Doubting a wonderful relationship
August 4, 2021 6:55 PM   Subscribe

I've been dating someone for four years. He is extremely kind, stable, playful, compassionate, but I have doubts. There is no The One, but... how do you know if someone's The One? Snowflakes inside. (late 20s, F)

I feel like the worst person in the world. I'm sorry, this is really long. (And I've read many of the MeFi threads on this sort of thing, but I'm asking anyway.)

My partner is wonderful. I really like him... he's incredibly sweet, kind, playful, compassionate. We go on long walks together. He leaves cute notes around the house. Surprises me with dinner. He really loves me. And I love him. I do those same things for him. I try so hard to be good, to be a good partner, and he says I'm great.

But sometimes I feel panic, dread, extreme anxiety; I feel that I don't really love him, I feel terror at the thought of marrying and having kids and settling down. I know he truly loves me. We have a very good relationship, we're endlessly supportive of each other, we touch and kiss and have similar interests, we have an international move planned we're excited about - when I'm not feeling extreme anxiety about it.

I don't know what I want. I want to not feel crazy. I feel like I can't find inner peace. I'm so, so worried that if I leave this, I will jump from limerence-fueled relationship to relationship, and I will never be as happy again, and he will always be the one that got away. But I also feel despair about like... I feel like I'm trying to Jedi mind trick myself into thinking something is fulfilling me completely when on some level it's not.

After months of denial, maybe more (I was so deep in denial and self-hatred, I wouldn't admit to myself anything was wrong), I managed to have a conversation with my boyfriend about having doubts. It made him distraught, but he listened. It sounds like you want to want this, but you don't want this, I remember hearing. He said I was brave for telling him, that it was much better to hear this sooner rather than later. He said he doesn't need commitment now, but if I felt like this in years, it'd be an issue. He said we could be friends if we broke up. I don't know. We both cried a lot. He tried to break up, actually - his words: it's been four years... are you really going to learn anything new about us that would change your mind? - but I begged him to give me a chance. I said I really wanted to try, because I've felt so happy together, and it's so good in so many ways, and a partner who can maturely talk about these things with you is so valuable. I immediately started seeking out therapy. Doing more exercise. Got DBT workbooks. I realized I wasn't able to bring up doubts for so long because of severe self-hatred (you're a horrible person for not loving him as deeply and certainly as he lives you) and fear of abandonment (if I tell him, he'll leave me) - in addition to not wanting to hurt him.

For about a week, my feelings returned. I knew I loved him without any doubt, that he was IT. I daydreamed about our future together, of surprising him by proposing, of raising a toddler together in a house with a garden. He loves gardening. I wanted to make him happy. We could get tomato plants. He's got those already, he likes growing them. That sort of thing...

A week later I met up with my three-years-estranged ex-best friend and we reconnected in a whirlwind day of talking and apologizing. Sort of an insane, cathartic experience. And it fanned all my relationship worries and fears into overdrive again. It's not... I don't even think I want to be in a relationship with BFF, exactly - he's in a relationship, I'm in a relationship, we have completely separate life goals, it'd destroy both our lives, there isn't any limerence or chemistry or anything - but it felt like breathing air after being underwater for so long, suppressing all these sides of me, the sides that like to chat for hours and make stupid erudite jokes and etc, etc. And I think I feel terrified of losing this friend, and like the only way I can make sure someone I love doesn't leave is if I marry them. It felt like I loved him more than I loved my boyfriend, but I don't know if that's real, or just trauma... a three-year traumatic fight, lack of closure, etc, into that mad resolution... my emotions ran so high, and my brain immediately returned to whispering hey, you never feel like this about your boyfriend.

Since then I've been racked with anxiety, guilt, crying spells again, just like our convo of two weeks ago never happened. If I were my boyfriend, I'd be unimaginably hurt that meeting one dude I hadn't seen in three years was enough to make my partner doubt four years of us.

I guess I can't tell which of these things are happening:
- I love my boyfriend, but it's not enough, and if I keep walking this path and wrestling down my doubts, they'll eventually emerge in the ugliest way possible, with a messy divorce/affair/whatever years down the line; and it would be brave and morally correct to break up now so I can get my shit together, and he can find someone who loves him as wholly and completely
- I love him but I've got anxiety about it, and complexes, and shit; but I really can work through it, and we really can be happy together, the sort of happiness I want, and that I do feel sometimes, just not always; there's no pressure to have kids or get married or even engaged, it's fine to stay in the relationship and try to do today well, every day, and stop catastrophizing about what might happen in three years

I really feel, in my heart, like it's both; I want so desperately to want this, but I don't know if I want it. Nothing is wrong, everything is right, I care about him, I love him, I try so hard to be good. But then, why do I feel this way...? Why?

We watched a show together yesterday which is basically about urban alienation, and I mentioned I'd been googling about/thinking I wanted to become a therapist, and he said whoa, really? me too, actually (therapy is extremely far from our line of work). It made me feel like yes, this is my person, we're so attuned that we both thought of this, we both want to help others' suffering but then it ALSO made me think stop reading into everything trying to look for Signs you're meant to be or not, you stupid whore. A lot of our friends have moved away, we're unemployed, we're both deeply lonely, socially isolated, lacking purpose and connection. Maybe that's part of it?

