#218: My anxiety is messing up my relationship.

Mr. Emerson & Lucy from A Room With A View
"I don't believe in this world sorrow...do you?"

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:

  • 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.


83 thoughts on “#218: My anxiety is messing up my relationship.

  1. From what I know of converting to Judaism, most Rabbis would turn away a potential convert whose heart isn’t in it.

    1. I almost want to recommend the LW and the boyfriend go for Jewish pre-marital counseling and start that process as a way to talk about all their issues and figure out if it is for them?

      1. Converting to Judaism is a years-long process (and yes, rabbis will turn you away if they don’t feel like you’re really invested; I believe it is a set part of the process that they attempt to dissuade you) — if you start the process when you’re engaged, you almost certainly won’t be done by the time you get married.

        1. Traditionally a Rabbi is supposed to turn you away three times if there *aren’t* any major red flags about your conversion.

          1. Conversion rules depend on the tradition you follow. Reform Judaism is less strict and the process is not too long or difficult. My man and I are taking an intro to judaism interfaith/conversion class (not everyone is converting, some are just learning about religion or having an interfaith wedding). There does not seem to be “active dissuading” going on. The comments above do apply more to orthodox traditions. I’m a Jewish woman engaged to a non-Jewish guy and he is not converting. Although it would be wonderful to share a religion, I feel the decision would need to be his.

            All this to say, doing some readings or taking an intro to Judaism class may help. It could be a way to figure out your REALFEELINGS about all this. I’m reading the book What Is A Jew for our class and It’s pretty good.

          2. Heh. Good point! Customs certainly vary.

            My comment was based on my mom’s experience converting to Conservative Judaism.

            She was marrying a Jewish guy, but made the decision to convert mostly because Judaism “worked” for her; they would have gotten married regardless.

  2. Oh, man. Perfect image, which reminded me of the perfect quote:

    “It is obvious enough for the reader to conclude, “She loves young Emerson.” A reader in Lucy’s place would not find it obvious. Life is easy to chronicle, but bewildering to practice, and we welcome “nerves” or any other shibboleth that will cloak our personal desire. She loved Cecil; George made her nervous; will the reader explain to her that the phrases should have been reversed?” – A Room With a View

    Nerves, love, it’s all a muddle no matter your age, and I would not presume to say whether your boyfriend was definitively a Cecil or a George, but your nervousness is a gift. It’s telling you that what you truly desire is nearby but isn’t being addressed. Not being, you know, YOU I don’t know what it is you truly desire, and if you don’t either, that is totally normal and okay.

    Hell, I don’t think *I* have a central driving desire to do anything. That must be awesome to have! All we human people can do is make the decisions we think are the best for us and our future selves. That’s all. We can’t control the outcomes (maybe you’ll get married and ten years later there’s a meteor event, or you never marry anyone, or you marry him divorce and marry the rabbi from your ceremony. LIFE IS WEIRD.), we can’t control our emotions, but we can control what it is we do.

    Go do the greatest most amazing thing you can think of, and good luck!

  3. Excellent advice from the Captain as usual.

    And she touched on it, but I will touch on it more … neither of you has to convert to get married. No one has to convert to marry a person of another faith/religion.

    IF you two as a couple want to be married in the Jewish faith, in temple, etc., then yes, you will need to convert. (Differences may exist in that process, Orthodox or Reform, check your local listings for specifics. It’s not just a rubber-stamp thing, though, it requires a lot of effort/time/commitment.)

    Same applies IF you two as a couple wanted to be married in the Christian faith, in a church, etc. he would need to convert. (Or possibly just sign/swear something about the kids being raised in the Christian faith. You’d have to check with your particular tradition.)

    But if you want to be married without any religious affiliation – yes, it is totally legal!! – you can do that and neither you nor he needs to convert.

    Good luck, LW, with your muddle. Listen to the Captain, she is wise.

    1. Minor correction – it’s totally legal to get married without any religious affiliations in the US. And probably in most other places, but not all of them – I had to get out of the country (Israel) for a few days to get legally, secularly married, because the only legal marriages you can get in Israel are religious marriages.

      As I don’t think LW has specifically mentioned where they live and I certainly don’t know the marriage laws everywhere, this needs pointing out.

    2. Another comment about Jewish conversion and how that impacts marriage/life milestones.

      My parents were married by a Reform Rabbi, but my father did not convert to Judaism until before my Bat Mitzvah (in an Orthodox conversion), so that he could participate in the service and also be buried with my mom in a Jewish cemetery. My mom then later learned that she needed to re-marry my father as their previous marriage “did not count” (religiously).

      If the letter writer’s husband is Reform and is happy being buried in a nondenominational or Reform cemetery (if that exists), then the conversion can be conducted in the Reform tradition which is far more lax. However, by Jewish law/Jewish courts/many Jewish cemeteries/the State of Israel’s rabbis who control marriage/divorce/burial – the LW and her children will not be considered Jewish. A great impact of this in the life cycle is reflected in where they would be buried. Also should the LW’s children raise her children in the Jewish faith (after a Reform conversion) and her children ultimately decide they wanted to marry a Conservative or more Orthodox individual – the child would have to “convert” before having a religious ceremony.

      That all being said – converting to Judaism is not like applying for a Green Card or a process where once you start you’re stuck to a specific timetable. If the LW starts taking an intro to Judaism class or attending campus Hillel services now – by the time she is more serious about engagement/conversion – she’ll know more and be in a better position to eventually approach a Rabbi about conversion. Being able to say “I’ve been attending Hillel services for x years, and taken y class on Judaism” will sound far different from “I got engaged yesterday and we’d like to have a spring wedding”. It may also serve to reduce the anxiety of what conversion and Judaism mean. Also – by establishing a relationship with a rabbi or a few rabbis – even if they’re Reform or Conservative – can greatly help in ultimately getting an Orthodox Conversion. If a Reform or Conservative Rabbi know that you want to have an Orthodox Conversion, they’ll go through the process with you and then essentially recommend to a local Orthodox rabbi to “finish” the process.

  4. I’m very curious as to why LW is the one who “has to” convert to another religion in order to facilitate marriage? Is this because her boyfriend is devout in his beliefs whereas she considers her to be more cultural/social than anything else? Why can’t the boyfriend convert to Christianity? Or why can’t they both just have their own belief systems and meet in the middle? Cross-religious relationships and marriages can be wonderful and workable things.

