When do you know you're doomed?
September 11, 2007 4:11 PM   Subscribe

Is it possible to save this relationship? 5 years and many tears later I need a little outside perspective. Long explanation inside, and please, I'm looking for honest opinion/advice, not just "You are/He is a jerk". Thanks.

So, I’ve been with my boyfriend almost 5 years. We have broken up and gotten back together more than a few times, the most recent being a 2-month separation in February of this year. There’s been some dishonesty, infidelity, and other nastiness in the relationship. Our most recent issues have to do with his unstable income. While he has never missed rent (we share a small apartment), he has had to borrow money from me to cover it and has then been pretty broke. I’m worried about the bills he’s not paying even though they are his personal bills and nothing that would affect me. He is a good person, he’s just unsure what to do to make a decent income and not require him abandoning his drive to film and edit for a living. Were both in our late 20’s and I can’t really see us getting married any time soon. That in itself doesn’t bother me (I’m not really concerned with convention), what bothers me is that if he asked me to marry him, I’d be really hesitant.
He’s not really affectionate and so over the years I’ve become less affectionate. These days we rarely kiss save the peck on my forehead every morning. Sometimes I watch him snuggling with the cat and wonder why he doesn’t do that to me. Our sex life isn’t dead, but I’m finding myself less and less interested in it.
I’ve spoken to him bout the distance, the emptiness between us that I feel; I mentioned to him that his struggle to find his way to financial security and a career is so involving, that I feel like worries about our relationship get put to the wayside. His response was that he doesn’t worry about the relationship, it either works or doesn’t. I replied that perhaps he should worry about it, that it’s important to think about whether or not your partner is happy, to which he replied that he’s content, and not doing anything wrong, so any problem I’m having has to do with me. So that’s where we are now.
I have trouble talking with him about this sort of thing because he tends to get really defensive and it dissolves into a back and forth of “Oh yeah, well, I only act like this because YOU already did this” despite my efforts to focus on what to do, or how we feel, not who did what.
I know you all aren’t psychiatrists, and I know this sort of thing is bets discussed with people close to you, but what I’m looking for from the hive mind is the voice(s) of experience, meaning, have you been through this and are we doomed? Have you known people in this situation, and if so did they make it through? How or why not?
I know I’m not happy, but I’m trying to figure out if it’s just the way things wane after 5 years and if it’s possible for me to be happy again.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (34 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You don't have a boyfriend. You have a semi-deadbeat roommate that you occasionally sleep with. He could very easily go down financially and take him down with you when/if he asks you to cover his part of the rent and then can't pay it back. Never mind what seems to be almost a complete lack of communication between the two of you.

I'm not downplaying whatever emotions you may have for each other, but what you've given me to work with, I'd say remember what a great thing you once had and move on.
posted by sephira at 4:26 PM on September 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

Is it possible to save this relationship?

It's possible to save any relationship, but both people have to not only want it, but work at saving it. This is not occurring with your relationship and it does not look like it will occur anytime soon.

Finally, you are responsible for your own happiness, not anyone else, so you it's possible for you to be happy again, you just have to decide what will make you happy and take the steps to do it. Good luck.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:37 PM on September 11, 2007

Yeah, this relationship is dead. Nowhere do you say, "I love him so much, especially [insert positive character trait here.]" You can, however, rattle off a list as long as your arm of some pretty serious issues you guys keep coming up against - money, commitment, communication, intimacy, and, well, just basically giving a shit about each other beyond the practical day to day mundane stuff from getting out of bed onward. And when you tell him you're not happy, he tells you it's your problem. That alone is a huge indicator of just how much he's invested in your relationship.

Break it off. You'll be better off.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 4:38 PM on September 11, 2007

You say you've broken up and gotten back together more than a few times. With few exceptions, that's generally not good: it means that some rational side of you sees that you really shouldn't be in this relationship. There are a number of reasons why you keep ending up together, which could possibly include (each case is different) one/both of you being insecure and feeling like this is the only relationship there is, the feeling that to let it go would be to throw 5 years of your life down the drain (if this is the way you think, don't try playing poker, you'll suck), fear of being alone and having to make all your own decisions, fear of hurting the other person (too much empathy), worry that the good times you had with the boyfriend will never be matched by any other man (not true)... the list goes on and on, and not one of these reasons is actually reasonable. Not one is actually a good reason to be in a relationship.

