When do you work on it, and when do you decide it is over?
April 24, 2018 1:58 AM   Subscribe

I've been with my SO for 6 years and I've had doubts for a while, mostly pestering gut feelings that for whatever reason he's not the right one for me. I have many conflicting feelings, and a part of me thinks I should move on, while a huge part of me isn't sure, and another part of me wants to stay. I don't even know what tools to use to make this decision anymore. I'm feeling lost.

We've been together for 6 years and we moved across the country for me (job change). We live together. He's an insanely supportive, understanding, patient, nice, kind partner. He has basically spent the last 6 years completely supporting me as I went through some intense career experiences. We've known each other for well over a decade and I care deeply about him and love him very much.

But... a part of me... isn't too happy. The sex life is terrible (the number of time he has initiated sex in 6 years is countable - there have been years where we only had sex when I initiated), as he isn't confident and well, a host of other TMI issues. The lack of confidence has been explained to me as "well I'm afraid to disappoint you!" (after 6 years, come.. on! seriously?!). He's not always honest with me (small white lies because he's "worried" about my reaction), he hid his massive depression from me for years. And the biggest issue for me: he takes on no initiative. For the past 6 years I have made every single decision in our life and he has sat there passively and agreed with me on everything and let me drive the whole course of our lives. I have helped him get better jobs (by researching them and finding them and applying for him, as well as writing his resumes and writing emails to the recruiters), I have tried to push him to accomplish some goals that he has (he hasn't done them, and at some point I stopped wanting to babysit). I feel like a mother sometimes and I hate it. I don't mind supporting and helping (I'm exceptionally organized) when I can, but at some point it crosses over into babysitter territory. Also, his career is completely different from mine and we run in completely different circles. Our hours aren't compatible; we can rarely spend time together.

But... he's so supportive. And we can laugh. And we care about each other. And he's kind. And everyone that meets him absolutely adores him. And he absolutely adores me, completely and utterly infatuated (which might be a bit of a problem too - I feel like he puts me on a pedestal). The thought of hurting him bothers me. But... I don't want to marry him. He seems to be ok with that (I think he's in denial and telling himself I will change my mind). He'd probably, I guess, leave back to where his family lives if we decide to split. Or look for his own place here (although I would probably have to do that for him). He is lost and confused and without me his entire life would be shattered (his own words).

I don't know what to do. Sure, I could continue to be with him and it'd be ok, at times wonderful, and we'd be fairly content for the most part (although I'd be miserable about the sex life). I'd have an amazingly funny, patient, loving and caring SO. The other issues can be worked on and fixed, I think?

We have talked about this a lot recently and it's always left open ended. His argument is that he's been there for me through hard times and supported me unconditionally. Now he's the one that's going through a rough patch and needs me to be patient I'm not willing to do the same. He has been nothing but patient towards me - yes. But another part of me feels like I will always kind of be his mother. That he isn't that go-getter motivated guy that I am absolutely engulfed by at work, which, is ok? I think. But a part of me wonders.

I'm partly worried that: I have a few male friends who I've gotten closer to over the past few years, and that makes my judgment clouded (imagining being with them, thinking the grass is greener, etc). That being around intellectuals and super go-getters at work clouds my judgment (he will never be like them, etc). That the parts of our relationship that are good, are really really good, and that it'd be stupid to throw it all away without spending a lot of effort fixing everything else. Because then I'd probably throw away every relationship I'll ever have.

What do I do? Do I fix these issues? Do I put in the effort? Do I say, enough is enough, I'm too young to feel like I'm in a 20 year old marriage? I don't know anymore. At the end of the day there's that gut feeling that tells me to go, that I just can't shake.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (40 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
If you are that way inclined and if you have the kind of career that allows it, marry him and ask him to be a stay-at-home Dad. You sound like he’d be a great father.

Otherwise... He’s shown you who he is and that won’t change so if you’re not happy with the current situation, it’s time to move on.
posted by Kwadeng at 2:49 AM on April 24, 2018 [4 favorites]

I stayed in a sexless marriage for 20 years because i was ... comfortable (10 years no sex at all). After I left the next 7 years were very interesting - good, bad, indifferent, exciting, dangerous. Now I have a partner who is much more supportive than my ex -husband and we average (very good) sex twice daily. I think it's worth it to move on and hold out for a partner who gives you both. Even when I was single, it was better than that marriage. People say, don't let perfect be the enemy of the good (or something like) but I say, don't let the almost good enough prevent you living a full and authentic life.
posted by b33j at 3:15 AM on April 24, 2018 [8 favorites]

Those nagging feelings did not go away for me, despite my partner being a very nice man, and generally a good guy.

It's 2018: your standards are allowed to be higher, and it doesn't make you a bad person.

And if your experience leaving is like mine, you'll be so much happier. Honestly, I don't think I've ever been this happy before, and it's been over a year, and I am still in love with being alone and independent. I feel like a whole person again, and I'm not consumed by worrying about my relationship.

