I compromised myself into misery... what now?
May 9, 2022 12:42 PM   Subscribe

What do you do if you have repeatedly (willingly) compromised life decisions for a wonderful, loving but very different from you partner... but now kinda hate your life?

I've been in a relationship with a great partner for almost 10 years now. When we first met, we both recognized that we were very different people in a lot of ways: notably, in world view, communication style, and life priorities. Over the course of our relationship, we have made very constructive and mutually beneficial strides to bridging the first two of those – we have learned to appreciate the different ways we see the world, and have learned to speak and understand each others' love languages. It has been a massively fulfilling experience. I feel like I am even more in love with this person today than I was when we first started dating, and they have made me so much better as a person than I was before. I have not a single complaint about this.

The third point though – life priorities – I am just now realizing is a big, big problem I have been ignoring for too long.

In short, when we met, I had a few things about myself that were absolutely solid:
- I absolutely hate debt/financial obligations;
- I never want to own property or a house;
- I don't want kids or any pet that requires constant attention;
- I get a lot of fulfillment from my dynamic and challenging job; and
- I have strong extrovert tendencies, which I fulfill mainly with my work colleagues.

I recognize that those are not all 'normal' priorities, and that things like mortgages and kids and such are the standard... but these feelings ran deep on my part. I won't go into my reasons, as they aren't relevant, but the key idea is that these were explicitly stated things that I felt strongly. If you can, please assume that I have legitimate reasons for each.

For their part, my partner felt the opposite about each one, and was clear about that with me early on:
- No problem with debt;
- Wants a house;
- Wants kids and/or pets;
- Not extremely attached to work (though their job is just as challenging as mine, and they are an equal contributor financially)
- Doesn't place any priority on socializing.

As the years have worn on, we have obviously had occasion to discuss each of these issues a number of times. Given our different communication styles, it is very easy for me to win these discussions through sheer volume/force of will, so I have worked really hard to make sure I'm not dominating the discussions. As a result, each time one of these things come up – should we buy a place, should we have a kid, etc. – I've worked really hard to make sure I'm listening to my partner's perspective, and nurturing its expression. For their part, my partner was kind and understanding back. The discussions were sometimes a bit tense, but were really fruitful and brought us closer together.

The problem is not how the discussions took place, but rather how things ultimately turned out. Reflecting recently, I realize that I have essentially given up on each of those points under the false belief that my feelings about them had changed. My life now is:
- Massive debt (but not crippling);
- We own a house;
- We have a high maintenance pet, that I am looking after, because...
- I left my dynamic job for a better paying one that is entirely work from home, and I'm feeling very miserable about myself because...
- I am now at home, by myself (except for pet) all day, and don't really have a group to socialize with at work anymore.

Each one of these compromises is something my partner and I discussed at length, in a thoughtful and open discussion. Each one of these compromises is grounded in completely rational reasoning, and is objectively a great move – great house, great job, great pet. Each compromise was fully and enthusiastically agreed to by me, who convinced myself that this was right, and reasonable, and I am being a great partner by agreeing to this. There was no manipulation on my partner's part: I forced myself to believe that I really wanted all of these things, because they all made sense, and most importantly they made my partner happy.

And things are great, with the caveat that I am now realizing that I am absolutely miserable. I love my partner, but I hate my life: I hate the feeling of massive debt hanging over me (which feels almost physical to me), I hate being responsible for this house (which I have nightmares about falling apart around me), I really love my pet but I hate that I don't have the freedom I loved because I have to take care of it (and I live in constant dread of its inevitable death at the end of its relatively short lifespan in a few years), I hate that I'm by myself all day without my dynamic work environment, and am doing nothing other than keeping up the house and pet etc.. The vision I had for my life at this age – dynamic job, extended travel, freedom to pursue my interests, potentially for early retirement – has been replaced with the exact opposite in almost every way. And I agreed to it all for very good reasons.

Each time I agreed to one of these compromises, I now appreciate that I didn't truly believe what I was saying to myself and my partner – I just wanted to believe it. As evidence, through therapy (which continues) I put together that I have had a number of mental breakdowns that always just happened to coincide with my conceding one of these points. At each juncture – getting house, getting pet, changing jobs – my brain screamed to me that it was deeply unhappy, but I pushed on because it was the "right thing to do". And then, for now obvious reasons, I would have some big mental health crisis, which manifested in a variety of ways I won't go deep into. For the purposes of this question, just assume they were "bad".

My current situation is that we are now talking about taking more steps that lead away from what I want. After some deep reflection I have finally realized what I have been doing to myself, and need to stop before the stakes get too high. I convinced myself that I wanted these things... but I didn't, and I don't, and I can't keep acting like I do and driving myself to [whatever].

So... now what? I see only sad paths before me. This discussion with my partner where I say "I love you so much, but I hate my life. Everything I said I wanted, I don't" is going to be a big sucker punch... but keeping quiet about this and continuing to soldier on as we move further away from what I actually want is not feasible. I recognize that this is a hell of my own creation, but I can't keep building it around me.

