I am so stuck...
May 25, 2013 5:33 PM   Subscribe

I have a bad case of relationship ambivalence. She (35, never married) deserves better. I (42, never married) deserve better. But I'm so massively stuck I don't know what to do. Hope me?

We've been together for 3.5 years. When we met, she was living in the SF area, but after about a year of LDR, she moved to my coast. We are both arts professionals and are extremely lucky to be able to support ourselves (at times comfortably). She is far more introverted than I am, and this was only exacerbated by the move, by her being in a strange new city after having given up her life out west to re-locate. Further complicating things was the fairly large amount of anxiety she carries around much of the time - she idles very high, and it adversely effects her physically and emotionally - she doesn't sleep much, she has chronic back pain, she has a fairly narrow comfort zone. Hell, it effects our sex life as well - even if her back isn't bothering her, even if she happens to be well-rested, she's just considerably more reserved and restrained than I am (or want to be). (And it's not like I'm Mr. Kink, I just don't have the same boundaries that she has.)

I knew going in that it would take a long time for her to adjust to her new city, her new surroundings and environment - and I prepared myself to deal with that as much as possible, as patiently as I could - I offered financial and emotional support to the best of my ability and tried to encourage her to do things. 2 years on, she's doing great, but there are a lot of scars on my end. There were periods where she was intensely angry and would border on being emotionally abusive - we'd have horrific fights, she'd say the meanest things. This led us eventually to therapy - we did about 6 months about a year ago. She has totally controlled her anger since then, much to her credit. But as I said, I still have some scars from some of the horrible experiences. In fact, I'm still sleeping on the couch 18 months later - mostly because I just don't have any confidence in our being able to share a bed. While this works fine at a practical level (ie, we both get sleep), it does not look like the relationship I want. (Just to be clear, in addition to her sleep problems, I'm a sometimes-snorer - although no sleep apnea - and I like to stay up later than she does.)

(In addition to the aforementioned couples therapy, I am in personal therapy. She has a lot of experience in therapy herself - enough that at this point she feels she knows what she needs to do in order to take care of herself, so she considers more therapy to be unnecessary.)

One fairly big outstanding issue for me is that we seem to just like different things - I'm all about live music, movies, adventure, travel, the romance of city life, friends at the corner pub, favorite restaurants, etc. Our schedules allow us to not necessarily keep regular business hours, and I love that! But she is generally most comfortable at home in her PJs on the couch. Her nervous system is such that she doesn't much go for live music or movies (of any kind, I'm not necessarily talking about the explosion-car-chase variety). She's afraid to fly. Her chronic insomnia and her chronic back pain makes sleeping somewhere different fraught with issues and anxiety.

And yet... she's a wonderful, compassionate, talented, smart, lovely woman. EVERYONE who meets her comes away with that impression. There's so much about her that makes her a great catch. And she very much wants us to get married and potentially have a family. But I can't deny that I feel like my life is pretty dramatically limited by this relationship. Still - the thought of being single in my 40s is a little scary. Plus we both work in the same community, so the aftermath of a breakup promises to be ugly. (My history with breakups is really bad - I go to the dark side, spend a year or more generally just scared of everything. And since we have work in common, I fear that I will do some damage to my career...)

So - I know that there are examples of introvert/extrovert couples out there, I know it CAN work. But I just don't know that I want to work this hard. I mean, take for instance her chronic back pain - it's not clear to me that she can even lift a baby (it's that bad... she'll avoid metal forks when she brings lunch to work, opting for plastic instead, in the hopes of saving herself the extra weight in her lunch bag). If it's this much work before we get married, before we have kids - I shudder to think what it'd be like after we have kids, when the REAL work begins.

