How do I get over my fear of commitment/grass is greener syndrome?
July 8, 2007 10:39 AM   Subscribe

How can I get over my fear of commitment? And what are some ways of dealing with the fear that I am somehow "settling" in this relationship?

I use they and them to obfuscate gender
I was really lucky and found someone who is incredibly compatible with me. We get along, we have similar interests, but most importantly, we have really compatible approaches to life in general. It's hard to explain that, suffice it to say that pretty much from the first time we talked it was very much like meeting a kindred spirit.

We have a lot of fun together, the sex is pretty good, they're smart, I'm smart.

Here's the thing. My sig oth feels like we are supposed to be together. I don't really want to get into the dating scene anyway, and I'm perfectly happy to be with them and in fact if someone pointed a gun at my head and told me to get married to somebody, I would marry them right away and probably would do so without any real regret and live happily for the rest of my days.

However, I have two problems. The first is that the thought of this kind of commitment is very scary to me. My S.O. is starting to talk about us living together and making long term plans and when this happens I freak out inside. When I started the relationship long, long ago it was supposed to be my experiment in "casual dating" so I didn't really imprint on them initially like I have SOs in the past. It took a long time for the ILYs to come out (on my end, at least). They're not pushing marriage but they are pushing long term commitment and even though I have no plans to get involved with anyone else I still find it constricting somehow.

The second problem, and this is where I reveal my shallowness, is that there are certain aspects to their appearance (and, to a much lesser degree, their personality), that get to me. Basically, this person is almost the exact opposite of what I've thought of as my physical ideal. My S.O. is still cute and good looking and now that I love them I think of them as beautiful, but they're not likely to stop traffic. Every so often I see other people and find them (mostly on an abstract level) more physically attractive then my SO. Also, my S.O. is intelligent and fun but not very daring or exciting, which is something I feel sexy. Sometimes I find myself similarly attracted to people doing exciting or impressive things. I feel really, really guilty about this sometimes as well. So sometimes I worry that I could be dating one of these "attractive" or "exciting" people instead, and I wonder if I might easily be compatible with someone else.

I don't want to break up with my SO. I love them and want to stay with them, but I want to exorcise these demons of doubt. Ideally I'd like to hear from people who have weathered through doubts or commitment phobia and are now clear of it. If you have an anonymous-enough account I suppose you could even share about a relationship that you're in.
Again, sorry if the they or them was confusing, but I felt like it was necessary. Also, I know sometimes people leave emails here but I won't because 1) afraid it might get back to me somehow, 2) don't want to take the trouble and 3) want answers to show up here so they can help other MeFis in the future.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (34 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
I hate to be really horrible here and I'd love to give you some great enlightening advice, but to be honest you may just be too inherently shallow for this relationship. Some people look for soul mates and other people look for partners that fulfill some sort of status/fantasy/goal you name it. You sound like you have found the former, but are really looking for the latter. If you had just started dating this person I would say give it time and these feelings will likely fade or change, but it sounds like you've been with this person awhile and I will assume you are at least in your late 20's (?). I'm also going to assume that you aren't just attracted to other women, but that there are times you honestly wish you were with someone else.

I'm not saying this to beat you up. I don't honestly know if this sort of mindset can really be consciously changed. I think if you have real serious doubts, you should move on and let your SO find someone else who honestly and completely wants to be with them. You may one day feel differently about what you really want in a partner, but I don't think you can flip a switch inside yourself and I don't think you are anywhere near that point right now.
posted by whoaali at 11:07 AM on July 8, 2007

I wonder if I might easily be compatible with someone else.

Of course you could easily be compatible with someone else. You could experience fireworks with any number of people. But in the end, it's all going to boil down to the day-to-day stuff- the commitment of staying together when life is exciting, boring, gross, ugly, whatever. Next time you meet someone "exciting", daydream yourself through the whole relationship. First date with a supermodel, fun. Second date, fun. Third date, they fly off to Paris, conveniently forgetting to save your phone number and leaving you behind with nothing but a huge credit card bill. Not so fun now, right? You wouldn't really choose that for yourself, would you? I try not to let myself fall into the trap of, "Oh, if I only had X, Y, and Z in my life, then I'd REALLY be happy and having fun, and I'll always be incomplete without those things." I've worked through a lot of that crap by really thinking through the things I think I want- and what do you know, I didn't really want a lot of them in the first place. Maybe you don't want the exciting person- maybe you just want the excitement. Maybe you don't want the girl in the rock band- maybe you want to be in a rock band. Force yourself to think through these things you'd rather push away as silly daydreams (because that won't work anyway), and you maybe be able to ascertain ways you can put the qualities that attracted you to that other person in your own life.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:09 AM on July 8, 2007 [6 favorites]

There will always be someone who's hotter than your SO. As long as you're not dead, you'll notice that. Make peace with that and move on. Feeling guilty about noticing it serves no purpose.
posted by putril at 11:17 AM on July 8, 2007

Re: commitment

In a world of 6+ billion people, there is always a "better deal" out there. But you only live 60, 70, 80, or 90 something years. You only get to "know" perhaps 100,000 of the 6+ billion, at the outside, if you're a very busy bee, socially. Most people probably don't really "know" even 10,000 of the 6+ billion. Simple math says you're almost guaranteed to miss your best match, and that for human sexuality to work, most people had better be able to form long term pair bonds with partners who are less than ideal.

