Compromise... how does that work?
October 3, 2015 3:52 AM   Subscribe

I am madly in love with my boyfriend and I want to spend the rest of my life with him. But I also desperately miss being single and only being responsible to and for myself. I'm not sure how to cope with this; I don't know whether it's going to get better on its own as we get better at communicating with each other, whether I'm just going to gradually get used to the status quo, or whether I need to mourn that loss of independence and move on with my (generally pretty great) new life (maybe all three).

I was single for all of my 20s and most of my 30s, and it was pretty great. Then I met and fell in love with my wonderful boyfriend (we have been together for two years), and that was even better! Except. I really, really miss being single. Not the "possibility of new romantic excitement" stuff, just the "fuck it, I'm having popcorn for dinner and maybe breakfast too" part. The part where I can make plans (or not make plans) with no regard for anyone but myself. The part where I can book a three-week vacation to a place no one wants to go except me. The part where I can go to bed at 8:30 if I want and no one will wake me up a couple of hours later when he comes to bed. The part where there is never any discussion (much less argument) about what I'm going to have for freaking dinner. The part where I can invite whoever I want to come over and watch a movie because the only person who has to like them is ME.

To some extent, this is just part of being in a relationship, right? If I'm sharing my life with this guy, I need to take his opinions and preferences into account. That is part of the emotional labor of being in a relationship, and we both need to do it. I *want* to take care of him, and I expect him to do the same for me (and he does). But it is a constant source of stress for me. When I was single I knew that I was the one who had to take care of stuff, and I didn't have to check whether someone else was taking care of stuff, and I didn't have to *worry* about whether stuff was getting done because either I had done it or I hadn't. Plus, if I failed to get stuff done, it only affected me, and I generally didn't fail to get stuff done that was genuinely important to me.

It doesn't help that my boyfriend is a little... fussier? than me. He's more uncomfortable in unfamiliar situations than I am. He spends a lot more time researching and making decisions than I feel is necessary, sometimes to the point where we miss out on options we both agree would have been better because we wait too long to pull the trigger. I'm generally happy to just pick an OK option and go with it, but if I do this for things that affect both of us he will generally go along with me but he'll often be uncomfortable/unhappy about the outcome, which is no fun. We've talked about what we should do about this and haven't come to any useful conclusions.

I also just feel like I don't have any time that's just for me anymore. I love spending time with my boyfriend, and in the moment I'm pretty much always going to choose his company over whatever else might be on the table. But man, I miss just getting up in the morning and going hiking for eight hours, or deciding on Friday morning to go spend the weekend with my grandmother, or spontaneously deciding to check out an art exhibit or a free concert after work. Again: making decisions/taking action without worrying about what someone else wants.

So I guess my questions are three:
1) What can we do as a couple to take some of the pressure off, so that I don't still feel like I'm responsible for all the stuff?
2) Can you guys help me identify some areas in my life where I *can* actually say "fuck it" and do my own thing? (I've been thinking about taking occasional weekend trips alone - I love to travel alone, and I miss it a lot)
3) I'm not the only one who feels this way, am I? Am I secretly a selfish robot who does not understand human love?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
 
I have pretty much the same experience. My wife and I are now together for 14 years, but I still miss that particular feeling of managing on my own. You see, I am (and was) super good in enjoying myself. What helps is discussing this with your partner; them acknowledging that you desperately need some alone time. You could hold off sharing an apartment for several years (we did for 6 years). As long as you can have those discussions you'll be fine. My wife too is much fussier than me. A relationship is a definite compromise. Weigh the pros and cons. Claim your alone time. And it gets worse when you get a child, ha ha! So enjoy what you do have. Grieve that you're one of the happy few who made it on their own for a while. Over the years I look back happy for that time, more than wanting to travel back in time. Good luck!
posted by hz37 at 4:24 AM on October 3, 2015


does he understand that he's a problem (too)? because it sounds like he is, and he needs to make an effort to change. i say this as the up-tight english partner of a s american woman and so am speaking from experience (from his position). more exactly - you both need to be trying to find some kind of middle ground. this is probably the biggest source of issues in our relationship. the only solution we have found (and we've been together, uff, almost 25 years now) is a lot of talking and understanding. you really need to know that the other person is trying, even if they don't get it right. and i have changed quite a bit (as has my partner). so it gets easier over time.

looking at your questions more directly: paulina (my partner) travels quite a bit, which gives us space. also, our lives tend to be structured around "things we do together" (like, in an hour or so we'll be going to the market to buy fruit and veg) and then "alone time" (where we're dong our own thing in separate rooms - i will finally be spraying the top coat on my bike frame, yay!). and of course you understand human love (asking that worries me because in my experience, when there's a mismatch like this, "i don't feel loved" is a possible complaint, and you need to talk more to fix this, and talking only really works when both sides recognise there's a problem - hence my opening question). i think it helped us that we were from different cultures, so we could "blame" that difference rather than each other.

good luck.
posted by andrewcooke at 4:26 AM on October 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm not sure I agree that he (or you) needs to change. I do think that you both need to get to the point where you appreciate this about each other rather than resenting it. Can you reframe his fussiness as attention to detail and commitment to do the right thing? Can he value your independence and sense of adventure? Can you both trust each other to nurture the relationship?