I've been trying to write this AskMe for months now, and I've finally accepted that it will be imperfect - I feel like there is a lot that I'm leaving out, but I don't want to wait any longer. Am I being unreasonable in my dissatisfaction? What to do with the fact that EVERYONE who meets her loves her - and yet I am constantly annoyed and unsatisfied? Is it unreasonable for me to allow conflicts, compromises, and confrontations that took place in some cases years ago continue to haunt me? Am I suffering from Peter Pan syndrome? Am I not accepting the fact that at my age I should be thinking about a more subdued lifestyle? Am I wrong to like the things I like, even though I've managed to create a life wherein I can both enjoy them and be a responsible adult (ie pay my bills, save money, etc)?

(Thanks for reading. I have to admit that I'm both anxious and fairly terrified at what kind of responses I'm going to get.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
This is boilerplate, but are you in love with her?
posted by juniper at 5:36 PM on May 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

If everyone who meets her loves her, then she deserves to be with one of those people who loves her so much, not with someone who is annoyed and unsatisfied with her. And you deserve to be with someone you think is perfect, not someone that other people think you should think is perfect. Neither of you is wrong; you're just incompatible.

If you care about her, and if she wants children, and if you're not sure you can have a child with her, you owe it to her to break up with her while she still has time to find someone else to have children with. And you owe it to yourself to be happy, not merely stuck.
posted by decathecting at 5:41 PM on May 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

No way is this relationship going to work. You are trying to TALK YOURSELF INTO continuing a relationship with a woman

-- you can't even sleep in the same bed with!
-- whose abusiveness you still resent after 6 months of therapy!
-- who you're sexually incompatible with!
-- who suffers from chronic pain that is already an annoyance to you!
-- whose nervous system and anxiety problems will limit everything from what movies you watch to how much you travel!

This is crazy, dude. You have to drop her. This reads like the narrative of a wounded, insecure person trying to talk himself into being with someone because he's not confident he can find anyone else and he's too broken and scared to muster the courage for a breakup. It's no way to treat yourself.

Don't use your history of bad breakups as an excuse; that's YOUR problem and no reason to saddle yourself with someone unsuitable. You need therapy to deal with your own problems. Dump her, get therapy, and with your new, healthy, more mature self, you can find the person you're meant to be with.
posted by Unified Theory at 5:46 PM on May 25, 2013 [38 favorites]

This sounds to me like you want permission to break up with her. I won't just give you permission, I'd encourage it. You two sound miserable together. You both deserve not to be miserable.
posted by xingcat at 5:50 PM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think juniper is asking a really important question. Your situation echoes where I was a year ago. I loved my partner, respected her and cared for her, and yet the damage done by roughly the sort of trauma you describe left me in a similar place to where you are now. In the end, I had to ask myself if I was still in love, if being with this person for the rest of my life was a life I'd thank her and myself for, and if the inevitable struggles of any relationship would leave us stronger or merely embittered. My decision led to me ending the relationship, and I'm confident that I made the right decision, for all that it still hurts now.

Remaining in something you don't really want because you're scared of the alternative would be a disservice to yourself and your partner. So you have to ask yourself whether you're in love because, if you're not, no amount of respect and admiration is going to get you through life's inevitable shit-storm.
posted by howfar at 5:51 PM on May 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

Nice lovely people who don't like being together break up every single day. It sucks and is hard for awhile and then you meet someone you like being with. You know this to be true. You know you want to break up. She probably does too! Just do it.
posted by bleep at 5:57 PM on May 25, 2013 [12 favorites]

My question is - how much have you talked to her about your unhappiness? I don't think you're wrong to be unhappy, and if you're unhappy, to end it. But I do think that truly committed relationships ought not to end when one person informs the other that it's over, but rather, when both people have tried as hard as they could to make things work and don't succeed.

To be honest, it sounds like you may have gone beyond this point already - you've hoarded your unhappiness and your grievances until all you can do is say: this is a person I don't want to be with anymore. The result is that breakup will be harder for her than it would have been if you had made a good-faith effort to work it out while there was still a chance the relationship could have been saved. If you have a lingering sense that you're in the wrong (which I kind of feel like you do) this may be the reason.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 6:12 PM on May 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

Not being able to sleep together in the same bed is not that big a deal. Lots of loving couples sleep better apart. But not being compatible sexually or socially seems it will diminish your affection for one another and your satisfaction with your lives, individually and jointly.

