#758: What even is love

*Warning: Starred links contain Hannigram vids.

Dear Captain,

I’m a late-twenties woman needing relationship advice. Three years in, my boyfriend and I need to commit or break up (I want a monogamous marriage someday), and I don’t have a clear sense of what I want.

I feel like all relationship advice falls into two camps. In the first, I’ve heard smart friends and family say that successful relationships are rooted in mutual respect, honesty, communication, and shared values. This camp emphasizes partnering with someone who is supportive, loyal, and respectful. The other camp argues that your partner needs to be someone who lights you up, who inspires you, who you can’t imagine being without.

I understand that, ideally, a relationship succeeds in both areas – being crazy about someone and also sharing a mutually supportive partnership – but I have yet to find that magic combination. In my early 20s, I was in a relationship where I was madly in love with someone who was not a good partner to me. Ending this relationship was devastating, but it was also the only choice. I’ve talked friends through similar break ups, and I understand that “being in love” is simply not enough by itself.

My question is about the opposite situation. Coming off that rollercoaster break up, I met my current boyfriend, and could immediately tell he was more emotionally stable and respectful than my ex. We started dating even though I didn’t feel much “spark.” My boyfriend is handsome, smart, generous, emotionally available, and works an excellent job. He is also a great, supportive partner. By most standards I’ve hit the jackpot, yet I feel unsure. I hear my friends talk about their partners with giddy joy; I don’t think I feel that way about my boyfriend. Our relationship has a range of problems, from mismatched libidos to different senses of humor, ideas about healthy living, and consumption. In my best past relationship, an ex-boyfriend inspired me daily to be a kinder, braver person, and I don’t feel that way now. I don’t feel a magical sense of being “completed.” I know that long-term relationships don’t run on heady infatuation, and I do care deeply about him. If I end this relationship, I also fear ending up in another intoxicating but destructive relationship like I was in before. Am I too picky, chasing an unattainable fantasy of love that can’t exist? Should I work on appreciating everything I do have and accept that I might never be head-over-heels? Or should I end this good-but-not-perfect relationship to find a partner with whom I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life? To complicate everything, we recently started long-distance.

Thank you so much for any advice or thoughts –

Sad and Confused

Dear Sad & Confused:

Once upon a time, somebody brought me a mix cd of nothing but The Dresden Dolls and They Might Be Giants on a first internet date. I threw it in a dumpster on my way home; I dislike those bands and the “gift” felt like a pompous and premature play at shaping my tastes from someone I did not intend to see again. Some of you are sighing because now you know that your perfect partner is out there somewhere and maybe now you’ll never meet. Some of you think I owed it at least a listen or are pissed that I didn’t recycle. The simple-but-not-easy answer to “what will make me happy in romantic love?is that it is going to be different for everyone.

Sometimes, sadly, we are not great predictors of what that will be — we rely too long on “magic” & “chemistry” at the expense of consideration or compatibility, we settle too long for “stability” at the expense of deep connection, we over-estimate the importance of sexual compatibility and excitement and forget that people’s health and desires change over time, or else we underestimate how “mismatched libidos” and a constant cycle of pressure and rejection can slowly grind people down over the course of a lifetime. Committing to spend your life with someone means committing to riding out a a series of changes that you can’t predict. Holding out forever in the hopes of perfection can be really fucking lonely.

Anxiety around this set of choices is normal, and there are some hurtful and conflicting received beliefs in our cultural metanarrative of how romantic love works that make this all even more anxiety-producing. The list of statements below aren’t all exactly relationship fallacies, because they are so common/the cultural narrative is so strong/they are party of *every* story in some way/we use them to measure ourselves and each other so often/everyone can find enough anecdata to justify hanging in there or beating themselves up for not hanging in there. The list:

  1. There is one true person who is the right match for every stage of your adult life and if you work hard enough at it (or detach yourself from looking for it enough to let serendipity take over, I can’t remember which) it is definitely possible to find that one person.
  2. Romantic love is the most important kind of love.
  3. If you struggle with finding love, you are broken somehow.
  4. If you actively seek out love, you are desperate (and probably broken somehow).
  5. If you don’t actively seek out love, or you miss your youthful window to figure out dating, your whole life will pass you by because there is such a thing as ‘too late.’ G’day, Miss Havisham!
  6. If a particular relationship ends, it was a failure.
  7. If you choose the wrong person to marry, there is no way to move on from that mistake. You are doomed to be unhappy!
  8. Being part of a couple, even if it isn’t quite working for one or both people, is better than being alone.
  9. People who want more sex than their partners do are selfish; that is a trivial reason to break up with an otherwise great person.
  10. People who don’t want as much a sex as their partners do are selfish; they should just go along with what their partners want for the sake of harmony.
  11. You’ll know you’re with your “true love” because the best sex happens wordlessly and seamlessly from the very first time you do it. Talking or adjusting anything would just slow down the magic!
  12. You’ll know your true love because all issues – work, sex, money, children, family, dreams, and life goals – will effortlessly resolve into the perfect shape without having to do much talking about it.
  13. If some big issue isn’t working between two people, they should keep working on it, possibly forever. Anything less is a total failure.
  14. The greater the compromises you make or the harder you have to work or fight to maintain a love relationship, the more true or real that love is.
  15. People change; you’ve got to be able to roll with that.
  16. It’s not a good idea to bet your life on the hope that another person will change.
  17. Good relationships, like sharks, “must keep swimming forward or else they’ll die.”
  18. Ending a relationship needs an airtight reason, otherwise you might as well just keep going.
  19. Bringing up marriage before the exact “surprise!” moment that the other person is 100% ready will totally kill the love.
  20. You can love someone into being a better person. If your partner is an addict, or has massive untreated mental or emotional problems*, or had a hard upbringing or some other issue, when they hurt you it isn’t *really* their faultyour love and loyalty can show them the way. In fact, that is your job,* as a friend or a lover.

There are more, of course, depending on where and when and how you grew up and what stories the people around you told or lived about love. True/false/neither/both, the ideas about relationships on this list drive people’s fears and choices. Every day an unhappy person writes to ask me, “Am I good enough? Am I doing this right? Is this love good enough for me?” and uses something on this list to measure themselves. I myself have no checklist for you. Just the signposts in your letter. Speaking of which, this sentence says a lot to me:

“By most standards I’ve hit the jackpot, yet I feel unsure.”

Also the title of your question, which I reproduced here, and the fact that you sign yourself “Sad & Confused” and not “Excited but Unsure” or somesuch.

Whose standards? Where is the pressure to “commit or break up forever” coming from? Something in particular your partner asked or said? An undefinable impatience to get onto the next stage (of something)? You want a monogamous marriage and children someday. What does your partner want? If his answer is “Not that, not ever,” then, well, you have your answer.

