Is this how love works?
September 20, 2011 12:29 PM   Subscribe

Is this how love works? One day it's unmistakable, then next it's almost impossible to find.

I'm male 27, she's 26. We've been together for 9 months. It's my first LTR, her 3rd.

For most of my life I've been surrounded by people whose relationships looked awful to me from the outside. My parents have never divorced, but they seem incredibly unhappy and I wish they had. One of my best friends got married then divorced 1 month later. Other friends just seem to want out, but can't find the will to leave the partners. Looking at all this I had been pretty much decided long term relationships were a waste of time. I had got amazingly good at being by myself. I'm lucky to have a big group of friends who I've know for many years to spend time with. Occasional short term encounters would fulfilled my needs physical intimacy. My job is very rewarding and I like putting a lot of myself into it.

However, I had noticed that a lot of successful people had solid LTRs. It seemed silly for me to dismiss them without giving it a real go. Not long after I came to this conclusion I met HER and things quickly fell into place. She seemed to fall in love with me almost instantly. I wasn't really prepared for this as it hadn't happened to me before, or at least I'd never met someone so up-front about it, but I actually enjoyed spending time with her and didn't feel the urge to kick her out after a week. We started living together almost straight away as she worked close to my apartment, things moved a bit faster than I wanted, but I realised I enjoyed it so let it continue. About 3 months in my lease was up so we moved into a new, bigger place together and we have been living there since.

In the beginning I played the game a little too much. I probably told her I loved her before I really knew for sure, but either way definite feelings came to the surface about 2 months in. I started to realise why people have LTRs. That they have value in themselves and that love is much more than rewarding than I expected. We rarely argue. The sex is great (surprisingly getting better). She seems very loyal and wants to spend the rest of her life with me. Our personalities and long term life goals align very nicely. She caring and can read me as well as I can read her. Some days I just know I love her completely and more strongly than ever before... but...

Other days I'm not so sure. I miss my independence (even though she gives me as much as I ask for). I'm (too) intelligent, she's much more middle of the road which makes conversations sometimes one-sided and I keep a lot from her I don't think she would understand. My girlfriend is much more conservative than me. I wonder that if this is my first LTR, how do I know if she's the right one for me? Sometimes I'll even work myself up to thinking about walking out the door, then I'll look at her face and just... melt.

Perhaps this is just the way love works? You can't be content all of the time? I don't talk about my concerns with her, it seems cruel and she doesn't take any kind of negative feedback about the relationship very well and why would I if I'm not going to feel them the following day? Perhaps it's still taking time for my "forever alone" commitment to fade - I sometimes feel like I'm betraying my former self.

Sorry for this being long, but wanted to put all the info in. I've read a lot of MeFi posts that seem to indicate this is a promising "long term" kind of love. But I just can't stop the negative thoughts coming in. Sometimes I obsess over them for days making me quite unhappy. I did not expect this. Is this just something I'm going to have to live with forever?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (33 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps this is just the way love works? You can't be content all of the time?

You answered your own question, right there.

Sounds like you've got a keeper!
posted by General Tonic at 12:36 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm (too) intelligent, she's much more middle of the road which makes conversations sometimes one-sided and I keep a lot from her I don't think she would understand.
This line is a huge red flag for me. If I found out that a boyfriend of mine felt this way about me, I wouldn't hesitate to move on. Have you heard of John Gottman and his Four Horsemen of the (Relationship) Apocalypse? One of the biggest predictors of future failure of a long-term relationship is feeling any sort of contempt for your partner. If you don't respect her intelligence and values, it's going to be tough to keep this going for a long stretch of time -- and it's quite likely that eventually her face won't make you melt any more; we all get old. After that, the other stuff becomes more important.
posted by peacheater at 12:37 PM on September 20, 2011 [56 favorites]

I'm (too) intelligent, she's much more middle of the road which makes conversations sometimes one-sided and I keep a lot from her I don't think she would understand.

