) improve as we spent more time together. We did have negative points because we weren't different enough in some major ways, and this is negative when you share flaws. Both of us were indecisive about making non-relationship-related life decisions, neither was a go-getter, neither was organized. This mattered insofar as it made our life a lot less stable, and we reinforced each other a little too much. This is the 'dark side' of comfort, so to speak. We were on the same frequency when maybe if there was constructive discord, we could've gotten out of a difficult living situation. Neither of us was all that reliable or realistic. What would be a gift with a partner who's different than you was a burden when you share the negative aspects of your disposition, which magnifies their effect under pressure from life circumstances. Anyway, we got stuck.

But the emotional issue is the one that really never went away for me. The reason I spent all that time on more practical issues above is that I think I mostly 'crush' on people I'm significantly different from at the same time as we have central things in common. That gap, that bit of alienation and fear, that discomfort-- that's what I need as much or more than the 'in love' feeling; perhaps to me, the 'in love' feeling is a sign that gap is there, and the gap is what I want/need. Of course, the gap is both constructive and destructive-- it helps but also is guaranteed to cause misunderstandings, pressure, stress, insecurity (at some point). It makes comfort difficult, and if you achieve it, you've doomed the relationship 'cause it means you're no longer truly looking at each other. But without that emotional distance, I felt hemmed in.

I guess it's relevant to say that I'm naturally an independent, indecisive, solitary type person, a dreamer of my own secret dreams. I want to share these dreams with my beloved, but I don't want us to become 'one dream'. I want that passage between our minds to always feel like somewhat of a leap, a challenge. Without that distance in love, I just felt smothered. I love passionately, and I want to be in love passionately, but to me it's that stable companionship with my long-term boyfriend that was stifling. It's like I was growing roots, and that felt good, but he felt comfortable with our roots intertwining, becoming one, whereas I wanted my own space. I wanted to feel more separate. Oddly enough, I think if I was 'in love', I'd have felt that freedom: I'd have felt like every time I approached him, it was a choice rather than a continuous state of being. That was (and is) important for my sense of self and vitality. Comfort is too soporific for me. I get lazy, I start taking things for granted, my creativity wanes. It's too overwhelmingly comfortable, and uneven because for him (my ex), this was what he wanted and it wasn't for me. He was in love with me in the way he wanted to be. Just like with your partner, the way he felt when he was with me is the way he wanted to feel, so there was no conflict at all for him. He was comfortable. I was edgy. This grated on me.

When we 'broke up', he wouldn't accept it-- he thought I'd see the light. We remained friends for longer than we were together-- around 4 years-- and after he stopped talking to me to focus on his wife-to-be, I realized that I was always his girlfriend. His girlfriend was jealous of me, and I was quite incensed at the time-- after all, I was no competition! How dare he not defend our inseparably platonic relationship and fight to keep me, after I'd gone along with him refusing to 'break up' my way! Earlier, I'd been relieved and pleased to have him as my friend, 'cause our relationship was just that: friendship, to me. And I loved it that way, and I loved him, but because his definition of love was different, all that time he'd spent with me, I was still his love-interest, even if unconsciously. That too was frustrating.

These days-- 5 years after-- I often wonder if I should've just kept him. All these years later, I haven't exactly found anyone else, and it's very easy to feel time is not on your side once you hit 30 as a woman. I'm also not as attached to the romantic ideals, the way I used to be, nor do I idealize the guy I'd been in love with before him. But still. Still. Comfort all too easily turned to stagnation for us, under stress. Comfort is always my bogeyman-- the easy things, those are the ones I've learned to distrust.

Of course, it's difficult. I'm a huge introvert, I'm not exactly a frequent dater, and I know my standards are kinda high (and understatement), which only emphasizes how amazing it was that he totally got me, that we were so compatible. I think it's likely enough that if we'd met later and we were together now, I'd be able to feel good about spending my life with him. Lately I've been thinking I just want someone who understands me again. I do want a partner. I don't need the Sturm und Drang anymore, and in fact it bores me. It was never exactly a 'good time' (quite the opposite), and I'm not actually a masochist. But.