Please be gentle in your replies - well, you don't have to be, but I'm desperate. An anxious, guilty, desperate wreck...

I know this is a common problem for people, and I've read that Dear Sugar column about how wanting to leave is enough, but I don't want to want to leave, and I really do feel like the worst, most broken, most co-dependent person in the world. I've done relationship nonsense before, too; my previous relationship was deeply dysfunctional, with someone deeply emotionally unavailable who rarely did anything for me, I idolized him and it exploded when a just-as-emotionally-unavailable good friend at the time caught feelings for me (that I absolutely had been trying to ignite, without realizing it) and I had no idea what I wanted except for both of them to love me forever, or at least not to leave me. Like what the fuck is that? That's immature nonsense. I loved my ex so delusionally and without reservation, and he wasn't one-tenth as good and kind to me as my boyfriend is; I loved the feeling of never doubting, but I feel now like it was delusional, based on nothing. I hated my ex-best friend for years for stupid reasons, and I now feel that cutting him off like that was the biggest mistake I've ever made, and I'm unimaginably lucky he forgave me and understood why it happened. I'm loath to trust my emotions in general, seeing how ridiculously strong and unfounded they are.

And yeah, I'm getting into therapy with a DBT/BPD/whatever focus, because I'm obviously fucked up and codependent and directionless and see romance as the only thing in life and have absolutely no goals whatsoever. I guess what I really want is inner peace, whatever that is. And for the people I care about to be happy and content. And maybe also that for myself. At the very least, I can't suffer like this. I just... can't.

Thanks for your help.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I've read that Dear Sugar column about how wanting to leave is enough, but I don't want to want to leave

This is important. If you want to leave, you don't need another reason to leave—but if you don't want to leave, you don't need another reason to stay and try, even if you don't feel perfectly happy or perfectly sure. There's no "you must be this blissfully happy to ride this ride" yardstick for relationships, because people feel antsy and unsettled and unfulfilled for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes you know in your gut that you don't want to do this even though it's good, and sometimes you know that you do even when it isn't, and sometimes... you just don't know, and you get to try to figure it out. The fact of not knowing, of not feeling absolute certainty or absolute peace, is not not NOT in and of itself a reason to leave.

That said, whatever is going on—and maybe that's you ultimately not wanting this relationship, but maybe it's something else—isn't going to fix itself. Since you know you need to get into therapy anyway, what about giving yourself permission to leave the largest of questions ("what do I do next?") on the table for a set period, while you go about trying to answer some of the smaller ones? It sounds like your partner is ready to extend you that grace period, and if you're really doing the work, it's not just kicking the can down the road. You're tormenting yourself about not knowing the biggest answer instinctively and immediately, and I think your worry about that is so loud and overwhelming that you haven't even thought about what the rest of the questions are! One question that immediately springs to my mind, personally: why does the turbulent and traumatic relationship with your friend feel more "real" than the placid one with your partner? Have you trained yourself to feel like a relationship you can count on is less authentic or valuable than one you constantly have to fight for?

I think the thing to do right now is give yourself permission not to know what to do right now. Nobody is putting you under immediate time pressure here except you. Give yourself the time, space, and tools to work through what you're feeling and the reasons for those feelings, some of which may have to do with your partner and your friend as people and some of which may turn out to be about something very, very different. If you decide, after all that, that you want to leave even though you love him and he loves you, that's okay—that's all the Sugar column is saying. You don't need to make a court case. But you also don't need to interpret existential dissatisfaction as a red flag. Sometimes people who are unhappy in a relationship are just unhappy, and also in a relationship. Only you can figure out the difference, and you don't have to do it alone.
posted by babelfish at 7:19 PM on August 4, 2021 [16 favorites]

Best answer: stop reading into everything trying to look for Signs you're meant to be or not, you stupid whore.

Uhhh I'm gonna go with: probably what's up with you has nothing to do with your boyfriend at all, or your ex BFF, or any ex BF, but rather with the part of your brain that keeps calling you "stupid whore" for having a nice thought about your partner, and is terrified of abandonment. It's a mefi cliche for a reason: THERAPY.

As the wise Tom Petty once said: Somewhere somehow somebody musta kicked you around some; you don't have to live like a refugee.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:54 PM on August 4, 2021 [72 favorites]

I would hold off on making any irreversible decisions until you’ve made a good start in therapy.

I think some of what you’re feeling may be about the guy and the relationship, but a lot of it may be rooted in how you feel about yourself. Obviously I’m a stranger, but some of the language you use about yourself seems to me the language of someone who strongly rejects (what they see as) their own flaws.

When we reject what we see as the flawed parts of ourselves, anyone who *accepts* them feels untrustworthy.

So for the sake of your own perspective, and finding the right answer (whatever that turns out to be), please see if you can find some mercy for those parts of yourself, including the feelings you don’t want to feel and thoughts you don’t want to have.

