Pulling the plug on my LDR, because meh?
December 15, 2013 8:48 AM   Subscribe

I am become rather obsessed with the idea that I want more from a relationship and might need to end this one. Should I? Details inside.

I’m a woman in my late 30s in a 3.5-year long distance relationship with a man in his mid-30s who lives several states away. We have always been long distance, seeing each other every 6-8 weeks or so, with longer 6-week visits in the summers and a few weeks during winter holiday breaks. It probably comes out to about 100 days a year. We are both in academia, hence not being able to live in the same city or state. We get along; he is very nice, smart, handsome, likes to travel. The one thing that has always been lacking is passion.

There is very little physical affection unless we are about to have sex, and I prefer sex a lot more frequently that he does. After not seeing each other for several weeks, I want to have sex nearly every day that we are together! We have talked a lot about this, and he understands that my drive is higher than his. Yes, I initiate! He does not drink or use any recreational drugs. He is taking a low dose of antidepressant meds, which I recognize can interfere with the sex drive. We have incorporated a rare bit of phone/skype sex into our relationship to try keep the momentum going between visits.

When we do kiss, he gets instantly aroused; there are no “dysfunctions” once the act begins. He just avoids kissing or any other type of affection unless we’ve “agreed” to go to the bedroom to, as he puts it, “do it.” There is no sweet PDA or romantic moments in restaurants gazing at one another across the table, that kind of thing that I really enjoy. He says he loves me “more than anything in the world,” and that I “mean everything” to him. He says I'm the hottest woman he's been with, and he thinks I'm sexy. However, he makes little eye contact with me and (weirdly) has never said my name to me. Never. At first I wondered if he was on the autism spectrum. He is a little weird, but so am I. He is quite introverted and does not have any friends (he has been in his current city for 7 years), although he is close to his family, whom I like a lot. I am a bit more extroverted and prefer to have a handful of friends to hang out with once or twice a month. I live in a fun city and like to take advantage of what it has to offer. He lives in a not-so-fun small city. We do have a pleasant time together, especially when he comes to my city or when we travel.

I love him and like him a lot, but I don’t feel as though I would ever want to live with him. I just don’t see being happy long-term in that situation. The LDR has made this possibility rather convenient to avoid. We are both divorced and have discussed many times how neither of us would like to get married again. However, about six months ago he hinted that he would like for us to get engaged and then married a few years down the road. This happened on the heels of his fun family reunion that we both attended. He caught me off guard, and I was a bit caught up too, and I think I said something like “awww, how sweet … we’ll see...” I wondered if his enthusiasm for marriage would die down after a while. However, he has brought it up again a couple of times recently. I am just not there. I plan on talking with him about this next week when I see him again. He deserves to know that I am not wanting marriage. I would never marry someone I haven't lived with for at least a year or two, anyway.

Basically, my issues are:

1. I love him, but I don’t want to get married. Neither of us wants kids, and I just don’t see the point of marriage at this point in my life. I plan on telling him this next week. I don’t think this will be a deal breaker for him, but I do think that it will initiate a very serious discussion about our future.
2. For the first two years, I thought that he wasn't really into me because even on long visits, we had infrequent (in my view) sex and affection. I continued this relationship because he was kind, and it was "easy." I need to stop obsessing about whether or not this relationship is good for me. It’s distracting me from my work, and I spend way too much energy thinking about it. It no longer feels so easy, but I realize my brain might be doing this to me. (I see a therapist and take anti-anxiety meds.)
3. Student loans are killing me, and this is an expensive relationship to maintain. I have no savings account right now, and I need to think about my future.

I know that folks on here tend to be anti-LDRs, especially those where the distance has no end in sight. What should I do? Break it off? If so, how can I do this kindly? Or, should I have another frank discussion about the physical stuff, and hope for the best? If so, how long should a person wait for those changes to happen? Will they ever happen? I know people rarely change unless they really want to. He's a kind old soul, rather set in his ways, I am afraid. Thank you, wise ones!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Ouf, this sounds like a horrible position to be in if you truly love him. All I can say for certain is that this

He just avoids kissing or any other type of affection unless we’ve “agreed” to go to the bedroom to, as he puts it, “do it.”

is extremely weird and would be a complete flat deal-breaker for me. I don't care if you're god, if you won't kiss me outside sex, we won't work. I mean really.
posted by celtalitha at 8:59 AM on December 15, 2013 [7 favorites]

I am pro-LDR and mine works just great for me. A lot of people say that LDRs can be tough if you don't have some "exit strategy" to make it a non-LDR anymore and I'm not even sure that is true. BUT your LDR doesn't sound like it's giving you what you want out of a relationship. More passion, a bit more companionship, possibly a plan.

So my advice would be based on the answer to this question: if you miraculously lived near each other somehow, would you want to try to make it work? Work on the passion thing and start thinking about a future? Or not? Distance can sometimes be dealt with, but larger interpersonal issues are harder to just sort of settle with.