What should I do? Should I talk to my partner and lay it out there? Or should I try to see if there is some way I can force myself into liking this life? I would love any advice you may have not only about what I should do, but how I should do it, and what tools I should use. Anecdotes or similar experiences would also be appreciated: have you ever played yourself like this to this extent, and if so what did you do and how did it turn out?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (40 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
If I were you, my very first priority would be trying to find a career more like my old one (or possibly going back to the old career if that's possible). It sounds like a fulfilling career with in-person interactions means a lot to you, and I wonder how much that might do to alleviate the regrets about the debt/house/pet. I mean, I'm totally debt-averse as well -- I never took out students loans and paid cash for my house -- but you've gotta live somewhere, and maybe down the road you can look at refinancing into a shorter-term mortgage. There are worse debt burdens to have than a mortgage, at least.
posted by jabes at 12:52 PM on May 9, 2022 [48 favorites]

If your partner is supportive and wonderful, then I would lay it out just as you did here: I thought I agreed to there things, but now having lived with these decisions, I am not happy.

Together you can decide how to work through these things and if it's a true partnership, your partner will appreciate your honesty and as a team you can make change for you both.

Or should I try to see if there is some way I can force myself into liking this life? That's what you've BEEN doing, right? You gave these decisions a fair shot. Life is about growing and it's okay to change our minds.

I would really actively reframe my thinking into embracing new opportunities; none of this is on its face BAD.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 12:56 PM on May 9, 2022 [7 favorites]

This definitely sounds like something to talk to your partner about. I think you've written it up here very well, and can use a lot of what you have written in that discussion (maybe don't say "I hate my life" though - "I'm not feeling fulfilled by where I am" or similar is probably better. And I agree with jabes that a new job/career will probably fix a lot of your problems fairly quickly - new social dynamic, plus the pet goes to doggie day care or whatever.

For the long run, I think the key is to respect your own emotions more, and not let rationality rule your life decisions quite so much.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:58 PM on May 9, 2022 [6 favorites]

Should I talk to my partner and lay it out there?
I think you know the answer.

FWIW, I am in the middle of a not too dissimilar situation, though with a very different set of specific issues. It's really unpleasant to talk about. I empathize. But, living with regrets is more unpleasant. (And, please, refuse to have kids unless you work this out and genuinely feel happy about the idea.) Best wishes.
posted by eotvos at 1:01 PM on May 9, 2022 [6 favorites]

I never did couples therapy but that seems like a good place to work through stuff like this? I think you do need to tell your partner how unhappy you are with these decisions (and probably acknowledge that it's not "fair" for you to spring this all on them when a lot of the decisions are done deals), but I think this is going to be a pretty tough conversation and it's going to be hard to figure out where to go from there, so having someone (a therapist) there to facilitate the conversation would probably be a big help.

I didn't make quite such big compromises with my late husband, but I did keep quiet about a lot of smaller and medium-sized things that made me unhappy. I regret that - I think it was unfair to both of us, and I still feel bad that it's something I can't make right now that he's gone.
posted by mskyle at 1:02 PM on May 9, 2022 [2 favorites]

Oh man, I just want to hug you and tell you to run. Is breaking up an option? Starting over on your terms as a single person? That’s what I would do. I’ve allowed my values to be compromised in the hopes of giving my best shot to a relationship with a great person… but our values didn’t align and unless something changed, resentment was turning me sick, mentally ill, and contemptuous.

Breaking up without kids isn’t hard to do. This would be my advice even though it seems brash.

And look at it this way, if you give this a go your partner might have the chance of meeting someone whose values are aligned with theirs.

I feel like cohabitating is, despite the fact that it’s cheaper to Rent/buy with two, a really outdated model for love and life… ymmv.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 1:04 PM on May 9, 2022 [10 favorites]

In addition to the job, I think accepting the house and focusing on debt (including the house) will get you most of the way to the headspace you want.

I'm sure there are a lot of sources for this info, and I wish I had others, and I don't like his very-occasional Christian interjections (as well as some of his prescriptive lifestyle opinions), but Dave Ramsey is all about debt-free existence and is very simplistic and consisten about both sacrificing to achieve it and in improving one's employment situation. His framework is to be completely debt-free and to pay cash for everything, sourced with money from investments you make with your now-debt-free incomes, and also embarking on this as a result of open communication within the family, which also sounds like a point on which you'd vibe with him.

This is a bit of an admission that I listen to Fox News on the radio, where he has a 3hr radio show every weeknight (check your local listings). (I swear I only listen to FNR for opposition research)
posted by rhizome at 1:05 PM on May 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

Anecdotes or similar experiences would also be appreciated

I will refer you to your partner. Best I can tell, your partner did exactly what you want to do. They identified an area of their life that they were not comfortable with (regardless of actions they've taken in the past), came to you with a proposal with how to improve it (even if it conflicted with past agreements), and worked with you respectfully to come to a new agreement that worked out better for both of you.

Your partner did it even when you were, by your admission "winn[ing] these discussions through sheer volume/force of will" - a notion that I suspect was not easy for them to handle. They respected you and valued your relationship enough to work through those challenges regardless.

Perhaps you can try the same thing they did?
posted by saeculorum at 1:06 PM on May 9, 2022 [11 favorites]

If I were your partner the last thing in the world I would want would be for you to suck it up and soldier on further into a life you hate. I would want you to tell me, even though it would suck a lot to hear, so that we could work together on finding a life we could both love. Please tell them and let them step up and be a partner to you.

Do not have kids or make any other decision that will take you further away from a life you could love.

