Am I the problem in my relationship?
July 10, 2017 9:37 PM   Subscribe

I feel like something is holding me back from going all in to my relationship. Am I the problem or is my relationship not right for me? Lack of perspective and religious implications are complicating factors.

I’ve been dating my girlfriend about two years. I’m 28 and it’s my first serious relationship. She’s a great woman and a great partner, but I don’t think I’m in love with her. I feel like something is missing, and if I listen to my gut, it would tell me we need to break up. But the chorus of family members and friends would tell me I am an idiot. She’s a very easy woman to be in a relationship with, we both put effort into communicating and working on the relationship, and on paper we are very compatible. I really feel like I’m failing our relationship and failing as a man.

There are a few things about her that have always been unattractive or annoying to me, but I brushed them aside as minor things that I hoped I would get used to or I wouldn’t care about with my love goggles on. I realize that I have a lot of quirks and imperfections myself. But those same things I noticed on our first date still bother me.

We are also Christians, which means that we have never had sex. So you can imagine after dating someone for two years and not having sex (as an adult, not a teenager), there is a certain connection that isn’t part of the relationship. As a result of this, I see her more as a companion than a lover and the way I viewed her sexually early in the relationship has almost completely subsided. When I’m out without her I notice other women I’m more attracted to and wish I felt that way towards her.

I’m just really struggling to sort all of this out. Does my lack of interest mean that we aren’t right for each other, is it because we aren’t having sex, or am I not capable of loving like I wish I could? Am I the problem in the relationship? Could I do more through my actions to foster stronger feelings? I can logically convince myself that love is a choice/actions and Christian guidance about ‘being a good man’ says that’s the case, but I subconsciously tell myself it’s not what I want, that I want/need something else she doesn’t have by no fault of her own. Then I feel like a failure of a man because I can’t love an amazing woman and treat her the way she deserves to be treated.

The thought of breaking up is heartwrenching, because she’s done nothing wrong and we are good partners. But I am constantly plagued by confusion about why it doesn’t feel right. Because of this, I feel like in the short term I would be less stressed (but sad and empty) if we broke up. Long term, though, I know I could easily come to regret it because of how compatible we are. How do I come to understand if I’m the problem or it’s the relationship? I’m willing to do therapy, but I feel like this is such a ‘first world’ problem that it would be a waste of a therapist’s time. Like I should just suck it up and be a man and realize I have a good thing here.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You've only been dating two years and you're still quite young. There are other fish in the sea and if she is marriage-minded or wanting to start a family, it would be cruel to keep her waiting. Do you want to have a sexual relationship with someone? I feel like many Christian couples "wait for marriage" and that ends up meaning that they get married pretty quickly so they can get to the sex! At two years on, does it seem like you better get to the married (sex) or move on?

Truly, though, if you're not feeling it, you're just not. Maybe she feels the same way? Therapy can be a way of having a guided discussion about a very hard topic, it doesn't have to be about saving the relationship. Maybe give it a try but I think you're going to have to fess up about your cold feet and ambivalence.
posted by amanda at 9:48 PM on July 10, 2017 [9 favorites]

Yes! Your lack of interest means you should break up. THIS IS NOT A MORAL FAILING ON YOUR PART. You care about her a lot, but you're not in love with her. She deserves someone who is--it's worse for her in the long run if you keep up the charade. Society mucks up our concept of love with stupid movies and songs, but you'll know it when you feel it. This isn't it.
posted by jessca84 at 10:10 PM on July 10, 2017 [16 favorites]

Also, there's the sunk cost fallacy
posted by jessca84 at 10:20 PM on July 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

So you can imagine after dating someone for two years and not having sex (as an adult, not a teenager), there is a certain connection that isn’t part of the relationship.

I can't imagine! because the connection is the very thing that would make you want to have sex with someone, rather than it being some kind of drearily functional side effect of a dutiful physical enactment. Two chaste years with someone you were in love with but couldn't go to bed with ought to have you consumed with longing for her.

is it because we aren’t having sex,

If you have to sleep with her to like her better, you should not ever sleep with her. also, it won't work. but mostly, it is terribly unkind, particularly if you marry her first.

