Leaving my SO for art? Is this right?
October 18, 2011 6:00 PM   Subscribe

Leaving my SO for art? Is this right?

I have been in a close relationship with my SO for a while, and it has been very positive and loving, however, I have several major problems that I don't know how to fix. For a number of (valid I think) reasons having to do with my SO's past and disposition, my SO is both unhappy with being alone and, because they are generally suspicious of most people, prefers to have a very small group of people to spend a lot of time with. In the past few months most of that time has been spent with me, which has proven difficult because I very badly need alone time to stay sane. My SO doesn't really understand this, not because my SO is an extrovert but because in my SO's view loved ones don't draw on the same "ability to be social" reserves that other people do. We have talked about this several times and have arrived at a compromise where I get less alone time than I would prefer and my SO gets more time away from me than they would prefer, but every time I try to "redeem" that time my SO gets visably disappointed, which negates any of the benefits I could get from it.

This also makes my pursuit of art impossible. I want it to be my career, which means I have to be working very hard on my craftsmanship right now when I am not at work and putting myself out there. If I let it fall by the wayside, I know that I will feel depressed and unfulfilled and pathetic for the rest of my life, and it does feel like I'm doing that...I get to work on my art on average about 7-10 hours a week which is enough time only to improve at a very slow pace, much less actually create finished works or experiment with new approaches that I'm interested in. My SO is suspicous of this desire too because I think they don't really understand the idea of having a life driven by an abstract or ambition instead of love and lifestyle. That doesn't mean that my SO isn't verbally supportive but when it comes down to maybe spending a late night working on something when I'm on a roll my SO becomes unhappy and I'm usually then too distracted by the bad aura to continue with any enthusiasm or ability.

The idea of ending it because of these issues seems really awful to me, both because we get along very well and because my SO relies on me heavily for emotional support. However I feel myself getting resentful of my SO in other areas because of my issues and I know that this is not healthy. Because we have talked about this several times and it has not really changed the setup I don't think there's the possibility of compromise, but I still feel awful especially because I have been fighting this line of thinking for a while and have only recently given it any credence, and I have been working hard to remain a loving and supportive partner in spite of my doubts, and so I think this will be a big surprise to my SO, and will really upset my SO's view of the future. It's so so hard to even imagine doing it given that outside of my doubts the relationship is currently doing very well.

So my questions boil down to: is this a reasonable response to my problems, or should I continue to find a solution inside of the relationship? And, if I am going to end it, how do you end such a thing when it's such a 180 and not the result of a long and obvious decline?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
The idea of ending it because of these issues seems really awful to me...because my SO relies on me heavily for emotional support.

This part needs to come out of the equation when you are making the actual decision about whether to stay together. You can feel bad about it, but you can't let it dictate whether you stay.
posted by unannihilated at 6:07 PM on October 18, 2011 [6 favorites]

is this a reasonable response to my problems, or should I continue to find a solution inside of the relationship? And, if I am going to end it, how do you end such a thing when it's such a 180 and not the result of a long and obvious decline?

1. It's sounds completely reasonable to live this person. They are sucking the life out of you, perhaps not intentionally, but that doesn't matter. They're still sucking out your soul

2. You end it by speaking the truth: You're not happy and your SO's emotional needs are different from your own, thus making you consistently unhappy. It's fine if they want to live their life like X, but you and they have to recognize you want to live your life like Y. You're going in different directions and it's time to make that official.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:07 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

From your description, it sounds like you've already compromised and neither of you are getting what you need. It may be that you're just not compatible in a very important area.

Sounds like it's not just art you need, it's time for yourself. Is there any way for you to work less, giving you more time for art and yourself? If not, I would have a last, serious conversation about what you need and what he or she needs. Try counseling, just so you don't look back and think there's more you could have done. A compromise must work for both of you, or you're just delaying the inevitable. If you can't come up with something that makes you both happy, it may be time to go.
posted by cnc at 6:11 PM on October 18, 2011

You are a couple with incompatible needs. As such, you can't ever both be happy at the same time. It's not fair to you or to your partner to settle for a relationship that can only optimally result in mediocre happiness for both of you at the same time.

