Am I looking a gifthorse in the mouth?
December 14, 2014 7:18 AM   Subscribe

I found the greatest guy when I wasn't even looking. But I'm not too long out of a relationship (10 months) where I think I really loved him (despite current man looking so much better on paper), intimacy is taking a while to grow and I just feel a bit wary and not sure I'm into him some of the time. It's been 3/4 months of dating but I'd now say we're firmly headed to relationship territory. But I don't want to stay and waste this person's time if he's not the one for me. I also don't want to throw away something which could be really special, and this person is special, but maybe I know that on paper but don't really appreciate it which doesn't seem like a good start to a relationship.

Bit of background about me:

I'm 30 years old and female and want children in the next few years. Or at least, in theory, but who knows in reality given how many nice boyfriends I've had who I've decided to then just discard because I'm not feeling it.

I'm generally anxious, prone to melancholy and feelings that everything's doomed (!) and have an extremely analytical mind. I've been in a lot of relationships, usually long-term, where for some reason I've held on for way longer than I should have (usually misplaced guilt), because the person is lovely but I'm just not into them. It's like I discount my own feelings and try and pretend to be someone else for a while until I burst and surprise them by dumping them. I't's probably to do with self-esteem too; the idea that I'm lucky to have this great person want to go out with me. I tend to put them on a pedestal and forget that actually I've never had problems attracting great people. It's weird.

This is a pattern and I haven't spent too much time alone. I broke up with my last boyfriend in early Feb this year, and haven't really looked for anyone else. I never look for someone else; I just fall into things, so it's not like I'm really needy and just want 'someone'.

I do feel like I've learnt lots about what makes a good relationship, and contrary to what it may seem, I'm actually a pretty independent, well-rounded person. I've also been in therapy for three years, and both me and my therapist have established that I do want to now find the right person to settle down with, instead of going for people that are clearly not well suited to me in an unconscious bid not to commit (I'm actually quite free-spirited and creative, and a theory I have is that I've gone into relationships sometimes in a bid to be lazy and not dedicate time to this as it's a scary, less controllable aspect of my personality which is easy stifled by the commitment to being a 'good', available girlfriend).

I was 'in love' with my last boyfriend, who enchanted me. But he was a very independent person, who'd never had a proper long-term relationship in his adult life really (one seven year, very messy, one-off relationship with someone who mostly lived in another country - wasn't what you'd call stable and there were massive gaps). I was probably his biggest relationship and he was 42 years old. Years before that there was a lovely, mad actor who at 32 still lived with his mother and slightly lived in a dream world. He had a weed and jealousy problem and eventually cheated on me when I went to university, breaking my heart which didn't heal for years. I wonder whether there's a reason I was attracted to these people who perhaps unconsciously represented some sort of freedom for me. They both needed a lot of their own space. In my last relationship I became very jealous and insecure - I think as a result of this man's need for space, and fear of commitment. He seemed to avoid intimacy sometimes. It was difficult as we worked together and I think it killed the romance for him - he always wanted me somewhat unreachable, in an ideal world, I think. But there was definitely something in it that kept me wanting more. I wonder whether the thrill of always feeling like I had to prove myself, pretend I wasn't as smitten as I was and perform kept me interested and feeling 'in love'.

Was that actually just insecurity and infatuation? As I get older and see my friends pair off into stable relationships, coupled with the sneaking suspicion that real love grows and isn't just handed to you on a plate at the beginning of a relationship (though lust might be), I wonder how I can find the right path forward. If love itn's instantly there, and it grows, how long do I wait for it in a relationship before it becomes unfair on the other person? And will constantly analysing and worrying about the other person just kill anything that had potential to grow anyway, as I fear it might be doing now?

Fast forward to now, and I met someone who I instantly felt attracted to and comfortable with right at the end of August. We had one, marathon, amazing date before he went away for a month. When he came back we started seeing eachother around once or twice a week for a couple of months. He was generally quite bad at contact in between, which I now realise is just a quirk of his personality and the fact that he's not used to being with someone (his last relationship was six years long and ended four years ago). But it meant I was probably kept quite excited by the fact I didn't know where we stood. I'd have a weekly episode of feeling terribly insecure - it was awful, but perhaps I was getting something out of it - some sort of thrill?

