#573, #574, #575 and #576: Applying the Sheelzebub Principle

Four letters about The Guy Who Would Be Perfect If Not For That One Dealbreaker Thing. I didn’t publish the 5th of this ilk that came in this week, which was about a perpetually-unemployed-and-not-trying, bad-in-bed man who was also mean. That one was too easy (Bees! Run!). These are harder because people don’t have to be evil to be not quite right for you.

Help me Awkward People, you are my only hope with this two-part doom that has consumed my life.

I am in a long term relationship. We are pretty much solid except for two problems:
1) I am unhappy with our sex life.
2) He doesn’t have a job.

1) We have a fair amount of sex. I want it to be better. My partner, C tells me often that he wants me to get off, and that it is a thing that would make him happy. It would also make me happy. I think the foreplay part of sex needs to last like about fifteen minutes before there is genital touching, and for him to not ever scrape my parts with stubble ever again. Can I have a script for dealing with this? Possibly one for when things are getting heavy too quickly? I don’t want to stop things I just want to take more time. Help? Please?

2) C has chronic anxiety that he has only recently relieved help for. Four years ago C’s best friend died under extremely bizarre mysterious circumstances. C was devastated. He became extremely depressed, lost his job at the bank, stopped exercising, and started drinking way too much. His other best friend had to make sure he was eating and bathing.

In the last three years he has: received grief counselling, started taking medication, stopped drinking excessively, taken some courses at school so he would relearn having a regular schedule, and gained some hobbies (one of which occasionally generates some money). Just before he started taking courses at school, he and I moved into an apartment together. He has decided that he wants to work full time. But that was a year ago.

I am super thrilled with his progress back towards being functional. I am so proud of him for actually getting help. However, C needs a job. C has talked a lot about having a job, how he feels crappy “freeloading” off my student aid, how loserly/useless/fat/old/ugly he feels. It’s honestly really hard to listen to him talk like that. He has asked around a bit, but he hasn’t actually been sending resumes. It’s been about a year of this and I can’t afford it anymore. I don’t want to nag or be overly pressury but the time has come. How do I constructively discuss this with him?

How do I help him get over this last hurdle towards being himself again? Am I being unreasonable? How do I adult this? I knew it would take a while for the jobbing to happen but a year is an awfully long time.

Please help,
Not A Life Coach

Dear Not A Life Coach:

Awesome commenter Sheelzebub hasn’t been seen around these parts in a while, but the flame of her memory burns bright in our hearts. I’m gonna invoke her right now, because she is the best at asking the right questions for these kinds of letters.

If things stayed exactly like they are, bad sex, no job, no action or progress toward getting a job, would you stay:

Another month?

Another 6 months?

Another year?

Another 5 years?

How long?

Because you have the scripts already. They are “C, I like having sex with you, but I really need foreplay to last longer, also, please shave if you’re gonna go down because otherwise it’s like sandpaper.” In the moment, it’s more like “Slow down, please!” and redirecting his hand/face where you’d like it and then saying “Yes! That’s good!” when he does. There’s no magic sugarcoated way to do this, just, say it. You have the longer talk when you’re not about to have sex or haven’t just had sex, deploy the in-the-moment scripts as necessary, and then wait and see if it gets better.

The job script is “C, I can’t afford to keep supporting both of us. I know you have a lot of anxiety about getting a job, but as of (date) I need you to contribute to the rent & bills & food costs, or I need to move somewhere cheaper where I can carry the load myself or with a roommate who can.” I think you need to also make the costs explicit if they’ve just been handled silently by you in the past, because he literally might not know how much it is. Make a spreadsheet that lays out exactly how much you pay for rent, bills, food and then divide that number in half. Maybe you should scale it up gradually – the first month he needs to cover 1/4, the next month 1/2, etc. until he can swing the full amount. Does he need to make his hobby really pay? Does he need to send two resumes/fill out two applications a week (this is my current deal with myself, FYI)? Does he need to look for part-time, short-term gigs? Does he need to register with a temp agency? (One thing holding him back might be the feeling that he “should” be able to get a job exactly like the one he had before, at the same pay and status. I think we have reached the “Start somewhere” stage.

If he really can’t work due to anxiety, can he talk to a social worker about occupational therapy or filing for some sort of disability? Hinting isn’t going to work. Hoping he will suddenly deal with this isn’t going to work. You’ve got to give him numbers and a time frame and then see what he does.

The question isn’t the scripts. You’ve got the scripts. The question is the date. What is your date past which you can’t hang with this stuff anymore? What would you do if the time limit passed and he’s still not working or trying to work, but he is making a noticeable effort? What would you do if nothing changed? You won’t be a bad person if you started thinking about where you’d live and what you’d do if it were just you a year from now.

Dear Captain Awkward,

My boyfriend and I met over 4 years ago and have been living together for almost 2 years. We met at work (though we don’t work together anymore), and for me it started out very slowly – I found him super attractive, and I was just getting over a really nasty break-up. But as I we started seeing each other more, I started to fall in love with him. He is one of the kindest, most loyal people I have ever met, and things with him felt easy and right in the way they never had with anyone else.

All this in mind, I feel like what I’m writing about shouldn’t matter, but here it is anyway: he’s a bad kisser. When we met, he was bad, and I knew it, but I thought this was something that with some fun practice would get better. It hasn’t. I can’t believe I’m about to write a long story about kissing, but I am.

The big problem is that kissing really turns me on. I enjoy sex and everything that goes along with it, but I absolutely love kissing. For a while, when we first started seeing each other, I would gently try to give suggestions. Sometimes they would work, but he always seems to relapse after a while. I would try to tell him what made me feel good but when you’re in bed, you can only say so much before things get scientific and very un-sexy, which seems to be the only way to communicate because demonstrating and sexy hints don’t work. In the end he was finally getting confused and even annoyed and defensive. So I finally stopped and because of all of his other good qualities (and the rest of the sex was fine), I tried not to let it bother me.

I should also explain that he is very shy about talking about sex, even though he is in his mid 40s. Communication was a big problem for us when we first met, and we have worked together to make leaps and bounds in that area. He does seem willing to work with me in the bedroom as well, and I don’t even think all this is for lack of trying…somehow, I’m either not communicating what I want, or he’s not getting it…but I’m starting to worry that after 4 years, things pretty much are what they are, and I’m going to have to either be okay with it, or not.

I am getting to the point, too, at which I need to decide whether to take The Next Step. I want kids and I want to get married. I love my guy a lot, and this seems like a silly thing to be upset about in the scheme of things. But I also worry that marrying him will mean a lifetime of sex that is…well, fine, but lacking in the area that really makes me happy.

I would love some insight, if you could give it.

Kissing shouldn’t be brain surgery

Dear Brain Surgery:

After four years, this is the kind of kisser he is. You’ve done all the right stuff already: Demonstrating, working on communication, giving him feedback, telling him what you like. And he’s still cleaning your gumline with his tongue or trying to suck your whole face into his or giving you weird little pecks timed as if by a metronome (or whatever his unsexy deal is).

So let’s apply the Sheelzebub Principle. If you knew that this was as good as the kissing gets, would you want to stay with him?

For another year?

For five years?

For 10 years?

How do you handle this now? Do you lie back and think of England while he goes to town on your lower face? Do you avoid kissing him?

You say “The big problem is that kissing really turns me on. I enjoy sex and everything that goes along with it, but I absolutely love kissing.” It’s actually heartbreaking to see you suggest that something is wrong with you for liking kissing. You get to break up with even really sweet people if you are incompatible sexually. Or you get to decide that all of the good stuff he brings is a worthwhile trade-off for bad kissing. I dunno. I don’t have magic “kiss better” scripts, sorry. One night my boyfriend and I demonstrated on each other all the most horrific kissing techniques we’d encountered over the years (The Remora! The Drooler! The Corpse! The Cleaner! The Berserker! The Fishhook! The Count!), which led to us both crying with laughter and then having to do lots of good kissing to chase out the bad. Sometimes telling my film students to deliberately “shoot wrong” helps them understand composition and editing concepts. Maybe try something like that?

Dear Captain Awkward,

My partner and I have been together on and off for nearly six years. Last year he told me that he thought we’d made a mistake breaking up and that he didn’t want to lose me so we started thinking about dating again. Really, that meant that we acted like friends in public and a couple in private. About a month ago it started to bother me that our relationship wasn’t going anywhere and this made me think about why our relationship doesn’t seem to work. I realised that it’s just too stressful.

We both get so stressed with each other. He gets stressed because he feels he has to look after me, I get stressed because I feel like he’s patronising me. He gets stressed because I don’t talk enough, I get stressed because he wants me to talk more and I don’t have anything to talk about. He gets stressed because I “don’t want to do anything”, I get stressed because I feel like he looks down on my suggestions of what to do. You get the picture. We’ve tried talking it out but we both end up feeling like the other person wants us to be someone we’re not, and we’ve tried to change what the other person wants changing but it never seems to be enough.

I know all relationships are stressful at times, but this is stressful almost all of the time that we’re together. We do love each other and we really want to make this work, but it’s just so hard all the time. Are we incompatible, or do we just need to deal with our stress better? Is this what all relationships are like, and are we expecting too much from each other? I thought that I definitely wanted us to be together but now I’m not sure.

Yours sincerely,

Just Want to Relax

Dear Just Want To Relax:

All relationships are not like this. There are relationships where the majority of time is spent laughing and being nice to each other. There are relationships where having different communication styles works fine because the more talkative partner isn’t demanding a performance from the quiet one. There relationships where no one patronizes anyone, ever! There are relationships where being a couple in public and in private don’t require extensive negotiation. Everyone has to deal with stressful things sometimes, there are relationships where having a partner to help you makes everything less stressful, not more.

After six years, you have all the information you need about how this is going to go. It sounds like a lot of work. So, if nothing changed about how you spend time together and relate to each other, how long would you want to maintain this stress level?

Another month?

Another year?

Another 6 years?

It also sounds like you never really actually broke up, so you don’t know what the sweet, sweet relief of aloneness and quiet is. What if you broke up again and actually cut off contact so you could really heal and not grow back together like a badly set limb?

You asked me how do you know when it’s too much work…

  • When one of you always feels like they need to apologize to the other
  • When one person always wants something that the other doesn’t want to give
  • When you feel uneasy and insecure rather than happy and supported
  • When all your time is spent working out the parameters of the relationship rather than enjoying the relationship

It sounds like he really likes sleeping with you but isn’t so down for the rest. And it sounds like you are not actually cool with that. How long would you be willing to give this a try if you knew nothing would fundamentally change?

Dear Captain Awkward:

I have been with my boyfriend Dan for 6 years and have always told him that I am someone who wanted to marry. Initially he said that that was not his thing. As we got more serious, he agreed that yes, someday we would marry.

In listening to what he says and does over the years, it’s become clear that while he said we would, Dan really DOESN’T want to get married. We discussed this recently, and he admitted that while he’d always said that he wasn’t into the idea because
* he didn’t see the point
* he didn’t want to stand up in front of people
* marriage is just a piece of paper
* we’re already committed,

In reality it was because he saw it as a really big deal and he was afraid his marriage would fail. So ok, very clear: he’s not going to marry me.

He doesn’t want the relationship to end though. It seems a bit drama-queeny to break up with him because he doesn’t want to marry me. But yeah, it makes me very sad, because to me, it’s an important commitment step. To me dating is auditioning the relationship and marriage is making a decision about that relationship. He says he’s already made a decision to be with me.

Because we’re older (he’s 50), people call him my husband, but he’s not. I feel (childishly?) that he gets the social approval of commitment, without actually committing. There is no real social pressure; I live in Europe where many people don’t bother marrying. It’s really just me — I want a form of commitment that is different from his, and I’m disappointed. Am I letting myself down by not sticking to something I value? Am I just going to have to get over it for the sake of a very good relationship with someone I love?


The subject line of your email was “eternal bachelor: commitment-phobe or modern man?” which made me laugh; it’s such a classic Women’s Magazine sort of headline. But it’s not funny when you feel like you’re living it, complete with nagging woman/aloof man cliches, and I’m really sorry. 

I want to turn Dan’s question around on him, on your behalf. If he’s already committed to you in a lifelong kinda way, and getting married isn’t such a big deal to him, then why not go down to the registry office and knock it out one day soon? It requires no changes on his part, and is actually meaningful to you, so why NOT do it?

If he’s already committed for life, then let’s talk about the ways that marriage as a legal institution acts as a safety net in worst case scenarios, especially as people age:

  • Who makes decisions for the other if one of you gets sick or is incapacitated?
  • How does money get handled in the case of death or debilitating injury?
  • Do you know where all each other’s money (and debts) live? Do you manage money together?
  • Do you each have a will? What’s your insurance situation?
  • Can you talk about all of the above calmly and constructively, in a way that makes you both feel cared for and heard?

Someone who says “I’m worried the marriage will fail” is actually saying (sorry!) “I don’t think I would stay married to you, even if we got married.” After six years, I think you know everything you need to know about Dan and what he wants and what you want. It sounds like you want different stuff. And that’s daunting, because starting over is daunting. Giving up something that’s pretty great for the unknown is pretty scary. I don’t know what you should do, so let’s apply the Sheelzebub Principle. If things stayed exactly as they are for another six years, would you be happy?

One thing that guts me about all of your letters is your questioning of your right to want good kissing, good sex, a partner who can help with the bills, marriage, someone who makes you feel relaxed instead of stressed all the time. You’re using words like “drama queen” to describe yourself for being a human who wants things. You’re all asking “Is it even okay to want what I want?

Whoever injected our collective brain with the idea that love is something we earn by making ourselves want only smaller, appropriate, manageable things needs to come here and fight me, with fists. Because I want EVERYTHING. I want love, I want great sex, I want great kissing, I want to be able to relax and laugh with my love, I want us to both contribute financially to the household as well as we are able, and when the time comes I want to stand up in front of the people I care about and say “You bet I do” and sign that “meaningless” piece of paper. I want those things without apology. Without limit. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with any of you for wanting those things, too. I can’t promise you that someone is out there who wants those things and wants them with you (I don’t control that, just like I can’t make people kiss better or clean the toilet when it’s their turn) but my own life has given me lots of reasons to be optimistic on your behalf.

You guys knew what I was going to say when you wrote, most likely. I’m good at “break up, duh” and I wish I had something better to offer you. Probably what would be most useful here are stories from the community:

Recognize yourself in any of these tales?

Were you and your partner able to talk your way through to a better place? 



196 thoughts on “#573, #574, #575 and #576: Applying the Sheelzebub Principle

  1. Oh, Cap, if I could only go back in time for a few seconds, I would print out this WHOLE BLOG (plus comments) and shove it into my own fourteen-year-old hands.

    1. I keep trying to shove it into my nineteen year old daughters hands…turns out that ‘you can lead a horse to water….etc’…but it still provides very good conversation fodder.

  2. As someone formerly in a relationship that at times got pretty similar to what “Just Want to Relax” is describing (and thus is doing the expected amount of projecting): tell this asshole to get lost. People who behave as actual partners, who “look after you” in a way that supports your goals, from a place of admiration and respect, are great. People who “look after you” by deciding to step into the parental role and make a lot of idiotic mouth sounds (or eye rolls) about being the responsible/productive/socially-skilled one can pretty much just fuck themselves.

    I don’t doubt that this guy has a lot of affection for you, but it sounds like it stops short of actually respecting you. That’s bullshit. You deserve more than that.

    Basically, he’s just wrong about you, and I really hope you can can break yourself out of the narrative he has built around your relationship (via exiting it entirely).