    As a person who used to be deeply religious and who at ~19/20 began to leave that side of herself behind, I would advise LW both to seek premarital religious counseling with her boyfriend and his rabbi to get more information about what that actually entails, and also to consider the idea that her willingness to jump ship on Christianity (for love or money or any other reason) may mean that what she’s looking for isn’t another religion, but a new way of thinking about God/Goddess/theology altogether.

    Also, and I know this is not true all of the time and I fully acknowledge that I could be totally wrong: very serious, super-intense relationships that begin in mid-to-late teen years are almost always “lost causes,” not because they’re not real and wonderful and not because the people in them aren’t great people, but because they’re timed shittily in terms of allowing two people to grow and develop into human adults. It’s simply very unlikely that two people are going to happily and without relationship-ending conflict grow into side-by-side sprouting trees whose branches intertwine effortlessly.

    1. There is frequently special pressure on the non-Jewish female partner to convert, because traditionally, Judaism is inherited through the mother. (This is because we may not always know who the father is, but we do always know who the mother is.) Over the last thirty years, things have changed pretty dramatically: the more liberal denominations of Judaism (Reform, Reconstructionist, Humanistic) accept anyone who has one parent who is Jewish as Jewish, so LW’s theoretical children with her boyfriend would be Jewish no matter what. The more conservative denominations (Conservative, Orthodox, and ultra-Orthodox) still require that the mother be Jewish. However, you can still raise a child Jewish even if the mother isn’t: the children would have to go through a formal conversion process at some point.

      In the American Jewish community, it often comes off as a watered-down version of this scene from Fiddler on the Roof: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GxbxZD8J_0g

      (At 8, I went to see Fiddler with my parents. My mom leaned over to me and whispered, “If you brought home a non-Jewish boy, I would do exactly what Tevye did.” I brought one home ten years later. She tried to get him to convert. It didn’t work.)

      1. I’m somewhat familiar with the pressure on the female partner to convert–after all, I have seen that Sex and the City storyline, so I’m practically an expert–but I guess I don’t understand why “converting to Judaism” is the obvious default for this couple?

        1. It’s an obvious default for one of the partners to convert, and there’s often pressure on the non-Jewish one to convert because “we need the population more.” That is what is known as a stupid reason to convert.

          I don’t think LW converting *should* be the default option, but clearly it is for her at the moment, and there is a social level to the pressure that isn’t always obvious to people who haven’t been in the situation. I mean, it might have been in the SATC storyline, I haven’t seen that. 😉 I’ve just seen too many Jewish parents imprint on Fiddler and think that’s how it’s supposed to go — they get stuck on “Jewish” as criteria and ignore everything else.

    2. Meh. They work less often than they don’t work, but sometimes people just happen to grow together. It’s not controllable, but it happens and I meet a couple who met that young every so often. It’s just unknowable. But it is true that it’s less likely for reasons mentioned.

      1. And speaking as someone who had a super intense relationship in their late teens, I consider that relationship a huge success, one of the most awesome things I’ve ever done, EVEN THOUGH eight years later we broke up. You can grow together and intertwine like trees with awesome branches but you can’t plan for doing that shit later if it’s a problem now. Those problems will be more problems later if you do your growing now without planning for that stuff. And you can’t aim your tree branches towards his stuff if he’s not aiming his tree branches for your stuff and you’re not doing it in discussion.

        I’m pretty sure I’ve taken this analogy too far, but that relationship person, despite our breakup, is now my very best friend in the whole world because of that growing and those conversations and the whole branch thing (and also she’s awesome).

        ALSO: anxieties about having ruined the relationship because of small thiing x: I do that all the time. It’s super fun (it’s not super fun), but fistbump of solidarity.

      2. I met my partner when we were freshman in college, and we started dating the next year. We’re still together in our mid-thirties and are finally planning to get married this year. So it can happen, you can grow and change together, but we also had no major differences of opinion on the big things (religion, politics, kids). I can’t honestly say what made our relationship work while others didn’t though, aside from the usual “hard work, communication” advice. I think what it comes down to is that we were very lucky.

  5. One of the major realizations I had in my early 20s is that wanting to be something/someone is not sufficient to becomeimg it. What I mean is, I realized something fundamental about who I am, and it was not who I had wanted to be. For many years it was a source of great anxiety. Why couldn’t I make the thing I want happen? It took a lot of work after the realization to accept it.

    From your letter it seems possible that for the last 3 years you have built an idea of who the person is that will make your relationship work. You have to convert, have to marry young, have to communicate better and so on. Maybe your anxiety comes from knowing deep down that that person is not really you.

    Only you can figure out who you really are and what you really want. Good luck finding your way forward, be brave enough to face tough choices. Don’t so something simply to avoid pain.

    1. “One of the major realizations I had in my early 20s is that wanting to be something/someone is not sufficient to becomeimg it. What I mean is, I realized something fundamental about who I am, and it was not who I had wanted to be. For many years it was a source of great anxiety. Why couldn’t I make the thing I want happen? It took a lot of work after the realization to accept it.”

      OH GOD SO MUCH THIS. I’m very much in this place now (and in my mid-twenties, no less). I’ve never understood people who have just seemed to have a fairly direct course in their life, knowing what they want and more or less being the kind of person who gets those things.

  6. Hey LW! Reading your letter, it looks like the first source of anxiety is “if we get married, do I convert”. In fact, if we remove the “marriage” question, it seems like a lot of anxiety drops out.

    I worry constantly whether or not we’re going to “make it”.

    OK, LW, I’m going to level with you. No relationship ever “makes it”; relationships last as long as they last, but on a long enough timeline, the survival rate drops to zero. I know that sounds morbid, but part of your anxieties might be coming from unrealistic expectations. No one says “I worry if I’ll ever have to buy another car”; they know that sooner or later, they’ll need to replace the car they have. (or bicycle, or sneakers, or TV, or whatever)

    If I had to guess, I’d say that you’re trying to fix anxiety caused by one unrealistic expectation (“are we going to make it?”) by applying another not-necessarily-realistic solution. (“We could get married!”)

