Sitting on this fence is getting uncomfortable. Shove me.
August 6, 2011 7:31 AM   Subscribe

I'm in a very long-term relationship and am unhappy. However, I don't know whether that's because my expectations are too high or because I am in a legitimately flawed relationship. Should I stay or should I go? Hope me, Hive-Mind - give me the outside opinion (Advice? Anecdotes?) I need to free myself from my crippling inability to decide. A blizzard of snowflake detail inside.

Obviously this is a question only I can really answer, but I seek your guidance, Everyone. I wish I could turn to friends, but since they're all mutual friends of mine and my SO's, that would be an unfair position to put them in. I'll try to provide as much pertinent info as possible. Enjoy the novel...

My SO and I have been together for 10 years. Yep, 10 years. Not married, but we own an apartment and a car together.

We have a good life together, by anyone's standards. She's delightful, an excellent human being (by even the toughest standards) and is smart, stylish, driven and principled. Except I feel like our relationship is more "brother & sister" than the romantic relationship I'd like. The level of intimacy I assumed would materialize... hasn't.

I've been digging into this thread and this thread. The comments there describe the sort of relationship I want. Especially when people mention "teammates". There are few other terms that resonate as well with me. I want that feeling of "Us Versus the World", and I don't feel like I have it. I don't feel that I'm most relaxed within her presence. Occasionally, it's my greatest source of stress. Sometimes our exchanges feel downright antagonistic, and usually about the simplest little things. I don't feel like I have a teammate.

Then there are the big issues. Like values, marriage, babies, and sex. Our moral and political values are more-or-less aligned, but we don't seem to be on the same page about any of those other things. She doesn't want to get married (no biggie, I'm not married to the idea, so to speak)... Or at least she says she doesn't want to get married. Neither of us are in a position right now to raise a child, but I think it's something I'll want sooner than she will (plus she's embarking on a school/career path right now which will put off the prospect for many years). Never mind the fact that she seems violently opposed to the process of giving birth. That's a weird hurdle that seems ripe for real conflict as our biological clocks tick away.

And the sex. Welp, we haven't had much (any, really) for the last six months. We talk about this, though it seems like either she's not up for it when I am, or she picks times to be up for it when I am clearly preoccupied or indisposed. I can't prove that that's true, but it sure feels that way, and you'd think after this long we'd have it down. Even then, there seems to be a level of awkward embarrassment that I had REALLY hoped would have dissolved over the years. It wasn't there in the beginning - things were much more relaxed back then. We should be amazing sex champions by now, but we've regressed and it feels more like we're two awkward victims of a spin-the-bottle game, giggling and acting sheepish in the closet.

I can guess why this might be. It's worth mentioning that when we started going out, I wouldn't say she was "my type", physically speaking. She's cute, she's a nice size and shape, but doesn't have the features I think do the most for me. Nevertheless, we spent more time together and started to really like each other. And now here we are, years later. She hasn't become any more "my type", and as things have cooled off, well, that's at least a factor to consider.

Plus, the lack of self-confidence is starting to get to me. No one is a harsher critic of themselves than my SO. She is the poster-girl for neuroses and self-doubt. Day in and day out I hear how her legs are too fat, how she's so ugly, how she's so unsuccessful and ruining her life. Important note: like I mentioned, she's a healthy size and is particularly attractive when she's got a smile on her face. She is objectively doing an excellent job of achieving her current life goals. But she seems to worry a lot about how other people are viewing her - my parents, her parents, our friends - when everyone's been very supportive. She worries that she's not making enough babies or being married enough or making enough money for "everyone's" tastes, which makes me feel just miserable, because who cares? I want to be with someone who's happy doing what they want, not miserable doing what they want. I think she's doing fantastically and being a fantastic person! I don't want babies now, I don't want to be married now, we're financially stable, so who cares about everyone else? We could be having a great time together, so why does everything seem so gloomy?

I've tried reassuring her emphatically. I've tried ignoring the things she says, hoping that a lack of reaction might demonstrate how little legitimacy her comments held. I've tried quiet hugs and general affection. Still the self-hate comes. Nothing I do seems to have any sort of positive effect. It's kind of heartbreaking that I've spent so long with this person and yet either I'm doing it wrong or she doesn't take my reassurances to heart. Now it's to the point that when she starts announcing that she's unemployable and her stomach is flabby (she's TOO employable, and I like her stomach, I really do!), I feel my eyes rolling and the sighs building up as I prepare to mentally check out. I've been checking out a lot lately.

On top of all that, I'm really worried about her general social outlook. My best friend (a dude) and my SO have been friends since before she and I got together, but for the last year or two she's felt like she's been competing with him for my affection. When I jokingly asked her if that was the case, she straight up admitted to it, and I don't think she was joking. She is heavily critical of him to me, and having to balance her secret quasi-hate-on for him while also spending time with them together is stressing me out and affecting my relationship with my friend (whom I've known much longer - he's practically more of a brother than my actual brother).

And then just today, we got in this argument: She seems to think that a good friend - whom I thought she really liked - is "playing games" with her. As far as I understand it, there was a mistake in a message about which location the word "home" meant - my SO meant "West Coast", Friend interpreted it as "East Coast" - apparently this caused some confusion. I asked SO if she had sent a quick message of clarification, and she hadn't. Instead, it seems she prefers to assume that Friend is giving her attitude. Writing this out, I can't believe I have the whole story, but that's how it was told to me. It was infuriating. My SO has had a hard time keeping friends, and I had always assumed it was the natural coming-and-going of people. Maybe not.

At any rate, guess what? The relationship's been degrading over the last while. I find myself thinking about relationships with other people. Not sex, but relationships. About achieving that "teammate" thing. I really, really need to talk to someone about it. I've been thinking about therapy, but my SO would (correctly) assume that I'm going to talk about my relationship, and stress would follow. Maybe couples' therapy is worth looking into, but based on things she's said ("if it ever gets to the point where we'd go to couples' therapy, let's just split up"), I think she'd be irrationally opposed to that. Of course, if I explained the stakes - counselling versus splitting up - I may be able to coerce her into it.