As far as independence goes, what happens if you do plan those things? Does he pout or is he happy for you to do things you enjoy? Do you let it go when he "overthinks" things or do you get impatient?

In my relationship, we've lost a ton of spontaneity as we've had children. But I encourage my husband to go surfing weekly, and he's supportive when I have my alone time. We check in for anything that will affect the others' life (which is pretty much every night out, what with the children), and it works out fine.
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:49 AM on October 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


I call this dilemma the "Mad About You" Syndrome, named after a Seinfeld episode where George can't go out with the guys because he promised to watch "Mad About You" with his fiancée. This is a couples'-single-days-are-over activity that one of the partners wouldn't do alone, in this case George.

I disagree that your wonderful guy is a problem; you just have different togetherness styles merging here. This is a classic /roommates/moving-in-together/first year of marriage dilemma that takes some shaking out. It's possible that after being such a successful single, you may not get used to it, and the couples' relationship won't work out. Things that can help if you decide you want to be a long-term couple:

--a room of one's own where one can watch, say, "The Three Stooges" while eating popcorn for dinner every now and then. If there's a bed in there, sleep in it occasionally. This goes for each of you.

--seeing friends separately but mainly outside the couple space.

--have a once-a-week powwow to discuss who does what to take care of the living-together stuff--finances, cleaning, cooking, etc.

--taking occasional trips alone but not for too long. Or if you take a long trip together, build in a couple days where you each go off on your own. My husband and I went to separate countries during a travel adventure when we were in our late twenties because we needed space. But this all needs to be discussed so as not to step on feelings.

Right now, you're in the couple building phase of seeing what you enjoy sharing together. The mini-single separations can come later after you build the couples' foundation. You'll have to see if this is what you want long term.
posted by Elsie at 5:04 AM on October 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


You are definitely not alone! Your post describes me exactly. I *loved* being single, which I've been for long stretches of my life. I'm now married with children, and it is an ongoing adjustment.

The pain of having to communicate or even quibble about every goddamn thing makes me weep sometimes. Like if I want to take a 15 minute walk, even, I have to tell my wife, right? You can't just walk out the door, even if she's in the middle of doing something else, by herself. And that's usually no biggie but sometimes she might say " oh but my mom is about to call me back and she wanted to talk to you about bladdeeblah." So now it seems like I have to wait and then it inevitably turns out to be much longer than expected before she calls back.... you get the picture.

And I love my wife and kids! I really do. But the endless talking and compromising and joint decision-making wears me out.

And I am not one of these slob men who needs fixing, either. But like you, I'm very comfortable winging it. For example on my own I never went grocery shopping with a list. Then I dated a woman (before my wife), MUCH fussier than me, who one night came over and actually got kind of mad at me for buying two containers of cottage cheese! We weren't living together but she said that "we have to coordinate our grocery shopping because you're buying food I have a lot if and it'll go bad, etc." Erm, no it won't and no we don't because we're done, and the relief I felt upon closing the door after she left was extraordinary.

But to your questions, because even a grump like me had mostly solved this problem and you can too.

For (1.), try to Define areas of responsibility that one person wholly manages without much discussion or debate.
For (2.), talk about how to create space for you. I have an room in our house dedicated to me and my stuff and I get to organize it however I want. And one weeknight each week I get to spend in there uninterrupted (after the kids are in bed.) I also get one week, sometimes 10 days all to myself when my wife takes the kids to visit her parents and extended family, in the summer. These are people we see a lot (they're only 90 minutes away) so this isn't a big deal.

In short, have some agreed-upon times when you can enjoy full independence, they are regular and predictable, and you can look forward to them.
posted by Philemon at 5:08 AM on October 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


i think snickerdoodle makes a good point that contrasts with mine - i think it's both changing and accepting (and i guess the relative amount of each would depend on the people involved - i'm not even sure you can separate them because for me, part of changing has been more accepting, if you see what i mean....)
posted by andrewcooke at 5:10 AM on October 3, 2015


just the "fuck it, I'm having popcorn for dinner and maybe breakfast too" part. The part where I can make plans (or not make plans) with no regard for anyone but myself. The part where I can book a three-week vacation to a place no one wants to go except me. The part where I can go to bed at 8:30 if I want and no one will wake me up a couple of hours later when he comes to bed. The part where there is never any discussion (much less argument) about what I'm going to have for freaking dinner. The part where I can invite whoever I want to come over and watch a movie because the only person who has to like them is ME.