    More leveling with you: you don’t have to get married to have a functional, lasting, loving partnership. My older brother has been with his girlfriend for many years, and her daughter calls him “Dad”; they’re not married, they’re not engaged, and I don’t expect that to change any time soon. My uncle married his 15+ year partner just last year, and only because he needed the health insurance benefit.

    You’re 19, and the models you’ve seen of successful, lasting relationships all followed this arc of “dating, more dating, engaged, married”, so it’s natural that you think that’s the “right” way to do things, but it’s not the only way to do things. There is no one right course for relationships. Some do go from dating to relationships to engaged to married. Others go from dating to relationships to cohabitation. Some couples merge money when they marry, others never do.

    The point is that “there are more things on heaven & earth, Hortatio, than are dreampt of in your philosophy”. Stop thinking of your relationship as having one true course, and you’ll find yourself less worried about how things play out.

    1. Also +1

      I have come to define a successful relationship as a relationship that I learn something from and that makes me happy while I am in it.

      Be careful about measuring success in your life or relationships by the signposts that society has laid out for you. Degree, Job, Husband, House, Kids is certainly a logical progression to many of us, but it isn’t one that necessarily leads directly to happiness. No matter where you go in life there will be times where you sit there and look back on how you ended up where you are. Don’t get there because you followed someone else’s directions.

      Sorry if this seems preachy, I was just watching this Dr. Seuss Burning Man video and it made me regret life choices that have not lead me to Burning Man. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahv_1IS7SiE

        1. Uh, given the current ticketing solution, it may very well be. I had a Big Boss at my job that insisted that we have the yearly work retreat right during Burning Man week, so I wasn’t able to go for years. Then he finally quit…right after the “we’re out of tickets” debacle started. And this year I only know one person who got a ticket. At this point I don’t think I’m going back, grrr.

    2. “OK, LW, I’m going to level with you. No relationship ever “makes it”; relationships last as long as they last, but on a long enough timeline, the survival rate drops to zero.”

      I don’t disagree entirely, but she says she constantly worries they won’t make it. That is not a stable way to enter a long term commitment like marriage. Both parties can admit to and accept not knowing the future while still being confident about making a commitment now. There should at least be some feeling of being able to make it through very tough times.

      You can just as easily flip it around and say that many relationships make it, depending on how you define it. I think a good way of defining making it as weathering difficult situations. It seems more useful than saying every single relationship dies because we are all mortal.

      1. Every relationship has a sell-by date. If you’re very, *very* lucky, that date is after one of you dies. It’s not wrong or unromantic to acknowledge that, and knowing how the relationship will end if it doesn’t make it to the grave is important.

        LW, when I was your age, I thought that thinking about how a relationship would end would be dooming it. I thought that if I wasn’t super-vigilant, it would end, because relationships are hard work, right? I learned two things from this:
        1) Most of my anxiety was because my boyfriend at the time was an emotionally abusive fuckwit who expected me to take his concerns into account, but flipped his shit if I mentioned or even implied I had needs.
        2) Good relationships acknowledge the potential end. I breathe a sigh of relief whenever I think about things ending with my partners—not because I want them to end, but because we’ve talked about what would cause that, and as such there’s no sense of anxiety. The important thing for a relationship is that you’re in it NOW.

        Relationships should make you feel calm, safe, relaxed, and loved. If one of those is missing, there is something wrong with your relationship, and you need to look hard to find out what it is. If you keep breaking up with your boyfriend, your lizard brain, the one that controls all your survival instincts, is trying to tell you something.

  7. LW, I had a similar situation: major anxiety about my relationship with my boyfriend – a relationship that was loving, fun, supportive, and so on. I still felt SO MUCH anxiety, though, about so many different things. I spent so much time trying to rationalize my way through it, trying to analyze and dismiss my real concerns that I was so desperate to deem “small” in an effort not to break up.

    Anxiety comes from needs not being met. These needs are real, and can’t be brushed away. No matter how silly one wants to think they are, no matter how irrational one wants them to be so that they can be ignored…they’re real needs.

    I did have to end my 2-year relationship with my boyfriend, and it was one of the most painful experiences of my life. But he couldn’t meet my needs, and I couldn’t somehow force him to do that.

    1. ME TOO.

      I internalized all this anxiety I couldn’t explain. My mind would race during yoga classes, I was having stomach troubles, never really felt settled. And I couldn’t figure it out. There was nothing specific I could point to that wasn’t working, but it wasn’t working.

      In this case, he dumped me before I could — I was still Trying. Hard. A lot. And in the breakup I learned a lot about him, things that were shoved in my face because of ending things, which I couldn’t ignore. And that explained a lot of the year + of anxiety.

      LW, yes, keep seeing your therapist, because that helps you in the long run no matter what. But also learn to trust yourself and to trust your gut. Sometimes that brain is smarter than the one in your head.

      1. I couldn’t explain mine either! “Where is this coming from? I have no idea!”

        Painful as it was, I’m glad I pulled the trigger (on the metaphorical relationship gun) first.

        Hope you’re doing better, Yan.

  8. RUN AWAY. For serious, girl. You started dating him when you were 16, and he makes you feel like crap. According to you letter (and, I’m extrapolating, your boyfriend?) you’re a whimsical, eccentric nervous-freak who ruins everything with your dumb things you say. Nothing about that is a compliment (first part) or true (rest of the part). Your anxiety is not messing up your relationship. Your relationship is messing up your life. All the good times you’ve had are not worth a partner who doesn’t respect you, your religion, your thoughts, or your feelings.

    Imma quote a tv show at you: You’re too young to know this, but it’s not supposed to be this hard.

    1. Much love for the Grey’s Anatomy reference and totally agree with the sentiment.

    2. Whoa dude(ette?), where did you get that it’s her boyfriend making her feel this way? She’s self-describing here, not telling us things that HE has said. On the religion issue – it’s just as much on her to respect HIS beliefs as it is on him to respect hers. Mutual respect, bro. Cut the man some slack.

      1. I think it came across loud and clear that she IS respecting her bf’s beliefs. After all, she is the one who is willing/planning to convert. If anything, he is not respecting hers.

        I picked up on the red flags duck did also. If she is feeling this much anxiety, it’s likely that he is pressuring her. Although it could be unintentional, it’s clear that the pressure is still there. Quite frankly, when someone presents with this much anxiety over a relationship, I think it’s time for that person to re-evaluate the relationship. Like everyone said, anxiety tells you that needs are not being met or that something is wrong and it shouldn’t be ignored.