You are making “pro & con” lists, and the pros add up on paper, and you can’t put your finger on what the con list even would be, but you know that it’s there, lurking like an iceberg under the surface of the water. Your letter shows examples of cognitive fallacies like black & white thinking (dependability vs. MAGIC, staying a little bit stuck where you are vs. diving into a super-unhealthy relationship like ones you’ve had in the past) and also the idea that you *must* find some kind of concrete “con” or “magic” feeling in order to make a decision.

You are writing like a woman in the year before she breaks things up with a good man, when she feels guilty about even thinking about it and hasn’t decided to do it yet but she has started looking around for a good reason to leave and for a place to go next.

You also write: “In my best past relationship, an ex-boyfriend inspired me daily to be a kinder, braver person, and I don’t feel that way now.”

Aha! This is the meat of it, my friend.

You want to change and be changed. You want to be a better version of yourself, and you want love to help change you. A million crushes and affairs start this way, where someone sexy shows you a glimpse of the person you wish you could be and suddenly the dormant parts of you come out of hibernation. As an adult, whether or not you are partnered or single, when you’re in a rut of “fine, I guess,” it’s hard to accept that no owl has been dispatched from Hogwarts with your calling in its claws and (probably)(hopefully) no sexy stranger is going to sexy-kidnap you in a Three Days of the Condor or “Come with me if you want to live” kind of way. It’s so unfair. Where’s your  Roman Holiday where you get to try on another self? When will it be your chance to run away and join the circus or find your destiny?

The answer is: Now. Soon. Anytime.

Your midlife crisis is upon you, right on schedule. Open the door and say, Welcome.

What do you want to do with your life? When you imagine the things you want to do and be, do you imagine your boyfriend there with you? Or have you started collecting photos of spinsterish garrets and tiny houses, where he and his stuff will not fit? What do you serve? What’s That Thing, the subject that you can talk endlessly about, the thing that lights you up? What is your boyfriend’s That Thing? Is he interested and excited by your excitement when you talk about That Thing? Are you excited about his Thing? Are your That Things compatible, will you both get to serve and follow and chase both in a life spent together?

Since you are long distance right now, it seems like a good time for you to think through all of this and to give yourself permission to stop working at figuring out the relationship for a while. If you’re not ready to break up quite yet, then don’t, but give yourself permission to be a bit perfunctory about romance for little while as you focus on setting up your new life in a new place (or he sets up his). In his absence, start arranging your days and evenings and meals and weekends exactly how you’d like them, and when intrusive thoughts about the future and what you’ll do about that come in, tell yourself “que sera sera, can’t worry about that right now, today I’m gonna swim one more lap than I did yesterday/conjugate 2 more verbs/go to an event and talk to at least 2 people I don’t know/apply for that great new job/scholarship/grant/write 5 pages of my novel/learn a 4th chord/join a choir/buy a journal and write in it/learn that dance step/sword-fighting move/roll a new D&D character/dive into this work project/have quiet time doing absolutely nothing.” Start friend-dating your friends again, not as couples or a social group, but one-on-one for walks and breakfasts. Let yourself be surrounded by other kinds of love besides romantic love. Go to plays and movies and concerts your boyfriend wouldn’t necessarily like. Say yes to social invitations. Don’t cheat with charismatic assholes. If other men express interest in you, and you’re not interested in them, try saying “Thanks, but I’m pretty happy on my own right now” instead of defaulting to “I have a boyfriend” as the reason.

Stop living in the future and in the problem of “should I be with this person maybe forever” and live in the present of “my life is pretty fucking great is it not.”

Possible outcomes: 1) You and your boyfriend are going to drift apart and your breakup a few months from now will be sad but feel inevitable 2) You and your boyfriend are going to reconnect with each other after an absence and it will be wonderful and solid 3) You are going to be happier overall and better able to make decisions from a place of strength.

Story Time:

I live with the love of my life, my Gentleman Caller. We are coming out of a pretty fucking hard year. Illness kept him from working for many months, meaning that I’ve been cobbling together jobs to keep us afloat and we both have been chafing ungracefully at the roles of “caretaker” and “caretakee” and the unfairness of brain chemistry and the fragility of connective tissue and the injustice of adjunct professordom and news headlines and WINTER (which seems to be coming on schedule at the usual time AGAIN, how unfair is THAT?) and the thousand slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that flesh is heir to. I don’t know if I feel “magical” or “completed” or “inspired to be a better version of myself” when I’m with him, or vice versa, and it’s hard to think about when we’ve been fighting so hard for “normal.” I do know that I am truly seen. My aspirations and dreams are supported and honored, my flaws go into soft-focus (or are gently mocked). I don’t need to be completed, because I am judged to be complete. I know that when I come home at the end of the day and one of us says, “I am so happy to see you” that it is meant from the heart and our smiles when we say it are like this. We are kind to each other and patient with each other. Our arguments actually hash out our bullshit and then blow over. We like each other. We are never bored. Mumble mumble sexy stuff A+++(+++++++++). There was probably a time, three and a half years ago, that “is it ok to love this person/is this person right for me?” was the question on our minds, but I don’t remember what it was like except for going back and reading old journal entries where I wrote down mainly poems and pop songs like a goober.

In past relationships, even good past relationships with very good people (even ones that started with poetry and pop songs), the problem of “should we be together or not” was always present, even 5 years in, even when living together, even when meeting families, even on romantic vacations, even when all check boxes I could think of were checked. There were always secret pro-and-con lists, and agonized talks with friends about what I should do, insistence on my own room and annoyance at being interrupted in it, guilt-ridden diary entries wondering what was wrong with me for not loving enough or if I was even capable of it, collected pictures of fantasy apartments that held floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and only slept one, filling out applications to work on the other side of the world in secret, making movie after movie about women who would chew their own legs off to be free. Marriage could only be talked about in jokes if it was talked about at all, and a partner mentioning it in a serious way could make me silently panic and equivocate for weeks. I sounded like you in your letter, “Is this all there is? Is everyone else ecstatically happy or are they faking it? Oh god I think I might be faking it.” 

With the Gentleman Caller, that problem doesn’t hang over me. We fit. He’s my person and I am his. Deciding to get married was not only happy, but relaxing, like “that’s all settled now, yay!” There no particular urgency, as we’re saving up for some flavor of party, but if we had to knock it out this week for some logistical or financial reason it would be just as happy a decision. We don’t have perfect lives, but the questions that occupy us are not that question (all praise to OKCupid, trial and error, and sheer dumb luck). I don’t know how to help you find that fit, but as someone who left more than one “almost but not quite” relationship, I can tell you:

  • The people I loved and left are happier for it. Intern Paul got married this year to a wonderful woman, every time I talk to him and every picture I see him in he is so goddamned happy and lucky and great. My last serious ex before him also married someone who is completely fucking great. I still get to have these beloved people as friends in my life, without that awful question hanging over us, and I could not be happier for them or more proud of them.
  • Sometimes I picked wrong. Deeply dysfunctional people. Charismatic assholes. Over time, my “picker” got better and I did not repeat old mistakes. Yours will, too.
  • Even if I hadn’t found The Gentleman Caller I would be okay and happy. I was always very sad after breakups and had a hard a time making a decision and fully letting go as the most conflicted Letter Writer, but once the deed was done, soon relief and comfort in my own skin and freedom from that awful disloyal question of “should we be together” would flood in. My little room of my own would look like this and my face would look like this and that would be enough.

