Are there some things you just dont say?
March 10, 2006 6:45 PM   Subscribe

Am I a jerk to mention that our relationship might have an end?

Heres the story: my girlfriend wanted to know what to get me for my birthday and I responded that id like a small book of her illustrations because, I said, i love her sketches and want them to remember her by. OOPS. she asked where i was going, and I had to explain that all I meant is that it's highly probably that theyll be a time *sometime* in the future when we decide to not be together anymore, but that even if we do separate ill always have our memories and the book. Needless to say, this threw her for a loop and she has withdrawn from me emotionally and physically. I think shes convinced I want out of the relationship... but that couldnt be further from the truth. I love her very much, but ive been in relationships before and know that these things do end-- people change, or grow tired of each other, or many other circumstancial reasons. My question is-- was I really being a horrible jerk for pointing this out? Which one of us is being immature? I know that it doesnt matter objectively as long as she took it the wrong way, but me and my ego are still curious to know what people think. I guess my real question is do most women really believe that they will spend the rest of their life with their current boyfriend? Also, whats the best way to tell her im sorry without having to lie and retract an honest belief?
posted by petsounds to Human Relations (44 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
was I really being a horrible jerk for pointing this out?

No, I'd go with "idiot."
posted by IshmaelGraves at 6:46 PM on March 10, 2006

really believe that they will spend the rest of their life with their current boyfriend?

I would assume so. I thought most of the aim of the game was to find a permanent relationship.

However, I'm married and have been for 15 years, so my view is probably coloured by that.
posted by b33j at 6:49 PM on March 10, 2006

I'd hazard a guess that most people honestly believe that nothing lasts forever. However, most people have the common courtesy to not throw it in the face of those they supposedly care about. While your glibness might be admirable in a boardroom or under oath, you were being a jerk to someone you love.

Apologize, apologize, apologize.
posted by purephase at 6:51 PM on March 10, 2006

all I meant is that it's highly probably that theyll be a time *sometime* in the future when we decide to not be together anymore

Did you really say "highly probable"? Cause if you did, that's your problem. Most rational people wouldn't freak out at "maybe" we'll break up someday. A lot of rational people might be a little alienated at "it's highly probable that we're going to break up."
posted by maxreax at 6:51 PM on March 10, 2006

A university girlfriend of 2 years asked me one night if I could see us married one day. I, foolishly at the time, responded that I couldn't imagine myself marrying her at the time. Needless to say the relationship went south from there.

Luckily, I met my better half sometime afterwards.
posted by smcniven at 6:51 PM on March 10, 2006

Jerk? No.

Ill-advised? Oh, Lord yes.

In effect, you just dumped a big bucket of ice water all over her warm little 'I'm in love' fire.
posted by Rubber Soul at 7:00 PM on March 10, 2006

oh, it also depends on age.
Under 20 - some girls are really romantic (and I do know people who met in high school and married) but I would think most would assume that this relationship is not forever.
After 30 - desperately seeking partner to assist with biological clock.
20-30 I don't know anymore.

But I do think, in the long run, it's more ethical that she knows where you're coming from, so even though it was an accident, you should be glad that she knows.
posted by b33j at 7:02 PM on March 10, 2006

Response by poster: Wow, thanks for the honest and interesting answers so far. Just to clarify, I'm 21 and weve been together for just over 1 year. We know each other very well and are usually able to say whatever we want without having to act a certain way, im scared to lose that. It would suck to have one stupid phrase ruin the whole thing. I cant recall exactly but i think i said there was 'a chance'.. so its a bit closer to 'maybe' i suppose. Still of course a big fuck up. @!#$%
posted by petsounds at 7:15 PM on March 10, 2006

Which one of us is being immature?

Dude . . . YOU!

Unless you are in high school, planning to go to separate colleges or college and planning to go to different grad schools/states after graduating, who knows when or if the relationship will end.

She obviously thinks that the relationship is doomed and that it is her fault. She has some quirk or did something to cool your feelings for her. Or maybe there is another woman waiting in the wings? These are the things that are running though her mind and even if she seems like she's gone back to normal, your relationship and her feelings for you will never be the same again.

Perhaps you have a history of being hurt in relationships, if so, tell her as a way to explain your stupid comment. If you have a history of simply getting bored of one woman and moving on to the next . . . I have no advice.
posted by necessitas at 7:19 PM on March 10, 2006

Best answer: I think a good way to clean it up may be something like, "[petnameofchoice], I know I said something the other day that you took in a way I didn't mean," and go from there. Possibly make it sci-fi: "If you landed in a timewarp tomorrow and I never got to see you again, I'd want a book of your illustrations to remember you by," is a little weird but way better than, "Statistically speaking, people don't make it through college/university relationships, so in 20 years, I want a book of your illustrations to show to my kids with another woman."