So realize that and break up. Then force yourself to stay away, to not return his calls, to get some real separation, so you won't be tempted to get back together. It won't be easy, but you need to do it.
posted by notswedish at 4:41 PM on September 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

It's over. Walk away. Simple as that.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 4:46 PM on September 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

I would never stay involved with someone who says, "he’s content, and not doing anything wrong, so any problem I’m having has to do with me."

A relationship is about both of you and if he's not willing to at least confront whatever issues you are concerned with then he's given up on the relationship. He's not even trying for goodness sake.
posted by advicepig at 4:48 PM on September 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

I replied that perhaps he should worry about it, that it’s important to think about whether or not your partner is happy, to which he replied that he’s content, and not doing anything wrong, so any problem I’m having has to do with me. So that’s where we are now.

And that is the crux of the matter; you have listed all of the reasons why the relationship is failing, but you are willing to try and fix it, while he is acting as if the relationship is not failing, and is not willing to discuss the possibility that he is wrong.

Further, if your portrayal is accurate and fair, I get the feeling that he can take or leave your relationship; that for him, you're a convenient means of avoiding loneliness and getting his bills paid when he's a little short. If he truly cared about you and your relationship, he would be worried about it ending, and so would have an awareness that things were bad -- or at least would obtain that awareness and respond accordingly when you brought up your concerns.

Instead, he says "either it's working or it isn't, and I'm okay with it", which translates to either "it's working for me but not for you, suck it up or move on" or "it's not working very well, but breaking up is too much trouble and effort, so I'll just keep on living my life without concern for you until you get fed up and leave."

In short: I don't think so. I'd move on if I were you.
posted by davejay at 4:50 PM on September 11, 2007

You don't have a boyfriend. You have a semi-deadbeat roommate that you occasionally sleep with
Yep. I agree. This is going nowhere and when you finally get out of it and find someone you really and truly love and who loves you back, you'll realize how much is lacking in this relationship. I have a problem with people that think that relationships are all about struggle and negotiation and compromise and working it out. Relationships can go through these phases but they're not what you should expect all the time and if that's all it is, you're only denying yourself the chance to move on and find a relationship that really does work for you. You guys don't talk, you don't express affection, you're frustrated and confused...what are you getting out of this? He needs to stop having you the financially stable, supportive pillar in his life so that he can find his own way and you need to look out for Number One.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 4:51 PM on September 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Of course it's possible to be happy again. Countless people have left unsatisfying relationships, endured a period (sometimes a long one) of sadness, loneliness, and doubt, and emerged happy on the other end (whether in a new relationship or not).

Personally, I coped with two difficult breakups back-to-back in my early and mid-30s with a couple of years in which I concentrated on my own personal and emotional well-being -- via travel, writing, taking classes, therapy, yoga, and cultivating new friendships with people who brought positive things to my life. All of this was the process by which I finally became basically happy with myself and my own life, for the first time I could remember.

And it was in that context that I met my boyfriend about 2 years ago, and we've been in the happiest relationship of either of our lives ever since. Obviously we would never have had the opportunity to meet had either of us played it safe and stayed in our previous unhappy relationships (and unhappy personal states).

All living involves a measure of risk. There aren't any guarantees. If you want to play it safe, you can, but it seems unlikely that you'll get any more happiness out of the situation than what you already wrung from it long ago. Finding happiness will involve taking a risk and making a change (hint: and there's no reason to think it's your boyfriend who will make it).

What's holding you back? Face whatever the fear is, any do it anyway.
posted by scody at 4:56 PM on September 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's a given that if you're asking this question to strangers on the net you pretty well know the answer but can't quite face up to it.