I can’t tell you what to do but I can tell you those things and leave you with a question:

Imagine your boyfriend says, “It turns out that this long-distance thing sucks and I don’t want to be without you for a single day. Let’s get married, and I will come join you (or you come join me – idk your life). Let’s fucking do this! Yeah!”

How do you feel? Do you do it? Or is that the question that helps you finally say, “You’re wonderful, but I don’t want to”?

176 thoughts on “#758: What even is love

    1. Thank you for the heads-up. I think the issue is that I started writing it a few weeks ago and posted today, but the draft resolved to 2 weeks ago. Don’t think I can fix it now. Thanks for reading and for your help!

      1. I generally don’t bother people about typos, but you might want to correct “you can love someone into being a better person” to “you can’t love someone into being a better person.”

          1. No worries! 🙂 Someone on Tumblr is gonna quote the whole list out of context and have a big ol’ fight with it soon. You are just the vanguard.

          2. Opened tread; saw that it was long. Decided to read it later. Scrolled back to top before changing tabs. (Why? Compulsion perhaps) While scrolling, let eye fall on apparently-wrong sentence. Decided: report sentence now, read post later.

            Read post, and saw that it was good. Rested.

  1. I probably could have written this letter at some point in my life. I have:

    1. Stayed with a partner longer than I should have because at the time I felt it was better than being alone.
    2. Stayed with a partner longer than I should have because he was (on paper) a great catch.

    I think the most important thing is figuring out what is most important to YOU in a relationship, and I think The Captain highlighted a great example of what might be yours from your letter. Find someone who does that for you and has crappy stuff (because they will) that you can live with.

    I am a very analytical, logical person, and I have never been more stymied in my life than trying to figure out “is this guy the one?” So all of the questions in your letter resonate with me so deeply. I’m divorced, so I was off on my first decision, but I’m 7+ years into my second husband, and so I figure at least so far, I’ve made a much better choice. I think the weird thing for me was realizing I MAY NEVER KNOW. I’m just doing the best I can. Best of luck to you, LW!

    1. “I think the weird thing for me was realizing I MAY NEVER KNOW. I’m just doing the best I can.”

      A big yes to this. I am 37 and engaged for the first time and the addition of the ring doesn’t make the “am I doing the right thing” analysis any less present. I love this man. That much I know. My logic and passion have both taken turns leading the charge. A year ago I was convinced I needed to break up. Now I’m glad I didn’t take that step while we worked through some tough stuff. I believe we are good for each other. But I do think that in my case the logic side of the equation is the one that is headed into the marriage. The older we get, the more we know ourselves and that is both a good and bad thing. Sometimes I know myself better and trust myself less. I lose faith that anyone can understand me and know me fully and sometimes I want to blame my partner for that. For me, spending endless time wondering how other people decided to marry their spouses and how they knew they had “the one” is so very unhealthy. I am making my choice daily and all that I can do is focus on the fact that I’m the one in this relationship. Comparisons to others are useless. My marriage will be unique, so why do I think that my path to it has to be just like someone else’s to be valid or true?

      I’m reading down this page and it makes my heart sink, because while it is lovely for all those people gushing about how one day they looked at their partner and they just KNEW, that kind of language pokes me in a very tender place.
      I’ll try to keep this short: I KNEW I loved my partner, but I also KNEW that I didn’t want to get married and have kids and every time he brought it up, it made me want to run away screaming. And as I sat in the wreckage of that relationship, I kept asking myself what was wrong with me.
      Well, it turns out, nothing. It turns out that I’m poly and queer and have an avoidant attachment style and don’t want to get married or have kids. Those were all elements of myself that I was tamping down to try to fit into the narratives that when you feel real love, suddenly it all makes sense. It did make sense – until it didn’t. And those realizations about myself may mean that I will never feel that same way again, but I’m okay with it, because it has opened up my life to many, many other possibilities I had never even thought about before. My current relationship does not fill me with little fluttery hearts in the same way, and sometimes I have doubts. But it’s also changed my life, and continues to do so, in ways that do make me tremendously excited.
      This may not apply to the LW, but I hope there are other people out there reading this who hear something they need to. BEFORE you decide that you should ditch a relationship because it doesn’t fit the mold other people are describing, consider if it may be the mold that’s the problem.
      You can choose not to prioritize a romantic relationship above all else.
      Sometimes it’s fine to say, “I’ve got this and I don’t want to expend my energy finding something else.”
      You can choose to be with someone because it’s good and practical and satisfying, not necessarily because “they’re THE ONE”, as long as everyone involved is honest.
      You can get something out of a relationship other than warm squishy feels – intense intellectual satisfaction, a powerful artistic connection, blazing sexual chemistry – and that is valid, though see above re: honesty.
      You don’t have to be with only one person.
      You don’t have to be with anyone at all if you don’t want to.
      You can be with people other than the ones society says are right for you because of your genitals/culture/etc.
      You do not have to match up your feelings, good or bad, with what other people say you should expect from your partner.
      All relationships are custom jobs. Don’t accept something off the rack just because everyone else says you should.

      1. “All relationships are custom jobs. Don’t accept something off the rack just because everyone else says you should.”

    3. This MAY NEVER KNOW has been hard for me too.
      I am coming up to 5 years married, to a capable, stable, lovely man. Who is completely unromantic and (as is human) flawed (as am I).
      When things are really rough (namely my jerkbrain starts speaking up and he has absolutely no skills to combat it), I consider whether I should leave him.
      But I keep actively making the decision that he is enough. I have other good friends who understand the jerkbrain and how to counteract it. I would love more romance, but I knew going in to this that wasn’t his strong suit, and its looking like its not going to change.
      When things are good, they are great. When things are rough they are hard and restricting. Adding in a toddler (who is traditionally toddler-difficult) is another layer of complication that probably explains a chunk of my vague dissatisfaction with life at the moment.


    This isn’t my problem, and yet, it is the problem that worries THE MOST: and so and thus it is good to be reminded with such eloquence that all can be well, all can be complete as it is.

  3. Short answer: You’re not too picky. But I think you might be confusing yourself by believing in false contrasts (either a passionate, destructive relationship or a safe, but boring one), as the Captain pointed out. You might also be doing a thing that Mira Kirshenbaum (she has a book I like, “Is he Mr. Right”) calls “hot-safe-pingpong” where you first date a hot guy that does not provide emotional safety and then go to the other extreme and date a very safe guy who you’re not really all that attracted to, and so on.

