How do you know that a relationship is progressing without the traditional milestones?
August 17, 2011 8:03 AM   Subscribe

How do you know that a relationship is progressing without the traditional milestones (marriage, house, children, etc.)?

Short story (relationship):
My boyfriend and I are 26, have been dating for two years and living together for one. Next year he's transferring to a different school (we won't know where until the spring) and I want to move with him and stay with him, but I also want some sign that our relationship is moving forward. I would like to get engaged or married, but he's not ready and probably won't be ready until he graduates.

Long story (relationship plus career):
Boyfriend and I met two years ago when I was living in Big City and he was living about 8 hours away. We dated long-distance for a year, then decided to move in together when he went back to school in Smaller City, about an hour away from Big City. I quit my job (which I hated anyway) and we moved to Smaller City and got a kitten.

I found a new job without too much trouble, but quickly realized that I wanted to completely change fields. I started taking writing and editing classes online and applying for jobs and internships in publishing. A few months ago I got a paid internship at a publishing house in Big City where many interns go on to work full-time. I am thrilled. The commute sucks, but I love the work, and while a job there isn’t guaranteed, I want to see the internship through for this year and hopefully next year stay near Big City where there are more job opportunities and we have few very close friends.

Now Boyfriend is getting ready to apply to universities. He’s looking at schools all over the country, but mostly in our state, including a few very good schools in Big City that he likes.

I love Boyfriend very much and we have a great relationship. I see good things for us in the long-term. On the other hand, I have really struggled with finding a career path and it’s taken me a long time just to get where I am, which is not far. I don’t want to give up on my career before it gets started, but I also don’t want to lose Boyfriend.

A few days ago we were talking about what our future looks like, and I said that I want us to stay near Big City and keep moving forward with my career, but I would be willing to move with him and give up the opportunities in Big City if we got engaged or married. He wants to be more secure financially and be a bit older before thinking about getting married, but he loves me and wants to be with me. On his other hand, his education is important to him and he’s going to go where that takes him.

In the best of all possible worlds he’ll get into a school in Big City and we’ll move there together so I can focus on my career while he’s in school. If that happens, marriage isn't so important to me because I'd be living where I'd be living and doing what I'd be doing if we had never met. What I think is more likely is that he’ll wind up a few hours from Big City. If that happens I will probably move with him and try to do editing and publishing, but it won’t be as easy to find work as it would be if we were in Big City. If/when this happens, I want some sign that he recognizes that I made a sacrifice and that our relationship is solid, and that I didn’t move away from my friends and career opportunities for a relationship that isn’t going to progress.

I know that this is a weird question because it involves a lot of hypotheticals and unknowns. I like to think ahead and plan, and our situation is driving me crazy because so much of our future will be determined by outside factors that I cannot control. So I’m trying to prepare myself for all possible outcomes, which I realize is ridiculous. But it’s what I do.

What I keep coming back to is this: given the fact that he’s not ready to get engaged or married, we’re already living together, we have a pet that we care for… what’s next? Have you been in or seen any long-term relationships that had signifiers of love and commitment that didn’t involve marriage?

Thank you for your input.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (29 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Setting milestones is an ordinary part of project planning. You can in principle pick any at all, but it's better if they actually signify the kind of progress you're interested in, and better still if they have emotional significance to you.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:11 AM on August 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Time can also be used as a milestone - the very fact that you are still together after a given time means, most usually, that your relationship is moving forwards. In your case you have the immediate goal of his forthcoming graduation. If you are still together at that time, and still enjoying the relationship, then you can move forward 1 square.
posted by rongorongo at 8:13 AM on August 17, 2011

It sounds like you guys have a good relationship. What's next is exactly what you describe above. You each set goals, consult with each other, support each other, and achieve you goals or adapt to what comes.

Don't stress about your relationship "progressing." You're getting along just fine.
posted by General Tonic at 8:15 AM on August 17, 2011 [5 favorites]

It seems to me like the most useful milestone here is how collaboratively the two of you approach the next decision point. If you both re-up your commitment to each other and work to find a creative solution that includes benefits for you both, that's a milestone. (And it could look a lot of different ways, like Small City now, Big City later; Big City for 5yrs until your established, Small City later, etc. as long as you're both involved and in agreement.)