He's so semi-detached, I wouldn't mind betting that if he does get his career in films going and the money flows in, he'll leave you.
posted by londongeezer at 4:56 PM on September 11, 2007

"I know I'm not happy,"

And since it's not an "us" problem, and not "his" problem, then it's yours. You can only work through couple issues if both of you are into it. You both aren't. The conclusion should be obvious.

I see in him a bit of my wife's ex-husband. She was able to drag him to couple's counselling a few times in 7 years, but he didn't really care. He was happy coming home from work, say hi, eat dinner and then go to play on his flight simulator in his office (with the door closed) until 2am, then crawl into bed to go to sleep (I was living with them for the last few months of their marriage, so I know that this isn't a he said, she said situation). Then he'd wake up, and go off to work where he could happily say that he was married.

He was glad to be married; he just didn't care to whom. You boyfriend sounds like he's happy being in a relationship, he just doesn't care to whom. If you want someone to be involved with *you* instead of you being a place-filler in a relationship, you'll need to look elsewhere.

When she finally said divorce, he errupted with "I'll change" statements. Just like he did everytime she mentioned counselling. It's very easy to say you'll change. It's somewhat easy to change for a month. It's a lot harder to change permantently.

I'm not trying to make this a "he's a jerk" post; some girls would also be trilled with a place holder relationship. My wife and I aren't. It doesn't sound like you are either.
posted by nobeagle at 5:02 PM on September 11, 2007

Speaking from personal experiences, without going into detail, it does indeed sound to me like this relationship is over. The only positive thing you said about him is that he's a good person. I'm sure you want to date a good person. Do you also want to date a solvent person? An affectionate person? A person who takes your relationship seriously? None of that is too much to ask (or even very much to ask).

he’s just unsure what to do to make a decent income and not require him abandoning his drive to film and edit for a living

There are livings to be had in such things if he's got the initiative and talent to find one. If he's more artsy-fartsy about it, he should be reminded that artsy-fartsy people find day jobs specifically so they CAN pursue their art. In no case should mooching from you be a solution to any of it.

I hope this comes across as calm and reasonable. I'm not calling him a terrible person or exhorting you to run run run so you can save yourself. But yeah, calmly, realistically: he's not offering you much.
posted by scarabic at 5:03 PM on September 11, 2007

So you've gotten the impartial advice of the community already. No need to beat a dead horse. Instead, I'm going to pretend you're one of my friends, telling me this over coffee/booze depending on the time of day.

Honestly, what was so great about him in the first place? Is it still there? Really?

Why do you want to believe that this is a good relationship for you? What do you get to deny or avoid by staying with him? (worried sincere look in your eyes)

What drew you back to him after the breakups? Were you honest with yourself/was he honest with you when you decided to get back together? Uh huh. Really? Hmmm. (raising one eyebrow)

I don't care if you were unfaithful or he was, but something serious isn't working here. Why do you feel you deserve this guy? (hand on shoulder if we're close. Just lean in if we're not.)

I'm worried about you, girl. You know what you have to do and what you want out of life, and I'm not hearing a single thing that makes me believe he's it. I know that's not what you want to hear, but I know it's true.

So, let's order another round, you go home and give him two weeks to move out unless you're ready to give up the place. He was lucky to have you for as long as he did and he squandered it. Don't reward apathetic jerks anymore. That's bad karma for all girlkind.
posted by Gucky at 5:19 PM on September 11, 2007 [6 favorites]

What would you miss most about him? Why? If it isn't something very important and lasting, give it up. You're young to be this burned out. He's a financial weight and emotional ice cube. Unless there's something you're not telling us about his wit, his sense of humor, his gorgeous blue eyes, I'm not sure why you're hanging on.
posted by clarkstonian at 5:23 PM on September 11, 2007

While he has never missed rent (we share a small apartment), he has had to borrow money from me to cover it and has then been pretty broke.

Sounds like he HAS missed rent --- he made you pay it.

He is a good person, he’s just unsure what to do to make a decent income and not require him abandoning his drive to film and edit for a living.

