Love him, leave him?
May 15, 2014 9:09 AM   Subscribe

Please help me sort out my long-term thinking about my very good but maybe not perfect relationship?

I adore my boyfriend. He is funny, kind, hard-working, trustworthy, just such a good man all around. We love each other's families, we have great adventures, we laugh a lot, we help and support each other in our big dreams and in difficulties. But I am starting to think we're not going to make it long-term, and need some help thinking this through.

Relevant stats:

I'm 30, he's 33. We've both been in plenty of relationships before, both serious and casual. We've been together not quite two years, lived together for not quite one. We were good friends first and share many mutual friends. We both work full time; I have a demanding and well-paid career; he's a successful creative freelancer.

The issues:

- Sex. I would prefer we had sex at least several times a week; to me it's an important part of relationship hygiene and also, like, I want it. I am very attracted to him. He has a much lower drive. We had frequent sex the first year of our relationship but it's fallen off to once a month, maybe. I initiate; he says he is too distracted and too tired. We've talked about it; I've told him the fact that he's NEVER in the mood makes me feel rejected and undesired and like being intimate with me is the last thing on his priority list. Usually we have sex after a talk like this and then go another few weeks (last time it was 8!) until I get frustrated and start the talk again.

I don't know how to figure out what's really going on with the situation if he won't tell me. If we can't figure out something that works for both of us, it might be a long-term dealbreaker for me.

- Timing. I've realized over the last few years that getting married and having a family are important things for me (I'm sort of surprised about it myself). I'm ready to do that now-ish, or at least to make plans about it. He wants the same things for himself, someday, but doesn't necessarily want them right now; he has other stuff he wants to figure out first (career stuff, money stuff, etc.). I want to buy a house, he maybe wants to live abroad or in another city for a couple of years. I'm sure about him being the one I want to settle down with, if I press him, he can't say that he's sure about me.

- Mismatched levels of commitment/interest. He's the top priority in my life. He says I am his, but looking at actions, work is his top priority (then his family, then his friends, then maybe me). He is thoughtful and caring when I ask him for something directly, but in general I feel like I work really hard to make a nice home for us, I plan fun little surprises, I try to make our life together nice, and he just kind of...doesn't notice or reciprocate unless I ask him to directly. There's very little spontaneous non-sex touching any more. We still have a lot of fun together and talk all the time about everything, but at this point I feel like I am a close friend of his rather than a partner.

So that's a lot of stuff. I feel so sad when I see it laid out like this. We've talked about all this stuff, and frequently—he assures me that he wants me, wants to be with me, wants a future with me, but never does anything to change the current situation (which makes me feel like he doesn't particularly want me or want to be with me or want a future with me, i'm just convenient to have around for now).

It seems stupid to break up when what we have is pretty good, really. But I feel like ultimately it's not going to be enough for me, and I'm starting to feel like it's also stupid to wait around. But I don't just want marriage and kids, I want marriage and kids with him. On the other hand, I don't want that with someone who doesn't want it with me.

I feel very conflicted and don't know what to do. I was going to wait till the two-year mark (the end of the summer) and make a decision then, but that seems kind of mean and wasteful if I'm thinking all these things now. Can you think help me through this and do you have any advice, either on specific parts of our relationship or on what I should do now? I would especially appreciate advice around how to have productive conversations about this stuff (particularly the sex and timing problems) - our big talks mostly seem to be me explaining my perspective on something, him explaining his, us retiring to our separate corners without having come to any new understanding or actionable solutions.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
You are very smart! Truly.

If you think you've talked these issues through enough (I think you have) then it's OK to leave this relationship.

The sex incompatibility IS a dealbreaker, as is his saying all the "right" words but not backing them up with intention and action that place you and the relationship first.

I can't know what's going on with this guy, but I agree he's not as into you as a partner needs to be for marriage and children to be enjoyable.

I would not want a lifetime of cajoling, and honestly, that's all he's got to offer for whatever reason.

I'm sorry. I hope it is some solace that your thoughts are very congruent with finding and identifying the kind of respectful, enjoyable , and equal relationship you seem to be seeking.
posted by jbenben at 9:25 AM on May 15, 2014 [14 favorites]

With the amount of respect and care you have for one another, you can still be mainstays in each other's lives even if you're no longer in a romantic relationship. The things you've laid out as issues sound to me like they're pretty much dealbreakers and while different people are different, that doesn't mean you can't find someone who is more like you than he is in these arenas.