If one or both of you are still "my way or the highway" then no amount of kittens will help.
posted by cocoagirl at 8:17 AM on August 17, 2011 [16 favorites]

Okay. As a preface, I want to say that you seem really thoughtful and caring about your partner and really good about standing up for yourself. Also, I want to say that you are operating under a delusion. You think you are facing an upcoming security trade-off. You are saying, essentially, that you either want the opportunity to pursue your career more traditionally/more easily or you want him to put a ring on it.

This is a really false choice, and it's made even falser by the fact that none of these things obtains you greater security. I really encourage you to stop thinking in this false way: it's damaged a lot of people, particularly women, that I know. Relationships end; jobs end; choices get made; compromises happen.

But this: "I want some sign that he recognizes that I made a sacrifice and that our relationship is solid, and that I didn’t move away from my friends and career opportunities for a relationship that isn’t going to progress." Look, that's really honest, and I salute you for being in touch with that impulse.

But it's a pervasive cultural lie. It's also a set-up for future resentments and disappointment and disasters.

YOU get married when you want to get married. YOU should do what fulfills you for your career. YOU should do (and ask for) what makes you happy in your relationship. And these things are not related, and you should, if possible, separate them in your mind.

It sounds like you're happy reasonably with how decision-making gets made in your relationship. But as you're young, and as you work in different fields, with possibly different geographical needs, there are going to be times when you and your partner's needs conflict. That is why the universe invented airplanes and text messages and the ability to be understanding and patient.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 8:22 AM on August 17, 2011 [52 favorites]

I also struggle with my constant thinking about "What's next?". The best advice I can give you is from Kurt Vonnegut:
And now I want to tell you about my late Uncle Alex. He was my father’s kid brother, a childless graduate of Harvard who was an honest life insurance salesman in Indianapolis. He was well-read and wise. And his principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, say, and talking lazily about this and that, almost buzzing like honeybees, Uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, ''If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.''

So I do the same now, and so do my kids and grandkids. And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ''If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.''
Recognize and value the good parts of the relationship and try to not think about external normative "milestones". If that's not good enough, my cousin got married last summer after 10 years in a relationship with her now husband. This included her having to go to Big City for schooling and him staying in Small City to work on his career. Another cousin did a speech at the reception: "These guys have been together for a long time. So long a time that my eldest daughter got married, had two kids and got divorced in the same time period." Talk about milestones!
posted by jillithd at 8:27 AM on August 17, 2011 [31 favorites]

I spent a good long while working towards various goals and milestones in life. I formed them mainly by imagining what my ideal life would be like. If I could do anything I wanted, what would it be? What do I value in life?

It turns out that I mainly value a comfortable place to live, that's light and airy and has a view, a flexible and challenging job, some level of financial security, and people in my life who are a positive influence on me and who are not stressful to be around. Having all of these things would, I think, be sufficient to make me happy.

Therefore, my goals have always been ones that I perceived at the time to be steps on the way to these ends. For example, getting married doesn't help with any of that, and neither does having kids, so for me personally those things are not a goal. Buying a house does, so that was on the list.

It turns out that at a relatively young age I've achieved quite a lot of these goals. On reaching them I found that I was generally correct in thinking they would make me happier. So in those respects I'm now content not to be looking for "progress" at all.

Of course nothing's to say that I won't change my mind later, find some new values, and make some new goals. But I don't see any point in pursuing progress for the sake of progress.

On an unrelated note: Something that has always felt like an enormous amount of "progress" to me in a relationship has been completing projects together. Working together for some kind of common end. I've never done that deliberately in order to cause "progress" but I've felt much more connected with people after working successfully with them to do something nifty.
posted by emilyw at 8:32 AM on August 17, 2011 [10 favorites]

If it's only a few hours away, then I'd encourage you to stay and see whether this internship turns into a job. It can be a relationship killer to move to somewhere that you didn't choose, in which you have few opportunities. It's quite isolating. And you may feel resentment if you don't find the kind of work in your field that you want.