Your encounter with the former BFF, and missing making erudite jokes, reminded me somewhat of this answer from the late, lamented scody. You may find the whole thread to be helpful.
posted by Pallas Athena at 8:05 PM on August 4, 2021 [15 favorites]

I am generally team "most people won't actually regret leaving all that much even if it wasn't necessary" because I think we are largely self-healing machines - like I think you can leave and three years from now you might feel like "welp, I probably shouldn't have given that up but I'm also okay with this other life I've made now that I wouldn't have if I'd stayed" (obviously this is a little different if the stakes are higher, like there's children or financial ruin involved).

But it does sound like there's a decent chance that anxiety and whatever it is that's calling you names inside your head is the biggest of your problems and you can't answer the relationship question (whether it's this one or the next one) fully and honestly with that noise in your head.

But do with this final opinion what you will: it doesn't seem to me like most people successfully sustain the relationships from their mid-20s much into their 30s. I'm about to turn 50 and certainly I have changed a great deal over the years, but 29-31* was epic - not just my personality and values and desires in life but my sleep patterns and metabolism and introspection skills and insecurities, it was big and deep and messy and I'm ever so glad I was between serious relationships in that time. I think a really good solid loving partner who has the capacity to grow and change alongside you is a better shot than not-that would be, but I still think it's very hard to achieve the long haul over that particular hump.

But it does sound like it is very, very noisy in your head and you should take some time to focus on that before you blow up your life, but if you keep feeling like that's the right move even with therapy and maybe some meds for a while to see if the noise settles down...that feeling doesn't age well.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:19 PM on August 4, 2021 [7 favorites]

Sorry, I forgot my asterisk: *I don't much believe in astrology but I DO believe in the thing that generally gets called the Saturn Return. If I get to go through that shit again at 60 I'm going to be pissed.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:21 PM on August 4, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: This is just a shot in the dark, but like... is it possible that what you think of as "love" is actually the chemical high you get from drama, instability, chaos, and abuse? Like, the feeling that everything is life and death and nothing makes any sense and your whole world is just swirling into a vortex of nothingness except ... aha.... you find the answer... you feel calm, joy, peace, this must be love, at last! But then.... a doubt creeps in, things aren't working anymore, oh no, it's fading, doom, despair, crash, vortex of pain, then... aha... the answer again... love at last. This is basically a drug addiction cycle. You think you can find a lasting peace and you are desperately searching for it, but the peace is the peace of temporary relief when you trick yourself into thinking you have solved all of your problems. You cannot ever find permanent escape -- that's death. So if this is you, what you're actually seeking is not love but death.

A clue: For about a week, my feelings returned. Because you thought the problem was your relationship, you worked out a solution, you felt at ease. But this doesn't sound like love to me. It sounds like a high, an escape, a fantasy. And it didn't last, right? And like... what about all the other stuff that you're not talking about? Where does that live, in this picture? Raising a toddler in a garden, growing tomato plants, all sounds a bit... santized, no? Tame? Happily ever after?

Another shot in the dark... maybe your boyfriend is actually a safe stable enough presence in your life that you are actually able to bring out all of this chaos into your relationship which you desperately want to and need to resolve. You aren't thinking "omg how do I keep myself safe" of "what do I do to make him happy", you're thinking "how come I feel different, what does this mean?" This reads as a positive signal to me, that you have a stable enough bond to start processing this stuff. Like a big part of you thought finding a partner would be the answer, but now you've found one and that's proving to not be true and you're having to deal with it. This is a good thing.

And one more piece of advice -- you need your own goals. You need a list of things you are responsible for and you need to be working towards them. This is not gonna be easy but taking the reigns on your own life is the only path I know towards any kind of peace. No partner can possibly give it to you. My guess is that the reason you're so anxious is because you know you are flailing and at the mercy of your partners - you are not keeping yourself safe and happy, so that has to come from outside, but you can't control that, so you're freaking out. As you take charge of your own life things will start to make more sense.
posted by PercussivePaul at 8:47 PM on August 4, 2021 [20 favorites]

One thing that stood out to me is that you are not giving yourself enough time to process any of your feelings fully. In the space of two weeks, you've gone from one extreme to another but it seems like you are experiencing these things and ruminating on them, which is not the same thing as making sense of them.

Also, gently, meeting up with your ex best friend sounds a bit like self-sabotage... Like you were testing something. I think one reason that this encounter felt so refreshing to you is that you are literally holding your breath in your romantic relationship, with all of your doubts and trying to interpret every sign into an either/or scenario. You don't have that dynamic with this person, who you have all sorts of other history with, but not the sense of (it sounds like self-inflicted) pressure. But I suspect that there is a slippery emotional slope there too.

A lot of our friends have moved away, we're unemployed, we're both deeply lonely, socially isolated, lacking purpose and connection.
Don't underestimate the huge impact that this can have on your emotional well-being. I'm not suggesting that this is why you feel the way you do, but this sense of being unmoored can be deeply unsettling in many ways. I think working on your own sense of purpose and connections outside of this relationship is a really sound step.
posted by sm1tten at 9:14 PM on August 4, 2021 [20 favorites]

The part that stood out to me was calling yourself a "stupid whore". If that was something you actually meant, rather than an overdramatic phrase for effect, then I'd suggest going there with therapy for yourself until you work out where that's coming from. If you don't love yourself you're asking a lot to get perfect feelings to and from someone who sounds like a pretty good catch.