Yeah, this also jumped off the page for me. This is a really unhealthy and disrespectful attitude to have about someone you allegedly might want to spend the rest of your life with. You honestly think you have plumbed the depth of her intelligence in 9 months, sufficiently, to say something like this?
posted by jbickers at 12:42 PM on September 20, 2011 [18 favorites]

Exactly what pearcheater said. Without that part of your question my response would be the same as General Tonic's, but every time I see that line or something similar in a post like this my heart sinks. It shows a lack of respect and connection that I think is a really bad sign. Yeah, aside from that it goes up and down a little even when it's great, just like you're in a bad mood or less thrilled with your job some days.
posted by crabintheocean at 12:42 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Attraction and satisfaction are cyclical, and they have just as much -- if not more -- to do with things going on in your own life than they have to do with her.

Anyhow, imagine parabolic waves of attraction and satisfaction -- one for you, and one for her. Sometimes the peaks line up, and sometimes they are totally out of sync so that you pass each other coming and going. That's what life in the long term is like. On the rare occasions when your nadir coincides with hers, your relationship will be especially fragile. Same for times when one of you is at the peak and the other is at the nadir, because at those times your disparate levels of engagement may read as an ultimate incompatibility.

Being aware of this as you go will help you know what's what as it happens.

Also, if you are TOO intelligent then you are really lucky to find someone who has an easier time fitting in, whom is also willing to put up with you ;)
posted by hermitosis at 12:53 PM on September 20, 2011 [32 favorites]

My girlfriend is much more conservative than me.

My wife's parents are, respectively, moderately liberal and extremely conservative. That relationship seems to work well, but it's the only one I've seen in which that kind of divide seems to work. All the others I've seen fell apart eventually.
posted by gurple at 12:54 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I keep a lot from her I don't think she would understand.

I agree with raindayfilms. Don't do this.
posted by BuffaloChickenWing at 12:55 PM on September 20, 2011

You do not respect your girlfriend and this is a bad thing. Start. Today. The very next conversation you have. The next time you think "this is so interesting but, oh, she wouldn't understand this," instead think "this is so interesting, I have to find a way to convey how interesting it is to her."

If you are so gosh-darn smart, you should be able to. It may turn out that she's not even interested in the stuff you keep from her -- which is totally normal in a relationship -- and instead of harboring a standing cloud of contempt for her intelligence, you can can just file the stuff she's not into in the "not interested" column rather than the "not intelligent enough to understand" column.

Also, in which sense do you mean "conservative"? Socio-politically? Aesthetically?
posted by griphus at 12:56 PM on September 20, 2011 [19 favorites]

Eh, I don't think being smarter than your partner is necessarily a deal breaker unless that means you don't respect them. If you do respect them it can still work. I think if you sat my folks down and made them take a Mensa test, my father might score somewhat higher than my mother. But he respects her and her opinions, especially when it came to raising us, and they tend to divide up the house/life stuff in a way that shows equal respect for each other's abilities --- she's in charge of the bills, in fact. They're into their third decade.

As for the rest of the question --- this may be an odd analogy, but I think when it comes to "should I stay in this relationship," you're entitled to go by the civil rather than the criminal standard of proof. That is to say, look at the preponderance of the evidence. By that standard, it's in the bag, man. She makes you happy.

When it comes to getting married or having a kid --- well, there you might want to set the bar a little higher, to "beyond a reasonable doubt." but for now I think you're fine.

As for the rest --- well, you're not going to get to live two lives. You can't be a lone wolf and half a happy couple. You have to choose which you prefer.
posted by Diablevert at 12:57 PM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm sorry that you're having to struggle with this. But yes, everything peacheater said. Don't take this to mean you're a bad person - I think intellectual compatibility is one of the most (if not THE most) important things in a good relationship.

Or, put another way, if you 2 were made for the long run, you wouldn't be thinking this, regardless of how "intelligent" either of you actually are, because you'd be too busy thinking about how happy she makes you, and how life is just better with her around*. You may think she's "less intelligent" because she actually IS and you're not a good mental match, or it may just be a symptom of some underlying issue. But the result is the same - you care for her, but you don't seem to respect or admire her.