New job for you seems like first priority, with whatever pet care arrangements need to happen to make that happen. So: talk to your partner. Start looking for new jobs. Put your partner in charge of figuring out pet care once you start a new in person job. See how you feel with that major source of stress lifted, and then revisit whether you feel like the house/debt issues are liveable at that point.
posted by Stacey at 1:10 PM on May 9, 2022 [7 favorites]

I in no way want to trivialize your feelings or logic, but I do want to say that changing jobs to one that gives you social fulfillment is likely to make a BIG difference to how you feel about other things.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:18 PM on May 9, 2022 [40 favorites]

I am wondering what deep sacrifices your partner has made in reverse. The burden should not be yours alone.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:36 PM on May 9, 2022 [12 favorites]

In more detail: these sorts of things are what mid life crises are made of. These are the come to Jesus talks that relationships are truly built on. You lay it out on the line without any guarantee of outcome except the inner peace that arises from being who and what you are and let the universe figure it out because at least you showed up.

It’s totally ok to be outgoing and expressive about what you want. Being a touch overbearing as a communication style is not a reason to give up what you want entirely.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:42 PM on May 9, 2022 [4 favorites]

Keep in mind that you genuinely could not predict how these life choices would feel to you until you actually lived with them. Sure, you could guess, but you're also in a situation where you do have to have openness to trying some ideas that are different from your ideal. So please don't feel that you deceived your partner.

I do want to echo the question of the sacrifices your partner has made for you. It's an important question in evaluating whether this was just bad luck or perhaps is a sign that your relationship is drifting towards being unequal and exploitative.
posted by praemunire at 1:45 PM on May 9, 2022 [8 favorites]

So... now what? I see only sad paths before me.

People say this like the option to choose a sad path doesn't exist. Yes, sometimes all paths are sad. Sadness is, like, almost all of life. You still have to choose a path.

You fell in love with someone and you did not believe (maybe correctly!) that they could actually love YOU so you made yourself someone else. (Or, alternately, someone along the line called you bossy or domineering or such and you internalized that you don't get to have what you need.) They love an illusion, you love a bad match. It's a sad spot, of course all the paths out are sad. The trick is to choose a sad path that might lead OUT, instead of deeper IN.

You have nothing to lose by becoming radically yourself again. If your partner truly is as great as you think they are, they've been agonizing to watch you go through crisis after crisis. They will be delighted to meet the real you, even if long term that means they aren't a good romantic match for you.

(But I'm not actually so sure they're that great. There's no way they haven't connected the dots on when and where and why you have these breakdowns. And that means they'd rather get what they want than have you healthy and whole and happy. And that is a trash partner.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:57 PM on May 9, 2022 [26 favorites]

One thing to consider when you're considering thinking about this is how you'd feel about a life that incorporates some of what each of you wants and doesn't want. Reading your question, one thing that stood out for me was the part about how you took a job you didn't want. Why did you do that and why would your partner's life preferences dictate your decision? Was it because you felt you needed a higher-paying job to keep up with the debt? If you stay together you can't both have your way on buying a house vs. not buying a house, or having kids vs. not having kids -- but I'm not sure why you couldn't work a job you like? I'm wondering how much it was a sacrifice that you actually had to make, and how much it was something you convinced yourself was necessary because of all-or-nothing thinking where there's your ideal life and your partner's ideal life and nothing in between, or other reasons.

...Everything I said I wanted, I don't" is going to be a big sucker punch

Is the situation really that your partner doesn't know? You said you clearly stated your priorities in the beginning and that you've had long deliberations over each decision -- have you been telling them that your priorities changed, or has it been clear at each point that you don't love the decision you're making but you're willing to do it for them? Have you been putting on an act?

The vision I had for my life at this age – dynamic job, extended travel, freedom to pursue my interests, potentially for early retirement

I'd also think seriously about why you want the things you want and which of them might actually be possible in combination with some of the things your partner wants. Dynamic job -- that definitely seems doable. Freedom to pursue your interests -- that obviously depends on a lot of things, including what your interests are, but I know various house-owning parents who have managed to pursue pretty varied interests. Extended travel -- I assume you have a lot of reasons to not want kids, but if this is one of them I would rethink that; I grew up in a family that traveled together regularly starting at a very early age and I have some friends who do the same with their kids. You and your partner's visions of life might be incompatible, but make sure they really are. And talk with them about it -- it won't be doing anyone any favors if it turns out you're imagining them as more inflexible than they really are.

tl;dr whatever you decide is valid, but make sure you're not ruling out or failing to imagine options that might actually work for you.

Finally, I'm not in the same situation but because I'm often afraid of riding roughshod over people, I sometimes let them ride roughshod over me. I too am trying to figure out how and when to change that dynamic into something more balanced, and it's not easy. But if, beyond the big life decisions, you find that you're also always giving in and making way on small stuff, or pretending to like things you don't so often that you're almost presenting as a different person than who you are, that's probably something to work on, and important to talk with your partner about.
posted by trig at 1:59 PM on May 9, 2022 [5 favorites]

This discussion with my partner where I say "I love you so much, but I hate my life. Everything I said I wanted, I don't" is going to be a big sucker punch

Probably yes, if you frame it like that. Some version of "I'm miserable because of the things I've done for you" is probably going to come as quite a shock, and could lead to a rough discussion. Instead, I really agree with Rock 'Em Sock 'Em that the way to frame this is as a series of problems in your life right now that you need help solving. Some of them can be solved relatively quickly. Some can be solved together (maybe, it's not clear to me if the debt in question is your mortgage).