I'm a little unclear on the time commitment for the university thing. Is this 4-year college? If so, that's a longer time, and would be harder to deal with. Is it a 1- or 2-year graduate program? That is manageable. For one thing, in graduate school you don't have that much time for your personal life anyway. A weekend or two a month together (possible if you're just a few hours away), plus school breaks, can sustain your relationship. I've seen a few couples make it through the "grad-school" disruption and go on to marriage or to living together again longterm.

If you don't get a job from this internship, obviously you're a lot more free to go and perhaps it would make more sense to move with him, since you'd be starting fresh anyway.

It will be easier to make decisions once you have concrete information. You actually don't have to decide right now, and though it's hard to live with questions, it's also normal. Thinking about your feelings and options will help you decide when the time comes - but the time isn't right this minute, just yet.

I wouldn't have made it through my 20s and 30s without this brilliant Rilke quote. Live the questions.
posted by Miko at 8:33 AM on August 17, 2011 [10 favorites]

I came in here to say that you know the relationship is progressing if you can look back and see you are both growing as individuals and you are both becoming more emotionally mature. As long as you aren't stagnant, and he's not either, PLUS you maintain emotional intimacy in the relationship..... YAY!!!


After reading your question I want to say - GIRL, WHY DOES HIS CAREER COME BEFORE YOURS???

Re-think your plan to follow him. In your position, in the relationship you describe, this sounds like a very very bad idea.

It's his turn to accommodate your goals, or do it long distance.

Think it through, Hon. If you follow him now, in ten years, you'll regret it.

Don't let your internship now you were ever thinking of doing anything other than continuing with them or else you will not get that job.
posted by jbenben at 8:35 AM on August 17, 2011 [9 favorites]

"know" not now. Typing on phone. Oops.
posted by jbenben at 8:37 AM on August 17, 2011

After about two years of dating (and living together), my boyfriend and I, neither of whom care much about getting married, but do value a sense of commitment, got engaged. That was six years ago, and we have no plans in sight to actually get married, and this works great for us. It shows people in a quick/easy way that we're committed, but didn't really require us to change anything for ourselves. (And I got a sparkly!)

And, it worked out for the best when he got the opportunity to move back to the city and back into his 'real' career field. I didn't have any opportunities where he was headed, or enough money to go along, or reason to stay where we were without him, so at my parents' invitation, I moved to their town in a different state altogether. I intended to be here only a month or two. That was almost three years ago. The opportunities are better here - I just started a job a month or so ago which I think is 'the one', and will be starting grad school next month for a master's. At this point we've lived at least 7 hours apart for 3 years, and have at least another 2 to go unless he gives up *his* prospects in order to move, so...

Long story short (too late!), though we miss each other, we're both happier knowing that neither of us is stifling our chances at good, meaningful work, even though we only see each other every few months.

Hell, get engaged and don't get married, then live apart, like me and the boy-thing. It'll either work, or it won't, but at least you didn't set yourself back career-wise trying to be the perfect career wife if it bombs. I did that, and my relationship didn't bomb, but it sure made it hard to find a good job after a while. Be me, without the mistake-years!
posted by dust.wind.dude at 9:12 AM on August 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

If he's not ready for the commitment you need to give up on your career prospects, then I'm not sure that there is an alternative milestone that will work. Please ask yourself whether he would make the same sacrifice for you.

And the real answer is don't borrow trouble. When you have the actual concrete options in front of you, then you can make decisions. Which you should make by both being as honest with each others as you have been in this question.

There are both other jobs and other men, and many ways to be happy.
posted by plonkee at 9:26 AM on August 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

There's good advice here, and I tend to agree with a lot of it.

Maybe what's troubling you is that it seems like you're doing a lot of accommodating while he is pursuing his life without doing the same kind of accommodating? You are ready to move and give up your dream (at the very least make it much harder to achieve) while he is saying he's going to go where he needs to go for his future and he's not ready to say that he's in this to the same degree.

I am not sure if that's true, I am only going by what I read into your question. I am just providing some thoughts if how you feel matches up with what I am hearing you say.

If you have thoughts along these lines, then I would encourage you to do what you need to do to secure your future. If that means stay in Big City and get established, then that's what it means for now, and if he goes to school somewhere else then you will go back to long distance. Do not give up the chance for a career you love. You won't get that chance back. Even if this relationship turns out to be a lifelong, fulfilling relationship, you may always regret not giving this career your best shot.