Your strong interest in your partner's physical appearance correlates with male attitudes in many cultures. Men choose partners based on appearance to a much greater degree than women choose partners on this metric. Many young men pass by otherwise seemingly good partners on the basis of physical appearance, but to them, appearance is much more important than other factors. The problem with having appearance as a primary selection criteria is that appearance often changes significantly over a lifetime, and can be immediately and sharply changed by accident or disease, even outside the normal aging process. But in my experience, people can't be talked out of their primary selection criteria. You may be shallow for being intensively interested in people's looks, but if it is what you respond to most strongly about a person, it may be a primary way you continue to filter new acquaintances and relationships all your life. So, at a very low level, you may never completely "exorcise these demons of doubt."

The question is, can you be part of a lasting, loving partnership even with such lifelong feelings? If not, do your SO a favor, and move on, before wasting more of "their" life.
posted by paulsc at 11:21 AM on July 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

When I met my husband I fell head over heels, and when we started talking about marriage I was happy, but I wondered about the logistics of it. I'm Catholic, so that's a lifelong commitment for me. The enormity of the promise I was thinking of making was just staggering, even though I loved him. But when I thought about living without him, it only made me more sure that I wanted to be with him. I eventually decided that I'd rather do the work to be with him than live without him.

We got married last October and I feel like I made the right choice.
posted by christinetheslp at 11:33 AM on July 8, 2007

You sound like you are in your early 20s and/or are having your first grown-up relationship. Teenage and college relationships, IMHO, are training wheels for grown-up relationships where we have to make compromises every day.

re: compatability. We create this idea of what we want or what we'd like. Holding onto that ideal will get you no where. S/he isn't daring or exciting? When we're younger daring seems great, but (at least for me) as we get older we realize that "bad boys" or "bad girls" may turn our crank but aren't the settling down types. Sometimes we get with partners that meet 90% of our needs and don't meet 10%. Is that 10% his/her looks for you? Does the 90% make up for the rest of it?

That being said, if you don't feel ready to live together, DON'T. Living together complicates things and is hard to get out of. You can search on here for all sorts of situations where people are "trapped" at least emotionally but sometimes financially in a living-together situation.
posted by k8t at 11:37 AM on July 8, 2007

If you were to break up with your SO and find someone who IS exciting and likely to stop traffic, I would hazard a guess that they will have some flaws that will bug you, that your current SO does not have.

I sometimes wonder if compatibility is more about finding someone whose flaws you can live with than finding someone who has certain strengths that you love.

I wouldn't beat yourself up too much about finding other people attractive. That's natural, and that's going to happen no matter who you're dating. It's how you deal with it that's important. Not acting or dwelling on it while you're with your SO is usually a good way to deal with it, I think. ;>
posted by Squee at 11:40 AM on July 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

It's hard to respond without knowing your approximate ages and how long you two have been together, but I think a lot of what you're feeling is pretty normal -- and not something you need to feel guilty about or something that will ruin your relationship. Because of cultural influences, it's probably more common for men to feel (or admit) ennui and a craving for novelty, but I've certainly felt that way after dating some (wonderful) person for a long time.

Especially if you're stressed by expectations that are making you feel uncomfortable, you start noticing or dwelling on the "flaws" rather than the appealing qualities. Whatever needs this partner doesn't happen to meet -- and nobody can or should meet them all -- start to seem way more important than the 400 ones s/he does satisfy. The happiest relationships have these periods, and it's not made any easier by the fact that, as someone intimated upthread, our culture trains us from birth to be dissatisfied with anything we've had for more than 3 minutes and dying for the new, better X that will fix everything.

What to do? I think you need to be honest with your signif, NOT about the hurtful "s/he's not ideally beautiful," "others are more daring" stuff; keep that Monster of the Id material to yourself. But when s/he brings up commitment, etc., you need to express clearly your uncertainty if you're not doing so already. First of all, it's something you should be working through together and also, this is a person who has some future plans that involve you, and if you're not both on the same page about that, it's only fair that s/he know that so s/he can make informed choices about how to proceed.
posted by FelliniBlank at 11:40 AM on July 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's very easy to always wonder if you'd be happier in other circumstances. And, the answer will always be yes -- you will always be able to think up some hypothetical situation in which you'd be much, much happier than you are right now. For instance, I certainly would be happier if I were a billionaire with the type of metabolism that would allow me to eat chocolate all day long without gaining a pound. If I concentrate on how great that situation would be, I'm going to feel like my current situation (where I am waiting for my SO to cook delicious calzones, the Royal Tenenbaum soundtrack is playing, a loving kitten is sitting in my lap, and I have so little I need to do that I can waste time answering the personal questions of strangers) is somehow lacking.