Reading this, I feel like I'm being unfairly negative. I wish there were some way to have her present her side of the story. Since that's not possible, I need to get across that we have a good, amiable relationship. (Hardly stirring testimony, I know, sorry.) We joke, we're close, I like her family well enough (she's convinced my mother hates her, though, when nothing could be further from the truth). FWIW, in the "Ask Vs. Guess" spectrum, I'd say she's 100% Guess, while I'm a little bit Guess in some respects. As far as our relationship goes, I've been primarily Ask. Other than that, though, we're probably pretty similar, personality-wise - maybe too similar. We enjoy a lot of the same things, we have similar taste and aesthetics, and hey, we've built up a decade's worth of shared experiences, likes, dislikes, scars, in-jokes... I share with her some of the things mentioned in those other AskMefi threads - I try to take care of her and watch out for her, I encourage her to follow her dreams and desires, and she does the same for me. Yet still, there's not that level of intimacy I want. I feel like it's under there, maybe, but I've been digging away and digging away yet the barrier just gets thicker.

I've seen flashes of it before; the person I want to be with. Sometimes when we've been on vacation, or other times she's been completely relaxed. Ha, once or twice when she got really drunk. Or even just a little tipsy. She's kind of a delight to be around. I almost wish she'd drink more often, but she's all but stopped. And besides, keeping one's girlfriend permanently drunk would be (to say the least) creepy, unhealthy, and weird. Did I mention creepy?

Help me, Hive Mind. It would break my heart into tiny pieces to part from her (though I think mostly from guilt. (She's said things that make me think that by leaving her, I would be destroying her life. But I've also spent a third of my life with her - of course it would be hard for both of us)). Am I being too idealistic, thinking I should expect to find the sort of relationship I seem to be looking for? Are my expectations too high? Maybe I'm being too "grass-is-always-greener", and I should work to forge this relationship into the best relationship it can be?

Or maybe it's not selfish of me to want to be with someone with whom I have a better connection. Maybe that romantic ideal isn't foolish and impossible, or limited to movies and novels. Maybe I could meet that someone and we can each be the teammate that the other deserves. I won't have a chance to find out, though, if I'm still in this relationship. I have to make a choice, but to be honest I'm too scared to do it. Yet I can't keep living in this indecisive state.

Throwaway email address, in case I can provide more information or you'd like to send private criticisms: francis.chapstick@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (40 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've seen flashes of it before; the person I want to be with. Sometimes when we've been on vacation, or other times she's been completely relaxed. Ha, once or twice when she got really drunk. Or even just a little tipsy. She's kind of a delight to be around. I almost wish she'd drink more often, but she's all but stopped. And besides, keeping one's girlfriend permanently drunk would be (to say the least) creepy, unhealthy, and weird. Did I mention creepy?

I am not going to speak helpfully to the larger "should I stay or should I go?" issue, but it sounds to me as though your girlfriend has a lot of anxiety. It's not unsurprising that you would respond to that negatively. Anxiety can be pretty poisonous. So I wonder if you've ever talked to her about how comfortable she feels navigating the hills and valleys of life and whether anxiety feels like a problem to her.

Even if this is a productive conversation and leads somewhere new for her that allows her to take a more relaxed approch to life, I'm not sure it would sweeten the deal enough for you. You feel something important is missing, and hoping someone addresses a problem enough to change enough to provide that something is not always the best favor to you or to that person.
posted by Miko at 7:37 AM on August 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


Then there are the big issues. Like values, marriage, babies, and sex. Our moral and political values are more-or-less aligned, but we don't seem to be on the same page about any of those other things.

It's hard to be on a "team" when she's playing basketball and you're playing baseball.
posted by brynna at 7:50 AM on August 6, 2011 [17 favorites]


10 years is a significant amount of time by no stretch of the imagination. If things feel as uncomfortable and concerning as you describe, after all this time, then you certainly are right to be feeling the way that you do. Don't beat yourself up for being selfish -- when it comes to making yourself happy, that's the one area where I think we are all entitled to being a little selfish.

If your SO is unresponsive to your concerns or is unwilling or unable to satisfy your relationship needs, then this relationship isn't for you. You just have to decide if it's worth investing more time and working on it, or if you feel like you've already put in enough time and are ready to move on.
posted by erstwhile at 7:50 AM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


It sounds like you've checked out of this relationship. Ask yourself honestly: if it weren't for the messiness of owning an apartment and a car together, would you still be with her now? Would you be happier single than with her? Do you think it's fair to stay with someone about whom you're thinking everything that you're thinking about your girlfriend?

Ten years is a long time--twenty or thirty years is even longer. How long are you willing to stay in a relationship in which you feel the way you've described?
posted by litnerd at 7:51 AM on August 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


Of course, if I explained the stakes - counselling versus splitting up - I may be able to coerce her into it.

Just do this - but do it calmly. It sounds like you like her, but you're in a rut. And it sounds like a therapist might actually do wonders for her.

Sometimes after 10 years you find yourself in a rut. As my mother in law said before I married my husband "Just remember, there are good days and there are bad days, there are good weeks and there are bad weeks... shit, there are good YEARS and bad YEARS". I have been with my partner for 10 years (married for 3) and I have already found this to be 100% true, and a great mantra to have in my mind when we are having a bad [insert time period here].

Relationships sometimes (often) require a lot of work, especially to get to the point of being "teammates". And while those threads you linked are great at bringing up the happy moments, there are plenty of awkward, sad, unhappy, and frustrating moments in most good relationships as well.


Then again, you aren't married. So you don't really only need to put up with 'ruts' unless you really you feel like it.

I don't think it would be wrong to leave a relationship you are unhappy with, but it sounds like you are both trying and just not able to get back into the swing of things. So, that said, I would bring it up to her, talk about all this, and hopefully get to therapie where you can start tackling the issue.
posted by LZel at 7:53 AM on August 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


Miko: "You feel something important is missing, and hoping someone addresses a problem enough to change enough to provide that something is not always the best favor to you or to that person."