I don't want to fall back on the "if it's meant to be", but to a degree that is true. If he seems willing to meet you at least halfway in terms of effort and compromise - on the big issues, not on buying groceries and doing dishes - then I think you can work this out and if there's a degree of difficulty then I think that can be overcome. But if you are or just feel you are the one sacrificing the big things while he says this is great and you can come with me but I'm not changing things to help you with your future, then maybe you don't want to go along with that.

A relationship can be legitimately great on a day to day or short term level and not be compatible with your long term future. And that is a really goddamn hard thing to see or believe when you are in it. Maybe that applies to you guys and maybe it doesn't, I don't know.

I would sit down with him and tell him what you need. Your conversation with him will either reassure you or it won't.
posted by mrs. taters at 9:31 AM on August 17, 2011 [9 favorites]

Are you asking if you should give up your career and follow your boyfriend to the city of his choice in the hopes that he'll someday ask you to marry him? There's a lot of fancy wording around it so I'm not exactly sure if that's what you're asking but if so, I'm going to have to say no. No, you should definitely not do that.
posted by hazyjane at 9:42 AM on August 17, 2011 [15 favorites]

I'd like to offer a more global idea to the mix of some very, very good advice above. I've been married 12 years to someone I've been with for more. We've lived together with and without marriage, and spent more years together, just us, than with a kid (who is four). I'm very happy with him, and with us.

There are three things we've always tried to work so that they balance--respect, resources, and problem-solving. Over the years, when we've been happy, these three things have been equally balanced. When we're challenged, when it's been hard, it's one of these things that has been neglected or charged against too many times. For example, we can deeply respect each other and have a lot of good communication that is solving our daily and bigger problems, but when we have lacked some resource--financial, health, community/friends--our relationship hurts. It's sometimes a long time to get to this conclusion, even if it seems sort of obvious written out like this, but in my example respect and problem-solving were going well so this creates an overall feeling that everything is okay even when there is a lack. Sometimes, in the beginning especially, it would take so long to figure out what piece was missing some other piece would suffer from overuse. So, we'd neglect the primary problem of poor resources for so long that we'd overcharge our problem-solving abilities and stop communicating and thinking well. Then, like a lot of couples having Hard Times, we'd be left with our respect for each other, but little else.

So, whenever we are slogging through, or feeling tension, or can't agree, or have some Big Decision to make, we start with evaluating the state of our Respect, Resources, and Problem Solving. Sometimes, the answer becomes obvious in this evaluation, and so we can do something--offer one of us more nights out with friends, take time to have a really good conversation and remember what we like about each other, whatever. Sometimes, we only get a sense of our lack, but no clear direction, but that's a good piece farther down the road than we were before.

In addition to our Respect, Resources, and Problem Solving algorithm, we apply the mantra "there are no traps." This one took kind of a while to really sink in, but it's true. It's possible to make a decision in good faith, proceed with a balanced approach, and then go on to admit that it's not the right thing and you have to solve the next problem. There is no destination to all of this, really, progress and progression is all the work of it, itself. This is not as sisyphean as it may seem, because if you're also working to keep those three things balanced, you're also having fun along the way. Plus, there is a lot of freedom in realizing that no one decision that you make is The One Decision. You don't have to pin everything on what makes sense, with the best of yourselves, in any one move. You're never trapped. There are no traps.

The whole respect, resources, problem solving thing is something I apply pretty regularly to just eyeballing life stuff in general. Like, when I am giving a physical to a kid (I'm in pediatrics), and something seems off in the family, my approach is figuring out what's wrong from that perspective. Or when I read an askme question that I may be able to offer my perspective on, I think about what the asker is saying from those three categories. If you look at a lot of these good answers, some of them are offering ideas about shoring up resources, some on how to problem solve, some on mutual and self-respect.

You'll be just fine because you're obviously already a thinker, which means that if the next step you take meets resistance at some point down the line, you can rethink it and make another step. It sounds like both of you have the opportunity to learn a lot about things you care about and about each other. The good responses you're getting, too, have a lot to do with how well you're already articulating the questions. Just keep asking them, and you'll be okay.
posted by rumposinc at 10:00 AM on August 17, 2011 [18 favorites]

There's no such thing as security in relationships and trying to find it is a fool's errand. I don't buy into the milestones or "progress" idea, either. There are too many types of relationships out there, across such a wide spectrum, that you can't pin those concepts down. It's always damaging to try to shoehorn your relationship into some box it doesn't fit in.