You can get a job that has an in-person office. Hell, companies are literally forcing their employees to come in to work all over the country (I'm with you in being an outlier who hates WFH). This will mean that you won't be around all day for your pet, so perhaps you can hire someone. The housing market is wild right now, so you'd probably be able to make some money if you sold your house. Etc.

Finally, you didn't arrive at this situation all at once, so I'd resist the feeling that you need to get out of it all at once. It can be really tempting to just shake the etch-a-sketch, but I think that sentiment probably would be hard for your partner to take. Instead, pick one of the items on your list, talk to your partner about changing it, and then do whatever you come up with. Give it a few months after that to see how you feel. Then on to the next, if need be.
posted by Ragged Richard at 2:30 PM on May 9, 2022 [4 favorites]

There are two options I see. Well, three really, but the third is "keep on being miserable".

1. Leave and be single, build your exact life, find someone else who also likes that life. This is possible and tempting.

2. Stay but start doing the things you want. Maybe you've been convincing yourself that you want what partner describes so beautifully, and maybe they would also be happy with what you want. For example, you are unhappy working from home. So what are your and partner's options to see the pet cared for while you work outside of the house? Can you find a dog-friendly employer and bring them with you? Can partner stay home instead? Can you leave the pet in the yard or in a crate during the day, like people used to do when they went to work?

Note the kids thing is a big big scary deal. If they still seriously want kids, you run the risk of them trying to convince you still, or being unhappy themselves later on when you still don't change your mind. It's hard because I did option #2 in my own life when I found myself twisted into pretzels around a homebody introvert partner, but I think you should really consider option #1. Or try out #2 for a bit and see if you really can both be authentically happy together, and break up if not.
posted by Lady Li at 2:39 PM on May 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

When I have been in a similar position, three times, I endured until I just couldn't stand it, and when I realized it wouldn't do any more, I said what I needed, and we did it. As a result, I'm still married after 46 years. "I can't do this any more" it turns out, is pretty persuasive when it's true.

One involved having a kid (it turned out I wanted one), one involved going to grad school (as a result we have retirement savings, which we wouldn't have had), and one involved moving (cannot STAND the suburbs).
posted by Peach at 2:47 PM on May 9, 2022 [8 favorites]

The love of my life and I broke up after she cheated on me in a very terrible way.. but with the hindsight of 25 years, I know she felt trapped by being stuck in a life she didn't want, and could not conceive of another way out but to set things on fire. Now that much time has passed, I am deeply in love and committed to someone else. We are happy together. We also have differences, but they are less, and we are older and more able to compromise that we probably would have been as younger people with less relationship experience under our belts. The bottom line is, I am very happy with my life and that includes happiness with the fact that I had to end what I thought was the best relationship of my life, in order for future me to have a better and more fulfilling life.

All relationships do involve compromise and I'm very much a love-the-one-you're-with person, but if you are miserable and looking for validation that this isn't working, I think you know what you want to do now.

This isn't the life you want. You are miserable. You can either try to change the relationship pretty markedly (life separately? Disentangle your finances?) or end the relationship. There's nothing easy about this whatsoever. You may want to see a therapist right now to help you figure out how to talk about this and think it through by yourself and with your partner.

I'm really sorry this is happening.
posted by latkes at 2:56 PM on May 9, 2022 [9 favorites]

I see only sad paths before me.

I would definitely reframe this part I quoted.

It sounds like you and your partner have a way to talk about things and generally have each other's backs. I don't think, from your description, that's just because you've compromised on these things. I think that's just how it's gone so far.

So yeah, I think you do lay at least some of this out there. I would recommend you make space for a big conversation at a time you're well-rested and have some time, and then you talk about your feelings right now. Make it just a feelings talk. No solutions allowed at this time.

Not the past decisions. Not a future you don't have yet. Just right now. "Right now, I feel trapped. I'm unhappy being in charge of pet care and I'm unhappy with my work situation. I'm not sure how the debt is contributing. I have nightmares about house maintenance. I'm scared that if this is how it is all the time I will not be able to be happy - I'm not saying I won't be, I'm saying I will be scared about it."

Your partner will have feelings about that too. That's okay. It will feel probably like a threat. Take the house issue. Maybe your partner looooves owning a home. Maybe your partner will hear your feelings like they have to sell the house Right Away. But that's not what has to happen. Be okay to be real with each other.

So you both listen to each other's feelings. Don't try to fix anything the first round. Then you meet again, check in on your feelings, start to float small plans. Keep going, keep going, keep going.

For me...how to put this. I completely do not have the life I wanted, nor is it the one I would design for myself. This is partly because of my neuroatypicality and partly because I married someone who has totally taken me out of my comfort zone. There have been things that I dramatically compromised on, both temporarily and permanently (so far.) There have been times I've felt trapped and miserable.