        1. Yep. Thirded on a few items–the typecasting of “wacky eccentric free spirit” and ‘vulcan logic’ made me wince, as did the anxiety. It’s really hard not to over-identify, but my ex and I started off with almost exactly those same labels, except that over time as the positions became polarized, the words used got a lot more hurtful, and it became clear that Logic was King and everything else was crap.

          In my perfect world, when a woman came to see a medical/mental health professional presenting with anxiety, two things would happen immediately:
          1) bloodwork to rule out the possibilty of a thyroid disorder (which can cause anxiety and panic issues).
          2) questionnaire would be given out to identify if the patient was in a controlling or possibly abusive relationship.
          Now mind you, I am not nor have I ever been a medical/mental health professional, but I have been to see them many fruitless times with severe anxiety issues that stemmed from–surprise!–BOTH of those 2 problems listed above. Guess what happened to my panic attacks when I divorced my ex and got proper dosages of thyroid meds? You got it, *gone*.

          Not that it sounds like our LW is that bad off, but it’s more of a PSA. She and her BF may be able to overcome their hurdles, but it sounds like he needs to maybe bend a little more and she a little less.

          1. A questionnaire identifying if someone is in a controlling or abusive relationship might be generally helpful to the LW and others. I googled “questionnaire controlling abusive relationship” and got a lot of hits. Do you have a questionnaire you would recommend?

        2. I suppose I’m touchy about it because I’m that person who has totally weird anxieties that are no one else’s fault. I identified with the LW because I also have that crushing fear of Saying Something Stupid and Screwing Everything Up, and that is neither my boyfriend’s fault or my relationship’s fault. It’s an insecurity I have. Logically, I know that if we disagree over something and he gets miffed over [thing I said that hurt his feelings], it’s not the end of the universe, but I have to talk myself down from the ledge EVERY time. It’s always exponentially worse in my head than it is in reality. If I’d run away the first time my jerkbrain said to me “you’ve screwed everything up, he hates you!” we’d have never lasted past the honeymoon period. Yeah, it shouldn’t be that hard, but it’s possible she’s just worried because she worries, and is making it hard for herself. It needs talking about and evaluation, but I don’t think it warrants such a cut-and-dried “RUN AWAY and dump the disrespectful bastard”. Even if they don’t work out, it doesn’t mean he’s an awful person.

          1. In retrospect, I guess it was more the phrasing rather than the sentiment I was disagreeing with. Just a little harsh for the situation, I suppose.

          2. I agree its alarming how easily people launch into DTMFA. Context is really important, and we have very little.

          3. Nope, I stand by my stage suggestions. He’s logical; she’s a synonym for crazy. He expects her to convert to his religion, or they have to eventually break up. She can’t talk to him about healthy eating without him being ‘really insulted and upset’ for several days. Also, the religion thing is a big enough deal to her that she wants to put it off for years, and she said it’s caused THEM (not just her) anxiety to the state that they’ve briefly split up over it. She ‘can’t give him a solid answer’. So he wants a solid answer on her converting to Judaism? Even though she’s made it clear she’s not ready to do that (FOR YEARS), and he’s made it clear he’ll break up with her if she won’t change her belief system for him? Because he’s the cool logical one, but she’s just whimsical?

            Listen, I can empathize about jerkbrainus anxiousus. But part of learning to manage that anxiety is learning that some anxiety is a normal response to a bad scene. From what she’s described, this sounds like a bad scene for her. Or for anyone.

          4. I’m just not seeing it. She doesn’t say that HE says he’s logical while she’s whimsical. Maybe she sees herself that way and he’s never said anything about it. She didn’t write “he demands that I convert” only “I would have to convert.” It’s entirely possible that his stance is: “look, it’s really important to me that my kids are raised jewish, would you be willing to convert?” and that she said “maybe, but I need to think about it.” Maybe it’s causing them mutual anxiety because he can tell that she’s freaking out, and he doesn’t want to pressure her but it’s still really important so he has no idea how to approach the subject so they mutually say “let’s not talk about that right now.” But they can’t do that forever, so now it’s coming to a head and they’re both worried that it might mean they have to break up. I really don’t see where we can jump to a conclusion of “This Is All His Fault.”

    3. ARR TRUE, ARR

      Sorry, the piratical “arrs” might not be necessary but they’re what I actually said aloud so they stay.

  9. Dear LW,

    I’m a nice Jewish girl who has dated non-Jewish guys. There is a lot of pressure on you. I know it is. I know you’re getting a lot of stress from people, and it feels like a commitment you’re going to have to make, and his family will never accept you fully unless you convert, and there is so much PRESSURE.

    Ignore all of this.

    Don’t convert unless you can say, “I want to be Jewish even if we break up,” honestly and openly. If you don’t want to be Jewish except to be with him, don’t convert. Seriously, don’t. Go to a Reform synagogue that welcomes interfaith couples — it’s more the norm than not. Your theoretical children can be bar and bat mitzvahed and have a Christmas tree too. Matrilineal descent is not necessary for all denominations. It happens, it’s okay, it’s a compromise that you actually can work out. (Interfaith resources, in case you’re interested: http://urj.org/life/interfaith/)

    I’ll tell you what I told my own mother when she suggested my boyfriends convert: if you’re only converting to make other people happy, and not out of a sincere belief in Judaism, God, and all that the Torah entails, then this whole religion thing is just a sham, a way to figure out if you should join the YMCA or the JCC. And religion should be more than that. Religion should be something you believe, not something you compromise away about yourself to make other people happy. There should be fire there. If you’re not feeling particularly religious? That’s totally okay. But don’t convert because of a lukewarm desire to be the same and not cause problems.

    If he tells you you have to convert or you can’t get married — or if his mother tells you that and he doesn’t contradict her — then this is a bad relationship that is more concerned with the survival of the Jewish people than with your best interests. The Jewish people can look out for ourselves. You need to make sure that you’re being looked out for in your own relationship, number one and always.

    Good luck, LW. And if you do want more resources about Judaism — for your own sake, and for nobody else’s — let me know, I’ve got lots.

    1. Seconding this comment. And wishing that my grandparents had been able to/had chosen the interfaith route! I’ve spent my whole life missing the Jewish part of my family which never could be.