Affection and respect are not the same. You need both. It's possible that you can overcome this lack of respect - are there areas in which you think she excels? Maybe do more of those things together, so you can really see her for the talented, multifaceted person she is? On the other hand, if you just don't respect her, respect her enough to at least let her find someone who does.

*Okay, maybe you wouldn't think this EVERYday. But on the balance, you'd be having a lot more "Hooray! I get to hang out with GF again!" moments than "Eh... I'm kind of bored by GF." A LOT more.

Also, it might be good to hang out with those that you think are "successful" couples, if you can. (Even if they're an older couple that you don't seem to have a lot in common with.) Just, kind of find a way to be around them a bit. Observe what they're like, how they talk to each other, act with each other, how they solve problems. I find this kind of thing both encouraging (see! It CAN be done!) and instructive (oh, that's how people who love each other and are committed to each other deal with a bad day, with an argument, etc.).
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 12:58 PM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think that you should leave her as soon as possible. Having an intelligent partner is important to you so you really should try to find one. It isn't important to some people so they do fine, but if it is important then it will cause much pain and dissatisfaction later. There is no shame in wanting an equally (or greater or lesser) intelligent partner, everyone is different.
posted by meepmeow at 1:09 PM on September 20, 2011

You can't be content all the time, and I think it's unrealistic to expect it... but (agreeing with prior posters) if I found out that my SO though he was "...(too) intelligent, she's much more middle of the road which makes conversations sometimes one-sided and I keep a lot from her I don't think she would understand..." I would leave him, no question. That's an incredibly patronizing and disrespectful statement to make-- and you don't actually even know that she "wouldn't understand", because you haven't talked to her about those things. Don't keep things from her, find out how to express yourself while respecting your needs as well as hers. It's not about smarts/lack of smarts, it's about respect. Respect is a non-negotiable issue for a lifetime partnership.

Your family experiences with LTRs and partnerships inform your attitudes--including your level of respect and ability to express yourself to your partner. If you haven't examined how this is playing into your current relationship, you should. This is (one of the things) therapy is good for.
posted by Kpele at 1:10 PM on September 20, 2011

Also, I will say that there appears to be an unspoken assumption in many if the replies here that you cannot respect someone you think is not as smart as you. Personally, I don't think that's true. I mean, if there's such a gap between you that you have nothing in common that you enjoy, then yeah, that's problematic. But you know, if you're super in to William Gibson and she'd rather be reading Charlaine Harris, I don't think you have sit down and make her choke down the Cliffnotes to Snowcrash or otherwise your relationship is doomed.
posted by Diablevert at 1:14 PM on September 20, 2011 [6 favorites]

Yes, intensity of affection ebbs and flows. It's normal and natural. Otherwise, we'd go even more insane from love, I think.

It's not so normal and natural to dismiss one's partner in that way. Or, maybe it's normal, but I think it's a big red flag and doesn't equal long-term success. Are you, perhaps, over-relying on this as a potential "out" as a sop to your prior solitude?

Whether you are or aren't, there's good advice above on ending this compartmentalisation. It may well be she's not interested in everything you currently withhold from her. But there's also the fact that the human mind is ridiculously plastic and can take on surprising amounts of information and processing challenges. Giving her more introduces the opportunity for more simpatico between the two of you and maybe even intellectual growth on her part. It could even reveal that you've been underestimating her or overestimating yourself.

Love does work this way: you think you know everything you think about it, then something else happens to shake it all up again. Whatever stays when you are behaving in a healthy, happy, safe fashion is what builds the foundation of a true long-term relationship. Making certain to commit to that premise rather than the idea of a relationship in general will help you make the best decisions in this (and any subsequent) relationships.
posted by batmonkey at 1:16 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

My husband for years thought I was not as smart as he was because I did not have his interest in computers and computing and was often bored senseless by his hour long discourses on the history of gaming or some such stuff. Until one day he came to my job as a tour guide and saw me animated answering questions about local history and animals and he saw that I knew a whole world of stuff he knew nothing about.

Just because you are smarter than her at some things, or she doesn't find the things you know so much about as interesting as you do, I am willing to bet cash money you are not smarter than her at all things. Maybe if you try and find out what she is interested in and "smart" at you will find you respect her more which I think is very important in a relationship.