Don't make too many dramatic decisions right now...
posted by tillsbury at 9:57 PM on August 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

"I feel like I'm trying to Jedi mind trick myself into thinking something is fulfilling me completely when on some level it's not. "

I want to say something about this. I feel it's dangerous to expect anyone, even someone you really love very much, the most, to fulfill you completely. It places expectations on your partner that no one can realistically meet, or not forever anyway. It's normal and ok to have some needs that other people meet to some extent, maybe better than your partner who meets most of them. And you don't have to be everything to them either. Otherwise it's a fast track to dependency and/or friendlessness, and disappointment. Don't place this burden on him or on you and you can both feel better.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:39 PM on August 4, 2021 [20 favorites]

I'm not sure I understand if "ex-best friend" is a romantic ex or simply someone you didn't have time to keep as a friend because love-note boyfriend is exhausting.

My first reaction comes from my own gut sense that the next 30-40 years are going to be horrible, so I'm averse to planning or committing to participate in them. I tell myself that we will get through and that we will put the effort in to make it all better.

Going back to keeping up other friendships while having a primary partner: there's a toxic jealousy in one partner excluding the other having any outside contact. It should concern you that you said "it felt like breathing air after being underwater for so long, suppressing all these sides of me, the sides that like to chat for hours and make stupid erudite jokes and etc, etc." I don't think I can be everything to a partner so I hope they have friends and a support network that recharge them in ways I can't, and the sheer volume of attention from this one is asking for a performance from you that you don't need to keep up. (In our present times, it's also worth getting resources about leaving safely when a partner is into you dangersously more than you are into them, especially if they've isolated you from your support networks.)

PercussivePaul raises the rush of feelings -- have your feelings got good outcomes in the past? Sm1tten makes a great note about social isolation over and above the disconnect we're feeling from a year in lockdown.

I don't think I would look forward to raising children with the character you've described, but also, I think I'd hate a future where they were the only other contact I had. Spend some time planning this future -- not just overthinking (if you tend to that, else sitting with) your feelings -- then see what your reaction to each scenario is like for a guide what to do. Maybe right now is very good but needs renegotiation because you -- and they -- need other friends too, for that "go away in order to come back again." Maybe there's a bunch of people better for you and you're keeping this one from delivering love-notes to a perfect recipient.
posted by k3ninho at 11:45 PM on August 4, 2021

I hope I am understanding your situation. Your relationship seems good on a measurable level: your gent is kind, supportive, affectionate, listens to you and communicates well with you. That's great.

However, you feel doubts. Maybe this is in part because you feel as though you cannot be yourself. You wrote:

it felt like breathing air after being underwater for so long, suppressing all these sides of me, the sides that like to...

This could be due to the fear of being abandoned or rejected, which is casting doubt in your relationship. It could also be for many other reasons.

Aside from co-dependency which you already mentioned, I urge you to look at attachment issues and fear of abandonment.

Here are some resources that I'd like to recommend:

* Love Me, Don't Leave me by Michelle Skeen

* The Personal Development School. Take the attachment quiz first, then maybe view a few of the free videos on their YouTube section.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 12:14 AM on August 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Oh, wow. I feel for you as someone who has been in no less than three long term relationships that reached a point much like the one you're describing where my partner seemed confident-to-certain they'd like it to become a marriage and I was torn between the love/hopes I felt and some intense but often vague anxieties. I don't think there's anything anyone can say that will make this easy but I hope there's a few thoughts I can offer that can be helpful.

Do you feel similar anxiety about other long-term choices? Job/career plans, courses of study, choosing a place to live? That might be something to consider. If anxiety about other things is the rule, then I think that reduces the usefulness of it as a signal regarding the relationship itself, and people's advice about therapy that can help you explore that is probably good. Though as someone who has experienced a lot of anxiety, it may take a while to address it, especially if it's related to the process of growing up and learning to fill yourself out as a person.

Realize you can love someone and enjoy the life you have... and still want a different life. Or a different self. I'm pretty certain that the first relationship I had that was tortured this way in my early 20s took the course it did largely because I was just so, so, so far from done baking yet. That might not have mattered for a better match but this one wasn't it.

I also saw that play out in later relationships. And the interesting thing was as I crossed some personal milestones that I think I needed in my own process of growing up and learning how to fill myself out as a person, I was able to invest more and cross some relationship thresholds that I hadn't before. I know at least one (probably both) of those relationships was full of moments where the other party said to themselves and me "what are you going to learn that you haven't in the last few years? Why would anything change?" But I was slowly learning and changing. You may find that you need something similar, and that what may change and catalyze a relationship is within yourself.

It's interesting because recently I've been on the other side of this, the one where I'm the more interested party dating someone with anxieties and back and forths (and who may need to grow beyond the self she has now too). Karma, perhaps. It's frustrating when the relationship is stalled... but my past experience helps me be compassionate about it, and it's actually kind of nice to experience that sense of warm confidence that with all the unknowns about a relationship and even known points of imperfection, I can actually be excited about it. Part of that may be this person, part of it is certainly about some of the ways in which I've grown into myself. It will probably take variations on one or the other for things to change for you too.