I just want someone who's not always 'there' in my head. Who's not always comfortable. When I leave for a few days, say, I want to feel alone in my head, so that when I come back, in some tiny way it's like I'm consciously bridging that gap-- letting him in-- all over again. Bridging is a much better metaphor than falling. If he's there in your head-space, comfortably ensconced on your inner couch, it's easy to start believing you don't need a bridge-- and that's why you're not in love. One isn't in love with one's family. One's family are the people who reside various rooms in your inner 'house'. They don't need to open any doors 'cause they'll just be vegging out in your inner living room without having to ask. So to speak. I dunno. I still don't want that.

It's not about whether it's a good thing or a bad thing at all; lots of people would be happy with it, lots of people wouldn't be. For me, it's odd because I'm often trapped in my head, and feel alone, so in some ways it's a revelation to share so much, be so comfortable. It feels-- well-- it feels like home. But then there's this other part of me that needs that edgy, uncomfortable existence to feel free, to feel alive, to appreciate comfort when it comes. It's about self-image, really, for me. I want my partner to be someone who draws me out rather than someone who keeps me in. I can't give up on freedom and mystery, on having someone I never quite understand enough to be 100% at ease with; it's really just gravy that I'm pretty sure this means I'd love and be in love with them. I know very well I may never meet that person. But in the end, for me... if I had to choose between full-on comfort and full-on freedom, I'll pick freedom.

Will I regret it, if I never find my balance with any permanent partner in the end? Oh yes. But I'll always keep dreaming. He's "out there", for me. What I mean is, he's in my heart, yes, but he has to be "out there" rather than "here" since that's just who I am.
posted by reenka at 2:10 PM on July 22, 2011 [37 favorites]

PS: Ironically, Mr. Comfortable's current wife is someone quite different from him, and he was actually all agog about how she supports him in the areas that he's weaker in and challenges him to do better, etc. Hah! Even more ironically, at the time I sourly thought 'well, but does she understand you'... which just goes to show, perhaps, that human beings are perverse and don't necessarily realize what's best for them or what they want.
posted by reenka at 2:33 PM on July 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

> One final thing. If you can reveal or have him do the grossest of things for you (just wait, we all get there), he is the one.

You can't pop zits off of someone you have intense spark for.

If my wife were on Metafilter, she would favourite this.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:44 PM on July 22, 2011

I was never in love with my second husband, and we had a reasonably happy marriage for a long time. There were periods of great happiness and satisfaction, but while we were a good partnership and enjoyed each other’s company, we were very incompatible in some important ways. We also had a lot of outside pressures that put a strain on our relationship and weakened it to an extent.

What finally ended things was a series of crushes I had over the course of a couple of years. Feeling the butterflies/sparks with someone else made me very dissatisfied with my marriage, and we eventually divorced, though it was for reasons more complicated than my simply wanting to be with my crush. I did not leave him for someone else, I left him because having had the crushes made me unhappy about the lack of sparks in my marriage.

But the thing is, not a single one of my crushes would have been a good marriage partner for me, to put it mildly. Sparks/butterflies can happen with really inappropriate people, and had I managed to get into a relationship with any of those people I thought I was so “in love” with, looking back I can say without a doubt I’d have come to seriously regret it.

My current marriage started out as a crush-over-the-internet and it was only by a lot of luck and a lot of hard work that it is a happy one. I was infatuated with who I imagined him to be, and as the infatuation settled down there were a lot of areas of incompatibility that could easily have damaged our relationship beyond repair. To this day I am grateful for how lucky I got in ending up with someone I could grow into a good marriage with, because it sure wasn’t due to my having chosen wisely on the basis of butterflies.

Your relationship sounds a lot like my happy marriage. There are still occasional sparks but they are not nearly as important to my happiness as the day-to-day comfort and enjoyment of his companionship.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:02 PM on July 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Everything everything everything Sweet Darling said to the millionth.