As for the cyclic nature of relationships and feelings, that sounds pretty normal to me. Some days I love my husband with the firey passion of a thousand suns and can't wait to rip his clothes off, other days if I hear him chew one like that one more time I am going to have to figure out where to hide his dead body. Remember relationships aren't static they grow and change, if there are areas you feel are not exactly how you would like them, they can be worked on (by both parties).

PS if you want to make the relationship feel less one sided stop keeping things from her.
posted by wwax at 1:17 PM on September 20, 2011 [20 favorites]

I'm (too) intelligent, she's much more middle of the road which makes conversations sometimes one-sided and I keep a lot from her I don't think she would understand.

I'm going to buck consensus here and say that there's a reading of this that makes sense - if you mean that you're more intellectual/thinky/book-smart, yeah, that can be an issue. In this case, "what you're keeping from her" is your passionate engagement with the new David Graeber or something because you'd have to explain and explain and she'd find it dull and it would be all one-sided and blah. I actually ended an otherwise fairly good relationship because of this - it's basically a form of "we don't have enough in common". My ex is plenty smart and gifted, but not much of a reader, and that's a big thing for me.

And if you've had a lot of college but your partner hasn't, it can be a challenge to have conversations about some stuff - college is one way to be formed as a scholar (as one dear sainted prof used to say), to build critical thinking skills, to get a broader sense of history or economics or whatever. It's not the only way, but if your partner hasn't had some capital-I-Intellectual experience and capital-I-Intellectual stuff is important to you, then yes, it will get in the way.

If you're really into Being Smart About Something, and you want to share that with a partner, and your partner doesn't have the education or the experience or the innate bookishness to be into it, that's a meaningful difference. Especially in terms of spending years of your life with someone day after day.

I wouldn't shack up with someone who wasn't verbal, bookish and thinky - no matter how brilliant they were in another field (emotional smarts, music, artisan work) it's not the same. I wouldn't expect a gifted musician who wanted to share their musical life with a partner, for example, to settle for ol' Tin Ear Frowner merely because I'm fairly sound about the consequences of the Enclosure Acts and have an informed opinion about New Criticism.
posted by Frowner at 1:19 PM on September 20, 2011 [6 favorites]

I think everyone else is going to comment on the intelligence comment, so I am just going to focus on: Sometimes I'll even work myself up to thinking about walking out the door, then I'll look at her face and just... melt.

You are talking about working yourself up to thinking about breaking up with her, right? This, to me, is not a great sign. Fantasizing about taking a solo vacation, going on a guy's night out (or whatever), or being able to sleep in late instead of hearing her run the power drill first thing Saturday AM seems to reflect the reasonable highs and lows happy couples go through. And wanting some alone time isn't necessarily an issue to be concerned about, especially if you are introverted/slow-moving in romantic relationships/co-habitating in a 450 sq. ft. studio.

But in my experience (both of my relationships and of watching those of my friends) once things have progressed to seriously fantasizing about breaking up...something is probably broken. You might want to look into that, maybe.
posted by vivid postcard at 1:27 PM on September 20, 2011 [7 favorites]

Also, political values - some people can handle having major differences with a partner and some can't. It's like religion - I believe ardently in certain political truths, and I'm simply not going to get seriously involved with someone who believes equally deeply that affirmative action is unfair, or welfare recipients are lazy etc etc. I just can't do it; those are things I care very, very deeply about.

My thought is that this doesn't sound like a lifelong relationship to me. It sounds like a perfectly good youthful serious relationship with a nice person. If you have significant differences in intellectual interests and values - and if those things are important to you - then this relationship probably isn't The One. All my past relationships were with wonderful people (who have all gone on to other, better-fitting relationships.) I was happy in those relationships until the underlying differences came to the fore - not because my exes were terrible people, but just because we didn't have enough in common to be happy together for the long term. What's more, I didn't think of those relationships as permanent while I was in them - I filed them as "this is great, let's see where it goes" rather than "aha, let's send out the wedding invitations - oops, guess not".