    I actually ended up getting dumped by my similarly shitty and disrespectful boyfriend (in an unsurprisingly chickenshit and unnecessarily torturous way), but looking back, holy christ was that a bullet dodged. The sooner you cut this person out of your life, the sooner you can look back in horror and soak up the relief at having finally moved on.

    1. Yeah. Note that all the causes of stress you mention are all about him trying to get you to act different from yourself – basically, about him not respecting or appreciating the way you are and putting you down. It’s not a symmetrical situation where both of you want unreasonable things of the other. “You must change your personality or you’re not good enough” versus “You need to stop telling me I’m not good enough” isn’t attacking each other, it’s offense and defense, and spending time with people you have to defend yourself from is generally a bad idea.

      1. > spending time with people you have to defend yourself from is generally a bad idea.

        Yes. There are probably multiple ways people can get into this dynamic in the first place, but, man, if it’s you, I have learned that you have *got* to either figure out a way to work it out, or get out.

    2. That’s like my ex, too. He used my introversion and quirkiness as a shield to make himself appear more “normal”. And then he eventually broke up with me because he had to “move on”. I only later found out that my family and friends hated him because he was so goddamned patronizing. My friend and I now joke that I dodged not a bullet but a bob-bomb.

  3. LW#1, I am you in four months. You are getting ready to leave your terminally underemployed boyfriend who doesn’t listen to your needs in bed after two years and who, while having had legitimate problems, leans on those problems as excuses for why he can’t wipe down a counter/pay a bill/go to the store/run a load of laundry and turns every discussion you try to have into An Important Treatise On His Worth As A Human Being. It is EXHAUSTING. You will feel like a bad person for wanting to leave. “Maybe if I just stick it out a little longer!” you’ll think to yourself. Do not listen to that voice; it lies. There is no prize at the end. There is only more exhaustion and financial stress.

    I’m leaving in two weeks and my plan is in place and I feel happier than I have in a long, long time. Give yourself a deadline. I hope you get to feel this freedom.

    1. Skilly, I might be YOU 6 months after ending it with my sweet kind but fundamentally flawed dude who would not pull his weight. He floundered a bit, then moved cross country and abruptly got his life together. We talked some, said I Miss You and even I Still Love You, he made plans to visit this summer. Then he sort of choked and is now semi-homeless. And while I care about this boy and want to see him thrive I know I’m doing him no favors with life-coaching that he didn’t specifically request. And I’m sooo sooo much happier now without him as a huge diversion. It feels really good to apply my stubborn terrier-like problem-solving to my own life, and also to step out of fixit mode entirely and just listen to the people around me. My friendships have thrived; it’s hard to be a good friend from the dragging tail-end of a romantic relationship.

    2. Jedi hugs if you want them and wild applause.

      And oh, yes, the gaslighting and distraction gaming that is “Waaah, I am a worthless lazy piece of shit and I’m so lucky you put up with me”, so instead of talking about why he can’t put his socks in the hamper or remember to mail the electric bill, you end up spending the entire conversation reassuring him he’s a good person and you love him and of course he’ll get better. GAH.

    3. I really hope that you are now in a better spot than with Treatise On Worth Guy. Because it does really suck.

      I’m hoping my Doom Plan works.

  4. Last fall, I sent in a letter not unlike these. I was desperately unhappy. My sex life was unsatisfying, the relationship wasn’t moving forward, and my partner wasn’t doing anything to develop his life situation. We’d talked and talked and talked, but things only ever got a little bit better. But I *loved* him! And we’d been together for years! And who else would put up with my crazy?

    Well. It was a poly relationship, so I got a strange, complicated opportunity to have a new lover live with me for several months. Both of these relationships have ended, but my lover opened my eyes to a life without my former partner. I was shown that there are other people out there who could care about me, who wanted to meet my needs and even my wants, and that I wasn’t really crazy – no more than any other person in a lousy situation. While I think it worked out better in the long run, my primary regret is that I caused my former partner pain by not ending things sooner.

    Since I distanced myself from that relationship, I feel so much stronger as a person. My friends can see how much happier I am. I’m in a relationship that has developed very naturally into something we’re both happy with, and have every intention of continuing to explore. It’s really difficult to love someone who doesn’t end up being a good relationship match, and it’s okay to not keep trying to shove that square peg into the round hole. Matching pegs are out there.

  5. Sheelzebub made a comment like that on my “how do I get my boyfriend to let me sleep” letter, and it stuck in my head. It took me another six months, but I left. Thank you all for that. I’m in a safe, happy, solid place now and I wouldn’t be if I had kept trying to make the unworkable work.

    1. “how do I get my boyfriend to let me sleep”

      I hope this isn’t a derail, but this touched a nerve.

      I was married to someone who would wake me up at 1:00 a.m. to have relationship “discussions.” NB: I am a morning person, so this was in the middle of my sleep cycle. The “discussions” were always her saying what was upsetting her with our relationship and demanding that I respond to her in a way that was acceptable to her and me just wanting to go back to sleep.

      I kept seeing this as my problem, because I’d gotten the idea that relationships are things you have to work at and both sides (=me) have to give 100% and all. Also, I didn’t want to be One Of Those Guys.

      (There were other things discouraging me from DTMFA’ing: two high-needs children in grade school, for one. And, yes, I did finally divorce her.)


      1. This is highly fucked up. Keeping someone from sleeping, regularly at that, when there is no emergency (“I feel bad about this relationship” is NOT an emergency) is wrong. And “working on” a relationship doesn’t mean it should be extra, pointlessly painful. Glad you’re out.

      2. Yeah, look, sleep deprivation is a form of torture. (It’s also an interrogation technique.) If your partner is not letting you sleep, your partner is being very cruel to you. It’s also a dysfunctional way to handle conflict. Sleep-deprived people join cults and sign false confessions.

        I’ve heard this one often enough that I think it ought to be textbook. If your partner has a habit of forcing you into relationship referenda at inappropriate times – especially when you’re dealing with some other crisis or deadline – then they are at best emotionally insensitive and at worst emotionally abusive.

        Other warning signs that this is a tactic: if they never seem to do this at a good time; if you cannot postpone a discussion until morning or after finals or when neither of you is driving; if these discussions aren’t about urgent problems but “this is what’s wrong with our relationship” or “what about this old fight we have not sufficiently put to rest;” if you are not allowed to take a walk to cool down; if these discussions tend to conflict with your work or sleep schedule; if they tend to escalate or seem to go in circles; if they are damaging your productivity or sleep cycle; if you fear going to bed because this is such a habit with your partner.

        And if your reasonable request to get some sleep turns a midnight heart-to-heart into a one-sided screaming match, you are being abused and it is not okay.

        1. “… when neither of you is driving …” Ah, yes. I know my ex was emotionally abusive, but I hadn’t recognised this particular detail as an aspect of it. I learned firsthand about distracted driving by noticing how badly I drove when I had to devote my entire brain to saying the right thing to avoid a blow-up.

          And speaking of sleep deprivation, there was the time she marched into the room where I was sleeping and yelled at me, then left, then returned about fifteen minutes later to yell some more, and so on for about six cycles. I bought a water pistol for the next time, but she didn’t do that again.

        2. 7 out of 8 warning signs. That explains a lot about my family. Being afraid of going to bed? Wow, how did I not see that as a huge problem? Thanks for this list. It clarified some things for me.

    2. Yay! Your story was so wildly infuriating; I’m glad you’re in a better place.

    3. Hey, Sleepy!

      Another commenter here whom I’m in touch with emailed me tonight about this post (thank you, CA–I am deeply honored by this!). I have to say your letter was one of the ones that I have thought of a lot; I often wondered how you were. I am relieved that you are in a better place, now! I’m so, so happy for you!

    4. Side note: I just Googled that and found three different advice articles where someone had the same problem.

      I’m glad you’re doing OK now.

  6. Whoever injected our collective brain with the idea that love is something we earn by making ourselves want only smaller, appropriate, manageable things needs to come here and fight me, with fists.

    I want to print this out small and drop it in giant confetti-loads over my city. Mostly because I can’t print it out and attach it to time-travelling carrier pigeons to take it to everyone who needed it. Including past me.

    O Captain, my Captain.

    1. I know right?! I’m so torn because part of me wants that on my facebook, and the other part of me NEVER EVER EVER wants my facebook friends to find their way here. not because I don’t like them, but because I need to be able to do most of my Interneting away from my aunts and uncles and cousins and grandmas and parents and siblings and teachers from high school and…

      1. And no matter how much the subject matter might benefit them, if they’re here, I won’t be able to post honestly anymore. Pseudonyms exist for a reason, but even pseudonyms aren’t always protection when somebody who knows you is reading.

        1. You’re right on that. A friend of mine once commented here, and I knew her well enough to go ‘hey, that’s her’ (this was all okay because it was something she’d often said to me, and she knew I read the site too). But even on the Internet, where nothing is supposed to be private, I think it’s okay to keep some things for yourself…

          1. YES 100 times yes. I see articles here and think, “that would be such a great read for so-and-so” but then I don’t want that person breaking into my online life at all.

          1. Me too. I started using my real name to comment here before I realized how many people I’d want to share these letters with. *sigh*

    2. oh my g-d, yes, yes yes.
      i grew up in a “thou shalt not inconvenience the father/your existence inconveniences the father” household. i complied as best i could. it made me into a very small and scared person. then, once when i was in college, my father went back on a promise to drive me back to the bus station because he was tired, which would have trapped me in their house another night. i was so completely unable to deal with that that i pitched what may have been the first fit i ever pitched at my father, and got him to honor his promise to drive me to the bus station. In In the car on the way, I was subjected to a long angry tirade, which finished up with the coup de grace of “YOU ARE INCONVENIENCING EVERYBODY!!!” I replied, in the calmest voice I could muster, “I know.” Full stop. Saying those two words may have been the bravest thing I have ever done.

      1. I am giggling to myself, because — I’m not laughing at you, I’m laughing in recognition, in a way? I’m a stroppy human being, and my father thought it was perfectly OK to boss me for his convenience (often ordering me to do things I would have been happy to do if asked nicely). I got really, really good at fit-pitching. I could do it for hours on end. The only way to end the fit was for him to ask politely for the thing he’d ordered me to do. He was my father and it was his house and he nominally had the power, but it turns out you can’t scream and beat someone into typing your letters for you.

        He never figured it out, even though every fight would start this way:

        HIM: ORDER
        Me: I’ll do it if you ask nicely.
        HIM: *takes off his belt*
        Me: ASK NICELY, DAD.
        HIM: *starts screaming and beating me*
        Me: *starts screaming NO YOU ASK NICELY FIRST at the top of my lungs. Repeat for five hours if necessary.*

        I don’t know, I hate that my siblings had to live with that conflict, but it was always amazing to me how it preserved my own strength and worth and self-ness in the face of him not fucking caring about anyone’s convenience except his own. Highly advocate fit-pitching if it can be done with relative safety!

        1. i’m in awe at that kind of willingness to stand up for yourself. there is no way that i ever could have managed to consciously weigh my desires against theirs and come up with mine being worth standing my ground over.

          1. I — it’s weird, because in Regular Grown-Up Life I am not much like that. I’m not a pushover, but I’m a lot more compromise-minded. I was responding to something about him, specifically; I found something about the way he approached me a — the only way I can explain it is that it felt like he did not see me as a real person, and I experienced it as an attack on my self.

            But fit-pitching I experienced as quite liberating and freeing, within a very unpleasant context. A refusal of the power dynamic, as much as I was able to refuse it.

          2. I had a much, much, milder version with my dad, who tended to think that his bad moods took priority over everyone else’s comfort. When I as about 25, we were driving back from my little brother’s graduation (I didn’t live with my parents by then, but we were going in the same direction) and my mum was map-reading, terribly, and my dad was driving and getting more and more angry with her because she was terrible at map reading, which was the pattern of every holiday of our childhoods. I suddenly thought, hold on, Mum is terrible at map-reading, I’m actually really good at it, so why on earth is she doing it just because that’s what always happens?

            So I said, “Mum, give me the map,” just as we were coming up to a roundabout. Dad snapped, “Well? Which exit?” I said, “I’m not telling you if you talk to me like that. Ask nicely!” We went around around the roundabout three times in silence, and then Dad said, “Which exit am I taking, please?” And I said, “Third – A69 going towards [wherever], not this one, the next one.” And it was completely civil and nice from then on.

            What did bug me was that my dad literally never talked to me in that angry, dismissive, “I have the right to demand” voice to me again, but he continued to do it to my mum. It always really irked me that he was completely capable of respecting me enough to be polite even if he was annoyed, because I’d demanded it, but that wasn’t transitive to my mum (until she got terminally ill, at which point he became brilliant.) I have really very little patience for people who don’t manage their anger properly now, because I think so much of bad anger management is simply about believing that your anger entitles you to make other people miserable and jump to your tune – something I also believed as a child and teenager, given the example I’d grown up with, but I learned better in my late teens with a couple of partners who said, “unacceptable!”

        2. It’s funny, I am exactly the same way. Although no actual belts involved in my dad’s case, thank goodness.

          I don’t really know what made me (at, like, five years old) decide that being respected was worth a five hour long unwinnable screaming fight with my parents. Especially since I’m not usually a confrontational person. My dad never did learn anything from it. But my mom eventually realized that something was seriously wrong to make me behave that way – 15 years of screaming fits got her to DTMFA.

          Totally agree with you that fit-pitching, when safe, is a wonderful thing. I think the reason my self-esteem is still intact is that I never felt totally powerless. Sure, he could say whatever he wanted to me… but by golly I could say whatever I wanted back! It’s amazing how much that levels the playing field.

          1. “Sure, he could say whatever he wanted to me… but by golly I could say whatever I wanted back! It’s amazing how much that levels the playing field.”

            It does. It astonished me the first time I pulled that trick — he was willing to hurt me, but not badly, and he couldn’t actually force me to do anything. So freeing.

          2. My stepfather once made the mistake of telling me that if I dared to criticize the meal (I only expressed a preference for less well done steak as it was being divvied up), after all the work they’d done to make it, I should just throw the steak in his face.

            So I did.

            He stormed out and my mom told me it’d be my fault if he didn’t come back, but man, I felt a lot better about myself…

            In general I was also a shouter back, all through high school. Sometimes I thought it was a permanent flaw in my personality, back then. Now I appreciate a lot more my being what they call in German “stur”, which translates to stubborn and obstinate, but the way people have explained it to me, it’s the kind of obstinate, bloody-mindedness that shows up as soon as people feel pushed towards an action, and the more they feel pushed, the less likely they are to agree to do something. >.<

            I might be a neater person by habit, though, if I hadn't withstood so many threats to throw my stuff out in the trash if I didn't clean my room right then. 🙂

      2. This story and the way you worded it rings a bell; I think I may “know” you from elsewhere on the internets. Regardless, I am very proud and admiring that you were able to do this. While our relationship was pretty cordial, there was definitely this “do not disturb the father” dynamic in my family growing up and as an adult I recognize lots of ways that it has affected my other relationships.

    3. I’m seriously thinking of cross-stitching it. With like flowers and hearts and shit.

  7. Oh, LWs, I feel for you. And I absolutely love the Captain’s advice.

    Hopefully none of your partners were as nasty as mine was, but I was with a guy for a few years, one whom I LOVED, and we were serious about each other and really really intimate and everything… and he was terrible in bed*, always needing money and resources and emotions from me, and stressed me the hell out all the time. (He was also a manipulative shitstain, but that’s another story.)

    And the thing we always told each other? “It’ll get better.” It was supposed to get better when we saw each other more, when we started living together (thank god we didn’t), when he passed X important milestone, when he fully healed from Y trauma– hell, one of the big things was that his close friend died, and he used that death as an excuse to treat people poorly.