Good luck!
posted by Dressed to Kill at 4:08 AM on April 24, 2018 [8 favorites]

There isn't a right answer but here is a way to help decide. My friend and I were just discussing this...
We know women who married men who basically do all the supportive stuff. These partners stay in the background and give the woman a safe platform to soar into the world. The home stuff is taken care of, the woman's ego is maintained. In this structure the woman in a sense has the traditional male role here, having someone at home to keep things safe so she can go kill it out there in the world. But the woman has to be -- like a man in the old sexist structure -- happy to be just making her own life in the world while someone else does the support work. As Kwadeng said, these guys can be stay at home dads and the women have enormous freedom from domestic constraint to make something else happen in their lives. Their satisfaction has nothing to do with their partner's success in the world.
Other women really need their guy to be out there, at least the same amount as successful, driven, and immersed in the world as they are. Maybe more. (OF COURSE men need this from women too, OF COURSE so do same sex couples, but I'm going with the specific scenario you seem to present.) It's more exciting to have the not-passive partner, you respect his energy and connect in a different way. So her satisfaction comes partly from engagement with the partner but also -- to be brutally honest -- her sense of status and accomplishment is fed not just by her own work but also by having a partner who's successful in a similar way.
The dream -- sometimes the reality -- is the guy who can be supportive, help you find your wings, and also have his own. It should be easier to have this. Doesn't always happen that you find both. Sometimes the man you feel butterflies for because he's so charismatic and confident is also not going to be focused on you in the same way, not going to be the support, does not mind conflict and creates it when you aren't focused on him enough, sucks your energy away from your own success and towards him in a way you might not even imagine when you're with Supportive Admiring guy.
You can hold out for someone who does both. They exist.
You can decide you get something from someone who lets you be the engine, and accept it. It is *possible* that if he feels really accepted he won't be so tentative with sex. But probably not.
For me the sex drive difference would be a deal breaker. It's pretty much the backbone of connection. You could try an experiment: take the decision off the table for 2 months. Just try to accept him totally for a trial period, valuing how he lets you soar in the world, valuing how he supports you. See if shifting to this perspective makes a difference in your interactions and subtly makes him more confident and forthcoming.
If this is not a scenario you can consciously decide on -- having a support husband so you can be stronger in the world-- I can't imagine you'll be anything less than resentful. End now, if that's true, before you go ahead. Divorce with kids is a difficult thing.
posted by velveeta underground at 4:11 AM on April 24, 2018 [28 favorites]

It sounds like you enjoy his support but you don’t respect him.
posted by STFUDonnie at 4:57 AM on April 24, 2018 [10 favorites]

It sounds to me like you love him, but you don't like what your mutual life looks like with him. The daily details of what life together looks like is what being together is about, and you can love him and not like that. Part of choosing a partner is choosing the life you're going to make together, both the big things (where to live, jobs > money, social lives) and the small things (who will do the dishes/call the plumber, what does an uneventful night in look like?). You can love someone and not have the same vision of life, and I don't believe that can work.

You've talked about these things, but it really sounds to me like it's time to talk to a therapist. It sounds like he's thinking of this as a temporary thing, but you're seeing it as part of a bigger pattern. Which is it? A therapist can help with that. And if he has depression, it needs to get treated--needing your support through something is different than needing it to live his life.

It's okay to leave if you want to leave. And there will always be good that you're leaving behind when you make that choice. But if you are worried that you're giving up on things that you value, then maybe do what you can to see if your marriage can be reshaped into something that would make you happier before you leave. If nothing else, it might give you the clarity to make the decision.
posted by gideonfrog at 5:06 AM on April 24, 2018 [5 favorites]

Six months ago, I read this (from the Dear Sugar advice column) and knew that I had to leave. It was the permission I was looking for, because it was really hard for me to understand leaving a relationship that just didn't fit me was actually a valid reason for going. It was hard and confused a lot of people I was close to, but I am already able to look back on this decision as one of the best things I have ever done for myself. So here you go:

"But there was in me an awful thing, from almost the very beginning: a tiny clear voice that would not, not matter what I did, stop saying go.

Go, even though you love him.

Go, even though he’s kind and faithful and dear to you.

Go, even though he’s your best friend and you’re his.

Go, even though you can’t imagine your life without him.

Go, even though he adores you and your leaving will devastate him.

Go, even though your friends will be disappointed or surprised or pissed off or all three.

Go, even though you once said you would stay.

Go, even though you’re afraid of being alone.

Go, even though you’re sure no one will ever love you as well as he does.

Go, even though there is nowhere to go.

Go, even though you don’t know exactly why you can’t stay.

Go, because you want to.

Because wanting to leave is enough"
posted by August Fury at 5:24 AM on April 24, 2018 [30 favorites]

The lack of confidence has been explained to me as "well I'm afraid to disappoint you!" (after 6 years, come.. on! seriously?!). He's not always honest with me (small white lies because he's "worried" about my reaction)

you can always leave someone just because you want to, it's the best and only reason. but this is so disingenuous. He has disappointed you, your whole question is about that. are you going to be swayed when he begs you not to leave him because "after 6 years, come.. on!"? you shouldn't be. and he's smart enough not to trade on that 6 years either, it obviously hasn't built an unbreakable foundation or made you incapable of disappointment. nor should it. and of course he's worried about your reactions. does that justify lying to you? no. do you react badly to most things about him? apparently.

you can leave him, you should leave him, but you shouldn't build up his fear of you leaving him into a flaw in him so that you can make it his fault. don't convince yourself he's deficient or get angry at his accurate perception. this is about what you want. he didn't make you not want him, you just don't.
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:42 AM on April 24, 2018 [19 favorites]

From your description, there's no external influence that is making things worse than they have to be. Things like a bad job, or a toxic neighbourhood, or a chronic disease that isn't being treated, or having to deal with shitty parents, or a big shortage of money or anything like that. Those are things that you can identify as a team and say "wow, the stress/fallout from that is making our relationship not great. How can we fix those things together, or how we cope with them in a more positive way?"

Instead, it seems like your unhappiness is rooted in things that are intrinsically him. And you've tried to work on them together?, but the fix doesn't stay in. Or he doesn't recognize them as problems. So that's a pretty strong indicator that they're not going to change. Especially after six years.

What I am saying is if there's problems in a relationship that both people recognize and are working to fix, and progress is being made, that's a sign that things will get better. Otherwise, things aren't going to get better. If they don't get better, are you going to be happy in a year? Or ten?

Because you have to assume that without prolonged, conscious, sincere and likely hard work, people don't change.

This internet stranger says yes, it's okay to go find a better life, and you don't have to feel bad about looking after your own desires. You can still love someone you leave behind. You can still care about someone and not be responsible for them.

Relationships are like books. Sometimes you are always eager to read the next page and hoping that the book doesn't end. And sometimes you read to the end and say, "well, that was ... a thing, and it was okay while it lasted, but I'm ready for something else." So you put the book down and move on.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:52 AM on April 24, 2018 [10 favorites]

Came here to post that quote from Cheryl Strayed. <3

Also to ask some concrete questions:

1. IS he depressed? What is he doing about it? If he's asking you to wait until his rough patch is over, that might be a fair ask (not that you are obligated) as long as he is in fact working on it concretely - e.g. therapy, medication, exercise, maybe lessons or other ways to improve his confidence. If he's waiting for you to tell him what to do or to fix him, run NOW.

2. What do you mean in concrete terms when you say he is supportive of you? Does he enable you to achieve your goals in active ways, e.g. take care of admin tasks or extra chores without being asked when you have taken on a lot at work? Carry an extra share (MORE than half, and be careful you don't judge him by a "man" handicap) of emotional labor in your relationship, such as actively initiating conversations about his own needs from you or checking in about your past discussions to see how you are doing, and like doing a lot of relationship maintenance work such as seeing up dates and planning getaways and making celebrations happen? If so, you might consider that this is the type of behavior you are likely to sorely miss if you are no longer with him. Again, it doesn't add up to an obligation to stay! It is just that this is an indicator of Substance with a capital S, and be sure you don't underestimate it just because this quality is associated with femininity rather than Important Stuff. On the other hand, if he is mostly just passive and "there for you" in less hands-on on ways, such as listening or being around ONLY (also important but like meh if that's all there is), then recalibrate what the word supportive means to you!

3. What would happen if you stopped trying to run his life? Let him be the adult he is? People in relationships get into these patterns where they play out the roles of over functioner and under functioner. Stop playing your role. Start sharing your vulnerable side instead, ask him to be the expert and counselor and fixer a few times. Try it.

4. Speaking of which... Read "The Dance of Intimacy" by Harriet Lerner. I don't make book recommendations lightly! This is a life changing book. Self help, but like no other self help book I've ever read. One of the points it makes is that in order to have satisfying relationships, we need to bring more of a SELF to the table. And from your post, it seems like there is some lack of clarity for you yourself about what YOU want and need from a partner, and equally what YOU envision your life to be like without reference to your partner. This doesn't mean "imagine a single life." It means "imagine what you want without factoring in your partner's needs, personality, and abilities... and without factoring in your guilt and confusion surrounding this relationship." If you could dream up a realistic but perfect life, what would it be? What's important TO YOU in this world? Once you define that, you can bring this newly defined/clarified self to your relationship question and see how it fits in the picture.

Therapy for you would also be a good idea but you know, try the book first. It's cheaper and loser stakes and might truly solve this problem for you.
posted by MiraK at 5:59 AM on April 24, 2018 [10 favorites]

When I was trying to decide whether to break up with a partner, a friend suggested that I just observe for one month. At the end of every day, I should write down in my calendar s for stay or g for go. It was simple, she said. If more than 50% of the time I wanted to stay, then I should stay.

It was a useful exercise. It took only 10 days for me to realise, without actually putting down s or g, that it simply wasn't tolerable for me to continue in the relationship.

Stay or go. I don't have an opinion about what you should do, OP. I just want to note that even if he moved across the country for you, even if he did x zillion things for you, you do not owe your partner the rest of your life. I was in a many-year relationship with a partner who sounds much like yours. It was exhausting to be the only one who drove the bus. It was also deeply humiliating and damaging to be the only one who wanted to have sex.