I know what you meant, but if she's at all insecure, there are probably big fat red flags everywhere. If you think you can explain yourself out of the hole, fine, do that, but I would also advise some other repair work -- taking her out to a Very Nice Dinner, for example, might be good, or even better -- Cooking Her a Very Nice Dinner. People have worked things out after worse things -- like, say, cheating on one another -- so don't freak too hard .. .just don't put your foot in your mouth again.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:24 PM on March 10, 2006

ive been in relationships before and know that these things do end

Huh? Not all relationships do end.

What fun is it to be in a relationship when you're actually thinking that it's likely to end? If you actually love her now -- assuming you actually know what that means -- why waste any thought on the possibility that you'll change or grow tired or each other in the future? Deal with those things if and when they happen, don't sabotage the relationship while it's good.

Anyway, if you can get that concept through your head, you won't have to lie when you apologize. Which you should.
posted by Gator at 7:32 PM on March 10, 2006

You obviously don't see yourself being with her permanently or you wouldn't have said that. She obviously thinks it's possible or she wouldn't have reacted that way. I'd say you are both being reasonable from your respective points of view.
posted by unSane at 7:33 PM on March 10, 2006

Every long term relationship I've ever had has been forever in my mind. After a certain point, I assume I'm in a "marriage" and that if we have problems, we'll problem solve instead of break up -- and though I may be attracted to other people, it will never go beyond fantasizing. For me, there's no point if it's not forever.

Having said that, I don't think you're a jerk. I just think you're different from me and (unfortunately) your girlfriend.

I once tried to discuss a trip to Europe with this girl I'd been dating for about a year. I told her I was really busy right now, but I'd like to go in six months or a year. She said, "Well, we might not even be dating then." She said this without any ill intent -- she was very sweet natured. She had no desire to leave me. That was just how she viewed relationships. To her, they were things of the present and the future was ... the future. Anything could happen in the future.

But when she said that, my stomach turned over. And after that, the relationship was never the same. I was constantly on the defensive -- worried I would get hurt.

It's too bad people are different that way.

By the way, my (armchair) psychoanalysis of her motives comes years after the fact. At the time, I was totally confused as to why she said what she said. It wouldn't have made thing totally better, but it would have helped immensely if she'd said, "You know, I really love you, and I didn't say that because I want to leave you. I don't. I hope we stay together for years. I said that because I always feel uncertain about the future. I feel uncertain that you will want to stay with ME in the future. And I'm pretty sure I would have said the same thing to anyone else if I was dating them instead of you."
posted by grumblebee at 7:37 PM on March 10, 2006

was I really being a horrible jerk for pointing this out?

Yes. Next question.
posted by Decani at 7:44 PM on March 10, 2006

Best answer: You're pretty young, so yes, it's realistic to assume that you have other relationships ahead of you. But it's still a jerky thing to say that you're collecting mementos to appreciate after the demise of the relationship. It's also a bit off -- what if the end of this relationship is really horrible -- will you still smile fondly at those sketches?

The best and most honest backpedal would be probably be something like "sorry to sound fatalistic or negative, I just meant that we're pretty young and we don't know where our lives will take us the future years. But it doesn't mean I'm planning to leave you, 'cause I am living in the now."

If a comparable situation ever comes up again, the answer to why you'd like a book of illustrations is because you love her sketches. Period.
posted by desuetude at 7:55 PM on March 10, 2006

Remind her that you're a cynic and that while you adore her you tend to be a worst-case-scenario kind of guy, which makes it difficult for you to believe in the possibility of real long-term happiness.

Then tell her you're sorry and you're going to stop thinking and saying such stupid things.
posted by stefanie at 7:56 PM on March 10, 2006

For future reference I think the proper way to say this would have been, "I would like to have a book of your illustrations because I really love them and so that I can look at them whenever I'm thinking about you." It's perfectly natural to not see a relationship as permanent at the tender age of 21 but for god's sake you don't blurt that out.
posted by Rhomboid at 8:11 PM on March 10, 2006

Nothing lasts forever but not everybody wants to hear about it.
posted by azuma at 8:33 PM on March 10, 2006

Best answer: I'm a 20 year old girl and I always expect my current relationships to have an expiration date. Actually, sometimes I catch myself fantasizing about the way things will end, no matter how happy and committed I am to my boyfriend, kind of like peeking at the last page of a novel you really like.