      1. I read your story below — I totally know what you’re talking about. It really, really sucks when people make you “choose” between love and religion, or say something like, “you’d better marry someone of the same religion as I am or else I’ve failed as a parent.” People who talk like that are fundamentally Doing Religion Wrong — at least for the 21st century.

        You are welcome at my seder any time, where we skip gaily through the narrative and jump straight into the post-post-deconstruction of Jewish identity!

    2. +1

      And I’ll add the comment that if you aren’t sure or don’t know much about Judaism other than what your boyfriend has told you, it hurts no one to take a class or go talk to the rabbi about it. Don’t go just off of what your boyfriend and his family have told you. Gathering information does not commit you to a course of action. And a rabbi may be the best person to advise you about what your options are and what might be a good fit for you. I don’t believe that most rabbis will try to convert you because Judaism isn’t evangelical like a lot of Christianity is, but if you aren’t getting the real answers you want, you can talk to a different rabbi or clergy member. If this is a part of your life, particularly one that is causing anxiety, do something about it.

      1. +1! Just gathering information is helpful — especially in a religion like Judaism, where there’s a lot of different denominations, each with their own rules.

    3. Yes! Rachel, I really like everything you’ve said. I’m a non-Jewish woman married to a Jewish man. He would love it if I formally converted, but he doesn’t want me to convert just to be with him. So we married and we are raising our kid in the Reform tradition, which accepts patrilineal descent. We searched out interfaith groups, and it was totally an awesome thing. We celebrate multiple religious traditions, but the Jewish ones are very important to our family.

      That said, however, religion seems to be a deal breaker for LW’s boyfriend. I feel like LW and her boyfriend should totally explore options other than conversion, because I like people keeping our options open and learning all we can about them.

      Rachel, this isn’t aimed at you. Your reply was lovely! But I would like to point out to other people that deal breakers are deal breakers, and I don’t think we should reserve the vitriol for someone’s Judaism-related deal breaker. Other deal breakers don’t get treated that way in the comments on this blog. It gives me a bad feeling when the one deal breaker I’ve seen that people are slamming on is the one that’s related to a non-dominant faith. It’s his deal breaker! Whether you agree with it or not, it’s still his right to decide. (I don’t, actually, and it’s not just people getting old-fashioned ideas from Fiddler on the Roof. I can’t speak to all of it, not being Jewish. But also, to some Jewish people – including some of the family I married into – it’s an important part of their culture and religion.)

      1. Just to complicate things, there are also some Jews who don’t seem to entirely accept that converts are part of “us.” My girlfriend’s mother is one of them: her then-husband being Jewish wasn’t good enough, because his background was Irish Catholic. It’s not clear to me how much of that was “he didn’t grow up in the same subculture” and how much was specifically that he was Irish-American. It’s not something I can imagine asking her about (he is her ex-husband for sound reasons that have nothing to do with either ethnicity or religion).

      2. I don’t necessarily disagree, but at least the way I read the comments was less “OMG dealbreaker” and more “OMG dealbreaker that LW seems to be uncomfortable with, maybe this isn’t going to work out”

  10. It’s interesting how often relationships get pushed into this mold of The Stable One and The Whimsical One. (Which in turn call up different stereotypes depending on the genders of the parties). It’s an easy way to assert complementarity, which is good, but it so often seems to harden into rigid roles, usually to the detriment of The Whimsical One.

    On the religion thing, two of my good friends from college had a beautiful joint Catholic-Jewish ceremony and are still going strong in their different faiths. Another good friend converted from Catholicism to Judaism in order to get married. There are lots of different ways to do it, so be sure you’re choosing the way that really works best for you both. Finding good religious leaders from both faiths to talk things over with now — even if marriage and conversion are in the distant future — could help a lot.

  11. I want to throw in my two cents about the converting thing: my father was Jewish and my mother was Anglican. When they got married they decided it wasn’t fair for either to force the other to convert, or to insist that their future children favour one over the other. (This was back in a time when this was considered a rather radical “mixed” marriage.) My siblings and I were raised as neither, but with exposure to both cultures. As a result, I’m spiritual, but not religious—but what I believe, I believe because I’ve come to it on my own and not just because I was raised to believe it. I think this is a bonus. What my parents did was focus on the morals that they had in common, and raise us according to those, without labelling them. Christianity and Judaism do have a lot in common (as do other religions). Of course there are differences, too (that Jesus guy? I’ve heard he’s a big deal.) But for my parents, the commonalities outweighed the differences and they focused on the former. If you and your boyfriend have had a great relationship for three years, I’m guessing that deep down you share a common set of moral beliefs. If it’s been working so far, why does it have to change after marriage? I wish you well, LW, and I think you have way more going in your favour than against you.

  12. Both of my grandfathers were Jewish men, and they married Catholic women. All four sets of parents did not attend the ceremonies, and everyone was disowned (Thank goodness it’s not the 1940’s anymore!). Both men converted to Christianity for their wives. My mother’s parents became something entirely new, Christian Scientists, while my father’s father converted to Catholicism and so my father was raised a Catholic.

    Religion is serious business, especially in the case of children, because many religions, Judaism being one, are steeped in traditions which affect the children from birth until death. It is totally understandable that you are discussing religion in the context of marriage, and that it is a serious issue.

    You say that you are not religious, and that you are going to convert in six or seven years, before you get married. I am curious as to why, if you have decided to convert to Judaism, that you are putting it off? Converting to another religion, especially one with as many intricacies, can be a complicated thing. Maybe that is why. And I don’t know how it works for those not raised in the faith, but you might be looking at brushing up on a little Hebrew, etc.

    However, I think you should have a heart-talk with yourself. DO you want to convert to Judaism, really and truly? What if you did so and things didn’t work out? Would you still identify as a Jew? If you are going to convert, why not do it now? Is it a time thing, or are you not completely sold on the idea of changing religions (even if it is logical because your religion is less important or intense or what have you- maybe your secularism is more important than you think!)

    My mother’s father was a quiet man, and not given to complaining, but he (and my mother, who always felt a part of her selfhood was lacking because of her father’s severance from his Jewish heritage) was severed from a part of himself when he gave up his faith to marry my grandmother. To be Jewish, especially at that time, was so much a part of how you were treated by others (in Poland, and the Ukraine, where some of my Dad’s roots lie, it would have meant almost certain death at certain points), and it had influenced what he ate, how he thought of politics, how he thought of community, how he thought about God.