But that doesn't help you with which to focus on now, right?

The really difficult truth is that no one can tell you ahead of time whether leaving to explore new possibilities or staying to tend the familiar ones will be worth it. You may stay and find that choosing to stay makes it home, or that it's never quite comfortable. You may leave and immediately find something better, or spend the rest of your life grieving what was lost. Or a mix of both. No guarantees, only opportunities.

If you do continue to engage a therapist, you might benefit from exploring questions around being a satisficer vs maximizer, maybe what *you* think might make you the best grown-up version of yourself, if there's anything you might need to do independently for yourself, how to reckon and deal with any impulses you might have to keep things forever vs cultivated change (whether what you want to keep is what you have or the possibility of something better), the line from the Matrix movies "no one can see beyond a choice they don't understand," and maybe some of the ideas around have-to vs choose-to like those in Neil Fiore's book The Now Habit.

Good luck. This can be especially hard for some of us, but like the rest of humanity you can find a way through.
posted by weston at 1:00 AM on August 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

A lot of our friends have moved away, we're unemployed, we're both deeply lonely, socially isolated, lacking purpose and connection.

it felt like breathing air after being underwater for so long, suppressing all these sides of me, the sides that like to chat for hours and make stupid erudite jokes

Sometimes there's an idea that a partner is supposed to supply all our emotional needs - like, all of them, a kind of one-stop shop that completes us. There's another way of thinking about it though, which is that we get what we need from a collection of other people - partner, friends, family, acquaintances, etc. Each one of them brings out different things in us, lets us act in different ways, adds a different flavor to our lives. If you're socially isolated and relying on your partner to be the one true spice that goes with every meal (sorry for this terrible analogy), that might be unrealistic.

Also, you say you're "suppressing" sides of you. Is that intentional wording? As in, are you actively trying not to express these sides of you, or is it just that being with him doesn't really bring them out? What happens when you do try to add a little more of those aspects into your interactions?

I don't know what's right for you or for this relationship. Sometimes you really do just want a different relationship. But since you say you want to work on this, those might be some things to think about. And weston's suggestion about satisficer/maximizer thinking was also something that came to mind.
posted by trig at 1:29 AM on August 5, 2021 [15 favorites]

Hey this just popped into my head, on commitment, and desire, and making really really hard choices. It might help you too.

tl;dr sometimes there is no right choice or objectively best answer. By making a choice, and committing to it, you can give those sorts of choices the meaning that makes them the best choice.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:42 AM on August 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

I feel like the worst person in the world.

I really do feel like the worst, most broken, most co-dependent person in the world.

you stupid whore.

Others have said similar already but FWIW to add to the emphasis...

It sounds like you need to work on your relationship with yourself first and foremost. Nobody deserves to be talked about the way you're talking about yourself. You seem to believe awful things about yourself, even when you're describing yourself going through a situation where you've done nothing wrong, where you deserve compassion, when you're writing to a bunch of people who don't even know you and have no stakes in the situation, on a website where people are generally kind and helpful. In your post, it feels like the self-hate is just about leaking out of you at all corners, despite the fact that you are clearly a kind, genuine, compassionate, appreciative person.

If you're just embarking on that therapy now, then now is not the time to make a big decision about your boyfriend. Do the therapy, come back to deciding on your relationship much later when you've done the work. It sounds like your boyfriend is understanding enough that he'd probably be on board with this.

Also: I wonder if the big international move is exacerbating things. It's obviously adding to your stress levels, and big life changes like this have a way of making things seem higher stakes, very black and white, which doesn't help. It's not quite marriage, but it is a conscious commitment, and moving into a phase of life when you'll probably be more dependent on each other than previously, at least until you can build some other friendships in your new location. Can you put the move off for six months or a year while you do some work in therapy?
posted by penguin pie at 3:15 AM on August 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

You're not a stupid whore. You're just young and living in a world full of uncertainty and you want more certainty about what's going to make you happy than any of us ever genuinely have available.

How do you know if someone's The One?

By choosing them.

If you want The One, and you have somebody who is kind, stable, playful, compassionate and loves you, you could easily do a lot worse than making them The One.

And no, The One is never going to fulfil your every need. That's what circles of friends are for. Also, nothing is going to make you happy for the rest of your life. There will be times of joy and times of misery and times of growth and times of stagnation and times of every other thing in between and off to the side, because that's just how it is to be a person. It's completely unfair for any of us to burden our One with trying to change what can't be changed.
posted by flabdablet at 4:02 AM on August 5, 2021 [11 favorites]

Furthermore, it's completely OK and normal and expected not to feel love for your One every moment of every day. In fact none of us feel anything about another person all of the time.