He is lovely, and we have long conversations where he really opens up. We're affectionate and extremely well suited intellectually. He's also very handsome and I feel lucky to be with him! The sex is good too - probably getting better and better. I'm excited about him meeting my friends and I feel like he's the first boyfriend that I feel like I'd have no problems introducing to any of my friends and worrying they won't get along. He also seems to really admire me and enjoy my company, and I want to be my best self with him. I feel like I've been a bit guarded about opening up myself with him, as my life and past are quite colourful and perhaps darker than his. I'm probably not being completely open, and I can feel this lack of acceptance of myself translate itself nto some closed behaviour where I am actively performing as the positive, optimistic girlfriend when I might feel something quite different. It's better than when I let my moods take over for no good reason though. They're often inexplicable and upset the other person, which doesn't feel fair. But perhaps this makes me feel more distant from him. I know that the logical answer is that evryone has difficulties in their past and a good relationship accepts and even starts to heal some of those. But my last boyfrend was so relentlessly discouraging of any of my darkness, I felt completely unaccepted and alone.

It did reach a point a few weeks ago where I was thinking of ending it as it didn't seem to be progressig, but we then had a chat where we both said that we didn't know where we stood, liked eachother and would like to see eachother more. Since then things have felt more stable, we've been texting more and chatting on the phone, and yesterday we spent our first day where we just hung out together, both needing to do some work, but wanting to do it in the same room as a opposed to needing a date as an excuse to see eachother. Of course, it's around this time that I start really questioning how I feel. I've noticed a few times after dates feeling a bit empty and sad, and like we're not connecting enough. Is this enough of a reason to end it, do you think? I know that you're not supposed to feel it all the time - am I just analysing these moments so they feel bigger than they are and hoping for a big love straightaway, of the magnitude I had before? Is this too much to ask? Was what I had before even love? We moved so quickly then, I spent xmas at his parents four months in! I know this guy is hinting that I might come visit him and his parents for the xmas holidays (not spend xmas day there like I did with the last one) but I think the situation strikes fear in my heart because the last relationship also started in August and I feel like it got way too committed too soon and then when I realised there were aspects of his personality I didn't like that made me feel insecure it was too late and I was already too far in so had big freakouts which we couldn't work through and eventually contributed to our breakup.

I know I could have a loving, adult, long-term relationship with this man but I keep worrying that I don't feel 'giddy' enough. Add to this a lot of extraneous stress (potential reduncancy at work coming up, plus generally being over-worked and under-exercised, with a bad housemate situation). I know that all this stress and unhappiness isn't necessarily him, but when I'm in a relationship I do have a tendancy to think that if I'm not happy all the time then the relationship isn't the right one for me. And I also really worry about getting into something with somene that I'll eventually end, because I've done that before (the longest was 3.5 years and it broke his heart) and I never want to do it again, especially if there's something missng from the beginning.

But my married friends often tell me that they didn't feel a spark all the time, that love grows, that I should stop analysing and just enjoy. But I don't know how. I think I'm a natural searcher, always curious about new things and hungry for information and new experiences. Perhaps I do this in relationships too but I want to be able to work through that with someone and develop real intimacy and a loving family. Is that possible or am I too messy? Would it be kinder to end it with him now?
posted by starstarstar to Human Relations (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Keep dating him. At some point you'll either want to move things forward or you won't.

Besides, if he's not happy with things are, he can always break up, it's a two way street. He's a grown man and as long as you're honest you're both in it for the same reasons.

It's okay to keep dating if you're happy, but not sure it's for keeps.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:35 AM on December 14, 2014 [6 favorites]

Usually I feel that when people post long ambivalent posts about the person that they're dating, they should probably break up. However, in most of those cases the missing element is sexual chemistry or profoundly mismatched sexual needs.

In this case, it sounds like you're on the same page - both interested but uncertain, and there's nothing you've written here that makes me think you are stringing him along or that his heart will be shattered if you break up.

If you want a new experience .. you could try telling him a little bit about your dark past, and see what his reaction is. I think that might give you some clarity on whether to keep seeing him.
posted by bunderful at 8:41 AM on December 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

From one analytical person to another - it sounds adrenaliney and exhausting to be thinking this much! Is there anything at all you can do to give yourself daily mental breaks?

I'm reading 'daring to trust' just now which basically says a partner contributes about 25% of our happiness/mental state.. eff knows how they figure it out but I think it's interesting and thought you may too.

Potent chemistry can be a sign NOT to get involved. This sounds like a sane involvement to me, that is sexy enough!
posted by tanktop at 8:55 AM on December 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

For people who have had a history of sweep-you-off-your-feet, drama-filled, push-pull relationships, the steady pace of actually getting to know someone can feel unexciting and even disappointing, in a kind of "Why can't he see into my SOUL!" sort of way.

What you're describing sounds like a completely normal place to be, in terms of intimacy, after a few months of dating. Real emotional intimacy takes time to develop, because it's built on each partner's actual actions (did they call when they said they would, did they react lovingly when I told that story I'm embarrassed about, were they open and generous rather than jealous and sulky with my friends, etc.) rather than on projection and fantasies.