    Thanks for posting so many letters this week, Captain! I’m excited!

    1. Reading the accumulated relationship experiences here demonstrates to me that who you end up with can be just as much a matter of luck as it is a matter of choice. There are no guarantees. For what it’s worth I think something LW can do is just honestly acknowledge her situation. She doesn’t need to make any decisions right now about her relationship – maybe her perfect partner will blow across her path one day, maybe not – she isn’t really in charge of that. But what she can do is come to terms with her position as it stands – “I like and love my partner, but there’s something missing. He doesn’t make me a better, kinder, wiser, more passionate person, and I want that thing that my friends have when they get all giddy about their guys. I want whatever couples have that makes the question “Is this person right for me?” an irrelevant one that they never have to ask because they know.” LW, being honest with yourself is never a wrong decision. Do it and see what happens.

  4. Ooof. I’m very tentatively starting to date again several years after my first/only relationship with my college boyfriend ended. Said relationship was a co-dependent emotionally manipulative disaster, and at first I needed time to work through all the damage it did to my head. But now… It sorta feels like I missed my chance by not meeting my life-long partner in college, because pretty much everyone I know either married to or is long-term dating the person they started dating in college. I’m okay being single, but the Captain’s description of being seen, of having someone happy to see me at the end of the day… I’d like to be a priority to someone. I’d like to be important. I’m still not quite sold on the idea that it’ll ever happen for me, which really kinda sucks sometimes, but the Captain’s story about how she met her Gentleman Caller gives me a little hope.

    I have no idea if there was a point to this comment. Just thanks, I suppose, for that little bit of hope.

    1. If it helps you to know this (or depresses you at how far in the future this is), I met Gentleman Caller at age 38. I will be an arthritic bride in sensible shoes. 🙂

      1. I met my husband when we were 37 and married when we were 39! Prior to this, most of my post-21-year-old relationships were only 3 months.

      2. I’m turning 50 this weekend and still haven’t had my feeling it and the other person feeling it co-occur. Finding the one at 38 sounds like heaven to me from here, kids.

        1. My Aunt-in-law found her first true love at 53. She spent the first 20 years of her life looking for The One and then decided she’s live life for herself. When The One finally came along, she was ready for him.

          She’s one of the happiest people I know.

        2. Yeah, I often want to sound a note of caution for those who are in the camp of ‘there’s someone else out there for you’. I am 46, and broke up with the only man I’ve ever loved 21 years ago. He dumped me, and I was heartbroken. I did not cope well, and this breakup was the catalyst for all the unresolved abandonment issues I had from my childhood. I fell into a deep depression, gained weight and my hair fell out! Friendships were lost, career opportunities were squandered and I’ve never lost the weight or been able to grow my hair back. (Female baldness is very hard to treat!) Many years of therapy and hard work on myself have resolved the issues, but I still find myself alone and with little to no romantic prospects.

          At the time of the breakup, and in the subsequent years, many, many people told me that I’d meet someone else, there were other men out there in the big wide world who would love me for me, I was young and had plenty of time, etc. etc. That’s just not true. It’s such a common theme post-break up, and people who say it are so well meaning, but I sometimes feel like saying, ‘but what if it *never* happens?’

          Since then, there have been a few relationships – they only lasted a few months, and were mostly just a product of me being lonely and him being available and interested. Now, I’ve resigned myself to never meeting my version of the Gentleman Caller, and I’m sad about it, but aware I need to build a satisfying life that doesn’t include someone else.

          1. Are you me? I have exactly the same story, down to losing my hair. It’s sad sometimes. but I’m slowly building a life for myself that fulfills me. I’ve thought a lot about writing in to here to ask, “What do you do when you missed your chance?” even though I already kind of know the answer.

      3. I met my used husband at our 20-year college reunion. We were both in our early 40s. I had been proposed to before, but he was the first one where I thought, “Yeah. I will learn to share a closet to be with him.”

      4. That helps ME a lot, as a 32-year-old “spinster” with a sister who married at 28. (I know I shouldn’t compare myself to her, but I can’t help it sometimes.)

        1. I was at my sister’s wedding last week-end. I’m 36, she’s 27. I was dreading a nasty remark about the fact she was getting married before me, and fortunately the only person who asked me about that was a complete stranger. I just told her we weren’t in a Jane Austen novel.
          (I love Jane Austen, but you just know it’s the kind of thing that Miss Bingley and Mrs. Elton would think)

      5. 45 and alone–for a long time–and maybe, I guess, that really is too late. I wish it weren’t but it’s like everyone I meet is just…done. Looking, or wanting, or trying. And I am still so hungry.

        1. 49 here. I’m pretty sure people in their 40’s aren’t done…for me the most hopeful thing about getting older is that people and things keep changing. I still like boys, even as menopause does its thing (is that weird or what?!). I do still find that nice interested ones are out there. Luck with your quest.

          1. I’d just turned 38, and deleted my OKC profile, and decided i was just never going to find people again; and then (literally like two weeks later) i met my partner on Twitter. It is a fucking fairytale romance and it’s not something i ever expected to find even when i was LOOKING. He’s a long way away, and that sucks, but we are absolutely sure that what we want is to be together for basically our whole lives, and we’re working to make that happen.

            I’m not saying “don’t give up hope.” Life is uncertain, and hope can be as much burden as blessing. What i’m saying is, “It’s complicated, and even if you DO give up hope, sometimes the thing you never expected comes along and bites you on the ass.”

      6. My college choir professor was in her 40s when she got married. She used to joke that she waited that long so people wouldn’t bug her about having kids.

      7. Thank you Captain! As a 37-year-old terminal singulon (it seems, since my last relationship ended when I was 31) this is encouraging to hear. I’m not 100% certain that I even want a relationship, or that it would be the right thing for me, but it’s nice to think that it might still be a possibility.

    2. I was 33. I had basically given up, but was sticking it out on OKCupid to see what happened. Then I met my now-husband. I got married 2 days before I turned 35 and had a baby at 36.5. (With zero fertility issues. Not sure if you want kids or not, but thought I’d throw that in there.) So, yeah, you don’t have to give up on love because you didn’t meet your life partner in college. You don’t have the same giant pool that college seems to provide, but there are other dudes out there. Also, I didn’t meet my single friends until I was in my late-20s, and that was really good, too. It sometimes takes time to establish a life and connections and new friendships, at least for me.

      1. Thank you for that. I’m 27. I’ve been married for 4 years. I’m not ready for a baby! I want one but there’s so much I want to do first, but I’m getting a lot of pressure to do it before I’m 30 because otherwise I’ll be “too old” and ugh.

        But I get a little hope when I see other ladies who waited and have no issues.