Should you break up? Not while you're happy, unless your partner is absolutely set on the idea that this is a permanent relationship. Just see where it goes - what can you do to share intellectual interests more? Can you watch and discuss movies? Read books together? Can you have discussions about values stuff and have it be fun rather than depressing? Try that stuff, see what happens.
posted by Frowner at 1:28 PM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Um...I'm quoting myself, which is kinda weird, but: a solo vacation, going on a guy's night out (or whatever), or being able to sleep in late instead of hearing her run the power drill first thing Saturday AM are reasonable things to have in a relationship, too.

What I do think is qualitatively different are desires to actually leave your partner, or of having the relationship be done. Especially at nine months. Which is a pretty young relationship, really.

So maybe you should just ask yourself if you are just looking for some breathing room, or if this urge indicates something more serious about the two of you.
posted by vivid postcard at 1:41 PM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

In my experience this is totally normal, anonymous. You sound a lot like I did before I got married to my wife, who is very different from me. I hadn't been in any serious long-term relationships before her, either. Although for unrelated reasons it took a long time for us to actually get married--are you feeling pressure to commit to marriage already?

I'm not sure why everyone has chosen to focus on the "intelligent" comment as something disrespectful and contemptuous. It doesn't have to be, even if it might not have been the best way to put it. I went to university where we read theory and had wanky arguments about politics while my wife went to graphic design school where she learned practical skills that actually helped her get a job. I like essays and she likes bestsellers. I read Foreign Policy and she reads Cosmo. When watching the news or reading the paper there are topics that I avoid because we're coming at it from different places. That's not to say she's not intelligent, but if I start dropping all kinds of names and theories she doesn't know into conversation then I'll sound kind of condescending and it's frustrating for both of us. So instead we tend to talk about other stuff we both enjoy. It's only a problem if you're not feeling fulfilled by the relationship because of it.
posted by Hoopo at 2:07 PM on September 20, 2011 [6 favorites]

It sounds like you're still adjusting to the changes in your identity and in your life. Even if I were dating the greatest person in the world, I'd still feel some whiplash if I moved in with them after 3 months. Your old life was awesome; there's no reason you shouldn't mourn it and miss it. Just be respectful and considerate of her while you do it. You also don't need to switch one extreme point of view (LTRs are terrible and pointless) to another (I must be contented at all times in my LTR). You do give up some freedom and independence in a LTR; what you're learning now is whether or not that trade-off is worth it to you. Some people are happier single; some people aren't. You've just found out that you might not be who you thought you were. That's not a bad thing.

Try not to dwell so much on leaving; it sounds like it's poisoning your enjoyment of your life together. If you really want to leave, you'll just know it one day and go. You don't need to worry about it so much. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity; you'll probably never get to have this particular new relationship with her again. Enjoy it.
posted by millions of peaches at 2:07 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Favoriting wwax really hard, here, as that's almost my exact experience.

Weighing in on the intelligence thing, my husband and I got this all cleared up one day when we were reading a letter in Dear Abby or something where this was discussed. We looked at each other and each said in a kinda horrified way, "YOU think you're smarter than ME; DON'T YOU??? AAAAH!!!!" We both had to admit it, and realized we're smart In Different Ways. We each bring something the other doesn't. Can't, even. We learned to appreciate each other. More Lurv :)

Finally, a very wise person pointed out to me years ago that every choice we make eliminates many other choices. Yes, your commitment to this LTR may be seen as a betrayal of your former self. OTOH, your former independence was robbing you of all the pleasures of a LTR. Just like you'll never read all the books ever written or hear all the music ever composed, you can't have all the potential relationships or lives you might have. So the important thing is to CHOOSE your CHOICES. Be happy with them, not a victim of them.
posted by probably not that Karen Blair at 2:10 PM on September 20, 2011 [8 favorites]

Working link for that 4 Horsemen thing, if anyone's interested:
posted by Clustercuss at 3:37 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