So if you decide to break it off, I'd just sort of leverage the "I can't see us getting married." angle to have a frank talk about how the relationship isn't working for you. And be clear, at this point you won't be opening a discussion about these issues, you'll be saying that you already hit your dealbreakers and you are done. Otherwise, if you see a future but the path to it is murky, I'd open a discussion but basically lay it on the table: these things need to change or I need to do something different.

Jobs can be changed, people can change. That said it seems like the type of person he is and the type of person you are may just not jibe terribly well and that's okay as well. If this guy is super special and worth trying to make it work, then I'd have a frank "This is what needs to change within this timeline" talk (with the knowledge that sometimes people can't change or just flat don't want to and that might be a possible outcome). Otherwise I'd have a conversation that just says that you're not getting what you want, you wish him well but this isnt' going in a direction where you see a future in it for you.
posted by jessamyn at 9:06 AM on December 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

This guy seems like somebody who is very different from most in terms of what he wants in a relationship. From what you say, you don't seem like you want the usual 2.5 kids and a dog either, but I think you two are looking for different things in a relationship. The intimacy issues aren't going to change in my opinion - like you said, he seems set in his ways. Combine that with the financial issues that come with your LDR, and I'd say you would probably enjoy being on your own and open to others right now.

And as far as breaking it off kindly, just be direct. Most men really appreciate honesty and a clean, firm break with no vagueness.
posted by johnpoe50 at 9:08 AM on December 15, 2013

It sounds like the intimacy issues have been persistent, and that's a problem for you. There are other practical concerns as well, but this is a major issue. So, if you don't leave, how do you see this changing.
posted by J. Wilson at 10:03 AM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

imagine what it would be like to be with someone who had the same approach to physical intimacy and expressing intimacy that you have. what would that be like? how would it make you feel? what would it be like to not have to ask for such displays but just to receive them, spontaneously, in public and in private?

are you getting sad reading this right now? that's your intuition telling you something.

someone who displays intimacy openly: is that more the kind of person you'd want to be married to someday, if you decide that marriage is an option for you in the future?

be firm, be direct, move on. you don't want to marry this man, or live with him, or have a family with him, and the two of you want different things.
posted by zdravo at 10:36 AM on December 15, 2013 [6 favorites]

It sounds to me reading this, as if you're not terribly interested in continuing the relationship. (I believe your exact term was "meh"?)

A visualization exercise will help you figure out if you you'll feel better or worse once you've broken up with him. Spend 20-30 minutes or so pretending sincerely that you've broken up with him and are never going to see him again. How did that feel? Free like a bird, or wishing you hadn't done it?

I will say it is unlikely that an ultimatum that he become warmer and sexier and more affectionate isn't likely to be effective, no matter how much he might like to comply. He's just not built that way.

On the other hand, I think what you've said you want -- a passionate relationship that doesn't lead to marriage, or even to taking up too much headspace? -- sounds like a pretty uncommon kind of setup, and while the standard advice on the green is to go out and find exactly what you want for your love life, I'm not sure it's realistic in this case.

Good luck -- it's refreshing to read someone who finds their work so rewarding that they're clear sighted about their love life coming second.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:47 AM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think you should consider the opportunity cost of this relationship. It sounds like you either like him a lot, rather than actually loving him; or you may love him, but you don't really like being in a relationship with him. You can love someone who doesn't make you happy; but if being happy is a priority for you, I would say, let this guy go.

More alarming to me than the actual sex drive incompatibility is the lack of romance and affection. You're with someone who isn't giving you what you need to feel fulfilled in a relationship. Meanwhile, if this relationship is exclusive, you're giving up any opportunity you might have to find someone else who might be able to meet your needs and make you actually happy.

For my money, it's never worth it to stay in a "meh" relationship just to stay in a relationship; it's even less worth it when you consider what you might be giving up.
posted by kythuen at 11:34 AM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Most of my reaction has already been said in various ways above, but one additional thought sticks out...

You want a relationship with passion and intimacy, but it can't take up too much of your thoughts or distract you from your work.

It makes me wonder, if, in that new relationship, that you might be the one that doesn't input enough time or involvement?

Because ramping up those things you want will require more from you than this LDR has. That doesn't answer your question one way or another, but it struck me as something that you ought to consider when you're comparing potential future relationships with the current one. As in, don't assume your input can remain the same as it is now, and keep that imaginary future person happy.
posted by stormyteal at 11:48 AM on December 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you feel pretty tepid about this guy, at your core. Why keep it going? He wants to get remarried and settle down, and if you're not that person he deserves to know -- and meanwhile, you deserve to find someone you're mad about.
posted by feets at 2:23 PM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Obviously no one can tell you how you feel, but from what you've written it doesn't sound like you love him romantically, and probably vice versa. There's a huge lack of intimacy, you've told him the issue and it persists. The way you've described your conversations about marriage are also perplexing. It's obvious from your side why, but I'm not clear on how he's brought it up (it honestly sounds more like a business deal, but that might be because of your lack of enthusiasm for it more than his? I can't really tell).

