Commit or break up?
October 31, 2007 9:40 PM   Subscribe

Shit a ring or get off the relationship pot? Warning: very long.

Ok, I've read the previous 2 years of ask mefi questions tagged with 'love'. Most (not all) of those are about younger people or married people or they are 'who do I choose?' questions--not exactly my situation. I still need some outside perspective. I really appreciate it because I'm going crazy with indecision. Again, warning: long.

I'm in a 2+ year relationship. We're in our mid-30s. We both want to start a family soon and get married and buy a house and settle down. The question is whether we should do that with each other. She has been ready to marry me for a year, but I am feeling unsure. She is feeling lots of biological clock pressure, which I am very sympathetic towards. There are many great things about the relationship, and, in general, it has gotten better and better over time. But I still have questions about it too.

First year of the relationship: When we first started dating, I was depressed and just starting to try anti-depressants (which eventually worked) and had a lot of horribly stressful issues from work that lasted the whole year. We fought a lot. This was in part due to my depression and in part because she was raised in an insanely critical family and her parents never reliably protected her from others, including her siblings who hit her a lot. So she was/is incredibly sensitive and defensive (she's working on that with some real success, but it's an ingrained instinct). But there were plenty of good times, too. Second year: the relationship became cross-country long distance b/c I got a one-year job somewhere else and wasn't ready to propose, so she wasn't ready to move with me. I tried to break up with her 2 months after moving down, but she convinced me to stay together. Now: I have a new job in a different town, she did move with me to this small town, she wants a ring and a baby ASAP. She is in a hard situation. She gave up a lot to come here without a committment from me. I know that I'm extending this situation through my inaction, and I feel awful, and she is depressed and crying a lot, and we're in a new town and don't really know anyone. She did just get a job here, however, which should help her mood. Part of my point here is that the relationship was born in an unusually stressful and unsettled situation, and that might have helped prevent the blissful start that some relationships have. So far, we have not had any period that felt settled or permanent.

The month before we moved to our current location, she was horrible and screamed at me a lot. In her calmer moments, she recognized this and attributed it to anxiety about leaving house, town, job, and family, and these issues were/are very real and reasonable. But I started to have doubts about us and at the end of the summer I asked her if she really wanted to come down with me. She said, 'I am not acting like myself. I think I'm having problems about leaving that are making me act crazy. I think these will pass. If you love me, yes, I want to come down with you.' I said, 'I do love you, but I don't know whether we are meant for each other long-term. I have some doubts about whether our issues can be solved. But I want this to work. If you want to come down to see how it works out, and try to solve our problems, I'm willing to try as hard as I can to do that.' I told her that if she needed more committment than that before she would come down, I understood. She decided to come and we are living together for the first time.

The pros of the relationship: I love her. I can totally see building a comfortable life with her. We have the same social values, financial stability, general life goals, attitudes towards money, attitudes towards religion, taste in houses, enjoy talking about politics, same sense of humor, we can get along with each other's families, like each other's friends. I think we could work out any parenting issues. And, importantly, we are both willing to continue putting a lot of work into improving the relationship. Also, she is willing to prioritize my career over hers in terms of where we live, with some veto power for her, and I would obviously consider her opinion a lot. But she'd give up a job (she's a laywer) so I could get a better job for me. I'm in a field where moving up will require moving locations, so that's a very big deal for me.

The cons: With some frequency, we get into petty arguments. Sometimes, things that should be easy and relaxing aren't. Sometimes I don't feel like she gets or responds to my emotions because she will continue pressing some stupid point even when I'm getting upset about it, and she sometimes feels that I don't understand her. We have different styles of communication and that can make things hard. We are both naturally dominant conversationally, so we sometimes feel like we're fighting for airtime. This has improved a LOT since the beginning, but it still sometimes nags at me. I feel (in a huge generalization/oversimplification) like a lot of couples have one dominant and one submissive person roles that make this sort of thing easier, but we each have trouble letting go sometimes. If we are disagreeing about where to go to dinner, neither of us cares a lot, and we don't want to fight, but we each wrestle with enjoying our preference and letting the other person get what they want. So this creates an annoying back-and-forth in which one says, 'where should we go for dinner' and the other says 'oh, we can do whatever you want' and the other says, 'well, how about X? do you want to go to X?' and then 'Well, I prefer Y, but X is fine' and then 'well, we don't have to go to X, we can go to Y' and then 'are you sure? X is ok' and then, 'well, I guess I do want to go to X' and then, 'but I am sort of in the mood for Y, I can't really find anything I like at X' and then 'what about dish Z? You'd like that' and then 'no, I don't like mushrooms' and then the argument starts. I let it go/give in a lot more often, but that creates some resentment over time. She frequently wrongly assumes that I'm criticizing her when I'm not (b/c of her family history) or that I'm upset about something just because I mention it, and I have to clarify my intentions a lot, but sometimes it comes too late and the argument has started. This has improved a lot over time but still happens when we're stressed.

Also, I am much more sexual than she is (this has been consistent over the whole relationship), in terms of frequency, general touchy-feely affection, and simple open-mindedness towards enjoying sex. We do have sex and we both enjoy it, but frequency is off (1:3 ratio) and she has trouble doing any sexual things for me when she's not feeling it. Also, we have diferent dispositions. She's totally outdoorsy and I'm more domestic. When we disagree on what to do, she'd rather we each do our own thing independently and I'd rather compromise or take turns to find ways to do things together. We have found some sorts of compromise, but sometimes I feel like she wishes I were different. If I agree to go on a hike with her, she might get upset on the hike because I'm not enjoying it enough and that means that I may refuse to go on hikes in the future or that I'm not who she imagined that she would be with at this point in her life. I often point out that she is getting upset because of some speculative concern about the future rather than focusing on the here-and-now. She usually agrees upon reflection, but it's a chore to remind her that I don't suck because hikes aren't my favorite thing. Finally, I don't feel a strong passion or spark. Even though she tells me she feels passionate towards me, I don't often feel that from her. There are times when we're together that I do feel a sweet emotional bond, and sometimes when that goes a few days in a row, I start to work up the gumption to propose. But then she'll act in a very insensitive way and I'll retreat. To complicate things, I'm not sure I've ever felt a spark like that past my first relationship. I can't really tell if my feelings are just how I am at this stage in my life or if it means that I'm not really in love and should leave to try to find someone new. Maybe I'm rationalizing not having the spark, and it's actually a really important indicator. I can't tell at this point. It's also hard because she's having such a tough time right now that she's not at her maximum appeal. It's hard to feel passionately attracted to someone who's constantly crying.