You and your partner, Sweet Darling and hers...that's my husband and I. No sparks, but we love eachother with our whole hearts. I know I can tell him any thing and he will never judge me. He sees me cry and holds me. He brings me peace and security.
posted by Sweetmag at 3:05 PM on July 22, 2011

I know you're looking for some anecdotes here, but I always feel reassured to know that there is research out there describing what I'm feeling. So:

There is a social psychology theory that there are two types of love, passionate (what you seem to think you are missing) and compassionate (which you have in abundance). Try looking into the work of Elaine Hatfield for more info. At any rate, the compassionate love leads to stronger and more durable relationships, while relationships with passion but no compassion fizzle out when the "spark" gets faded.
posted by gilsonal at 4:06 PM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

I dated my husband all through high school and college before we married. That's seven years, and by the time we married we felt very comfortable together. I had some of those same doubts you do, and occasionally even now I remember romantic promises others made me, what my life might have been like if I had chosen a different course. And I know I just can't see any other man as my husband or the father of my children.

That excited feeling you get when you are attracted to someone, sometimes that comes from knowing that the person you're attracted to isn't good for you, and thus a little dangerous. Realistically, of course that kind of attraction doesn't last. Maybe you aren't losing that spark, just maturing enough to know it isn't enough.

If you are still on the fence about marriage, don't dwell on the superficial fairytale stuff little girls dream of. Instead, think about the dealbreakers. What might make your marriage fail?

If you feel like you are 'settling', that could do it. Resentment will build up, on both sides, if at some level you don't feel like this man is good enough for you. But (since you want kids) if you can see this man as a potential father? That's your gut telling you that he has the kind of qualities you want to instill in your children.

My husband nailed that part. If I'm ever in trouble, he's the first one I call. He's my rock. I have never doubted his commitment to me, I trust him absolutely, and I know he will always be there for me and the kids. He's decisive when I can't make up my mind and cautious when I'm impulsive.

I can't think of any crush I've ever had that I had that kind of faith in.

If your guy doesn't accept you, warts and all, or ifhe judges you, that's a dealbreaker, too. Will he accept you if you grow out of the safe, comfortable image he has of you now? If I'm being completely honest, this has been the biggest test of my own marriage. I am not the girl he married, and he has changed as well. I worry that we've grown apart as a result, and we bicker over little things more than we should. But I also know that he will always work with me to keep our relationship strong, so we have stood the test of time.

And that's the third dealbreaker: if he cannot commit to working on problems when they do occur, you should not get married. Marriage doesn't fix something that's broken.
posted by misha at 4:11 PM on July 22, 2011 [11 favorites]

Here's my grandfather's answer to your question (given more than 50 years ago): Don't marry the one you can't live without; marry the one you can live with.
posted by notashroom at 4:37 PM on July 22, 2011 [5 favorites]

I married my husband because I couldn't not marry him. You should do the same.

I was single, in my mid-thirties, and had lots of options. I'd never been married and was secretly convinced it would never happen for me. Then I was introduced to X. The minute I saw him I knew he was my Jungian husband-archetype and I was in trouble.

Let me tell you, girl, he was it. 6'4", handsome, quarterback at an Ivy League back in undergrad, good family (I'm southern). I KNOW. Handsome and polite and treated me like the lady I wish I was.

But I couldn't talk to him. Really TALK. I broke it off.

Not long after, I was playing the field, and I met a guy 10 years older who shared my sport and he was nice. We talked, blah blah. I was like, nice old guy. Next time I saw him, he asked me out. I was like, okay, whatever. He had Googled me and said, "I'm not supposed to say this, but I'm really impressed and I really, really like you and want to go out with you." Honestly, that was so sweet and I hate playing games so I found it endearing. We went out to dinner and drank too much wine and had to stay at his place, which was next door to the restaurant, conveniently. No sex. But I woke up being cuddled the way I had always wanted to be cuddled and didn't even know it. World-class cuddling.

He kept insisting we should take things further, and I resisted, being a commitmentphobe. I was also dating Hot Cardiologist and Sexy Other Guy. He waited, and it didn't take long for me to realize I LOVED him. It was stupid and ridiculous but I only wanted to be with him, in our imperfect way. I had to. It was more like, I couldn't NOT be with him. And here we are.

It was more like I couldn't NOT be with him than, "OMG, must be with him." does that make sense? But, yes, annoyingly, I just knew. We both said, okay, fate, this is it.