And the worst reason to not break up with a person is because of the angst anticipated in one's social and work community.

The best reason to be with someone is that you cannot bear the idea of living without them. Are you deeply, consumingly, overwhelmingly in love with her? If so, tell her that you are and that you need to work together to improve on all the other things so that you can make a life together. And if you are not desperately in love with her, give her (and yourself) the chance to find the people about whom you will feel that way, and who will feel that way about each of you.

Anything less is to make a mockery of your life. And, as my wise mother says, it's better to be alone than to wish you were alone.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 6:27 PM on May 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

Just because she is a lovely, wonderful person doesn't mean that she is a lovely, wonderful partner for you. It doesn't sound like you two are a good fit.

That's a valid reason to end a relationship. It doesn't have to be about betrayal or utter misery. Just not fitting each other is good enough.
posted by Brody's chum at 6:28 PM on May 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

Sounds like you basically know it isn't working. But you're afraid to break up because of your fears about what will happen if you break up. And maybe you'd feel guilty about hurting someone who's so wonderful. By the way, I notice that you have a lot of positive stuff to say about her — but it's all just stuff about her, not any of the good times you've spent together. It would be one thing if you were saying things aren't as great as they used to be after more than 3 years together and you're questioning whether you can get back to the good old days, but I don't see a reference to any good old days to get back to. "Don't throw good money after bad."

To answer your other question, it is OK to like the things you like while being 42 years old.
posted by John Cohen at 6:32 PM on May 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

I am constantly annoyed and unsatisfied

My friend, that is no way to live.

You two gave it a good shot. You've done the right things by attempting to fix the issues (couples therapy); you've owned your own share by doing therapy on your own; and yet, the relationship still isn't working for you.

I would accept it as an untenable situation, and make a plan to go your separate ways.

the thought of being single in my 40s is a little scary

Dating in your 40s can be great. There are lots of interesting, cool, suitable women out there for you to meet. Fear not.

My history with breakups is really bad - I go to the dark side, spend a year or more generally just scared of everything

Then this will be an excellent opportunity to change that history. This time, you will handle it differently. This time, you'll have a support system in place, and a plan, that will keep you from wallowing overlong in the slough of despond. History is not destiny.

Set yourself free. Be brave.
posted by nacho fries at 6:58 PM on May 25, 2013 [15 favorites]

If she's a really powerful introvert, why on earth did she move to a totally new place instead of you moving to her? I am a super-introvert and if I were in her shoes, I would be so miserable and angry and shouty all the time, even two years on. I would feel resentful and mean-spirited. I don't think this is going to work.

I suspect that maybe you feel guilty for her moving and then being so unhappy, so you don't want to break up with her, or you just feel like the move invested a lot in your relationship. Dude, as someone who in your lady's shoes would chew her own arm off to escape, I give you permission to move on and not feel guilty.

I think y'all should break up (and I bet you all the money in my pockets against all the money in your pockets that she moves back to a place with a support system that feels good to her). Seriously, just break up. You each will lead better lives.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 7:06 PM on May 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

Being single in your 40s is better than being stuck in a relationship that makes you deeply unhappy in your 40s. And two single people are likely to be happier than two people stuck in a relationship neither is happy in.

In any case, as indicated above, you don't need an ironclad case for breaking up with someone. "This isn't working for me" is more than sufficient.
posted by SMPA at 7:07 PM on May 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

EVERYONE who meets her loves her - and yet I am constantly annoyed and unsatisfied

This is your summary statement. You are constantly annoyed and unsatisfied. It doesn't matter if everyone else loves her - everyone else isn't considering marrying her. The repercussions of breaking up are temporary, being in a lifelong relationship with someone who makes you feel this way is permanent. You could get married, but i think you'd want to consider how you'd feel having this woman as your ex-wife for most of your life.