I can logically convince myself that love is a choice/actions

Don't; this is silly modern nonsense and not logical in the least. It is like saying hunger is a choice/actions, not a feeling. Whether you are hungry, or in love, or not, you have the same obligation to behave kindly and ethically to the best of your abilities. you cannot, however, choose to be in love. You can choose to behave lovingly in spite of not loving someone, but that is the kind of deception that will break a woman's heart if she doesn't know from the outset that's what you're doing. and the truest kind of loving behavior from a man who is not in love with you entails gently telling the truth.

I don't know why you feel like a failure as a man but I can't see any reason for it.
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:35 PM on July 10, 2017 [27 favorites]

Incompatibility between two decent people is a sad thing, but not a thing that's either's fault.

If you walk away from this relationship, you'd be doing it because the relationship - not your partner, the relationship - is not giving you what you need. It needs to do that for both partners and if it's not doing that then it's actually over already whether the participants will admit it or not.

If a relationship is not working for you despite your best attempts to make it do so, then that's not your fault, and not your partner's fault, and the hurt and grief that both of you will feel for a while after one of you pulls the plug isn't actually something that either of you has done to the other; it's just the natural consequence of the genuinely sad fact that an intimate relationship has now stopped working.

All of which is almost impossible for anybody to get their head around until they've experienced the ending of at least one relationship. As this one is your first, being the one who actually calls time on it will naturally seem almost inconceivably difficult and the motivations you've expressed for doing so will naturally seem unacceptably selfish. In fact neither of those assessments is accurate; you simply don't have the experience yet to make that clear.
posted by flabdablet at 10:48 PM on July 10, 2017 [9 favorites]

I'm not operating from within your religious framework, so this may be of limited value to you. But it seems to me that being a good man, or a good human, means treating your partner respectfully, considerately, and kindly; treating the people around you respectfully, considerately, and kindly; and not shirking from what is a right action because it is difficult. In this case, I think ultimately that to marry someone you don't love and have not grown to love over two years, in a culture where presumably divorce is an even larger blow than it is in the secular world, would be the opposite of kind, for yourself, your spouse, and even any potential children. (Even if you talk about it with your girlfriend and she says she would rather marry without love than not, that still holds.) To get married just because it's the easier decision and the expected one seems like an act of weakness to me rather than a case of doing the right thing. Sometimes being a good human being will actually require doing things that people around you don't understand or credit.

It's true that sometimes love emerges from a shared determination, but sometimes (often?) it doesn't, and I think it would be both foolhardy and cruel to all involved to take such a binding risk.
posted by trig at 11:51 PM on July 10, 2017 [15 favorites]

…I am constantly plagued by confusion about why it doesn’t feel right.

I've been in this kind of situation and, whilst it can feel cruel and foolish to end a relationship with a good person that has many good things about it, the opposite is true; it is absolutely what you must do. You both have the chance to be deeply loved and cared for. Ending things doesn't mean either of you will find that, but staying ensures that neither of you will.

Do the right thing by her, and yourself, and move on. Do it with as much care and compassion as you can find in yourself and dig deep for it.
posted by mewsic at 11:53 PM on July 10, 2017 [8 favorites]

She's off limits sexually because of your beliefs. I'm certain you've trained yourself not to be attracted to her because what's the point? It's not happening.

I can't speak to any other issues, but that really stuck out to me.
posted by jbenben at 11:59 PM on July 10, 2017 [10 favorites]

How open are either of you to having sex? Because the pressure of years of religiously forced celibacy is probably not GOOD for a (romantic) relationship.

I think that you've undermined your relationship by dating for so long while systemically nourishing the "friendship" part of your connection and undermining all the other parts. Of course all the other parts are in terrible shape now. Things that you don't nourish will die.

I think that you, she, and even your relationship are likely fundamentally fine. But how you're conducting the relationship isn't. Start nourishing the things you want in it. (Like your sexual connection). If you don't even want anything in it anymore, or not enough to nourish it anyway, then break up.
posted by rue72 at 5:16 AM on July 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

I feel like something is missing, and if I listen to my gut, it would tell me we need to break up

48 year old you, now married with children, who meets someone who makes his stomach flutter, hands quiver, groin stir, suddenly understanding the phrase love struck, stuck in the bathroom with his hands digging into his eyes because his really good and decent wife deserves good and decent behaviour, wants you to know...your gut is super important. It's absolutely okay to break up. Not because he would cheat but because he now knows you both deserve someone in your lives who makes you want to sing arias from the rooftops at sunrise.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:52 AM on July 11, 2017 [14 favorites]

Then I feel like a failure of a man because I can’t love an amazing woman and treat her the way she deserves to be treated.