The politics thing: I have a husband who is significantly more liberal than me and parents who are way more conservative than me, so I know what it's like having ideological differences with people I love. The key is simply: DO NOT TALK ABOUT POLITICS. Ask your loved one(s) to adhere to this rule as well, for the good of everyone involved. Political leanings rarely matter in any significant way when it comes to love and friendship. But they can cause a lot of damage and hurt feelings when people insist on bringing them up. So just don't. Save it for the internet.
posted by Jess the Mess at 3:37 PM on September 20, 2011

anonymous: “I've read a lot of MeFi posts that seem to indicate this is a promising ‘long term’ kind of love. But I just can't stop the negative thoughts coming in. Sometimes I obsess over them for days making me quite unhappy. I did not expect this. Is this just something I'm going to have to live with forever?”

You like being around her. She makes you happy a lot of the time. Early on, it's easy to mistake this specific fact for love – to believe that love is something that happened to you. In your case, it must feel like it happened to you without you even asking for it, and you've let it wash over you thus far because it feels good.

Now you're wondering if certainty and commitment will happen to you in the same way. It's natural for you to hope that this horrible sense of listlessness and lack of conviction about this relationship will pass with time, and that over time you will gradually become comfortable and happy in this relationship.

But – I'm sorry to say this – that will never happen. I think you already know this on some level; that's why you're so concerned about this. Just look around at all those people you know in unhappy long-term relationships, and notice how they got there – every single one of them probably hoped that someday they would just come to be happy and that certain discomforts would just fade away with time. This is how people end up in 30-year marriages that are loveless; this is how people get chained to husbands and wives with whom they're deeply unhappy: by sticking with it and just hoping it will get better.

And all because, on some level, they believe that love is an experience that they are going through.

Love is not an experience. It's not the nice feeling you get when you're hanging around with her. It's not the affection you feel for her or the sexual core between you or some happy sensation you get when you're together. All of those things can be part of love, but at its center love is the intellectual act by which you choose to care for and be cared for by her. It's the choice you can make to be with her and make what you two have last. Loving a person is a daily spiritual practice whereby you constantly choose to be part of their life despite whatever feelings you may experience.

The only way to make the negative thoughts you're having go away is to begin engaging in this spiritual practice of love. You have to seriously think about this relationship and choose a path. Choose either to leave her – which is the most honest and respectful and loving thing to do if you think this won't work – or to be with her, to love her and to attempt every day to nurture the relationship.

If you do this action, and make the relationship a work you are engaged in, then your sense of indecisiveness and ambivalence will fade. You'll start to accept that you chose her just as much as she chose you. But if you keep approaching this passively, and hoping that the negative thoughts will just go away if you ignore them long enough, I have a feeling you'll end up trapped in a loveless relationship; and I know you realize how bad that would be.
posted by koeselitz at 4:52 PM on September 20, 2011 [29 favorites]

From the OP:
A lot of the discussion seems to be about this sentence "I'm (too) intelligent, she's much more middle of the road which makes conversations sometimes one-sided and I keep a lot from her I don't think she would understand." so I'll address this below.

I should have phrased this better. Ultimately I believe this comes down to a being a negative in the form of a "we don't have enough in common" sense as Frowner points out.

I'm college educated, she's not. I have a professional, entrepreneurial job, her's is more blue-collar. I enjoy transhumanism, evolutionary psychology and theoretical physics. She likes vampire movies and trashy novels. Ok, being glib again there, but having said all this, I don't have contempt for her intelligence. I can understand the difference without looking down on it. She has a vastly better memory than me, which means she wins most disagreements by default. I strongly believe that in many cases ignorance is a great thing to have, providing you're not stuck in some psychological ditch. I think she has the best of both worlds, an amazing outlook on life and none of the proclivity to spend all day on introspecting. As much as I know we're different, I admire her point of view.

But we're still happy together. There is plenty we both enjoy and being both introverted we can spend a lot of time in silence and be content.

But, perhaps, I do have a problem with respect. I should try to not keep things from her. I should try to phrase them in a way she will understand, because she doesn't have my domain knowledge. I should respect her enough to let her show me if she's interested in the topics and not make assumptions for her.