Given everything you've said, ending this relationship seems like a sane action.
posted by Andrhia at 6:12 PM on October 18, 2011 [6 favorites]

Adding to the above comment there are two sides to this story. One person feels neglected, and the other feels like he or she doesn't have enough time to him or herself. I don't see a need to insult or invalidate either party. It sounds like two people with different needs, neither of whom sounds like a bad or unreasonable person.
posted by cnc at 6:14 PM on October 18, 2011

a life driven by an abstract or ambition instead of love and lifestyle.

I think this is a very astute observation and it's the heart of the issue. Incompatible life values and goals are very valid reasons to end a relationship. Don't worry about the 180 switch. I think it is kinder than death by 180 degree-width cuts.
posted by the fish at 6:44 PM on October 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

Hrm. SO's love language is quality time. In my circle (where we clearly discuss this allll the time) we call them yellows- because they want quality time from when the sun goes up to when the sun goes down. SO ALSO has some unhealthy, as you mentioned. Maybe neurotic clingy stuff? But, regardless of SO being healthy or not.... SO seems (seems, I say) uncapable of meeting your needs.

You can try stuff like having SO in the room with you while you work , explaining to SO what youre doing, engaging SO by having s/he help, find SO a hobby, get SO with friends when you cant be available, have set 'art days' and so forth (I know, some of these are a little more methodical and less ART INSPIRATION!) ... but... I dunno. It sounds very much, from your biased and sorta quietly desperate for art-soul-space post that working it out requires more give than SO can give or the quiet smotherings of your own dreams for the relationship. I do suggest couples therapy... but you can't change SO. If SO is not willing to let you be.... you.... do you really want to be with SO?

On an entirely unrelated note, I find myself wondering how much of SO's other good qualities are SO trying very hard to be what SO thinks you want... instead of the real SO. Like I said, unrelated randomness.
posted by Jacen at 7:13 PM on October 18, 2011

You are not a bad person for having feelings, needs, ambition, plans.

You don't have an SO, you have a dog.

You are not a bad person for looking for alternatives or solutions.

Save your money. Your relationship is co-dependent.

It's not your job to live your SO's life.

If your relationship is not mutually fulfilling and growth producing, it is suboptimal. It's possible to tolerate suboptimal forever, of course, but it's a good goal to seek mutually fulfilling and growth producing hookups. Plain old roommates are cheap and abundant. You might have accidentally chosen the wrong model.

Would you consider taking a break, like maybe a few weeks or a decade? Send him/her/it/Fido to someplace else and see how it works alone. If it works better, move without telling him/her/it/Fido and art-away!

I don't know anything about your art, but I love your desire to commit to it. If you don't get into the habit of doing it, you'll see it turn into woulda-shoulda-coulda and then die unexpressed. I hope you won't let that happen. What you do with YOUR life is way more important than what you do with his/hers/its/Fido's. It's legit. Important. Critical. Essential. It's you in a solid form. Don't even think for a minute about discarding it or I will make it my project to unmask your anonymity and come after you with abundant berating and finger wagging! I mean it.
posted by FauxScot at 7:47 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

We have talked about this several times and have arrived at a compromise where I get less alone time than I would prefer and my SO gets more time away from me than they would prefer, but every time I try to "redeem" that time my SO gets visably disappointed, which negates any of the benefits I could get from it.

So, you're not compatible, then? Each of you has a need that the other cannot fulfill, you say? And when you each try to fulfill it yourself, the other is unhappy and/or manipulative? What a wonderful reason to end a relationship.

And it is a relationship, not a service that you are providing. They have to fulfill their own needs, and shouldn't rely on another person to do it for them.

Sit 'em down, explain that this basic incompatibility is something you've tried to discuss and work out several times, but it's just not working out, and it is time to move on. It's that simple. And you should do it. Life's too short.
posted by davejay at 8:03 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

disclaimer: I've been through my own period of codependency. Now you're going through yours. I feel much better now. You could, too. Take that step. There's nothing wrong with taking that step. It doesn't make you a bad person. Don't you miss being the person you really are?
posted by davejay at 8:04 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Are you sure that you have the SO's point-of-view correct?

Are you assuming the reasons for "visible disappointment" when you see it? Could you be smothering them with emotional support? (Sit them down and tell them you need a week away, or a summer for a residency/retreat. What is their reaction?)