The other guy? The quarterback? I still dream about him and my palms get sweaty when I see him at events. But you know what? He wasn't real to my heart, apparently. I would kill for my husband. It's hard to describe, but he's my only and you will know that when it is right. It isn't PERFECT, but it is right.
posted by Punctual at 5:13 PM on July 22, 2011 [15 favorites]

I will say that a hell of a lot of people get happily married with a hell of a lot less than you have with your partner. More importantly, though, I'm curious about the indecisiveness you mention at the start of your question. Do you bring these kind of doubts and fears to other, life-changing decisions like career moves, friendship make-or-breaks etc? Perhaps, rather than something intrinsic about this decision, this agonised thinking is something you bring to a lot of decisions.

For me, security is very important and I really dislike ambiguity in my life, so I tend to make questions reasonably quickly, and "feel what I feel", so to speak. However, I have known other people that love the sense of possibility and freedom a blank canvas gives them, whether it be jobs they pick, romantic partners, where they live etc. For them, every decision made often feels like a somewhat claustrophobic "closing off" of opportunity, possibility, etc. Never mind if that, in life, you can only do one thing at a time and they would never have taken those other choices, anyway.

I have a friend with an absolutely incredible girlfriend right now, who has been with him for four years and they are just perfect together in so many ways. I know she would like to take the relationship to the next level, but he is very reluctant to - not because of anything to do with their relationship, but because he's only had two serious relationships in his whole life, and he feels that taking an extra step will basically confirm that he will only have two serious relationships for the forseeable future. That doesn't necessarily jibe with the vision of himself that he has or wants to have. He feels he's missing out on something; he's not sure what, exactly, but he wants to keep his options open. The thing is, he was 35 this year; he isn't getting any younger and there's comes a time when you need to seize the day, otherwise the sun sets and it's a long, long night, believe me. He can't reset the clock back to his twenties - they've gone, that script is written, and by not choosing to be active in his current, his present, he may lose all the great things he has right now.

I think it's important to realise, in your life, that one single person can never fulfill all the needs you have from people. I love my partner, she is in the marrow of my bones, but - she's not as nerdy as me, and doesn't read as much as me, or the same books. She doesn't cook at all, so we don't have that. We don't have the same cultural background, she didn't grow up in the country so doesn't respond to nature & camping the same way I do. Etc etc. But I have friends for all of that guff. And sometimes, incredibly, she'll go along with something that doesn't particularly like just because she loves me so much!. Incredible.

In the things that really matter with me, on a day-to-day basis - someone who is smart, who challenges me, who is emotionally stable and down-to-earth and is safe and secure to me, with a strong sense of justice and compassion - I would be hard-pressed to find a better match. To me, on a day-to-day level, those qualities are way more important than talking about sword and sorcery novels, or going bush-walking at night, or comparing sourdoughs, or a zillion other things. For the things in life that my partner can't, or won't, or shouldn't be expected to supply, I turn to a rich and varied circle of family and friend. My partner is part of a web of relationships - certainly, she's the major part, but not to the exclusion of all others.

Very, very long story short: Do you just hate making important decisions in general? Sometimes, you gotta make a decision to harvest some time, otherwise the wheat just rots in the field; Is your relationship a great basis for a future life together? What do you have, and what don't you have?

Personally, I think it sounds like you have a terrific relationship, and I would marry that man in a second. Best of luck, either way.
posted by smoke at 5:16 PM on July 22, 2011 [16 favorites]

While I appreciate the deep feelings and friendship you have for this person, I'm a little unsettled that you say you've never felt limerance for him--and, more, that you say you've felt it for other people during your time together. I've known a few women in college and graduate school who said almost identical things that you have; they talked about how people in arranged marriages fall in love, for instance. But inevitably, they ended up leaving when they found someone who they did feel butterflies for.

One ended up leaving her fiance, who she lived with, very close to the wedding for someone else. It was painful for all involved. I'm not saying it might not work, but why settle for someone you feel less-than-passion for? Though the intensity of that passion ebbs and flows over time, I wouldn't trade my giggling-in-love feelings for my husband with anyone or anything.

I'm crazy about him, and pop his zits, by the way.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:30 PM on July 22, 2011 [6 favorites]

I could have written this post last year and now I'm deeply happily married. If I could give advice to my past self, it would be to not get married if you have reservations! At the time, I was not madly in love with my fiance, now I am. Before, I couldn't have written good vows. Now, when I think of our vows or listen to that Billy Joel song linked above it makes me tear up because I think of him and how much I love him. I don't think our relationship could have lasted if I wasn't 'in love' with him.