Stop asking yourself, "What would make me happier?" Start asking yourself, "Am I happy?"
posted by Ms. Saint at 11:51 AM on July 8, 2007 [21 favorites]

It sounds like you're not ready to jump into a long term thing so you most likely shouldn't. Listen to your gut on this one and don't commit to anything you're not 99% sure is a good idea. If your SO is truly interested in you and not just in acquiring a live-in, then they will wait. In fact the way they handle this is probably a better indication of future compatibility than anything else. Even "nice" people can be pushy.

FWIW, I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting a more dynamic parnter, especially when you're young. Maybe you'd prefer to go to mountaineering than to Bed, Bath & Beyond and there's nothing wrong with that.
posted by fshgrl at 11:55 AM on July 8, 2007

I think for a lot of people, there's a phase of life that's about crazy love, and the search for a careening, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald kind of glamorous, theatrical, kooky bliss. God knows, I had that. But eventually, you realize that amour fou only gets you so far, and you start wanting something more like a partnership and less like a vaudeville act.

Personally, I had to get my heart stomped but good a couple of times before ease and comfort became truly attractive to me. Before that happened, I don't think I would have dealt well, if I'd found myself in a relationship that was calm and cozy, but without fireworks. It may just be that you're not ready to settle down. And that's okay.

As far as compatability is concerned, the irony is that every love is absolutely unique, but a lost love can always be replaced. You will never find another person who makes you feel the way your current SO makes you feel. But (if you so choose) you will find dozens of others who can also make you feel love and happiness-- it will just be love and happiness of a somewhat different kind.

For me, when it finally came time to to settle down with a genuinely nice boy, it didn't feel like a compromise. It feel like an unqualfied win. Your SO may well be ready for that now. But the fact that your SO is ready doesn't mean that you have feel guilty about not being ready yourself. You'll get there when you get there. Not before.

But do be honest with your sweetie. It's not fair for him/her to go through life feeling like the two you are enjoying a state of perfect couple-bliss, when in reality you're kind of edging toward the door.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 11:57 AM on July 8, 2007 [5 favorites]

I'm in my 40s and 11 years into (what I feel is a) great marriage. But it's not perfect. And I've yet to meet a longterm couple that has a perfect relationship. By "not perfect", I don't mean that he leaves the toilet set up or she makes him watch chick flicks. I mean that all of the married couples I've ever met -- and have really gotten to know to the point where they share the details of their lives with me -- have serious challenges. Staying in a longterm relationship (marriage or dating or even deep friendship) always means settling and comprise.

There will likely be people who will say, "That's not true. I didn't settle." And I certainly don't FEEL like I settled (and I hope my wife doesn't either), but I don't dwell every day on "how things could have been." I'm too busy living. I'm too busy working and traveling but also I'm too busy taking out the trash, watering the plants and cleaning the bathroom. It's so great to have someone to share even the mundane stuff with -- and I'm more and more grateful for this as I get older.

Also, the longer I'm with my wife, the more she's irreplaceable. Is it possible there's another woman out there who I'd be more compatible with? In theory, yes, but for that theory to pan out, I'd have to spend 11 years with that woman. Because in addition to all the other things we have in common, my wife and I have over a decade of shared history. We pretty much have our own language, full of injokes and references that no one else can get. (And I wouldn't have been able to build up all those things with someone who I was less compatible with on a soulmate level.) Do you have any idea how valuable that is?

If you're the sort of person who's always waiting for something better, that's a problem. It's a common problem, so I'm not saying you're a freak or something, but if I were you, it's something I'd work on. It can hold you back from so much in life. You say you're into adventure. Well, waiting around for Mr./Ms. Perfect isn't adventure. It's a form of hiding. It's hiding in a fantasy world. Making a commitment and making it work: THAT'S and adventure.
posted by grumblebee at 11:57 AM on July 8, 2007 [63 favorites]

The folks here have good advice. I think it's important to consider where you are in your own life honestly and realistically especially with regard to how it relates to your experience with serious relationships. As k8t says:

Teenage and college relationships, IMHO, are training wheels for grown-up relationships where we have to make compromises every day.

I agree with that. With every goodbye you learn, and if you've not expreienced that many of them, you may have the unenviable position of trying to grow up within a relationship where you may feel the stakes are much higher. That's not impossible, but is much tougher if you really aren't mentally able to handle what could be a tough road ahead.

I hate to use the tired cliché, "Be sure," but divorce is tough even if everyone agrees it's for the best.
posted by tcv at 12:04 PM on July 8, 2007

You will always feel like you settled for less. That perfect in every way person is not there. My wife gave up a lot to marry me, and don't think it doesn't come up when we have arguments. There are things about her I would have different if I could. There are things about everyone to like, and things to dislike. Learn to deal with the things you dislike - it sounds like there are relatively few. If you're avoiding introducing your SO to your friends because you're embarrased about their appearance, though, that might be a big deal, and something you need to get over.