        1. My SIL had her first at 44. Their “trying” was stopping birth control and 2 months later….
          Come to think of it, I know more people that had babies over 30 than under 30. Like one friend out of 20+ from college/grad school

          1. ^ Had kids under 30, so 19+ over 30. Half finished thoughts are the bane of my exist….squirrel!

          2. I had a baby at 27, and I felt like a teen parent because no one else I knew had kids – they mostly ended up starting in their early 30s and wrapping it up about five years later.

        2. Most of my acquaintance with kids had children in their mid to late 30s. Some in their 20s or 40s as well.

          FWIW, my grandmother was 36 when my father was born (in the 1930s).

          My father’s 1st cousin (born in the late 1920s IIRC) had her first child (of 5) at 36.

          Being an elderly prima gravida isn’t that uncommon 🙂

        3. I know plenty of women who had their first child in their 30s, and a few who had their first child after 40. Yes, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to have a child if you wait another five or ten years — but there’s also no guarantee that you’d be able to have one if you started trying *now*. (And going the other way, if you assume that because you’re past 40 your fertility’s dropped to where you don’t need to worry as much about birth control….I did that, which is why I have three children and not two.)

        4. Married at 40; baby at 43, with no special interventions. Turns out a lot of my maternal relatives back up the tree had children “late” – so that was reassuring when things seemed to not be coming together.

          And I have some lovely friends who are currently on a wait list to adopt, so there’s another option (though I know it is not an easy one for everyone – I spent a lot of time agonizing over whether adoption was something that was viable for me… and I still don’t know the answer to that.)

        5. There’s another annoying cultural narrative – that women’s fertility starts dropping at 30. It’s really a lot more like 40, and many, maybe even a majority, of women can still conceive in their early 40s, though it tends to take a little longer. Not minimizing people’s real and difficult struggles with infertility at any age, just silly the pressure that sometimes gets put on women to procreate ASAP lest their very wombs turn into barren deserts.

          1. Yep. Especially if you’ve always been consistent about using birth control (hence no unplanned pregnancies – using bc obviously doesn’t improve fertility once you go off it) there’s not really a good reason to think that you’ll have a really hard time getting pregnant in your thirties.

        6. A friend had her second baby last year, age 41 (when her first child was 11).

          He was born healthy and well.

          It is possible. Wont be that way for everyone of course, but it is not *impossible*.

      2. Kids are the things that worry me the most. I’m 30, and I think I could be decently content getting married much later in life, but I deeply, deeply want children and a home, both things that these days absolutely require two average incomes (I will never have enough money by myself.) I’m currently in a relationship where we’re going through some rough stuff…. It haunts me that if we do break up, even if there is still a chance for love (and my large, Midwest city is the type where everybody is married by 27-29), I’d have a very low chance of having children. Giving up that dream would be very hard.

        1. I’m not sure what your specific situation is, but do know that a lot of the societal pressure and propaganda re: having kids after 30 is drastically overstated. Many, many women conceive late in their thirties and even into their forties without a problem – it’s not the hopeless wasteland many would have us believe it is.

    3. Lovely Commenter… That happend to me. Where did my shot at love go when I didn’t find mine in college and everyone else did?

      A few years more and some (not all) of the friends I so envied are asking “how does dating after college” when their college relationships came to an end.

      As the Captain so rightly says, it’s not failure or a mistake or their only opportunity lost and wasted because those relationships camd to an end. But some of them did.

      What it is, is a reminder that everyone has their own journey, troubles, triumphs, regrets and joys. That includes you! Comparing yourself to those other people when you don’t know their whole story, and when there is no way to forsee their future *or* yours isn’t going to be much help in figuring out why you haven’t met your person yet. It won’t explain how you will meet your perdon, ifwhen you do.

      Take heart, is all I can say. ❤

      1. That’s me! Married my boyfriend from uni at 25, divorced him two years later. Now at 29 I’m with someone who I really feel is my person, and I feel I’m theirs.

        I also know quite a few people who stayed single well into their forties and then met their SO. Some of them even had kids. Then there are people like my parents, who got married and wanted kids right away at 25, but had plenty of issues with infertility. I was conceived well after they’d stopped trying at the ripe old age of 29.

    4. 1. You have 100% not missed your opportunity
      2. You now have the benefit of that time and knowing yourself better than before to bring with you into any new relationship

      At 30 I am feeling like I’m juuuuuuuuuuust starting to realize who I really am and it feels awesome, and being single is kind of great because I can stretch and grow and change and fuck up without being someone else’s bonsai. Whoever gets to reap the benefits of that will be a lucky person indeed.

      1. Love this. I feel the same way. I wish I’d known when I was younger that you don’t have to figure anything out before a certain age…it’s actually the stuff I figured out early that ended up being wrong and silly, so I’m glad I was inclined to keep all my options open anyway. love to all my fellow 30goers!

      2. Same age, same feeling. I’ve actually been single since I was 19 and totally fine with it. I like only having to check with myself when making big life plans. Or small life plans!

      3. Not talking love (because I haven’t figured THAT out at all), but as a person pushing 45, here’s what I tell my younger friends and relations about life in general:

        * I spent my 20s figuring out what I did NOT want to do with my life.
        * I spent my 30s figuring out what I DID want to do with my life.
        * I’m now spending my 40s kicking ass and taking names. The era of coming out of college right into your lifetime career is So F’ing Over.

        And if my job goes tits up in the next year or two and I have to switch paths again . . . I’m OK with that. I’ve done it before and it was scary and awful and I survived it. I’ll survive it again.

        1. Seconding dirtythirty: THANK YOU FOR THIS. I’m in my mid-20s now and switched from a “career” job which I hated to part-time work so I would have time to explore other options. “You don’t have to have your life sorted by 25” is something I need to write on my bathroom mirror!

      4. At 30 I am feeling like I’m juuuuuuuuuuust starting to realize who I really am and it feels awesome


        One of the things that got my sister and me through high school and college was our dad’s insistence that you could not possibly pay him enough money to be younger than 30 again. (Hyperbole, of course, but it helped.) His point was that people who tell you your teens/early 20s are the best years of your life are mostly thinking how nice it would be to have no mortgage and more energy but still keep their accumulated life experience. I am LOVING my 30s. I finally feel comfortable to be who I am — not that I don’t still have anxiety and self-doubt, but I’m not inclined to try to change my fundamental self so other people will like me more. I’m okay with the idea that some people won’t like me, and I wish them all the best.

        NB: not feeling this way in your 30s doesn’t mean you’re defective. I’ve had a LOT of therapy over the years, and it’s helped get me here. Feeling this way before your 30s is good too. My brain chemistry changed so much in my late teens through mid-20s that I had virtually no chance of feeling settled and comfortable with myself until it calmed down.

        1. “Our dad’s insistence that you could not possibly pay him enough money to be younger than 30 again.”

          That’s exactly what I’ve been saying ever since I turned thirty!

          Although the lesson of “it’s better to be alone than in a relationship that doesn’t work” I learned in my early twenties. Forgot it for a couple of years, yes, but then remembered it.