Every partner we have will have qualities that work for us and ones that don't work. But for the most part, it's things like I like sports and he doesn't or we like very different kinds of movies or he likes clubs and I like live music. Generally, I want sex and he doesn't or I want kids and he doesn't are way harder to deal with.

You're 30. You have a number of years before you have to crank out children. You also have your sexual peak to look forward to. In your shoes, looking back at my 30s from my 50s, I would thank him for the wonderful things you've gotten out of the relationship and leave. Then take a year without a relationship, just looking to see what's out there. Once you've taken your time, I'm willing to bet you find someone who is a much better match for you.

That's what I would do anyway.
posted by janey47 at 9:29 AM on May 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'm sure about him being the one I want to settle down with, if I press him, he can't say that he's sure about me.

This is very telling, both regarding what he wants and where your mind is.

More specifically, you talk about him being "the one", but I'd like to remind you that there's no such thing. He is a "one", but there are more people out there that you could be this compatible with. More compatible with, it sounds like.

While I'm sure you feel that you have never felt this certain or this romantic about another man, but you have also never felt the way you do right now about your own self and your own future.

#1 and #3 (especially) are what led me to break up with my ex husband. Granted, I was in my mid 20s at the time and didn't have the drive to have a family.

When I ended my marriage, I told him, "[These] are the incompatibilities I see for us, long-term, and that's not the kind of relationship I want to be in" And rather than work on fixing them or wanting to go to counseling, his reply was basically, "yeah, I guess we should go our separate ways."

I agree that you're being very precise, articulate, and reasonable, and I also think you can find a different partner who is more naturally on the same page as you and/or more willing to invest in meeting you in the middle.
posted by itesser at 9:32 AM on May 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Leave him. I don't feel like any of your issues are insurmountable - I think they could all be tackled through compromise and healthy dialogue - but he isn't willing to do the work to meet you halfway. Not worth your time to pursue a romantic relationship with him.

Grain of salt, maybe, because I would have left eons ago if I were only having sex once a month.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 9:38 AM on May 15, 2014 [8 favorites]

As janey47 said above, "With the amount of respect and care you have for one another, you can still be mainstays in each other's lives even if you're no longer in a romantic relationship."

Back in 2012, I broke up with my boyfriend/partner of five years, and our situation was very similar to yours. I was asking for stability, he was suddenly entertaining dreams to move away and work in showbiz (??!), which I read similarly to your boyfriend's "maybe wants to live abroad or in another city for a couple of years." Looking back, I see that as a polite way to distance himself from the big plans I was making for us. He never did go to work in "showbiz," by the way.

So two years later, we are still good friends and mainstays in each others' lives. It hurt to break up with someone who knew me so well and who was such a good friend to me, so we kinda-sorta kept the parts of the relationship that were working (friendship, confidence, trust, shared social circle and sense of humor) and relieved ourselves of the parts that weren't (sex, sex, sex, long-term goals, mismatched commitment and enthusiasm for a romantic future together).

It's possible, and life is so much better on the other side. I feel for you--it's not easy. Good luck.
posted by magdalemon at 9:41 AM on May 15, 2014 [15 favorites]

(1) Is this guy getting enough sleep? Is his work situation particularly stressful? Does temporarily removing distractions (e.g., by spending the traditional Weekend In A Quaint Cabin) result in more sex?

(2) Is he aware that you're thinking about breaking up with him?
posted by yarntheory at 9:54 AM on May 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

Perhaps the sex thing wouldn't be such a problem if you were craving it once a week and getting once a month. However, you are wanting it several times a week and actually only getting it every 6 weeks.... this is a big disparity.

The sex thing aside, I think it's sad that you don't feel his top priority, he's rejecting you in more ways than just physically.

You are young but if marriage and kids are on your "to do" list, don't waste any more time with this dude if he's not prepared to give them to you. You don't want to wake up when you're 36 and realise he's never going to give you what you need from him.
posted by JenThePro at 9:56 AM on May 15, 2014 [9 favorites]

If you think about it, it's odd how often we give painstaking deliberation to whether or not we should break up with someone, when when it's so exceedingly rare that we hear anyone regretting breaking up with someone. Mostly we only regret waiting so long, and the only reason we do that--the waiting and deliberating I mean--is that, as the song says, breaking up is hard to do.

I think you already know you want to break up with this person, that it's not everything you want. But since it is some of the things you want, it's still really tough. Do it anyway. Rip off the band aid.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:33 AM on May 15, 2014 [11 favorites]

There's an old metafilter comment about the five main ingredients for relationship success, and how without at least three of them, the relationship is unstable and likely to collapse. I seem to recall that sex, shared goals, and feeling like a priority (or something like that) were three of those 5, and those seem to be missing in your relationship.