Relationships are, obviously, an endless series of compromises made to keep both parties happy. The compromising doesn't stop when you get your degree or settle on a house or decide to have kids or whatever. It goes on forever, until you die or break up. What changes after years and years and years together is that you stop obsessing over it. You realize you both intend for this relationship to be permanent. You've made so many compromises, and seen your partner make so many compromises, that hopefully you stop keeping score.

The problem is, he hasn't proven himself yet. You haven't seen him make unpleasant sacrifices for the relationship. Maybe now is not the time for him to demonstrate, though. At 26, education might trump career direction. You're still on the young side when it comes to settling on a career, but he's starting to get kinda old to go back to school. This may be the last easy time for him to go back. But that doesn't mean he needs to go to any particular school and if I were serious about a relationship I'd be actively including my partner in this decision process. It'd be a foregone conclusion that whatever happened we'd be staying together.

It seems like you feel like he's leaving you out. If he's not actively engaging you in his decision process, soliciting advice and generally making it clear that you guys are going along on this ride together, he doesn't get it. You need to make him get it (can't help you there!), or get out.
posted by pjaust at 10:23 AM on August 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

I know that this is a weird question because it involves a lot of hypotheticals and unknowns. I like to think ahead and plan, and our situation is driving me crazy because so much of our future will be determined by outside factors that I cannot control. So I’m trying to prepare myself for all possible outcomes, which I realize is ridiculous. But it’s what I do.

These factors aren't controlled by the fates. In fact, he's in full control of where he applies to college. It's not like he's a feather on the wind, and asking him to apply to schools only within commuting distance of your location, where you have stable, fulfilling work, is completely reasonable.

He's making an active choice to apply to schools all over the country. He's also actively choosing not to make a formal commitment yet. It sounds like you've made all the compromises here, and both of you expect things to continue that way. That's not how relationships work.

What I keep coming back to is this: given the fact that he’s not ready to get engaged or married, we’re already living together, we have a pet that we care for… what’s next? Have you been in or seen any long-term relationships that had signifiers of love and commitment that didn’t involve marriage?

Honestly, I don't think any answers about these things will really help you. You want a commitment--and from the sounds of it, a formal, traditional one. You want a sense that your relationship is progressing in traditional ways. There's nothing wrong with that, and I really don't think you'll be happy if you move with him, abandon your career, and stifle those desires.

26 is young. 2 years in a relationship (and only one local) is nothing. It's possible you'll get all of those milestones--just later than you expected. But please don't abandon your career at this stage. It just strikes me on a gut-level as a really, really bad idea.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:31 AM on August 17, 2011 [14 favorites]

Oh, and just in case it seems as if I'm not empathetic to your situation, I faced a similar dilemma a year after college. I desperately wanted to move out of my state to go to graduate school (for a bevy of reasons), but my boyfriend needed to stay in New Jersey to finish college (he was a non-traditional student finally getting it right after several years, and couldn't bear the thought of transferring for the fourth time in his life). Though I wanted him to come with me, I knew that I needed to experience certain things and take a chance on my own career, so we were long distance for two years with the explicit promise that we'd move in at the end of it. We did, and within a year were married. We've since moved several other times in pursuit of career stuff for either of us, but now, as a married couple, agree that it's a priority for both of us to never do that long distance stuff ever again.

Still, I don't regret it for a minute. I needed that experience, and I know that I would have been desperately unhappy if I held off two years. Sometimes you need to do your own independent things to be the couple you need to be a few years down the line. But no matter what, remember that stuff always works out. Best of luck to you.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:45 AM on August 17, 2011

I know that this is a weird question because it involves a lot of hypotheticals and unknowns. I like to think ahead and plan, and our situation is driving me crazy because so much of our future will be determined by outside factors that I cannot control. So I’m trying to prepare myself for all possible outcomes, which I realize is ridiculous. But it’s what I do.