But the guiding light that's resulted in joy has been honesty - not like, brutal daily downer remarks, but being truly open and honest in sharing my feelings. So, for example, I made compromises on where we live. But when we moved to a city I could not adjust to, and I had said maybe we should buy a house there, I said that no, I really hate it here even though it's 100% irrational and -- we moved back. Job wise we've also gone through many changes together.

Also...there can be room for you to change too. But not while your feelings are trappedtrappedtrapped - it's like you have an emotional vice on. I bet once you get your feelings heard, you will find some small moments. Maybe it will be that actually you like being able to put holes in the wall of your house without worrying about a deposit. Maybe it will be that your pet licks your face. Whatever it is, give yourself permission to feel that too, without it meaning that your life is Always and Forever Trapped.

(I am an expert on this because the people that trap me into a life I don't want share my body. So - no divorce man. I could write a lot but I think this is not the time, and also, you don't have that problem! But I did want to share it is okay to like one part of something you still aren't sure you can live with.)

The one thing I would caution you about is kids. Everything else you listed can be changed. You can sell a house - maybe you take a loss, but you can. You can aggressively address debt. You can rent out a house and live in a trailer. You can rehome a pet. You can get a walker/sitter for a pet. Like there are a toooooonnnn of options. But kids, no, once you have them you have to raise them period. (Although you can raise them in rental places or worldschool them or whatever.)
posted by warriorqueen at 2:57 PM on May 9, 2022 [10 favorites]

if your debt is debt other than the house, than you need to sit down with your partner and work out how to tackle that together. if it is just the house, well, you'd be paying rent anyway, so maybe try to shift the dynamic in your head and consider it rent?

as for the pet, during the work day, if your partner is leaving the house for work, have them take the pet to doggydaycare, and have them pick the pet up at the end of the day to bring it home. if it's a cat, try and get it some interactive toys, or, oddly, a second cat. for the most part, my cats sleep most of the day or play with each other, even when we're home.

as for the job/social aspect - if you live in a bigger town or a larger city, and you like your job enough to not change it, see if there are meetup groups for your interests, or meet friends/your former work people for dinner. my partner is a lot less social than i am, and is completely fine with me keeping up with friends and hanging out with them on my own, because while i love seeing them, he's just not up for it a lot of the time, or needs some time alone.

i don't think any of these is a DTMFA situation with your partner. i also think that with the current state of the world, a lot of people have gotten more introspective, depressed, and dissatisfied with their life. i think some of these things are things you can easily take care of, but due to *gestures broadly*, it can be hard to get out of the rut.
posted by koroshiya at 3:16 PM on May 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

I wonder if this could feel more manageable if instead of looking at as one gigantic problem, you thought about smaller and more tangible things that actually could change TOMORROW. Instead of "I hate my whole life," what if it was "I hate being responsible for taking the dog out in the morning, so from now on, we're getting a dog walker who comes at 7 a.m." or something. (Not sure where the balance of labor is between you and your partner re: pet care, but if you are doing more than your fair share for an animal you didn't want in the first place, I can understand growing resentful.)

Also, I wonder if you can envision the past-you who wasn't "lying" or ignoring her internal misgivings, but an alternate past you who actually REALLY DID want to get a pet. Imagine that you. Now, here we are, a few years later, and it turns out, you hate pet ownership, and you want to [get outside help][rehome pet][get partner to do more][whatever solution]. You would still get to bring that up with your partner; in fact, you ought to! This is not "punishment" for having agreed to do something you didn't really want to do. It's normal and good to say "you know what, I tried and I didn't like it, and now I want to do ___ instead." You can decouple "why did I do what I did?" and "what should I do right now?"
posted by Charity Garfein at 3:49 PM on May 9, 2022 [12 favorites]

On top of all the excellent “talk to your partner” and “find a job you like” advice here, I want to point out that the last two years have made socializing very weird. I’m a sometimes extrovert and have really been feeling it lately. So maybe the decreased socializing opportunities because of the pandemic is another contributing factor that you could look at workarounds for.
posted by mismatched at 4:22 PM on May 9, 2022 [6 favorites]

Sometimes when it seems like everything is terrible it actually turns out that making relatively few key changes makes things okay again even if there are some things that aren't fully optimized. I think there are some options for working collaboratively with your partner to make changes that might have you feeling okay about things.

The first is obviously to get a new job. I am also someone who does not do well with WFH (even though I'm a huge introvert) and having a job where you not only get job satisfaction but also work collaboratively with people you like may go a surprisingly long way toward making you feel better.

It also seems possible that engaging in some deliberate socializing around things that you legitimately enjoy doing may help substantially as well.

The next step is the pet. You've assumed responsibility for the pet, but it doesn't mean that nothing can change about your current state. You can outsource some care, or ask your partner to take on some of the labor.

I am assuming the the debt and the house are related. It seems possible that you may be okay with homeownership if you can also plan for some other things, like early retirement and extended travel.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 4:28 PM on May 9, 2022

It’s actually OK for relationships to end; that it ends doesn’t mean it’s a failure, or that you are.
posted by mhoye at 4:44 PM on May 9, 2022 [5 favorites]

There's A LOT of great advice above about the interpersonal aspects, so I just wanted to focus in on the individual aspects. Many elements of what you've said "massive debt hanging over me...nightmares about falling apart around me...constant dread of its inevitable death" sound like they are rooted in a lot of anxiety and distress.