What you have does not sound like a relationship of equals. You can be partners with someone who takes on the traditional child-rearing and domestic duties who acts as your equal, but this person does not sound like he is capable of being your equal when it comes to making suggestions, creating situations, accomplishing things in his own as well as your mutual lives.

He sounds like a wonderful friend and a deeply annoying partner. If he is as wonderful as you say, perhaps you should leave him not only to find a better life for yourself but also to make it possible for him to find someone else who won't be annoyed and unhappy with him so often. I am not suggesting that you should break up for his benefit and naturally he will be sad/angry/upset if you do break up. But breaking up for yourself, if that is what you decide to do, may actually free him to find something better for himself as well.

Acting like a kind of parent to a partner in a relationship is not sexy nor fulfilling nor fun. It is work. It is hard work. There's enough work in maintaining relationships as it is without that extra layer of responsibility and labor. So stay if you must but don't feel guilty if you leave.
posted by Bella Donna at 6:02 AM on April 24, 2018 [19 favorites]

Mr. Moiraine cooks, does laundry, waters the plants, does pretty much everything home-related (seriously, I can't remember the last time I did laundry), while I am less domestic, and I do more big picture things, i.e. plans for holidays, plans in general, do the finances. He would be happy being the stay-at-home parent, and I would be happy if he chooses to do this in the future. Yet, if you were to meet him, there is no way you would consider him "passive". Adjectives I would use for him are strong, sturdy, responsible, firm, kind, easy going.

Being domestic or work/career focused is in no way a synonym for "passive" or "lack of initiative". I would not conflate the two.

Every time I come home I think how lucky I am to have him. To have someone so strong and all present, all there. I have had a boyfriend before who sounds like your SO, and it was terrible for both of us. I had to chase him up to do anything, make job applications for him, pushed him, and he was really miserable too. I don't know if you should stay or go, but I do know that there are better options out there, that there are people out there who can make you laugh and support you and at the same time, owns his own life.
posted by moiraine at 6:15 AM on April 24, 2018 [13 favorites]

We have talked about this a lot recently and it's always left open ended. His argument is that he's been there for me through hard times and supported me unconditionally. Now he's the one that's going through a rough patch and needs me to be patient I'm not willing to do the same. He has been nothing but patient towards me - yes. But another part of me feels like I will always kind of be his mother.

So - I think there are two types of support and I think which type he's looking for is important and he needs to choose what he's looking for.

Support type number one is empowering - it's about spotting a partner either because they're struggling or they're trying to improve on something in their lives. This type of support typically ends at some point and the person is then in a position to carry their own load again. This sounds like the kind of support you expected and were given - financial and other support to achieve a specified plan with steps, end dates, and goals.

Support type number two is enabling - basically, it's filling in the gaps in someone's life that they either can't or don't fill themselves. This support goes on indefinitely, has no specific way or timeline where the underlying issue will be addressed, and often bleeds into the realm of doing someone's emotional labour for them.

My generalized rule is - invest in people who need support type number one and ditch people who need support type number two. After six years, your husband should be in a position to tackle the underlying issues that cause him not to initiate sex with you - specifically, is he committed to therapy, listening to you when you say "I'm not disappointed by you" vs. remaining in his internal monologue, and willing to try new things. If he's just generally "working on it" then he's in category number two. Repeat for - jobs, helping around the house, initiating things in your life, etc.

I have depression, ADD, and anxiety and there is nothing about these conditions that mean you need enabling support forever. I need support from my partner in an acute way sometimes but the goal is always for me to stand on my own two feet and not to require unending emotional labour from her to achieve basic things in my life.
posted by notorious medium at 6:15 AM on April 24, 2018 [19 favorites]

Wanting to leave is certainly enough. And I would also strongly caution against doubling down by getting married and having kids together! You said that you feel like his mother. That does not sound like a person who will be a good stay-at-home dad. You'll just have two kids to raise if you have a child.
posted by sockermom at 6:34 AM on April 24, 2018 [4 favorites]

The lack of confidence has been explained to me as "well I'm afraid to disappoint you!" (after 6 years, come.. on! seriously?!).
He knows you think he should be different than he is. Confidence comes from be accepted as one is. He should be with someone who does and you should be with someone who you don't think needs to change.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:39 AM on April 24, 2018 [7 favorites]

I also thought of the Cheryl Strayed piece and I strongly encourage you to read it in full.

I'm surprised that more people haven't commented on the sex. "The sex life is terrible", you said. Not just ho-hum, not just "could be better", but terrible. Do you see this improving all the way from "terrible" to "wonderful"? Because that's what it should be right? Ok, if that's even possible, what kind of work would YOU have to do to get it to happen (since it's pretty obvious he won't take the initiative or follow through)? Then, would it stick? And if it didn't, could you live like this for the next 50 years?

Phew. I'm exhausted just typing all that.

Everyone has different priorities, but to me sex is a very important part of a relationship. It's what separates it from a friendship. If sex matters to you, and the sex is terrible, IT'S REASON ENOUGH TO GO. You deserve better and you can have better, I promise you.

