Difference in emotional maturity when dating
October 12, 2019 1:15 PM   Subscribe

I am seriously considering parting ways with someone I've been seeing romantically. I think we are now at different stages of emotional maturity and want really different things. Knowing my own limitations and inexperience, though, I turn to you, AskMeFi, for feedback and insight.

I've been working on myself with the help of a therapist for a little more than two years (started back in July 2017), and I continue to work.

I've [AFAB probably NB but not sure, mid 30s] been seeing Person X [NB, late 30s] for about four months. I really like them in many many ways, and we truly have a wonderful time together.

We've been having arguments in the past month, probably around the time when projections burst and differences begin to show up. It took me a bunch of such arguments and a great deal of introspection to realize what has been going on: I've been engaging in old relationship pattern without meaning too. I've been holding back on asking for what I need, because I am taking responsibility for their emotions and because I don't trust that they could shore up their own boundaries (as in, I didn't trust enough to find out whether they could or not). And then I feel unseen and angry.

So I tried to ask to be seen and let myself be seen, and I also try to clarify responsibilities (e.g. "No, if you can't come to the movies with me and I am disappointed, it is not your fault; it's just what happens. I'll survive the disappointment." Or, "If I choose not to play hooky and stay home with you, but instead go to work, and you feel slighted-- I didn't cause those feelings." ) and impact (e.g. "that was really touching; I am deeply moved." or "I feel hurt by that.")

In the process of these negotiations, it became clear to me that Person X doesn't know how to take responsibility for their own feelings and generally doesn't believe they are worthy of love and care, from themselves or anyone else. It also became clear to me I have many blind spots and there had been many ways in which I had been having poor boundaries, and that I have a lot more work to do.

My questions for you, hivemind:

1) I realized this relationship is codependent (and I am partly responsible for that), and I now want to be in a different kind of relationship. I don't think Person X is capable of giving me that, at least not right now.

I tried to find out if they are working on their own stuff, and my sense is that they are currently putting more effort into running away from the stuff than confronting it; i.e. not ready. They are very skeptical of therapy.

I know I can't change them, but their struggle also reminds me SO SO much of my own, two years ago, which confuses me. If I had wanted to stay in the relationship with the hope that they'd grow, would I have been trying to change them? If I leave, am I just not trusting that they can grow? My gut says it's not my job to wait or nurture their growth. But I feel as though I am relatively inexperienced in dating and wanted to seek feedback.

2) Is there a way to talk about these things without the implied teleology of growth, maturity, etc? My own understanding of these things is entirely mediated by the popular discourse on emotional maturity and psychological development. This entire post, up to this point, sounds like I am thinking of Person X as somehow "not there yet" and I want to get away from that if possible. I really deeply understand how painful it is to be in that place Person X is currently in, and I know everyone go through their journey at their own pace. I am grateful to them.
posted by redwaterman to Human Relations (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think the challenge here is that you don't know how long it will take them to confront what they are avoiding (ie, to really commit to growth and realize that it is necessary) or to undergo that growth. And you are seeing them as on an evolutionary path that is the one that you may followed, but the truth is that they may or may not even be on that path. Not everyone comes to the same conclusions from having the same life experiences.

So given the above, I would try to weigh whether the pros of the relationship outweigh the cons - is this something that gives you enough that it is worth the wait or the extra effort to try to communicate where the issues are, or is it not worth it? You may not know the answer to that question right now, but it will probably become clear with time. I had a somewhat similar issue in relationship to someone I broke up with a couple of months ago, and I can say that the first few times I started to ask myself that question, the answer was yes, I wanted to keep trying. Eventually that turned to no because I could see they just weren't there. I think/hope that the breakup helped them really realize that there were issues and who knows maybe at some later date we'd get back together, though I am feeling less and less like that will happen and that aside from issues of maturity we may just have different outlooks on life.

So I think, try your best to communicate what your needs are and try to engage them in discussions that will help them better meet those needs, if you want to - and when you no longer want to, if that time comes, you can break up with them.
posted by knownfossils at 1:34 PM on October 12, 2019 [2 favorites]


If the relationship were to stay exactly like it is for six more months, would you want to stay in it? Would you want to stay for a year? Two years?

The real question here is not what your partner will or won't do inside their own head. The question is whether or not this relationship - the actual one, not any theoretical one that might happen after some growth or change - is one you want to be in. Are your boundaries being respected, when you can articulate them? Are you feeling like your needs are being met? (I suspect not, or you wouldn't be asking.)

The codependent part is where you're putting the other person's needs, limitations, and growth ahead of your own - or not even really taking your own into account. Figure out what *you* want. Figure out if *you're* getting it. That's your job. Your partner has to do that job on their own behalf, too, but if they can't or won't, it's not your problem.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:37 PM on October 12, 2019 [6 favorites]


sounds like I am thinking of Person X as somehow "not there yet" and I want to get away from that if possible. I really deeply understand how painful it is to be in that place Person X is currently in, and I know everyone go through their journey at their own pace.

I think this is the key, right here. We're not all on the same path through life. Yes, we all (or most of us) grow and change, but not necessarily in the same ways or directions. So that's why it's so key that, when you're in a relationship with someone, you engage with them and make decisions about the relationship based on how they are now, and not how you hope they will be in the future.