Do not fall for the trap of thinking you're just going to change that person (or get them to change) into your ideal. That never works. You have to accept it or not.

Whatever the case, I think you should honestly talk over the things you dislike. It's difficult to find a good moment to do that, though. Say it like you said it in your question, admit you may be shallow (but aren't we all, in some way?). It may not be pleasant, but better now than later, after you've either led this person on for months or years, or gotten railroaded into something you don't feel comfortable with.
posted by ctmf at 12:38 PM on July 8, 2007

I don't think you need to feel guilty about how you are feeling -- to me, what you describe sounds perfectly normal. There are times that a relationship starts with a "bang," where everything feels like it clicks and fits. It sounds like that is what happened from your SO's point of view. There are other times that a relationship starts more gradually -- there is sufficient initial attraction to get things started, but you aren't totally gobsmacked, either. If you are lucky, that attraction -- the intensity that your SO felt from the beginning -- will be built over time, slowly, through the accumulation of closeness and intimacy and love that makes up a good relationship. (The best-case scenario for this is an arranged marriage that turns into a love marriage over the years. In practice, of course, sometimes attraction diminishes rather than grows, and sometimes things don't work out. But my point is that there is no hard and fast link between the amount to which you were head over heels at the beginning, and how you feel a decade later.)

I could have written a similar question at the beginning of my current relationship. Not the same in every detail, but similar enough in the big picture. Part of it was that I had had a physical type, and this person didn't fit that type, and that took some real readjustment. But I also later realized that a big part of it was that my previous relationships had been very intense -- lots of arguments, not very livable or pleasant, but very exciting. And in comparison a more loving, more caring, and more equitable relationship seemed at first to be kind of bland, lacking in what I thought of as "real feelings."

Now, after being with this person for years, I want to go back and kick my then-self in the ass and yell, "get a clue!" Because loving and caring actions trump arguing and intensity every day of the week, but it took me a long time to realize that. Had I known then that the aggregate of years of acting in loving ways would produce such strong feelings of closeness and intimacy and, yes, intensity, I wouldn't have had such confused feelings at the beginning.

Now, I don't know that my doubts then are fully like your doubts now, nor that if you stay in your relationship you will end up as happy as I am now. But I will say that there are several things to keep in mind. One is that people (including ourselves) are often more flexible than we give them credit for -- you have always dated skinny brunettes, but your current guy/gal is a chunky blonde? Probably not such a big deal after a while. Your SO has always been unadventurous, but after a decade of you inviting him/her diving and rafting (or whatever constitutes "adventurous" to you), they won't be the same person they are today, any more than you will be the same.

Another is that the success or failure of your relationship has everything to do with your actions, and nothing to do with your thoughts. You have the choice of whether to act in ways that strengthen or weaken the relationship -- and that is a separate choice from how to think about and resolve your doubts and worries. Big things matter (finances, kids, are you abusive, etc) but the real meat of a relationship is in the small decisions that you make fifty or a hundred times every day -- do you smile and say something nice, or not? Do you do more than your share of the things that need to be done? Do you work to make your SO's life easier? Yes, all of those should be reciprocated, and in a good relationship they will be, but you do them because they are the right things to do, rather than waiting for the SO to do them first, or keep track of these things like points.

Third, there is never perfection in this life. There will always be compromise. You don't want to have to compromise something vitally important to you, but the very foundation of a relationship is that mutual compromise. And these compromises aren't just at the beginning -- they are every day, and maybe every minute, for as long as you are together. Because if you weren't together, one of you could be dating Brad Pitt and the other person could be dating Bill Gates, and you could live anywhere you wanted, and the toilet seat would stay up or down... but then you wouldn't be together, and you would lose all of that.

So no one can tell you whether or not to stay together. And probably the standard relationship answer of "see a therapist" applies here. But I think every relationship has these deep ambiguities involved, and you shouldn't feel guilty for caring about them.
posted by Forktine at 12:55 PM on July 8, 2007 [10 favorites]

First off, there is no ideal partner with whom to have the ideal relationship. There are only real people who make up real relationships, be they good or bad. If you actually want or expect a perfect partner, you don't want a real relationship or a real person -- because those are the only kind there are.

This means three things: 1) any and all partners you have will always possess certain less-than-ideal qualities; 2) there will always be people outside your relationship who possess qualities you might admire or find attractive; 3) those other people also possess their own imperfections.

These facts hold true for all relationships, including the most loving and committed ones imaginable.

This doesn't mean, of course, that all relationships are equal, or can be worked out, or should persist for the long haul. But there is a crucial distinction to be made between "settling" and "accepting."

"Settling," to me, means one partner giving up something extremely significant in order to maintain a relationship rather than end it. You diminish your own life -- say, by not actually being attracted to your partner, or not having children when you want them, or not being able to share common interests -- simply in order to stay in the relationship.