But you totally can do all of those things, except the going to bed early and not getting woken up one. You are choosing not to because you are running the togetherness part of your relationship the way you abstractly think relationships are supposed to work, instead of running your relationship the way you want it to be in a relationship.

There is no reason not to go on vacation by yourself wherever you want. Fuck; life is really short. Your partner is a grown-ass man; if you want to have popcorn for dinner, surely he isn't going to starve. Also, see the Emotional Labor thread; it actually IS NOT your unpaid job to make sure he's happy and comfortable with all of the road ahead of him, including fucking dinner.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:16 AM on October 3, 2015 [41 favorites]


"fuck it, I'm having popcorn for dinner and maybe breakfast too" part.

I've been married for 24 years and I still do that. I still go out drinking with the guys too, although we are all married and these days are usually back home before midnight. There is no incompatibility at all between marriage / long term commitment and some "me" time. In fact, it's probably essential if you are going to make it as a couple long term.
posted by COD at 5:46 AM on October 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


just the "fuck it, I'm having popcorn for dinner and maybe breakfast too" part. The part where I can make plans (or not make plans) with no regard for anyone but myself. The part where I can book a three-week vacation to a place no one wants to go except me. The part where I can go to bed at 8:30 if I want and no one will wake me up a couple of hours later when he comes to bed. The part where there is never any discussion (much less argument) about what I'm going to have for freaking dinner. The part where I can invite whoever I want to come over and watch a movie because the only person who has to like them is ME.

I agree that the only thing on that list that is hard to avoid is the coming to bed part, and even that is avoidable by having a spare bedroom or sleeping on the downstairs couch. Some nights we cook together and eat the same food; other nights one of us does the popcorn thing and the other eats whatever they want, maybe popcorn also or maybe an elaborate dinner. There is no requirement to eat the same food or do the same things at every moment.

Are you guys living in a small apartment? Fairly large parts of what you are describing are way easier to negotiate when you simply have more physical space. In a tiny apartment you are on top of each other at every moment, but in even a modest house (or larger apartment) you can be doing your own thing in one room while he is in another, and you can each have spaces that are yours to control. Financially that may not be an option for you, but if it is (or even keeping separate apartments), then you might find some aspects becoming less stressful.

People seem to find our relationship weird because we do things like travel internationally alone sometimes, but this is what works for us. Other people want to be together all the time and that works for them, which is great. You sound like you need some more space, both physical and mental, and there is nothing stopping that other than being able to communicate it and negotiate it in ways that support both of you and make the relationship stronger.

There are a lot more ways to have a great relationship than what you see in the standard hollywood romance movie, but you have to negotiate it yourself because it is outside of that standard box.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:06 AM on October 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


I loved my single days and I still miss it, but I have gotten used to the degree of sharing/co-planning with my SO after 9 years, 1.5 of them married. It settles out. You probably do have to give some thought to what makes for appropriate "me time" for you and negotiate how to get it. I'm an outgoing introvert who happens to find the presence of other people pleasantly distracting, so much so that it derails my own thoughts and goals, so I really need some space to stay in touch with my own projects and personal growth. This is taking care of itself these days, as my partner and I have different work schedules and so there is usually a day or so a week he's working and I'm home, or vice versa, so I can bang around the house doing projects without getting distracted by wanting to do fun stuff with him (or feeling like I really should). I also travel for work and friend visits a fair amount, and since that doesn't always work with his schedule, that also becomes solo time where I can enjoy wandering around neighborhoods, being spontaneous, etc.

you're totally not the only one who feels this way. The pleasures of living solo are so underrated! In fact, I think it puts us at an advantage - later in life, people generally end up solo at some point again unless they co-decease their partner, and that can be devastating for anyone but perhaps much more challenging for those who have never lived alone. So it's a great skill to know how to take care of yourself, emotionally and physically, and enjoy it. But I think it makes sense to make a fair trade-off between some of those pleasures and the pleasures of being partnered, which of course are significant. But the tradeoff doesn't have to be complete. Negotiate some space and definitely, when you want popcorn for dinner, just say it. And recognize that not everyone has the same need for solo time - so even though your partner might look at you like you're crazy and be all "but don't you want to spend time with meee?" - you can confidently say absolutely I do, but needing a little downtime by myself is just how I am and it makes me better to be around the rest of the time. It's one of the little interpersonal negotiations of relationships.
posted by Miko at 7:51 AM on October 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


It doesn't help that my boyfriend is a little... fussier? than me. He's more uncomfortable in unfamiliar situations than I am. He spends a lot more time researching and making decisions than I feel is necessary, sometimes to the point where we miss out on options we both agree would have been better because we wait too long to pull the trigger. I'm generally happy to just pick an OK option and go with it, but if I do this for things that affect both of us he will generally go along with me but he'll often be uncomfortable/unhappy about the outcome, which is no fun.