Amen.
posted by kinetic at 7:54 AM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Having "settled" once for a marriage that was minimally acceptable and then (after divorce) finding the love of my life, my vote is to NOT SETTLE. It is SO worth the inevitable pain you will go through... investing more into this relationship is not likely to improve it.
posted by summerstorm at 7:56 AM on August 6, 2011 [11 favorites]


It would break my heart into tiny pieces to part from her though I think mostly from guilt. She's said things that make me think that by leaving her, I would be destroying her life. But I've also spent a third of my life with her...

It's irrelevant how much time you've spent with her - you don't want to be together anymore.
Do you want to spend the rest of your life with someone who is making you unhappy?
Give her and yourself a chance to be happy, alone or else with someone else.

FWIW I think this is a red flag:
The level of intimacy I assumed would materialize... hasn't.

It suggests that you were never in the kind of relationship you wanted; you can't fix something which was never there to begin with.
posted by mkdirusername at 7:58 AM on August 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


A. I wouldn't say she was "my type", physically speaking. ..[She] doesn't have the features I think do the most for me.

B. Plus, the lack of self-confidence is starting to get to me. [etc..]


Perhaps A and B are connected? Counseling is unlikely to ever change your physical "type" and perhaps your partner would be less self-critical, happier, and more sexually receptive with someone more objectively attracted to her it's not like she can't tell the difference!
posted by applemeat at 8:09 AM on August 6, 2011 [13 favorites]


My strong impression here is that you are Not An Asshole and are contemplating this question entirely in good faith, so I want to gently draw your attention to the fact that

it seems like either she's not up for it when I am, or she picks times to be up for it when I am clearly preoccupied or indisposed

is not really a coherent assessment. Couldn't it just as easily be said that you're not up for it when she is? And in what sense is she "picking" times to be up for it? In a question rife with smaller and larger reasons that this relationship may be flickering, your assessment of the relationship's sexual misalignment seems like a slightly unfair misfire.
posted by foursentences at 8:15 AM on August 6, 2011 [9 favorites]


It suggests that you were never in the kind of relationship you wanted; you can't fix something which was never there to begin with.

However, keep in mind that you might never have found that kind of relationship anyway, and you still may not even if you end this one. Y

People in LTR's go in and out of cycles all the time, sometimes together, sometimes separately. Attraction comes and goes, and comes again, and so forth, based on lots of factors. I think you and she have hit the jackpot in enough ways that it's worth fighting together to see if this can be saved. If part of you suspects that you and she could improve things, then you have the tools to do that.

I basically think pretty much every long-term couple should be in counseling together. Even if nothing seems terribly wrong. It's like having a steady, strategic system for maintaining the machinery of your relationship. Being in counseling means you never feel like you don't have a platform from which to safely explore, question, or adjust things.
posted by hermitosis at 8:19 AM on August 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


mkdirusername has it... and unfortunately, I wouldn't be surprised if at some level she already knows this and it is feeding her anxiety. Your problems go way beyond her anxiety, into the foundational underpinnings of the relationship.

First thing you need to do is do some serious introspection. If you and her did some counselling, and communication improved... would that really be enough? I find it odd you assumed some level of intimacy would arise... from where exactly? Intimacy isn't just a function of time and geospatial coordinates, it also takes effort and interest.

I'll put this gently: it seems like there are a great many things you two have not discussed:

Neither of us are in a position right now to raise a child, but I think it's something I'll want sooner than she will (plus she's embarking on a school/career path right now which will put off the prospect for many years). Never mind the fact that she seems violently opposed to the process of giving birth. That's a weird hurdle that seems ripe for real conflict as our biological clocks tick away.

Uh... after you try pushing an 8lb watermelon out of your sphincter, then you can come back and tell us what a weird hangup it is. I've heard it kinda hurts.

Having or not having kids is a deal breaker in many relationships, and if you want them, you need to have those talks early on in the relationship to avoid the sort of situation you've found yourself in.

And the sex. Welp, we haven't had much (any, really) for the last six months.

Did she just start school 6 months ago? And how was the sex life before that? The current drought could certainly be due to stress and a new environment, but there's also the comment that someone else picked up - it sounds like you two haven't talked directly about trying to resolve timing issues, so that when she's interested you are not putting her off either - this is on both of you, you realize?

tl;dr - counselling is a great idea, but only if you believe this relationship is one you want to stay in. If you've already checked out, it will just prolong the agony.

You have some work to do.
posted by canine epigram at 8:24 AM on August 6, 2011 [10 favorites]


I'm guessing that the problem here is only secondarily behavioral; it's actually deeper, and is definitional. That is, you and she are probably experiencing the world through very different mental categories.

You don't have that intimacy you want, because you and she don't actually understand each other's internal, unconscious definitions and rules very well.

When one of you says X, X means different things to the two of you.

So do something unusual.

Start asking many, many questions-- questions of these forms:

1) What do you like/dislike about X?

2) What's most important about X?

3) Is X more or less important than Y?

4) What's more important than X?

5) What do you have to experience in order to know you are experiencing X?

After you get an answer, repeat these questions, using her new answer as the X.
posted by darth_tedious at 8:48 AM on August 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's okay to leave a relationship that isn't great. Yes, long term relationships take work, but you have to really want it, and really love the person you are with. I don't doubt your affection for her, but it seems like it's based more on shared experiences.

I strongly suspect that the relationship you have now is the relationship you will continue to have if you stay together. The sex thing could be a blip--but it's not like everything else is okay, in which case, folks might encourage you to stick through a blip. But you have other problems too, especially in that she seems to be trying to alienate you from your buddy.

You're not married, and you don't have kids. At the very least, I would suggest not going down the path of either with this woman. (And maybe her reluctance to marry is connected to some ambivalence from her?) And I think it would be okay to move towards ending it. Yes, it will be awful and heartwrenching. But I also suspect you could both end up with more compatible partners on the other side of this. (And better to break up before one of you meets that new person, right?)