What helped me the most were four things: a good, long chat with my mother; pre-marital discussion with my spouse; taking a break from sex; and deciding to get engaged.

My mother brought up the point many posters have mentioned above - that there's infatuation/crushes and there's love. Love, life-long love, is a choice. Sometimes those butterflies stay with you for life, sometimes they come and go. What matters is how much work you are both willing to put into the relationship. She said that my father (to whom she's been happily married 30+ years) wasn't the guy who most swept her off her feet, but the guy who most made her feel comfortable, safe, and loved. It was a guy who 'fit' best with her. He wasn't the ideal romantic partner she'd pictured when younger (and my husband is different from what I thought I wanted), but he best complemented her.

After I talked with my mom, I realized that I had some problems with my partner that made me hesitant to marry him. In your op you say "So what if I can think of other things I'd like to have in this relationship but don't, including feeling really "in love"?" which to me is very telling and I'm surprised more people haven't commented on it. What are these other things you'd like to have in your relationship but don't? Are they behavioral traits that get in the way of your relationship? Things like: He spends, you save. He's messy, you're neat. You may not even consciously think on the problems for them to be issues (although it sounds like you do have problems). There are tons of lists of questions to ask before marriage.

As my mom explained to me, the important thing is not that you agree on all the of the questions (except for ones like if you want children or not), but that you are able to find compromise together. While my money-spending husband will never be as frugal as me, since we've started having frank conversations about money and compromising, I'm extremely happy with our relationship and feel much more connected to him. I think before I sometimes felt more like a mother than a partner and that hindered me from being 'in love' with him.

Sit down and make a list of things you'd like to have in the relationship. Have your partner do the same. Then, work on finding ways to mutually reach those goals. This thread is the best for trips and ticks. Ever since my husband and I started using the 100% trick, we've been much happier.

Sex can fool you into thinking a relationship is better than it actually is. All that oxytocin causes you to bond to people that may not be the best for you. I worked a job that required long separation periods and the vast majority of people split with their partners once sex was off the table. All the ones that survived that sex lapse? Now happily married. I've discussed this with several of my coworkers and we all agree that lack of sex makes you realize the problems in the relationship more. I know it's hard to stop going at it, especially if you see each other regularly, but long distance separation from my husband has helped me to realize how madly in love with him I actually am.

Finally, I'm a lot like you in that I have so much trouble in deciding on something. I'm also a scientist by training and I felt like I just didn't have enough information to make the biggest decision of my life. When I shop for cameras or computers I would visit all the good review sites, do comparison specs, etc, but you can't do that for mates. (Although, believe me, I tried. I tried.) I came to realize that although I have trouble deciding, once I've selected something, I rarely change my mind. Once I finally decided that I could spend the rest of my life with him and be very, very happy, it was like the doubts just melted away. Even before I told other people of my decision. Maybe get engaged in private and see how you feel.

So, even though I agree with the other posters that lack of butterflies doesn't mean you aren't 'in love', I feel that there could be something else substantial behind your doubts, especially since you mentioned problems in your OP. Part of the reason that living together before marriage leads to higher divorce rates than not living together is because some people who live together sort of 'fall' into marriage. After so long in your relationship, it could be tempting to 'fall' into a marriage with your boyfriend. However, if it is causing you that much anxiety, something probably isn't right. Listen to your gut and work on solving those problems including getting what you want but don't currently have.

If you have any more questions or want more details, feel free to mefimail me.
posted by avagoyle at 6:47 PM on July 22, 2011 [17 favorites]

Eight years ago my sister married a great guy she wasn't passionately in love with, had two adorable children, and they bought a beautiful house in a nice town. Earlier this year, she fell in love with their kids' best friends' dad, started sleeping with him, and has now lost her husband, and her closest friends, and any moral authority she may have had over her children.

So that's one thing that happens.
posted by Now I'm Prune Tracy! at 6:55 PM on July 22, 2011

Others have alluded to this, but I think my friend's father said it best at her wedding: Don't marry the person you can live with, marry the one you can't live without.