I also often encourage boys to make mix cds for me because I want to have a memento of them after the relationship is over. While I am conscious of my own intentions, I don't TELL them that this will be just another item in the collection of my lovers' souvenirs. That would be hurtful, even to someone who agrees with your idea of impermanence.

Most of the time, a relationship is an unspoken contract to participate in a mutual fantasy (unless of course it is official - marriage, etc). When you mention a time beyond the fantasy, you are breaking the spell. I find that when things are said out loud, or even when they are thought about a lot, they tend to manifest themselves in reality, and so if you are not looking forward to breaking up, concentrate on your present happiness together. Apologize to the girl, and don't speak of the end until you are ready to deal with the consequences.
posted by larva at 9:07 PM on March 10, 2006

I don't think you're a jerk for mentioning it, just a dumbass.
posted by delmoi at 9:15 PM on March 10, 2006

Talking about the end of the relationship is a great way to create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I'll nth "ill-advised."
posted by Zed_Lopez at 9:19 PM on March 10, 2006

do most women really believe that they will spend the rest of their life with their current boyfriend?

No sensible women, or men, would want to spoil the fullness of an enjoyable present with negative prognostications (that have a way of self fulfillment). Her withdrawal may have less to do with hurt than with disappointment for finding you a coward.
posted by semmi at 9:40 PM on March 10, 2006

Everyone who has posted in this thread will be dead in 100 years.

While true, no one likes to be reminded of it.

You have essentially the same problem here.

So start backpedaling and make a call to 1-800-FLOWERS.
posted by frogan at 9:44 PM on March 10, 2006

Girls are like that. They also buy lots of shoes they don't need, and make you order dessert, then eat it. Where have you been all your life?

Hint: if she asks you "does this [item of clothing] make my butt look big?" do NOT say "yes".
posted by AmbroseChapel at 9:51 PM on March 10, 2006

Are you sure you didn't mean exactly what you said? It sounds to me like you are paving the way to exit the relationship and she was just quicker on the uptake than you expected.
posted by BoscosMom at 10:09 PM on March 10, 2006

Actually every relationship does end. Unless you believe the "we'll be married in heaven too" part.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:30 PM on March 10, 2006

she has withdrawn from me emotionally and physically

Oh honey, you are lucky she's being this nice about it. Make ammends, and then make ammends again. Azuma is right on. I understand that nothing is permanent, but I'd rather hear it from my Buddhist Teacher than my boyfriend.
posted by Zendogg at 10:34 PM on March 10, 2006

Best answer: Many people are looking for the "real thing" and would not want to continue in a relationship whose end they feel is inevitable. It is certainly how I always approached relationships. I was looking for my wife. I found her, I married her. I am not stupid or naive, I know things don't always work out. But permanence, within the frail framework of human mortality, is what I am working for nonetheless.

Other people, apparently, are like larva - the relationship is what it is, in the time that it is. Permanence is not (at least at this point) expected or indeed desired. In fact I'm pretty sure Larva fell through a time warp and dated me briefly when I was in my twenties about 13 years ago. You broke my heart, you bitch.

But seriously - I don't see one way as right or wrong. But if you are on opposite sides of this divide, it might be more fair for your girlfriend to know that.

If you don't see potentially staying together as even a possibility, then you were being inadvertently honest and the issue should probably be had out. If you are open to the relationship at least potentially lasting and maturing and becoming permanent, and are just being "realistic," well, being right is not the same as being tactful and tact is one of the things we do for the people we love. Screw your "honest beliefs," apologize for over-intellectualizing your relationship and so hurting her feelings, tell her you love her and you hope it lasts forever, if that's true.
posted by nanojath at 10:40 PM on March 10, 2006

See if she can sketch you some apostrophes. You'll want to hang on to those, too.
posted by emelenjr at 10:42 PM on March 10, 2006

I'm sorry about that, nanojath..on behalf of all the mercurial transient butterfly girls of the world.
posted by larva at 11:26 PM on March 10, 2006

Response by poster: these are all excellent answers and there is truth to every one. its hard to explain my point of view on this situation.. but here goes..