Also, you can be deeply compassionate towards someone, and have a lot of empathy for what they are going through, and ALSO not continue to be in a relationship with them. Breaking up with them isn't necessarily a judgment on their worth as a person, or a referendum on their character. It sounds like you have come to understand both what you need from a relationship and that you probably can't get that from this person at this time.

Finally, I gotta say: that combination of "can't take responsibility for one's own emotions," "doesn't see oneself as worthy of love and care," and "skeptical of therapy" is ... a doozy to be in a relationship with. Because you become solely responsible for managing their emotions so that they don't negatively impact you, but since they have trouble accepting that care, it causes all sorts of conflict that seems to be related to other things. And it's so easy to sort of feel bad for people who don't see themselves as worthy of love, and to feel like you're kicking a puppy if you break up with them, or don't give them love in the way they're able to accept it and ... things can get messy. But you are doing good work in therapy, and you're learning it's not your responsibility to manage this for them.
posted by lunasol at 1:56 PM on October 12, 2019 [11 favorites]


My take, heavily colored by personal experience, is that over time you’ll only grow more resentful of the fact that you’re working to make yourself a better partner while they’re coasting along.

In fact it already sounds like you’re at the edge of being condescending to them, which is a really hard place to come back from.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:14 PM on October 12, 2019 [4 favorites]


I would not assume that because you've come a long way in 2 years that their timeline is also 2 years until readiness. It could be a long time...
posted by namesarehard at 3:58 PM on October 12, 2019 [2 favorites]


I know I can't change them, but their struggle also reminds me SO SO much of my own, two years ago, which confuses me. If I had wanted to stay in the relationship with the hope that they'd grow, would I have been trying to change them? If I leave, am I just not trusting that they can grow? My gut says it's not my job to wait or nurture their growth. But I feel as though I am relatively inexperienced in dating and wanted to seek feedback.

Some of the biggest catalysts for growth in my life have been breakups.

Sometimes, you don't get to nurture someone's growth. You get to (kindly, gently) dump them and see if they can draw the right conclusion and do the growing on their own. That's a real bittersweet thing. But it can be better than waiting around in a relationship that isn't working.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:38 PM on October 12, 2019 [7 favorites]


I think the only information to use as to whether to stay or go is how they are right now, not how they might be in the future because no one can predict that. Sure, your partner might do the necessary work to be dateable, you may also win a million dollars but unless it’s happening right now it doesn’t really count.

So, are you happy to be with them for the foreseeable future if all you ever get is what you have right now? There’s your answer. Never stay with someone for their potential.
posted by Jubey at 7:49 PM on October 12, 2019 [1 favorite]


"I realized this relationship is codependent (and I am partly responsible for that), and I now want to be in a different kind of relationship. I don't think Person X is capable of giving me that, at least not right now.

You know what you want, and you know you can't get it from this person. You answered your own question. Having compassion and feelings of identification with them is lovely, but it doesn't change the fact that you know in your heart that you won't get what you want from them. Trust your gut.
posted by Balthamos at 2:28 AM on October 13, 2019 [4 favorites]


It sounds like you've been awhile in Fix Yourself school and this is one of your final exams. I think you're trying to pass, but you are afraid of what it takes. You don't yet trust yourself. These are such new concepts and feelings that they still feel "wrong." Trust, me, and all these other internet strangers- the insights you have are right. Your gut is learning. This relationship is not where you want to be right now.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 3:16 AM on October 13, 2019 [5 favorites]


I think there are a lot of folks (especially under 40) who have the language of emotional intelligence even if they don’t have a lot of emotional intelligence. Self-loathing isn’t the same as self-knowledge.

My partner and I have both pushed each other (in mostly healthy ways but not always) to improve our health; he’s pushed me on a few specific things around my physical health, while I’ve pushed him on some things around mental and emotional health. He’s now in therapy (and I’m working on the changes to my health, too). He also showed that he was willing to meet me there—which is to say, even though sometimes he could be really emotionally reactive, he also showed, when we would talk about it later, a willingness to think through his behavior. That was pretty key. He sometimes does the thing it sounds like your partner does — if I’m upset, he centers his reaction to me being upset rather than my hurt. But he’s open to understanding this and working through this. So that willingness tells me a lot about who he is and how he feels about me. He also understands that this is work that he needs to do regardless of whether we are together.

I say this because it sounds like your partner isn’t quite there. These are pretty significant red flags showing up so soon. I think it makes sense to end this.

Also, for a different take on co-dependency and partners who flee, I recommend Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:21 PM on October 13, 2019 [1 favorite]


On the teleology side: to my eyes that very much stands out in your question and I imagine it might be antagonizing to your partner, yes. I've been in relationships were someone wanted me to "work on myself" and "grow" in some direction I wasn't interested in (and I too am skeptical of therapy) and it just felt like contempt for who I was. Would prefer to be dumped (and ultimately we broke up because contempt dissolves trust).
posted by ead at 11:00 PM on October 13, 2019 [2 favorites]


My partner and I have the expectation that we will continue to work on ourselves in order to better meet each other's needs. It is nice. I cannot imagine being in a relationship in which this was not the case.
posted by unstrungharp at 2:13 PM on November 4, 2019


« Older My dad is in recovery from major surgery; need a...   |   Which of These Canon Printers is the Best? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments