Dear Captain Awkward:
I think I may have messed things up with my amazing boyfriend, and I just feel terrible about it. Let me preface by saying that I am 19 and he is 20, about to be 21, and we have been dating for just over 3 years. We met in high school, and have continued dating into college (we go to the same state school). I love him to death, he brings joy and light to my life and makes me incredibly happy. We’re very different people, but opposites attract, he brings stability and logic to my life and I bring whimsy and eccentricity to his. We’re compatible in so many ways, the word “boyfriend” doesn’t do him justice, after 3 years together, he feels more like a partner (if that description makes any sense), and is as much a part of me as I am of him. Some people may say that I am too young to be in such a serious relationship, and that I’m “missing out” by not dating around, but I do not feel that I am missing out on anything, and I couldn’t imagine my life without him.
We have been through a lot together, and our relationship hasn’t been perfect, mostly because of one big issue, religion. He is Jewish, and I am Christian. If we were to get married, I would have to convert to Judaism. Our problem was that for 3 years we basically refused to talk about it, using the excuse “we’re too young to talk about marriage”. Well, we may be too young, but after 3 years its inevitable that marriage talks come up and we have to deal with it. We have taken short breaks from each other twice (short as in a week to 2 weeks) over the past 3 years because of the anxiety this issue causes us, but we always end up getting back together because we love each other so much. Our most recent break up was at the end of January for 2 weeks, and we finally realized we have to talk about the religion thing. We love each other deeply, and definitely could see ourselves getting married one day, and I have told him that I am definitely open to converting to judaism, but at the age of 19 I just can’t give him a concrete answer even if I tried. I don’t plan on getting married until I finish grad school, or am at least nearly done, so around 25-26, and I wouldn’t start the conversion process until we were engaged. Since we definitely don’t plan on getting engaged any time soon, as much as I want to give him a solid answer, I just can’t. I’m 19, I’m in no way ready to be married or to think very seriously about marriage.
The thing is that he’s okay with this, he doesn’t feel any anxiety over the future, and whether or not we’ll be together. He’s just not the type of person to worry about what the future holds. I am the type of person to worry about what the future holds. I worry about everything, and I’ve mostly been able to get it under control through talk therapy, but the uncertainty is causing me a lot of anxiety, and I just can’t seem to completely let go and let fate take control. This anxiety over religion manifests itself in a couple ways, the most important being that it makes me insecure. I am a confident and successful person in every aspect of my life, I have great grades, great friends, a great relationship with my family, and I just found out that I was accepted for an awesome competitive internship this summer in a different city. I love him to death, and I know he feels the same way about me, but despite all the evidence I have for our success, I worry constantly whether or not we’re going to “make it”. I know I am actually open to converting to Judaism (I have always described myself as more spiritual than religious) but I worry about saying something stupid and destroying our relationship like a house of cards, even though its really dumb to think that way, but now I think I might have actually done it.
Recently I tried to have a discussion with him about eating healthy and it went completely the wrong way, he was really insulted and upset and I just feel terrible about it. This was a couple days ago, and he is still kind of upset with me (I say kind of because he is definitely becoming less pissed) but this is the longest he has every been mad at me for something stupid I said. He rarely ever gets upset with me, he is so easy going and laid back. I feel like I’ve finally gone and ruined our relationship because he says that he feels like I don’t find him as attractive anymore (which is not true!) because of the conversation and I just don’t know if I’ll ever be able to make him think otherwise. We are both really stressed right now because of exams, so that throws a whole other wrench into the machine that is our imperfect relationship. Is this something worth worrying about? I know it is not normal to feel such uncertainty in a relationship, but in every other aspect of our lives we are compatible. As a person, I’m prone to worrying and feel anxious very easily, so I just don’t know if the uncertainty I’m feeling is just me blowing things out of proportion or really a red flag.
When we got back together we decided that we’d rather get back together and try to work out our problems, become better communicators, and talk more about what we want out of our future, even if it means we eventually break up, because we’d rather know that we tried everything than to have just given up on each other and never know. I really do love him more than anything, I’m not afraid to be without him (which is something my mom always says, that you should never be afraid to be without someone because the only person who you should be afraid to be without is yourself), but the thought of it just overwhelms me with such incredible sadness. I just feel so anxious and overwhelmed, I know I love him and that he loves me, but this anxiety is turning into a self fulfilling prophecy and I don’t want it to, I know that if I keep worrying that we’ll break up eventually we will. So I guess what my end question is, do you think its possible for me to shut the anxiety ridden part of my brain up or am I and my relationship a lost cause?
