I hope this is the worst I ever feel.
December 4, 2012 6:31 AM   Subscribe

I broke off my our engagement last night and I literally feel like my world is ending. Please give me some guidance if you can.

We are 26 and 29 and have been together for 2.5 years, engaged for one of them. We've lived together for the last 1.5 years. Since we've been together he has helped me get through nursing school and he has started his own business. We have leaned on each other a lot.

We get along very well, and people often remark that we are the same person. We happily spent the vast majority of our time alone at home together. We had the same interests, had similar temperaments, and were best, best friends.

The problem is that for the last year my sexual attraction to him has been dwindling to nothing. At first I attributed it to the stress of school, and like anything else we talked about it. He was kept in the loop about my feelings and he believed that my lack of sex drive was something that we could get through together. I was really hoping that we could, but as my anxiety has subsided and my happiness has increased, I'm finding myself attracted to other guys and still feel nothing sexually for my fiance.

For the past few months I have been having overwhelming urges of, "you need to break up with him." When we are in social situations I have thoughts like, "I really wish I were single right now." And when I look at my fiance, I am not proud or excited to be with him or get married to him. When we do have sex it feels wrong and I do not enjoy it.

These are terrible thoughts and he deserves someone who will love him 100%. I feel like I love him 100% as my best friend, and I was really hoping that that was enough to overcome my lack of attraction for him. I've been grappling over how important sexual attraction and sex is, and I've unfortunately come to the conclusion that it is crucial for a marriage and therefore I can't be with my fiance.

I told him last night and it wasn't totally out of the blue because we've been talking about this. But it is hands down the hardest thing I have ever had to do and this morning I am really second-guessing myself. For the last three years I've pictured us having kids together, getting old together and I screwed it all up. It makes me so unbelievebly sad that those things won't be happening. I have been constantly crying for the last 15 hours.

My family is supportive and we live in a house my father owns about 1 mile from them. I am moving out my clothes and other important stuff today. Last night he slept on the couch and at 3am I came down the stairs and said, "I can't break up with you, lets go to relationship counseling" and he said that he thought that would just be prolonging the inevitable.

I think he is right but this just feels so WRONG. It is terrible to break up with someone who you are compatible with in so many ways, but lacking in one critical area. I feel like I really screwed things up. My family is very supportive but the idea of moving to my parents house and out of our comfortable, shared home that we built together is extremely depressing. Please, if anyone has any guidance or has been in a similar situation I could really use your input. I don't know if I'm looking for justification that I made the right decision or "wait! you can become sexually attracted to someone, and here's how".

Please, if you have anything to share please tell me.
posted by pintapicasso to Human Relations (26 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think anyone can give you justification or tell you that you could build back the sexual attraction, but I do know that hard decisions always feel like they're the wrong decisions directly after you make them. You love your fiancee and love what you had, and you don't know what's coming up next, so it's completely understandable that you think the world is ending right now.

It won't last forever. You'll get past this, one way or the other, and the pain will dissipate, because people get through these things and pain always dissipates.

You'll be okay.
posted by xingcat at 6:35 AM on December 4, 2012 [12 favorites]

Separating is like going through a death - it's going to hurt a lot at first and everything you're feeling is completely normal.

You will be okay. Everyday will get a little easier.
posted by Danithegirl at 6:38 AM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

I listen to a lot of Dan Savage, and some of the calls that you hear over and over again are people calling in, who are married, who aren't sexually compatible. Except instead of breaking up before they got married, they've now been married for 10 years and have 2 kids.

Like xingcat, I can't tell you if you made the right decision or not - only you can know that. However, this is something that is so important (sexual compatibility) and if you're not sexually compatible, it's important to acknowledge that and break it off now, rather than 10 years down the road with 2 kids.

You both deserve someone who will not only love you 100%, but who you are sexually compatible with.
posted by needlegrrl at 6:40 AM on December 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

Look, you can't fight the feeling. Deep in your gut you KNOW, this wasn't right.

He's a great guy, you're a great gal, but it just isn't meant to be.

Of course you're going to feel terrible, it's a terrible thing. But I'm sure the most overwhelming feeling is that of relief.

Feel your feelings. It's going to suck during the holidays because this time of year is so couple/family oriented. Accept that. Perhaps you can arrange to get away someplace warm with friends, a last minute cruise or a road-trip or something.