The macro/lifestyle things are all there, and some of the personal things are there, but some aren't. Some can be improved, and maybe some can't. We have done some counseling, and we are both in therapy--I've been in for a while and she just started a few weeks ago (she resisted for a long time). But I don't think the relationship will improve in the short term from its current state without me proposing because the longer things go on, the more stressed she becomes, and with good reason. Things are particularly hard now because she is really getting depressed and crying frequently. I feel awful about this. I have always been very honest with her regarding my feelings, so please don't beat me up for leading her on. (Reading some of the harsh answers to earlier questions was rough! Please remember that I am asking for help, not a smack in the face.) I also must admit a concern about finding someone else if we break up, because I can't really choose my geography due to my job, and I might stay in this small town where dating prospects are potentially slim.

I need to decide very soon whether to propose or break up. I am feeling sad. This is not where I wanted to be at this point in my life. I always imagined that I would propose to someone I was madly and unquestionably in love with. Part of me thinks, if you don't feel ready, you aren't ready. But breaking up feels wrong (not morally, but wrong in my gut). I don't want to lose something that could be really good based on an unrealistic fantasy of what love is but I also don't want to settle for something if I won't be happy long-term. We are not a natural fit and the relationship is work. We are working on it and it is improving but I can't tell if it is supposed to be this hard. We have these petty fights or conflicts about every other day at this point. They used to last hours. Now they are often over quickly or we are able to prevent them from escalating. I care about her and don't want to lose that.

She tells me that she thinks she is unconsciously holding back because she has not gotten a commitment from me. She says that sometimes she knows what I want but can't get herself to do it because she is trying to protect herself from being taken advantage of. She feels bad about this but is at the end of her rope and based on all of the factors, doesn't have more to give at this point. I believe these things are true. I believe that these areas will improve if I propose.

If I propose, she will really want to get married and try to start a family very soon, because of the biological clock and her concerns about fertility (I know people can conceive later these days, but I don't want more information on that right now). This raises the stakes for me because I do not want my child to have divorced parents.

Please help.

Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (59 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Get off the relationship pot. You sound more like you want out of this relationship than you want in it.

Also, thinking that things will improve if you propose is a bad bet in my book.
posted by Squee at 9:55 PM on October 31, 2007 [2 favorites]

I read your question three times, and honestly, I can't see one good reason in there for you to propose. I can see lots of bad reasons why you think you might have to, and that right there is a recipe for disaster. Not to mention, you already seem to have no problem envisioning the real possibility of a future in which marriage to her would ultimately fail. It sounds like no matter how much you two want the same stuff (getting married, settling down, etc) the worst person each of you could do that with is the other one of you. You've gotta come clean with her before you drag this along too much longer.
posted by brain cloud at 9:59 PM on October 31, 2007

It sounds like she wants A Ring more than she wants a relationship. And you don't. She wants 2.3 kids, and you want the kids for themselves. But this is a remark from a person that read about your relationship in a one page exerpt from the Internet.

Don't feel guilty about it though.
posted by kellyblah at 10:06 PM on October 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

It seems that you have taken positive actions towards solving the issues (counseling) and that you do care for each other.

While I think it's fine for couples to have different interests, for the both of you this seems to be another source of conflict.

The petty fighting and conflict - although it has improved - is a warning sign. It shows that you aren't able to communicate how you feel about things, and are probably a means of avoiding the big issues which are playing on your minds.

I would suggest even perhaps a trial separation to see how being apart makes you both feel. After only 2 years you really don't have to be at an ultimatum point biological clock or no.

Also you mention you are in a small town with little dating prospects. Don't let this affect your decision in regards to staying in the relationship because you don't want to be alone.
posted by gomichild at 10:08 PM on October 31, 2007

First of all, I think you should stop going to therapy. You sound like a very sane, normal person who has got their head screwed on correctly. There is no need to waste your money on that. About this choice you've got: Both paths will probably turn out okay, because your head is screwed on, but for me these two little details are the clichers: 1) you're fighting every couple of days. It doesn't matter how much therapy you get, you'll probably be fighting every couple of days until the day one of your pops off. Who needs it? You should break up and find someone who you don't fight with so often - like every two weeks. And 2) it's hard to feel passionately attracted to someone who's constantly crying. Go and find someone who you can feel passionately attracted to who isn't crying. They are out there.
posted by dydecker at 10:10 PM on October 31, 2007

Let me edit your question.
But I don't think the relationship will improve in the short term from its current state without me proposing

HOLD ON. Do you think that proposing and marriage will improve the relationship all by itself? You know it won't. Proposing comes down, on your side, to "Do you want to get married to her?" If so, then commit and especially commit to solving the problems.

But if you see proposing as the solution, and some elixir that will end the instability of your relationship, it ain't gonna happen. If you think she sees things that way, well, that's where you need to start talking.

Keep in mind that any relationship, proposal or marriage certificate in hand notwithstanding, requires work. The crux of your problem seems to be a mismatch between your views on how much commitment and what kind is necessary in a relationship. Open up communication about that, but without some of the fraught implications of answering. I think you're both afraid to be honest with each other right now because you fear that if you are you'll lose what you have.