Make sure you aren't filling in the blanks of what you think the SO thinks, and are instead communicating with the SO directly. And, yes, couples therapy.
posted by limeswirltart at 8:33 PM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm an artist myself, so I so hear you on this one. And it really sounds like you guys are fundamentally incompatible. Make it about that, not about the art.
posted by mornie_alantie at 8:42 PM on October 18, 2011

I'll be the first to say: being in a relationship with a committed artist is not an easy thing. Even if the art doesn't demand all their time, the downsides of artist life (poverty, stress, angst) take a toll. Which is why many artists end up married to other artists, or else not partnered at all.

There truly aren't that many people out there who can put up with it full-time. It's tougher than a regular relationship, even if both people want it to work. A little like a three-person relationship (four, if both people are artists) and the extra people demand almost all the time and money.

It's kind of surprising that any of those relationships work, honestly.

So, it sounds like your SO isn't wanting to be in something like that. And you really sound like you've already made your decision. If you're wanting permission to let it go from random internet people, well here you go. If you're wanting not to feel guilty, that's more complicated, but if you're not a douchebag about it, there's no reason you should.
posted by emjaybee at 8:57 PM on October 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

this has nothing to do with art. this has to do with being a human being. and if you don't like where things are, you have to let them know.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:08 PM on October 18, 2011

Art IS your S.O. Or it's your *other* full time job. That's sort of how you have to look at things. It's a major investment in time, money, energy.
posted by alex_skazat at 11:36 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

What are you willing to sacrifice to get what you need?

To explain a bit more, the reason why I do not look for a partner is exactly this. I have things I want to work on. These things, need excessive amounts of alone time to learn, as well as just plain time to work on.

Flipping the coin around, I believe that as I'm spending a large amount of time as such pursuing my dreams, I do not, and can not want a partner because I know I cannot provide the time required to foster an intimate relationship.

My 2p.
posted by TrinsicWS at 2:05 AM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

One more thing that struck me: "I want it to be my career..."

Does this mean that you're in school? If you are, take a look at how much time and mental energy you're spending on the things school demands of you, things outside of your art.

If you do what your SO asks of you without thinking about what you need, do you also do what friends & people in authority ask of you without thinking about what you need? Not saying "no" enough? This could free up a lot more space for art.

Even if, after a trip to therapy to air your issues, you and your SO end up being incompatible, really think about how you express your needs to everyone outside this relationship. And take care of yourself.
posted by limeswirltart at 5:02 AM on October 19, 2011

I feel like I'm in your SO's shoes. My husband is an actor. And I'm not clingy or "Fido." I just like my husband's company best out of all the people I know, so I get disappointed when he has to cancel on me or can't go away for any weekend all summer because he has rehearsals/performances.

So I want to repeat limeswirltart's question: Are you sure that you have the SO's point-of-view correct?

What you don't say is how much time you actually spend together. When you say your SO spends all of his/her time with you, does that include work/school hours? (How many hours do you devote to work/school?) Does that mean every evening and every weekend? Are your schedules that compatible or are there some evenings and weekends that you don't see each other due to work/school/other commitments?

This is relevant because you give the impression that your SO wants to spend every waking minute with you. And if that's the case, it's unhealthy. If it's not the case, then you're misrepresenting him/her to some degree.

And when you talked about this before, did you also come up with solutions or were those discussions merely an airing of grievances? This is also important because we need to know how hard you've both tried and how much you've both compromised to address the problem. Relationships take work. And if you can't put the time into it because it's not as high on your priority list, don't be in a relationship.

I don't want my husband to resent me some years from now if he ever stops pursuing acting because of me, so I've been as supportive as I can be. But as emjaybee points out, it's hard to be in a relationship with an artist. Often, we're the only ones who have to be understanding and accommodating, while the artists get to do whatever the hell they want.