i guess what really bothers me is the idea of a relationship where i always have to watch what i say and be self concious about whether im being tactful or not. to me 'tact' is what you do to act nice and agreeable to someone, like you would with a roomate or an acquaintence or a client on the phone, but the word implies dishonesty to me. im not perfect and dont want to lie to pretend i am. i say stupid things sometimes that i probably dont mean. i go through moods, and sometimes dont even know how i feel. i think most people do. to me a good relationship isnt where you have to act like the perfect little chipper mormon student who says everything right and is always righteous and politically correct in what they do and say ... to me a mature relationship is where people are honest and accepting and are allowed to be weak and insecure and say dumb things to each other. in other words.. an emotionally mature relationship is when you get out of that romantic ideal of perfection with the man as the 'strong and silent protector' and 'everything lasting forever'.. because 90% of the time thats not the case. a mature relationship is when you can accept imperfections and changes and accept that maybe just maybe people change and things wont stay the same forever. so anyways i stand by my original point. of course love is not an intellectual argument. i should be writing or saying this to my girlfriend rather than an internet messageboard anyways.. so thats what i will do. maybe your right and this will be a self fulfilling prophechy and does mean we shouldnt be together. i guess i will see.
posted by petsounds at 11:27 PM on March 10, 2006

Well, it all worked out for the best, larva. And we'll always have South Minneapolis.
posted by nanojath at 11:33 PM on March 10, 2006

AWW :)

And petsounds, I agree with your idea of a mature relationship. It should be an open and comfortable space for honest conversation between your partner and yourself. Personally, I'd love to have to have an intellectual arguement about love, the impermanence of relationships, and deconstruction of romantic ideals with a boyfriend. But at the end of the day, I'll want someone to hold me and love me and make me feel like he'll be there for as long as it feels right.

Love is being aware of another human being as much as you are aware of yourself. And that means being considerate of their feelings. And sometimes that means not saying the truth when it will be unnecessarily hurtful. It's not a question of abandoning your values, but of considering hers.

If, however, you're implying that your whole relationship is full of similar misunderstandings, if you feel like you're constantly pressed to "say the right thing", then that's a much larger issue and decision on your part...
posted by larva at 12:00 AM on March 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: That was well written. You are right. Its too easy to overanalyze these things. At the end of the day a good hug can solve things words never would. I think we are probably pretty similar. Except that im probably at average emotional devlopment for a twenty-year-old; you are far beyond your age.
posted by petsounds at 12:30 AM on March 11, 2006

It's been my experience that boys umm.. take a little longer to mature emotionally, so I'd say you're doing pretty well. Good luck.
posted by larva at 12:42 AM on March 11, 2006

what really bothers me is the idea of a relationship where i always have to watch what i say and be self concious about whether im being tactful or not

Trust me, what's missing from your relationship with this girl isn't anything as subtle as tact. Are you by any chance one of those autistic/aspergers people who are often encountered on Ask who don't understand the basics of human relationships?

I'm just imagining you looking through family photos.

HER: That's my grandma. She's 75 years old.

She's adorable. So, she's going to die soon, huh? Is her corpse going to be burned in a big furnace or put into a coffin to rot?

I mean, it's true. But nobody particularly wants to hear it.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 1:14 AM on March 11, 2006

I think she's rather apparently thinking of permanence and that quite possibly this entire yar that you've spent together feels like a big freaking waste of time because you never had such intentions to keep it going. I am sure she feels like you have been lying this entire time by going out with her on the hidden premise that she was a brief thrill ride.

To me, you shouldn't even consider attempting relationships until you're in the mode to actually commit to one for good. You don't have any business looking at the menu if you're not ready to eat. Experience schmexperience. Women generally enjoy decorating because it is creating something new and better and fun from a blank space -- but you've already decorated your relationship house with flings, so you'll have to be having one massive garage sale to clear all that out to begin anew with someone else. The more temporary relationships that emerge, the more cleaning you'll have to do. You may even get into the cycle of not emotionally being involved that when "the one" does eventually turn up, you won't have the same initial zeal.

Consider pornography for a second. If you had always only seen clothed women your entire life, would making love to a wife after marriage not be more fulfilling than having seen hundreds of women to compare her to? You could pick out a thousand variations that suit your tastes exactly after having seen so many women, but having seen no variantion makes "the one" automatically the ideal because there's no comparison.

Everything generally expires. All marriages will stop at some point when one person dies, and there's no marriage in heaven (Mark 24:18-25). If this was the not-being-in-a-relationship berm to which you were referring, perhaps that should be clearly noted to her -- but if you were saying rather bluntly, "you're not the one" then I'd start packing. I am sure small villages in Africa could have used the water that have already come hence from the tears she's shed even in this short time (providing they had a salt filter, perhaps). I'm not sure if this is really even healable wound to continue in the same relationship.
posted by vanoakenfold at 4:44 AM on March 11, 2006

to me 'tact' is what you do to act nice and agreeable to someone....but the word implies dishonesty to me. me a good relationship isnt where you have to act like the perfect little chipper mormon student who says everything right and is always righteous and politically correct in what they do and say