          Now I’m single, doing my best to keep busy, see friends and enjoy my life and not get sucked in to work-sleep-work mode. I’d prefer to be coupled up, and I am on okc on and off, but mostly I’m trying to make my life interesting for me, and I only sometimes mildly freak out about expiration dates (then I remind myself of all the reasons why that notion is questionable and unhelpful).

      5. “being someone else’s bonsai”

        This really needs to join the Captain Awkward lexicon if it hasn’t already. 🙂

      6. A while back, I read that people, when surveyed, tend to identify whatever age they currently are as their best decade. That is, someone who was 43 tends to say 40s are the best, a 55 year old would say 50s are the best, etc. So generally, we seem to keep getting better, or at least our brains mercifully trick us into thinking things got better.

        This makes me happy.

    5. Got married this year, at 37. And it was definitely a surprise. Ok, not the marriage, but the marriage-type relationship. We met when I responded to his Casual Encounters posting. Marriage was NOT on that agenda.

    6. I met my husband when I was 24 and he was 33. (And I was his first girlfriend!) We got married after three years, and now we’re starting to plan what to do on our 10th anniversary and I still feel happy to see him at the end of the day, and like he’s happy to see me, too. No matter how sad the other things in our lives are at the time.

    7. Christine, I have been right where you are, and I hope that sharing my story will give you even more hope. I met a boy in college, we dated for 5 years, it was a beautiful, emotionally manipulative, soul-crushing disaster that I thought I wanted to last forever until he dumped me as I was preparing to move across the country to be with him. I was in therapy for a year working through some really deep shit and clawing my way out of a hole and back up to the light of feeling good about myself and hopeful for finding an awesome life partner. It took lots of weird dates, and sleeping around, and breaking hearts/getting my heart broken. It took some proud moments of “I am OK being single!” and also some lousy moments of feeling like I would be alone forever, and just missing that person I was looking for but hadn’t found yet.

      And then about 6 years after college, I found him. And he makes me a priority, and I am important to him, and we fit, and A+++ sexy times, all that.

      Take heart, and have hope. You deserve to be someone’s priority, and it’s my sincerest wish that you find what you are looking for!

      1. “…some lousy moments of feeling like I would be alone forever, and just missing that person I was looking for but hadn’t found yet.”

        Oh, that’s it EXACTLY. Sometimes, anyway. A lot of times I don’t mind being single (sometimes I really love it!), but other times… missing somebody I haven’t found yet, that’s exactly it.

        And thank you everyone for your stories, I’m tearing up a bit at my desk at work. I think I knew all of this intellectually, but it was hard to convince my heart when basically everyone I know– friends, co-workers, extended family– paired up in college and have stayed that way ever since. I don’t want kids, so I’m not feeling the time pressure of that. But it’s just been hard to convince myself that no, my window of opportunity hasn’t passed– I’m still alive, so I’ve got a chance to find somebody. Hearing all of your stories about meeting your partner later in life really really helps.

        1. I felt that so, so keenly at times. Remembering it still makes my heart ache. I can imagine it’s hard feeling like you’re the only one not swimming along in the met-my-sweetheart-in-college stream. FWIW though, all of the happy couples I am surrounded by did not meet in college. They mostly met through work, through mutual friends, or completely randomly at parties (true story – I met my husband at a party I almost did not go to, and one that he almost did not go to either!). So while it might seem like you’re the odd duck out in the group you know, you’re definitely not alone in not meeting your someone in college. And you definitely still have a chance! Best of luck to you!

    8. My one brother and sister were both there, on separate occasions both told me and my husband that they were jealous of me and my youngest brother who both had met and married someone from undergraduate and that dating was so much harder and more work when you weren’t surrounded by a huge pool of people close to your age. I commiserated with them as it can be a lot harder when you don’t have that readily available pool of people, but both of them are now happily married too. I have and Aunt that was single until she was in her mid-40s and then married a man who was also single until his mid-40s.

      I don’t believe at all that there is ONE TRUE LOVE out there for each of us, that’s just too logistically impossible to make any sense to me, but I’m with the captain that if you aren’t feeling it, you aren’t feeling it. A perfect relationship on paper doesn’t matter if it isn’t clicking for you. Is there cold feet and doubts, sure, but if it’s something that you are consistently thinking about because something is missing, it’s ok to move on. And I do think the distance is a great opportunity to figure that out and to fall back in love with yourself and your friends again if you’ve been neglecting that some as I think most of us do in relationships sometimes.

    9. I didn’t meet the person who made me feel like the best possible version of myself until I turned 40, after I’d already been divorced and gone through several bad relationships.

      I don’t know how long we’ll be together, but the possibility of a future break up and being alone afterwards no longer seem like things to fear, because now I know a relationship isn’t worth the effort unless it’s at least as good as what I have now. If it isn’t, being alone will be a choice, and a better one.

      1. “I didn’t meet the person who made me feel like the best possible version of myself until I turned 40, after I’d already been divorced and gone through several bad relationships.”

        I was 42 when I met the man who made my heart sing. =) We are now married 16 years.
        My previous Darth Vader ex had informed me (when I was 38 years old) that I was “too old, too fat, and too ugly to ever find another man so I HAD to stay with him because no one else would ever want me….” FEH!
        The mirror told me he lied and the anger from that statement made me finally break off from him.

        Happily married at age 44. Sending you all good thoughts that it is never too late, or too old.

    10. I divorced the “life-long” partner I met in college. College isn’t always the best environment for telling whether you’re compatible with someone for the long run. There isn’t really any such thing as the perfect window of opportunity that you can miss.

      1. I like this point about college. The reason I’m still with my spouse isn’t *because* we met in college, it’s largely in spite of it.

    11. My uncle got married at like 50 or something. I’m not sure exactly how much younger than my dad he is, but he and his now-wife were both definitely WELL into middle age! My oldest sibling is nearly 40 and youngest nearly 30 and none of us are married either, so if we do in the future it will be more late marriages. It doesn’t bother me much, I’ve had time to get to know me etc.

    12. I know someone who met his wife (then aged 37 and 32) at my wedding. He was a member of my choir; she used to be coworkers with my spouse. There was a horrible snafu with placecards and we ended up with utter chaos for the reception seating, but they hit it off, and have been happily married for six years now 🙂

      1. 34. Haven’t dated in…3 years? 4? Something like that. It got to a point where it just seemed like too much effort for too little return. Going back to school and cultivating friendships is more rewarding (for me, anyway).

      2. I’m coming up on 37 and yeah… dunno if I would use the word bleak, but I’m not terribly optimistic. I know everyone means well, but I definitely find the “I was xx age when it finally happened, just be patient!” comments not helpful. Because sure, it might happen for me. But it also might… not? And that’s OKAY. I need to be okay with that. I am enough. You are enough. There is more to life than romantic love.