A few times, I've actually suggested to my husband that his career might be better off if he left me or I left him. He says he doesn't want that, so we've both made some changes. One is for us to share a Web calendar of our schedules, so that I don't get my heart set on going to a festival with him, for example, if I know he's going to be busy that day. Another change is that he's agreed to schedule at least one night a week with me on the calendar. I know that seems kind of cold and sad, but at least it lets me know that I'm one of his priorities, and we both have something to look forward to. (Before this, we had no spare time together, and I felt like I was the lowest on his list--which sucks for a marriage.) Also, that doesn't mean that we always only spend one night/day together in a given week. It just means that if he has any other nights free, they're happy surprises. I've also made an effort to stop complaining about all of the acting-related stuff that he has to do. I'm not always successful because sometimes his schedule changes after I've already bought theater tickets or made hotel reservations. But he's been making an effort to understand that I'm allowed to be disappointed and I'm allowed to want to spend time with him, but that I'm just complaining out loud and will deal with it.

So is leaving your SO a reasonable response to your problem? If your SO is incapable of understanding how important your art is to you, and if you're incapable of appreciating the compromises he/she already makes for you, and you've both already tried to work on it, then I think it's reasonable. Your SO probably doesn't want you to resent him/her either.
posted by zerbinetta at 9:23 AM on October 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

Hi, I'm both you AND your SO. Codependent-ish artist type who both wants time for my own stuff AND my companion's company. Fun.

It's taken us a while, but what we found works for us is contact through various means, not just physical. It helps that we got used to long-distance relationships early - we met in college but were from two different countries so we spent summers apart, and we're both Internet geeks so we spent quite a bit of time online. This got us accustomed to the idea of not needing the *person* to be there to have their company. Texts, reminders of them, ideas - it's all good.

Is there something you can leave them with to remind them of you? Occasional text messages if you're away for long periods of time? My partner surprises me with random text poetry, which is awesome, and when he's at work (he has a 9-5, I'm mostly at home) we swap links online.

I don't know what sort of art you do, but is there a way to involve him in it somehow? I bring mine to performances and shows when we can, and we regularly talk about when we can spend time together, especially since my schedule is so erratic. We book out our times first, then talk about when we may want the other person there with us, and what can be compromised. Sometimes it means missing a touch game, sometimes it means I don't go to an exhibit, sometimes it means one of us comes home early. It's trial and error, and involves a LOT of communication, but it's doable.

I agree with the other people who suggest actually asking your SO if this bothers them as much as you think it does. I had been running on so many assumptions for a while before actually clearing things up with my guy - it made life SO MUCH EASIER knowing what he really thought. Maybe he isn't as upset about your art as you think he is, or maybe he's a bit like me - grumbles for a bit but then gets over it.

Good luck, this took us a while!
posted by divabat at 6:52 PM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Any guy who made me feel bad about my art for whatever reason turned out to be a bad dating choice.

There was the guy who subtly gave my work the cold shoulder to the point that I didn't show him my new pieces, and I stopped working entirely for a while. There was the guy who liked the idea of dating an artist, but didn't want me to take time away from him, and acted similar to your boyfriend.

I need to create to be a whole, happy person. They showed me that they cared more about me serving their needs than about supporting and encouraging me. Art was the canary in the mineshaft, so to speak.

Your art is a part of you. This is not good treatment. You won't be happy if you're getting guilt tripped about your work. Guaranteed.
posted by griselda at 10:46 PM on October 21, 2011

I spent years trying to make a similar relationship to the OP work. We met in art college, but a few years out she wanted to get a proper job, and ended up training to be a teacher, whereas I was dealing with and working in galleries.

When the relationship finally ended it wasn't a lot of fun, but afterwards I've found myself consistently happier. I don't have to pander to my SO's need for companionship at the expense of my creativity. I've also, much to my surprise, had other relationships that have been supportive of my need to make art.

There might be a way through your current problems with counselling, OP, but it might be that you have already decided to leave this person. Either way, I wish you the best of luck, but it's my experience that if you need to create and make artistically, anything that stops that is stopping you from being truly happy.
posted by The River Ivel at 4:41 AM on October 22, 2011

As others have said, paraphrased:
Assumptions make an ass out of you and me. Seriously. Assumptions suck. Communication is vital.

See if you can break this down into first principals, and build back up from there to identify blanks that might be filled in with unsubstantiated information. That's what needs to be talked about.

It is very easy to not be yourself and not realise it.

posted by cofie at 4:55 AM on October 24, 2011

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