    This is not to say that it is a wrong or bad thing to convert to someone else’s religion, but it IS a serious matter, and you are absolutely right to give it some serious thought.

  13. I have some serious anxiety problems myself, so I get where you’re coming from LW. But don’t think that because you have anxiety problems that there aren’t real reasons to be anxious or that they’re being blown out of proportion. Particularly seeing as you’re working with a therapist and taking medication, much of that free-floating “OMG! Nuclear power! Alien invasion! Pesticides!” anxiety ought to be working it’s way out of your system. If you’re going to address your anxiety, you’ve also got to acknowledge and address the real issues it’s stemming from.

    I like keeping journals and making lists– it makes me feel productive and organized and therefore relieves some anxiety all on it’s own. So what I would do, if I were in your shoes right now, is make a list of everything that’s causing me anxiety or that pops into my head when I consider anxiety. (religious conversion, my mother, fight over healthy eating, Sith takeover, grad school, internship… etc). When you have a good list, you can start to make categories between relationship issues, career issues, general life issues, and free-floating random crap. Once you’ve really started to define it, you can decide what you need to fix, what you need to stand, and what you need to get rid of. And then fix the ones that can be fixed (or at least take concrete steps), get rid of the ones you can, and then the ones you’ve just got to stand will be easier for you. But you can’t do that if you just decide that anxiety is a disease to be purged– it comes from somewhere concrete and needs to be channeled. If you deal with the real issues underlying your anxiety, then the free-floating stuff becomes easier to isolate and ignore.

    Here is my experience with anxiety and boyfriends– they don’t always mix well. It’s not necessarily the fault of the boyfriend, there are just some behavior patterns that are not going to mix well with your brand of anxiety. I dated around a lot and I’ve had some boyfriends that made me feel like I was going crazy. I certainly acted like I was going crazy. It wasn’t because I’m crazy or a bad person, and it wasn’t because they’re crazy or bad people– it’s just our brands of communicating and behaving did. not. mix. It helps if you can isolate and say, “this behavior he is doing is leading to this behavior I am doing and we should talk about this.” Unfortunately, I have trouble doing that. What I know is that one day, I started dating this man who has never caused me extra anxiety a day in his life. It helps that he’s so consistent so I know what behavior I can reasonably expect. But mostly, he is clear and transparent with his feelings– I always know where I stand and where the relationship stands and he doesn’t condescend if I’m feeling uncertain and need to ask. And he gives me the benefit of the doubt. If I say something that hurts his feelings his response is, “Wow. That hurt my feelings. I expect it didn’t come out quite right.” To which I get to respond, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings. I didn’t mean to. What I meant was this.” In other words, he uses his words so we can avoid me having a FEELINGSTHING which I am very prone do doing and makes me feel like a neurotic freak.

    Where I’m going with all of this, is that if your relationship is causing you anxiety, it would help if you could sit down and figure out why and what behavior patterns lead to the anxiety on the part of your boyfriend. He may not be able to change them, but if you are both aware of the dynamic, you can search for ways to mitigate the damage. In the end though, it may not be enough. And that’s ok. You can love someone to pieces and things still not be right. It is sad, but it happens and it’s better for all involved if it comes out sooner rather than later.

    1. Wow, thank you so much for that! I’ve been dealing with some relationship based anxieties, and I like these suggestions for a way to deal with it without giving him a guilt trip or having FEELINGSBOMB moments.

    2. +1 for lists for setting it out straight. particular i do this right after therapy when i’m in that thinking with clarity place that therapy helps me achieve.

    3. “Wow. That hurt my feelings. I expect it didn’t come out quite right.”, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings. I didn’t mean to. What I meant was this.”
      This is a brilliant script – thank you!

  14. Sweet, sweet babydoll LW, are you me writing from 2004/5? I was madly in love with my first boyfriend, whom I met as a freshman in college. I was Mormon, he was atheist. I was depressed/anxious, he was the one who caused/fixed all my feelings. But I was IN LOVE and that meant we should GET MARRIED eventually and it HAD TO WORK OUT because of FEELINGS. I actually broke up with him two separate times and then took it back the same night. I should have listened to those instincts that said “let go” instead of the panic of “oh my god loss is terrible.” I echo what somebody else said above, it shouldn’t be that hard. Your issues with anxiety won’t disappear if you let go of this relationship, but you can start to figure out who you are and what you really want without the stressors of the make it work/marriage deadline/conversion pressure stuff. *Jedi hugs from the future.*

  15. I’m going to leave the assertion that you “have to” convert alone for right now, but we’ll circle back to that later.

    You never really did circle back to it, but here is what the LW said:

    He is Jewish, and I am Christian. If we were to get married, I would have to convert to Judaism.

    MASSIVE RED FLAG! The only possible source for the message that she would “have to convert to Judaism” is her boyfriend. The fact that he is telling her that she “has to” change something very fundamental about herself–from not being a jew to becoming a jew–in order for him to be willing to marry her is fucked uppe.

    It either means that the dude himself is a controlling self-centered jaggeoffe, or that he is so afraid of his family that he will do anything to placate their own controlling self-centered jaggeoffe desires. Either way, it’s not a good basis for a marriage.

    When you combine that with the dude’s flying off the handle and remaining in a snit for days because the LW suggested “eating healthier”, the whole thing looks bad. I know we’re not supposed to tell people that they are “too young” to know what’s what about relationships and shitte, but what I am seeing here is someone who is too afraid of not having the only serious relationship she has known to be able to perceive it clearly. That kind of clarity comes with the confidence that there are other serious relationship opportunities out there, which comes from actually having other serious relationships.

    So, I vote for breaking up with the dude and dating other people.

    1. “Eating healthier” is frequently code for losing weight. I don’t know whether or not the LW used it that way, but if so, I find it completely understandable that the boyfriend was upset. And even if she didn’t say or imply that his weight was an issue, eating habits are personal, and can be a touchy subject.

      Personally, I wouldn’t think to tell my partner how he should eat. He’s an adult, and he gets to eat what works for him. If he suddenly started telling me how to eat, I’d be pretty pissed! I’m not saying that the LW did this–we don’t have enough detail about the conversation either way–but it’s possible that he was not so much “in a snit” as bothered by food/body policing.