"Accepting" means embracing the other person's differences/imperfections/etc. without any such fundamental diminshment of yourself. It means abandoning the childish expectation of perfection, and of having each and every need or desire met by your partner. It means learning to communicate your dissatisfactions and navigate conflicts together with the intent of finding solutions. It means your life is basically augmented by the relationship, imperfections and all.
posted by scody at 1:05 PM on July 8, 2007 [12 favorites]

Something about your post makes me want to agree with whoaall: you are at a shallow (your word) stage, or to put it more kindly, an experimental stage. Why do you feel the need to 'obfuscate gender'? That seems kind of silly to me, as though you have a certain amount of intellectual baggage that's hindering you. Methinks you need a big dollop of experience to wisen you up ;) Enough patronising, I actually think your worries are all too human and most people will empathise. Assuming you're not middle-aged already, they're natural enough. I think, going merely on what you have written, you should break up. Let your seriously-inclined SO meet the person who can give them what they want. And you have a go at dating a traffic-stopper. Assuming you can catch a traffic-stopper, as people have remarked, you'll find they have their drawbacks, too. And one of them may well be that they're a traffic-stopper and they know it. If you're with a traffic-stopper, you're gonna have to put up with endless people pitching for them, and don't think your traffic-stopper won't be aware of it. It will be a relationship with different dynamics, possibly quite stressful.
posted by londongeezer at 1:07 PM on July 8, 2007

Uh, every single relationship is settling. There is always someone better, by definition. The odds of finding them at the right time and the right place are basically non-existent.

Relationship free of doubts huh? Good luck.

in fact if someone pointed a gun at my head and told me to get married to somebody, I would marry them right away and probably would do so without any real regret and live happily for the rest of my days.

Life points guns at our heads every day. I think the last sentence is the only one you need to worry about.

How old are you? If in your twenties, you might think twice. If in you thirties, I might not wait.

Also, everyone would like to date people who are doing "exciting" things. Most of these "exciting" people are made up, that is, they are images we get from TV or books and magazines. Pretty much you are going to get bored on some level some of the time whoever you end up with.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:20 PM on July 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

the success or failure of your relationship has everything to do with your actions, and nothing to do with your thoughts

posted by Ironmouth at 1:22 PM on July 8, 2007

My S.O. is starting to talk about us living together and making long term plans and when this happens I freak out inside.

Regardless of whether they are the right person for you, do NOT move in together or make hard-to-reverse long-term plans until you stop "freaking out inside" when you think about it.

On the other hand, moving in with someone only to find out after a bit that it's not meant to be isn't the worst thing in the world. I lived with my last SO for about 2 years before we broke up and it didn't ruin either of our lives... or even have any long-term negative effects that I can see. In that sense, moving in is a nice phase between just dating and long-term commitments like marriage and/or children.
posted by callmejay at 1:33 PM on July 8, 2007

This comment from StickyCarpet listing the 5 ingredients needed for a relationship to work struck a chord with me, and at least 67 other mefites.
posted by slimepuppy at 1:38 PM on July 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

[Wow, that is a great stickycarpet comment]

Just wanted to pipe in and say that, since the poster chose not to give us age or gender details, we can't be sure that he or she is young (or male). Problems with committment are sometimes related to age and perhaps gender, but there are any number of other reasons why this particular decision point might occur in an individual's life well into their mature years. If indeed this is the comment of a younger person, the thought that it is a predictable stage in adult relationships may indeed be helpful; but it's quite possible that the poster is older. I'm female, late 30s, and have struggled with the same challenges in many of my relationships.

The problem is essentially the same either way - at some point in our lives we must grapple with the reality that relationships will be imperfect, and, knowing that, use criteria important to us to determine whether to continue the relationships we're in or try to find ones perhaps more suitable. The criteria may vary somewhat with age, but the reality of relationships does not.
posted by Miko at 2:07 PM on July 8, 2007

Follow up from the OP:

A few more clarifications:

1) I really do want to be with this person, I'm just feeling a bit
weird when they talk about comittment. I don't really have a *desire*
to be someone else, I just have doubts from time to time.

2) I'm not young, I'm in my very early 30s. But I started dating when
I was older, and I've only dated a few people -- which is part of the
reason I guess that I am a bit worried about committing. I feel like
part of this may simply be regret that I didn't get a chance to "sow
my wild oats" so to speak. But I have zero interest in casual dating.

3) I can see how people would see this (the whole visual thing) as
being shallow. I guess what is really happening is I'm with this
person, look at them, think "Gosh, I'm really happy with this person,
but they look *nothing like* the person I imagined myself being with."
So I guess it's a sort of cognitive dissonance, almost?

So far I feel like paulsc, k8t, squee, Ms. Saint, and grumblebee have
given the best answers.
posted by jessamyn at 2:32 PM on July 8, 2007

For the first few paragraphs of your answer I thought you were the person who recently broke up with me, because it sounds like the exact same situation.

Here's the thing: No one you ever meet in your life is going to be 100% perfect. It just doesn't happen that way. And if you're getting hung up on the person you *imagined* yourself with, you're quite likely going to miss out on the chance to be with the person who is actually as close to perfect for you as you'll find.

Ditch your preconceived notions of where you thought you'd end up and start appreciating the person in front of you. Try that for a while. Don't compare him/her to what you thought he/she would be. Just look at your SO and, next time they say/do something really fabulous, go "Wow!"

Your SO might be daring and exciting, but might not be the kind of person to initiate derring-do and excitement. Try suggesting something you find exciting, tell SO it would turn you on. SO might be a lot more willing than you assume -- it just might be that the SO's brain doesn't work the same way as yours. Don't write him/her off because of it.

What it comes down to is that on your checklist of qualities in the perfect mate, you'll never, ever find someone who has them all. Accepting a less-than-perfect score isn't "settling," it's being realistic and appreciating the gift you've been given. If you can't accept that, you're going to lead a very lonely, unfulfilling life.

Again, I say this as someone who was dumped for all of the things you mentioned. It's an open wound here. Don't jerk your SO around, but try to appreciate that what you do have is much more important than what you don't.
posted by mudbug at 3:12 PM on July 8, 2007 [4 favorites]

I think it might be helpful to zero in more clearly on the weird feelings/freaking out when the talk of commitment comes up. "Freaking out" is abstract enough that there's no real way to get inside it, and to understand what it's actually signalling, and therefore feel paralyzed from finding an answer.

So get specific. Name the actual emotion(s) you're feeling -- fear? worry? sadness? Then go from there -- what exactly are you afraid of (for example, you may be afraid that you'll eventually lose your attraction to each other)? What is making you so sad (you may be on to something with your regret that you don't have more of a personal history of dating a lot)?

One of the most useful tests of the depth/quality of a relationship is if you can share these difficult feelings with your SO. The key is not to frame it as "you're freaking me out with the commitment talk," but rather "I'm feeling scared of X." Being able to work through this sort of stuff, in a safe and loving way, is one of the great markers of real love. Keeping it bottled up inside actually does both of you a disservice; sharing it actually allows you both to be on the same side as you work towards some answers.

As for someone looking (or acting, or whatever) nothing like the expectations you had, well, frankly, so what? Your expectations were more limited than have been borne out by your experiences. Can you look at it in such a way that that's actually a cool thing?

For example, my bf -- who's really the greatest guy I've ever known, and I'm in the greatest relationship of my life with him -- is very different, in several ways, from what I always expected I'd want in a partner. And it's wonderful! I had no idea till he and I met that my expectations of being with someone with an advanced degree or who had traveled the world, for example, were irrelevant; I have now learned that intelligence has nothing to do with formal education, that being open-minded has nothing to do with a full passport. My expectations were confounded, in many ways, by my SO, and I'm damn grateful for it.

Sure, we have our ups and downs; yes, there are other people either of us could theoretically (and even not so theoretically) be with; and of course, we both notice other attractive people walking around out in the world every day. Big deal. Being in love with someone doesn't mean the rest of humanity ceases to exist. It just means that at the end of the day, we're happy to come home to each other.

Maybe it would be useful to stop thinking about what you expected in a partner, and start thinking abaout what you expected in a relationship. I mean, if your relationship indeed delivers the laughter, companionship, warmth, sex, etc. that you want, then who cares if you had always "envisioned yourself" ending up with a hot blond and you got a cute brunet instead?
posted by scody at 3:17 PM on July 8, 2007 [6 favorites]

I really do want to be with this person, I'm just feeling a bit
weird when they talk about comittment. I don't really have a *desire* to be someone else, I just have doubts from time to time.

Well there's nothing wrong with that. You need to feel that you are doing the right thing and if you don't feel that yet, then hold off. It'll be for the better in the long run for everyone.

It took my SO a full year to decide to move in together after we first discussed it. Now he wont go away ;)
posted by fshgrl at 3:22 PM on July 8, 2007

If you have doubts, you may as well get out sooner rather than later so as to not hurt the other person too much. At least, that's been my rule. Sometimes it's very, very hard, because you can love someone while still realizing that they're not The One for you.

I could be very wrong, but the above comments about "training wheels" relationships are probably accurate, even if that sounds a little ridiculous to you at this point.

This stuff is hard to know.
posted by blacklite at 4:46 PM on July 8, 2007

My longtime partner and I split up last year after what I think was some time on both our parts asking ourselves the same questions about each other. I don't have advice about your specific situation but just maybe you can draw some analogies from ours.

He was younger than me by a bit and much less experienced. I felt like I had pretty much done all the dating and messing around that I had wanted to do and was comfy settling down, even if I had my doubts about our long term perfect-for-each-otherness. My outlook was that given a proper amount of committment to each other, we were good together, good for each other and with each other, and the rest would, over time, sort itself out. I decided to steamroll doubt with conviction.