PS - you're mired in the sunk cost fallacy - making decisions for the future based on unrecoverable past costs. You can't change the past, you can only change your future. Go with your gut.
posted by yawper at 7:09 AM on April 24, 2018 [11 favorites]

It’s not clear in what ways he is supportive of you. Him moving for your job is cool, but not a major sacrifice if he didn’t have his own career or commitments he was leaving. Honestly I can’t really square “he’s so supportive” with “I feel like his mother”.

Babies love their mamas, but straight women want relationships with actual men.
posted by ewok_academy at 7:20 AM on April 24, 2018 [8 favorites]

Hey, I was in a long-term relationship like this when I was in my 20's. We were an incredible team but we both grew and changed over ~6 years and were no longer compatible romantically, though still great together in many other aspects. In hindsight I'd say we were codependent.

Instead of breaking up, we tried polyamory. That was... well, it allowed him to meet the love of his life, who he is now (monogamously) married to. We broke up about 2 years into the grand "seeing other people too" experiment. It was still hard to break up, despite him actually finding and loving someone better suited to him! That's codependency for you. I literally saw with my own eyes that we weren't right together.

Though the breakup was hard, probably the hardest thing I'd done in my life up to that point, it was necessary and kind and we are still friendly though we live in different states and it's been ~13 years. We think of one another fondly and are supportive from afar.

It sounds like you and your SO just aren't right for one another, and your intuition is telling you that, but you are second-guessing because of the sunk cost fallacy and other codependent reasons. I personally think you should break up, but that's from my own experience: I am much happier and more myself. You can be too.
posted by juniperesque at 7:21 AM on April 24, 2018 [5 favorites]

I feel like a mother sometimes and I hate it.
With the caveat that I'm a random person on the internet who doesn't actually know anything about you and you should be skeptical, my suspicion is that you already know the answer to this question.

Nice is a great character trait in a partner, or a friend, or a bus driver. The world needs more nice people. But, it's not nearly enough, given that nice and surprising and interesting and sexy is also possible. A life with a partner you don't respect is a recipe for disaster and regret. And, on your partner's side, a life with someone who doesn't respect you is a recipe for disaster and regret.
He is lost and confused and without me his entire life would be shattered (his own words).
This is going to become ugly. Sometimes ugly is still the best possible outcome. Expect to spend the next year turning down heart-breaking and desperate pleas for a second chance. Find a trusted friend you can call instead of returning his calls.
posted by eotvos at 8:22 AM on April 24, 2018 [5 favorites]

I feel like I'm reading a letter from my past self, down to almost every last detail, to a point that's sort of freaking me out.

You should break up. This: "For the past 6 years I have made every single decision in our life and he has sat there passively and agreed with me on everything and let me drive the whole course of our lives" does not get better. Like you, I did that for years. It worked ok, by which I mean I'm organized and driven and capable of managing the lives of two adults all by myself (even though it's exhausting and lonely and awful). Then I had a health crisis and a job crisis and a housing crisis (and a related mental health downturn) all in the span of a few months. The chips were down, hard, and it was still just me, by myself, doing everything, while my kind, funny, caring, patient partner watched helplessly from the sidelines of our supposedly shared life. That's a different kind of heartbreak, you know?

I loved my ex, truly. We had the best time together. He's hilarious and interesting and thoughtful and fun and we could hang out forever and never get bored. But he also SUCKED at being a partner and really an adult in general. Our sex life was terrible. He didn't have the first clue about what bills we even had, let alone how they got paid. I wrote every cover letter he ever sent out. It's an unsustainable way to live, and I'd encourage you to leave before something happens to make that really, really clear. (Btw, he probably will move back home. Mine did, and several years on he's still an adult man living with his parents. It's, you know, fine. That is 100% not your responsibility to manage.)

If you're past-me, then I guess I'm future-you. And future-you is now living with an impossibly lovely man who manages all of his own life shit and keeps the house beautifully clean (without being asked! like not even one time!) and is kind, loving, caring, patient, funny, AND super into having (really excellent) sex with you. (Future-you also had a GREAT time being single for a while.) Absolutely zero regrets.

You're not happy. As others have already said, wanting to leave is more than enough reason to do so (even though I think you have plenty of other reasons too). I sympathize so, so much about the unique difficulty of giving up on something that's really mostly pretty ok. It's really hard and it hurts a lot, and it also sucks to hurt somebody that you really care about. But I still think it sucks less than staying with someone you know isn't quite right for you and allowing all those tiny doubts and resentments to slowly erode all the love you ever had for them.

Good luck! This time-traveling internet stranger is rooting for you hard.
posted by catoclock at 8:57 AM on April 24, 2018 [40 favorites]

At the end of the day there's that gut feeling that tells me to go, that I just can't shake.
There's your answer, and I'm surprised others haven't picked up on what you yourself have made as plain as day. This is really the essence of Cheryl Strayed's "Wanting to leave is enough." You want to leave. That is enough. There's another important part to her advice where she asks: "Will you do it later, or will you do it now?" In other words, you know you want to leave - will you drag it out, keep hemming and hawing, try to work on it (even though you know you want to leave, so working on it would be dishonest, and who would you be working on it for) or will you do it now and avoid all of that?