Which one is your boyfriend?
posted by Terriniski at 8:34 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Listen to your gut. It appears to be screaming at you. You don't necessarily need to know why.
posted by whoaali at 10:03 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

You have a relationship instead of a romantic comedy. Well done. Live happily ever after.
posted by phoebus at 2:28 AM on July 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I know everyone is being very pragmatic, but I just want to say that it is TOTALLY OK to be in a good relationship and still want more from a partner, companion, and your life.

I would say that neither spark nor comfy-love are enough to keep a marriage together through the years. And I do think that you can go with your gut (which has given you big clues - serious crushes and major doubts).

Would you have more regrets by ending up with this guy and being content for the rest of your life, or by finding your passionate love 5 years from now (and possibly dealing with a lot of bad stuff that comes from passionate, tumultuous relationships)?
posted by Kronur at 7:17 PM on July 23, 2011

I got married because I was so in love--butterflies, intensity, all that. And the wedding was beautiful. It was the culmination of a great romance.

But the marriage did not work. We were not compatible.

I was talking to my sister the other day, and I confessed to her that it had never occurred to me to consider compatibility when choosing a life partner. Up until that point, I just liked who I liked. But once I was married, and I was in the midst of my life with this other person around, I realized that what had made for a fantastic romance was not what would make for a fantastic life.

We are now divorced. And when I look for a life partner now, compatibility, more than whirlwind woo-woo, movie-style romance is what I look for.

The next time I get married (if I do), I will not get married because I am in love (even though I would only marry someone that I love), but because I want to get married. This is a very different decision. This decision has to do with compatibility and home building and life building, things that are different than the passion you are afraid you are missing. These are things that last, that are like the deep rivers in your life, and they are where wisdom and love are nurtured.

The questions you are wrestling with are big, and they deserve a big think. They deserve hours alone of writing to yourself about what you want from your life, your partner, and yourself. They deserve turning off the internet. They deserve sitting in quiet and getting to know yourself. I think that all the testimonies from us MeFites can only show you the joys and mistakes of our own lives. I have recently decided that most people conduct themselves the way they do because of their own life experience. Based on your life experience, maybe you need the fleeting passion? Or maybe you feel you need that passion because you are bored in other areas of your life?

Personally, I think you are considering marriage for exactly the right reasons. This guilt that your reasons for getting married do not follow the proper lovey-dovey narrative is justified, in that our cultural milieu is saturated with adolescent love-tales, but worry not. Your life is your own narrative. You can get married for whatever goddamn reason you want to.

(And later, if, like me, it doesn't work out, you can get divorced for whatever goddamn reason to.)
posted by whimsicalnymph at 6:34 PM on July 24, 2011 [11 favorites]

Maybe try not to think about marriage for the next year. What's the big rush? Just pay attention to your relationship, appreciate it, understand it, think about what you want out of life (independent of a relationship) and then take a look at where you are. Maybe ask your boyfriend to give you the time to not think about it. Sometimes things work themselves out when you're looking at something other than your dilemma.

You can't know what the future holds with this man, and no one else's experience can get you closer to knowing what will come.
posted by Clotilde at 11:36 AM on July 25, 2011

From reading the question and all these responses, it seems to me that different people have very different definitions of the difference between "love" and "in love," or even if there is a difference. Personally, I think that poem you posted is absolutely beautiful, and if that's truly how you feel, I'd say you love your partner very much.

I think it is healthy to be somewhat separate from your partner—to love each other, to support each other, to depend on each other, and to be a team, but not to make them the focus of your entire being. Too much of what many people consider being "in love" seems somewhat dangerous, ridiculous, and immature to me. I'd rather have that poem than anything Stephanie Meyer would write, personally.
posted by audacity at 8:29 AM on July 26, 2011

Yes, I have been in one of those "comfortable" marriages that failed. So I'm paying attention where you say you're feeling panicky and trapped. You should maybe explore that with your therapist--exactly what the trigger is for those feelings.

And the biggest doubts are around this feeling that this is not what marriage is "supposed" to be like. I'm supposed to be crazy about him. I'm supposed to not be able to imagine myself without him or with anyone else.

You need to unpack this doubt. Are you focusing on societal/family/friend expectations, or is this doubt based on what you actually want? There's nothing wrong with wanting more than you have. You just have to identify the desire, and then decide what to do about it.