    13. I just wanted to let you know that I FEEL YOU. Sometimes I feel like I was sold a false bill of goods because I was told to explore! and etc. in college, which I did, and then…it felt like I turned around and everything changed. Everyone was married to hs sweethearts (so many hs sweethearts) or people they met in college. I feel like while I was busy exploring as far and as much as I could, everyone else (smartly) found a good life partner and stayed with them. Now, I too worry that it is too late for me, as the world/dating scene does not seem welcome to strong, capable women who have lived both adventuring and hard lives.

      1. I know that feel, but it is a lying feel. The person you want to be with is someone who says “I respect and admire your experience, your determination, and your strength. These things make you the person you are, and the person you are is not just the person I want to be with, but the *kind* of person I want to be with.”

        Would you want to be with someone who wants you to be smaller? I know it’s hard when you’re too big and bold and amazing for 95% of the people who would otherwise be eligible partners, but it is really worth it when you find someone in that 5%.

    14. “… It sorta feels like I missed my chance by not meeting my life-long partner in college, because pretty much everyone I know either married to or is long-term dating the person they started dating in college.”

      Give it time. For better and worse, a lot of those people are going to break up. :/

  5. When I met my now-husband, I wasn’t all that crazy about him. I knew we had a lot in common, but he didn’t give me sparkly feelings. We just hung out as friends. My feelings crept up on me. I didn’t even know I liked him that much until he got in a taxi to get in a plane and I burst into tears. I was so set on the OMG DEEP FEELINGS feeling that I often felt very guilty that I never had that crush feeling about him.

    He is a wonderful partner, and I realized long ago that many of them men I had the OMG DEEP FEELINGS for were really horrible for me. Really really bad. For me, choosing a life partner meant someone I enjoyed being around – someone I liked a lot, had similar viewpoints, and didn’t mind crawling into bed with. I know I chose him with my head, and my heart followed. I feel very lucky.

    I went through the same type of feelings as LW, and for me, a rational choice is the one I wanted to make. I was not crazy in love, nor did I feel he completed me. Instead, I felt like he was a wonderful complement for me, and this was really important. We sucked in bed together, btw. It was soooooo mediocre. Enoughso that I had a conversation with him – “How would you describe our sex?” He said it was okay, I said it was adequate. We both agreed that sucked. It’s taken time, but we are much better in bed together because we talked it through. It’s still not magical, and for some reason my ladybits are sort of a Rosetta Stone that have not yet been cracked by him. It’s cool, though – we have a lifetime together, and fluency in Pants Talk is not The Most Important Thing to me.

    So yes, I married my wonderful “this makes sense” person, and we work on the magical stuff. I would much rather my logic chose my partner than my heart or my pants. They have a history of making shitty choices. Thankfully they have gotten in line with my head, and there is deep love for my partner.

    I think it’s completely normal to have doubts about ANYTHING long term. I think that whatever you decide, LW, that you should feel satisfied with your choice if it’s right for you.

  6. I was lucky (and it was pure dumb luck at 20 years old) to meet and eventually marry my person. I think you know it’s right because that question goes away, and you still are you doing what needs to be done and what you want to do without worrying about it so much.

    You’re right Captain, the constant static of the question is the big flag that something isn’t right.

  7. The reasons people stay together and/or fit together are as numerous as the stars in the sky.

    I once felt great frustration at two of my friends. I married the man I adore, while the first friend married a woman who told him to lose weight because she wasn’t attracted to him, and the second married a religious girl for religious reasons.

    How could they not see how foolish they were, I wondered. How could you marry someone who doesn’t make you wild with desire and joy, and light up your night with their brilliance? How could you miss out on this feeling?

    But I was a sillier girl then. I understand now. They were looking for different things, and when they found them, they knew and in their own way, found that brilliance.

    LW, you’re living someone else’s ideal. You don’t have to. He could be the literal Prince Charming or Mr. Right, but if that’s not what you’re looking for, who cares? Go find your partner. Define that partner for yourself.

  8. Very helpful advice, thank you. So…. Have been on both sides of the “it should work, damnit, and I don’t want to lose the best/nicest/most available/etc person I’ve ever been with, but ehhhhhhh I’m not really happy/feeling delighted here, what’s wrong with me/am I doomed to be Alone Forever….” situation.

    it’s a hard choice, and from my experience on the butt end of it, I have to say, if you’re unsure and the other person really loves you and is sure? It is devastating to let them think you’re in or on your way further in when you’re actually really ambivalent about being with them and just afraid you’ll regret letting them go or wishing you felt differently, or wondering if there’s really anyone better who would want you and if the alternative is being alone you would stay, and gosh this person adores you and treats you so well, do you have to give that up…. Devastating like still broken and alone and hopeless after 3 years devastating. (Yes I’m in therapy.)

    So what’s super helpful for me in this is the lived experience that if you’re/they’re not really, unambivalently, “hell yeah!” in? You’re out. As the ambivalent one don’t string people along; as the one really in love with the ambivalent one, don’t spend a whole lot of time trying to get them to feel what they don’t. I think the Captain is saying a version of “if you have to ask, you already know the answer”. Accepting that could maybe help me a lot.

    1. Three years is enough time to know what you need to know to make a decision, in my opinion. “Is your answer ‘Hell yes!’? If not, that means ‘no'” is a good test here, very apt.

      1. What if the thing you know is “If we could fix X and Y, this relationship would be the most spectacular, amazing thing ever”? I and my long-term (span of 9 years, broken up maybe about 4 times with several years spacing; this round is going about 2 years) agree that we have 1 or 2 big issues that, hopefully, maybe, with therapy (we are in therapy) are making us collectively miserable, BUT if fixed, we would be *amazing* together. Both of us feel simultaneously miserable yet hopeful, and neither of us have any idea where to draw the line of when we should give up on trying to fix the problems. Is there a similar rule, like, if it isn’t fixed in 1/2/3 years, then you have your answer?

        1. That’s a long, long time to be miserable in the present and only happy in the theoretical future, but I hope it all works out for you.

        2. I think the question isn’t so much when you should give up on trying to fix it as whether you genuinely think there’s a chance that the issues can be fixed. There’s not much point in giving yourself a cut-off date if the answer to the latter is no, especially since the relationship might continue to limp along after that if you reach the cut-off and think “but we’ve made some progress!”

          I don’t know what your big issues are, but regardless:

          Do you really, genuinely think that the issues you’re grappling with are things that you can work through without either of you seriously compromising who you are as people? If so, why do you think you haven’t managed to do so yet? (Not attacking you – honest question I think you should ask yourself.)

          I’ve found that I tend to differ with the captain and many of the regular commenters on when one should jettison a relationship – I tend to be a little more conservative about it, provided there’s no abuse and the person doesn’t want to leave, because I’ve known couples who stuck out some painful and miserable periods in their relationship and came out much happier and stronger for it.