Most importantly, don't get married to someone you aren't sure of. I have seen lots of couples get married after long term relationships where the idea seemed to be, "We've made it this long. Might as well get married, right?" Longevity isn't in and of itself reason enough to marry.

It sounds to me like you are looking for permission to leave a relationship that, while not perfect, is also now horrible. You can have more in a relationship than not-horrible. You can end this relationship because you would like something a bit different in life. It's okay to move on.

And her sadness about this is not actually your responsibility. Guilt isn't a helpful or useful emotion after a break up if you've behaved in good faith and with sincerity and kindness. And avoidance of guilt is a terrible reason to stay together.

Good luck sorting through all this.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:05 AM on August 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


It's kind of heartbreaking that I've spent so long with this person and yet either I'm doing it wrong or she doesn't take my reassurances to heart.

I want you to pay attention to this statement. Note what you do in it: you make the assumption that you should be able to make your girlfriend feel better. You take up responsibility for her feelings and then, when her feelings don't improve, you feel bad about it.

Over and over again in your question, I see you doing this. You admit to feeling very anxious in situations where she's upset for some reason -- why are you anxious because she is mad at your friend? Where do you come into the equation there? You sound like you're making yourself miserable with the constant anxiety of trying to make your girlfriend happy.

But the fact of the matter is, you can't make your girlfriend happy. It sounds like she's got some pretty big issues with anxiety. It sounds like she seriously needs help with that, but you're not the person to give her that help. Every time she's moaning about how hateable she is, and you say, "No, you're not!" or you just give her a hug, or otherwise do something meant to make her feel better, what you're doing is like trying to put a bandaid on a gaping knife wound. What she's struggling with is too serious for hugs to be helpful; the way she sees herself in the world is too unpleasant for a simple reassurance to make her feel better.

I'll say it more strongly: you're not responsible for how your girlfriend feels; you can't make her feel good.

I don't want to tell you whether you should break up with her or not. It sounds like there are a lot of things that could be done to try to improve your relationship, if she's willing to do it. It sounds like there are a lot of issues floating right below the surface that neither of you have really talked through (you've spoken at length about children and marriage, yes, but not "why do you hate yourself so much?"). It may be worth it for you to try to work through them, or it may not be. All I can really tell you is this: it sounds like both of you, independently, could use therapy. On the one hand, your girlfriend sounds like she's suffering with some pretty severe anxiety. On the other hand, you sound like you've worked yourself into this position where you feel bad because your girlfriend feels bad and won't let yourself feel better unless she does.

You want to go to a therapist. You're just afraid of the anxiety that'll follow. Here's the super-extra bonus: the therapist will help you with that anxiety! You're scared, but it'll be okay.

I have no idea why your girlfriend has never considered therapy. I recognize a lot of my own problems in what you say about her, and I've known for years that I've needed psychological help. But, from what you say, it doesn't sound like she does. And remember, this isn't help that you can give her. The best you could do is point her towards someone who can.

Next time she's starting to beat herself up over something, say, "You know, when you say that, you sound very unhappy, and you sound like you think very badly about things that, from my point of view, you should feel very good about. Maybe you should see a therapist about that."

That's all you should do. Point her in the direction of help. And do what you can to understand that, whether she gets help or not, whether she's happy or not, you're not responsible for it.
posted by meese at 9:05 AM on August 6, 2011 [13 favorites]


I couldn't agree with bluedaisy more. This is the relationship you are going to have. Change is hard and few people can ever do it on a fundamental level. It'd be worse for her to try to change and constantly be looking to you (metaphorically) with just a new kind of anxiety: Am I doing it right? Am I being the me you want me to be?

You don't need to be in love with someone else to leave her. You don't need an excuse. You don't have to hate her not to love her enough to stay with her. It's really ok to decide that being alone with only the possibility of finding what you want is better than being with someone and not having it. It doesn't make you a bad person.
posted by lemniskate at 9:16 AM on August 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


Like summerstorm, I also left a marriage that was good but not great. BEST THING I EVER DID.

See a therapist about the guilt - or memail and I'll explain why it is pointless and kinda selfishly lazy in the context of this situation. The guilt is an excuse that is keeping you from living your life.

At least do a trial separation so you can get your head screwed back on straight.

But I don't think that will help. What is good enough in your 20's often just doesn't cut it in your 30's. That's OK. Getting older often starts making you think long term. You need more, this relationship isn't quite it and likely never will be.

Bounce.
posted by jbenben at 9:19 AM on August 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


I would favorite meese's comment a thousand times if I could.

The anxiety, self-deprecation, low self-esteem behaviors that you describe are enough to cut anyone off at the knees--that means her, and you too. It sounds like you want to have a partner who is ready, willing, and able to face the challenge of life with you; someone to be a help during hard times, rather than a source of constant drag. She ain't that. You can't make her be. She has to do it herself. You can try to point the way, but my bottom dollar says she'll interpret it as an attack and her defensiveness won't let her hear it as the expression of love that it is.

Been there, done that, on the way to divorce.

Take action, be compassionate, and by all means pursue counseling, for you yourself and the two of you together. Her by herself also, if she'll go. But you need to decide whether you stay or go.

Along those lines, Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay by Mira Kirshenbaum is incredibly helpful for clarifying thinking in this situation.

Best of luck to you--to both of you.
posted by Sublimity at 9:19 AM on August 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think every time someone asks "Should I stay or should I go?", nobody has ever said "Yes, stay." If you have to ask, the answer is no.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:26 AM on August 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


It sounds to me like you are looking for permission to leave a relationship that, while not perfect, is also now horrible.

Oops! I actually meant this:

It sounds to me like you are looking for permission to leave a relationship that, while not perfect, is also not horrible.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:31 AM on August 6, 2011


You have written my story except we got married, had kids and after 18 years of marriage (2 years of courting before) we got divorced. It never changed. She went to therapy. We went to couples therapy. You relationship will not change. It is too ingrained. If I were you, I would leave now before it gets even harder.
posted by AugustWest at 9:35 AM on August 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


I think the relationship is over and you should end it.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:35 AM on August 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think this is how my ex-husband might have felt about me - we were just never a team and could never really relate to each other on a deep level. After 7 years he suddenly left me. He wanted to get back together after a few months, but by then I realized he was right, we were a poor match. A few years later I am now with an amazing husband who is a perfect match for me and we connect on a really deep level. So you aren't doing her any favors either just sticking around and hoping things will change, she also deserves real happiness and closeness with someone. The risk of being alone forever is definitely worth the chance of having a really great relationship.