Since you stories, here's mine. I had little niggling doubts leading up to the wedding that manifested mostly as overeating to cope with stress and unspoken/unexplored feelings. I told myself love is a choice, not something you fall into, and that's what I told my friends when they very kindly tried to give me an opening over the years to talk about any doubts I had. (I believe this, but it became such a quick go-to for me, and about the only thing I could say to describe my relationship besides comfort/compatibility, that it was a justification.) I always rebuffed them, saying that kind of passion wasn't important to me. But it was. I'd remember how things were with certain previous boyfriends, and I realized that with my fiance I was nowhere near the depth of feeling that I'd previously had--and that I wanted to have.

Over the 9 years of our marriage my respect for him diminished in what at the time were imperceptible ways: I'd find myself teasing him in front of our mutual friends. I'd roll my eyes at something he said because I knew it was wrong but didn't want to humiliate him by correcting him. I got annoyed with the perfunctory way he'd say "I love you" and my own response. I began to feel very annoyed with tiny things that had never bothered me before--the way he'd always mispronounced certain words, or the fact that he chose to wear unflattering color combinations.

Our sex life bombed as soon as we moved in together, which was one year before the wedding. I know you say this isn't your problem, but I should have understood that to be a key performance indicator of our marriage performance. And that KPI would have been understood to be a bad sign. Instead, we took it as a temporary sign of the stress of planning a wedding. Unfortunately it never recovered, and that was a not insignificant part of our problems--because we were already growing apart and didn't feel close enough or safe enough to talk about that or much of anything. We both avoided the intimacy of talking about such things by increasing the overeating, the tv watching, and the work hours.

I began to see that the marriage should end when I began to imagine myself living alone. After a while these visions of another life outside this relationship became my realization that although I had married a very, very good man, he was not the man for me.

2.5 years after splitting up, at the age of 41, I married a wonderful man. I didn't feel sparks at first; that part grew but is still around. We're compatible, we're comfortable, I admire him and he does likewise, and we're hot for each other. I know that part will fade, but even after he's had to empty my post-hysterectomy urine catheter (a short 7 months after our wedding), he's still grabbing my ass or catcalling me when I have bedhead and BO. So take that for what it's worth to you.

Lastly, you may find this recent thread helpful.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 9:51 AM on August 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

My wife and I are approaching our one year wedding anniversery. We had what many would say was a quick courting period. We moved in after dating for 5 months and got engaged after 9 months. Id say we both had that spark in the begining. Hot sex, tons of fun together, and little fighting. While the honeymoon stage doesnt last forever, id like to think that some butterflies will always be there. I will also say that my wife and I have unfortunitely slowed a lot in terms of sex. Which is frustrating. I know for me I could never marry someone who I felt like I was settling with. My relationship with my wife isnt perfect. Will it last forever? Who knows. But I know I got to enjoy the ride of a passionate somewhat intense relationship. Its up to you to decide if youd be settling by marrying your boyfriend. It seems like youve got a great thlng with him. But it also sounds like you dont passionatly love him. Anyone who says they dont believe in sparks is full of crap. They do exist. Of course sparks dont always equate to a long happy marriage. But would you marry someone without feelingg the sparks? Many have and would do it again. But others wouldnt. Listen to your heart, it doesnt lie.
posted by ljs30 at 12:11 AM on October 24, 2011

I came across this post just now while searching for guidance and answers to the exact same question. Like you, I have a great boyfriend, we have a great relationship, he's kind and supportive and ticks every box - in fact the only thing that's really missing is that feeling of 'rightness' that people talk about. In the last year I've had three friends meet new partners and move in with them / get engaged within 6 months saying 'it just feels right this time'. Two out of the three had previously been in long-term relationships and living with other people until shortly before meeting 'The One'. That's the elusive feeling I'm searching for, but it seems ludicrous to throw away a great relationship on the basis of such a nebulous doubt - even if it is a very strong gut feeling that's keeping me awake at night. I'll be 33, so I guess the issue of time and getting older is even greater for me.

I have been very struck by people's comments and also by Lori Gottlieb's article in The Atlantic about settling for Mr Good Enough - but nothing makes the process any easier.

I'm very keen to know how things are going with you 7 months on. Did you make a decision? What happened and how do you feel about it now?
posted by bonline at 1:48 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

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