    There was a great piece of advice I heard once that went something like, “Don’t date someone in the hopes that they’ll change.” Future Boyfriend doesn’t exist. Current Boyfriend is who you have. I wasted so, so much time thinking that if I just held on long enough, if I was just patient enough and understanding enough and didn’t demand too much too soon, Future Boyfriend would appear. He didn’t. To this day, that dude is still the same dude. Maybe your partners will change, but do you really want to spend so much of your precious time on Current Partners instead?

    *Also, on bad sexy things– this is just my personal opinion, and maybe it’s overly harsh, but if you’ve literally spent YEARS trying to teach your partner how to make you feel good, and they won’t do it, that sounds… super inconsiderate?? I don’t know, maybe I’m overreacting because my experience has been a bit on the negative extreme, but if your partner is refusing to take hints, too shy/insecure to even TALK about it, whatever, then they are literally refusing, on a basic level, to make a mutual fun activity more fun for you (and therefore, you know, making it more about them). To the LW with the dude who hasn’t shaved (and I realize this is really personal and TMI, I’m in no way asking you to answer this publicly!), is he also the type of dude who expects YOU to be shaved? As in, you’re writing to an advice blog for scripts to ask him to do a basic thing for your basic comfort during sexytime, but he maybe can expect you to try your very best to assure his comfort and enjoyment during sexytime?

    Again, maybe this is just me. “Bad in bed” could mean “inexperienced,” but it could also mean “inconsiderate in bed” and that could mean “inconsiderate in other places, too.”

    1. //Also, on bad sexy things– this is just my personal opinion, and maybe it’s overly harsh, but if you’ve literally spent YEARS trying to teach your partner how to make you feel good, and they won’t do it, that sounds… super inconsiderate??//

      This was my main takeaway from the first letter. I want to give some benefit of the doubt, because I’m in a relatively long-term relationship, so I get it! Sometimes you just do the sexy pattern that you’re used to, because you’ve been practicing for half a decade and that’s just sort of how you guys work. However, I’ve (again) been with my partner for some time, and I don’t at all think it’s unreasonable to expect conversation to still be happening. If my partner tries to get at my bits when he hasn’t shave in a day or so, I just say, “Ow, babe, you’re scruffing me,” to which his response is “Okay, should I go shave quick?” The important part is that, even if I say, “No, you don’t have no, I don’t want to stop,” he /doesn’t keep scruffing me/, but finds a workaround that allows him to stay in bed, without it being at my expense. And I don’t really think that my expectations are anything above the bare minimum of consideration.

      1. I am going to try this. “C you are exfoliating me and it hurts, could you please go shave so we can have fun sexytimes?” sounds reasonable.

    2. I am of the people who Share TMI.
      No, C does not require shaving on my part. He hates having body hair on himself, which is fine with me. I just want oral sex to be oral sex and not some sort of weird exfoliation/torture/buffing thing.

      It is inconsiderate! And it’s baffling.

  8. This is such an arbitrary little suggestion re: the stubble problem. If your partner is resistant to shaving daily, would he maybe be more comfortable with growing his facial hair out a little so that the sharp stubble isn’t hurting anymore? Peoples’ opinions will vary but I find a well maintained (i.e. conditioned/moisturized) beard to be quite comfortable on the bits. This idea doesn’t address all the problems of the letter or any emotional issues between you, but as a bit of logistics maybe it will help!

    1. Concur. Very cleanshaven feels fine, so does a grown-out, well-groomed beard. It’s the in-between stages that are itchy and uncomfortable when getting intimate.

    2. Just throwing in that it doesn’t work for everyone. Both stubble and beards muck up my skin, anywhere they touch me.

    3. This was part of the discussion when I decided to stop shaving my legs – Partner was totally cool with it, and pointed out that as an extra bonus, there would be no more prickly stubble. Win-win!

    4. Yes! Beards are a lot softer and don’t hurt the way stubble does. I tell anyone I date that I hate stubble–they can either grow a beard or shave, but stubble hurts. I’ve never encountered any resistance, even from guys who hate shaving.

  9. Thank you. You’re right, I did pretty much know what you were going to say when I wrote to you, but I didn’t feel like I was making the right choice until I saw it written down in someone else’s words. Thank you for just laying it all out for me in a way that makes breaking up with him manageable (even if it’s still not going to be nice).

    1. Best of luck to you. I’ve been the person who stayed too long, and the breakup was very hard but the sense of relief a few months later, when I was in my own little place with the cat and a pot of soup on the stove and the Problem of The Relationship wasn’t constantly on my mind, was palpable and real.

    2. Best of luck to you, and a lot of Jedi hugs your way if you need them. You’re going to be okay. ❤

    3. Ugh, I just spoke to him on the phone (it was supposed to just be a quick question but we ended up debating unrelated stuff) and I talked and had opinions and it was still an incredibly stressful conversation for both of us and it/I still wasn’t good enough for him because even though I had opinions they weren’t the “right” opinions. Then I ugly-cried for about half an hour. You guys were so right – totally not worth it.

      1. *Jedi mind hugs* You deserve way better. I hope you get to a space where no one is telling you you’re wrong for being you.

      2. Yikes, that’s awful. I have also been in the situation of constantly auditioning for a partner’s approval, and it was incredibly stressful and soul-crushing. To echo the others, I think you’ll feel a lot better when it’s all over with. In the mean time, I would recommend doing what you can to de-stress–long walks, hot baths, good books, cups of tea, puppies, &c.

      3. I spent years being not good enough for my ex; I came to the conclusion that breaking up was the way to go when he was out of town for a week and it was the best week of my life. All that is to say that it’s hard to walk away, but such a relief to not be “not good enough” any more. You deserve better. Jedi hugs to you.

        1. I noticed that I had a fantastic time once when Crappy Ex was out of town. I didn’t have enough time alone to make the connection to dumping him being a good idea though. That breakup happened later. (But at least it did happen! Just don’t ask whose idea it was.)

      4. Blarg to him, and jedi hugs to you. You know this isn’t ABOUT you, because it’s about his need to be the One Who Is Right. No matter what your opinions are, they’re going to be wrong, because he needs to feel superior.

      5. *hugs if you want them* break ups are horrible, but when they are with someone who doesn’t ‘approve’ of you just being you, then they are necessary…

        In my experience, when I have gotten the clear message from someone that i am not good enough for them…it has never been really about not being good enough. It was ALWAYS about the fact that self was too big, too smart, too curious, too creative, …basically I was more than they could handle and I had failed to stay in the tiny box that they apportioned for me …their defence was to make me always wrong…

        the only wrong I ever was, was waiting too long to leave their sorry asses (and yes there were more than one…)

        I am sorry that you are in the process of breaking up, but so so very glad, because no matter how much you beat off negative opinions from someone, when it is your partner, they are corrosive, they eat away at you, they start to feel like a truth eventually.


      6. Oh god, I’ve been there. Even breaking up they still tell you how you’re just “wrong”. As if not wanting to be in a relationship anymore is something you can be argued out of. I’m so sorry you had to go through that bullshit too. But there is such light at the end of the tunnel. I promise, it’s so freeing. When you’ve mourned and started to move on, suddenly the world seems open with possibilities — I know that sounds cheesy and cliched, but SERIOUSLY. You can survive this, and you will be happier for it. Big big jedi hugs to you.

  10. I don’t have anything useful to add (I stayed in my dud relationship for an embarrassingly long time after the point I started thinking ‘I can’t deal with this for another -day-‘, and for me, Using My Words is an arcane skill on par with, like, alchemy, or glass-blowing)

    But this answer–and everyone comments! especially the prior LW!–make me, just, REALLY HAPPY that this advice is getting out there, and HELPING people

    All hail Sheelzebub

  11. Nthing the “too much work” list. I realized my last relationship was over when I started noticing that I got an immense feeling of relief when I took off the the piece of jewelry that my partner gave me at the end of the day. I would put it back on in the morning and, instead of feeling the sense of comfort and love it used to bring, it felt like putting on the yoke to prepare for another day of work at a relationship that was exhausting both of us.

    I am worthy of love. My partner is worthy of love, and I hope we both find it again with other people. But what we were doing – trying to change the other person into someone who worked better for us, because we couldn’t take things how they were anymore – was destroying our trust in each other.

    So I guess that’s my $.02. If, under all the pain and uncertainty of losing someone you love and starting over, you feel a sense of deep relief at the prospect of not having to fight for this relationship anymore, maybe it’s time to think about calling it a day.

  12. I still feel like it was not okay to break up with the partner I adored and who adored me because we were so fundamentally sexually incompatible. Different drives, different needs, everything. We worked on it from time to time but it would all go back to the way things were. Once every two months, basic PIV with some oral mixed in, the end, we’re done for another two months. There were other problems as in all relationships, but that’s the big one.

    It’s been two years. I miss him so much all the time. No one has ever understood and accepted me like that. Ugh. I’m making myself sad!

    These letters just hit very close to home is all.

    1. You can wish so hard your heart hurts that sex “isn’t that important”, but that’s fundamentally false. Sex–or the agreement upon the type/frequency–is super important. Even if it’s unimportant to you, it also has to be unimportant for your partner for it to actually be unimportant–which is really significant.

      No one really faults couples for breaking up when one partner wants kids and the other doesn’t. That’s a fundamental incompatibility. And while everything else might be perfect, it will destroy not just the relationship but the self-worth and happiness of the individuals in the long run. A mis-match in “wanting kids” isn’t so important for a while… when you’re in college, when you’re in your mid-20’s and still figuring things out, when you’re turning 30 and finally have the income to see the world and still have time…but eventually, you have to see eye to eye. Eventually, even though it wasn’t important and you could work around it for a while, it will tear you apart, and it’s better to split amicably sooner rather than later, so you have more time to chase your own happiness.

      So too will fundamental sexual incompatibility. You can put up with it for a while, not worry about it because of this or that, but eventually…eventually it will be a big deal, and it won’t be pretty.

      You did the right thing. You preserved a relationship where you can look back fondly and miss your ex-partner, rather than fleeing from a relationship that was nothing but rubble and smoke.

  13. I think it is ok to have a discussion on your long term goals re relationships and then give the other person a little time to catch up to the idea. My fiance was not down with marriage the first time we met, but after being together for a year and having a discussion about boundaries and honestly and long terms goals that was difficult to have, we are together, and planning to get hitched next year.

    I think you both need to talk and be heard in a relationship.

    And other LW, a very wise friend once told me that if I compromise on what I want from life, that’s all that I would ever get. She gave me the strength to get over my fuck buddy, who at the time I thought was a great love of my life and a misunderstood genius ( pshaw!)

    Life is too short to make others happy at the cost of one’s own happiness.

  14. 4 years ago or longer, I could have written any one of these letters. Of course, I wouldn’t have, because back then I was living in an abusive marriage where talking about our problems to anyone else was a specific and awful form of abuse. So I guess if I had managed to write to an advice columnist 4 years ago, the letter would have been “How can I stop abusing my totally reasonable and perfect husband with my horrible and unreasonable wishes for sleep, food, and mental health care, and PS how can I make it up to him for betraying him by writing this letter?”

    Of course, a relationship doesn’t have to be full blown “abusive” for it to be worth leaving, as we probably all know by now. But abusive or not, the first step is always going to be getting some space and some silence and sitting with the uncomfortable truth.

    I hesitate to offer up my own happy ending, because it still seems so freakishly improbable. After I left my abusive ex, I did my divorce via fax machine from the safety of 500 miles away. Then I re-met a sweet and wonderful man who I had known over a decade before. Our 3 year dating anniversary is this July, and we’re getting married this September. I credit our success mostly to his uncanny aptitude for treating me like a human being, but also to Captain Awkward, who I discovered around the 1 year mark of dating. I often read letters out loud to him and then we discuss the good Captain’s advice and the resulting comments. We’ve both grown tremendously under the tutelage of Awkward University.

    1. I absolutely love your last sentence. I read it and thought, “Yes! This! What a great way to put it!”

      1. I am making the cheesy infomercial in my head as we speak. “I’m not just the President of Awkward University, I’m also a Member”

      2. Yes to Awkward University! After reading steadily for a couple of years, now when I start composing letters in my head, I’ve started to anticipate how the Captain would probably respond. I feel like I’ve earned some kind of honorary degree.

        1. ME TOO. I actually haven’t ever even written a letter in because I was able to work out what the captain would probably suggest (USE YOUR WORDS) and then implemented those things. Before the words even hit the… screen, I guess 😛

  15. I think you really hit the nail on the head by asking “if nothing changed, would you stay?” I’ve been in my current relationship for four years, and friends who would like to be in serious relationships but haven’t been so lucky often marvel at how healthy and “together” we seem.

    Truth is, we’ve had a LOT of problems we’ve had to work out–and we’re still working on a lot of them (he’s got a very high sex drive, mine is sometimes middling at best; he’s extremely organized and keeps to his own corners, my stuff spreads across the house like kudzu; etc.). The key is, every time we’ve worked on something without making much headway, and I’ve had to ask myself “if nothing changed, would I stay?” the answer has always been YES. And if, at some point, the answer is NO, we’ll cross that bridge then.

    Not to be all “LOOK AT ME AND MY GREAT RELATIONSHIP” here; I’m actually trying to get at the opposite–this is how healthy relationships work. This doesn’t actually make our relationship exceptional. Maybe other things do, but this? Being able to change and adjust to each other? That should be the bare minimum. If you are finding yourself unable to adjust (or get your partner to adjust) in a way that makes you happy, something is very wrong in your relationship. You are entirely justified in dealing with that wrongness by ending it, no matter how “minor” the reasons may seem. Incompatibility is incompatibility.

  16. #576 You don’t mention rejection, but someone saying they will marry you then saying they won’t feels like an almighty rejection. The offer to marry is no small deal. You’ve been strung along, wondering when “someday” might be. Much empathy with the sting.

    Big danger is that maybe his mind changes a few times more, and eventually he concedes or uses it as a bargaining chip and you leap at it, not because it’s everything you want any more but because it’s been an “if only” for such a long time, something whose absence has caused you pain, and then three years later you’re filing for divorce, feeling like the whole thing was a big trick… yeah, that’s probably just me.

    My first husband was a bully and used the subject to exert power – I didn’t start out as someone particularly interested in marriage, but then “Let’s do this!” “Someday.” “Maybe never.” “Soon” “I don’t believe in it.” “Maybe, if you’re really nice to me.” etc. made it like a prize I had to try and win – I’m sure Dan is a much nicer bloke.

    But it’s not over-dramatic to feel very upset about a shift in the parameters of the relationship as you’ve previously understood them and give up hope for something you’ve wanted. It’s not over-dramatic to consider whether or not this is the kind of relationship you want, given that Dan’s view is not representative of all the people with whom you might find happiness.

  17. I feel like “Yes, you are allowed to want things. No, not all relationships are like that. So is this situation something you want to keep putting up with?” is pretty much the perfect response here, Cap. Because yeah, some of these problems are things that some people would put up with, and they wouldn’t be wrong to. But you don’t have to put up with them. And it sounds like some of these people really don’t want to.

    It’s perfectly reasonable to look for a partner who doesn’t just tell you that he wants you to get off, but actually takes a lively interest in finding things you like and changing things you don’t. You’re allowed to break up with someone who doesn’t seem likely to try to find a job any time soon. Kissing is allowed to matter to you on a relationship-ending level. Many relationships are not sources of stress on a regular basis. If you want marriage and your partner doesn’t, you’re allowed to decide that this means your partner is not the person you’re looking for, long-term.