You've put a lot into this relationship, and I don't doubt that you two love each other. But love isn't enough if your relationship is missing fundamental supports.
posted by ldthomps at 10:38 AM on May 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Ah, Here is Stickycarpet's five-legged table analogy. I was a little off but stand by my belief that this relationship might not be enough for you.
posted by ldthomps at 10:42 AM on May 15, 2014 [6 favorites]

We were in a very similar situation and couples counseling really helped us figure out what we both wanted and helped us see how to get there.

Just the step of agreeing to go was a huge help. One party realized that this continuing discussion was serious enough to to consider ending the relationship. The other party saw that the seemingly less engaged partner was willing to fight for the relationship.

Once there, we learned tools to help us lessen the burden of starting difficult conversations, initiating sex, and all those little things that add up. We revisited what we loved about each other and what we loved about life.

If you care enough to ask strangers on the internet before breaking up, you care enough to try counseling.
posted by advicepig at 10:45 AM on May 15, 2014 [7 favorites]

This is super tough and I am really sorry.

A year and a half ago I had some similar concerns about my relationship and told my partner that I was really unhappy and that we needed to make some changes. She found a therapist for us and for herself (basically immediately) and we're getting married in 10 weeks (plus we bought a house and yesterday when I was worried about finding a job and said, "Well, maybe I'll just get pregnant." she was all about it (not me being unemployed, but the idea of a baby soon)). It was HARD, but it was so worth it. I was pretty sure that we were going to break up and I am really, really happy we didn't. Counseling won't work for every relationship, but I think that if both parties are on board, it can be really useful.

One of my closest friends was also in a similar situation, but outside of a couple of short conversations, she didn't talk to her partner at all. She ended up breaking up with him and he was totally blindsided and devastated (and of course realized at that point that he wanted to get married and settle down). A year and a half later, he is still quite sad and regretful. She moved to a new city and is doing well, but the break-up was really hard on her, too (they'd been together 5 years). She is not at all sorry about her decision, but she is sorry that they never really discussed things.

I am not advocating breaking up with him to try and make him do what you want, but I think you should share with him how unhappy you are and that are unsure if the relationship will work. Also, I see you said you've talked with him about this, so you might just need to stress how worried you are. My partner and I did not have to deal with incompatible sex drives though, so that is not something I can speak on with any authority (is he depressed at all? when I was depressed I was not at all interested in sex.). I also think when someone gets to the point of thinking they should break up generally that's the right answer. Good luck.
posted by vakker at 11:03 AM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

we help and support each other in our big dreams and in difficulties.

Well except for your big dreams and difficulties that have to do with the relationship; doesn't sound like you're getting, or going to get, any help there from him. Don't treat those things as less important than your job goals or what have you; that way lies long-term misery.

If he's not willing to change or try anything to meet your stated needs, then there is no decision but to leave. Especially if marriage is off the table; what you have is a slightly romantic friendship and clearly you want more. If you can keep the friendship and get romance elsewhere, great. It might not work, and that will be sad, but truly, you deserve to get your needs met.

You don't have to frame it as either of you being the bad guy; you're just incompatible for a long-term romantic relationship.
posted by emjaybee at 12:10 PM on May 15, 2014 [8 favorites]

I don't know why folks are advocating keeping this guy as a friend.

If you want to get married and have children, you need to make space for that to happen. Keeping your old guy around for support would be undermining your goals.

Anyway, you need to become self-supportive in order to have enough to share with another.

OP, I have no idea what your thinking is on all of this, and if you break up, I'm not saying you throw out your current guy like last night's take out!

Just pointing out that this temporary "fix" to shift the relationship keeps getting mentioned, and IMHE, it just keeps you from your goals
posted by jbenben at 12:19 PM on May 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

Theres a lot of stuff I could say about love languages and communication and hormone levels... but... You are, by your words, MAYBE 4th place in this dudes life. This is.... not a good sign. I'd think if that doesn't change, and darn soon, I'd walk/tell you to walk if you were my sister. From your words, you seem to be willing to work on things, but if he is NOT, this relationship is dead.

Schedule a time. Have a sit down talk, where everybody is fed, rested, as un-stressed as possible. Tell him what is going on. If he commits to improving- AND FOLLOWS THROUGH IN A REASONABLE PERIOD- good. You can build on that. If not, move on.
posted by Jacen at 1:07 PM on May 15, 2014

I think this is an excellent situation for couple's therapy. Most couple wait until conflicts are so long-standing that they're painful to untangle; it's so much easier to benefit from therapy when things haven't ossified into a constant shouting match or a Cold War.