Mourn your relationship but it is over, and it's going to be okay.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:42 AM on December 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

If it helps you feel better, I don't like how people say they "married their best friend." You don't marry your best friend, you marry your lover. Best friends are just that--friends. He is your best friend, not your lover, and not someone you should marry. Remain best friends, not husband and wife.
posted by TinWhistle at 6:42 AM on December 4, 2012 [13 favorites]

What's incredible is it's taken you almost 3 years to figure out you have a relationship similar to that of a close "brother" with him. That's why you feel so wrong.

You already broke up with him - that's the hard part. Do not make the mistake of going back on your action, and prolong the inevitable even further.

Cut off all ties for his sake and yours. It will get better.
posted by Kruger5 at 6:47 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Remain best friends...

Noooooo. This is going to be hard as hell for both of you. It'll only be harder if you hang around each other a lot.

Obviously you did the right thing, but you're both going to be feeling like shit and doing a lot of second-guessing in the near future. Do it alone, or lean on other friends, and don't put yourselves at risk of making the same mistakes.
posted by supercres at 6:49 AM on December 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

Making this decision BEFORE the wedding instead of AFTER the wedding shows a great deal of maturity, wisdom and self-discipline. Too many people punt on issues like this before they get married, sowing the seeds for marital misery later. You have chosen not to do that and it is a credit to your character.

I know that is cold consolation when you're in such pain right now. The passage of time and the clearing of your vision will enable you to look at this decision with the knowledge that you did the mature and responsible thing.
posted by DWRoelands at 6:50 AM on December 4, 2012 [12 favorites]

Theres new evidence to suggest that the human brain's need for variety takes its toll on monogamous relationships at around the 2-3 year mark (and its actually earlier for women than for men).

Perhaps your brain is expressing its hedonic adaption by lowering your sexual arousal to this person who is becoming more of a companion?

There are ways to address this, mostly by adding variety to your sex life. Had the sex become routine before this started happening? Can you switch it up in several meaningful ways? Go to a bar and have him seduce you like you dont know each other?

This is essentially what all those "Spice up your relationship!" articles are about.

A sex-positive relationship counselor may help too, if theres still a chance you might want to make it work after the emotions calm a bit.

In any case, breaking up with a long term partner feels like death. You will get through it, and maybe even be in a better position to be with him or someone else again.
posted by softlord at 6:50 AM on December 4, 2012 [9 favorites]

I ignored those same feelings regarding chemistry (he was a great guy! we had a lot of fun together! our families got along great!) and went ahead with the wedding. In my experience, it doesn't remedy itself down the line. We were divorced 4 years later.

It's okay to leave a relationship even if things aren't terrible. It feels strange, I know. He's not beating you, he's not cheating on you. But if you're not getting what you need (or even want!) out of a relationship, it is okay to leave.
posted by getawaysticks at 6:54 AM on December 4, 2012 [8 favorites]

So sorry you're going through this. Breakups are really awful, and made more awful when you have to move out of a shared space. You know all those things that people say you should avoid doing in the year after you lose a loved one? Yeah, stay away from those things.

I don't want to prolong your agony by making you second-guess yourself, but I think there are some issues surrounding sexual incompatibility that you'll want to make sure you've addressed before you leave an otherwise (seemingly) functioning healthy relationship.

- Is this because he's let himself go? Be honest. Most of us do it. We find someone we love and we let ourselves go a bit. This can take a major toll on how attracted we are to each other. The previously fit guy who used to make you tingle is now... kind of pudgy. It is OKAY for you to not be thrilled if he's let himself go or changed dramatically from the beginning of the relationship. It is also OKAY for you to tell him that you need him to maintain himself in the manner you fell in love with originally. Those are not unreasonable demands (unless there is some other factor, like new disability, that might make that unreasonable). You should be able to talk to him if this is the issue, and you can't, then you have a more fundamental problem than lack of attraction. I have been on both sides of this conversation and it doesn't have to be a damaging self-esteem killing experience, although whether it is will be primarily dictated by his willingness and ability to listen.

