How to resolve ambivalence in new relationship
December 7, 2015 10:48 AM   Subscribe

I have been with my boyfriend for a couple months and though it is new, we have been spending a lot of time together and I feel like I've gotten to know him about as well as you can in that time. I am feeling very ambivalent about it though and am not sure whether/ how much it's a problem with the relationship, a result of me being me (ambivalence and anxiety are not new to me) or me reacting to him wanting too much too fast. How do I get out of this stressful indecision?

If you ask me for my general view on relationships and me, I would say I am single at heart and care about my relationships of all kinds but am not looking for a life partner or someone to have kids with or someone to live with even, though I never say never, since life can take me to unexpected places. I don't want to have a relationship where we are not important to each other, but I also don't see why a romantic relationship should be the most important thing in my life, and tend to find fulfillment from stuff I do (like my job especially) and not from whether or not I'm dating someone. I have committed before was with my ex husband for 8 years and though I loved him, it was a relief to leave a situation that just didn't quite feel right.

To my boyfriend, on the other hand, being in a relationship seems huge to him, and he's made it clear that he's eager to settle down. He's talking about wanting to move in together when his lease is up this summer. I told him that's freaking me out a bit and that I don't know yet, which he didn't make a big deal out of hearing. I do think some of this on his end is coming from wanting to lock it down and wanting to be at a certain point in his life rather than just about how much he'd like living together. He told me this weekend he's afraid of letting me down and losing me but it's not like I can promise he won't lose me ever...even though I don't want to lose him.

On a day to day basis I feel drastically different about the whole thing. Usually I feel really happy to have him around, often feel like I could see myself with him long term, he treats me well, I am really attracted to him physically and the sex is great. We have fun together and I can tell he would do his share of things (cleaning etc) if we lived together. I love making him happy. And that hey, pairing off is a thing that people find fulfilling, I probably could too, right? Maybe my lack of desire to commit is me being immature and stunted at age 30 and jumping in with both feet is the way I should be living, not cautiously.

But then maybe even a few hours later the same day I have felt like, "Oh my God, get away from me," feeling like I can't stand to have him in the same room. (That is a feeling I have had in every relationship I have been in, though.) And I think about how it's not like we're totally opposed but I don't think our values are compatible enough that I would want him to be the father of my kid, should I have one (and he says he might want one but I think he's downplaying his feelings because he knows I'm unsure). Or not even about a kid, but just not wanting to be around his point of view or lack of being on the same wavelength all the time.

I just find myself wishing things could stay as they are without the expectation of the relationship escalator. I feel like I have to make a decision about whether to commit more or break up because being with someone ambivalent is not really fair to him.

How do I work through this? What's the right thing to do? If you have felt this way before, how did you resolve it?
posted by Squalor Victoria to Human Relations (25 answers total)
You sound totally incompatible and that's fine. What exactly do you want to resolve?
posted by sweetkid at 10:57 AM on December 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

Could you provide a little more info on your age/previous relationships? You say you are 30 and were in an 8-year is it correct to assume you were in a committed relationship for almost your entire 20's? And how long has it been since your divorce? I ask because I believe the context would be helpful. What you're feeling sounds very normal for someone who hasn't spent much time being single.
posted by yawper at 10:57 AM on December 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

I feel like I have to make a decision about whether to commit more or break up because being with someone ambivalent is not really fair to him.

Only if it's a stopper for him, though. Talk to him about your ambivalence. Tell him "I don't feel like moving in with you right now, and I don't know whether I ever will." Let him make his own decision about whether he wants both of you to commit more.
posted by Etrigan at 11:18 AM on December 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: And that hey, pairing off is a thing that people find fulfilling, I probably could too, right? Maybe my lack of desire to commit is me being immature and stunted at age 30 and jumping in with both feet is the way I should be living, not cautiously.

I think you know the answer to that. Your feelings about him are basically your feelings about the societal expectations regarding relationships in general. You know what makes you happy, and you know what doesn't, so why force yourself into a mold simply because it's "EXPECTED" of you? If this fellow is not willing to have the sort of relationship that you are comfortable with then, yeah, maybe you shouldn't lead him on. But don't allow yourself to be forced into a situation that your BODY is literally telling you is not what you want simply because he wants it and society is telling you that you should.

Also you're a young woman who is seemingly happy in her life. You should tread with caution with EVERYTHING, especially relationships. Rushing into things is never a good idea. Ask him why he is so impetuous to pin you down both symbolically and physically. Does he not trust you because you want to take things slow? Is he incapable of living alone? Does HE feel societal pressure to settle down? Is he sociopath? What's going on there? All of these questions are important, because I can tell you from experience, your feelings regarding the relationship and him are going to continue to sway dramatically and will escalate into full on abuse on one or both sides if you continue to feel pressured into something you aren't ready for or do not actually want, despite how much you like him. It will implode and it will not be pretty or salvageable.