    None of those things are petty. Mind you, even if they were, you’d still be allowed to end a relationship over them if you wanted to, but, for the record: none of those things are petty. Want what you want, and look for it.

    1. It’s perfectly reasonable to look for a partner who doesn’t just tell you that he wants you to get off, but actually takes a lively interest in finding things you like and changing things you don’t.

      That’s a point really dear to my heart. It’s really not enough to say “I want you to be happy.” This must be followed up with “And here is what I’m going to do about it.” All the theoretical support in the world doesn’t lead to change if there is no voluntary action attached to it.

      1. “All the theoretical support in the world doesn’t lead to change if there is no voluntary action attached to it.”

        OMG yes this exactly. I’ve been reading through this whole thread thinking of my previous relationship situation, and that hits it exactly on the head.

        See, I was married for four years to a pretty decent dude. We loved each other, dreamed dreams together, etc. Thing is, he was never super great with money, or with following through on projects large and small. “Let’s run a business together” all the way down to “Can you do the dishes tonight?”

        In every case, it essentially went the same way. I’d ask him to do a Thing. He would say “Yeah, I’ll get around to it.” So I’d wait, thinking Thing would be done in X Reasonable Amount of Time. X Time would pass, Thing was still not done. So I’d give it a little more time, thinking “He just works on a different time schedule than I do.” I’d double the original Reasonable Amount of Time. X, still not done. So finally I’d ask about it – “Hey, remember when you told me you’d do Thing? Were you going to get around to that?” And the answer was always “Oh, yeah, I was just gonna do that.”

        Eventually I thought I must have psychic powers, because I’d *always* ask him about it right before he was about to do it. It couldn’t possibly be that he’d promised to do something, procrastinated and forgot, and didn’t want to fess up to the fact that he’d forgotten again, right?

        It got to the point where it seemed like nothing in our lives got done unless I either nagged him into it, or just did it myself. I got exhausted. I got depressed. And one day I found myself saying to a friend, “If things are still this way next year, I”m going to throw myself off a bridge.”

        Well, Sheelzebub, there’s your answer. I couldn’t live with things the way they were for another year. So I left.

        For the record, it is now a year after the split and I am in two very happy, ethical, non-monogamous relationships. One is a wonderful long-distance lovership where we see each other very infrequently but do manage to set aside time when in each other’s area; I’m moving in with the other over the next few weeks and we’re both looking forward to being in each other’s lives (whether we stay lovers or not) for a very long time. Leaving my marriage was terrifying and stressful and heartbreaking. In the end, though, I no longer feel like I’m chained to a sinking ship. I feel like my life is back on track. And I feel like I’m finally in relationships where I am treated the way I like, and deserve, to be treated.

  18. Just to weigh in on the marriage thing, neither myself nor my partner are particularly keen on marriage, but if it was really important to him to be married, I’d get myself into a dress, get on down to the registry and say “I do” like it was no thing. It would simply not make sense for us to break up, or for him to stay miserable, because of something that I didn’t even care about either way. Just to clarify, if your partner does not want to get married, he has every right to not want that. But if he’s playing the “I just don’t care” and “we’re already committed” cards, then he’d get over the one day’s inconvenience and just do it. If he’s pushing back against marriage with the same amount of force as you’re pushing for it, HE DOES CARE, he just doesn’t have the balls to admit it. (The nastiest possibility is that what he cares about so much is the pride that comes from winning an ideological argument – over and above your actual happiness. Which I very much hope is not the case.)

    1. I second this. My personal take on marriage is that I care more about the commitment part and less about the paper part. I’m confident that I’ll know if the situation is committed and not worry too much about the legalities, but if it’s very important to my partner, I’ll consider it carefully and get married if I feel that level of commitment with them and it’s important to them.

      Also if I said I didn’t want to get married and someone broke up with me because of it? I would probably be sad but I would understand.

    2. But LW4 said he _did_ think marriage was a big deal. He doesn’t want to marry her precisely because it is a big deal to him and he doesn’t think she’s worth it. She might as well go because he’s not going to change his mind, not after all this time. And you know what? I bet within a year of her going he will marry some other woman. I’ve seen it happen, I’m sure others here have too.

      1. It’s so hard, isn’t it, when these landmarks of commitment are so fraught culturally and it gets hard to distinguish between “I don’t think that that’s an important landmark, myself” and “I do think it’s an important mark of seriousness and am not feeling that serious.” Recently I’ve had a lot of trouble out on the dating scene with people occupying the gray area, for instance, between “poly-type nonexclusive” and “not looking for a committed relationship” and “not feeling it in this situation”. Stressful!

        Though, I mean, LW, if this step is important to you – if you mean it as a real and sincere statement of love and commitment towards this other person – do you really want them grudgingly throwing some paper down so you’ll stop bothering them about it, even if they’re willing? Like, I don’t know, say I didn’t care about flowers, but my partner picked flowers for me and brought them to me as a sign of affection every week. Or my partner had a kink that I didn’t share that made them feel cherished and loved. It matters that it means something to them! It matters to take acts of devotion seriously, even if the precise vernacular of those acts isn’t shared between the partners. Your act of commitment matters and you should give it to someone who appreciates it as the huge gift that it is. Maybe it can be this guy, but don’t do it if it isn’t.

      2. LW #4’s SO is saying “it’s just a piece of paper” and “we’re already committed”. Well, great, then if it’s no big deal, it’s also no big deal for him to just get the piece of paper to make her happy, yes? The fact that he won’t shows that it IS a big deal.

        1. And in fact, it isn’t just a piece of paper. Putting my lawyer hat on for a moment — that piece of paper is the difference between automatically being granted certain rights v. having to fight for every one of them. When I divorced, my ex (who was also a “just a piece of paper” guy) was astounded to find that the unimportant “piece of paper” meant automatic grants of alimony, child support, and division of assets that he thought of as only his and which I suspect he would not have voluntarily divided.

          1. Yes! It could be less, “I don’t want to commit to something and have my commitment fail” but rather, “I don’t want to enter a legal agreement because if it fails I want an easy out without owing you anything”

          2. Exactly. And there’s nothing wrong with honestly and openly wanting to avoid that ‘piece of paper’ and all that comes with it. But dismissing it as unimportant so not worth the bother is gaslighting.

          3. Re: gaslighting, it might be that the “just a piece of paper” people KNOW that it confers certain legal rights and obligations, and they don’t want you to HAVE those. Cohabitation is great and all, but it’s a hell of a legal limbo – not a good idea if you’re really merging lives, from a “protecting your own interests” stance. If you move across the country together because one of you gets a better job, and the other person doesn’t have a job lined up, then what? That’s part of what the piece of paper does for you.

            I know this is an incredibly cynical take on relationships, but I also wear a seat belt, so.

            Full disclosure: I lived with my partner before we got married, but we didn’t get a joint bank account/mortgage/etc. until *after* we got that paper.

          4. Bear in mind that they live in Europe, and in some European countries there’s not much legal distinction between formal marriage and long term cohabitation.

    3. But if he’s playing the “I just don’t care” and “we’re already committed” cards, then he’d get over the one day’s inconvenience and just do it.

      Yes! In my relationship, I’m the one who’s not particularly keen on marriage. It’s just not a thing that’s hugely important to me, and given how badly my parents got along when they were married, I don’t see marriage as particularly romantic . But it’s important to my boyfriend, and he’s done a fantastic job of proving that our relationship is nothing like my parents’ relationship, and I’m planning to stick with him anyway, so hey, why not do this thing that will make him happy? He does tons of stuff just to make me happy, I can suck it up and do this one thing. Of course, it helps that he’s the one planning the wedding 🙂

  19. I have a lot of sympathy for the letter-writers here. A small step away from “if it never changed, how long would you stay?” is “if the underlyingly unchangeable things never changed, but you could work through enough of your shit together that you were only dealing with the unchangeable things, and not the massive matrix of anxiety-resonance and dysfunctionality that the unchangeable things are currently embedded in, would the unchangeable things be an okay tradeoff for the person who is otherwise exceptionally awesome in other ways?” I believe pretty firmly that every person, no matter how awesome, is going to come with some kind of downside, and it’s mostly a question of which downsides you can live with, which ones can actually be changed, and which people are awesome enough that it’s worth it.

    #1 (Not a Life Coach) sounds familiar but I am probably no help. My solution to “boyfriend has anxiety and can’t pay the bills” was to break up with him (over at least partly that) get back together once it was long-distance (i.e. after I graduated college and moved away), and watch as the pressure to get his shit together mounted enough that he finally got his shit together. He’s got a sleep disorder and some chronic anxiety (not due to any particular occurrence) which make certain (most) kinds of employment hard for him, but he’s found something that works and it’s mostly good now. We both bring money home, we both pay bills, it’s not exactly even but it’s sort of balanced, anyway.

    I suspect that the actual career choice that worked in our situation — my now-fiancé is a professional gambler — is likely not to be useful to people other than us, though. The fact that I was never actually supporting my fiancé — he comes from money and had parental help in a way I never have — probably also helped.

    LW #3 (Just Want To Relax) also sounds kind of familiar, but I might be projecting. In our case, we both had similar emotions about how our interactions were failing — I felt like I needed to take care of him, I wanted him to talk more, we both had a pretty big expectation of negativity from the other if we suggested things — but a lot of those emotions were coming from his chronic clinical anxiety and my possibly-chronic not-actually-diagnosed-but-definitely-present anxiety. And that the layer of anxiety on top of stuff was actually a bigger issue than the actual issues: we were both working in good faith, we both wanted desperately for the relationship to work, but the level of anxiety on top of everything had snowballed into a bigger problem than the actual issues we were dealing with.

    I could have written in to Captain Awkward at any time and had her tell me to break up with him — my version of the story sounded that bad, definitely. (He was avoiding me for weeks at a time, for one thing. While we lived together. Awkward.) It’s hard to cut through the anxiety and tell for sure, but I think there’s a useful question of whether he’s actually patronising you, or you’ve become really sensitive about it (due to history, anxiety, etc) and his basically-good-faith statements are coming across as patronising anyway. Does he want you to change your personality more and talk more, or does he need specific feedback in certain situations that he isn’t getting (and maybe there are other ways for you to communicate it). Does he actually look down on your suggestions of what to do, or is that expectation based on the general stress level of the relationship right now? It’s hard for me as an outsider to tell this stuff, but if you could cut through the anxiety and know, it might help.

    The only way we could find to cut through the anxiety was to break up — really break up, we were both trying to figure out how to move out, and we had both worked through a lot of the emotional stuff about each other in the way you only can once it’s over — and then eventually come back together and talk about things as rational human beings who were no longer so tied up in each other. I don’t know if there’s another way to do this, but it definitely sounds like you’re stuck in a morass of anxiety right now, and you need to cut your way out of it one way or another. And maybe things will be clearer when there is less gunk in the way.

    LW #4 (Eternal Bachelor) reminds me so much of my mom’s boyfriend. I totally sympathize with the letter-writer — I’ve always been somebody who wanted to get married, too — and I’m uncomfortable with how their boyfriend is making excuses. If he is so adamantly against the idea,

    I think that being afraid that one’s marriage will fail is a valid concern, and it isn’t necessarily something the LW should take personally. (I am the product of three generations of divorce/abandonment on both sides and I am majorly terrified of doing anything that brings that up to four generations.) My mom’s boyfriend lived with a woman for thirty years, until she died of cancer, all the while refusing to get married, mostly due to past parental-divorce-related-trauma. So for him, there’s also a piece where getting married now would somehow invalidate all of his previous life choices, and the thirty years he spent with somebody he loved and lost. It can be complicated, and I think it gets more complicated the more years of life history somebody has to justify.

    But on the other hand, if it’s just a piece of paper, why not do it? Doesn’t need to be a big ceremony, doesn’t even need to be a real wedding. Could just be a piece of paper that would make you happy and make permanent the commitment he thinks is permanent anyway.

    1. ” I believe pretty firmly that every person, no matter how awesome, is going to come with some kind of downside, and it’s mostly a question of which downsides you can live with, which ones can actually be changed, and which people are awesome enough that it’s worth it.”

      I love this! I absolutely believe it’s true. I think sometimes people feel like they have to have a ‘good enough’ reason to leave their partner (or end a friendship, for that matter) so they end up staying way too long, or else making incompatibilities into villainous plots. I once said to a friend “you know, two people can not get along without either one having done something wrong” and she argued with me about this for quite some time.

      I feel like there’s this idea that if one person is unhappy, either they are being unreasonable for feeling unhappy, or the other person must be doing something objectively Bad. And I see people twist themselves in knots trying to decide if what their partner is doing is Bad enough…and often will try figure out why or find reasons for it.

      I feel like very often it just doesn’t *matter* why (at least not to the question ‘should this relationship continue). If I can’t deal with a relationship with someone who can’t support himself, or with someone who never wants to get married, then that’s that. It doesn’t matter the precise reasons why. They can have every justification in the world, but that doesn’t make me suddenly OK with it.

      I feel like it’s OK to have things in a relationship that you need. Everyone does, I think. Sometimes compromise is made, or we change our minds, true (what I was sure I would need in a relationship at 15 isn’t true at 30, for instance). But if you’re not happy, all the good reasons in the world aren’t going to make you so.

  20. I wanted to quickly say something about the kissing thing. I didn’t start a relationship with someone once because we were completely incompatible kissers. I won’t dwell on the specifics since my situation was different but we were a good match otherwise. We had been close for 5 years and were completely in love with each other for at least 3 of those, that person didn’t mistreat me and always supported me. It really was just the kissing thing that made me decide not to go for it and start a relationship.

    I didn’t try to work on it with them, so I don’t have good tips about trying to change the situation, and I still sometimes mourn the loss of the awesome relationship that never was, but life went on afterwards for both of us. That person is happily married with 3 kids now, and I’ve had lots of good kisses since. If you do decide this is a dealbreaker, it’s totally ok.

  21. I am trying to imagine straight dudes writing in to an advice columnist to say that their girlfriends kiss badly and refuse to have the kind of sex that results in the dudes orgasming (and that kind of sex not being a pretty out-there fetish). And that they’ve devoted years of their lives to the problem with no results.

    I am not having much success with the imagining.

    My point is: Caring about your sexual fulfillment, as a woman, is a feminist act.

  22. I think I used a version of the Sheelzebub Principle about a decade ago when I ended things with my high school boyfriend. I had been with him for a few years and the things that bothered me hadn’t changed at all. I kept telling myself that it would all be better when we were all grown up and living together, but then one day I decided that I wanted to be happy right then, not at some unspecified time in the future. And, really, I had no evidence to suggest that things actually would have gotten better once our circumstances changed, I just knew that they weren’t good right then. So I think asking yourself how long you’re willing to put up with things as they are right now is a really good thing to do when the problems aren’t getting fixed.

    Also, this is kind of off topic, but I think it’s relevant. I hear a lot of people (not necessarily on this blog, but in general) say that it’s okay to break up with someone because you will find someone better for you eventually. You might find someone better for you, but that isn’t why it’s okay to break up with someone. It’s okay to end a relationship you aren’t happy in because it’s better to not be in a situation that makes you unhappy than it is to be in one. I’ve been almost completely single since that breakup, and I have never once questioned whether it was the right decision. It’s so much better to not be in a relationship at all than it is to be in a relationship that keeps you unhappy.