But if you're able to have that honest, open conversation where you reveal to each other that you have incompatible visions of this relationship, well, then you've just freed each other up from spending more psychic energy trying to make the impossible work.
posted by dhartung at 10:11 PM on October 31, 2007 [5 favorites]

I don't know if you should break up, but you can't propose right now. A proposal shouldn't be born out of the toxic cesspool you two have going on right now. You need more time. Maybe she can't give it to right now, in which case, maybe you two should break up to get a little distance and see how you feel. Some friends of mine did the on/off thing for years (10, I think), and somehow they worked through everything and I was a guest at their beautiful wedding. Whether that ending will be yours, I don't know. But you can't let her behavior right now influence your actions, or you'll be giving in to temper tantrums for the rest of your life.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:16 PM on October 31, 2007 [2 favorites]

I need to decide very soon whether to propose or break up.

This needs to be discussed. In therapy. This deadline is the problem. Some working out of things will have to happen before you guys are ready for marriage. We are talking months, not years. The therapy needs to continue.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:27 PM on October 31, 2007

Proposing as a fix is a bad, bad idea.

If the relationship has brokeness, a ring won't fix that. And if it does *seem* to fix it ... that's a bit of a red flag right there.

Based on what you've said ... give it at least a few months. You're undergoing a lifestyle change, and now is not a good time to make a decision on this.
posted by ysabet at 11:06 PM on October 31, 2007

Oh dear.

Look, this isn't me yelling at you. You sound like a nice guy.

You also sound like a guy who let himself get emotionally blackmailed into a situation where he's now stuck between "Marry someone I don't want to marry" and "Dump someone fragile who changed her life to come with me because I told her I wanted her to come with me."

I'm not going to be all AskMe Regular Flavor about this and let you off the hook completely and act like you're a huge victim here. I think you made a pretty serious error in not being 100% straight with her. (You're that couple where you say "I just don't know how much of a future we have", and she starts crying, and you panic and back down and reassure her that you have tons of future, tons! Right?)

But you do not want to marry this woman. Almost nothing about your relationship that is currently difficult will magically improve when you get married. Yes, probably your girlfriend will feel safer and more secure. But you won't suddenly fall deeply in love with her, she won't suddenly want to have tons of sex, you'll still be bothered that you don't like to do the same things.

Put it this way. Which of the following would you rather hear?

1) "I wasted my early thirties on you, you jerk!"
2) "I wasted my thirties and forties and fifties on you, and now we're stuck with each other for life - even if we go through with the divorce - because we have kids and a mortgage and a cabin by the lake. Thanks a lot."

Neither of you are ancient. You're not each other's last chance. Someday you'll meet someone you really do want to marry, and you'll know without asking anyone for tips. You'll know.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 11:10 PM on October 31, 2007 [12 favorites]

Proposing is NEVER a way to solve a problem. Those problems will increase tenfold after marriage, if it even gets that far. Never mind the kids you might have.

The whole scenario about choosing a place to eat reeks of two people who are on a first date and are on their best behavior. For two people who have been together for two years, you should both be a little more in sync about compromise without it becoming an issue.

The pros of the relationship: I love her. I can totally see building a comfortable life with her. We have the same social values, financial stability, general life goals, attitudes towards money, attitudes towards religion, taste in houses, enjoy talking about politics, same sense of humor, we can get along with each other's families, like each other's friends.

You just described many of my friendships. I don't mean to trivialize your relationship, but your pros aren't exactly decsribing a relationship that should lead to marriage. The sexual differences, the fact that you can't find a common ground to communicate with each other, the fact that you go around in circles. Sometimes that works for people, but the fact that you're even writing this question makes me think that you know the two of you are not compatible in the really important things.

At this point, I think you want to break up, but you don't want to deal with the guilt and pain it will cause (your gut). That's valid, but it won't do either of you any good in the long run. She's an adult who made her own decision about moving to be with you. Do not stay in this relationship only because you're afraid of how little fish are in the sea.
posted by firevoice at 11:20 PM on October 31, 2007

Rather: do not stay in this relationship only because you're afraid of how few fish you think there are in the sea.
posted by firevoice at 11:27 PM on October 31, 2007

It sounds to me like you think life with her would probably work out, but that you worry about certain wild cards you've seen (her occasionally "being horrible and screaming" at you, or deciding you're a bad person because you have different interests). I'd recommend you not override those doubts just because she wants you to propose now.

It strikes me as odd that you feel like you need to make a decision for the two of you. Her urgency is ultimately her own crisis to resolve. I know, love is messy, but in an ideal world, I'd like to hear about her saying, "Hey anon, I'm freaking out about my biological clock and can't wait much longer. If we don't get committed in four months, I think I'll have to cut bait."

The way I see it: you sincerely don't know what you want (and that's okay), and she wants you to know. Well, unfortunately, just because she wants you to know doesn't mean you suddenly you know. Maybe you should break this fact to her and gently put the ball in her court: "Betty, I know the pressure you feel about the future. But for me, now is not a good time to make a serious decision. The move has made things crazy. If we were to get engaged now, for me it'd be out of panic and chaos, rather than out of a solid love and readiness to make that permanent. I can't do it that way."

"But I'm really worried about you crying so much. It is hard to see you so unhappy. What do you want to do? Do you want to stay and try to build a more stable life here? Or is it just too hard for you?" I'm not suggesting you become callous to her pain, just that you directly say "No, not now" so she can hear that and decide what to do about it.

FYI, moving is very hard, and moving to be with someone (what she did) can create exactly this desperation you describe, even without the biological clock issues. It's not your fault, it's just the way the world works. I'd try to get your lives more stable before making a decision.
posted by salvia at 11:44 PM on October 31, 2007 [3 favorites]

I got married last December in a last ditch effort to "fix" a broken relationship. It is now 10 months later and we're filing for divorce. I can guarantee you that any doubts you're having now will be magnified tenfold after you've made it official.