Something to consider -- are you someone who experiences a lot of anxieties generally, and this is where they happen to crop up at this moment in time? And if so, this is likely a really good place to work with your therapist on.

It is perfectly fine to want what you want, but it is also worth thinking about why it is you want those things. Do you want them b/c you're running towards the freedom of not having debt, pets, kids, house? Or, do you want them b/c you're running away from the fear of debt, magnitude of care taking responsibilities, briefness and fragility of life?

And previously, when you were living more aligned with your values (e.g., a time of less debt, no pet, no house), did these fears still crop up, but in other ways? E.g., you may not have had a mortgage, but maybe you refused to spend money needlessly and thought about balancing your savings account/checkbook each day and this caused you lots of stress every day.

In the times when I was both depressed and anxious, everything in my life sucked, and the things that didn't meet my vision of a "preferred life for myself" seemed to suck so much more. Now, after much therapy and some medication later, the things I wanted for myself when I was depressed/anxious (cushy stable boring job, retire early b/c I literally could not imagine working for so long) are not the things I want for myself anymore (challenging job, use work as a place of growth/interesting way to spend time, take on more career risks deliberately).
posted by ellerhodes at 5:43 PM on May 9, 2022 [18 favorites]

If my partner was this unhappy, I would really want them to come and talk to me about it so that we could try and find solutions. Hopefully that would be a solution where we make some compromises and find a good outcome together, but even if it meant separating I would want them to end up happy.

I guess I am saying that since you say you have a "great partner," at least try the part where you talk openly and honestly about how things are. If that fails, maybe they aren't such a greet partner and then you will need to make other choices, but until you try you won't know.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:27 PM on May 9, 2022 [2 favorites]

Good news: the real estate market is HOT and you can probably sell the house easily and at least break even. You might even find an investor who would be happy to buy and let you keep living there while renting. (A friend did this - they paid more than the mortgage amount but also lost all the stress of upkeep.)

If you don’t want the burden of the pet, it’s ok to tell your partner that it’s their responsibility. Many couples have an animal that is one person’s pet and not the other person’s. This would not make you a bad person.

You are allowed to prioritize wanting a more dynamic career over more money.
posted by Bottlecap at 7:54 PM on May 9, 2022

I think We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese sums up where you are:

It's a sad spot, of course all the paths out are sad. The trick is to choose a sad path that might lead OUT, instead of deeper IN.

You're already on a sad path that has taken you right to the middle of Sadsville Park. Either you're going to pitch a tent there or take a sad path.

One specific practical thing: if you're going to live in the house, you need to live in the house. That might mean painting some walls or doing stuff with furniture or simply asking for a space within it that's entirely yours to decorate and furnish. It might mean gardening. It might mean seeking out some projects, buying some wood and putting it all together on weekends. But you can't own a home and live like a tenant (or prisoner) without starting to resent the walls and see your partner as a landlord (or jailer).

For therapy, consider going back over the space you occupied and the space you felt you were entitled to when you were younger. Did you share a room or have the smallest bedroom? Did you feel like demanding space was an imposition on others? Did you have shitty roommates and grit your teeth and say nothing? What did you do to claim space, and how did it make you feel if you were able to claim it? Did your extroversion feel greedy?

I'm not going to try to read between the lines, other than to say it's really hard to think yourself into feeling safe -- to rationalise a sense of security -- and if what makes you feel safe is incompatible with what makes your partner feel safe then it's a difficult thing to overcome. Safety is deep, deep stuff. So the conversation you need to have ought to begin by establishing what makes each of you feel safe and unsafe.

(But fwiw, given that this is an anonymous post, the things in your Ask that you skip over and say are not relevant / not part of the problem -- the things you ask us to assume -- are probably relevant and part of the problem.)
posted by holgate at 10:03 PM on May 9, 2022 [2 favorites]

This is why, after a year and a half, my last partner and I agreed on a "break up date" 6 months in the future (we picked valentines day, because it seemed funny). It was long enough to not panic immediately, and then for it to just be what was happening.

Because we loved each other deeply, actually, I still do. But we wanted verrry different things in life.
So we broke up after 2 years, rather than 10. :(

It was brutal, but I think what drove us is wanting the other person to be happy more than we wanted to not be sad? And if one person wants kids and the other feels like they would be *depriving* their partner of that, because they are *not* going to be doing that?
That's a big deal.

It was really hard, but we broke up, because we loved each other too much to not want the other person to achieve their dreams in life?

You're currently miserable with your life, and you're in a sense depriving your partner of the kids they want to have.

This is why people who love each other deeply break up.
posted by Elysum at 10:20 PM on May 9, 2022 [21 favorites]

It is not fair to try to convince someone who doesn’t want to have kids to have them, and it is also not fair to try to convince someone who *does* want to have kids NOT to have them. If you and your partner haven’t figured out which direction you are headed on this, in complete agreement, please figure it out *now* (with the help of a therapist). You might be wonderful for each other in every single other way, but to be of different minds on the kid issue is a fundamental incompatibility that is likely to lead to pain, suffering, and resentment on both your parts no matter which outcome comes to pass.
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 11:05 PM on May 9, 2022 [9 favorites]

Al-Anon taught me that it is okay to change your mind. So maybe you changed your mind once and decided the things your partner wanted you wanted as well but now that you have most of those things you have realized that nope, they suck. They are not for you. As others have recommended:

1. Start looking for a new job, like now.
2. Be honest with your partner about your current misery without blaming them.
3. Consider making an agreement with your partner to discuss the kids issue in 6 months or so, after you have ...
4. Found a therapist for your own fine self and gotten more insight into where you are.