    1. Agreed. Am I sad that it’s been two years and I’ve dated some people but haven’t been in a place to find someone I want to cook dinner with and watch TV with after a bad day? Yes, I’m sad that that isn’t happening for me right now. But is it better than me and my ex-boyfriend being made miserable by how incompatible our futures were? Yes. It is better. The hardest part, I think, was letting him go to fully inhabit the parts of himself that weren’t working in our relationship. If I met him now, I would never date him, and that’s a loss. And that’s why I support not being friends with exes, because sometimes you both need to be freed up to stop trying to be compatible human beings.

    2. “I hear a lot of people (not necessarily on this blog, but in general) say that it’s okay to break up with someone because you will find someone better for you eventually. You might find someone better for you, but that isn’t why it’s okay to break up with someone. It’s okay to end a relationship you aren’t happy in because it’s better to not be in a situation that makes you unhappy than it is to be in one.”

    3. This is so true. It IS better to be by yourself than in a relationship that makes you unhappy, and it’s okay to say ‘I’m not happy and I’m going now.’
      After 23 years of marriage and 3 grown children, I had enough of the relationship. Details aren’t necessary, my friends all understood and husband was completely shocked, but I was happier from the first scary day and it changed my life.

    4. Totally agree with you, Copcher. A few months after the breakup with the terrible ex who I talk about below, I was rejected by someone I was really interested in at the same time one of my closest friends was fading away from me and I was starting a new, stressful job. I was miserable. But every so often I’d think: “well, even though this is bullshit, at least I get to process the bullshit in whatever way I want to instead of whatever way he wants me to. I can spend every moment that I’m not at work watching TV shows he’d’ve absolutely disapproved of on my laptop. I can drink if I want to. I can read all the melodramatic YA novels I can find and listen to gloomy lady music in my car without complaints or weird innuendos.” And eventually I dug myself out of that. (And had some flings, some of which I invested waaaaaay too much hope into, and a relationship that ended, and another shorter period of happy relaxed singleness, and now another happy relationship. So sometimes there is someone better, sometimes there isn’t, sometimes it takes years to find them.)

    5. “It’s so much better to not be in a relationship at all than it is to be in a relationship that keeps you unhappy.”


      My way of putting it to myself after I finally separated (needed that piece of paper = separation agreement) was: “I’d rather be celibate for the rest of my life than be in a relationship like my marriage.”

      I also swore to myself that I would never try to make myself over into what my partner wanted (or I assumed they wanted.) This is less avoiding people who make demands than not giving in to my feeling that nobody could want the un-retouched me.

  23. I feel like I could respond to each of these with a past relationship, but there’s two I will focus on. The “Just Want to Relax” reminded me a lot of my longest relationship. We were sexually incompatible in so many ways, but we stuck it out for 4.5 years. I never felt fully secure in the relationship, but I was so desperate to hang onto it because he looked so good on paper. My family was notorious for not liking the men I dated, so to have finally found one they really liked made me feel like it was “meant to be.” I was so naive. In reality, we were incompatible in more than just sex. I think if it had just been the sex (or really, the lack thereof), I might have put forth more effort, but it got to the point I wasn’t getting anything from the relationship anymore. I had given all of myself in trying to make it work and I was just burnt out and done. After we broke up and I got some distance, he wanted to stay friends, but I realized that I couldn’t be in a friendship that mirrored our relationship so much, where it was all about his wants and needs and never about mine. I couldn’t make myself be a second class citizen to his family even in a friends dynamic.

    The second situation was with my most recent…ex? Fling? I’m not really sure what to call him. I knew, going in, that we had no future, but I thought we had agreed to just have fun and to go with the flow. He wanted a future, but he, like the LW who wants marriage, did not want to get married. He thought it an archaic custom and didn’t see the benefit. He belittled my feelings on the subject, made me feel like I was wrong for wanting marriage since it was, as the LW’s boyfriend put it, “just a piece of paper” and then after I pointed out that I wanted to get married for many of the same reasons the marriage equality movement was fighting for marriage, I was told I just wanted the “validation” of marriage. We broke it off and eventually we ever had to stop speaking because he kept trying to get me to come back or to get “closure.” Then he came back to me about a month later (which was a whole different situation that bordered on stalking) and said he did want to get married and he wanted to get married to me. My instincts told me he was full of it and was just trying to “win me back.” The last time he asked me to be with him, he suggested a poly relationship with me since I have moved on and am with someone new. I’m glad I stuck to my instincts because I would have lost out on the great relationship I have now for a pipe dream of marriage with someone who never intended to follow through.

  24. I have yet to find it worthwhile to bang my head against an intractable relationship problem for years and years. Solvable problems tend to be solved (or acceptable compromises reached) fairly quickly. Like within months and maybe a few conversations. Also, while people are capable of making major changes, you can’t force them to. Big behaviour changes happen because that person decides that it’s important to do so for their own reasons, not because you ask them to, beg them to, need them to, desperately want them to…

    And here’s my two cents from the “I learnt this the hard way” school. It’s possible to spend years and years (a decade even) trying really really hard to solve relationship problems, and be endlessly frustrated, and then have the other person leave you. In my case there were some evil bees as well as just normal incompatability stuff, but you know what? After he was gone, and after the raging horrible pain of rejection had subsided, sure I didn’t miss the stinging and menacing buzzing of the bees. But more than that I discovered a whole new world where I didn’t have to constantly argue about basic adult housekeeping and life organising behaviour at every step of the way. And it’s bliss. I’ve been single for a few years, and it’s still bliss. It’s so great that I would rather be single for the rest of my life than have to engage in Sisyphean arguments every time the carpet needs vacuuming or I want to plan a financial future. If the right person came along that would be great, but they have to actually be the right person. Someone who makes things easier rather than harder, who makes me on balance happier than I would be just doing my own thing.

    And someone I like kissing. Because LW who asked about kissing I hear you. Ugh. It’s not wrong to want kisses that make you happy and don’t repulse you. 🙂

    1. I’ve been single for just over ten years now and I love it. I’ve yet to meet someone who has tipped the scales on my “Is this person worth sacrificing the freedom to do whatever shit I want whenever I want to do it?” equation. 🙂 Obviously some people have much lighter weights on the “freedom!” side (mine are very heavy, I really need my space) but it feels like a calculation everyone does, even if subconsciously.

      1. I don’t think people give enough credit to the freedom of being single. Everyone is always focused on the downsides, but the advantages are actually pretty great. I get to lay out my house *exactly* the way I want, watch whatever TV I want, when I want, make and clean up messes exactly to my own preferences…

        I feel like I know myself better too, and have more courage to just try to build the life I want and the experiences I want. It’s not always easy doing stuff alone (especially if I’m sick or out of work or stuff is really hard) but it’s still a thousand times easier than being in hard times with the wrong person by your side, just adding to the misery.

        1. I agree with this sentiment so much! One of the best pieces of advice a friend gave me when I was newly single a couple years ago was something approximating this: it’s actually good to be single long enough to know that your own, self-driven life is valuable, and worth fighting for.

          1. I have just written “your own, self-driven life is valuable, and worth fighting for” on the inside cover of my journal.

  25. Sometimes there are people who are just so close to what you’re looking for that it’s difficult to accept they aren’t right for you and will never be. I think these are the hardest relationships to let go of, but it’s still better to let go.

    On the kissing: yes, it matters. I struggled through years of a relationship with a now-ex who was a bad kisser, and not that good at other things, either. It got so bad that our relationship became sexless, and that was fine with him because whacking off to internet porn was more satisfying to him than dealing with a real live person. Looking back, I feel a little bad at how hard I tried to make that work, both for me and for him. He just couldn’t give what I wanted.

    1. Sometimes there are people who are just so close to what you’re looking for that it’s difficult to accept they aren’t right for you and will never be. I think these are the hardest relationships to let go of, but it’s still better to let go.

      Yes, this.

      I moved to another country to be with a man I loved. It was a great relationship in many ways. He is a great person. However, I could not find a job in his country. Not in my profession (I was quite senior and doing well when I moved). I learned the language, and did a bunch of jobs at a much lower level than I’d had at home, the work culture is completely different and I HATED IT so much it made me miserable, and it affected our relationship really badly. We could not get married in his country because I am not the right religion and it’s not allowed (I KNOW). I found it hard to make friends (I am very sociable and had a circle of friends back home) because of language and culture barriers that I worked really hard to overcome but it just did not work. There is NO MeetUp culture here at all, people don’t socialize after work, etc. So I got very depressed and it hurt our relationship more.

      He would not be happy in my country for many reasons.

      Breaking up was the hardest thing I ever did. But it just could not work, my situation was too difficult for me to handle and it was not fair on him to have to support me all the time, and I could not change my situation. Things would have gotten worse and worse if I had not stopped it.

    2. Yes, this.

      If you are a shoe person, it’s like that one pair of shoes at the store that looks fantastic and you love them and they…..ALMOST fit. But not quite. They’re just a little too loose in the back, or they pinch your toes so that one of them goes numb. And you talk yourself into believing that it’s okay, they’ll stretch out eventually, or you can put one of those gel things in it to make up the gap….and then you end up getting blisters every time you wear the damn shoes and you eventually just get rid of them because you never wear them.

      Eventually you learn that if they don’t fit they’re never going to and you have to regretfully put the cute shoes back and move on, and it’s a sad thing but way better than blisters and limping and wondering why you ever bought them but you’ll grit your teeth and do it anyway because you spent a lot of money on them.

      1. lol this comparison is so apt for me because I’m as incredibly picky about shoe shopping as I am about dating, for exactly those reasons too.

  26. When I was in my early twenties, I dated a guy with whom I had the most amazing physical chemistry. I can think about it now (10 years later!) and I still get a self-satisfied smirk on my face. He was funny, charming, and listened to me. We tried stuff, I learned things. He’s the person who taught me about boundaries, satisfaction, and the miracles of a flexible shower head. He was awesome.

    Except. I knew that there was no way we were going to work out long term. We had very different ideas about money and what sorts of material things were important to us. He was also a lot more extroverted than me and loved being on stage, acting, in bands, experimental theatre, you name it. I found that kind of exhausting.

    There was nothing wrong or bad, per se, it just wasn’t the right fit. Maybe it’s like buying a new outfit: the top is awesome, the bottom is rocking, and the shoes are just weird? Or the pants don’t fit and a skilled seamstress can’t save you? Or you don’t want to spend the time/money/effort to do the alterations? Significant others aren’t clothes, but you need a good enough fit that your comfy and happy.

    There isn’t anything wrong with acknowledging a bad fit, even if that’s sad or disappointing or means the end of a relationship. Asking does this fit well enough that you want to keep on keeping on? is key.

  27. The Sheelzebub Principle!
    This needs to be put on the fridge.

    Sorry if this is long but I have personal examples of this as a dood in the equation.

    I have conflicting thoughts on marriage and would be loathe to sign a contract that is no more than an emotional betting slip. Having said that, if with my own voice I am fully convinced of my commitment to my partner, and with the supreme *connection * we would ideally have so that I would therefore be happy to *say* this to my partner and know for certain she is convinced of such a claim, and for some legal/tax/immigration standpoint (obligations that come with commitments!) marriage contracts were required, well then, for certain I would get married.

    Or, were I to be in a relationship where “everything else” is satisfactory (and convincing voiced commitments been placed and secured) except for this one needling thing remaining–that of my dear partner’s desire to have a contract…
    Well. Yes. I would sign.

    This despite being rather loathe to the whole paradigm. Problem is I haven’t figured out with what to replace this ten thousand year old idea save for an aggregate of notes cribbed from the CA community.

    I think each of my past relationships have ended on the Sheelzebub Principle, without having heard of it.

    My partner wanted to get married. I stalled.
    Until they got a straight ‘no,’ –then they walked.
    Or they put it to me–let’s get married–and we discussed our way calmly out of the relationship.

    Fact: Two of my exes from the past decade left me for the same thing:

    A) I don’t want children (neither did they at first)
    B) I ain’t into marriage (nor did it matter to them in the early stages)
    C) They seek comfort and security which is not something projects-to-project artisanal risk-takers like me set out for when entering the Theatre/Arts Council funding-not getting/I can feel a novel coming on world of the “creative” industries (which is something that each professed not to care too much about at first/one of the great things that first attracted them and found appealing/interesting… But as Oscar Wilde said, a regular income is more important than being fascinating at parties).

    Five and Eight years after our breakup neither of them are in a relationship with a man who married them, wants children and has a well paid safe career.

    But both of them are happy while all of us are the same “amazing” folks we have always been so it makes me realize…
    They are far happier single and committed to themselves than they were with me–unable to convince them that I was truly committed. And if you cannot reasonably convince somebody of your *commitment*–then you don’t have one.

  28. It also sounds like you never really actually broke up, so you don’t know what the sweet, sweet relief of aloneness and quiet is. What if you broke up again and actually cut off contact so you could really heal and not grow back together like a badly set limb?

    This is huge. Before I met PhysioWife I was living with someone for a few years, and we were both very immature and incompatible, and everything was just a goddamned fucken chore, but we were too clueless to figure out that we needed to break up. She was not able to find/keep a job in NYC, and so eventually she decided to move to a different city where I was supposed to join her after I finished graduate school in about a year.

    So the day of her departure finally comes, and I drive her to the airport. We park and go inside, and I walk her to her gate (pre-9/11), and wait with her until she boards. As I watched her disappear down the jetway, this really weird feeling began to overtake me. At first I couldn’t tell what it was, but as I walked back to my car it got stronger and stronger.

    I got in the car and put the radio on, and some stupid fucken pop music song was on, and I found myself involuntarily just singing along at the top of my lungs. And then I realized what the feeling was: I was completely fucken ecstatic to see her leave! The constant low-grade anxiety and conflict between us had been going on for several years, such that I had forgotten what “the sweet, sweet relief of aloness and quiet” even was!

  29. Oh, and BTW, when you are in a good supportive loving relationship, you still get to feel the sweetness of aloneness, peace, and quiet, because those are things that mature, healthy people who love each other allow each other as needed, and without requiring exhausting “process” to obtain.

  30. Brain Surgery – is there any chance that it’s not him, it’s you, and that’s something you would want to explore before deciding to break up? Just, I know that for me, there was an earlier time in my life when I loved kissing, and now I am at a time in my life when I am more like “you… want to put your face on my face? huh?”, because the wants of my body have changed. (And now I feel like I’m in a strange Dr. Seuss story, “Face on face? My face wants space!”). But I’m still really nostalgic for how it felt to want to make out, and if my own personal sequence of relationship events had been different, I could see myself thinking “it must be that this guy is not kissing how I like” and not “huh, I did not know that my desires in this area could evolve like that”. I have no idea whether it would be possible for you to bring up with your partner the question of running some sort of kissing-outside-the-relationship experiment (maybe you have a trusted friend with whom you’ve always had some sexual chemistry who would be willing to give you five minutes of lip?) – maybe it would be more respectful or less hurtful to just bring the relationship to a close. Just, if it was me, and I did break up with someone awesome only to discover that my next several kissing partners also didn’t do it for me any more, I think I would end up wishing I’d been able to do some empirical research before I had to make that decision, and it doesn’t seem impossible that some partners might even also prefer that?

    1. It did sound like an ongoing problem. So if I remember correctly, the change in LW’s desires would have had to occur right when the relationship started. Which is just not likely.

      1. I feel like she never really liked kissing him, and now that they are thinking about marriage, she’s reevaluating how important it is in the scheme of things.

    2. Not specifically related to the post but your comment made me sit up straight because that is *exactly* me. I feel incredibly guilty about it, as well. I loved kissing/making out, and then suddenly I didn’t (same partner, he’s definitely not the issue here)…it’s a sensory/sound sensitivity I seem to have developed. It’s incredibly frustrating. I just had to say that because I’ve never encountered anyone else who’s had the same thing happen…also often I read things that seem to look at enjoyment of kissing as a litmus test for being awesome almost, which is ouchy for me.