Get out now before the courts (and, heaven forbid, a CHILD) have to get involved. Yeah, it's going to hurt... but it's going to hurt a hell of a lot less now than it will later on down the line.
posted by MiaWallace at 11:55 PM on October 31, 2007 [2 favorites]

Uh, you could ask yourself, will this person be the kind of mother I want my kids to have? I think the answer to that is pretty obvious.
posted by b33j at 12:05 AM on November 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

This question didn't need the [more inside] part. The opener ("shit a ring or get off the pot?") says enough. That's not a slam against the OP- marriage is hard, and if you aren't crazy nuts about the person going into it, you shouldn't go into it at all.

Breaking up may seem daunting, but it's better than the alternatives.
posted by ambrosia at 12:20 AM on November 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

she was horrible and screamed at me a lot.
it's a chore to remind her that I don't suck
she'll act in a very insensitive way

This sounds really sucky for you, and possibly borderline abusive. I would suggest breaking it off.

She has a job, she should be fine financially.

Yeah, her biological clock is ticking and all that, but she's not at a mental place to have a child anyway, so who cares if you're willing to marry her?

If you were smart you would delay having a child anyway, until she's not crying all the time.

Good luck, I know this is hard.
posted by sondrialiac at 12:26 AM on November 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Just to echo what you're already hearing, nothing in post suggests you want to get married or that it wouldn't eventually end badly if you did. So call it off ASAP. Yeah, you'll be an ass in the short term and she'll be pissed but at least you won't be stuck with a bad relationship for the rest of your lives and you'll both be free to move onto to something more positive.
posted by 6550 at 1:23 AM on November 1, 2007

I know that I'm extending this situation through my inaction,

Yes poster you are, and it is not fair on either of you to do that.
I get that she has issues but saying that there is a perception that these issues will magically disappear once there is some commitment is lah-lah land. They won't.
posted by Wilder at 1:54 AM on November 1, 2007

This raises the stakes for me because I do not want my child to have divorced parents

Sounds like you've already made up your mind about this one.
posted by narrativium at 2:05 AM on November 1, 2007

If you marry someone out of feeling pressured, you'll only resent her, possibly forever. That's not fair to either of you.
posted by wayward vagabond at 2:06 AM on November 1, 2007

Break up ASAP.

Either you'll go running to her or she to you and realize you two just want to be together and the petty BS really doesn't matter or you'll one or both of you will move on.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:26 AM on November 1, 2007

Never propose unless doing so is a complete no-brainer.

Same goes for making children.
posted by flabdablet at 3:24 AM on November 1, 2007 [3 favorites]

"Shit of get off the pot" precisely describes how I decided to get married the first time. Three years later, we were divorced. No kid, thankfully. Looking back I can see that framing the decision in those terms carried the implication that it was somehow my job or duty to stand by the girl, making the decision about whether to marry into a sort of how-strong-is-my-work-ethic thing. I can also see that thinking in these terms (a la Sheryl Crow, am I strong enough to be her man?) saved me from having to acknowledge that I'd stopped enjoying being around her.

That said, my second marriage hasn't been easy and fluid in a storybook kind of way. It's work, but I have a partner now; not a job.
posted by jon1270 at 3:32 AM on November 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

I had a friend in a somewhat similar situation -- late 20s, in a multi-year relationship that the woman clearly wanted to lead to marriage, he wasn't sure. She waited for him for 3 years while he was mostly overseas, etc. Lots of pressure to "not be a jerk" given that she had waited for him.

I said to him this -- if the woman makes you happy, propose to her and I will be the first person at your wedding to raise a toast and say how great it is to see the two of you together. In contrast, if the thought of spending the rest of your life with her does immediately fill you with great joy, then you owe to her and to yourself to break up with her now. Yes, she is going to be devastated and will probably tell her friends you led her on and you're an asshole. In fact, that's probably true. But a little humility for you and guilt about making her feel bad is nothing compared to the misery of being married to someone you are not happy with.

My friend broke up with her. Was very painful. Doesn't regret it.

So, strip away all the long paragraphs you wrote above and ask yourself this -- does the thought of spending your life with this woman either fill you happiness or raise a sense of dejectedness/acceptance? Depending on the answer, you know what to do.

Good luck.
posted by modernnomad at 3:38 AM on November 1, 2007

Oh, shit!

Get off the pot!
posted by kmennie at 3:38 AM on November 1, 2007

(clearly my 2nd paragraph above should read "... rest of your life does NOT immediately fill you...")
posted by modernnomad at 3:39 AM on November 1, 2007

if you think your only options are to marry or break up, then break up. honestly, the fact that it's on the table right now shows you're just not ready for this relationship, and it would be a kindness to let her go and find someone to have children with before the biological clock stops ticking.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:21 AM on November 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Never propose unless doing so is a complete no-brainer.

I have to disagree with this -- I, and most people I know, had huge doubts and worries before taking such a big step. Even without some of the issues in the question above, it can be hard to be 100% sure about saying "I do." What if you meet someone better tomorrow? What if things don't work out and you get a divorce? What if it would be better to wait a year? These worries are not trivial, and are really, really normal. The key, I think, is figuring out which are real, substantive issues ("we fight all the time and that makes me unhappy") and which are not such a big deal at all ("what if aliens abduct me three decades from now?").

We are not a natural fit and the relationship is work.

This, to me, is the key sentence in the entire question. I've had this relationship, and it lasted for years, and we probably argued every three days for that entire time. With the benefit of hindsight, two things are clear: One, we weren't making each other happy, and we should have broken up long before, because there was nothing so special in being together that warranted such unhappiness. Two, that it wasn't some deep incompatibility or lack of love that was causing the arguments -- it was our not having basic relationship skills like knowing how to resolve conflict, etc. I don't want to falsely claim that everything is perfect in my current relationship, but it emphatically feels like a partnership first and foremost; we have learned how to talk without arguing, and to argue without hurting. But these are learned skills, not some inherent awesomeness that only me and my partner have -- had I figured this stuff out years ago, I'd probably still be with that other person.