@griphus She's more conservative socio-politically and sexually (although she's still on the liberal side of the line). I'm rather extreme, often to my detriment. I think her approach is more sustainable. I was doing some blatantly illegal things which I'm quite glad she encouraged me to stop. Sexually I would be interested in open relationships and being a bit more experimental, but her strictly monogamous approach actually works for me in ways I did not expect. Committing yourself to one person makes the experience much more meaningful in ways I had not experienced before. She does often humour me when I want to try new things and although she quickly makes it clear she doesn't enjoy it, that's enough to satisfy my interest in them.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:05 PM on September 20, 2011

I tough question, I think, and no clear answer from the outside (and very possible the ultimate answer isn't yet knowable).

On one hand, life isn't perfect and people aren't perfect so yes, some degree of discontent is normal. Relationships and monogamy involve real personal sacrifice. If you accept these as a reasonable cost for the rewards involved you can still miss things like greater personal autonomy sometimes, without pining over it or feeling poisoned with regret.

The concerns you're voicing sound pretty normal for the time in the relationship, and particularly considering your being new to the ups and downs of long-term commitment. 9 months isn't that far in, but it definitely sounds about right for the "honeymoon" to be over. Nothing you describe sounds like a definite dealbreaker to me.

On the other hand, repeatedly working yourself up to thoughts of splitting up, or brooding over this kind of thing for days at a time, sounds a little extreme. There's definitely something there to work on. Working to open your interior life more in your relationship is probably a good idea.

An important question is if you are tending to aspiration or dissatisfaction in your own life - a sort of rookie mistake I made a lot in early serious relationships was to sort of shunt my personal issues - stuff like unhappiness with my course of studies in college, things that were unconnected to the relationship and really my own responsibility - to the side in favor of dwelling on where the relationship was going. I think my not-very-well-articulated idea was, you know, I can't really sort out my life until I've got the most important part of my life, the relationship, sorted out. Looking back I see this as basically a way of copping out on my responsibilities to myself and the relationship simultaneously.

In a related sense I think when your life is sort of stalled at some point it is very easy to take it out on the relationship. If you're happy with what you're doing, if your time is well-utilized but not overburdened with work and whatever your interests and hobbies are, it is just a lot easier to get along in the relationship in my experience.

But mainly I think what you are looking at is more time. Obviously there is no rule but it seems to me more often than not the thing either comes together or falls apart somewhere between year 1 and year 3. It certainly sounds like it is a relationship that deserves the further chance. If it isn't right the things that are wrong will get worse. If it is you will start figuring them out - what can be changed, and what you can learn to live with contently, what isn't really about the relationship after all. Don't make the mistake of getting engaged as a magical remedy to intractable relationship problems (doesn't work) and be assiduously careful to not accidentally reproduce and the answer will become clear in time and no matter what happens everybody will be okay.
posted by nanojath at 8:11 PM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

I want to underline this by koeselitz: "Loving a person is a daily spiritual practice whereby you constantly choose to be part of their life despite whatever feelings you may experience."

The thing about it is that it's that 'transcending instinct/nature' thing you said you were interested in. To love long-term, on some level you have to both find and compromise yourself; you sacrifice your need for happiness (eventually) and pleasure (sometimes) because love is a choice and an action. So whether you're happy or not is, of course, relevant, but not the most relevant thing, because happiness will ebb and flow through a long term relationship, and because this is under the year mark and thus the honeymoon period, so to speak.

Can you be satisfied with this relationship long-term? I think so; you have some good signs. I think the sense of contentment you feel in 'settling down' is a good sign. If she's open enough to you, you can attempt some sort of Percy Shelley/Mary Shelley thing where you expose her to educational opportunities, new ways of thinking, encourage her to further her knowledge and expand her horizons. Not by pushing, but by simply sharing. You can expand her mind, because minds-- and intelligence itself-- is inherently elastic, and grows through use. If she's got a good memory, and if she loves you and wants to share your interests and is receptive to your ideas, then this is a good set-up for growth. Growth is always possible, in the sense of learning. Unlike wanting someone to become 'sexier' or 'grow a spine' or various other emotional things, intelligence and knowledge are open to guided change, potentially, especially when someone's got a good memory & is relatively young. So there's that. Encourage her! Take her to museums! Watch the Learning Channel with her! Show her a whole season of Nova! My boyfriends had a huge impact on what I was interested in-- usually music, in my case, but why not physics?