Good lord. He's holding off on getting a decent job because he has a "drive to film and edit for a living," but he can't make a living at it?

I detect no pleasure or excitement concerning your relationship, in your question. Your situation sounds very depressing and miserable. You say, "I’m trying to figure out ... if it’s possible for me to be happy again." Yes, it is possible. This guy is dragging you down and disorienting you with a bad relationship, to the point that you're not sure whether you can be happy again. Leave him.
posted by jayder at 5:26 PM on September 11, 2007

Feh, you can be in a better relationship. It could be with him, but it doesn't sound like it's a very good fit. You're passing the time, is all. It's a habit.

A good relationship is a benefit to both parties. I think in any relationship where one or more participants has a hard time dredging up any motivation (more than temporarily; it happens to us all now and then), that's really your sign that you just don't have the right mix. Nobody's the MFA here, it's just clear that he's not feeling it and neither are you.

Move on. It's time.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:36 PM on September 11, 2007

You shouldn't be asking if you can save the relationship, by why you should even try. Of course it will be scary ending things and changing your life to live solo, but inertia and fear of change are pretty weak reasons to stay in a relationship.
posted by MCTDavid at 6:02 PM on September 11, 2007

It sounds like at some level you know what I am about to say:

I think you are throwing good money after bad, so to speak. I know it has happened to me, and I am sure that it has happened to others. It seems that you feel as though you have invested five years in this guy and you don't want to feel like those five years were wasted, so you stay with him. You feel like you have come this far, and leaving him would, at some level, amount to going back to square one and sacrificing all you have given to get this far.

It seems counterintuitive, but sometimes you have to take a few steps back in order to move forward. You know, sometimes when you prune the tree, it makes it healthier?

It sounds like you are at a point where you are asking yourself not, "is the relationship worth saving?" but "Can there be a life and/or relationship out there where the joy is greater than the sum of the pain of leaving this relationship plus the pain you have experienced in this relationship up to this point?"

I just want be a voice that answers the second question with a "Yes."

The issue really isn't whether or not the relationship can be saved. The issue is whether or not he is willing to change, and it does not sound like he is. The issue is whether or not you are truly interested in having a different kind of relationship than you do now, and whether or not you are willing to do the requisite work to make it so.

I wish you all the best, whatever you decide.
posted by 4ster at 6:20 PM on September 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Doesn't sound too promising. I'd also like to add that if he's serious about a career in film, he needs to move to L.A. or NYC, preferably L.A. I speak from experience. There are lots of well paying jobs out here, and, in the rest of the country, not so much.
posted by MythMaker at 6:23 PM on September 11, 2007

mmm, i think you know this relationship is over. the sooner you get out on your own again, the sooner you will be open to new possibilities of love, or just solo happiness.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:23 PM on September 11, 2007

I think you should leave, when it feels right to you. The good stuff in this relationship is on semi-permanent vacation and isn't likely to return in a state you'd accept or enjoy.

From personal experience I can tell you that relationships with the financially unstable can be incredibly unpleasant. He has a dream, isn't achieving it for whatever reason and you're bearing the load. Whether he "makes it" or not is irrelevant. Chemistry is key here and it seems like you lack it. Situation A, his ship comes in and you're not on it. Situation B, his ship never arrives and you're still not making dirty love on the docks.

Being poor in a relationship is painful when the love isn't there. Being poor in a loving and passionate relationship can feel like an awesome adventure, inspiring deep partnership. I've had both, and I prefer the latter.

Create an internal timeline. Start imagining what your life would be like if you could script it. Chances are, he's not in the picture.
posted by cior at 6:50 PM on September 11, 2007

Everyone needs to know what their limits are, and, unfortunately, it appears as if you don't know yours. You're not happy, you're not happy with his responses to your unhappiness, and yet... you don't do anything. You have put up with it so far, and you're still trying to know if you should put up more.

Well, I agree with the majority. However, I think you need to understand the importance of an ultimatum.