Who knows, really -- all we have to go on here is a one-page description written by one party to the issue -- but I'm willing to bet that your situation is the same. You guys are really compatible, and you have a lot of affection for each other. But you are engaging in a cycle of behaviors that are causing great damage to your relationship. I am emphasizing the word "behaviors" because it is what you are doing, not who you are, that is causing the problem. It is easy for me to say (and much harder to be the person who has to actually do it) but what you need to do is to drastically change many of the things you do, and relearn how to be in a relationship.

And really, I'm saying "you" singular -- you can't control what she does, but you can make sure that in every interaction, every day, every hour, you are taking the high road, and always doing things that make the relationship stronger instead of weaker. What you need to ask yourself -- before you open your mouth, before you decide what to do -- is "will this benefit or strengthen our partnership?"

So instead of getting into a passive-aggressive argument about where to eat dinner, what would happen if you thought about it differently, as an opportunity to strengthen the relationship -- what if you focused on choosing the place that would make her happy, even if you have to eat something that you don't love? I don't mean that you need to always be the sacrificer, but rather part of making this work is changing the key word from "I" to "we" -- not, what will make me happy, but rather, what will make us happy?

To summarize: If you aren't going to change any of your behaviors, you need to break up, because what you are doing now isn't making anyone happy, and doing more of it won't change the results. But if you do change your actions, you might find yourself getting different results, and you might find yourself with a pretty good relationship, worth a marriage and good for children.
posted by Forktine at 5:03 AM on November 1, 2007 [5 favorites]

I agree with Forktine that you need to consider behaviors as behaviors rather than signs about the future. I also agree with jon1270 that you want a partner that realizes what it takes to make a relationship work. Its hard to read what kind of a person she is. Only you know if she is the mature partner that could make it work. But if she is committed to happiness with you she might become that anyway. This has cropped up in other of the Mefi posts about this topic, but I think its worth rereading. John Gottman has made an extensive study of what makes relationships work. His latest The Relationship Cure is fascinating about the very basic elements that make a relationship (romantic and others) work or not. His older The 7 secrets of making marriages work is also worth looking into. His big claim to fame was that he could mathematically predict which couples would divorce with > 95% accuracy by observing them having a short fight. This might give both of you further insight into where you are and what you could do.
posted by blueyellow at 5:35 AM on November 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's hard for me to understand why, in the year 2007, (some) men think it's up to them to propose marriage and (some) women wait for the guy. You are two adults and a decision as huge as that should be mutual. Instead of a bended knee and a diamond ring, how about couples' counseling?
posted by Carol Anne at 5:41 AM on November 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

I only skimmed the huge post you wrote, and here's what I have to say. I'm 32, just ended a relationship that had much fewer problems than the one you describe (and one that I also went back and forth for a long time about whether I wanted to end it), and I know I absolutely made the right decision.

Here's what it comes down to: If you have to write pages and pages trying to convince yourself that you want to marry her... you shouldn't marry her. End of story.
posted by MsMolly at 5:52 AM on November 1, 2007

On the skills/behaviors end of things, I highly recommend Getting the Love You Want. The first 2/3 of the book provides a simple framework for understanding why people behave the way they do within relationships, how we get into these insoluble power struggles. The last third of the book is a series of simple exercises, to be done over the course of a few months, which help each partner develop insights into their own behaviors, and also teach some wonderful skills. I'm worried, however, that your girl is so fixated on the married-with-kids fantasy that she may not be willing to accept that life may not turn out exactly the way she's dreamed of it, that she may have something to learn. If she's got a script and wants you to play a preconcieved role, I can't imagine it lasting.
posted by jon1270 at 5:59 AM on November 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

She tells me that she thinks she is unconsciously holding back because she has not gotten a commitment from me. She says that sometimes she knows what I want but can't get herself to do it because she is trying to protect herself from being taken advantage of.

This is kind of a catch-22, isn't it? She won't fully commit until you do first, and you're hesitant to commit (with a ring) until she does it first by ending this "holding back" thing.

I just point this out because it seems like you've accepted the framing of this issue as her waiting around for you to make a decision about committing or not committing. But the truth is, she's also making a decision about waiting to commit here.

I don't feel particularly qualified to tell you whether it'd be worth it for you to just jump in first and commit so that she could too. But I do think that you should think a bit about why it is that she's positioning herself as the passive one who has to wait for you to make the decision to commit, and why you're accepting that as valid. It must be incredible painful to watch someone you love be miserable and feel like it's your actions that can fix it, if you can just force yourself to do it--in fact, I could see where that would make you feel a bit paralyzed. But really, it's not only in your power to make this better. She's an adult, and she is able to make the decision to shit or get off the pot here, too.
posted by iminurmefi at 6:33 AM on November 1, 2007

"Shit a ring" is such vulgar imagery to use when talking about love and marriage that I think it answers your question right there.
posted by JanetLand at 6:33 AM on November 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Unlike many here, I don't feel qualified to tell you to leave (or stay). Unfortunately, I think you need to work out this complex calculus for yourself, since it largely has to do with your own internal feelings. I do take seriously both the pros and cons that you mentioned, and I realize -- when framing a question -- it's natural to spend more time on the cons that the pros. But that doesn't mean that the pros aren't powerful and worth considering.

Here's what I am willing to say: you should base your decision on the way the relationship is NOW. Don't assume it will get better in the future. It not saying it won't. It may. But it may not. The problem is, you absolutely can't predict the future.

So ask yourself this: assuming that the relationship, ten years from now, will be the same way it is now -- the same good stuff and the same bad stuff -- are you willing to commit to it?