If your definition of "a man" is "someone who treats women like interchangeable parts and should therefore respond identically to any woman who performs correctly," then yeah I guess you're a failure of a man, but that's a real shitty definition of "man."

I don't see that you have treated your girlfriend poorly in any way thus far, except for continuing to be with her when you don't love her, and not being honest with her about it. So that is the thing you need to stop doing, and then TA DA! You are treating her the way she deserves to be treated. We think of break-ups as "mean" things done to people who "deserve" them for being "bad" in some way but that's false; they are NECESSARY things done BY people for the good of all involved.*

Your girlfriend is a human, and you can no more be in love with every female human than you can be best friends with every bus driver. You say that you are not able to "treat her the way she deserves to be treated" but what does that mean? Every human deserves to be treated with honesty and respect; they do not deserve to be loved by and married to you regardless of your feelings about it.

*even when the person being broken up with has done a bad thing! Like cheating. The breakup isn't a punishment, it's just one person taking a necessary action. And I have yet to see in all my days a breakup that wasn't, in the end, for the best for all involved.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:05 PM on July 11, 2017 [7 favorites]

If you're not turned on by her, sex is not going to make it better.

You should kindly, politely break up. Yeah, it's two years but sounds like you're "just friends" already so making the transition official should be relatively seamless.

I dated a girl for a while before I got married and thought she was the one. There were quite a few things that bothered me about her but I "soldiered on." We were very serious and even though I was shopping for a ring, throughout the whole ordeal a loud voice in the back of my head said, "NO! Don't do it!" I finally came to my senses while shopping for the ring. I asked myself, "WTF are you doing!? This is not the way a man should be getting ready for engagement!"

We broke up as amicably as possible and quite frankly I felt liberated. Sounds like you'll be liberated too. Not from her but from your conscience nagging you to face the truth and set the record straight.

Don't have sex with her. Don't get more serious. Don't push it. Just re-read your ask and tell yourself to face the truth.
posted by Lord Fancy Pants at 6:49 PM on July 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

You say you both put the effort into communicating and working on the relationship. But I seem to get the feeling you haven't spoken to her about this, maybe because you consider it too big of a topic? You say there are things about her which make you uncomfortable or annoy you. I get the sense from your writing that you haven't seriously spoken to her about them either, maybe because you consider them too small of a topic?

Talking about marriage in a Christian vs secular perspective is challenging, especially around sex. I do agree with others saying that having sex won't magically make you like her more, so you can put that out of your mind as a possible reason for why you're feeling this way.

You talk a lot about what a Christian man "should" do, and what kind of girl he "should" be attracted to. I don't think this point of view makes sense because everyone is different - quite literally. I think the key is that people have different needs, that doesn't change, but what can change is that as human beings we are flexible enough to meet the needs of our partner. As a trivial example, maybe I am ambivalent towards steak, but she likes it and wants to eat it once a week... (different needs)... well just because I am ambivalent towards it doesn't mean I am incapable of learning how to grill a good steak and make it for her once a week!

1. If you're so confused that you don't know what your needs are, then you are not ready to be in a relationship until you've figured it out.

2. If you know what your needs are and haven't communicated it to her, how can she meet them? You need to work on your communication and the trust level in your relationship.

3. If you have communicated your needs to her and she has no intention of fulfilling them? Then maybe this isn't the relationship for you.

... maybe a person is just incapable of fulfilling the needs of their partner. It could happen, I don't know. You could make up some very specific need. Maybe a musician could go, wow, my music is my life, if you aren't an accomplished musician yourself, you have no way of understanding me and how I feel. But I feel as we grow older and wiser you start to see that behind these seemingly impenetrable desires are much simpler and more fundamental human needs like wanting to be valued, to be respected, to be trusted - which can be fully fulfilled in other, surprising ways.
posted by xdvesper at 10:23 PM on July 13, 2017

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