My gut feeling is that your boyfriend doesn't actually understand how serious your complaints are. Suggesting therapy would underline how unhappy you are while also giving you a safe place to talk through these issues. Your boyfriend's at an age/stage where many men have trouble prioritizing relationships over work, and many men need a bit of a rude awakening to realize that they don't actually get to string their partners along indefinitely like they may have in their 20s. For me, it'd be worthwhile to make a bigger stand and bring in more resources (therapy) before just walking away. (I mean, it's entirely possible your boyfriend can't or won't change, but I think that, at this point, he may not quite realize that he's required to do so if he wants to stay in a relationship with you.)
posted by jaguar at 1:54 PM on May 15, 2014 [6 favorites]

I feel like you've seen enough and talked enough. I'm just guessing here but I think people don't ask internet strangers for relationship advice at the very first sign of trouble. The sex thing alone is enough. You've told him how you feel how many times? And he hasn't independently changed or made an effort on this issue that is very important to you? There's your answer. Do you really want to be begging for sex for the next 20 years?

I've learned so much from AskMe. I think the big relationship lesson for me goes something like this: You are allowed to ask for what you need. Your partner can then decide to give it to you or not (and actions definitely speak louder than words here). If your partner decides not to give it to you then you get to decide if you want to stay in the relationship or not.

What kind of relationship do you want? One where your partner is visibly happy to be with you (not only when you ask?) and has the same life goals as you? You can have that. Just not with this guy.
posted by dawkins_7 at 3:07 PM on May 15, 2014 [7 favorites]

Nthing couples therapy if you've been together for two years already. I agree that he may not understand the seriouness of your issues.
posted by corb at 3:09 PM on May 15, 2014

Agreeing with advicepig and jaguar about trying couples therapy, specifically take a look at Emotionally Focused therapy. It sounds to me like you have a lot of good here, and some other things that could be worked out. But I also get the feeling that he's not completely clear about the state of the relationship. If you propose therapy as something you need in order to sort this out, his willingness to try it will say a lot.
posted by Sal and Richard at 3:17 PM on May 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

So, you've told him the lack of sex makes you feel rejected, so he makes you wait eight weeks before you're intimate again, you're fourth on his list of priorities after work and his friends, and he does nothing to make you feel like you're important in his life. He tells you he wants all the things you want, but does nothing to achieve them, you tell him you're not happy and you get... Nothing. In fact when you tell him you're sure he's the one you want to spend your life with, HE TELLS YOU HE CAN'T SAY THAT HE'S SURE ABOUT YOU. Yeah, no shit. Talk about burying the lede.

Look, I'm going to give it to you straight, this guy has told you with actions and he's told you with words. It's not going to happen, he doesn't want it. And more importantly, you shouldn't want a future with him, your needs aren't important to him. At all. This is a guy who begrudgingly has sex with you once every two months and makes no effort at all and you want to spend the rest of your life with him? Girl, you can do so much better. It's only been two years, you should still be in the honeymoon stage, not begging for whatever scraps of attention he can be bothered to throw to you in between working and hanging out with his friends.

Most of all, he doesn't respect or love you enough to have an honest conversation with you about this or attempt to work through it. This person isn't even worth being friends with because friends treat each other better than that. DTMFA like, yesterday. All the therapy in the world can't convince someone to make you a priority when they don't want to.
posted by Jubey at 5:11 PM on May 15, 2014 [14 favorites]

I've recommended this a few times but I think it's really helpful in working out if you're getting what you really need in your relationship, and whether you're more likely to regret staying or leaving: Too Good To Leave, Too Bad To Stay.

I would add one piece of advice that I've seen in AskMe before: if you're at the point of asking the Internet if you should leave then you may already be at that place. People who are happy and fulfilled in their relationships don't ask "Should I end this?" Take care.
posted by billiebee at 5:11 PM on May 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Spend another year with another guy just to find out again maybe thatvhis sex drive peters out after a year too? You wouldn't have known this about the current guy and won't know the same thing, or something else, about the next guy early on either. So try to figure out what's going on with this guy before you leave. Is he perhaps not attracted to you? Or maybe watching a lot of porn?
posted by Dansaman at 6:08 PM on May 15, 2014

Has he been tested for low testosterone? The sex part is may have medical causes.
posted by amaire at 7:02 PM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

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