Hmmm, you're one of those people who think "tact" = "dishonesty"? petsounds, you might find this previous AskMe thread to be interesting reading, and perhaps enlightening. It's long, and it's not the same exact situation as yours, but I think it's relevant to your attitude towards interpersonal relationships.
posted by Gator at 6:38 AM on March 11, 2006

what really bothers me is the idea of a relationship where i always have to watch what i say and be self concious about whether im being tactful or not

there are certain things that you just can't say in any serious relationship ... and "i'd like some of your pictures to remember you by because sooner or later we're going to break up" is one of them

it may have seemed realistic to you ... but it's obvious to me that what seemed realistic to her was that there was a chance the two of you would be together permanently ... most people get to a certain point in a relationship where they're thinking about getting married or living together

it doesn't seem as if that's what you want right now, which is fine ... but it does seem as though she's wondering if that's what she wants

i don't think there's anything you can say to her ... in fact, any attempt to explain it is just going to make it worse

maybe, in a few months, if you act sincerely and serious about your relationship she might start feeling more at ease ... but it's one of those cases where actions is going to mean more than words will ... and you're probably not ready to take the actions that would reassure her that you have a permanent relationship, so i wouldn't do that

bottom line - you've damaged her trust in you and it's a long process getting that back
posted by pyramid termite at 6:39 AM on March 11, 2006

Best answer: what really bothers me is the idea of a relationship where i always have to watch what i say and be self concious about whether im being tactful or not

Let me rephrase that for you: What really bothers me is the idea of a relationship where I have to watch what I say so that I don't hurt my partner, one where I have to consider her feelings before opening my mouth. And if she is hurt by what I've said, I don't want her to be free to say that, because that might make me feel bad and I'll have to post to AskMe wondering whether or not she's being immature to feel that way, and explaining how I had a right to say this thing that hurt her.

You're going to have to be self-conscious in any relationship with another person, because you have to consider them too, just like you expect them to consider your feelings. Sometimes brutal honesty is just brutality.

brutal: without any attempt to disguise unpleasantness
posted by heatherann at 8:27 AM on March 11, 2006

It would suck to have one stupid phrase ruin the whole thing.

Just so we're clear on this: it's not the phrase, it's the thought behind it. As others have said, if you didn't really "mean" it (if you're not actually expecting to break up), explain that, apologize, and carry on; if you did, then it's better she knows and can withdraw sooner rather than later.

Sure, relationships often break up, but there's (usually, if you're acting in good faith) no way of knowing in advance, and it's pointless and destructive to assume the worst. My first marriage was difficult in many ways, and a lot of people would have told me to give up on it right away (I can just imagine the responses if I'd posted a question about it here, if this had been available 20 years ago). In retrospect, I wish we'd broken up early on, when things were really difficult, rather than after years of hard-won happiness, but I don't at all regret having felt that it was going to last forever. Sure, that made the end more painful, but not feeling that would have drained the joy out of the whole relationship.

That's if you want a lasting relationship, of course. If you don't, that's fine, but for god's sake make it clear to the women you get involved with; don't let them find out through revelations like this.
posted by languagehat at 11:19 AM on March 11, 2006

Reading this story, I am struck by the similarity to the tale of the Buddha. Specifically, you were trying to explain part of the Buddha's third noble truth to your girlfriend, which has been translated "All that is subject to arising is subject to ceasing." The Buddha, too, was speaking of the desires that arise from the human heart.

You may empathize when you hear that, of the five humans and innumerable ethereal beings who were listening to the Buddha, only one was enlightened by his explanation. The rest were not enlightened. This is a terrifying truth and I think it is very difficult for anyone to grasp it fully.

Sympathize, then, with your girlfriend's enlightened state - very few of us are bodhisattvas, I think - and make an apology. The folks above have proposed very eloquent ways to do that.
posted by ikkyu2 at 4:52 PM on March 11, 2006

Which one of us is being immature?

You, for posting on a website to ask which of you is being immature.
posted by crabintheocean at 6:08 PM on March 11, 2006

Best answer: Aw, man. I've been in her situation and when you feel it's going to be "forever" (for which you either have to be a very positive person or a very inexperienced person, imo) and your SO doesn't seem to think so, it hurts.

But I got over it and what's more, I was the one to end the relationship years later. You learn. She'll learn (or she'll be a very positive person for the rest of her life and bring joy to the hearts of those who know her while getting horribly hurt over and over again herself). It will be fiiiine.
posted by Skyanth at 2:02 AM on March 13, 2006

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