Trust your gut.
posted by Young Kullervo at 11:18 AM on December 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My guess would be that you two are just not long-term compatible, and that he has done you a tremendous favor by being so honest about his desires and intentions.

However, is this the same guy with the practicing your scales issue? Did you ever talk to him about that? Do you talk to him as absolutely honestly as he talks to you? I ask because it seems like both questions are the result of (a personally very familiar) tendency to try and solve solve worry solve solve everything inside one's own head instead of talking to the partner.

The best thing any woman can learn, in my opinion, and the sooner the better, is how to make a little fuss. I'm not talking about starting huge screaming fights over who ate the last spring roll, natch. I'm saying that as women we get taught by a bunch of sources, both well-meaning and ill, that it's best to just do everything ourselves in silence so nobody important (meaning, men) gets fussed. That it's best to bend ourselves because other peoples' opinions and wills are always better and more right than ours. That it would legitimately be a better thing for you to just go and get married and have a baby in a sea of miserable ambivalence than to ever say one clear, undeniable, untakebackable word to your partner about whether his stupid-ass relationship escalator has a brake function.

All of this is bullshit.

Say the things. With your face. To the guy. "Partner, I need you to scram so I can practice." "Partner, I ain't moving in with you before many years pass, not even if my house is devoured by the floods of god itself." "Partner, I don't want to have a baby with you. Not now, not soon, and maybe not ever."

The worst that could happen, the absolute worst,* is that he will decide that he needs things you can't give, and leaves. And that is okay! There are many people in the world who can give you what YOU need. And what YOU NEED and like is important! And valid! Fuck those folks who are fulfilled by their partnerships, man, because they aren't you and what they need isn't more important than what you need.

And maybe you don't know exactly what you need yet. It sounds like you have spent your literal entire adult life with a jackass who ran a head trip on you. It might take you a long time to figure out what you want beyond "not that shitshow!" And in the meantime maybe you'll have to take a pass on some pleasant dudes who know what they want. BUT THAT IS OKAY. IT IS OKAY TO PASS ON PLEASANT DUDES.

Man this went on forever. But TL;DR: say the truths to the dude with your face. The fallout will not kill you** and verily, it will make you wiser.

*Because it seems clear from your posts that this is a normal, functioning non-abusive human--advice does not apply when dealing with dangerous, violent fuckwits
** See above.

posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:22 AM on December 7, 2015 [25 favorites]

Response by poster: To answer Yawper's request for more information:

I was with my ex from age 19-27 and have been single for most of the 3.5 years since we split up. I had a boyfriend for a year before my ex husband so it's true, being single as an adult was new to me.

I have dated a few guys since the separation/divorce but my boyfriend now is the first I ever called my boyfriend, first who I like having hang out with my friends, first who I think my family would like--actually my family would probably like him better than either ex who they did meet because they would like how he treats me. (I dated a few people frankly who were glaringly obviously incompatible, due to age difference or lifestyle differences, and it sounds shallow but... I like that me and the current BF "look right" together.)
posted by Squalor Victoria at 11:23 AM on December 7, 2015

Response by poster: We put our faith: yes, same guy in previous question. I did bring it up, felt awkward but it was not a problem and have practiced with him around a couple times. I was a little self conscious but it was fine. Your comment is full of wisdom though.
posted by Squalor Victoria at 11:26 AM on December 7, 2015

It is totally okay, even desirable, for you to be authentically you. If what you want out of this relationship is something that's there but not There And Living Together, then convey that to him. Perhaps even just read him the post you wrote--explain exactly what you want and are comfortable with, and don't hedge. Be straight up; compassionate, yes, and that doesn't mean withholding or softening what you actually want for you to be happy and comfortable.

Don't let expectations--his or society's--dictate what you need to do to feel fulfilled. If a capital-r Relationship isn't something you need or want, then communicate that and do the things that you do need and want.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:39 AM on December 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Clarifying for yourself (and then, to future partners) how you feel about the relationship escalator would be really helpful. Do you want to be self-sufficient, to have important partners but never live together, to spend most of your time on your own? Is this true for you in general, or can you imagine partners you would want to live with or intertwine your life with more? If you can imagine that, is it something you actively want (and thus is worthy of pursuing) or is it not necessarily better than having a more solo life?
posted by metasarah at 12:47 PM on December 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

You may never want to have a conventional relationship, and in this wacky world of ours, that's perfectly cool. As long as you're completely honest with your boyfriend and never mislead him, that's as much as you can do.

I think it's important to sit down with him and tell him that you're not interested in settling down with him, now or perhaps ever. Tell him exactly what you want in a relationship with him. He may balk, he might be looking to marry and have children, and as great as you are together, if that's not what you want, being together is not the right answer. If, on the other hand, he's cool with it, great!

I think he's reached a milestone in your relationship and his broaching the subject of moving in together is indicative of that, so having that conversation is pretty important, because he wants to move forward with commitment and he may need more than you can give.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:49 PM on December 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: " [I] am not looking for a life partner or someone to have kids with or someone to live with"
"he's made it clear that he's eager to settle down"

You're clearly incompatible right now. Whether you're not ready to settle down yet, or you're not the type to settle down ever is irrelevant. HE wants to settle down fairly soon, and he wants to know if you're headed in the same direction. In general I think this is great – it’s very mature that he's clear about his feelings and goals*. But then you need to be equally clear about yours, and you can only state what you feel right now. It seems obvious that you don't feel ready. You sound like you really like your life but are trying to convince yourself otherwise.

I would also say that you're spending more time with him than you really want to, based on your comment, "I have felt like, "Oh my God, get away from me," feeling like I can't stand to have him in the same room" . Do you feel stifled? If he wants time with you that you don't want to give, no one is wrong – again, it just points to incompatibility.

It's probably best to part, kindly and on good terms.

*(I do think it’s REALLY early in the relationship for him to be pushing this, if that’s what he’s doing. If he needs to know NOW whether you potentially have a future together – well, as long as he’s being respectful, I suppose that’s his right. But it seems a bit strange.)
posted by yawper at 12:50 PM on December 7, 2015

Best answer: Maybe my lack of desire to commit is me being immature and stunted at age 30 and jumping in with both feet is the way I should be living, not cautiously.

Everybody thinks it's immature to live with roommates and a sign of maturity to get your own place, unless it's a person you're sleeping with, and then it's immature not to live with him. this makes no sense, ignore it. You've already lived with a life partner, so for you, unless your feelings change, going back to that would be regressing and stagnating, not moving forward. If you are too cautious about anything, it's your commitment to believing you know what you want.

Wanting your own place and your own space has nothing to do with whether you want or can have a long-term serious relationship of whatever significance. Personally I think that alternately being a host and a guest of one's partner does a lot to foster courtesy and consideration of each other. plus you can get out of the house and still spend a quiet night at (their) home at the same time. great set-up I think. sure you can share a home with your partner, like you can share a car or a bank account, but it has nothing to do with maturity, everything to do with finances and personal preferences.

but I mean the most important reason to lay this out for him is what if he says Sure! Lots of space and time apart is fine as long as we're together! and you still don't feel right about him?
posted by queenofbithynia at 1:13 PM on December 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

He's talking about wanting to move in together when his lease is up this summer. I told him that's freaking me out a bit and that I don't know yet, which he didn't make a big deal out of hearing.

Regardless of anything else: Someone pressuring you to move in together after two months and not listening when you say no is a red flag. You hardly know each other! There are rarely times where moving in after such a short amount of time is a good idea, but it's an especially BAD idea when you aren't even sure if you like him AND he's not listening to your concerns. It almost sounds like he just wants to freeload off you and get out of paying rent.

Break up with this one. He's pressuring you, not listening to you, pushing your boundaries, and not respecting you. Plus, you don't even like him that much.
posted by Crystalinne at 1:27 PM on December 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Sounds like you're just not THAT into him. Which is honestly fine to just date, but after a certain point, yeah, most people will probably want some kind of commitment. And he definitely does. It's good he's being open with you, and it's ok that you don't want that. Not wanting it with HIM or not wanting it NOW doesn't mean that you won't ever want it, just relax in that regard.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 1:45 PM on December 7, 2015

There's a saying: If you don't know what to do, don't do anything. I'd recommend that you just stay with him awhile. Dig in. If he wasn't the one and it wasn't working out, you'd know. You'd fantasize about breaking it off. It doesn't sound like you are.

Maybe you've completed level one of this relationship: early dating. Now, you need to get to Level Two: going steady. Keep going!!
posted by Piedmont_Americana at 2:53 AM on December 8, 2015

You know what's mature and grown up? Doing what you want, taking care of yourself and living up to your principles.

IF you want to have great sex and fun times with this person and not worry about the future and not plan to move in, that's awesome and cool. Tell him that. If he doesn't want those things it's a little sad, but that's why we tell our partners our needs/wants.

Living together, getting married and having kids by "X age" are not achievements. You know this as divorced person. He may not have fully groked that reality yet.
posted by French Fry at 7:59 AM on December 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

This could be way off base but maybe you're afraid of getting hurt again, after your divorce. You said this was the first boyfriend you've had since then. I get the feeling that thinking about the future scares you because you just came out of something long term, and those feelings you get when you feel like you want to run and push him away, is your brain's self defense mechanisim triggering these thoughts to protect you from getting hurt.

Just a thought.
posted by readygo at 11:48 PM on December 8, 2015

Response by poster: Well, this is turning into a shit show fast. Hope someone is still reading this.

Last night we conversed (text and email...I know people will say that's not good, basically I was trying to put some things out there for in person conversation later so he would have time to think). I made as clear as possible that the conversation we need to have is about what we both want in relationships, that I don't want to move in but that doesn't mean I don't love him, told him a bunch about the things I am happy with in our relationship, and expressed a desire to have things work out.

He responded with panic basically saying this was his greatest fear and he would do anything for me. I offered to meet tonight to talk things over.

After I went to bed though he sent me a text saying " I'm sorry I'm not your ideal man, I don't have a prestigious job or anything." Which frankly I just consider to be manipulative because it has zero basis in the reality of anything I have ever said to him or how I feel. I texted him back this morning saying it concerns me because it sounds like his insecurity is talking and he's not listening to what I actually have to say. No response yet and I am thinking I may need to tell him not to come over tonight. He seems a little unhinged about it and I know from what he told me that he was a wreck after his ex " that bitch" left him for another guy (he drank a lot and at one point put a tire iron in his car and drove off to find the guy, although nothing happened. Plus he does have a gun.) Not that I will call him unhinged, and I've never felt the slightest bit scared of him before, but I'm pretty apprehensive of how things could go down if I have him over to my apartment at night. (Yeah I know these things I just said were massive red flags I didn't mention, I guess I just believed he had moved on.)
posted by Squalor Victoria at 8:00 AM on December 9, 2015

Please take care of yourself, both your physical safety and your emotional health.
posted by jaguar at 8:18 AM on December 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yeah with that extra background his haste to move in together is actually a HUGE red flag, and not just a preference for a particular relationship escalator. Get yourself out of this, completely and entirely, however you safely can!

I sometimes think AskMe is too quick to identify as "red flags" preferences or opinions that can sometimes be innocent--there's nothing inherently wrong about wanting commitment or feeling ready for cohabitation early, and it isn't always dysfunctional fast-forwarding. But pressure and fast-forwarding in the context of an abusive or violent background? That's pretty indisputable.

The good news is it looks like your gut is super on-point, when you're not trying to convince it otherwise. Your gut knew this dude was the worst news. It knew what those red flags meant even when you tried to tell yourself otherwise. And honestly? the fact that you have felt the same aversion to past partners doesn't mean your gut's off. It might mean that on some level you always knew those partners were bad fits.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:21 PM on December 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Are you okay? Safe and sound?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:41 PM on December 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yeah I'm ok-- thanks for checking in. Current status is I agreed to meet him Saturday morning to talk and I think I will make that going to a nearby park to sit and talk.

I'm apprehensive that I will see how he is hurting and just want to hold him though. I need to clear my head before then but it is hard.
posted by Squalor Victoria at 12:18 PM on December 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've been in love with men who I was fairly happy with at the time but when I pictured us getting married or raising a child together it was like my mind just couldn't go there, that's your gut giving you a big "nope" about longterm potential.

Your boyfriend sounds naive/immature in his relationship ideals, and has exhibited some unhealthy behaviours in the past. If he's unable to move past his own fears and try to see your point of view it's not going to work, try to give him a chance to calm down and then proceed with airing things out, good luck.
posted by lafemma at 9:14 AM on December 11, 2015

Response by poster: Well, I finally ended it. Unfortunately not after dragging it out ambivalently for a bit longer, but as this past week went on, I went from ambivalent to just over it. I was as nice as I could be saying I like him a lot, we had a lot of fun sometimes, but we just want different things, I can't make myself feel a certain way and give him what he wants, but I hope he finds someone that does want that with him.

I don't think he "gets it" in a healthy way, he says he doesn't think he'll ever find anyone else because it took "so long" to find me (he is 30 for reference so...) but...that's not my problem. I feel like I can breathe again without him watching my every move for evidence of whether I love him or not. Such a relief.
posted by Squalor Victoria at 4:14 PM on December 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I don't know if anyone is still reading this, but I wanted to update and thank the people who said that this may not be a safe situation. At the time, I thought that was probably overblown, but it turned out he took things scary-level badly, continued to harass me, and I had to go to the police. I am fine now. I definitely think it helped me handle it that I'd been primed with the idea that something could really be wrong.
posted by Squalor Victoria at 8:36 PM on January 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

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