He is lost and confused and without me his entire life would be shattered (his own words).
That's still not a reason to stay, and maybe you feel obligated to make it as easy on him as possible post-breakup. I mean yes, be as kind as you can while you're breaking up with him, but do NOT do anything for him after that. He's on his own. Your mothering days are over once you break up with him. A lot of people think their partners won't be able to manage after a break up, yet I've seen so many stories where it's "I broke up with them and lo and behold, they found a place to live, a new job, a new partner etc. etc." Breaking up would be freeing for you, and also for him - he may just not even know it yet. Of course I could be totally wrong about this. I just want to encourage you to not make this a factor in your considerations and post-breakup actions.

At the end of the day the sex is terrible (that's pretty strong), and you feel like his mother. That's really no way to live, despite how patient and kind and supportive he is. With a breakup, there's always a loss, which is not unique. But you will gain so much more once you have the opportunity to do so.
posted by foxjacket at 9:03 AM on April 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think you’re getting advice all going in the same direction but want to add this:

He is lost and confused and without me his entire life would be shattered (his own words).

As a parent, if I ever raised my own damn kids that they felt this way about me, I would have done them a terrible injustice. And these are my kids.

Any relationship where someone feels their world will collapse without the other is just not healthy.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 9:19 AM on April 24, 2018 [5 favorites]

At the end of the day there's that gut feeling that tells me to go, that I just can't shake.

It's over. You know it. You're just stuck in the part where things aren't bad enough to make you feel like upending and rebooting your life. Be smart and do it now before resentment builds and things deteriorate to the point where one of you forces the decision.

Or look for his own place here (although I would probably have to do that for him).

posted by prize bull octorok at 9:59 AM on April 24, 2018 [6 favorites]

I have a friend who was in a similar position at a similar age: very long relationship, lived together, nice guy, he had moved for her job -- but she was acting as his mom. She broke it off. It was rough for a while, but several years on they're both happily married to other people who are much better fits for them.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:00 AM on April 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

But... he's so supportive.

Is he? How is he supportive? He doesn't support you by being an equal partner, or shouldering half of the family decisions, or by celebrating your love through sexual expression. Is his support just a story you tell yourself because he's inoffensive? It his support all words? Words are not enough from a partner.

And he absolutely adores me, completely and utterly infatuated

Does he adore you? Is he infatuated? I don't think so. I think these are more stories, these to cover up his passivity and dependence. If he adored you, he would share in family decisions. If he was infatuated with you, he would seek physical intimacy with you.

I think what you are seeing instead is the way a drowning man feels about a life ring. He thinks he needs to you keep from going under, he will use you and use you, and he refuses to swim on his own.

That's not adoration or support.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:07 AM on April 24, 2018 [13 favorites]

Man, don't know what to tell you exactly. But you *will* hit a point like this in *every* long-term committed relationship. At some point, if you want to grow old with someone, you'll have to work it out with that person. The challenges will be different with another person, but they'll be there. That means conflict, compromise, and rejecting the ideal for the real.

Research on long-term happy couples shows that the most successful couples have on average 7-10 irreconcilable differences. Sources of regular conflict that will NEVER be completely resolved. The difference is how they work through them together, accept one another, and find other ways to connect. The good news is that there are great tools and skills backed by research you both can learn to help you deal with these things. If you resolve to.

I don't know if you want to make this person *that* person you work it out with, but I hope you do that with somebody in your future -- work through all that hard stuff even though it can seem hopeless at times -- so you can grow old with somebody.

After having been married 30 years and after having spent 20 of those years learning and teaching about marriage, I know from experience that there is a sustained joy in that hard-won perseverance. But you never leave the tears, frustration, and dissatisfaction completely behind. Not ever.
posted by cross_impact at 10:16 AM on April 24, 2018 [9 favorites]

So, I split up with someone who I did very much care about because, at core, she wasn't very functional at all and I manage okay but I was not just unhappy but functioning markedly worse when I had to be trying to do everything for both of us. The thing about someone depending on you who should be able to survive independently is that, like... yes, his life is almost certainly going to suck more without you. Because we still share some friends, I've been watching my ex get worse and worse over the last six months, and I hate it. I do. I still care too much to not hate it.

But it's not my responsibility to do anything about it, and it isn't your responsibility to be a grownup for this guy, either. He's supposed to be his own grownup. It's not just that, without you, he probably will be able to figure out shit like housing--it's that at the end of the day, even if he can't, you didn't sign up for parenting him, you wanted a romantic relationship.

He's got a safety net. This isn't a situation where you're literally saving him from drowning or being eaten by wolves. He's the one who's supposed to be doing something to make sure he's stable and comfortable, and if he was doing that stuff you'd probably not be leaving. How he sorts himself out after is not on you. He might not. It's still not on you.