- Monogamy is tough. If we were watching a National Geographic Special on Human Beings, how would they describe us when they got around to discussing our reproductive behaviors? Our reproductive behaviors are not so easily summed up in "He does the mating call, she spreads her tailfeathers, and six weeks later *poof* tiny human." Some people pair bond for life. Some people pair bond... and then pair bond again... and then pair bond again. Some people never pair bond at all, and do it all alone. Some people never pair bond at all, whether out of choice or not. Many people have a primary relationship and end up "cheating" on that primary relationship. (Ironic quotes because, honestly, is it cheating when it is the standard?) Some people happily and openly have multiple partners. Why does this matter? Because a lot of it comes down to sexual compatibility and attractiveness. We're susceptible to our own biology. We get bored and restless. Our boredom and restlessness is wonderful for us as a species, because it keeps us moving forward, seeking new horizons, questioning the previously unquestionable. But it has a darker side. To create a new life, we have to kill our old lives. It seems like you are currently being torn between the drive you feel to make your new life, and not actually wanting to say goodbye to your old life. Whatever you choose, it is okay and you are making the right choice for you. Each option has its downsides. Staying with the life you have means you have to accept a lessened attraction to your partner. If you seek this new life for yourself, you'll have to do it without your partner.

- Finally, we're all going to get old and ugly and fall apart. I realize you're in your 20s, and so it is maybe a little premature to be considering this, but honestly: you, me, your partner, everyone we know - gonna get old and ugly and fall apart someday. Beyond that, even when we are still reasonably youthful and full of vigor, we're going to be beaten down by life and all its many requirements. We'll have kids and we'll be sleep deprived. We'll get a new job, and we'll have to work 80 hours a week with no weekends. A parent will become ill and we'll have to provide care. Any of those things can have a huge impact on how attracted we are to ourselves or others in both mundane and existential ways. But while all of those things can have a seriously detrimental impact on our actual or perceived sexy-times, very few of us would consider those to be *stellar* reasons for ending a relationship. When I think about getting old and ugly and falling apart, I ask myself whether I would leave my partner if he was in some horrible industrial accident and lost his legs. Or all four limbs. What we never *dare* ask about is what we'd do if our partners lost their sexual function. I couldn't live with myself if I cut and run from a para- or quadriplegic partner. That would just be morally bankrupt (to me). But I draw very clear connections between that and the change of life that's going to leave us all old and ugly and falling apart.

Anyway, I'm very sorry about this, but you're not the first person to experience this. It is a fairly standard human experience. But it is an opportunity for each of us to figure out where we fit into the human condition. Good luck.
posted by jph at 7:21 AM on December 4, 2012 [13 favorites]

There was a point in my long-term relationship where the thought of living the rest of my life the same way I'd lived that day filled me with dispair. So I broke it off, and it broke both our hearts, and there were days where all I wanted to do was take it all back. But I didn't, and ten years later, we're both happier with our lives than we ever were in our relationship.

You are doing a terribly painful, brave, and necessary thing.
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:29 AM on December 4, 2012 [6 favorites]

But it is hands down the hardest thing I have ever had to do and this morning I am really second-guessing myself. For the last three years I've pictured us having kids together, getting old together and I screwed it all up.

I think you're very brave to do this, and smart to do it now and own it rather than delude yourself and feel quietly miserable, which is what lots of people do. It hurts because you're losing something, you're losing someone you love and all kinds of comforting things and companionship and routine. So it's natural to feel that it's very, very hard, and very sad.

When we are in social situations I have thoughts like, "I really wish I were single right now."

This is not just a lack of sexual attraction (though I think a lack of sexual attraction is enough of a reason; it's true that novelty wears off but that's a different thing than "I do not want to have sex with this person and the idea grosses me out" -- that's totally different), this is flat-out not wanting to be with him and listening to the little voices is sometimes the wisest thing a person can do.

I think you did a brave thing and I hope you feel better soon.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 8:11 AM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

You did the right thing. Now all you need is time and space. ("Space" means don't try to be friends right away. Six months, minimum, I'd say, before you try. Trying to stay close now is not fair to him, and not productive for you.)

You are only in your 20s, that is what this period is for - experimenting and figuring things out and growing. The only thing you need to "do" is remember why you made this decision - sounds like it was for all the right reasons - and cut off contact for a while. Time will do the rest.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:13 AM on December 4, 2012