Another thing I have thought about is how everyone says relationships take a lot of work. I once thought that maybe I didn't work hard and compromise and share enough with my first husband, but then with my current spouse it is mostly very easy. I think the difference is that now I work hard only for exceptional circumstances, like when we are both sick, one of us is really worried about something, we are arguing etc and it is much easier because of the firm base relationship we have. With my ex it was a daily struggle to try relax more and be happier in his presence and try to say the perfect things precisely and not say the wrong things. Now I don't have to self-censor and can joke and meow crazily at the cats without it impacting on my relationship.

You'd also think that the sexual side might fade when you are very comfortable with each other, and that is definitely wrong. We have a lot more fun because of it and do more crazy silly things. You can really relax when you know that even if you let out a silly burp or other noise the other person will just laugh and the mood is not ruined.

So I think you should leave her gently and soon - life is too short to live like you are now and what you are missing is definitely worth risking everything for.
posted by meepmeow at 9:52 AM on August 6, 2011 [9 favorites]


It sounds like you're afraid of change, too. Intimacy doesn't just happen in relationships; it's something to be worked at over time, like the gardening analogy in one of the threads you linked to.

Take responsibility for your half of the relationship, whether that means moving towards a breakup of your good-but-not-great or throwing yourself back into working at it.

There are a lot of resources (like the books in this thread) for how to reopen lines of communication and rekindle emotional intimacy. If you've been trundling along in quiet despair about how what you've always wanted hasn't materialized, well, maybe you have a part in it. What have you been doing to foster your partnership?

It's the same sort of principle as friendships (although you see your SO a lot more) - if you don't put effort into them, if you don't make your inner self available to the other person, you'll never make the leap from friends to really good, drop-everything-if-you-need-them type friends. (This is something I had to learn as an adult, sadly.)

If you decide to give it a shot, try courting her again - do small, nice things for her, take her for dates. If she feels wanted (which is not something you can make her feel) and secure, maybe she can relax and re-start reciprocating and building your partnership.

Others have spoken to how your girlfriend could benefit from therapy/etc for her anxiety, so I won't rehash it. The best thing my husband does when I get spun up (which, fyi, corresponds to my cycle) is to reassure me, and then if I keep going at it repetitively to tell me that he can't stand to hear me talk to myself so negatively, and to stop projecting my worries and fears onto what other people "must" think. I've also worked on eliminating the negative inner voice (who used to tell me what I was doing badly, or that I was an idiot).

As another note, since going off hormonal birth control (now a copper IUD), I've become a lot calmer, energetic, fun-loving person and a hell of a lot less stressed out. The effects change over time, as your hormones change, and many women have emotional effects from the BC hormones. Also, regular exercise and working on hobbies will help.

I also left a good-but-not-great relationship and found my amazing, perfect-for-me husband.
posted by bookdragoness at 10:01 AM on August 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


You come across as really passive and limp and withdrawn to me. That may not be fair; it's just your self-presentation. (And you may have been, I suspect, feeling really maudlin when you wrote this.)

If my partner was constantly agonizing and whining about body issues and the like, this kind of burdensome low-self-esteem garbage, there would be a yelling-at like you wouldn't believe. People need to get mirrors on their behavior; that's part of what a relationship is. I would set a boundary that that kind of bullshit is unacceptable. That's not a team; that's a pity party. That's her job to fix; obviously you can't, no matter what support you give.

As for you... well you sound quite mildly engaged in this relationship. The word "fight" doesn't appear in your long summary. In a relationship there are times you say "I love you, stop worrying about that" and there are times you say "My God, you are out of your mind, I love you, here's why you're BONKERS." And there are times you quietly observe a silent boundary and don't engage. And there's times when you say NO and times when you say "LET'S GO DO THIS THING COME ON, TAKE MY HAND."

Also? There are times when you say "HEY, I'M NAKED AT HOME, GET OVER HERE AND LET'S SCREW." Nobody in your relationship is apparently capable of saying that.

This all sounds so phenomenally tepid and passive and like everyone is waiting everyone else out for someone to interact in a meaningful and passionate way. Where are the delights? Where are the highs? Where are the lows? All I hear about here is a dull borderline dusk of a relationship, like you're sitting on a porch as it gets dark, waiting for something to happen.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 10:08 AM on August 6, 2011 [20 favorites]


Sounds like you are very rational, sweet, and gentle with her.

I think I may have some personal experience with her feelings, some of them at least. She may feel totally worthless, perhaps because of her parents? If she can stand back from all of her own criticisms to see that they are someone else's (dad, mom?) and realize that they are not true, then she can start listening when her inner voice calls her 'worthless' and understand that she's not. She also needs to stop and listen to her own words about herself, and stop saying those things, and stop believing them. No one is as horrible as it sounds like she thinks herself. She has to get out of this rut of depression and anxiety and feeling worthless for her real self to come out.

Also, this is probably why you have such nervousness in bed. She's feeling worthless and insecure.

Do you make jokes with her, even innocent ones? That was a huge thing when my husband stopped joking with me for awhile. (And his jokes are very normal and innocent.) It made me feel more comfortable with him and much less insecure and defensive. But, that was because my dad used to verbally abuse me with his "jokes". Anything that seems innocent to normal people will trigger the worthless feelings in an abused person if their abuser used that thing as the tool of pain.

Now, whether she's willing to try to work on this or not is up to her. I was willing, completely, but it took me years to realize it and start even so. Also, I finally stood up to my parents, and that's daunting but in my case, necessary to help break the pain.