This doesn't mean you should leave, by itself, but you shouldn't stay because he needs you to stay, because he shouldn't need you to stay.
posted by Sequence at 10:33 AM on April 24, 2018 [4 favorites]

there is one reason you should consider staying and that is if you had an immediate burst of protective fury for him on reading half these comments. (like, how dare they say that him waiting to be invited to have sex is like cheating, how dare they call him a baby.) If you're nodding and thinking, well, I wouldn't put it like that because I'm fond of him, but they have a point -- leave. leave yesterday.

doesn't matter if you could be clear-eyed about his faults and still talk yourself into putting up with him and being kind to him. if you don't have a real instinctive emotional reaction to other people saying these things about him, it's over.

it's not about justification or about the comments being fair or unfair, it's about how you feel. that's all there is. he may think he'd be lost without you but if he is dependent on someone who doesn't love him more than she dislikes him, he is also lost with you. don't leave him for his own good, but you won't do him lasting good by staying.
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:53 AM on April 24, 2018 [6 favorites]

Do I fix these issues?

This is not a thing one person can do.

Do I put in the effort?

This is also not a thing one person can do.

Do I say, enough is enough, (?)

This is a thing you can do. I think this is what you should do.

I'm too young to feel like I'm in a 20 year old marriage?

Data point from someone almost 20 years in... what you have is not what 20 years feels like. sexless, dependent, and vacuum of emotional labor are not defining characteristics of a 20 year relationship in my sample size of 1.
posted by French Fry at 12:36 PM on April 24, 2018 [10 favorites]

It sounds to me like your decision is already made. That's valid. It's entirely likely that you'll both be better off if you leave.

That being said, if it were me, I would focus on the big picture, and lay out the stakes (this is an imminent deal killer) for this person in a simple way. If I hadn't said to him everything I'd written here, I wouldn't feel like I'd done my part:
* He needs to take care of his own life, which means you stop and he suffers the consequences for not doing it.
* Sex life needs to improve, which means being honest about the actual issue. Is it depression? Lack of sexual attraction? Too much masturbation? Too much weed? Low sex drive?
* What is he doing now and what will he do in an effort to fix these issues? Is he seeing a therapist? Is he exercising to help with energy/mood/sex drive? Is he telling you everything that's relevant to the situation?
posted by cnc at 4:16 PM on April 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

Um, maybe I'm blind, but you said he has depression, but said nothing about treatment? Basically everything you seem to be taking issue with is a common symptom of depression, so if he isn't being treated, maybe work on that before you toss him on his ass.

And in a relationship this long term, I'd personally consider you a bit of an ass if you don't at least try to get yourselves to a couple's counselor after the depression thing is either under treatment or he refuses to do anything about it.

That said, you are entitled to end it for any reason or no reason at all if that's what you really want to do. I wouldn't suggest it, but I've been in a relationship for two decades, some of that with one or the other of us being at least indifferent if not downright shitty. It happens sometimes. Hell, there have been a couple of years in there our sexy times count would have been doable on my bird's foot that is missing a couple of toes. Then we talked about it and, lo, improvement was had.

Point is, sometimes relationships require work, especially if you aren't communicating well for whatever reason. It's fine if you don't want to put in that work, but do realize that almost nobody has a long term relationship that doesn't require that at some point, so if that's your expectation you are setting yourself up for disappointment unless you happen to win the lottery.
posted by wierdo at 5:34 PM on April 24, 2018

I'll add my voice to the chorus, having married and divorced a man who was passive through fearfulness. Get out and don't look back.

One point that hasn't been addressed yet: One of the reasons that some things feel really, really, really good (so supportive! completely adores me!) is that his complete aversion to conflict and stress means that he's hiding the things that are friction points for him. He never ever shows you the things that bug him so you can be fooled into thinking some things are practically perfect.

Since he can't confront issues directly, his resentment tends to seep out in other ways--usually by not doing things that are clearly important to you. Like, say, having sex, or doing some of the driving in the responsibility of your shared lives. He gets to have his revenge without proactively offending so he gets to duck responsibility for that, too. This is the clinical definition of passive aggression (not the lite version as portrayed in pop culture, such as people leaving notes on the fridge in the break room at work.) It's awful to live with, unbelievably cruel.

Get out now.
posted by Sublimity at 6:10 PM on April 24, 2018 [11 favorites]

He is not a perfect SAHD-in-waiting. He is not merely a depressed guy who needs more “work” from you. He is not a bad person either.

He is a bump on a log though. Women I know who have stayed with such bumps have ultimately been overcome by frustration and exhaustion and guilt, because while they went out in the world and did stuff, their guys sat home wanking and gaming and not keeping house and not working outside the house and sometimes not even leaving the house if they could help it. They made lots of lists about what they wanted to do, and then even more lists about why they couldn’t take the first step to do it. Wanted to do Big Thing a/b/c, but couldn’t start the work or training or schooling until next month/quarter/year because theoretical ideal condition x/y/z had not been met.

Also, almost to a person, they didn’t want to have sex. They sometimes wanted to stare at screens full of it but they didn’t want to participate in it, because OMG so much effort.

They frequently did have depression that was under/un-treated, and they refused to get treatment despite any access they had, but also because wasn’t it just their partner’s job to make them feel better? Couldn’t she just work harder but also keep the place nicer and also be perkier but most especially have fewer needs of her own? Did she have to go rubbing his nose in her great career or her social life?