Anxiety is a bastard of a thing, and it quite often blocks us from being able to feel anything but anxiety. Sometimes it does that for months at a time. It's a fucking grind. But that doesn't mean there's something wrong with your relationship. All it means is that anxiety is a pain in your arse.
posted by flabdablet at 4:10 AM on August 5, 2021 [5 favorites]

I'm so, so worried that if I leave this, I will jump from limerence-fueled relationship to relationship, and I will never be as happy again, and he will always be the one that got away.
It is so easy to fall into this kind of thinking—"If I do X now, I'm doomed to spend the rest of my life doing it"—and it's just not how humans work.

You keep getting chances to change. You keep getting chances to learn and people to learn with. Truly permanent unhappiness is rare.

Promise yourself that you're going to keep learning. Maybe you leave and you realize leaving was a mistake. Maybe you stay and realize that's the mistake. Ok, promise yourself right now that whenever you figure it out, you're going to learn from that mistake. (Or maybe you realize there was some other problem: "Of course I felt trapped when I couldn't even tell him I was unhappy" or "Oh wow, I really need to work on this self-loathing shit" or whatever. Promise yourself you're going to learn from that realization.)

Nothing that happens here is going to be your last chance to change unless you let it.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:18 AM on August 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Nthing therapy for the really intense negative self-talk and self-loathing you've got going here, and to do that before you make any decisions. But:

I had no idea what I wanted except for both of them to love me forever, or at least not to leave me.

Is it possible you're polyamorous? That's an OK thing to be, you know. It's not "immature." It's one relationship style that lets you experience multiple aspects of yourself in different relationships. Like you said, there isn't "the one," and maybe stopping a search for "the one" and letting it be "the few" or "the many" for you might cool the pressure you're putting on your relationships.

But therapy first, 'kay?
posted by shadygrove at 5:51 AM on August 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

I agree with many of the above commenters -- I felt much the same way you do now when I was in a pretty good relationship but was MISERABLE in all other parts of my life. I couldn't quite process all the things that were making me sad so I projected a lot of them onto the relationship and felt furious and heartbroken that the relationship wasn't fixing all of them. Now that I've spent a lot of time in therapy and really worked to find happiness and fulfillment in many different areas, I don't have those same wracking thoughts of self doubt and terror about the relationship. Same relationship, but now I am able to feel my feelings about it separately from my intense feelings about the rest of my life.

Easier said than done, but I do think that focusing on other aspects of your life will help a lot. Therapy, volunteering, making new friends, solo travel and adventuring, professional training and learning new skills while you're unemployed will all help a lot I bet. You will survive this and you will find joy on the other side.
posted by EmilyFlew at 6:28 AM on August 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

I wonder if your post was sparked by this recent question. I wonder if seeing someone absorb the consequences of the kind of choice you're considering resonated with you in some way. I wrote a comment there about my experience with the fallout from ending a good relationship based on doubts. I hope it's helpful for you to see that that decision can end happily.

Years ago, before I ended that relationship, I wrote a similar question (anonymously at the time.) We broke up later that year. It was difficult and heart-wrenching, but I never regretted it. Living in doubt had grown to be agonizing. I needed there to be a final decision that would free me from that ambivalence, and I could never wholly make the decision to stay. I read up on relationship OCD; I tried to just calm down and love him; I even also had an emotional reconnection with an ex that confused things for a while. Nothing assuaged the nagging feeling that my partner just wasn't right for me. That said, I also didn't really regret staying as long as I did. I learned a lot in that relationship. It was good practice for me, as a similarly anxious and overthinking person, to live in uncertainty for a while - to become more friendly with my doubt and discomfort.

No one can make this decision for you, which is what makes it so difficult. But here are some questions or topics it might be helpful to explore in therapy:

As weston mentioned above, is this kind of doubting typical for all big decisions for you? Or are you able to commit to other big things in life but not this relationship?

If you move in the direction of your values and your passions, does this relationship fit into that picture? I found it helpful to explore elements of Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT), especially defining life values. This might be useful for you given what you describe as your lack of life goals beyond a relationship.

I had a therapist tell me to ask myself each day, "If I bring 2% more awareness to my relationship, what comes up?" and journal ten things that came up. This helped me to identify patterns in my honest thoughts and feelings about the relationship, and to see that I was consistently feeling stuck and stifled.

I agree with other commenters that the first order of business is to learn to be gentler with yourself. I don't think you can even hear your true motivations above the internal war you're fighting. Once you calm the noise a bit and can observe your thoughts and feeling with less judgement, I think you'll have more clarity about what you really want to do.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 7:02 AM on August 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

I agree with those suggesting that there is a lot going on here, and very little of it is necessarily an inditement against your relationship.

A lot of our friends have moved away, we're unemployed, we're both deeply lonely, socially isolated, lacking purpose and connection. Maybe that's part of it?

As it did to some others, this really stood out to me. Yes, this will definitely impact your relationship! Over the course of COVID lockdown/working from home, my enjoyment of my 4-year partner gradually decreased. It was nothing that he did, and we still enjoyed each other's company most of the time, but I no longer looked forward to seeing him - how could I? We were in the same apartment, practically 100% of the time. Then on my first day back to work in-person, I noticed a marked uptick in my libido, and an excitement to come back home to him. But I had to be regularly leaving the apartment for that to happen.