      1. I have a diagnosed sensory integration disorder and have had sensitivity around kissing off and on. I can’t speak to kissing specifically, but I’ve had extreme success treating sensory issues in general. If you’d like to talk offline, my email is this user name @gmail.com

        1. Piggybacking on the sensory integration issue –and this is newly diagnosed me trying to diagnose everyone I see, I know, but! ADHD is severely underdiagnosed in women, so I am proselytizing a bit in the wake of my new discoveries — changes in touch tolerance can go hand-in-hand with ADHD (usually once hyperfocus of new love wears off and/or other life factors intensify sensory issues related to ADHD). Also, distraction issues affect one’s sex life. For bright, high-functioning women, “symptoms” sometimes don’t become obvious until they are older (more responsibility at work, family, perimenopause — loss of estrogen brings out the symptoms like whoa).

          1. Me: I have either an anxiety disorder, ADD, or a sensory integration issue.
            [one hour later]
            Psychiatrist: yes, it is definitely one of those three.

          2. wait WHAT, “changes in touch tolerance can go hand-in-hand with ADHD”?
            “sensory issues related to ADHD”?

            Sorry to sort of randomly show up but oh my god this sounds so relevant to my life and I need to know more. (Have ADHD, definitely have noticed weird sensory things, if they’re related and other people have experienced this/have coping mechanisms/etc. that would be so goddamn helpful oh my god.)

    3. wow…I really needed to read this right now ‘Just, I know that for me, there was an earlier time in my life when I loved kissing, and now I am at a time in my life when I am more like “you… want to put your face on my face? huh?”, because the wants of my body have changed. (And now I feel like I’m in a strange Dr. Seuss story, “Face on face? My face wants space!”).’….

      to know what I am not alone….

    4. Haha, I love your Dr. Seuss, particularly since it captures my own feelings right now.

  31. I was in the ‘not a life coach’ situation for a while. About three years into our marriage my husband couldn’t get a job in his field (as is the case with many people in our generation) and was unemployed for about a year. He was getting more and more depressed about it, and not taking any of a dozen options I saw for getting himself out of that situation, while I was struggling with an abusive work situation and a very long commute. It got pretty ugly. He did 95% of the household work, thank heavens – our relationship would have been over otherwise.

    I started feeling contempt for him, which my therapist warned me was how we start emotionally separating ourselves from people. It was a sign that things Had To Change. So I told him that I needed him to Get a Job, Any Job. I didn’t say “or we’re through”, but he heard it anyway.

    For a week, he started spouting the most immature excuses imaginable. It was like his fears started bypassing his brain and coming straight out through his mouth. It was completely unlike him. He said things like “having a career hasn’t made you very happy, so why should I?” and “Obama’s going to send troops into [insert conflict point here]. We’re always at war, this is why the economy’s so bad and I can’t get a job!” The one that made me cry was “If the important part is me having a career, maybe I should move back to [hometown on the other side of the country].” He did apologize for that one immediately.

    I stayed really calm. I’m not sure how, maybe because it was actually better to have his fear and anxiety out in the open, maybe because I was prepared to end things if necessary. Then after about a week of spouting excuses he came up to me, gave me a hug, apologized for his behavior, and my normal loving husband was back. He said he knew how incredibly immature all that stuff sounded even as he was saying it.

    He got a job pushing carts a week later. He’s since moved up the ranks in a hurry. I won’t say everything’s been stress free, but at this point it’s normal stress, not this-is-going-to-end-our-relationship stress.

    So that’s my story of being done with being a life coach. Mine ended well. I know not every story does.

    1. I am hoping it goes like this. The implied “or we’re through” I think put it in perspective.

  32. #3 is highly familiar to me, what with the patronization and the feeling like nothing you do is right, and the constant anxiety. I’ve commented about my bad college boyfriend here before, but here’s some more of that sad tale (he showed up in a dream I had during a nap yesterday, so I feel especially squicked out with regards to him now):
    1. I’m basically introverted, he’s basically extroverted, this led to him sometimes publicly mocking me for my shyness.
    2. Majorly different tastes in media. While I tried to introduce him to some of the stuff I loved near the beginning of our relationship, he brushed it off so coldly that I soon gave up. Meanwhile he was goading me into seeing movies he liked, or trying to convince me that the songs he liked were better than any of the music I loved (once he tried to get my dad on his side to gang up on me over musical tastes. Except my dad…has a mind of his own, yeah? And where did he think MY tastes came from?)
    3. Every single thing I did in response to any stressor was immediately up for criticism and suggestions of what I SHOULD do/could have done better, leading him to pontificate at me when all I wanted was some comfort/venting time. Literally anything: my friend is moving, I didn’t get that job I interviewed for, something expensive was stolen from my car, one of my professors behaved questionably, a client at the job I DID have acted like a jerk, my volunteer situation got potentially dangerous, my neighbors are way too loud, really, anything. And sometimes he’d just ACT, in ways that affected me and not him, when I had told him “DON’T.” Calling the cops on my loud neighbors. Continually badgering me for information about WHERE my car was parked when my stuff was stolen. Messaging my friend to see if she could convince me to call back the job that rejected me just to be sure, and saying negative things about my personality and habits while he was at it. Just…bad, bad, bad. I consistently felt nervous with him. I never knew when my opinions would be “wrong.” I never knew when a simple statement would become a shouting match, or a game of one-upmanship. And he thought he was doing everything right!
    Feeling able to relax around one’s partner is truly one of the most valuable things one can find in a relationship, in my view.

  33. On the subject of the Sheelzebub principle, yes. yes.

    Why do we sign up for a relationship with a future lover, not the one we’re with now?

    As far as LW4 is concerned, I want to reiterate that when someone says to you that he’s afraid the wedding will fail, he’s saying that he’s pretty sure the marriage with you fill fail.

    A few words on asking for what you want and need, if we don’t ask, we won’t get. Let’s try to remember to ask.

  34. People remember the analogy of Ill-fitting Pants, yes? (if not, here’s the glossary entry: http://criminalreviews.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/a-captain-awkward-glossary/#pants). If I may, I’d like to adapt that analogy and suggest that maybe the partners our lovely LWs have are more like ill-fitting shoes?
    You can buy shoes that look great on you, are your size and just the right colour to go with some of your other clothes and are generally pretty awesome.. but they rub just a tiny bit here or there or the laces untie themselves now and then or they are just slightly too tight or too loose around the ankle. But all new shoes come with problems like that! And they are otherwise perfect shoes! *Most* of the time, these problems will either fade with time or you can make little adjustments to help your feet and your shoes get on together happily. But sometimes there turns out to be nothing to be done, the very small problem with your otherwise simply wonderful shoes will persist. The problem is not necessarily your feet (they are just fine) or the shoes (also just fine) but together they just don’t *quite* work together entirely harmoniously. Sometimes this is okay and an acceptable amount of discomfort that you can happily live with for the sake of awesome shoes. Sometimes, regrettably, it just wasn’t meant to be and those shoes need to find someone else’s feet to dance with and that’s okay.

    I make this analogy because often with shoes all the initial signs are pretty good! And sometimes shoes that were almost perfect become perfect once they’ve been worn a while and sometimes shoes that *were* absolutely perfect reveal themselves to be slightly not-perfect after a long time because you try wearing them outdoors or indoors or while running or for longer than usual. Just like sometimes people who were really awesome become amazingly wonderful partners once they’ve settled into a relationship and other people are great partners but only long-distance / short-distance / living apart / monogamous / not monogamous etc etc etc

  35. CA, I’m blushing right now. I’m honored you found that so useful!

    I haven’t been around because my life has been a cross between a soap opera and a sitcom. I wouldn’t dare even tell it on the internet because it would seriously identify me; let’s just say that there was a tornado of Murphy’s Law and it was so ridiculous that all I could do was address it and not freak out about it. (Everything is okay now.)

    And now I’m just kind of napping a lot, lol.

  36. “My partner, C tells me often that he wants me to get off, and that it is a thing that would make him happy.”
    I’m a little bit side-eyeing this. He wants her to get off and it would make -him- happy if she did. But he doesn’t want to put in the work/time/effort for her to get off. So it comes off more that he wants her to just magically get off and make him feel good about himself.
    I know the letter is short-form by necessity so he may be wording things differently or something, but this summary sounds like the situation could be a bit ick. Like, there would be a huge difference between a sexy “I want to make you feel amazing and do amazing things to you and awesome if I can give you an orgasm” and “I want you to have an orgasm.” One is a desire to give pleasure, the other is a desire to get a specific result.
    And the “tells me often” is also jumping at me. Especially if it’s the “I want you to have an orgasm” kind of desire, mentioning it often is kind of a jerk move. “I want you to feel pleasure, so start feeling it. Start feeling it already. I want you to. But I’m going to keep sawing away at what feels good for me. But I want you to.”
    If he isn’t doing anything to back up the “want” then I think the words are worthless at best, but potentially kind of horrible.

    1. I kind of feel like he’s expecting there to be some sort of formula. Everything you’ve said (and Professor Mew) is really smacking true for me but I don’t even know where to start with discussing these sorts of things with him. Like how do you say “I feel like you want me enjoying myself because it makes you feel good, not because you want to actually give me enjoyment” without being really hurtful or starting a shitshow?

  37. “Whoever injected our collective brain with the idea that love is something we earn by making ourselves want only smaller, appropriate, manageable things needs to come here and fight me, with fists.”

    I want to put this on a Tshirt, or like, tattoo it to my heart or something, oh captain

  38. I was all of these LWs at some point in my life, but #1 really struck a chord because it is something that I have been dealing with for the past year. I also need much more foreplay than my partner, and it’s been a really frustrating year of repeatedly reminding him of this fact, and reminding myself that I have a right to demand that the sex be enjoyable for me as well as to stop participating in any sexual act that is not enjoyable (even if I know that if I put up with it for another 10 minutes I will eventually start to enjoy it). It’s been really hard, working on overcoming the cultural conditioning that it is bad for a woman to be too demanding in bed, that we’re supposed to just go along with and enjoy everything.

    So I just want to say to LW #1: you are absolutely, fully, completely entitled to equal enjoyment of your and your partner’s sexual encounters. Also, as an extra reminder, you are further entitled to stop a sexual encounter in its tracks if at any moment you find that you are not enjoying it.

    That’s, you know, if you want to work through the relationship, because you’re also entitled to break up with your boyfriend if you don’t want to deal with working through all the issues, of course.

  39. Whoever injected our collective brain with the idea that love is something we earn by making ourselves want only smaller, appropriate, manageable things needs to come here and fight me, with fists.

    There’s another cultural narrative that tells us love is effortless. That if you meet the right person, you’ll spend the rest of your lives in wedded bliss, free of arguments about where you should live and whose turn it is to change the kitty litter. The counternarrative, which points out that long-term relationships actually take some work, is useful, and anybody desiring to couple up should take it seriously.

    Seriously … but not to the toxic extreme stated above. Reasonable compromise doesn’t mean denial of your every need. An entire relationship shouldn’t consist of working on the relationship. The hard part, for anybody in a Perfect If Not For That One Dealbreaker situation, is figuring out where the line is.

  40. Ah, the almost-but-not-quite-right relationship.

    I’ve had experience in a relationship which was respectful and nice and fun, and he was so lovely, and the sex was good but not great. I’d had consistently mind-blowing sex in a previous relationship, so I knew it was possible. We ended up taking a break over something sex related and during the short period we were apart, I just didn’t miss him like I wanted to. I smiled whenever I arrived at his place, and what we had was comfortable and good and intimate, but I wasn’t excited and thrilled by him. I think we both deserved that.

    I’ve also been with someone who I loved like WHOA, and who loved me, and it felt like we were each other’s people, and it so seemed like we should have been incredible together, but whenever we tried to work on a serious relationship it just turned into a hot mess no matter how hard we tried. So we took a big break and dialled it back to sex and he asked me on a jaunt to Europe and paid for my airfare. A bit mad, but one I’ll look back on when I’m old and wrinkly and cackle at, for the foolish, heedless and passionate love and overwhelming lust we shared.

  41. I was married to Mr Needs A Job for 4 years… now it’s been 5 years since I left him. He has not changed at all even today!

    I was with Mr Does Not Want to Marry or Be In a Relationship… now we’ve been married for 2 years, because he changed.

    Some people change. Some people don’t.

    Recognize that you have no way of knowing who will change and who won’t, because their change has nothing to do with you. I have no idea why my current partner changed, but it was not because of something I said or did, because I am not responsible for his attitude, he is.

    A sad story to share… last night I was talking with a friend about how my ex is up to the same old shit (we had a child together, so unfortunately I cannot simply cut him out of my life forever), and my friend mentioned how lucky I was to have gotten divorced so early on in life that I could find a better life for myself. He said at his stage in life he doesn’t see the point in leaving, and does his best to find happiness outside his marriage.

    It does not always get better.

  42. I worked through some relationship problems very similar to some from the letters and have been pondering over this thread thinking if there was any way to generalize the advice. It’s difficult, but maybe that’s the point.

    I know now, after the fact, that we were two very compatible people who were in depressing, lonely and seemingly intractable places and our problem was this situation, not our relationship. But I could not have distinguished between the two at the time and even still, it was basically a miracle we made it out ok. It required us to physically separate (but not break up), grow as people, get back together and renegotiate the relationship with what we had learned while moving past the old injuries. Plus we had a few life circumstances improve, partially because of the personal growth, so the stress level of our lives were much reduced.

    So, basically we got really lucky. You can’t just magic anyone into personal growth and ours just happened to come just before everything imploded, and also happened in a way that brought us together, not apart. We really like each other and being together, but that is not enough – you have to get lucky too.

    We didn’t begin this whole process until I realized that while our relationship used to be holding me up, it was now dragging me down and I was going to move forward with my life no matter what. I had tried to foster the marriage at expense of myself and I was going to do it the other way around from then on. If it led to a break up, which I thought was going to happen eventually anyway, then that’s just what needed to happen. (My husband wasn’t upset about my new “selfish” attitude though, on the whole he was really happy I found my fire again, even when it was directed at him. Plus he knew our marriage was sucking and really glad someone was doing something, even if it was maybe accelerating its end.) So that’s my advice: advocate for your own happiness always because a good relationship will find a way to coexist with that.

  43. My last relationship (of 9 years) was to someone like Dan in LW4’s letter. He just didn’t feel the ‘getting married’ thing, the ceremony, the paperwork, any of it – which is fine – but I did. I really wanted us to get married. We talked about it a few times, and he would ask me to explain my reasons – why did I want to get married, what was so important to me?

    So I’d say, well, it’s really important to me to stand up in front of our friends and family and formalize us being together, and say ‘this is the person with whom I want to spend the rest of my life’. I wanted to celebrate it with everyone who was important to us. I even wrote him a letter (at his request) to explain why I felt the way I did.

    He remained unconvinced, but meanwhile wanted to have kids. Which ended up being the final dealbreaker for me – I was not prepared to have kids with someone when I wasn’t legally married to that person. But there I was, in exactly the position of making myself want those smaller, ‘appropriate’ things the Captain mentions (my trying to make myself be okay with not getting married), while he got his wants/needs met through not doing anything.

    So after a lot of circling the drain and me being unhappy and him being unhappy, we both checked out of the relationship, and split up.

    I was lucky enough to meet someone afterwards who had compatible ideas about marriage, kids, etc. We got married last fall and it’s awesome.