I will also say that you'll never meet someone more horrified of being alone than me. I feel -- in my core -- that I wasn't meant to be alone. I only feel really alive when I'm part of a couple. Yet even given that, I'd rather be alone than be in a bad relationship. I'm not saying yours is bad. I'm just responding to the part of your post where you write about your fears of not finding a mate in your small town. In your shoes, I would be scared, too. I totally relate. Still, a bad relationship -- IF that's what you have -- won't solve that problem.
posted by grumblebee at 7:00 AM on November 1, 2007

Read your question again. Who describes their relationship as taking a dump. I think you already know what you want to do.
posted by chunking express at 7:11 AM on November 1, 2007

Why not start pre-marital counseling and see how you both feel afterwards? Pre-marital counseling with pastor/religious personnel or with a counselor of another sort will force you both to focus on the future, not the past. Additionally, it is a step towards commitment, which should be viewed positively by your partner. At the end of it, if you are unable to get through it without drama (and by the way, its seems from your description that you both thrive on the drama of your everyday life, turning even small decisions into monumental ones), you have your answer.
posted by zia at 7:34 AM on November 1, 2007

We know what she is willing to give up for you - her career, for yours, where she lives, for where you want to live. What are you willing to give up for her? As far as I can tell, your issue with marrying this woman is that you have 'petty fights', but maybe a big component of those fights is that your relationship is built to support your needs, not her needs, and that makes you the more dominant one, which may explain why she is trying to protect herself from being taken advantage of.

I think this should be your mantra: I don't want to lose something that could be really good based on an unrealistic fantasy of what love is...

If she is truly in her 'mid-30s' and you two break up, the chances are that she will never have children, so it is easy to understand why she is on edge and maybe not her best self right now. The whole 'blah blah blah women have children into their 40s ' thing is, for most women, a myth, or donated eggs and a great reproductive endrocrinologist. Some women can get pregnant in their late 30s/early 40s, but not most of them, and for many of the ones that do, not without medical intervention.

No relationship is perfect at any time, and waiting for it to be perfect before you propose isn't going to make things better. Your pros list is that this is a nearly perfect relationship with tonnes of compatibility, and your cons list is that sometimes you have stupid fights. That sounds like a marriage to me!
posted by kristin at 7:41 AM on November 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Seconding Kristin. People in Askme almost always tell you to break up, but the fact is we have no idea what your relationship is like. People get married all the time with much greater doubts than yours and have happy marriages. Others get married to perfect people they are madly in love with and get divorced after a year. The fact that she is willing to make sacrifices for you tells me good things about this relationship.

I love her. I can totally see building a comfortable life with her.

You want to give that up?
posted by afu at 8:02 AM on November 1, 2007

And also all the people who are saying that proposing never fixed anything didn't read your question closely enough.

She tells me that she thinks she is unconsciously holding back because she has not gotten a commitment from me. She says that sometimes she knows what I want but can't get herself to do it because she is trying to protect herself from being taken advantage of. She feels bad about this but is at the end of her rope and based on all of the factors, doesn't have more to give at this point. I believe these things are true. I believe that these areas will improve if I propose.

If the problem you are trying to fix is her being angry with you for not having enough commitment to her, then proposing to her will probably help with this issue.
posted by afu at 8:06 AM on November 1, 2007

End it. There's nothing wrong with conflict, arguing, different priorities, different interests, different outlooks or activities or sex drives or any of those things. People of all kinds make marriages work between two people that are scarily alike or scarily different. All of them, however, make them work, and little in your very long description sounds like two people finding ways to make things worth together.

I also concur with others who say if you have to write that much - and from the outside here it doesn't read as too enjoyable - you shouldn't be in it. Pull the bandaid off sooner rather than later.
posted by phearlez at 8:20 AM on November 1, 2007

"We are fairly well damaged by the legacy of the romantic poets that think of Love as... this force for good and if something bad happens that's not love. The therapeutic tradition that I come from... also says that it's not love if it feels bad.

"I don't know so much about that. I don't know that the Greeks weren't right. I think they were. That Love can beat a path through anything. That it will destroy a lot of things on its way to its objective, which is just its expression of itself

"My stepfather loved his family. He mistreated us terribly quite often, but he loved us. That to me is something worth commenting on, in the hopes of undoing a lot of what I perceive of as the terrible damage of the way people [conceptualize] of Love as this benign, comfortable force. It's not that, it's wild."

-John Darnielle
posted by u2604ab at 8:50 AM on November 1, 2007 [3 favorites]

Anytime one forces the other into marriage to save the union, it won't work. The stress of planning a wedding alone and the enormity of the commitment breaks up many couples.

Every friend of mine who got married because the woman said "marry me or it's over", and that's more than 10 couples, including myself, were divorced within 5 years.

Marriage changes nothing, with the exception of allowing a gang of strangers into your personal finances and property issues should it not last; but some people need to get married before they can get divorced, for some reason, vs. breaking up.

People will tolerate a dead romance for the sake of comfort (i.e., better the devil you know than the devil you don't, which is being alone after your history together and missing that intimacy, even if it's unpleasant).

Marriage only compounds problems, adds debt, and in some states, takes up to a year to dissolve. It takes 3 days to marry in haste and miserable months to divide property and change identities.

You can buy a house in one person's name and the other person can put all the utilities and bills in his/her name. Children can be born to an unmarried couple and take both names.

Just understand that marriage is not something easily undone, and if you are feeling stress that might lead to a breakup, imagine how shitty it is when courts are involved. Trust me, if you are facing an ultimatum, it won't work.

Love is NOT enough for a couple to stay together; it's a hell of a lot of work. I loved being a wife and feel as though I was put on earth to share my life with someone else; the man I married wanted a mother to take care of him and I assumed that he would become a husband after we married. People don't change like that, okay? Only age and experience can change you, or possibly therapy. If you don't feel like a husband now, taking that title will cause resentment. Just trust your gut... always.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 9:14 AM on November 1, 2007 [3 favorites]

If the problem you are trying to fix is her being angry with you for not having enough commitment to her, then proposing to her will probably help with this issue.

I have never disagreed more with a comment on AskMe.
posted by turaho at 9:18 AM on November 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

To elaborate, a ring is not a commitment... commitment is commitment. You do not become magically committed to someone as soon as you get down on one knee.

If she is angry at you for a lack of commitment, then you should resolve that issue before you buy the symbol that represents your commitment.

In other words, don't propose to someone to make them stop being angry at you.
posted by turaho at 9:40 AM on November 1, 2007

It's always a major red-line for me when I find myself thinking "we should either get married or split up." Can you imagine your grandkids asking about when you and Grandma got married, and you responding - "well, I knew I either had to marry her or get on with my life..."