I was you three years ago. I had been with my wonderful boyfriend for three years, living together for two. And it was slowly dawning on me that I was not attracted to him, apart from the initial rush of novelty that accompanies any new relationship. It was a really painful realization for me because we looked so perfect for each other on paper. Later, when we both created OK Cupid accounts, we came up as 99 % matches for each other. He was nothing but unfailingly kind and generous to me. I felt incredibly guilty and as a result dragged the breaking up process on and on. That was definitely the wrong thing to do. It was hard -- we lived together, our lives were completely intertwined, he was the person I turned to when I saw something funny online and wanted to share or wanted my opinions on some issue validated. Now, though, I'm engaged to someone who is every bit as kind and wonderful and intelligent as my ex was and who I am incredibly attracted to (and vice-versa). It's an incredible joy to wake up with him every morning. You really don't know what amazing things your future has in store for you. Be courageous and end things that you know won't work out.
posted by peacheater at 8:17 AM on December 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Another voice chiming in as someone who could have written very much the exact same question at the same age -- except that after we broke off our engagement, we hurriedly patched things up (out of some combination of guilt/panic/inertia, I think) and went ahead and got married. The pit in my stomach as I walked down the aisle was one of the worst things I have ever felt in my life. We were divorced less than 4 years later.

Now, more than a decade after splitting, we live in different parts of the country and are still good friends who are in regular touch with each other. We're both good people who really did love each other, but we simply weren't ever cut out to be married. We both met our life partners only after we split. I know it feels like your world is ending -- but that's just your fear talking, it's not reality (as hard as that is to believe). This will be painful, no doubt for quite a while. But life really will go on for both of you, and doors to new experiences and new relationships really will open.
posted by scody at 8:26 AM on December 4, 2012 [6 favorites]

You feel like the world is ending, and in many ways it is. It's okay to feel like that. Worlds end every day, in little ways and big ways. But from here on out your mission is to build your new world and discover what it is like. You did the right thing and now it's time to lean on your support system and let them take care of you, cry as much as you need to, and accept that this won't be easy, but in time it will be worthwhile.
posted by saltwater at 8:38 AM on December 4, 2012

I feel like I really screwed things up.

This is extremely common. I've felt it. Most people who go through similar circumstances have felt it. Actually, I think many people who go through break-ups generally have felt it, but it's specifically really common for those of us who have broken up relationships that weren't necessarily bad but that needed to end.

There is a lot of social pressure to marry and have kids and erect a white picket fence around your house together. It's a damn hard thing to find yourself on track to accomplishing exactly that and suddenly to stop and say, "No...this isn't right. I'm going back to square one."

You aren't alone in feeling this way. It is not your own special circumstance. Many of us have abandoned relationships that looked really good in maybe eight-out-of-ten criteria. Most have gone on to find better relationships, not because the world always gives happily-ever-after but purely due to the fact that recognizing our situation and extracting ourselves from it proved to be a learning experience and so now we're better at doing this thing. But all of that aside, what is probably more important for you at this moment is that you aren't alone. "I feel like I really screwed things up" is how many, many, many of us have felt. We got through it and so will you.
posted by cribcage at 8:47 AM on December 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

For what may come down the road, and as best I can tell wasn't addressed in the post, might be worth developing a sense/understanding of why things changed as they did.
posted by ambient2 at 9:06 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's better to have been honest and to have moved on. A few years down the line, you likely won't remember all of the details of this period in your life—at least I didn't, until I recently looked back at the old IM logs from my own postengagement period. After I broke things off with my ex-fiancé (who my friends called Superman—he was that seemingly perfect), apparently it took us both at least six months to untangle our mental mix of guilt, grief, and relief, and although I didn't remember this, my ex-fiancé and I were still having a series of long-distance IM conversations throughout that time.

At first, our conversations were all anguished—we'd talked to each other about everything, so when we saw something cool that we wanted to share with someone, we both felt the sting all over again. Then we had a series of kind of daggery conversations—hashing out why, in fact, we weren't actually as good for each other as we'd thought we were, and what we each wanted from the future (and future mates). He started going out with friends more, and I went out more...period.

Then, that fall, I got more deeply involved in work, the guy I'd been casually seeing had a suicidal episode, and things on my end got intense for a whole other set of reasons. And that pretty much ended that period of angst and launched me into a new one.

So—life continues to happen, even though right now it probably feels like time is going to crystallize around you and leave you sad and alone forever. And eventually you'll find someone better; I met my now-husband a couple years later, while working a part-time job. Give yourself the next six months or more to adjust: to go out, to not go out, to do whatever you want.

Your life is again solely your own, to do with what you will.
posted by limeonaire at 10:22 AM on December 4, 2012

I think it's amazing that you recognized these signs, and also listened to them. I stopped feeling sexually attracted to my ex-boyfriend about 4 years in. Around the 5 year mark, I started thinking terrible thoughts like how much more fun my life would be if we weren't together. I would go out with my friends, and then think AWFUL thoughts about what a drag he was to my social life. Little voices in my head kept saying things like, "what if you just broke up with him now? What would happen?" I planned our breakup a million times in my head.