His perspective, I think, was that he wasn't getting any younger, was at a pivot point in his life [getting out of law school] and the doubts he had were sticking with him. His youth and inexpeirience led him to conclude that he'd rather move on and see what was out there. He wasn't convinced that us just both wanting very much to be in the relationship was enough to make it work. Neither of us were right or wrong, really, that's just how it worked out.

We had some differences [religious/political outlook or lack thereof, work ethic or lack thereof] that were big differences and my guess is that I was willing to overlook them and he possibly wasn't. At the end of it all, we split pretty amicably, are still pretty friendly, but he's clearly moved on to the social life he never had when he was younger and I'm still pretty happy with my more settled down life, sort of like the way we had lived together. We're both thriving in our own ways and it's a little poignant to think that because if we had both known that would be the case, we might have decided to end it sooner. Additionally, the awareness that I was making some compromises and sacrifices because I saw us at the start of a long thing, in hindsight, sort of irk be because it turned out we weren't on that trajectory at all. On the other hand I don't think any of us really knew any better at the time.

I guess if I have some advice it's this

- living together is a great way to try some thing out in terms of intimately sharing your lives without having to make engaged/married plans and is not a bad idea as intermediate steps go.
- as everyone else says OF COURSE it's okay to find other people attractive, but if you're really feeling like maybe you should sow your wild oats, that's worth paying attention to.
- even though I agree with a lot of what other people have said, missing something like "daring and exciting" speaking only for myself, can matter. When I was single again I suddenly found myself gravitating towards all the types of people that I hadn't spent as much time with before (radical political types mainly, some bookish intellectual types too). I can't say as if I would have missed these people or experiences with them if I had stayed in my same relationship forever, but it was like a cool drink of water hanging out with them in depth again. I suspect you always feel that way about things you might have been missing in your relationship even if your relationsip was PERFECT but it was an eye-opener for me.

I also had, and have, may other kindred spirit types in my life who have not been lovers and/or partners like that. It's worth also thinking about whether you can get some of the things you feel that you might be missing from other important people in your life. I used to call this my "distributed boyfriend" plan and I felt that it was a more realistic way of approaching complicated relationships with complicated people. Good luck in general with smoothing out some of your own complications.
posted by jessamyn at 5:29 PM on July 8, 2007 [4 favorites]

you have the right to want whoever and whatever you desire. no need to apologize for that. there is however another side to that coin: if she isn't the person you find yourself as attracted to as she is to you, then you owe it to her to be clear about that. she will only get more attached the longer this go on. you are making it harder for her because it's convenient for you to enjoy the status quo and that is reprehensible.

read jessamyn's response. she writes about little compromises here and there, little differences ... all that small stuff usually ends up adding up. it get's worse and worse unless you decide right here and now that it's not an issue and that you do want this to work.

make a decision. either this person is the package, good and bad, that you want, or it is not. act upon that. not next month - now.

but to be honest you may just be too inherently shallow for this relationship
funny to read a line this judgmental in a response that advocates not being judgmental. this person concentrated on one aspect that irked him/her and ignored the larger issue.
posted by krautland at 6:14 PM on July 8, 2007

Here's the thing that I think you need to address head on that has been alluded to in the other (very comprehensive, well informed) comments: you are going to settle on some level, regardless of the relationship, if you choose to pursue a LTR or marriage because _every_ relationship involves a certain degree of compromise. Maybe it will help you to call a spade a spade, and just deal with the fact that there is nothing inherently wrong in settling and that most everyone does it to some small degree so that they can have lifelong relationships. Honestly, people very happily settle every day. It's called getting married. Most people get to a point where they find that having the comfort and stability a life partner settles their mind when the 'what ifs' come up. It's worth the tradeoff. The BBD (bigger better deal) will always be out there as an issue. It is for everyone. But sooner or later you get to an age, and date enough people, to get a strong enough handle on where you stand in the dating pool, to figure out who approximately you should be with and you just kind of pony up, and take what you have and try to make the best of it. And hey, a lot of folks are actually pretty psyched about it. But please GOD, do not stay with this (lemme guess - woman) if you're having these little moments of doubt and regret. "They" deserve better. If you haven't reached the a-ha moment yet, when you finally realize that she's the best you're gonna get, and you're happy and content with that, you've got to put the breaks on all the talk of futures and plans. You really need to get to a place where the BBD doesn't get at you so much and the way to do that is to date and wait. [And just because it's late and this post irritates me, OP, please ask yourself these questions when you're having one of your little internal conversations regarding whether she stops traffic: do you think YOU'RE really the foxiest thing she's ever laid eyes on? are you so sure that she's not struggling with exactly the same sort of shallow ridiculousness that you are but maybe she's just farther along on the relationship maturity curve than you?] (hee hee, woops, did I just really say that? :)
posted by smallstatic at 8:23 PM on July 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

jessamyn: I also had, and have, may other kindred spirit types in my life who have not been lovers and/or partners like that. It's worth also thinking about whether you can get some of the things you feel that you might be missing from other important people in your life. I used to call this my "distributed boyfriend" plan

Heh - my version of that was called "the virtual girlfriend project". I agree with jessamyn that it's not a bad idea to cultivate all kinds of relationships with people, each of whom can scratch one or more itches that your partner may not be able to reach.