Once again I’m so sorry that this is long…but I would be so appreciative if you would help me out. Thank you!
So, your relationship works perfectly, except you are filled with anxiety about it and when you brought up something that was important to you (healthy eating) he was upset with you for days and you were worried that you broke the relationship. You’ve broken up several-many times. And you totally want to get married…seven years in the future…and you will deal with all the stuff that’s causing you anxiety…like completely changing your religion… then?
Oh buddy. Here is a big Jedi hug for you. As Mr. Emerson would say, “You’re in a muddle.”
If this is really the dude for you, and you have no problem converting to Judaism (I’m going to leave the assertion that you “have to” convert alone for right now, but we’ll circle back to that later), and you’re really happy together, what’s stopping you from getting married or at least engaged right now? And then figuring out all that grad school/future stuff together as a unit? You said you’re too young and not ready to think about marriage (and 19 is young, so this is smart of you), but you ARE thinking about marriage (and having major anxiety about both marriage and not-marriage). Is there some other piece of information you’re waiting for and once you get it things will fall into place?
I ask this question not because I want you to become a child-bride as a way to cure your anxiety about this – I really don’t. But I want to challenge the idea that marriage is some kind of magical future-state where everything that is difficult now will be solved because you will both be different from how you are now. I mean, I know jack shit about marriage, but I do know a lot about love and a lot about anxiety and am pretty much an expert on avoidance. What I can tell you is that you HAVE TO HAVE TO HAVE TO be able to talk about hard, serious stuff with your partner and you have to trust that if you disagree about something or hurt each other’s feelings that the love will carry you through and help you solve it. The bitch of it is that you can actually avoid confronting the difficult stuff for a very long time – with long winter evenings of takeout dinners and snuggles and bad TV and thinking “This isn’t so bad, really, as long as I don’t bring up anything that’s truly bothering me!” and when hard stuff does come up, dealing with it by agreeing that you’ll deal with it later. “We don’t have to talk about that now, right? I’m sure it will work itself out.“
So when you say “When we got back together we decided that we’d rather get back together and try to work out our problems, become better communicators, and talk more about what we want out of our future, even if it means we eventually break up, because we’d rather know that we tried everything than to have just given up on each other and never know,” it heartens me. You’re not trusting to inertia and a magical future where everything is solved. You’re making a decision to deal with The Stuff.
I’m glad you are treating your anxiety with meds and talk therapy. Keep doing that. Your therapist is going to be really useful in helping you decide when your anxiety is just part of an anxiety-cycle and when your anxiety is telling you “Hey, this is isn’t anxiety, this is a valuable message from your psyche about an actual problem that you are having!”
Because one issue I want to raise is, yes, you may have an anxiety disorder, but your relationship with this dude that you say is so great and laid-back might just be causing you a lot of fucking anxiety. Like, maybe you don’t really want to change your religion. Like, maybe there is a LOT of living to be done in the next seven years, and maybe this engagement-that-isn’t-really-an-engagement is hanging over you like a doom.
Another issue I want to raise is the way you describe your relationship – he’s the one who provides “stability” and “logic” and you provide “whimsy” and “eccentricity.” You sound pretty fucking stable and logical to me, lady, so make sure you’re not casting yourself as the one who is screwing it up while your patient, long-suffering boyfriend endures your WomanCrazy. He’s got anxieties of his own. Do you know what they are? Do you treat his anxieties like they are Real Problems while yours send you off to the therapist?
Because worrying about:
- THE FUTURE
- Where will I live?
- We are in love now…will we stay that way?
- Are you really the right person for me?
- Do I really have to change my religion to be with you? What does that really mean?
- Grad school?
- What is my career going to be and will I be successful at it?
- Is “successful” the same thing as happy?
- Do I even want what I think I want? Will I still want it down the road?
- Money…how I will I get it?
- I brought up something that was important to me and you got really mad at me for days. Is that how you’re always going to react to all serious discussions where we disagree?
…doesn’t mean you are anxious in a way that is ruining everything. It pretty much means that you are awake and paying attention to your life.
I can’t tell you whether you should stay together or break up or how things will work out. There are no guarantees. I think you should probably marry someone who makes that uncertainty about the future feel more awesome and exciting than scary, like, I don’t know exactly how we’d handle x problem if it came up, but I trust that you’d delight and surprise me and make me feel safe and we’d forgive each other if things got messed up and you get the benefit of the doubt, always, and I always, always, always want to hear what you have to say.
However it works out, I hope you get everything you want, and every good thing that you don’t even know that you want yet.