I would talk to your therapist about what might happen if you took the risk to be more open with this guy about your "darker" aspects. There may some very good reasons you're holding back, which your therapist can help you untangle, but at least from what you've written here, it sounds like what's holding you back is stuff from the past, not stuff from this relationship. And you can absolutely work through some of that while in this current relationship, simply by making different choices than you made in the past.
posted by jaguar at 9:02 AM on December 14, 2014 [10 favorites]

Rather than feeling twitter-pated, I just couldn't see myself with anyone else - ever. And I liked that feeling. (Still together after 15 years, and still prefer his company to anyone else's.) I'd focus on just enjoying where you are - where you're headed will become clear soon enough.
posted by summerstorm at 10:23 AM on December 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Hello me a year ago, down to even weird coincidental details about Ex! Keep communicating with current guy about where you are mentally and emotionally, and give yourself permission to be confused and unsure. Those of us who are analytic depressives need to allow ourselves to turn things over and over again verbally and internally, but make sure you are also checking in with the present moment at least a couple times a day--you can smother little embers as they happen by pullimg back from them, wondering whether they're legitimate, or strong "enough" or whatever. Really look at your current partner and see him as a whole person, in the moment, not just a sum of your fears and hopes and documentation. That will give you good data when you go on a mentat trance (not making fun, I do this!)

I vacillated a lot about my current partner, who is also great on paper, and actually is a really wonderful partner in real life too. He is understanding about my need to analyze and over analyze everything about relationships and love and stuff, and we aren't SO PASSIONATELY IN LOVE OMG because those types of relationships are actually kinda unhealthy for both of us (see: Heathcliffe and Catherine, Romeo and Juliet etc) but we really care about each others thoughts and feelings in the day to day. That's what's more important to us now, in our early 30s.

If you check in with yourself in the present moment and feel...kinda nothing, or just find yourself convincing your gut that "it's good enough, I'll just buckle down and not care if I'm actually kinda more miserable than I am alone but being alone sucks in a futire-plans way, so I just gotta do this..." that's when you walk. Don't think about how you'll be alone and miserable later if you don't just do the thing now. That's how you end up having to break it off years later, and it sucks more then.
posted by zinful at 11:10 AM on December 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Was that actually just insecurity and infatuation? As I get older and see my friends pair off into stable relationships, coupled with the sneaking suspicion that real love grows and isn't just handed to you on a plate at the beginning of a relationship (though lust might be), I wonder how I can find the right path forward. If love itn's instantly there, and it grows, how long do I wait for it in a relationship before it becomes unfair on the other person? And will constantly analysing and worrying about the other person just kill anything that had potential to grow anyway, as I fear it might be doing now?

Yep. It sounds like your past relationships were drama-rama anxiety fests with big age gaps thrown in for extra tension. And that thrill of uncertainty isn't the same as love. You already know this, because love heals you and makes you feel safe and that's not what those relationships did for you. If this relationship seems really different, that may be a very good sign.

I've been with my partner for 10 years. Every year our love is different, like a tree with deeper roots. It ebbs and flows but it's steady and dependable. It's a lot of work and the rewards are high. We have a lot of trust and love. If you want to pursue that kind of love, you need to give yourself time to acclimate to it.

You're a thinky gal, so here's a book to consider: David Richo's How To Be An Adult In Relationships. I asked Mefi about it here. That question references a few other books you may like better if you don't like that one. Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson is great too.

Look around here for questions on that analyzing and worrying too. There's lots of wisdom here on that.
posted by heatherann at 11:30 AM on December 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks guys, this was helpful. I took heart particularly in the idea that I'd been thriving from drama and insecurity in previous relationships. If you look at my previous post, which was HIGH insecurity and drama, you will see that I definitely have the ability to take situations which are difficult and analyse them to the degree where they couldn't get any more dramatic in my head. To realise this, and work on not acting on it (partially faciliated by sharing on here instead of bringing it into the relationship), has meant that in moments of insecurity, I've been able to keep things on a fairly even keel. And when I mistake this even keel for boring-ness, lack of chemistry, I remember that my previous model for love has been unsustainable and unhappy-making. I've learnt to deal with the not-knowing-everything thing quite well I think over the past few months, and me and the man have gotten steadily closer, self-disclosing, interdependent in what I feel is a healthy way. I am starting to feel very close to him, and whereas I can't predict the future, I can say that I could easily envisage a wonderful one with him at this moment in time, based on what I know of him.
posted by starstarstar at 8:49 AM on April 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

What a wonderful update! I'm so glad to hear you're feeling better about things. Thank you for sharing. :)
posted by heatherann at 1:03 PM on April 3, 2015

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