It's unfair to compare your boyfriend with whom you're isolated, with your friend you hadn't spoken to in 3 years. Of course you're going to miss the latter more than the former! And it sounds like your boyfriend has always been committed and affectionate, so of course you've never felt a fear of losing him. I love my parents deeply, but I've never been afraid of losing them - because I know that as long as they're alive, they'll always be there for me. And that's a good thing.

we have an international move planned we're excited about - when I'm not feeling extreme anxiety about it.

I find it interesting how quickly you mention this as though it's not a major factor. I'd definitely make a point of exploring your feelings around this.

Good luck.
posted by coffeecat at 8:23 AM on August 5, 2021

I agree with what everyone else said about working on your relationship with yourself - it would be helpful to care about yourself as much as you care about other people in your life!

That said, it sounds like you're in the grip of a bad case of FOMO (fear of missing out). Like there is some Grand Love waiting for you out there, and if you commit to a relationship where you're just happy, but not swept away, you're going to miss the Big Deal Romance.

But the thing is, the Big Deal Romance lasts like, five minutes. It's not the real thing. That's why rom-coms end after the couple get together; because after that they have to fight about kids and money, and figure out who gets to take the car that day, or whether Partner is maybe still too dependent on their mother. That stuff is hard and boring, but it's also part of a real relationship. It's easy to commit to fireworks and roses and long walks on the beach; it's a lot harder to commit to kids and mortgages and visits from annoying relatives. But that is the stuff that always comes after even the biggest fireworks if you stay together. You're not looking at a lifetime of fireworks, no matter what you do. Eventually you get comfortable, the edges wear down, and you start fitting each other like comfortable shoes, and life is good. (Or you don't, and you leave, which is totally okay too.)

So, maybe while you're figuring out why you're so down on yourself, and working on that -- keep in mind that most people in the world would walk over broken glass to get to just happy. And also, you're just in your 20's, you're still a kid, you're still baking into a grown adult person -- you don't have to know all this right now. You can just enjoy being with a good person you have fun with and can depend on for now. You don't have to get married; you don't have to have kids; you don't have to stay with every person you love and could be happy with, and you don't have to leave every person you're not 100% sure about.

You're young; you have plenty of time to figure this stuff out while you're figuring yourself out.
posted by invincible summer at 8:40 AM on August 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

why do I feel this way...?
There could be a lot of reasons, I'll make some guesses:

-You don't feel great about your relationship because you don't feel great about yourself. The self-hatred, that you feel lonely, isolated, lacking purpose and connection, and you're unemployed is definitely a biiiig part of this. I have noticed that in myself, when I don't feel great about myself for some reason, I feel less good about my SO/relationship.

-Trauma. You have a history of dysfunctional relationships that perhaps you still need to process. Not sure if you have childhood trauma too that you need to deal with - how did you get to this place of self-hatred and have you always felt this/when did you start feeling it or realizing it?

-A bit more about trauma: talked with a friend a few months ago who found someone really stable, kind and caring via Hinge. She said that she used to think that, due to "trauma brain" that relationships *had* to be dramatic and dysfunctional and now being in a relationship that wasn't all drama felt strange (this is very common). Given your history with dysfunctional relationships, I think this could be a possibility for you. Maybe this article will give some insight, about still wanting a toxic ex. But you've been in this relationship for four years - how has it been throughout this time?

-From the outside, your partner could be wonderful and the relationship is wonderful, but it's just not right for you. Like you could live in a great city but just feel meh about it. It's not you, it's not the city, it's just not a good fit. Also, you say "suppressing all these sides of me" - are you saying you suppress certain parts of you with your partner? This needs more exploration. Also this: "I feel like I'm trying to Jedi mind trick myself into thinking something is fulfilling me completely when on some level it's not" - it sounds like you know deep down this relationship is not fulfilling for you, but you're trying to ignore/deny it for whatever reason. Lean into this - what's not fulfilling for you? Also factor in point one above - maybe the relationship is not fulfilling for you, or maybe it doesn't feel fulfilling because you don't feel great about yourself/your life. Keeping in mind, as others have noted, that one person can't be all things for you so maybe your expectations for fulfilment from this relationship are unrealistic? (But don't try to talk yourself out of this relationship being unfulfilling if it's really not.)
-Is the marriage and babies track something you want in life, generally speaking? Don't feel like it's something you SHOULD want.

I agree with another comment that meeting up with your ex-BFF might have been self-sabotage. It'd be worth exploring why you decided to meet up, and why now. If you were both single, would you want to be in a relationship with the BFF? Would you want to make a life with him? Or do you only want to have sex with him?

see romance as the only thing in life and have absolutely no goals whatsoever
So this is interesting. You see romance as the only thing in life - so if you're not feeling this big sweeping romance with your partner, it's kind of understandable why you feel like you don't love and appreciate him enough. You also have no goals - which goes back to point one above. It also sounds like you are making your partner the centre of your world and you decidedly do NOT want that, but you're still doing that, and you're fighting against that, hence the inner turmoil/desire to find peace.