I'm glad you realise it's ridiculous. I drive myself batty with this type of thinking too. Here are some other things it might be useful to realise:

You have time to think about this. He's applying now, so you have months before he'll hear, and then he'll have to decide which school he will pick, and then you have months to decide what you'll do based on that information.

Let's say he gets into a school that's far away, since that's the worst case scenario you're really asking about here:
  • You could stay in Big City with OMG Internship and friends.
  • You could move to Far Away City with boyfriend and try to find editing work there.
Neither of these options tells you what you want to know, which is probably something like: Is it okay if I do this? Will I be okay? Is it the Right Thing To Do?

There is no Right Thing. You can't make a plan that is guaranteed to work. There are lots of paths, and they will all give you different joys and sorrows, and you only get to pick one.

For now, try getting a bit more comfortable with Not Knowing. Try focusing on now now.

This month, you are going to be living with this boy and a kitten!! and working at an amazing internship. Let the college admissions people do their stuff, and take the next step later. Who knows? Maybe he'll get in at a Big City college and you'll never even have to ask this question. Tuck it in your back pocket for now and take it out if you ever need it.
posted by heatherann at 10:53 AM on August 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure "signs" or "milestones" are what you need. They're just easier and more obvious ways to get answers to the real underlying questions here, things like: How committed is he to you? How is the relationship progressing? What kinds of sacrifices would he be willing to make for you and your relationship?

The alternative is to try to answer those questions by talking about them with him and using your instincts based on your knowledge of his personality and character. No, it's not fool-proof, but neither are the explicit milestones, it's not like an engagement can't be broken. Rather than getting hung up on coming up with signifiers, maybe try to spend time really thinking and figuring out what things you feel most unsure of and how you can get more clarity (one way or the other) on where he's at. And then go from there to make your own decisions about what's right for you.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 10:58 AM on August 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

I would like to get engaged or married, but he's not ready and probably won't be ready until he graduates.

If that happens, marriage isn't so important to me

This is not the time to hem and haw and dance around what you really want. A lot of people are telling you that you can measure progress by how you grow together, support each other, etc. This is true. And in fact, would you really want to marry someone that isn't happening with? But is it important for you to be married as well? It's okay if it is. And if it is, you need to own that. Would you be okay if you and your boyfriend stayed together and never got married? What about children? You need to really think about those things.

The other thing I want to say is: be careful what you wish for. He doesn't seem as willing to sacrifice himself for this relationship as you are. Do you really want to marry someone like that? Then you're continually in the position of sacrificing yourself and your dreams for someone else to make things work.
posted by unannihilated at 11:16 AM on August 17, 2011 [5 favorites]

Also, I want to say that I was in a similar situation, so MeMail me if you want to talk.
posted by unannihilated at 11:31 AM on August 17, 2011

I'm struggling with this too... problem is, in my situation we're both in our mid-thirties, living together is not an option due to his issues with prior live-in situations, and marriage appears to be out of the picture as well. To boot, he has massive social anxiety and is not at all comfortable socializing with any of my friends. So I have some pretty major decisions to make in the very near future -- do I give up the possibility of ever getting married, of ever being able to even live with my partner or have him in the same room as my best friend for an evening? Should I be the one making all the compromises?

Anyway, you're not alone, OP. I think at your age and at the place in life that you find yourself, it's not unreasonable for you guys to not be engaged yet. But if you're the one making all the sacrifices and offers of compromise, that's not fair, and to me it seems to be a big sign that he's not quite on board with the level of commitment that comes with marriage. Concentrate on your own needs right now, put your BF's on the back burner and do what's best for YOU.
posted by palomar at 11:54 AM on August 17, 2011

I moved 3,000 miles to be with my then boyfriend, now husband. And a lot of people thought I was crazy. BUT I moved to a place where I knew my career would advance. And when we moved, we made the decision regarding where we would move together even though we were moving for his job.

So if I were you, I would try and make this a joint decision and I would insist on moving to a city where your career can progress. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst. It's perfectly reasonable to make sure you have a Plan B if things don't work out and you don't end up getting married.
posted by bananafish at 12:52 PM on August 17, 2011

I'm not saying go or don't go -- and if it's a move you would independently make, for sure go -- but he's pretty clearly saying his own needs and advancement come before your relationship, which he is not willing to commit to as a meaningful "us" or "we" with a future he envisions. He doesn't want to break up, but the relationship is not progressing, at least not right now.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:46 PM on August 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

Your priority is an eventual marriage to this man.