      The “have to convert” thing definitely stands out to me as a red flag, though. It doesn’t necessarily make him a bad person–maybe his religion is deeply important to him, and he wants to raise Jewish children in a Jewish household. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that, especially if he has always been more religious, and she has expressed interest/willingness to convert. (And I say this as a fairly secular Jew dating a fairly secular Christian, with neither of us having any interest in converting.) But it does potentially make him a bad match for the LW. It’s definitely something that warrants more communication between her and her boyfriend, and could very likely be an eventual dealbreaker.

      1. I will straight up tell my partner how to eat and it will be a major concern for me. But that’s on the table from the beginning because food is a huge things for me. I like to cook, which means there is a level of adventurous palate that needs to be signed up for. I am also very conscious of health, which means there is a level eating green vegetables that everyone needs to be on board with too.
        That’s me though. That’s one of my deal breakers. In a long term committed relationship, it isn’t unreasonable to be invested in your partner’s health and eating is a huge part of that. Everyone needs to be on the same page with it though, and I fully recognize that I am ruling out people who have incompatible eating habits.
        Maybe that is food/body policing. In fact, it pretty straight up is. Sometimes it is about trying to align your goals in life with the person you likely spend the most time with.
        So maybe what I am saying is I agree, he may be in more than a snit, and both need to use their words to figure out if healthy eating issue is an unworkable thing.

    2. “It either means that the dude himself is a controlling self-centered jaggeoffe, or that he is so afraid of his family that he will do anything to placate their own controlling self-centered jaggeoffe desires. Either way, it’s not a good basis for a marriage.”

      Yeah… or it means his religious beliefs or cultural upbringing instruct him that having a Jewish spouse is something that’s important, so if she can’t be that, he can’t marry her. I really don’t understand what’s wrong with him being upfront.

      1. Yeah, it’s not the existence of the deal-breaker, it’s how it seems like it’s being presented. “This is important to me, so if we’re not on the same page about it, then this probably won’t work out for the long term” is one thing, but “this is important to me and so *you must change to agree with me regardless of how you feel* or else I’ll break up with you” is very different.

  16. I totally agree with the majority of what’s been said — this much anxiety calls for reevaluation on all kinds of levels — but I am a little wary of the mention of the “healthy eating” conversation. The Captain is framing this as a “healthy eating is important to me” conversation, but we don’t actually have that level of detail, and I can’t help but wonder how that conversation played out. I think most fat people have been on the receiving end of a concern-trolling version of “I just want you to eat HEALTHY (implied: because you’re so fat)” talk, which is insulting to both one’s body and one’s intelligence (oh thanks, I’d never heard of vegetables before, awesome). I have no idea what the LW and her bf actually did talk about, but I just want to add a note of caution that even if bf is having an outsized reaction to this discussion, it’s entirely possible that he’s reacting to the cultural scripts of fat-shaming and food-moralizing that are often the subtext of “let’s all eat healthy” messages.

    None of this is to say that the LW should ignore red flags! It’s just that, as the recipient of about 8000000 emails recommending fucking paleo diets from a relative, I know my hackles go up whenever I hear the start of that kind of conversation, even if it’s not intended critically.

    1. 1000 times this. I left this out of my response up there, but I can totally understand the bf being not just a little hurt, but a lot hurt, depending on how the conversation went. As the daughter of a nutritionist, I get this SO HARD – and it’s hardly ever even directed at me. But let my (48 year old) dad put some salt on his food? “Honeeeeeyy, you really shouldn’t be doing that, you know?” And then he gets miffed, and mom is all, “I only lecture you BECAUSE I CARE!” and my brother and I have to be “No mom, he is a big grown up man and he knows about salt. And not only because you’ve told him 4000 times. Cut it out.”

    2. If it was THAT healthy eating talk, then yeah, shoulders to ears. But it may have also been “I’m sick unto fucking death of making awesome colorful food and you calling it gross because it’s not chicken nuggets and white bread.” Perhaps with less swearing.

      OO! Or “We eat out or at the cafeteria ALL THE TIME and it’s getting expensive. Should we consider our kitchen? Learning to cook?”

      Or “Hey, I’m 19 and just discovered that there is amazeballs food that doesn’t come fried. Explore it with me?”

      That talk can go a bunch of different ways. /$0.02

      1. Even those conversations you mentioned – if they’re phrased as ‘healthy eating’ rather than ‘how I want to eat’ or ‘compatible eating’ – then I think that can be a really difficult starting point, which assumes there’s a right answer and uses the power of dominant discourses to persuade your partner to do what you want.

        But I think there’s good reason to believe that it was, at minimum, the sort of conversation wasn’t not about his body: “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.”

        But I do agree about all the other red flags.

    3. I AGREE WITH THIS! Sorry, I’m capslocky today. But you’re really right, and it’s so easy to be simply horrible to someone under the false flag of “but your health!”

      1. Yeah, I feel like I should share some of my experience on this one as my ex frequently pulled the healthy eating/exercise card on me. What made the conversations so bad and so hurtful though was completely how he phrased things. I think there are ways to have these conversations where the people that we care about don’t get hurt and at the same time we can show we care about their health, but in a healthy way. Policing someone’s food intake and/or body is NEVER healthy. It’s just annoying and rude, in my opinion.
        So for him, instead of saying things like “I like to exercise, do you want to exercise with me?” or “I’d love to exercise with you. Would you like to go to the gym together?” he turned it into “You need to exercise more/now, etc.” and “You shouldn’t be eating that when you haven’t exercised today.” And for the healthy eating it was basically a variation of the same. Him = “You really should eat healthier.” and very very much implying that I was fat/getting fat “in certain areas”… Whereas had he said things like “I’m really interested in eating healthy with you. Would you be interested in trying some new things,” I would have taken the conversations a whole different way and not been offended/upset.

  17. And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, and to return from following after thee, for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.

    It’s a beautiful text (and a beautiful song that is often sung at weddings), but a toxic dynamic in a marriage or LTR. Ruth was Naomi’s mother-in-law, not her partner, after all.

    I’m an atheist who married another atheist (in a bar, natch), so the mixed marriage thing didn’t apply to us, but I agree that you should only convert if you really want to for yourself. Religion is kind of a big deal with serious consequences for you, your partner, and any kids you might have. It’s not fair for your partner to pressure you to convert, if that’s what’s going on.