If she likes vampires, she might like some (softer) science fiction. If she likes science fiction, that's an in for science. I mean, dude, physics is like magic except with different sparkles. Better sparkles than Edward Cullen, I'm telling you.

I say this as a person who shares surface interests both with you & with her-- yes, it's possible. I'm a silly vampire-romance girl who likes evolutionary psych & quantum physics. They're not from different planets-- it's a great big rainbow of geekiness out there, you know. Don't be 'that guy'-- that geeky guy who looks down on the softer side of the rainbow, and only sees analytical-type interests as 'cool'. She's got something to teach you too, for sure. I mean, I would never have been as open to my ex's ideas as I was if he wasn't genuinely curious about all my silly novels (and me going on and on about them, and analyzing the whys of various love interests and triangles and me basically hijacking his thinky brain for my own nefarious purposes and/or entertainment). Ok, so maybe not every analytical guy out there wants to be his girlfriend's brain-candy chewtoy, but, y'know, it's a different way to look at it, isn't it? This is once of the ways/reasons that silly vampire-loving girls get attracted to thinky analytical guys, anyway. She probably likes the way you think. She'll probably enjoy it if you do it more and involve her more. That's probably partly what went ding-ding-ding! for her in the first place, unless you're like, amazingly gorgeous, and even if you are.

Anyway, if you can't find a positive solution-- rather than just overlooking her divergent intellectual prowess-- yeah, it's not looking good long-term. But like I said, a lot of that is up to you.
posted by reenka at 10:17 PM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm (too) intelligent, she's much more middle of the road which makes conversations sometimes one-sided and I keep a lot from her I don't think she would understand

Oh let me tell you something about this! For any subject whatsoever, if you can't explain it in a simple way to an interested layman, it is YOU who doesn't understand the subject.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 2:30 AM on September 21, 2011 [7 favorites]

If you're worried about things ebbing and flowing, yeah that's how it works. Basically, all that super intense stuff that makes you obsessed with a person, makes you want to lick their face and sniff every inch of them all the time- goes away after a while (of course with the periodic resurgences) and gets replaced with better sex, more comfortable conversation, and amiable romantic companionship. So, whoo hoo.

this thing you've got going with the "lack of respect" is... concerning. You say "I strongly believe that in many cases ignorance is a great thing to have, providing you're not stuck in some psychological ditch." I'd break up with you if you called me ignorant. You have more knowledge than your lady friend on subjects that can be seen as tedious, bourgeois and frankly useless in the general culture. I'm sure she sees it as cool and elevating for you- you're proud of it. It makes you feel good that you spent time learning about transhumanism.

While you talk about how smarty pants you are, you have no idea that the stuff you are saying makes you sound like kind of an asshole. Popular pulp novels have value, and in the arts community we've been exploiting that for years. Buffy the Vampire was culture-challenging fiction camouflaged as trashy'd that go over? You CLEARLY think that your interests are intrinsically better than hers. Yours are just more complicated and require more background and training. You should try not focusing on how low brow you see them as and find out what about them is turning your girlfriends crank. If all you can see is that they appeal to her undereducated mind- you have some serious contempt for the girl.
posted by Blisterlips at 4:30 AM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

It doesn't sound at all like she's less intelligent than you. She's just less formally educated. There's a HUGE difference.
posted by headnsouth at 9:25 AM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

You're in your twenties, this is your first LTR, you just kind of fell into it and you've only been dating for 9 months. I think you should break up so you can get more experience and figure out what kind of relationship you want and what your dealbreakers are. If you stay with her then I think you'd be settling, and while settling is a valid life choice for someone with more experience and who's a bit early, in your case I think it would be premature.
posted by hazyjane at 10:24 AM on September 21, 2011

...sorry, meant to say "who's a bit older."
posted by hazyjane at 10:25 AM on September 21, 2011

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