You sound as if you think things such as, "if only he'd just TRY! Then it would work!" or "If only he'd listen to me! Then it would work!" So, it seems like you need to offer him the ultimatum: either he starts trying to meet your concerns (see counselling, or something), then the relationship ends. And you have to mean it, really, entirely.

That will be what lets you know if your relationship has a leg to stand on, if there's any chance of it getting better. Until you give a real ultimatum, he'll never change. After you give a real ultimatum, either he accepts the possibility of change or you know it's time to move on.

Now, personally, from what you say, I'm willing to agree with everyone else that this guy is either a total loser or really just waiting for you to break up with him. So, don't expect him to meet the demands of your ultimatum, and don't make an ultimatum without being fully prepared to follow through.
posted by Ms. Saint at 6:52 PM on September 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

I replied that perhaps he should worry about it, that it’s important to think about whether or not your partner is happy, to which he replied that he’s content, and not doing anything wrong, so any problem I’m having has to do with me. So that’s where we are now.

This means that he doesn't love you. Move on.
posted by number9dream at 6:54 PM on September 11, 2007

I know I’m not happy, but I’m trying to figure out if it’s just the way things wane after 5 years and if it’s possible for me to be happy again.

Relationships wax and wane - some studies say that you only really get to the hard part of the relationship at around years 5-7. The first year(ish) is the super-happy-sunshine-rainbows chemicals, the next 4ish years are the cuddly-nesting chemicals, and after that ... you're on your own. So it is kind of normal for a relationship to feel like it's dying around the 5-year mark. The '7-year itch' is not really a myth, either.

I must say, from your description ... you've hit the end of that road. You guys don't even sound like friends, let alone romantically involved. Heck, it sounds like you share less physical affection than I share with my totally platonic friends.

Speaking of which ...

His response was that he doesn’t worry about the relationship, it either works or doesn’t. I replied that perhaps he should worry about it, that it’s important to think about whether or not your partner is happy, to which he replied that he’s content, and not doing anything wrong, so any problem I’m having has to do with me.

I have higher standards of friendship, as do most of the people I'm friends with. Generally speaking, there is concern if you've upset a friend, to try and make it right. In a closer relationship - good friends, best friends, partners, lovers - this is exponentially more important. Any relationship takes two; that statement above sounds like only one. You can't rescue a relationship alone - it's simply not possible.

Basically, this relationship, as you've described, sounds to me like roommates-with-benefits. And hey, if that's what works for you, that's cool. But it obviously isn't working for you - you sound like you need financial solvency, affection, and interaction with a partner. This is not a bad thing.

My advice? Get out of your comfort zone. Break up with the guy, and find someone who actually fufills your needs, and is willing to actually partner you, instead of just coasting along on past glories.
posted by ysabet at 7:06 PM on September 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Yep, it's over, you're done. Neither of you are (necessarily) jerks, but your relationship has fizzled out. It really doesn't sound like there's anything left there - you probably both need a kick in the ass to go find what you really want out of life.
posted by crabintheocean at 7:16 PM on September 11, 2007

It appears to me that the real question here is not whether you should break up with your boyfriend - it sounds like you've already answered that question with a "yes," repeatedly over the last several years. The question is why you keep getting back together with him? Because if you break up with him again that's the one you're going to have to crack.

but I’m trying to figure out if it’s just the way things wane after 5 years

No. I've been with my wife over ten years. We are physically affectionate every day. If she is unhappy in some aspect of our relationship I consider it to be my problem regardless of how I feel about that particular. I consider the maintenance and improvement of our relationship to be a lifelong priority as well as something I want to do and value in itself. I don't think I'm a perfect husband or that I have a perfect relationship but I can't imagine settling for what you describe. It sounds to me like the only thing driving your relationship is inertia.
posted by nanojath at 8:59 PM on September 11, 2007

Dishonesty. Infidelity. Financial Instability.

You're starved for affection, your sex life sucks, the cat gets more cuddling than you do, and he doesn't care that you're unhappy?

These are not things that build a happy life.