Also, you can choose whether you want to be with her through this. You don't have to be, but you can if she is earnestly working on it. Otherwise, if she wants to wallow in this muck of negativity, you can choose to leave and that would probably be the best idea for you at that point.

Good luck.
posted by minx at 10:13 AM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you felt this way after 10 months, I'd tell you to leave. After 10 years, I'm saying "stay, and go to marriage counselling." It may take some time to find a therapist you both like and one or the other of you may also benefit from some additional therapy, because it seems like she has some serious body image issues that are at work here. But while there are large issues in play, none of them seem insurmountable to me, and after 10 years I think you owe it to each other to give this relationship your very best effort.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:30 AM on August 6, 2011


Or maybe it's not selfish of me to want to be with someone with whom I have a better connection. Maybe that romantic ideal isn't foolish and impossible, or limited to movies and novels. Maybe I could meet that someone and we can each be the teammate that the other deserves. I won't have a chance to find out, though, if I'm still in this relationship. I have to make a choice, but to be honest I'm too scared to do it. Yet I can't keep living in this indecisive state.

Before I started going out with my current partner, I might have agreed with you that the idea of being a true "team" with your partner, or having some deeply special and irreplacable connection with one single person, was more of a romantic ideal and not something that really ever happened so much as was something people convinced themselves was the case. I might have said that most people take what they have and make the mental choice to make it work. That many if not most people stuck with their chosen partner due to inertia and obligation at least as much as anything else.

And now I am a year and a half into a relationship that is more incredible than I ever thought possible outside of the best romantic stories. I understand - really understand - what it means to feel like I'm not just a single agent trying to find an acceptable spot for me in relation to all the other people in my life; I am one half of a true partnership, and that means that my partner and I succeed and experience hardship together. When we fight, the aftermath involves figuring out how we can both be better to "Team Us," and not how one person was 'wronged' by the other. I'm no morning person by any means, but every day I wake up with a little extra spring in my heart because I get to wake up next to her and know that that day will be spent with her. Even all the little mundane things - dealing with way too many mosquito bites while taking our dog out, doing the laundry in our horrible little apartment complex's horrible little laundry room, going through the supermarket for the 3rd time in a week because we can never remember all the stuff we need in one trip, all seem so much better because we're doing it together. I am still knocked backwards every time I think about how lucky I am to be with someone like her.

Which is all to say that, dude, life can be better than this. Don't let inertia and guilt rule your life. Even if it takes a while, better to be unconnected but hopeful than resigned to a relationship that leaves you content at best. There's so much better out there, for both of you ... don't miss out.
posted by DingoMutt at 10:49 AM on August 6, 2011 [8 favorites]


Agree with RJ Reynolds: You come across as really passive and limp and withdrawn to me.

You are far too invested in being the good guy.

No one ever needs a reason to break up besides “they feel like it.” Anyone can leave a relationship at any time for any reason.

The way you’re supposed to deal with feelings of guilt is by realizing that anyone who loves you wants you to be happy, and true unselfish love would promote your happiness even at the cost of the relationship.

The way you’re NOT supposed to deal with feelings of guilt is by searching very hard for every miniscule reason to blame your partner that you can. Which, don’t lie to yourself, is exactly what you’re doing, albeit subtly. It’s an irrational response to your guilt and if you make her the objective bad guy, you feel like you can be the good guy. Forget all of that. Just forget it.

don't know whether that's because my expectations are too high or because I am in a legitimately flawed relationship.

There is no difference between these things. There is no such thing as an objectively flawed relationship. There is no panel of experts on relationship law. There are very extreme outlying cases of abuse that most people would instantly agree are all kinds of messed up, but no, this is not one of them. Sorry guy, this is on you.

Should I stay or should I go?

That said, you should go, because you want to.

I wish I could turn to friends

Why? Why worry about what other people think? Who cares what your friends think of your girlfriend? Own your feelings.

We have a good life together, by anyone's standards. She's delightful, an excellent human being (by even the toughest standards) and is smart, stylish, driven and principled.

AGAIN with the “anyone’s standards” thing. Jeez, man.

But she seems to worry a lot about how other people are viewing her - my parents, her parents, our friends - when everyone's been very supportive. She worries that she's not making enough babies or being married enough or making enough money for "everyone's" tastes, which makes me feel just miserable, because who cares?

Okay, the hypocrisy of “she worries how other people view her” is kind of outright hilarious after you’ve clearly mentioned doing the same thing. She’s gloomy because she senses your doubts. She is completely accurate in that assessment of worry, no? Maybe you’re the one in denial?

she's felt like she's been competing with him for my affection.
she prefers to assume that Friend is giving her attitude. Writing this out, I can't believe I have the whole story, but that's how it was told to me. It was infuriating. My SO has had a hard time keeping friends, and I had always assumed it was the natural coming-and-going of people. Maybe not.


What I’m getting from this, rightly or wrongly, is embarrassment of her in front of your friends. She’s not social enough or hot enough or likable enough for you, and it makes you feel embarrassed.

Ha, once or twice when she got really drunk. Or even just a little tipsy. She's kind of a delight to be around. I almost wish she'd drink more often, but she's all but stopped.

This is the part of your question where I really cringed.

Help me, Hive Mind. It would break my heart into tiny pieces to part from her (though I think mostly from guilt.

Well, you feel guilty because you want to break up with her for pretty shallow reasons. SO WHAT? It's your life! Break up with her because she's not your type and OWN that. Don't look for an excuse to pin it on. Just own it, man. You need to be more decisive, more in touch with your own feelings, to avoid getting into situations like this in the first place. If she cares about you, she'll want you to be happy.

She's said things that make me think that by leaving her, I would be destroying her life.

I promise you won't be. However, I suspect that you will have second thoughts and try to get back together with her, just because most people try things like this after the breakup of a LTR. RESIST that impulse; it will hurt both of you more than a clean break.

Am I being too idealistic, thinking I should expect to find the sort of relationship I seem to be looking for? Are my expectations too high? Maybe that romantic ideal isn't foolish and impossible, or limited to movies and novels.

This is a completely separate issue. Movies and books are a pretty poor guideline, but you can probably at least do better and be happier.