A LITTLE uncertainty is probably normal, but what I'm reading in your post is a lot more than a little uncertainty.

(And c'mon, people - responding to this post isn't about qualifications - the poster is implicitly asking MeFi-land for our reactions and impressions to his situation. We're all qualified to do that...)
posted by fingers_of_fire at 9:45 AM on November 1, 2007

will not provide advice on whether you should stay or go but can answer the question "whether relationships are supposed to be so hard?"

in my opinion, no they're not. of course there will be fights, petty or not, but at the end of the day you should be able to look at the person and think "i love her/him" and smile if you were in the wrong or if they were in the wrong; you should be able to tease them about it and they should be able to laugh at themselves. and together you should be able to say that this is silly and unneccesary and that as long as you're together everything will be ok. b/c what you have together is more important than anything else in the world.

i know, very cheesy, but this is how my relationship works. ultimately, i get my strength from this relationship, this is where i can find comfort, understanding, encouragement. sure we have to work on some things, but they're more in the range of me not liking to clean and him talking to much without stopping to listen to others. i guess, in my mind, most "relationship work" is about breaking or getting used to your partner's habits and not about huge underlying issues of commitment, getting the upper hand in decisions, fear of abandonement and such.

finally, i'd like to say that the fact that you posted this question on Mefi tells a lot. how can a bunch of strangers online help you make your decision..... unless.... you know from previous questions on love that this particular bunch of strangers will tell you to break up....
posted by barrakuda at 9:46 AM on November 1, 2007

I can't speak for your girlfriend, of course, but I know I'd rather never get married than have to give someone an ultimatum and/or feel he'd only married me out of guilt or duty. If he's not eager to marry me, I don't want him.

This seems like a really high pressure situation. One way of reducing the pressure would be to ask your girlfriend for a period of time where you both shelve the marriage issue and simply work on your relationship. Six months would be ideal, but if your girlfriend isn't willing to invest that much time make it at least three. For that length of time, simply settle into life in this new town, enjoy being together, work on the problems you have, try to figure out what's triggering these fights of yours and how you can find better ways to resolve them. Get some counselling if you need it. Do whatever you need to do make the relationship better, but don't talk about marriage. And at the end of that set period, if you're still not happy with the way things are, it'll be time to break up or propose.
posted by orange swan at 9:52 AM on November 1, 2007

I am definitely in the anti-ultimatum camp. People who give ultimatums early in a relationship continue to do that, and that's not an interaction I care to have, myself.

Set her free so she can find someone to start a family with before her biological time bomb goes off.
posted by caitlinb at 10:43 AM on November 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Relationship pros: one short paragraph. Relationship cons: two long paragraphs. The phrase that comes to your mind for proposing marriage is "shitting a ring."

I think it would be a mistake to propose in the state of mind you describe. You did not lead her on, you were very forthright in describing your state of mind to her prior to her moving with you.

If she can't wait longer, commit to gaining some ground on any of the relationship issues that you both agree are solvable, and give you more emotional space while doing so I doubt your relationship can work out. It doesn't sound to me like you'd be giving proposal serious thought at this moment if you didn't feel such emotional pressure from her about it. That's absolutely the wrong impetus for marriage (particularly where moving right into having kids seems to be the plan).
posted by nanojath at 11:16 AM on November 1, 2007

"So far, we have not had any period that felt settled or permanent."

Well, for me, THIS is the key sentence. You can't know whether life together will be good until you've actually had time to get to know each other in a settled way. I know she's in a hurry, but rushing into relationships only works out in the movies. Cold, sober time together is your best bet. There is a lot of promise but you have to settle things down and see how it goes. Give her a time frame if that makes her more comfortable. A year, say.

However unromantic it sounds, my hub never proposed to me. Getting married was a process and it was obvious to both of us when things were right. Trite but, if you have to ask the answer's probably "no", or at least, "not yet".
posted by MiffyCLB at 11:48 AM on November 1, 2007

It's been said many, many times here. So I'll just say it again in case it didn't sink in.

She wants a ring and a nuclear household. You want a real relationship.

Please don't make me give you links to all the "I married her because I felt obligated and now it's 9 years and 2 kids later, and the last time we had sex was in 2006, and I can't leave her because I won't be able to afford paying for her and the kids and my own separate life. So instead, I'm going to bitch about my life in a blog. Every. Single. Day." blogs out there. Because I can do it.
posted by damnjezebel at 12:00 PM on November 1, 2007

I had my doubts about getting married. This is what settled it for me:

I loved to come home to her. The idea of waking up without her made me sick. The most "beautiful" women in town did not make my heart flutter the way she did.

We argued. We fought. We saw other people. I never stopped comparing all the other girls to her.

Fifteen years later, we still argue from time to time. There are things about me she would still like to change, and that I would like to change too. There are things she does that make me grit my teeth, that I don't even mention to her any more, because there's no upside to it.

Every morning I wake up with her and our children and I feel so blessed.

Think about her walking out the door and never speaking to you again. Would it be a relief - or torture?

If tonight she told you, "You know what? Changed my mind. I'm going to Paris. There's a guy there who appreciates me," what would you do?

Would you lay down in front of her car in the driveway? Or would you mutter half-hearted regrets and sigh after the door closed behind her?
posted by sacre_bleu at 1:14 PM on November 1, 2007 [8 favorites]

Read all of these responses carefully. One answer will hit you, and your instincts will say, "yes, that's the right answer". So which one is it? Propose, or get off the pot?

Time to stop making excuses and trust your gut. Only you can answer this question.
posted by indienial at 5:37 PM on November 1, 2007

First of, the poster seems to be simply caught in stagnating stage of important area of his life, not a victim of abuse. I hear many commentators here projecting their personal attitudes towards commitment, and it seems at least slightly unethical.

Poster, I feel for your situation. Question to you: do you, in general, tend to take things for granted?