Detach yourself from this soul-sucking relationship and find something that builds you up.
posted by eleyna at 10:54 PM on September 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have been through this and you are doomed. Don't waste any more of your time or energy on this relationship. I wasted 23 years of my life on someone like you have described and there is nothing you can do to change the asshole. It won't get better. It's not you, it's him. Get out NOW. I'm not kidding. There is someone out there who will love you exactly the way you are and will show it. If you're not happy now, you certainly won't be in the future. Please believe me.
posted by wv kay in ga at 11:08 PM on September 11, 2007

Nthing everyone who says to get out. Think about your future and write a little personal ad just for you. Your current ad seems to read like this:

:: Low-self-esteeming person seeks "relationship": willing to pay bills, forgo affection/fidelity, and offer loads of support for basically teenage, dependent lifestyle. Will accept burden of upholding relationship and ask for only barest minimum in return. (Must love cats.) ::

Is this what you -- or anyone -- deserves?

Please rewrite this statement and see that this guy will never, ever live up to the bare fundamentals of what a good relationship is. Please move on.

But even more, ask yourself why you have become a person for whom the above personal ad is all you're asking for. Wishing and hoping don't fix people or bring you better ones. At some point you need to ditch the people who consistently bring you down and treat you like dirt, whether they're friends or anyone else. And work on why you attract such energy suckers and feel the need to support them in their shoddy treatment of you. (Sorry -- because you're accepting such bad behavior in your closest relationship, it's likely that he's not the only loser in your life.)

I've been married for 5 years, together for 7, to the best man ever. We're very different in many ways, but we are committed to keeping our relationship moving from good to better to best, even at the very worst of times. We can't wait to see each other at the end of the day.

What we have was worth not just waiting for, but actively pursuing until we found it. Leave, and don't look back, except to say "Never again."
posted by mdiskin at 1:06 AM on September 12, 2007

Okay, you're not happy, and he won't work with you to change that. That means that you will continue to be not-happy.

Standard question that I ask others in "I'm not happy with [insert name, job, etc]. What should I do?" :

Imagine you are in this exact same place 5 years from now. Things, and the way you feel about them, have not changed. How do you feel about that? Is that okay?

You know what to do.
posted by Flakypastry at 4:46 AM on September 12, 2007

As others up thread have pointed out, you haven't actually written anything up thread that would indicate why you should stay with him. Does he have a long list of positive traits that you neglected to mention?

After 5 years with someone you should like them more, not less.
posted by chunking express at 7:17 AM on September 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Instead of gajillion-th-ing the above, let me add another observation:

You're not happy, and when you tell him, he tells you he's not happy either. He only does X because you do Y. You do Y because he does Z. It is a complicated, complicated entanglement that will not get better without the honesty needed to completely start over.

The on-again, off-again thing probably exacerbates this. I was in a relationship like this, and it was draining -- because I never knew why we got back together. If I was brutally honest I knew why I got back together, but we were both so protective of our feelings around each other that we never talked about it.

And that's the crux of the problem: you've been hurting each other for years, and not making each other feel good enough to forgive, and maybe close off a little bit in order to stay together. Regular couples hurt each other, too, but can recover from it. In my relationship, the grievances piled up, and we closed off because that was the only way to stay together.

My relationship ended poorly, but looking back it definitely couldn't have gone on. I cringe when I think of the awful crap we pulled on each other, all of it designed so that "I get hurt less in the future." I wish that we had broken up earlier both for my own sanity and because I regret hurting her (and to avoid such a nasty breakup, too).

I don't know what it would have taken to recover. Some kind of sitdown where we both had superhuman abilities to be honest with each other and forgive. Memory wipe. Or frontal lobotomy.
posted by FuManchu at 8:20 AM on September 12, 2007

Break up. Today.
posted by history is a weapon at 9:28 AM on September 12, 2007

Dont feel bad you are not alone I have just recently broken up with someone like that. I still don't know if I did the right thing ? I seem to have and only remember the good things which I am not sure even were real maybe just in my head.
posted by tryingzen at 8:11 AM on September 17, 2007

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