Set yourself free.
posted by Kololo at 7:08 PM on May 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

Your reasons for staying with her are really, really bad.

Please end it - it'll be WAY better for both of you in the long run.
posted by Salamander at 7:23 PM on May 25, 2013

I'm going to give the other side POV. Talk to her about some of your unhappiness (maybe not a full, "I'm thinking of breaking up" talk, but at least "I want something different out of this relationship"). It's possible that she'll also say she's miserable and wants to find someone else but if not, see if you can work on your relationship together. You've been on eggshells around her for some time because she was having a lot of issues; her issues are getting under control, but now you're worn out and irritated from all the eggshell-walking.

So start trying to get off the eggshells. Talk to her about moving in to some sort of a permanent sleep situation - even though many couples sleep in separate beds, "I sleep on the sofa" is no permanent answer. Try sharing a bed, maybe with different sheets so that it's easier for you to go to bed late, or agree that you'll sleep separately in the same room or start working toward having a place to live that has a guest room.

Start going out by yourself to meet friends - maybe you'll find you are happy to do those things even if it's outside of the relationship, and if you do end the relationship, you'll have built complementary networks of friends who you spend time with and who you can continue spending time with.

Basically, try to see if you can build a life together that lets you both be happy. You'll probably both have to make compromises but neither of you should be the one bending all the time. And if you can't build that life, well, then it's clear to get out...
posted by Lady Li at 7:58 PM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hey, I moved once to be with my partner in his town. And he broke up with me. And that sucked because I am also an introvert. But you know what? Your partner made a choice to move and they can choose to stay or leave after you break up with them. Let her go. Let Go of her. You gave it a shot but you can't fight feelings, lack of attraction or compatibility no matter how much other people like her, she likes you or you want it to work. Even if you are afraid you have wasted her time, respect her enough not to waste any more, and get on to the feelings of guilt, fear and relief that you'll have after she goes.
posted by anitanita at 8:09 PM on May 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yes, you need to move on, the sooner the better.
posted by hockeyfan at 8:48 PM on May 25, 2013

But I can't deny that I feel like my life is pretty dramatically limited by this relationship.

This statement made me feel so sad for you both. Everything else in your question just feels secondary - yes, it is possible for introvert/extrovert couples to succeed; sure, people can sometimes work through deep hurts their partner caused them; not all couples sleep together ... but a relationship worth being in is not one that makes your life feel less than it would otherwise be. That's exactly the opposite of what a relationship should be.

Can you imagine marrying someone you feel this way about? Do you think they would want to be married to someone who felt like that about them? When it comes down to it, if this statement is an accurate reflection of how you feel in your relationship, I think you would both be better off if you were free to find someone who dramatically enriched your lives instead.
posted by DingoMutt at 8:57 PM on May 25, 2013 [9 favorites]

Her pjs on the couch makes me wonder if she is really healthy. Like maybe a low thyroid. IANAD, but maybe she should see one for a thorough physical.
posted by Cranberry at 10:53 PM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

After reading your post, my gut tells me that after you guys break up and she recovers, her anxiety and pains may actually get better.

She's obviously not stupid. She is probably sick, nervous and unhappy because of subconsciously knowing you don't like her very much and she's probably as scared and confused as you are.

And, yes, I can see why breaking up is scary for both of you at 35 and 42. To be honest, I'm 32 and I don't like the idea of dating men in their early 40s who've left partners they've lived with for many years. But that doesn't matter. Plenty of other women do though. I mean, women write to serial killers who've murdered their pregnant wives, even. Being single at 42 after a failed relationship is the smart thing to do.

The most important thing is not to hurt/scar other people. You're clearly not being the best partner to her. You don't seem to have any understanding of her pain and it sucks to be in a relationship with someone who doesn't truly care about you and thinks they can do better and doesn't have loyalty or sympathy for you.