Your problem (redefined) is inadequacy that stems from undefined transitional status of relationship. You are both holding back on something, and situation cannot progress because you engage in the power fight about 'who is right?', not 'how to be happy?'.

Your question is whether you can get away without giving a definition to the state your relationship, and you yourself suspect that you cannot, not this time. The answer is “no” if your attitude is to do it alone, and “very likely” if you both put ultimate efforts to that. Loving relationships that are not a hard work do not exist.

I could give only a piece of advice to your girlfriend, to move back (or forward) to where her support network is. This could give you a wider perspective.

Well, poster, you could simply mentally model her disappearing from your life, as a result of HER CHOICE. Sacre_bleu above gives an insight into the process.

There was a somehow similar discussion in Salon last week (different situation, similar attitudes, striking similarity of readers' reaction), and one notable comment about
pushing relationship boundaries where relationship lacks certainty. People behave unwisely and while it seems out of control and a very deep issue, a fix might in fact be relatively easy.

Turn the 'I will minimize any possibility of mistakes=future regrets' mode of operation on. It is all only to the better.
posted by Jurate at 2:35 AM on November 2, 2007

"frequency is off (1:3 ratio)" + "it's a chore to remind her that I don't suck because hikes aren't my favorite thing" + "I don't feel a strong passion or spark" = perfect recipe for utter misery.
posted by Irontom at 10:23 AM on November 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't know what to tell you. But what we are all reacting to is that clearly, when you wrote this, you did not want to propose.

So in that way, I think we are all telling you what you wanted to hear. But that's your fault, you laid things out that way.

However, a lot of people ask me how being married is "different" from being in a relationship. [I got married years before most of my friends]. And I always say that it is different for me, a lot different. Being married made me feel safer, more grounded. We created "team us." Our relationship did nothing but get better, and "more real" once we got engaged and then married. And we were together and serious for three years before that happened.

Getting engaged is not going to fix things. However, she has every right to feel insecure. And it is not unreasonable to think that some of your arguments will change once you put them in a new context of "we are in this together."

Lastly, I'm not really sure that anyone you become involved with when you are depressed should be a long-term relationship. If you are like me, you were a different person when you were depressed. So now you are in a relationship that you selected for your depressed self. And your depressed self had different needs than you do now. This is my bias that I'm bringing in. But I truly think it is a good rule.
posted by Mozzie at 1:20 PM on November 2, 2007 [3 favorites]

I have been thinking about this post for a number of days and have been hesitant to respond because I can’t tell if how similar my situation of late is to the one you describe will bias my response too much. On the off chance that I may actually be uniquely equipped to offer some helpful advice based on the similarity, I’ve decided to throw in my $.02. I think you really need all of the perspectives you can take right now because from what you describe, you’re at a real tipping point. If she’s starting to pull away and protect herself, you’re close to really losing this relationship. And after what I’ve been through lately, I can’t recommend that. Especially considering your age and hers. In addition, breaking up at this stage is not a fair or honorable thing to do and despite what the other posters say, you should actually do what’s fair and honorable. You should put the people you love before yourself sometimes.

For the record, although I’m sure it’s pretty clear by now, I (played the part of your maybe soon to be never fiancé (early 30s, lawyer, looking to settle down, etc.). My now ex-fiancé, in the months since our breakup, described a lot of what you do in paragraphs two and three as to why he wanted to “put the engagement on hold” back in February. Like you he also suffered from depression. And for me, that is the most important issue for framing what seems to be the crisis of faith you are experiencing. I think that honestly, what you seem to have with your girlfriend is a normal, healthy relationship. Relationships are work, and sometimes are happy and fulfilling and sometimes they are not. But what is most important is your _perception_ of the situation. I don’t know how else to put it to you other than this - there is nothing else out there that will be more or less better than what you have now. You need to STOP, right now, analyzing the situation and looking for arguments that will calm you and make you think that things will be easier later. You need to stop shopping around and decide to be happy with what you have and work on it. If you don't now, you run a real risk of never finding someone to have a family with. And purportedly, that's the purpose and goal here. There was a line in the HBO series Tell Me You Love Me recently that spoke exactly to this point. The therapist character was speaking to her husband who had had a similar crisis of faith in their marriage years ago. She asked him how he got through it. He said that nothing changed - everything was exactly how it had been - he just was happy and at peace with it.

My best advice to you is to think about YOU right now. You have what must be a wonderful woman (if she’s entertaining the idea of marrying you) who wants to marry you and have your children. You should be exceedingly grateful for that. Stop thinking there is a bigger, better deal elsewhere. Stop searching for that romantic fantasy. It’s just that - not real. Damnjezebel makes an interesting point and draws an important distinction. There are people who look for a teammate for the life project (the ring and nuclear household) first, and develop romantic feelings for the person that they do that with as a secondary issue. It's about which part is the foundation - the fact of a wedding, husband, house and children or the more nebulous arena of feelings and "the relationship". I know personally that I could not have the latter without the former. I needed the tangibles - the ring and the nuclear household - before I could even entertain the idea of continuing to have romantic feelings for my ex. Perhaps your girlfriend is the same way. Don't vilify her for it. See what happens when you give her what she wants. Maybe then she could open up the gates to this romantic chemistry you seem to be trying to find.

But that chemistry, that great, romantic love that other posters have described (would you lie down in front of her car as she left, etc.), that’s their own reaction to having another person in their life. That’s their _interpretation_ of how they feel in a relationship. But it doesn’t mean that the other person is better, or even better for them. You though, if you are prone to depression, may criticize and doubt most of what’s around you, including your relationship. That you aren't feeling that height of romantic love could be because of you, not her. And it doesn't make sense to punish her for trying to be with you if you're the one that needs to adjust your perceptions. Take time to consider whether you have the mental discipline to just decide to be happy with what you have. She's ready to move forward with a life with you. BE HAPPY about that. Go for it.
posted by smallstatic at 9:34 AM on November 4, 2007 [2 favorites]

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