Here’s what I’m hearing you say you want:
Someone you’re physically attracted to
Deep intimacy
A team feeling of us against the world
To feel relaxed in her presence
To get married
To have kids
To be “amazing sex champions” without embarrassment or inhibitions

I'm going to say you can probably hit at least four of those things. Someone you're attracted to who wants to get married and have kids it totally doable. Always feeling relaxed and always having super awesome sex when you want it, okay maybe a stretch, but you can at least get a lot closer than you are now.
posted by Nixy at 10:49 AM on August 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


I encourage counseling, but a caveat: Before going in to counseling, you must each ask yourself if you are willing to make changes to yourself in order to maintain the relationship. If one or both is not willing, the skip the counseling and end the relationship.
posted by allelopath at 10:54 AM on August 6, 2011


What I get out of your snowstorm is a sense of competition between thee and she, for career, for friends, for life. Being that you just want to get laid and be able to lay around afterwards and have a smoke and a joke and she needs to get up and start work on the latest paper I would think you're in the wrong life. She doesn't want you to indulge her the way you would like and therein lies the rub. A good relationship takes hard work occasionally, if you have to start working as soon as you wake up you will end up as you are, exhausted and depressed by the seemingly unendingness of it all. Good luck with that. Rent yourself your own space, buy your own car and enjoy the peace of being.
posted by ptm at 10:57 AM on August 6, 2011


I've been thinking about therapy, but my SO would (correctly) assume that I'm going to talk about my relationship, and stress would follow. Maybe couples' therapy is worth looking into, but based on things she's said ("if it ever gets to the point where we'd go to couples' therapy, let's just split up"), I think she'd be irrationally opposed to that. Of course, if I explained the stakes - counselling versus splitting up - I may be able to coerce her into it.

Dude, you already have a lot of stress, so why be so tepid about possibly creating a bit more? Nothing is ever, ever going to change if you keep doing the same thing (which is nothing). I don't know if couples therapy will help you guys or if this is never going to work out, but you have to decide if it's worth a shot. Mr. desjardins and I have had our moments - sometimes months of them - and it was worth it to go to therapy because we had a solid foundation to rest on. We got past the temporary crap and started acting like a team again. You don't have that, apparently you never did, so couples therapy might be a really frustrating endeavor. Nevertheless, I strongly suggest you get individual therapy, if for no other reason than apparently you have no one to talk to about this IRL.

My guess is she knows something is wrong but is deeply insecure because you never talk about it. You're both tiptoeing around each other and withdrawing. No wonder there's no intimacy or feeling of being a team. You're not even living in the same reality. Both of you need to wake up, and I think it's worth taking RJ Reynolds' advice and showing her a mirror. Being the nice guy has done neither of you any favors. She can't trust your reassurance because you're not trustworthy.
posted by desjardins at 11:01 AM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


1) Marriage is a red herring here. As you describe it, you are already de facto married to your partner; the only things you're missing are the tax break and the legal regulations/principles regarding handling a divorce. You may in fact be common-law married, in which case those legal protections do apply to your relationship. Probably not worth thinking about this issue too much more.

2) Kids/no kids is a topic on which there can be no compromise; either you will have/adopt/raise a kid, or you won't. If both partners disagree strongly about this, it can be a deal-breaker even when every other feature of the relationship is ideal. By far this is the most serious thing that you mentioned in terms of the future of your relationship. After 10 years you should both either have closure on this topic or be working hard towards it.

3) Apart the above, what I take away from your question is that you are not satisfied with the low level of intimacy in your relationship. This is actually a quite common complaint. It has been researched extensively. I suggest looking into the Gottman Institute, and particularly the books (and/or DVDs) that they publish. The Gottmans run a 'love lab' where they observe successful and unsuccessful couples and identify traits, features and behaviors of these relationships. Turns out that most couples can learn from the most successful couples and bring those behaviors to improve their own relationship.

4) If you decide you want to save this relationship and turn it into one that is more mutually satisfying: that is why couples counseling exists. I think you would both benefit tremendously from it. A good couples counselor will work hard to make the environment safe and non-threatening for both partners. Many states license "marriage and family therapists" (LMFT) who have had a lot of training in how to do this.

5) Mental health issues like anxieties, neuroses, and personality issues can be an obstacle to intimacy. You don't give enough information to know for sure if that is happening in your relationship, but you clearly suspect that it is. A good couples counselor can identify this problem and suggest appropriate resources for help.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Sockpuppetry at 12:36 PM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


The thing about your best friend and the shit about how you can't go to therapy because you might talk about her is bullshit and really not acceptable.

Beyond that, I can't speak to the more ineffable things that make a relationship happy. I'm not a romantic at all, in fact, but a very practical person, so I will stick to practicalities.

If you can't agree about kids, break up.

She's the one who's going to be doing a lot of the physical work and probably sacrificing a bit with her career, and if she doesn't want to do it...you'll either be in a situation where you have no kids, or where she has a kid and then resents the hell out of you for pressuring her into it. That is a bad, bad situation and will break your partnership.

Plus, if you think her anxiety is bad now...add a tiny, helpless, dependent human being that communicates by screaming.

Add pregnancy, which is almost completely out of her control even while it happens in her body.

Add giving birth, which is unpredictable, painful, and life-threatening.

Add body issues from stretch marks and weird changes.

Do you really want to go through that with someone who is ambivalent about having children? Do you want to go through that with someone who can't deal with a normal level of stress?

Do you want your children growing up with someone who competes with their friends for their love (or with you)? With someone who can't hold on to normal, healthy friendships?
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:58 PM on August 6, 2011 [9 favorites]


Can you really not see that it's a matter of time, anyway? What good comes from prolonging it?

Relationships are like digestion. Normal processes that have stages. There is a significant BIOLOGICAL component, and Nature WANTS you to get into them, breed, and get out.