    Looking back at my 19-year-old self, who was also in a TOTALLY PERFECT RELATIONSHIP WE ARE GOING TO BE TOGETHER 4EVAR only OMG I KEEP SCREWING UP I AM GOING.TO RUIN EVERYTHING…in retrospect the relationship was far from perfect and the reason why I “kept screwing up” was that we had incompatible needs. Now your relationship.might indeed be perfect…but I humbly suggest that you at least let yourself contemplate the idea that it’s not, and maybe this isn’t for you.

      1. I just realized that the LW wrote “he feels like I don’t find him attractive anymore” (b/c of the conversation), so yeah, I’m going to guess that he took it as her criticizing his body. She also says that wasn’t the case, so I’m gonna go ahead and say the fix here would be to say “I’m sorry that I made you feel criticized, I didn’t mean it that way” rather than angsting over it. (I mean that in the kindest possible way, having had to do exactly the same thing (and having been on the receiving end of that statement: IT WORKS.) It’s so much easier to angst instead of using your words!

  18. I’ve nothing to offer on the religious front.

    In my experience, if you are feeling that much anxiety and you characterize yourself as whimsical and eccentric and someone who made him mad enough (the “perfect guy”) to have him not speak to you for days – when you’d agreed that communication was of the utmost importance – then maybe what you should be thinking about is whether he is right for you *right now.* Not in the future. Not as a husband (and I, having gotten engaged at 19, know very well that you’re too young to marry). Two break-ups with the perfect guy? I did that, too. I thought I was the whimsical one and he was the logical one. I planned to marry him, and he proposed to me. I was with him for three years in my late teens. Yeah, I remember that one. Turns out, he was the worst person I’ve ever been with. Maybe yours isn’t, but you hardly have the experience to know.

    As for marriage – I got married at 21 and divorced at 24. Our divorce was a 3-page deal with nothing to divide up. It was extremely easy, legally. It was a fucking mess, emotionally. Getting divorced is a LOT worse than simply breaking up. I’m glad you’re not in a hurry to marry – it may save you the pain of divorce.

    You especially need to consider waiting if you’re going to go to grad school. I did grad school with a boyfriend of 9 years – the best partner I’ve ever had, who I’m fortunate enough to still be with. The stress of grad school nearly destroyed our relationship. Grad school is *hard.* Relationships often come second, and many don’t survive. I think you are wise to consider waiting until after grad school to get married.

    And, last thing to think about, how much of your anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed are due to finals and exams and midterms and all? It would be better to consider how overwhelmed and anxious your relationship is making you when you’re not swamped with school. Maybe the summer internship in another city will help you gain perspective on the whole mess.

  19. This might not help, but it seems like the stories have some similarities. Good luck.

    Listen to act one.


    Kurt Braunohler and his girlfriend had been together for thirteen years, and they were only 30. They wondered why they had never considered marriage, and realized that they needed to sleep with other people before they tied the knot. Then the adventure began.”

  20. Hey, LW, I had what looks like a really similar relationship from ages 15 to 18. We were absolutely perfect for each other except for the things that kind of sucked. For example, he was my first serious boyfriend, so I sometimes didn’t know how people in relationships were supposed to act. Luckily, he’d had several girlfriends before me (and was older), so he was able to explain to me how relationships were supposed to be, but I still often messed it up.

    At some point, things in the relationship turned sour, but because I was super in love with him and we were so perfect for each other, I just wanted to make it work. Toward the end of the relationship, I really believed that a lot of our problems came from the fact that I was just starting my undergrad, meeting a lot of new people, and not at a stage where I was ready to live with him and go to work and come home and be all stable. I thought that once I graduated we’d move in together and start having babies and then everything would be perfect. But then I realized that I didn’t want to wait until after I had finished my degree to be happy in my relationship, and broke up with him. Now, several years later, I can see that he absolutely would not be happy with the life I’ve made for myself. If I had stayed with him, I would have been unhappy for all of that time, and unhappy after.

    Anyway, my main point is, I think you need to evaluate your relationship based on the life you have right now, not the life you hope to have or plan on having or might have. If being with this guy makes you happy, by all means, stay with him and figure out how to solve the problems you guys have together. However, if you’re banking on being happy with him in a few years but don’t feel happy with him right now, it might be time to reevaluate.

  21. LW,

    As a Jew who married another Jew, I understand your boyfriend’s “convert or we can’t get married” line. I don’t agree with it at all, but I understand. It’s his right to have a “deal breaker” based on his religion, and I don’t think it’s fair for other people to assume he’s being controlling or dickish just because he told you what he’s looking for. But something about this situation is a little odd to me…

    The reason so many Jews have a “no shiksas” rule is in part because of religion (children being born from a Jewish mother starts them Jewish in the eyes of the community), and in part because of culture (understandably nervous about outsiders and more than little paranoid about losing their identity).

    I’m going to make the assumption that if it’s the first reason, then he’s gotta be Conservative. A Reform Jew wouldn’t care (they can go by the father) and an Orthodox Jew wouldn’t be interested in someone who converted anyway (as far as I know). So assuming he’s Conservative, being Jewish involves quite a bit more than just a menorah and a bar mitzvah. If that’s the case, you’re going to be miserable if your heart’s not in it.

    If his reason is the second, it seems like what he wants is someone who is going to be proud to be Jewish, observe holy days, live a particular kind of life. If you’re “not religious” and don’t really care one way or the other, I don’t see how you could fulfill that for him. So why is he pressuring you to convert? It’s not as though you’re going to magically become THE MEGA JEWESS he’s been expecting his whole life long.

    Something in this situation isn’t adding up.

    Of course, I’m assuming he’s not just saying this because his parents say so. If he is, then I have a huge eye roll for him.

  22. Cap: It took me a couple of readings to recognize that when you contrasted “Real Problems” versus problem one takes to a therapist, you were using “Real” to mean “external” or something along those lines, not “legitimate.”

    LW: I hate to be one of Those People, but 19!you doesn’t map perfectly onto 26!you (33!me isn’t likely to map perfectly onto 40!me either, but the nature of the experiences one has in ones 20s versus ones 30s tends to create the illusion that the differences in the first situation are greater).

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