This stuff is hard. If you do not want children and your partner wants children, someone loses big. If you have children and do not want them, the children may also loose. If y'all split up over that issue, it will not have been a failed relationship. Sounds like the two of you have done an amazing job of loving each other and navigating truly fraught issues. That is worth celebrating if you stay together and also if you eventually break up. Best of luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 2:52 AM on May 10, 2022 [2 favorites]

Lots of good advice upthread. I agree with all of those saying that what stood out most to me is that a lot of these problems seem fixable, if not immediately.

So, the job bit - clearly, you need to be in a dynamic workplace to feel happy and fulfilled - I think a lot of people can relate to that - I know I can. So, what is preventing you from applying to jobs that will not be WFH, and will be more like your old job (if not your old job)?

Pets: I love having pets, and am glad that my partner feels the same way, but if they didn't, I'd be okay with having the pets be 100% my responsibility. What prevents your partner from doing this? Whether that requires them to arrange for pet care, that's a reasonable ask.

House: I think it's worth figuring out why the house bothers you so much - the sense of being tied down to one place? Would you prefer to be taken off the paperwork and instead pay your partner rent? And have them absorb all of the costs of maintenance? How would they feel about that?

Debt: Unclear if this is just the house, or other types of debt. If so, a financial advisor could help.

Kids: Has your partner sacrificed this desire for you, or is this a pending decision?

Other: What is preventing you from developing your interests and doing extended travel? People with houses and pets and long term relationships do these things, so it's not clear what is preventing this. Have you asked your partner if you can take an extended solo trip somewhere?

In sum, I wonder if your fear of over-dominating your partner has prevented you from making very reasonable asks (like a request to solo travel). I agree that couples therapy might be a good way to express these if you're worried about pushing your partner in a corner - the therapist will ensure everyone gets a turn.
posted by coffeecat at 9:12 AM on May 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

Love doesn’t conquer all.

From the length of your question it’s clear that you’ve pondered this quite a bit. From the fact that you posted it’s clear that you don’t like the answers you’re arriving at.

So, I’d suggest you try the following on for size:
  1. Through years of experience and growth you’ve solidified your priorities and become willing to stand up for them.
  2. Your current relationship is not likely to let you fulfill your priorities.
  3. Time to move on.
It’s sad, but it’s a life decision that many, many people have had to make.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:57 AM on May 10, 2022 [3 favorites]

I wonder if this will be an easier conversation to have with your partner if you can speak to your own role in making these decisions instead of their role. It sounds like you had and still have a lot of ambivalence about the priorities that at one point you were certain about. You love your pet, but not the responsibility. You want to earn more money and be paid what you're worth, but you're not enjoying the job. You like the house, but not the mortgage. (Some of these are just guesses.) Even if you made these decisions - only - because you wanted to do the right thing or wanted to please your partner - that was you prioritizing your own perception of the right thing or pleasing your partner over your own desires. A partner can't prioritize your desires if you don't. If you can separate "I'm unhappy with some of the decisions I / we have made" from "I'm unhappy with some of the decisions you've [unintentionally] forced upon me" I bet it will be easier for you to bring up and for your partner to hear.
posted by Viola Swamp at 10:46 AM on May 10, 2022 [3 favorites]

I know you say there is no manipulation on your partner's part. But I can't shake the feeling here that your partner entered into these discussions with you which were, always, about something that would make them happy and make you unhappy, and these discussions were tense, and you felt a lot of pressure to "most importantly" make your partner happy. And I can't help but wonder... Where was your partner twisting themselves into knots to most importantly make you happy? Why were opportunities that torpedoed your life goals framed in these tense discussions as "objectively great opportunities". Why are you now, even now, still, talking about yet another step that will make them happy and make you miserable? I see the great strides that YOU have made to try to meet them in between and I see that leading you all way over to their side entirely. I don't see them moving even a single inch in your direction.

Where are the alarm bells in your partner's head? Where is your partner saying "hold up, this doesn't sound like you"? Where is their alarm at your continued mental health crises every time your life is snatched one more step further out of your own hands? Where is your partner being in your court, advocating for the deeply held desires that you don't even know you have? Where are they, nurturing the expression of your ideas? Why are they cutting you off from your friends, tying you down with massive debt, tying you down with a pet, so that you slowly become a prisoner in this life which you don't want?

They are looking at you, in the pot of water boiling so slowly that you don't see it, and they are standing outside that pot,and step by step, they are turning up the temperature, one notch at a time, and they're doing it right now, one more notch. I highly suggest you take some space away from this relationship to get some clarity.
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:37 PM on May 10, 2022 [2 favorites]

My current situation is that we are now talking about taking more steps that lead away from what I want.

Don't take these steps.

It is possible that this may damage your relationship, but from your whole post it sounds like taking these steps would be the final straw for you anyway and it would be easier to not do them in the first place than to try to undo them.

Do get a new job.