There's a lot of fantasy out there about it being 'forever', etc., but I think you need to see the getting in part as drunkeness. It's a much better metaphor than anything intentional, and it disguises it tracks with social constructs. Later on, when the drunkeness has done its job, and you are in this inexplicable thing, all those wonderful things like oxycontin go away, and you suddenly wake up with your sister in the bed next to you, and you like her about as much.

Do you need permission? Afraid of making a wrong choice?

My posts are full of this (and I am full of a lot of other stuff), but do the math man. 7 billion divided by 2 is how many women there are on this planet. What are the odds you got the best one? Zero. She's not Ms. Right, but she used to be Ms. Right Now.

Settle, change or exit. Those are your choices. Each has its risks and rewards. Pick one and act. That's really all there is to it, in the end.

O, incidentally, you ARE mortal. You haven't got forever. Soon, death will put an end to your relationship options. Age starts interfering before that, of course, but the salient point is... daylight's burning, son.
posted by FauxScot at 3:36 PM on August 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


If she deals with her anxiety then the two of you may be able to have the relationship you want. But she's got to want to do it. You can't make her.

It sounds like you've tried to make a go of something that might just never come round to being what you need it to be - ultimately only you can make the decision about whether you should keep going down that road. I don't know if there's enough holding the two of you together, though.
posted by mleigh at 7:03 PM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I always think it's interesting that what seems so straightforward seems so hard from the outside. People are just in these grinding effortful yet "pleasant" relationships, yet the pleasantness somehow seems to justify all the rest (almost complete disconnect and lack of interest in pursuing the relationship in your case).

Honestly, guilt is a useless emotion, as is responsibility for others. I mean, theoretically it's a good thing to care for others, but in practice, why is it always skewed towards acting like your loved ones' parent? I mean, caring for someone, why is that the same as making sure they never have to experience difficulty even when it may be a growth opportunity? Why is 'pleasantness' or comfort a good thing at all (for you)? I mean, honestly.


The whole coercing her into couples therapy thing seems not-so-good. She might go, but no one changes unless they want to; if you force someone to do something they don't want to do, they're not about to get the benefit from it that you need them to. There you are, gritting your teeth, resentment building, etc. I would say begin with actually communicating with her-- share your expectations, needs, desires. Don't just say "I want sex", but really express this is a need you have that you require some attention paid to. Likewise with feeling your partner's on your side. What can she do to enact this team behavior? What steps can she take, what attitudes is she missing, what is she going to have to work on for you to stay together?

Honestly, if she's only to your liking when she's on vacation or on mind-altering drugs, then the obvious conclusion is that you simply don't like her the way she is; if her body is ok but not your type, then basically you don't dig her physically or emotionally. It's not really saying much to enjoy someone when they're at their most relaxed, positive and free. Even the most annoying people in the world will tend to be pleasant when they're high or happy. The kind of people who you hate on vacation, you probably couldn't spend 2 hours with otherwise, but what does that say about her? She's better than some evil mother in law?


In the future, come on, don't get into long-term relationships with people you're not passionate about. Don't compromise on what's important to you, and for god's sake, don't value politics over your own emotional preferences for the future (sex/kids/marriage/etc). I mean, the nature of politics is that half the people in this country are likely to share your values there, y'know? It's not exactly that picky of a pool. Morals are social, and the level of commonality is also social-- that is, they're things you share widely across whole groups of peers, not just your loved ones. Sure, it's important to share that with your loved ones too, but honestly you could do without if the emotional values match up. You're civil-partnered to the person, not their opinion on Obama and the death penalty. You have beer with people who you agree with on the death penalty, or even if you don't. If she's not a positive force in your life, if she's not giving you the things you need, and it sounds like she never really has-- for god's sake, go find someone who does, but, y'know, don't be an asshole and break up first.
posted by reenka at 9:01 PM on August 6, 2011


For me, the metric of relationship fulfilment is this: I cannot conceive of life without my SO. Not because it would make me "scared", or "guilty", as you write, but because without my significant other, I would not be "me" anymore. He is, literally, a part of me. Drawing a line between the two of us - separating us into two different, discrete human personalities, and asking whether they are "compatible", is not possible (we've been together for 8 years). The whole thing you do here - the listing of disadvantages and advantages, of good and band things - well, I could probably write a list like that if I really had to, but I would have to take an umcomfortable outsider's perspective to do that - it wouldn't come as naturally to me as it seems to come to you. It wouldn't make any sense. It would be like writing about a part of my body and listing its failings. Yeah, maybe my legs are a bit short - but why even think about that? What am I going to do about it, cut them off? They are part of me, for better or for worse.

What you describe would not be a fulfilling relationship, to me (or rather, the way you talk about it tells me it's really different from what we have).

tl;dr: If you sum up your relationship as "being on the fence", and if you can write pages about how uncomfortable your specific fence is, it's probably time to go.
posted by The Toad at 9:21 PM on August 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


I just got out of a 10 year relationship in June.

The differences from yours is that everything was good except I didn't want to get married and she did.

If I left a relationship that was much better than the one you're describing I'd have to Recommmend you do the same. Unhappy is not a way to live life.

Don't be attached to the length of time. Stuff is either right or it's not.
posted by zephyr_words at 12:38 AM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure it's fair that you keep assessing her as 'irrational'. By the sounds of it, quite a lot of her anxieties are very rational indeed. You mention you continually assure her about her looks, her likability, your enjoyment of her company.

But then you turn around to tell us that actually, she is not really your cup of tea physically. That you don't really delight in her company, except when she's drunk or other rare circumstances. That indeed, despite your reassurances to her face, you don't really feel a strong connection to her. (As opposed to, perhaps - your shared memories and life? The idea of her? I leave that one to you and wiser commenters)

What you're doing there is blunting her ability to trust the positive things you say to her.
Think about it - if someone will not admit to feeling or seeing the 'bad' things about you, how can you trust that they are being honest about the good and not merely continuing their habit of telling you what they think you should hear?

I think it's very likely that she's picked up unconsciously on this difference between what you say to her and what you really feel. And being that she's actually right about how you feel, can you blame her for feeling insecure about these things?
posted by pseudonymph at 1:54 AM on August 7, 2011 [17 favorites]


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