I agree with jessamyn that it's not a bad idea to cultivate all kinds of relationships with people beyond the boundaries of your relationship, each of whom can scratch one or more (non-sexual) itches that your partner may not be able to reach.

As many people have pointed out, you are extremely unlikely to find the 100% perfect fit, so having others around who can fill in the gaps comes in very handy. To give a simple example, if you're a film noir buff, it would be nice if your SO was also into noir, but if not, who cares, as long as you have other friends you can share this passion with? The same goes for all kinds of interests & activities - the kinds of things that can tempt you to think that the grass is greener elsewhere.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:55 PM on July 8, 2007

1. If your feelings lead you to, essentially, come to the internet and say "my woman isn't conventionally attractive and that bothers me," you need to ask yourself what that says about your respect for her.

2. What I am seeing here is a conflict between your desire not to be shallow and what you may actually be feeling. I think that sometimes we get so caught up in not being bad people that we get confused about attraction and shallowness and how those things relate to our relationships, and we end up talking about how someone isn't our "ideal" when what we really mean is we're just not attracted to them and don't want to be honest with ourselves about the precise reasons for it, or even deal with those reasons and what they say about us. Unless you really, truly mean that you have some ideal person in your head and you're holding up your girlfriend to that ideal and, gosh, if they don't match up, it's enough of a problem that you need to sort it out. In which case, weird!

3. Are you hot for her? I think that's what it comes down to. When you see her naked, how does it make you feel? Do you have to get over your feelings about her appearance to have sex with her, or is it not really even an issue except when it comes to how you feel others perceive her?

I think that we all settle a little bit when it comes to choosing someone to spend our lives with, but I don't think that's sad--it's just kind of human, because we're all flawed in one way or another. I think it is sad, however, to stay with someone you don't respect and desire because of some kind of false nobility.

I think you need to sit down and ask yourself what your doubts are really about, and if you have realistic ideas about the way every single person in the world is fucked up to one degree or another, and how the grass is only going to be greener in some respects, but in other ways you might end up with someone with whom you're not compatible.
posted by hought20 at 5:59 AM on July 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Commitment is a big deal, and I think it's perfectly normal to freak out a bit at first. I went through some similar thought-processes this year as we bought our first home together.

It's like swimming in a river. You're pretty sure you want to, but you're wading in and it's so frikkin' cold, and it gets up to your thighs and oh man oh man oh man!!, but you keep going and you acclimatize and suddenly it's great. It's okay to freak out at first—it's a big change!

Are you ready for a commitment that big yet? Is your relationship ready for it? What if it doesn't work out? Is this really the person you thought you would be at this age, at this stage? All this time we've had vague notions of what we'll be like when we grow up, what it'll be like to find someone to settle down with, and now here they are in 3d and we do a double take and think "Oh. This person? Really? Oh!" And they're so real and flawed and not ideal, but they startle you with things that you never knew you were looking for.

You've already said that you and your partner have compatible approaches to life, that you find them attractive, that the sex is good, they're smart, they're into you, that you're kindred spirits. But you're thinking "Oh! This is what it's going to be like? I never even imagined!" and it is totally okay to take some time to adjust to that idea.

And sometimes you're not sure. Sometimes you've got to jump in, cold and all. I jumped in this year and it took a few months for my brain to stop freaking out, but now I'm finally learning what people mean when they say "you just know".
posted by heatherann at 10:14 AM on July 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

Follow up from the OP:

"do you think YOU'RE really the foxiest thing she's ever laid eyes on"

Um, this is part of the problem. They repeatedly tells me this, more
or less, which of course is part of the source of guilt. I want them
to be the sexiest in my eyes. I want everyone else to fade into the
gray, but I still find myself looking at other people from time to
time (not when we're together, obviously).

I really appreciated heatherann's comment, which probably matches my
current feelings most closely. I guess it's mostly that I still just
see myself as fairly young, and sometimes I think, "Is this it? Is
dating over, for my whole life? But there are still some cuties out
there!" But I really love this person and enjoy the time I spend with
them. I've been with people who I thought were "the one" in the past
and after being pretty consistently jilted it's a bit jarring to be
with someone who's at least as crazy about me as I am about them.

The answers I've found most helpful are the ones that pretty much
state the obvious -- that I'm going to have to "settle" anyway and
that in fact it isn't even settling really, and that whatever I might
miss out on by staying it this relationship far is nothing compared to
what I would lose out on if I gave up on a really great thing just
because the person who turned out to be "the one" is different than I

Thanks all. The good news is it will be months before we would have to
move in together anyway, so that gives me plenty of time to gather my
thoughts and reflect on the relationship
posted by jessamyn at 2:59 PM on July 9, 2007

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