Then decide what else really needs changing. Almost everything has fixes.
posted by plonkee at 4:46 AM on May 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

I just want to chime in as a person who has always been a rolling stone, easily feels trapped, etc.

That was anxiety. Therapy helped. To some extent it's my personality/temperament, but a big chunk of that was fear. Fear of commitment. Fear of not being able to get out of the situation. Always wanting an exit plan. Not wanting to be controlled by anyone or any circumstances. Not wanting to be responsible for anything because I didn't want the situation to control my life.

It's avoidance. Avoidance is something that can be changed, if you want to see what kind of person you are without that fear of commitment/fear of being controlled running you.

I'm not saying any of your desires are wrong or bad or that there's anything wrong with being a rolling stone type of person. But sometimes, it actually is a pathology that holds us back. It's hugely different being able to make a clear-eyed choice to move towards something I previously had a visceral reaction to, instead of writing it off compulsively.

Wanting something else isn't the same as wanting to avoid something, but if we are sharp we can convince ourselves that the latter is the former. Then you have to ask yourself do you want your decisions to be governed by fear.

As an aside, I agree with the chorus suggesting you focus on finding other work, and your outlook on the rest may change. And if you bought a house and took on debt and you're uncomfortable it's also fair to ask your partner to take a higher paying job so they can shoulder more of that responsibility.
posted by crunchy potato at 7:22 AM on May 11, 2022 [2 favorites]

For me feeling easily trapped was/is both my own anxiety and also unfortunately a sign I kept ignoring that my partner, who I really love(d), was not for me. I broke up with them and several months out continue to feel so relieved making choices in accordance with my values and no longer feeling like I’m selfishly stopping my partner from choosing to live theirs. Seconding those who’ve said don’t have kids with your partner—can only imagine it would be like the pet situation but turbo charged.
posted by Argyle Road at 8:28 AM on May 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

This is such an interesting question. It's not often that you see two people willing to work out differences in world view and communication styles, bridging gaps, deepening your understanding of each other and emerging stronger and closer from that.

It's kind of paradoxical, because I feel that all this great "work" has led to where you are right now. It seems like all this effort to understand and learn from each other, communicate etc. has led to actual, tangible, real-world impacts to YOUR life. In that somehow, you compromised, thought you were doing the right thing, and you've finally woken up to... maybe having the wool pulled over your eyes? Except maybe you would say that you willingly pulled the wool over your eyes. How did this even happen? I'd be curious to know what made you decide to start seeing them despite the major differences. Anyway.

>these were explicitly stated things that I felt strongly.

I just want to note that I find it interesting that you wrote this in the passive voice and I wonder why that is. You also qualify these things as not all normal, and that you have legit reasons for each. Friend, this is mefi. People totally understand that you might not want to go on the beaten path; you don't have to justify it to us. I wonder if that contributed to your compromising - that even though you felt strongly about these things, you didn't feel totally ok wanting them. Also, your partner was clear that they were ok with the complete opposite. So what stopped you from thinking, "Ok, this person is great, but maybe we're really not right for each other." I guess it goes back to your efforts to understand each other.

I think it's interesting how you describe your communication styles - you say that it's easy for you to win these discussions - what does that mean? Does that mean your partner ends up agreeing with you, or that you shut them down and don't listen to them? So in trying to not win these discussions, it seems like.... your partner has won? With rationality? I'm worried that you see their reasoning as more rational than yours, and that you see your wants/needs/reasoning as somehow irrational - which goes back to what I said about not needing to justify your wants with us. Do you think their wants are more conventional/acceptable than yours, and therefore that's the way you should go?

>Each compromise was fully and enthusiastically agreed to by me, who convinced myself that this was right, and reasonable, and I am being a great partner by agreeing to this. There was no manipulation on my partner's part: I forced myself to believe that I really wanted all of these things, because they all made sense, and most importantly they made my partner happy.

It sounds like you value being a great partner and making your partner happy, and you do that by putting their wants above your own. Do they also value that, i.e. being a great partner and making you happy? How do they do that for you?

How is your partner contributing to alleviating the debt and being responsible for the house and pet? Did they convince you to get a remote job so you could take care of the house and pet? I hope not! Like other commenters, I wonder how your partner reacted to your mental breakdowns. Did they not notice or care?

>we are now talking about taking more steps that lead away from what I want.

I'm so curious as to what this is. If it's having a baby, DO NOT HAVE A BABY. SAY NO. I'm worried that you think you can't say no, because that ends the discussion, there is nothing more to say and do and you both value communication and understanding each other's viewpoint. I mean you can still talk about why they want x and listen to where they're coming from, but you are allowed to say no. You say you haven't been manipulated, but I really wonder about that.

So now what? I think you have to break up with them. As much as you love them, as much as you value all the work you've done to understand each other, if they can't get on board with the life that YOU want, don't stay in this relationship. Also, if giving them what you want (e.g. a baby) is really not what you want either, that's another reason to break up. It's ok to not want the same things; what's not ok is to lie to yourself. Which... you've kinda done (sorry to be harsh). Maybe after awhile you can still be friends. You can still talk about your divergent viewpoints and come to a greater understanding about the topic you're discussing. A serious relationship has lots of obligations and responsibilities; maybe opt for a relationship (e.g. friendship) that doesn't.
posted by foxjacket at 10:17 PM on May 12, 2022

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