You want to find a signifier of commitment, but from what you've told us, it sounds like he's said plainly that he is not committed to you. He is committed to his education first (he's going where it takes him"), and to you later, maybe ("wants to be more secure financially and older before thinking about getting married").

No theoretical relationship milestone (i.e. co-ownership of the cat) can contradict what your boyfriend is telling you himself.
posted by hungrytiger at 6:07 PM on August 17, 2011 [8 favorites]

He's not going to marry you. When he met you, he wasn't ready for marriage, because he had the idea that he'd get serious about marriage later, probably in his very late 20s or early 30s. He entered into the relationship with you to pass the time, because it sucks to be celibate during the inbetween. Your awesomeness might theoretically have convincced him to change his mind at some point, except it's clear from what he said that it hasn't. To really win him over you'd have to ratchet up your awesomeness a lot and convince him to sacrifice whatever he originally planned for his life- a few more sex partners, more time to enjoy living alone, meet cute when he's at the top of his career and everythings going well. This level of awesomeness will not be achieved by sacrificing everything for him and catering to him, because honey, that's never worked and all it does is teach people how to take advantage of you. People value what they can't have, what is illusive and scarce. The way to make him think you're one in a million is to land a great job, gently and firmly refuse to pass the time with him, and be a take no prisoners, moving up in the world, bold and confident woman. I dare you to try it and see if he doesn't start missing you and surprising himself with how wrong he was about you and how suddenly desirable you seem.
posted by Nixy at 8:35 PM on August 17, 2011 [7 favorites]

What's next? Continuing your life living together and building that life together. He's said that he is following his education, though, not his relationship with you, and is looking to apply for programs all over the country.

But there are excellent universities in and near your city. But he isn't limiting himself to those options. So you aren't his priority. This is how you know your relationship isn't really going anywhere right now.

If you follow him, you will get to keep him a little longer, possibly forever. But it's on his terms. It will probably always be on his terms. You've already done this once, though when you were in a position where you didn't have much to lose. Now you have a great internship that you love in your chosen field--in publishing, a field that isn't an easy one right now--and you're considering giving it all up because he's decided his education is his main priority.

You have such a wonderful opportunity right now with your work. He can attend great universities there. You should not be giving up your current career path for him. This is not how relationships on equal footing, with partners who want the same things, work. You and your boyfriend want different things right now.

I hope you at least finish your internship. I'm surprised it isn't important to him.
posted by Polychrome at 3:57 AM on August 18, 2011

My partner is also not ready to consider marriage yet, and I'm also planning to move to where her work is, also for the second time. But I'm also not ready for marriage yet, and I'm leaving a job that I'm 100% ok with leaving, so our situations are quite different--just saying, I have nothing against moving for relationships...

Publishing houses in Small Random City will be much smaller and have very different company cultures and ways of doing business from publishing houses in Big City. You may find it a lot harder to get the type of roles you want in small, Small City publishing companies. At one point in time, my goal was also to be an editor, but I gave it up, partly because I didn't like the kind of work that I was able to do at my Small City publishing job, or the prospects that job or other similar jobs offered me. There were lots of other reasons, too, but as someone who didn't have any connections in Big City and wasn't able to consider an unpaid internship, the barriers to actual entry-level editing work were great.

You have a paid internship (hello, holy grail!) and a possible in at a good company.... think very, very carefully before giving that up. If your career goals were more portable, I'd say go with him and figure marriage out later. But don't give up a VERY hard to get career boost without carefully considering the answers above. I agree that his apparent lack of consideration for the location of your (awesome!!!) job is a concern. In your situation, I would expect my partner to limit their school search to schools within a few hours (or a cheap plane flight, even) of Big City.

And if he's encouraging you to give up the internship job, think even MORE carefully. Even though I'm leaving a boring secretarial job, my partner is all about making sure I'm not giving up too much to move. How does your boyfriend talk about this plan? He shouldn't be taking your sacrifice for granted.
posted by equivocator at 5:48 AM on August 18, 2011

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