    1. He wanted you to write him a letter to explain why you wanted to get married. Wow, what the ever-lovin’ fuck? Sorry, that detail just really caught my attention.

      1. I guess it could be a good idea if it went both ways. Sometimes writing a letter is a good way of opening communication. Sometimes the reason one doesn’t like weddings suddenly gets a rather simple solution (e.g. when they think of a traditionally wedding with white dress which they don’t like etc when all their partner wants is a big big relationship party with all friends).

        But it’s fucked up that he thought that only his partner has something to explain.

        1. Yep, I think that he saw it as a conversation starter, but it put me on the defensive and I felt like I was having to beg him to reconsider. I was definitely more on the relationship party side and didn’t want a huge traditional white gown etc wedding (and there is nothing wrong with that, it just wasn’t for me), but he wasn’t interested in that type of formalization of our relationship.

          I did write the letter, but it didn’t change anything. And in retrospect, I’m very glad I didn’t convince him – I think I would be either miserable or divorced by now. Thankfully we didn’t have kids so it was a relatively easy breakup.

          I made sure that in my next relationship I was up front about marriage being a thing I wanted. It was funny, Mr Whimbrel and I both did a lot of talking about ‘whenever i get married, I would probably do x’ and ‘I’d want to do ‘y’ at any wedding I had’, and then one day we went to a beach I’m fond of, before I moved away to start a new job (and 2.5 yrs of long distance…) and had one of those conversations again, and he was like ‘So – do you want to get married?’ 😀 and it was great! And we did! And I’m incredibly happy. 🙂

  44. I was tempted to reply directly to several comments but decided it would be easier to just put them all in one place, rather than pepper the entire thread with bits and pieces.

    I was with my alcoholic abusive ex for 7 years. I broke up with him because I finally listened to myself giving myself a pep talk: “I can grit my teeth and make it thorugh just one more day” and actually heard what I was saying to myself. When I’m trying to survive on a day-by-day basis, it’s time to go. So it was the Sheelzebub Principle not as a thought experiment but as carried out in daily living until I was at the breaking point.

    He was totally a creepy dude (in retrospect) who made me understand this objectification that I heard women complaining about. The irony of learning that from an intimate relationship! And sex was entirely about his pleasure. He wanted to get me off sure, but because he wanted to believe he was a good lover, I think. He never paid attention enough to me to know what I liked or what my orgasms looked like. He’d go down on me because *he* enjoyed oral sex, and it really had nothing to do with the effect on me. Ended up making my skin crawl. We’d get done, he’d roll over and asked if I came. And I tried to guide him, or give direction, and it just. didn’t. work. I gave up trying. But we still had sex, sort of. Mostly coerced and reduced to hand jobs or me simply acting as a blow-up doll for him to finish up on. Yuck, yuck, yuck. I felt so broken in so many ways when that was over.

    And the marriage thing–I too come from families on both sides with long histories of divorce. And as I am finding out now in middle age, history of child abuse on one side too. I have never been interested in getting married, partly because I have no interest in going through a divorce, and partly because I can’t stand being the center of attention. If I should change my mind on the marriage thing, it would definitely be an elopement. I’ve been vocal on all of this, so partner knows where I’m at.

    My abusive ex started proposing within a couple months of dating. And kept asking despite my requests for him to stop. I finally convinced him I was serious when I said that I wouldn’t even consider the possibility until year 5 of the relationship. He finally backed off but then resumed once that mark was hit. I finally told him I would marry him if he quit drinking. I was terrified but thought that this was the only carrot that might make him see that he had a problem. I also thought it was a safe gamble, and it turns out I was right. Even the possibility of marriage was not enough for him to seriously consider sobering up.

    So I certainly recognize some similarities on those letters, from one side or the other of the equation.

    I’m approaching 8 years in my current relationship. The first several years were smooth sailing and in complete contrast to my previous relationship. But I recognize elements of the letters in this one too.

    My partner has been struggling with severe depression pretty much the whole time we’ve been living together (a month away from 4 years). Last year, zie just shut down entirely in response to a domestic crisis. And I started breaking under the strain of working to support both of us and handling most of the domestic responsibilities. And we started fighting, getting into heated arguments about almost any topic–politics, current events, whatever.

    My efforts to discuss the situation were perpetually shut down with “I’m too tired to talk about this.” Pretty much the same thing happened when I wanted to talk about our fizzled sex life: “If we have to talk about it, we’re doing it wrong.” STFU, stop shutting down communication! This is important! And when I tried to discuss self-management strategies like exercise, regular schedule for sleeping, eating, etc. I got met with “You don’t understand mental illness.” Because hir strategy in the past apparently was wait it out. It’ll get better on its own if I eliminate all outside stimulus (ie, stressors). Except that zie was living with me, so that doesn’t quite work. And zie also complained that there was no Team Zie in this areas as zie had moved to be with me, but my attempts to get hir to start thinking about assembling it were met with resistance.

    Here’s the difference. I suggested couples counseling, and my partner listened. It took a couple tries, but we found someone who’s a good fit. We started with weekly sessions but now are about biweekly and considering monthly. Zie finally got a personal therapist who specializes in PTSD (because it turns out that’s been a major issue unrecognized until I started commenting on it). And zie for the first time in decades is on medications, which probably won’t be a permanent thing, but that’s okay. Zie finally was willing to hear that I wasn’t demanding meds, just that zie do something other than nothing. Zie is working on zie’s shit. It’s slow and hard. But zie finally has some professionals on Team Zie and is starting to exercise with one or two friends as part of a routine too. And I continue to work on my stuff. We seem to finally be pulling together as a team, just a little bit.

    It’s hard. And I still don’t know if we’ll stay together. I’m still carrying a lot of the load, and it may always be that way. I’ll have to decide that at some point. But as long as zie continues to do the work, I am willing to see where it goes. Despite the crises and challenges, we still enjoy each other’s company. I still look forward to seeing hir after work every day. We still stay up too late sometimes talking. We still have dreams and ambitions together.

    I gotta say, I like the stubble–love to rub my face against it. Don’t know about the lady bits. We still haven’t rekindled that part. We were so broken and dysfunctional, I don’t want to try to resume without some professional help. We’re just starting to think about baby steps in terms of that too. I think I got more stuff to process in that department at this point. But I’m about to lose my current therapist. Sigh.

    Good luck to all of you.

  45. I am dealing with something that somewhat resembles #573 part 2. Not in an I want out of this relationship way, because I don’t, because even if Spouse is never able to hold down a paid job again this relationship is worth it to me – he does at least 75% of the “work” of parenting (and is far better at the being-patient-with-kids than I am, honestly), and does ridiculous amounts of behind-the-scenes stuff that allows ME to at least fake being a competent functional adult.

    But honestly, our household is not in a good place financially, and Spouse would also prefer to be working right now – grad school, at least in the program he was in, turned out to be a horrible mistake. But it’s not so simple as “oh, just go get a job, any ol’ job will do!” When grad school didn’t work after two years because of repeated physical and mental health crises, and the one job he’s held in the last seven years turned out to be breaking all kinds of labor laws (and he quit for that reason and filed a complaint, so he can’t exactly use those people as a reference!), and he needs to be working a regular day-shift so that we have childcare because my job sends me traveling about one week out of every five, job-searching seems to be harder. And I’m not sure how to help with keeping the morale up for him, because society-in-general looks down so much on men who don’t have paid employment. I am trying to walk that line called “supportive” that exists somewhere between “let him figure it all out for himself” and “constant nagging and pressure” but damned if I know where it is. Sigh.

  46. I am of the marriage is unnecessary in a committed relationship ilk, UNLESS there are going to be children. That is only because I think a legal contract is needed for kids in case things go south and marriage is the only one we seem to have for that. This is not a fear of commitment, it is a choice that makes sense to me regarding committed relationships. I *really* do not believe in marriage as an institution. My ex and I discussed this early on and he agreed he was fine without the piece of paper. I think LW didn’t get this level of honesty from Dan so that is another can of worms, lying to someone about a fundamental difference is not cool.

    However, to illustrate why marriage is not lightly gone into; I lived with my ex for 12 years and didn’t recognize his martyr man, gaslighting abuse coupled with rages that were excused by his martyr man excuses was slowly breaking all my boundaries. And then he nearly died in hospital, despite my protests he blamed this on my inability to advocate for him (I did and the Drs listened). No matter what I said, afterward he begged me to marry me for all the medical/financial/legal reasons (and more) that CA lists as good reasons to marry.

    He wore me down over a year (he was very loving that year), I discarded my principles in favor of his great need to feel “safe” if he ended up in hospital again. I did it because I loved him and convinced myself, hey, it was “just a piece of paper”. It was the worst mistake I could have made. In retrospect it is clear he thought marriage was a lock on me, his abuse escalated, he cut off sex with me, I won’t go into everything. The ever so slow roll became a crazy train of abuse. That “piece of paper” made getting out of an abusive relationship very, very hard. So hard I nearly got killed getting out because everything I had was also his… There are down sides to marriage that are very real. There are also legal ways to take care of one another without marriage that address most issues listed as benefits. I’m not suggesting the LW is abusive or that any of this applies to her relationship. I am only saying that there are downsides to marriage, especially if you are with someone with entitlement issues or who is abusive.

    1. There are absolutely downsides to marriage – and that’s why the “oh, it’s just a piece of paper” is a lie, as I’m sorry you found out. If, like you, LW’s partner simply didn’t want that level of entanglement and risk, that is a different thing. But to dismiss it as No Big Deal Why Should We Bother? is dishonest and gaslighting.

      1. My only point was, I have convictions about marriage that I allowed my ex to trample. Saying that if the partner in the LWs letter thinks the marriage license is “only a piece of paper” and not important should auto mean that he should just suck it and get married is not really fair. It’s not fair to people who truly don’t believe marriage is an option. Both sides have a point.

        1. But there is a difference. Your belief is that marriage has implications you don’t want, not that it is entirely meaningless.

          If it is something that one person *truly* feels neutral about, while the other person has Strong Feelings (either for or against), then the person with the Strong Feelings should probably prevail. But the people who are making the “just a piece of paper” type of argument are simultaneously arguing that it’s meaningless and that it’s bad, which I think is kind of ridiculous. If it’s “not important” then it’s not important either way.

        2. I genuinely don’t understand what you mean by “both sides have a point”. People who truly don’t believe marriage is an option have every right to feel that way, and to refuse to get married, if that’s what they want. That’s not a “side”, that’s their decision about what kind of relationship they want to have.

          But they should be honest about that. Instead LW’s partner is pretending that the real issue is that LW has a silly desire for something wholly unnecessary and insignificant.

  47. I could have used this post about a month (or two, or several) ago as I was struggling with my own long(ish) term relationship. My boyfriend… he was a good guy. Don’t get me wrong. He wasn’t by any means a terrible person. He was just… a shitty boyfriend. It wasn’t any big thing. He wasn’t abusive. He wasn’t manipulative. He showered on the regular, kept the room clean, was more than willing to do the chores around the house, had a steady job (at one point throughout the relationship had as many as three different jobs). But I just… wasn’t happy. I tried talking to him about the things I wasn’t happy about. I tried to just… force myself to be happy.

    It didn’t work. You can’t either force yourself to be happy or force someone to be the thing you want if they aren’t. Let me tell you a thing: you deserve to be happy. You’re allowed to want the things you want in a relationship.

    Breaking up with him was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.


    I have since started seeing somebody so unbelievably amazing that seems to have a lot of all those things I’ve been missing and was trying to convince myself I didn’t really need at all, and it feels SO GOOD.

  48. He gets stressed because I “don’t want to do anything”, I get stressed because I feel like he looks down on my suggestions of what to do.

    Are you me, from the past? I married him. THAT WAS A BAD IDEA.

  49. I was partnered for 10 years with a bad kisser. I don’t think I thought too much about it until we broke up, though. that’s not why we broke up, but having now experienced the -best- kisser (my current beau) I think it might be a deal framed off the bad if I date someone new. to be fair, I had other issues with kissing my ex, mainly that for him that meant we were going to have sex and I wouldn’t necessarily want
    to commit to that.

    that said, the same ex (really my only ex) had a similar attitude towards marriage as the last letter writer. but he’s the one who lied about it, and I only found out when I was talking about our tenth anniversary party and he was real down on everything. however, as soon as I found out, I was totally down because it didn’t make a difference to me, and it was important to him. i even went so far as to be the one to officially propose.

  50. I really loved this:

    “Because I want EVERYTHING. I want love, I want great sex, I want great kissing, I want to be able to relax and laugh with my love, I want us to both contribute financially to the household as well as we are able, and when the time comes I want to stand up in front of the people I care about and say “You bet I do” and sign that “meaningless” piece of paper. I want those things without apology. Without limit. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with any of you for wanting those things, too. I can’t promise you that someone is out there who wants those things and wants them with you (I don’t control that, just like I can’t make people kiss better or clean the toilet when it’s their turn) but my own life has given me lots of reasons to be optimistic on your behalf.”

    This has been something I’ve been struggling with lately. Because I want everything too. I feel very sure of what I want, though less in terms of what kind of partner I want and more what kind of partner I would need to be happy in a relationship. I have such a sure idea of what I want that only those points (like good listening, dependability, etc.) would convince me out of my single lady cave, but I’ve also gotten to the point where I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever have a healthy long term relationship or fall in love. But reading this blog (and Ask Polly as well) gives me an optimism to stick to my values unapologetically, with hope for the future.

  51. @#576: I think that one of the necessities for a happy life is living in accordance with your own deeply held beliefs and personal values, and sharing your life with people who voluntarily choose to follow the same principles.
    You are not childish, you are very very adult in recognizing what your own values are, and not wanting to live in constant coflict with them.

    I struggled with this for a long time, since I was in a serious relationship with a man I knew I wanted to marry. He wasn’t keen on the idea and kept waffling, because we were quite young, his parents had had an acrimonious divorce, and he didn’t feel marriage was in any way important to him. But we loved each other, and wanted to be together. So finally I gave him a timeline to come to a conclusion and told him that no matter how much I loved him, I knew that for me marriage was the only meaningful commitment, and I would go against my most deeply held beliefs if I chose to co-habit indefinitely.

    So, in the end, he stood up with me in front of our friends and families and said his wows. Because he really, truly loved me and while he didn’t share the exact same values, he could understand and respect mine. We even had a big ole floofy-dress-and-champagne-wedding (because my parents), but I would just as gladly have gone down to the registry office with him. It might not have meant so much for him, but that day meant the world to me and still does.

    4 years later we are still married, have a kid, and are going stronger than ever. Writing this stuff made me cry a little, and I think I need to go upstairs, hug him, and tell him he’s the absolute best.

    1. I agree with your point. However, I denied my own deeply held belief that marriage is not necessary to a committed relationship and I paid dearly for it. I only posted this stuff because CA talked about how if that belief is valid then why not agree to the piece of paper for your love’s sake. I think it’s just as valid to say, why not forgo marriage if it means so much to your partner to keep it between you. It’s as if a desire for marriage always trumps a desire not to marry.

      1. If SHE was claiming to be indifferent (while secretly building a dream wedding scrapbook) while he begged for certainty that the issue would never arise again, then “Well, LW, if you really don’t care either way, why not make him happy by promising to forgo marriage for good” would be a fair question. Conversely, when one partner wants marriage and the other has no real positive feelings about it–but no serious concerns about it either — then, “So, why not make the partner it WOULD make a difference to happy?” is also fair question.

        Because either way the implication is “But if you DO care, own it.”