Please give yourself permission to want out, to want more. When you overcome the guilt about being his only lifeline, and you tell him it’s over, he will fling more guilt at you. In that moment, you’ll realize the guilt was never rightfully yours.
posted by armeowda at 7:51 PM on April 24, 2018 [10 favorites]

My data point - six years can turn into 20 pretty quickly and those gut reservations won't fade away into nothing. It's likely to fall apart at the worst possible time.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:43 PM on April 24, 2018

Sometimes these doomed relationships end with the passive person breaking it off to the shock of the go-getter, and then the go-getter might go out and get involved with someone even worse because they're lonesome and don't have their head on straight. Ask me how I know.
posted by Scram at 9:47 PM on April 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

Listen to armeowda.

It's true that even successful long term marriages have some irreconcilabilities, but I don't believe that they can include fundamental unalignment of sex drives AND fundamental unalignment of executive competence AND fundamental unalignment of work ethic. Any one of those can be a killer. ALL of them? Can't be done.

You better end this now before you get sucked in deeper.

[edit: ignore the "everyone adores him" thing. What are they going to tell you? "Your guy seems lazy?" Only an incredibly rude person would ever say that. He's funny and nice, you know that yourself, and it's all most people need from a dinner companion, so of course it seems like they like him, but they don't have to carry him through life.]
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:59 AM on April 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

he's hiding the things that are friction points for him. He never ever shows you the things that bug him so you can be fooled into thinking some things are practically perfect.

Oh my gosh, there is so much truth to this. I divorced a similar guy who worshipped the ground I walked on while we were married. Was sweet, loving, treated me like a queen in many ways. He fought me tooth and nail over the divorce, begged me to stay, promised anything and everything. Imagine my shock when, several months later, he admitted to me that he had never been his true self with me THE ENTIRETY OF OUR 18 YEAR MARRIAGE. That he had bitten his tongue and swallowed any issues he might have had simply to keep me happy. Or perhaps, to keep me, period. He never wanted to rock the boat. And after I left him, he admitted that he feels free now to be who he really is.

PS - he's happily remarried now to someone who is a much better fit. And I'm very happily partnered too.
posted by puppet du sock at 8:49 AM on April 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

when i was in this situation, even though there was a little voice in the back of my brain telling me "leave, leave, don't stay, no, you don't want this, there's more out there" i stayed and stayed. i stayed at least 3 years past the point that i should have, and i can tell you that i became so miserable being the One To Do The Stuff and the Things that i ended up cheating on him with one of those grass-is-greener dudes, and although of course i wish it had happened differently and better, that was the one thing that made me realize that i had to go because i couldn't stay in a relationship without passion with a person without ambition. it all fell apart in a wildly burn-your-life-down sort of way, and while i know that i should have ended it more appropriately, the relief that i felt when i was free, and then eventually when i met my current partner, was palpable. i have now been in a real partnership for almost 11 years, and we still have the kind of loving, passionate sex and romantic moments together that sometimes makes me cry i'm so happy. you too, could have that. be well!
posted by fairlynearlyready at 2:24 PM on April 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

It annoys the heck out of me when women ask questions on about do-nothing boyfriends and a bunch of the responses say he'd be a great stay-at-home dad, accompanied by some vague shaming (if you were sufficiently enlightened about gender roles, it wouldn't bother you that he never gets off the couch!)

I had a 11-year partner who acted much as you described: constantly told me he loved me and wanted to support me, but never actually translated that into action. He was kind, funny, empathetic, and thoughtful, and I loved him deeply, but over the years I transformed into his caretaker: financially, domestically, emotionally. I ran all his errands and planned our vacations and paid our bills -- I even bought my own birthday and Christmas gifts. He could never, ever be counted on to take care of something that needed doing without being explicitly and repeatedly reminded, and frequently not even then. Whenever I tried to talk about it he'd cry and tell me I was making him feel like a bad boyfriend and it would turn into me comforting him.

Eventually I realized:

Feeling loving feelings for me (and saying so) isn't the same thing as acting in a loving way.

Feeling supportive feelings like wanting me to succeed or be happy isn't the same as actually supporting me.

Feeling desire for me isn't the same thing as having a sex life (my partner would usually say: of course I think you're sexy! it's just easier and more convenient to masturbate most of the time!)

Talking about the shame you feel about not contributing isn't the same as contributing.

It hurts so much when you finally realize that all the loving words are only words. It's so hard to believe that someone you feel such a deep bond with won't lift a finger for you or do anything concrete to help or please you, even when it really matters. You're conscientious and would never act that way with someone you loved and it's so hard to believe that he's just not the same as you.

My partner of 11 years, despite saying that he'd be shattered and bereft if I left him, had a new girlfriend within months and was engaged a year later. I'm told that at the wedding ceremony he forgot to bring the rings, and even though I do miss him sometimes, I'm glad that wasn't me at the altar covering for him again.

Also, just in case this reminds you of him
posted by beatrice rex at 2:54 PM on April 25, 2018 [14 favorites]

by the way, speaking as a current stay at home parent: you really can't do the SAHP job well if you're someone who lacks initiative and executive function ability. Beyond baby-age it's constant admin, planning, organizing, followup.

If you're frustrated with his initiative levels now, believe me you wouldn't enjoy co-parenting and family life management with him.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:29 AM on April 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

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