Also, you don't mention sexual attraction to your bf (you mention that you both touch and kiss each other, but do you enjoy doing those things with him? How do those feel when they happen?). Recent ask mefi posts about leaving wonderful relationships have mentioned a lack of sexual connection. Is that going on here too?

I'm connecting the dots a little more now - previous dysfunctional relationships, worried about jumping from one limerence-fueled relationship to the next, seeing romance as the only thing in life, nothing about your sexual connection to your partner, calling yourself a stupid whore - do you want to explore non-committal relationships with really good sex, or other forms of ethical non-monogamy or polyamory, potentially with other genders too? If so, there's nothing wrong with that; just do it honestly (your partner should be aware of this if you were to do this and stay with him) and safely (especially during COVID times).

How would you feel if your partner said to you, I'm breaking up with you, it's over, please don't contact me, I want to move on? Would you feel scared, sad, angry? And/or relief that you didn't have to make the decision to break up/you weren't the "bad guy" in breaking up?

Find a good therapist who has experience with trauma. Be super honest with them and most of all, yourself. Maybe you're not emotionally available to be in this relationship? Maybe you're not the right one for him, even if he says that you are? Maybe set a deadline of sorts - if you still feel this way one year from now, or things only improve a little bit, break up. Maybe do a trial separation (if possible) and see how that feels. Missing him would be totally normal, but it doesn't necessarily mean you should not officially break up. I think it's worth seeing if you feel like you can be more yourself, breathe more and think more clearly when you're single and on your own, even if temporarily.

Also, I just noticed this: "I don't want to want to leave" - I originally read that as "I don't want to leave." Whether or not that's a typo, you DO want to leave. Well that makes things a lot clearer! I wish I had realized this earlier, maybe I wouldn't have needed to say all the above lol. Anyway, stop denying this. That's what's making you crazy - denying your truest truth. You KNOW you do want to leave. You may not know why exactly right now, but you know it so you have to act on it. You have to honour your truth, as much as it will hurt someone else, and you as well. Similar to you, in her response, Sugar talked about wishing she didn't want to leave either. Don't do what she did: "I loved him too much to make a clean break, so I botched the job and made it dirty instead." And as Sugar asks, "will you do it later or will you do it now?"

Here's another Dear Sugar column for you: Be brave enough to break your own heart.
posted by foxjacket at 12:06 PM on August 5, 2021

My heart really, really goes out to you.

This is so hard and can feel so insurmountable and weigh on you so heavily. I remember feeling similarly in the past and at times, it was hard to breathe - that was how vividly my emotions had manifested as a weight on top of my body. Your mind is spinning so fast through every possible scenario that it’s impossible to get the peace you need to have clarity. My first suggestion is to just give yourself a solid chunk of time, at least a few weeks, where you don’t feel pressured to make decisions.

Use that time to sit with your feelings as they are rather than trying to use them as fuel for massive life choices. Something I’ve learned is that “negative” emotions like fear, doubt, and overwhelm don’t have anymore intrinsic meaning than positive ones like joy. No emotions are final and as such, the way we’re feeling in any given moment doesn’t necessarily have something profound to tell us about the rest of our lives. I think freeing yourself from the burden of the assumption that it does could be immensely beneficial. It’s been a shitty year for all of us and we are all more stressed and depleted than usual.

I’ve been with my husband for 10 years, married for two. I have, honestly, at times in our relationship felt the same way as you do. I’ve also realized in that time that I have low-grade recurrent depression, perfectionist tendencies that get in the way of enjoying the life I already have, and issues with black and white thinking. Working on these in therapy has increased my enjoyment of my life and marriage. Therapy has allowed me to view my life and my wants with clearer eyes, not quite as encumbered by overwhelming emotions. Therapy has helped me to view my husband more completely as his own person, rather than just as a blank canvas onto which I was projecting my anxieties and worries. Going on antidepressants was a game changer for me in the best possible way. Could this maybe be the case for you too?

FWIW, I’m so glad I stayed with my partner despite sometimes working through doubts. He makes me laugh. He loves me unconditionally. We have long conversations about whales. We support each other’s professional goals. He holds my hand in chemotherapy. I held his hand when we were in the hospital as his dad died. If this is the same kind of relationship you have with your husband, I would keep it. The world is busy and loud and can be indifferent. I think this kind of love is rarer than most people acknowledge.
posted by oywiththepoodles at 1:52 PM on August 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

hi i'm the one who posted recently about the aftermath of leaving a good relationship based on doubts. i'm probably not in any position to give advice at the moment, but i'll just say part of what helped me gain some clarity was reading many other mefi posts and comments from people in similar situations, and paying attention to what resonated with me. there's no consensus of a "right" way to proceed, and people's views are always based on their own experience, but reading through these comments, what do you find yourself feeling drawn to and what do you feel disagreeable to? figuring out what you want to do is also figuring out who you are and what you truly authentically want in life.
posted by monologish at 8:01 PM on August 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

(Corrective note to my previous answer: I made a reference to "the late, lamented scody", but it turned out I had misremembered things, and I am very glad to be wrong about this. I have no information on the current state of scody, but one must hope that they're doing fine.)
posted by Pallas Athena at 6:27 PM on August 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

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