And what would be the point in getting married, really, if there's no end to the distance?

Just curious, if you COULD get a great job where he lives, how would you feel about that? And if the opposite happened and he ended up moving near you but depended on you for his entire social life since he would be away from his family, how would that feel for you?

Also: if you're wondering if you 'want more,' you probably do.
posted by anad487 at 7:55 PM on December 15, 2013

Do you know love languages? Yours sounds like physical touch. His might be quality time, gifts, words of affirmation, or acts of service. People tend to give their love language and be surprised when their partner feels unloved; A needs to give B's love language to B, not A's. So maybe telling him you don't feel loved when he does not touch you, in a non-accusing, gentle manner might help.

Bit of a side issue here, but does he KNOW your name? In my nerdy circles it is not uncommon for people to be known just by their tags. http://xkcd.com/302/
posted by Jacen at 8:00 PM on December 15, 2013

You spent all that time articulating your circumstances, so you obviously know the state of nature. Presumably, you know the desired target state. The real question is one of probabilities.... what is the probability that you will be able to achieve the state you want, given evidence of the mutability of this system?

From what you relate, it is low.

The conundrum is temporal, for the most part. in the long term, things change regardless of what you do. In the short term, nothing changes unless you change something.

You are what changed over the long term. Your satisfaction decreased because of normal relationship dynamics. Anything is easy at first. Once the bloom is off, reality appears.

He is illustrating the second. You have a party, to whom you have presented a problem, and who is sending up a smoke screen called "I love you". This response is intended, even though the poor man is likely unaware, to deflect your attention from the problem. You have mismatched libido, specific identifiable desires, suggested course of action, motivations and have made specific requests. A loving partner would respond. A partner might not. I suggest you have the latter, not the former.

Love is a process that requires effort. When it is present, the effort is borne willingly.

Granted, he's not standing on your toes. But you are settling here if you keep him. He has answered your question by not responding, and he's unlikely to do so under any circumstances. Why would he? He is at a local null.... the point of minimum input to maintain the status quo. He's not asking for change. He's happy with it the way it is and you are tampering with a working system, by his standards.

It has nothing to do with this being an LDR, except that the LDR makes it a problem ONLY when you are together. Alternative relationships are wonderful, since the idealized form that people fantasize about has buit-in self-destruct mechanisms, too. This particular one, living apart together (LAT) has a lot in its favor and I have a dozen couples in my posse who exploit it to good advantage. In these modern times, it meets a lot of needs, particularly for the childless techies of the nation. The issue with yours is that it is not mutually satisfying. You are getting the short end.

He may have a little Asperger-y problem? Can you fix it? Is it worth it? Are you willing to continue your ongoing, unfruitful experiments to do so? How long? What is the opportunity cost? Will your fix be persistent or temporary? Is "I Love You Words" enough or would you need a real "I Love You" process to be happy?

Since you are female, if you just want a fuckbuddy, you are in good shape. If you just want companionship, friends are everywhere. Nerds abound. You can save tons of expense by shopping locally for these things.

IME, you stand close to a zero chance of changing anyone who isn't listening and showing evidence of trying. "I love you" is something you can train a parrot to say. Training a mate to actually do it? Not so easy.

This question, or its variants (usually minor) comes up every 48 hours here. You aren't alone by being confused, or by considering settling or ending it. Your specific situation is unique, but the generalities are shared with tons of other poor souls here. Relationships sometimes suck and yet are the best things ever. The normal course of events for most people is that they end a specific relationship so that they can start a new one exactly like it with someone else. That seems to be the way is usually works until enough age accumulates that settling is easier than changing.

Good luck. You are way out front in your self-observation, and about in the middle on drawing conclusions from a very clear statement of facts.

One more thing... the immediate response to an actual threat of alteration is "I will change". Do not bank on it. WYSIWYG, almost 100% of the time.
posted by FauxScot at 9:05 PM on December 15, 2013

My marriage started as an LDR, so I think they're fine so long as they work. We were together and married within the year.

I don't think that for me, an on-going LDR would work. That's not how I like my relationships to be.

There are some people who prefer an LDR. They probably have fairly compartmentalized lives, and enjoy being able to have someone, and to be able to fold that whole thing up and put it away for periods of time.

I suspect your BF thinks that this is the PERFECT set up for you both. He has someone, he can get sex when he wants it (the frequency for him suits him to a T,) and he doesn't have to deal with someone in his space all the time.

I think that a long-term or permanant LDR only works if both parties are like that. If only one is, someone feels neglected and unhappy most of the time. Guess who that is in your relationship?

You have my permission to end it. Love isn't enough. If you want a different relationship, you need a different guy.

This is why we date, to see if we're compatible. It worked for awhile, but now it doesn't. It's okay to say so, and it's okay to move on.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:05 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

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