When it finally happened, I was destroyed. I felt like I was in the middle of the Rainbow Road course and I was leading and I just intentionally drove my kart off the track. This response to an ask me REALLY helped me, quite a lot. I really did feel like nobody would ever love me again, not the way that my ex did. But it turns out, just as the comment said, that's not true at all. I hope that helps you too.
posted by kerning at 11:04 AM on December 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Live through the pain. Don't try to run.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:14 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

What I've been doing in a similar situation to yours is reading through other human relation questions and answers and seeing that similar things happen to everyone. Even though right now is pretty painful and difficult, I'll get through it, and with luck my friendship with my ex-girlfriend will get through it.

It seems better to suffer some hopefully short term unhappiness trying to find something better than to maintain something because it's comfortable, but not truly happy.
posted by garlic at 1:33 PM on December 4, 2012

feel like my world is ending

Having gone through hellishness like this, and kind of being going through it in a marriage now, to be blunt, your world is ending. The world of things and ideas about your life as related to your partner is suddenly not there anymore, and it's going to take a long time to climb out of that hole. For me, every time I thought about what I would do the next day, or that night, or any course of action, I had to break myself of the habit of thinking of that person in my life. Instead of "I'm going to have dinner (and X will be there)." or "I want to see that movie (I hope X wants to see it too)," I needed to build up to being able to leave them out of the thought process.

Once I managed to get to the stage where I made plans without thinking of how they would involve the other person, it took a long time to get to the point where "I want to have curry for dinner (alone)." didn't feel like a bad thing.

If you weren't compatible, and you feel comfortable with that decision, then you need to move on. It will take a long time to get to where you don't automatically think of him. The only thing I can say is that you need to try not to dwell on him. Do things, and consciously make plans so that "with him" doesn't enter into it.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:47 PM on December 4, 2012

First, I'm so sorry you're hurting so badly right now. That doesn't mean breaking up was the wrong choice, but it hurts and it's hard and I've been there like so many others and ouch. In my experience, going cold-turkey no-contact is the quickest and cleanest way to get to a healthier place.

Re this: We get along very well, and people often remark that we are the same person. We happily spent the vast majority of our time alone at home together. We had the same interests, had similar temperaments, and were best, best friends.

When my husband and I met, we were 99% wrong for each other. Now, after 17 years of diligent hard work, we've gotten it down to 95% wrong for each other. (Please note: this is funny… except when it's not.) Extravert/introvert. East Coast/West Coast. Huge family/microfamily. Parents happily married/parents split up when kid was 7. GETS LOUDER WITH ENTHUSIASM YAY/ow my ears hurt. Cast iron digestion/canary in the food-poisoning coal mine. Heavy-metal headbanger/black-clad alternative rocker. "Oh, did I knock that over/crash into that?"/princess who can feel a pea through 18 mattresses.

And we both feel that ultimately this makes Team LexiMonkey stronger. Like I said, it's funny except when it's not — to quote an essay I can't find or attribute, "you will never feel lonelier than late at night in the middle of a bad argument with your spouse" — and when things are grinding they grind badly, but in general, areas where one person is weak the other one is strong. We can divide responsibilities so that the one who's more naturally suited to a task is the one taking care of it. And something that might knock my sweetie flat may well not affect me and vice versa, so when one of us is down and vulnerable the other is still capable of responding and protecting. (I will take a lot of crap directed at me and smile in a peaceful, appeasing manner, but if somebody hurts my monkey I'll probably go into berserker mode, skinny middle-aged woman that I am.)

If you're open to a book suggestion, you might pick up Be the Person You Want to Find: Relationship and Self-Discovery by American Zen teacher Cheri Huber. I recommend Cheri's work rather a lot when it's appropriate because it's been literally lifechanging for me. With luck, some of it will speak to you.

Best wishes. Be especially kind to yourself right now.
posted by Lexica at 7:56 PM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

You are staring at an open wound and telling yourself it will never heal.

It will heal. Healing is painful as hell, and slow and long, but it will happen.

pictured us having kids together, getting old together

Having kids as the result of sex that felt wrong and you didn't enjoy?
Growing old together through long years of a sexless marriage?

Even here, Day 1, you are seeing the necessity of what you've done but that doesn't provide comfort yet. I think you made the right choice 100%. Absolutely 100%.
posted by French Fry at 7:44 AM on December 5, 2012

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