You have to see that you are a really bad partner to her. You don't sympathize, you judge her based on her illness, you basically objectify her without any loyalty or love or care. So you aren't really her friend either and that's sad. I think you really need to bow out as soon as possible and let her know before your annoyance with her becomes emotionally abusive and cruel. And that is really hard to heal from than a breakup. So please leave her. You aren't being a good enough partner to her and you're incapable of it at this point.

Also, you might be surprised to find out that she probably has urges to leave you but is fearful of hurting you/causing you pain. Women get socialized to take a lot of shit and live with feeling unhappy just so they don't cause the people they love any pain. Trust me, your girlfriend is far better off single than with someone who is bad for her/ not good to her.
posted by discopolo at 11:58 PM on May 25, 2013 [17 favorites]

Do the right thing: set this woman free so that she can find someone who appreciates her, while she still has time to have kids if she wants them.

Of course, you will also be doing the right thing for yourself, since you also deserve to be with someone whom you appreciate, and who takes joy in the same things you do. But, it sounds like you need to be able to frame this in a way that is not self-serving, and luckily, it is really not.
posted by rpfields at 1:38 AM on May 26, 2013

You only live once and it a fleeting existence. Not only move on from her but move on from your fear of living more openly in general.
posted by tarvuz at 5:37 AM on May 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

You seem like you judge yourself very harshly. I'd like to set you free from this judgment. Either way you choose will involve some pain and loss. If you feel like you need to stay with her, that's okay. You don't have to feel pressured by Mefi or anyone else. If you feel like you need to break up with her, that's okay too. You will not be damaging her irreparably. She will recover, and will be happier many years out.

If you break up with her, you will likely miss her intensely. The minor annoyances about her back pain and introversion will seem very minor next to not having her at all. You will ache for her. Then, you will recover, meet someone new, and wonder how you could have lived without her as well. Your ex will meet someone too, and be happier with him.

If you don't break up with her, you will stay where you are for a while. Something will happen that will change your life -- she will get badly injured, or pregnant, or you will both move to a new city... and things may get better or worse. You will always be annoyed by her, but always take pleasure in how wonderful she is as well.

Both of these paths have joys and sorrows. The first one has a higher possible upside, but it also has more turmoil and confusion. Don't add judgment to yourself if you don't choose the first one.

Also, btw, DO NOT consider your age in this question. It is not relevant. You could have this problem (and many people do) at 22 or 32 or 42 or 52. It is a timeless, ageless problem to love someone with whom you have significant conflicts. You don't have to ever "settle down". You can be free and enjoy what you enjoy at any age. Decide based on which path sounds better to you.
posted by 3491again at 5:48 AM on May 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

One last thought: a good compromise between going and staying is showing her this question, which lists the pros and cons and treats her with respect and kindness. If you can be completely, totally honest with her, things will change, either for the better or for the worse. But you won't be stuck.
posted by 3491again at 5:50 AM on May 26, 2013

Also, btw, DO NOT consider your age in this question. It is not relevant.

But DO consider HER age. It sounds like you're asking for permission here to break up with her, and it sounds like that's the right thing to do. And if she is 35 and wants to have a family, you need to pull the Band-Aid off now and end it so she has time left on her biological clock to meet someone else. This just isn't as much of an issue for you (though it IS still an issue; paternal age is linked to increase risk factors for certain illnesses in babies).
posted by amro at 6:59 AM on May 26, 2013 [9 favorites]

Is her chronic condition something that could get passed on to a child? If it is, can you really -honestly- deal with that?
posted by Jacen at 7:28 AM on May 26, 2013

I think you're asking the wrong questions. None of that stuff matters if you don't love this woman and want to be with her and make the relationship better (and she reciprocates). It just doesn't sound like any of that is true.
posted by sm1tten at 8:24 AM on May 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

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