This is annoying. Fix it and you'll be a lot happier. He's a maximizer and you're a satisficer.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:29 AM on October 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Agreeing to do different things, spend some portion of leisure time not-together, is one thing that to me differentiates early limerance dating from established practical relationships. But everybody has a different view of that that final state will be. We are fine with my grabbing some dinner and going out to a social event after work and him not driving out (long commute) to meet me, but in fact eating leftovers for dinner and doing his own thing; other couples might think that going out dancing is something that must be done together. I don't think that I'd be comfortable planning a vacation of my own that he's not invited on, but both of us do go away a hobby-related weekend that we spend with hobby-related friends doing specific activities. But when it's something we both enjoy, we both go.

This works because we are two busy individuals, and if we both did everything either of us was interested in, together, we wouldn't have time to breathe. So my advice would be to find something that he wants to do and doesn't need you around for, so that he can look forward to doing that without feeling abandoned if you go do something you want without him.
posted by aimedwander at 9:22 AM on October 3, 2015


Talk about compromise like adults. Honestly, being a couple doesn't mean being attached at the hip. Yes it is simple courtesy to tell your partner where you're going and when you'll be back, but otherwise I don't see what the problem is in waking up and going out hiking all morning, without him.

I dated a guy who was pretty introverted and not very good about spur-of-the-moment plans. With him we did stuff like I would go out running around as much as I wanted during the evenings or weekend afternoons and come back to his place when I was done. I'd go out to parties and have him pick me up, stopping in to visit just for an hour at the end when it was less busy. I did my own thing, and I'd let him figure out what parts of my life he wanted to share.

My husband and I are pretty well-matched, but I have zero qualms about saying I'm going somewhere and he's free to join me... or not, whatever I'm going now, be back later, bye! And out the door I go. It doesn't happen that often, since he works 2days/2nights/4off rotating shifts and I just work a regular office workweek, I get plenty of alone time to either veg or go do whatever I want. I actually have become more independent with my husband since these shifts, it's been nice.
posted by lizbunny at 10:23 AM on October 3, 2015


I think you two need to renegotiate how you're sharing your lives and taking care of each other, because there are more ways to do it than just making all plans together and compromising all the time. For instance, it would be unfair for you to disappear for a day or a weekend if that's not something you've mutually agreed can happen. But what if you and he sat down and decided that, say, one weekend per month is yours to do whatever you want with? Three weekends a month you make plans together, and one weekend a month he knows you might decide to go hiking or see family, and you'll let him know where you are (and whether you'll have cell reception), but it's your time to recharge on your own. Or, similarly, maybe you and he could agree that four nights a week you'll eat dinner together, but the other three nights you might not, and if you feel like popcorn for dinner one of those nights, that's what you do. In other words, make clear when you and he will be making decisions together and when you might not--it feels a lot less scary to have your partner go off on their own if you've talked about when that will and won't happen.

There's nothing wrong with sharing plans and compromising and taking each other's preferences into account, but there's also nothing wrong with traveling separately and doing things as individuals. The key is making sure you've each identified your needs and have explicitly set expectations together.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:28 AM on October 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I agree this is normal! There is stuff that changes once you enter into a committed, long-term relationship, and for you, this is how that manifests itself. I wonder how he might react to the idea of taking, I don't know, one Saturday each month as "me days", where you each do activities that don't involve the other. I am willing to bet he also has some interests you don't share. He could go to a hip, critically-acclaimed restaurant with his friend while you get a pizza slice and watch a movie at home, or you could hike while he spends some time learning a new hobby.

Also, yankeefog's delegate system.

But man, I miss just getting up in the morning and going hiking for eight hours, or deciding on Friday morning to go spend the weekend with my grandmother, or spontaneously deciding to check out an art exhibit or a free concert after work.

In general, though, I'm curious what would happen if you told your boyfriend you were doing one of these things any random day of the week/month. Would he get upset with you? Or do you just feel like it's your responsibility not to do them? Since you don't have children that are dependent on you, it feels like you should each be able to enjoy some spontaneity on your own. And if he feels that he can't spend a single day without you, I think he may need to deal with that on its own, because it doesn't seem healthy to me.
posted by capricorn at 11:17 AM on October 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


You sound like my first husband, he chafed at being tied down to me and things were never quite right. After we got divorced he found himself a really independent woman and I found a great man that spends almost 100% of his time with me happily. Sometimes you are just a poor fit and it can't be fixed. I could never be happy with someone as independent as you, no matter how much I tried to change or compromise. And me and my current husband would be unbearably clingy for someone like you. Doesn't mean there is anything wrong with any of us.
posted by meepmeow at 1:44 PM on October 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


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