        You are just as far from claiming to be indifferent to marriage as the LW is. Your position seems to be the very opposite of “I don’t care, it’s only a piece of paper, no big deal, so why bother with it?” — it’s that in your experience, marriage is an EXTREMELY big deal and comes with risks and downsides you find unacceptable. You own that as a “deeply held belief”. That is fine. Assuming you’re as clear about that with a partner as you have been here, you’re doing great and of course, no one should expect you to ditch that belief and get married. If the LW’s partner had been saying “My deeply held belief is that I do not want to marry” from the get-go no one would be now accusing him of dicking her around, nor asking why he couldn’t just suck it up and get down to the registry office: We’d be telling her “Look, he used his words and was clear on who he is and what he wants, and you pressuring him to change is crappy, boundary-violating and maybe abusive. Either give up on marriage and be the partner he deserves, or go and find someone else who wants what you want.” But that’s not what happened. She wants marriage and was honest about it, he pretended to be indifferent-but-maybe-coming-round-and-meanwhile-100%-committed-anyway.

        But he’s now revealed nothing he said about his position on marriage is actually true- he’s not indifferent, he’s not open to persuasion, and he’s not 100% committed, because he thinks marriage would be a commitment further that he doesn’t want to make. And he lied about this. He let her think the conflict was Desire vs Indifference when it’s actually Desire vs Completely Incompatible Desire. He let her think she might get what she wanted while simultaneously eroding her sense of having a right to want it at all, while making sure he got to keep her on his own terms. So yeah, in those circumstances, it’s not as valid to say “why not forgo marriage to keep this man. Its not that desire for marriage always trumps the desire to stay unmarried, honesty always trumps deceit.

      2. I think your convictions are completely valid! My point was not to say “Dan” should get married, my point was DON’T get married if you don’t want to, but don’t insist to someone who finds it important that it’s “meaningless.” If it’s so meaningless, why not? If you have legit reasons, then tell them to a person who has spent 6 years with you.

        1. My original post started with “I think LW didn’t get this level of honesty from Dan so that is another can of worms, lying to someone about a fundamental difference is not cool.” For me, that level of deceit is the problem.

      3. Nobody is saying dude should get married because she wants to get married, or that wanting marriage > not wanting marriage.

  52. I was going to post this above, but am putting it down here to be less personal – it’s a bit of an AUGH SECURITY THROUGH OBSCURITY IS NOT ACTUALLY SECURITY flail.


    They *will* find it eventually. I posted some highly personal things about myself on another blog a few years ago, with a completely anonymous handle, but I did so knowing that if someone in my family read them, they *would* recognize me, even with all the names taken out. I had to be okay with that before posting the things I did – I had to be honest with myself about that risk. That’s an inherent risk of the Internet.

    I totally respect your decision to not *deliberately* draw your IRL world to your Internet world, but you should be prepared for the possibility that it won’t be enough – e.g. if there are things that would put you in *actual* danger if someone read them, you need a different Internet system. (Or maybe a more diffuse/compartmented one?)

    Posting someplace like this is basically the online equivalent of putting your house key under a flowerpot – it works, until it doesn’t.

  53. I just want to say re: bad kissing: two of the guys I’ve dated had kisses that horrified me at first. (One of them had very little experience, the other was just. . .not good.) However, I was able to train them into fantastic kissers eventually, by saying things like “slow down,” or “aak, too wet” or “can you be more gentle” and pulling away, and getting them to RELAX and feel the way I like to be kissed. It only took a few intense makeout sessions to get great improvement, although there was a lot of regression at the beginning of each time I saw them at first. It was so great to eventually be able to really, really, enjoy their kisses and want to kiss them all the time.

    So it is possible to improve the kissing quality. However, if after four years it’s still terrible, it sounds like your mouths just might be incompatible, sadly.

    In order to increase the amount of foreplay, I’ve found that speaking up in the moment is the most help, saying things like “Can you touch me here”, or “not yet” (when they try to jump ahead) and guiding their hands to different parts of my body (and away from the end goal). Also, vocalizing more pleasure than the foreplay actually warrants can help–if your partner gets the idea that, “Oh, she really REALLY likes it when I spend time doing that” then he’ll spend way more time doing it. I’m naturally a very quiet person, but at one point I realized how much I liked it when they guy I was with would say things like “Wow, that feels good”, so I started doing it way more than is natural to me, and I couldn’t believe how much the quality of intimacy improved. .Also, most guys I’ve dated don’t really pick up subtle cues, especially when they are turned on, so actually moving their hands, or instructing them where to kiss me made a huge difference.

    Anyway, this is all possibly not useful when you’ve been dating someone for a long time, but it’s worth a try!

  54. Heh, I’ve been in a very similar position to Just Wants To Relax — in fact, Captain Awkward’s advice hit me almost point by point.

    I always felt like I needed to apologize.
    We always wanted things the other person didn’t want to give us.
    I felt uneasy and insecure rather than happy and supported
    I spent all my time working out the parameters of the relationship and none of it enjoying it

    The only difference was that it was a friendship, not a romantic partnership. I thought friendships were about compromise, about boundaries. You can have friends at work you don’t talk fandom with, friends in fandom you don’t bring your work problems to. I just needed to find the right domain for us to be friends. But whenever I tried to set boundaries, this person complained and crossed them. I hurt hir, sincerely hurt hir, when I told hir there were things I didn’t want to do or discuss with hir. We were both writers and role-players, and when I told hir I didn’t want to write a sex scene with hir, zie felt triggered and dismissed by my blunt use of the word ‘no.’ After that, I never felt safe to deny hir anything.

    I’d been unhappy so long, I started wondering whether I shouldn’t suck it up and take it for hir sake. But that was the thing: I’d been unhappy so long. I wasn’t enjoying my time with hir, and when we seemed to be making progress, my stomach roiled with anxiety over how far it would go and how long it would last.

    Friends should be people you enjoy spending time with. I’d convinced myself that friends were people you enjoy spending time with sometimes, under certain conditions, if you can avoid setting each other off. But while friends can have fights, and relationships can have rough patches, they shouldn’t set the tone of the relationship. And there’s no objective judge of what the tone is, except your own feelings. Are you happy or unhappy? Or you relaxed or afraid?

    If you’re constantly afraid, it’s okay to not want to be afraid anymore. You don’t have to prove it’s all the other person’s fault. You don’t have to work on the relationship. If you have an anxiety disorder, you don’t have to accept that it’s all just in your head, and you’ll probably never be happy, anyway.

    It’s okay to want to be happy, and it’s okay to let go of the people you know you’re unhappy with.

    … And wow, I rambled on a bit. But that’s what I wanted to get at: it’s okay.

  55. Eternal Bachelor here–i just wanted to thank all of you so much for your help and advice. It is so generous of the Captain and the Awkward Army to spend time thinking through my question. You’ve given me an enormous amount to think about. Dan and I are currently delving into exactly what would make each of us feel committed and exactly what kind of formalization makes each of us uncomfortable/secure. A huge thank you to all of you for your kindness.

  56. “how do you know when it’s too much work…
    • When one of you always feels like they need to apologize to the other
    • When one person always wants something that the other doesn’t want to give”

    This popped out at me due to the use of the word “always”. In my head that word means _all the time_. In my mind I have always said “No, not all the time. There was that time last month when spouse apologized. There was that time last year when spouse graciously conceded to doing something my way. So this doesn’t apply to _my_ situation.” Now I know better, but I guess I want to put this out there for past me and anyone who thinks like past me.

    I now have a new way of looking at things. I call it the 50% rule.
    Basically, few people are 100% terrible. This is a lie the media tells us, that horrible people are always horrible. It’s not true. Say your partner is 50% great ( or a mix of great and neutral). That sounded okay to me “He’s okay to be with half of the time!” But then I realized, 50% is an F, a failing grade. Even if he’s 60% okay – that’s still a D. In fact, I put A level work into this relationship; I don’t even want an 89% partner. People who are great to neutral 89% of the time may not be toxic, but they sure aren’t life partner or good friend level material.

    A few corollaries:
    I get to decide their “grade” – it’s my life I’m talking about. I get to decide how much (and what type of) neutral behavior is okay. An absence of abuse isn’t a good type of neutral. The right amount (by my standards) of quietly hanging out together can be a good type of neutral. Time I’m not being emotionally manipulated, but that I spend cleaning up the fall out from the manipulation (emotional, social, financial etc.). That isn’t good time, that’s bad time.

    In my experience, when a A student gets less than 100%, they are looking to see what they missed and how to fix it. They look for feedback about what went wrong. When an F student (at least my F student) gets feed back about what went wrong, the response is. “Why are you bugging me about this? Other people got this wrong too! You got things wrong, get off of your high horse!” or ” I know, I’m such a horrible person” – proceeds to put on a great ‘Performance of self loathing’ (thanks for that term Anisoptera!) but then still not change their behavior. I don’t want to live with someone who is looking for reasons to excuse bad behavior.

    Putting in A level work shouldn’t be a lot of work (I’m still learning this). A relationship I want to be in should be like a class that I get A’s in because I love it and the work is easy and comes naturally. Even when the work is hard, it’s fulfilling. Like I can’t believe I get college credit for taking this class.

  57. “Because I want EVERYTHING. I want love, I want great sex, I want great kissing, I want to be able to relax and laugh with my love, I want us to both contribute financially to the household as well as we are able, and when the time comes I want to stand up in front of the people I care about and say “You bet I do” and sign that “meaningless” piece of paper. I want those things without apology. Without limit. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with any of you for wanting those things, too.”

    This. THIS! A thousand times this!

    I’m a happily married 40something woman with two wonderful kids and an amazing husband. But I spent all of my 20s wondering what was wrong with me that no one I liked seemed interested in me, why I was everyone’s friend but no one’s girlfriend, why I couldn’t force myself to fall for the guys who fell for me, and getting my heart truly broken once by a best friend-turned boyfriend-turned out he wasn’t into girls. Typical stuff, really, and it’s easy in hindsight once you know how well things worked out to look back on it as just part of life. But when you’re in it and you’re lonely, and trying to pretend you’re not lonely, it’s really really hard. And you think that maybe your standards are too high and unrealistic, and maybe you just don’t have enough experience with relationships to have realistic expectations, and maybe you should stop reading Mary Jo Putney novels and just start going out with guys no matter how they make you feel because at least that way you won’t be a 30yo virgin.

    Just don’t. Don’t “settle.” Don’t spend your life with someone who makes you feel like there’s something wrong with you for wanting all of the things that Captain lists above. There is NOTHING WRONG WITH WANTING THOSE THINGS. Wanting them is no guarantee you’ll get them, and of course relationships are hard work, etc. But smothering these basic needs is being so unfair to that core of who you are as a person that I think what Captain says is SO IMPORTANT and something that a lot of us need a lot of reminding about.

    Good luck to all of the LWs.

  58. I just want to add to the chorus here and say: I want to keep that last paragraph forever and hug it while I sleep every night. I fully admit to being a hopeless romantic, but it’s SO NICE to have that reminder that love isn’t about diminishing ourselves or our needs to fit with someone else. We should have everything–everyone should, and no one should apologize.

  59. The Sheelzebub Principle helped me end my fine-but-not-good-enough relationship, which had elements of several of these letters (unfulfilling sex and insufficient desire/willingness to be a partner in the unfun parts of being a grown up–i.e. responsibility). The first issue I had my head buried in the sand about because X was all about being good in bed. This was a major part of his identity and–to a degree–our identity as a couple (we were “wild” for our group of friends). I was so thoroughly convinced that my waning desire was my fault, because of my own body image issues (which, it’s true, abound), that it was over a year after we broke up before was I able to finally think to myself: Well, I was always asking X to change things in bed and he always had really good reasons not to. I don’t think he did it maliciously, but he was so unwilling to change his own habits re: sex, that he ran away with the chance to blame it on my BDD and I was a sadly willing participant. But like the Captain says, it’s okay to want things. And I really wasn’t getting what I wanted there, at all, and that fact had very little to do with whether my jerk brain thought I was fat on any given day. To use the parlance of LW1, my bits were being chafed no matter what I did.

    But what the Sheelzebub Principle really helped me with was figuring out how long I was willing to stay if he didn’t start being a more equal partner to me. Like the sex issue, he always had really good reasons for not being able to do his share of things (even things he’d previously agreed to do), but eventually it dawned on me to wonder how long those reasons would continue to helpfully appear. And so I gave him/us a timeline. “A, B, & C need to change/be improved upon because even though I love you, I am starting to resent you and that is not workable long term for me. In case I haven’t been abundantly clear about that, I am spelling it out now. I need these things–you can think that’s unfair if you want–but these needs are real and they are not being met in this relationship. If you want to try to meet them, let’s do this another # months and see how it goes. But I am done asking repeatedly for every small thing and having those few small things that you do do be treated like giant favors. Either the relationship becomes more equal or I will need to be on my way.”

    It was a longer, more complicated conversation than that, but it pretty much was that blunt. I actually wrote an email about A, B, & C and sent it to him because I am better on paper than out loud. And then we had a conversation about whether he thought it was realistic those things could change. It went against every fiber of my being–Who am I to say I need something and offer no apology or caveat? Wasn’t I being demanding? Damn straight. It felt kind of amazing. X said he wanted to try, and so we agreed to another six months. In the end, it didn’t work. But those last 6 months were better and calmer because I’d put all my cards on the table and I felt so much clearer about the decision when the time came. There were no “ifs” or “maybe he could change.” I had literally done everything I could to both have my needs met and stay with him. That those two things turned out to be incompatible was sad, but the reality of it was staring me in the face. So, we ended it and it was terrifying and I had to get a roommate and feel a lot of feels, but I also stopped carrying around a creeping destructive anger that had slowly begun to dominate the silent parts of myself. The relief, as the Captain says, was magnificent.

  60. On the bad kissing:

    My husband is a bad kisser. He is also gorgeous, sensitive, smart, musical, loving, kind, gentle, dutiful – All the Things. I dated him for 7 years without telling him, and only plucked up the courage to ask him to change when we’d been married for 2 years. He was devastated, and said he now lacked the confidence to kiss me because I wouldn’t enjoy it anyway. I tried to demonstrate what I wanted, and it made some difference, but he never regained confidence, and over time got out of the habit altogether, so now I only ever get pecks. Would I marry him knowing he would kiss that way forever? Absolutely – he’s wonderful and we’re very happy together. Plus, we have found plenty of work-arounds to intimacy that don’t involve tongue-kissing. Do I wish I had taught him to kiss properly in the first year of dating, while he was still starry-eyed and before the habit stuck? That, too.

  61. I am LW 573 and I bear tidings of joy.

    After I read these amazing and super helpful responses, I drank some vodka and over the course of two weeks, determined that if he was not putting in effort towards Jobbing by the end of June I was done with a capital D.

    So, I sat with him and said “C I love you. You need a job. I do not think I have been very clear with you about what my expectations are in regards to this so I will lay them out here.
    1) A job
    2) with a schedule you can keep to without my help
    3) that pays enough money to cover your monthly credit and cell phone bills, your medication for anxiety, expenses for Hobby, and at least a quarter of rent/food/cat paraphernalia.

    And then I went on to express as you suggested that it could be part-time, or low-paying, or a job that wasn’t The Job. And that, you know, he could always find Better Job and quit First Job or something. Which, hey. You were right. He didn’t know.

    We both felt that two job-applications per week was a great number (that way if he has anxiety and is too upset one or two days in the week, there’s lots of time for him to still complete the task and not be Failure Guy). I would refill all the printer cartridges, make his hair nice, and buy him a pay-as-you-go phone.

    Today he sent in a resume. And went in for an interview. It sounds very promising to me. 🙂

    The sex problems are getting dealt with after this set of midterms

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