          However, for me, the big issue with what you’re talking about isn’t the lack of a timeframe – it’s about the fact that the issues seem to have stayed consistent over a period of nine years. That’s a really long time, and people change quite a lot over the span of nine years. If they’ve been a significant problem throughout that time, that makes me worry whether you’re still trying because you want to hope, and not because of genuine potential. (I hope that’s not too harsh!)

  9. The Captain’s advice is extremely excellent, here.

    I too am a person who experienced this dilemma in my past, and am now with a person who fits me. The scary thing about it is that until I experienced the relationship I’m in now, I didn’t actually think a relationship like this was possible, or at least in any way realistic to expect. And that’s scary because I don’t know that I would have held out for it if I hadn’t just randomly lucked into it when I did.

    That said, I resolved those relationships in my past in two ways, which are basically exactly what CA mentioned in the post:

    1) I imagined my future with this person – 5, 10, 20 years down the road – and I asked myself if I really thought that I’d be happy. In most cases, I felt sad or anxious or asked myself questions like, “Will I be OK with regretting that?”

    2) I identified what I really wanted from my life, did my best to pursue it, and arranged the single life I wanted.

    Step 2 is crucial, because it tells you what you really need from life. Don’t settle for a long-term partner who inhibits that.

    The thing to understand about all these stories people tell about love is that they aren’t really instructional. Pretty much everybody finds love by accident, because it’s not something that’s in your control. No matter what actions you take on your end, ultimately you still have to come across the right person in the right place at the right time in your life under the right circumstances, which means that at the end of the day it’s just something that…happens. Or doesn’t. Being happy on your own is important mostly because it frees you from being so dependent on that random chance.

    1. Wonderfully put. Finding a person it’s possible to cultivate love with is accidental and that does not make it any less real. One can increase the chances by learning how to cultivate good love, and how to love oneself, but unless one is open to arranging a relationship for oneself and making the best of that, it’s still going to happen when circumstances offers up a chance one is ready to take.

      Learning to have a loving, nourishing and enjoyable relationship with oneself is really important, because one’ll be having this relationship always (certain mental and/or physical situations excepted), and the quality of it will really influence the overall quality of one’s life experience.

    2. Wonderfully put. Even though one can increase one’s chances by learning how to cultivate good love and to love oneself, finding lovers is still dependent on circumstance. It is very important to cultivate a loving, nourishing and enjoyable relationship with oneself, becaue that is the relationship that will be with one throughout life, and it will greatly influence the overall quality of one’s life experience.

  10. This really brought up some thoughts for me, because I’ve been in that place, give or take, and I did stick it out, and now my husband and I are as the Captain described her and the Gentleman caller, and I feel so lucky that I did choose to stay, and that he did convince me to give it another try when I was ready to break up. I think that some of the reasons I wanted to break up back then were because of my own problems, not relationship problems. Still, I had some real things I didn’t like about the relationship, but over the years we grew and changed and became people who are better because we are with each other. There are no easy answers. If I met my previous self now, I might advise her to break up, but I’m glad I didn’t.

    That gives me more hope for there being lots of ways to get there, and plenty of options out there. If you’re both committed to the relationship, and want good things for each other, there is a chance you can grow closer together and become better. But there is a chance not. I am an avid reader and geek, and my husband is not, but I am happy doing those things with other friends, and occasionally telling him about them, but knowing I can’t share that with him fully, while I can share things like travel and cooking with him fully. Even though he doesn’t share some of my interests, he supports them fully, loves me for them, and wants me to be happy.

    I love him incredibly deeply now, in a way I’ve only learned to do now that we’ve been together for 15 years. I wasn’t capable of it in our first 4 or 5 years together, and I hope in another 10 years, 20 years, I will love him even more deeply. That’s who I am, though–it takes me a long time.

    I guess all of this is to agree with the Captain’s list and say that it is different for everyone. Love is not one thing, that arrives predictably, and stays the same, and needs to feel a certain way to be true. The most basic, important thing, is that you need to enjoy being together, and want good things for each other. Nothing can be built without that foundation–but even if you have that, only you can decide if that foundation is enough.

  11. Dear LW

    My experience differs from yours and the Captain’s in that I don’t ask myself “is this all there is?”

    But my experience might be valuable anyway.

    I’ve had a few relationships that I knew were different from my other relationships. So far none have lasted forever, but all were valuable.

    So my opinion is that even if it turns out to not be forever you will have a sense of importance with some people that is different.

    It’s worth holding out for that.

    1. This is a lovely way of framing the thing. Shortly after I met my spouse-person, I was confident that they were a very good and important thing for me. We’ve been together for seven years, and it’s beginning to look like we are going to transition into something very different from what we thought we were going to be for each other (they’re no longer certain they want to have kids, but I still do, and other things that have built up and gone unresolved (despite our best efforts) over the years. And while this is sad and hard and painful, it doesn’t feel like failure or the end of the world, because I also promised myself a long time ago that no matter what happened, I know that being with them for whatever time we are together is a good thing and a good decision. It was all worth it, even if we don’t spend our lives together in the way we intended to.

  12. I don’t know if I can speak for anyone else here, but: I have friends who inspire me to be better versions of myself. They inspire me to do things! Reach higher! Leap towards accomplishments! Care! About everything! And I’m so productive and feel so good about myself when I spend a few days around them. But, you guys, I’d never have married any of them. They’re EXHAUSTING. I’m an introvert. The last thing I want to come home to is ‘accomplish all the things!’ when I’m like ‘no, seriously – cuddle, book, fireplace’. Basically: we’ve got a cultural narrative that says that your partner should simultaneously support you and inspire you and help you be a better version of yourself AND inspire passion and good sex while also being down-to-earth and solid and responsible… and sometimes you just have to face that one person can’t meet every culturally-determined need and that it’s OK to say (in my case) ‘I am marrying the guy I love absolutely who is completely supportive of all my hobbies and is happy that I be generally in control of the household finances and who is willing to let his career take a backseat to mine and who curls up on the couch with me at the end of the day and who I also have amazing sex with’. Those were my priorities. Note that ‘makes me excited and a better person’ isn’t on that list. BUT if it’s on YOUR list, then yeah, not having it in your relationship is an issue.

    I think the captain’s advice is right, though… if you picture him walking in and proposing, what’s your gut feeling? Because unless you’re super happy about it… that’s an issue.

    But ALSO, as a caveat, I think it’s normal to look at the relationship/person we’re with and be like “what if this/they were different?”. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re unhappy with what you have. But if the idea of still being with that person in 10/20/30 years doesn’t make you happy, then you’ve got some decisions to make

    1. Much of my life has been full of challenge and anxiety-provoking stuff. I’m a “would prefer high proportion of comfort to challenge in a romantic relationship” person, because I would love to have a part of life that feels like respite. The Partner, over the last couple of years, has become a “would prefer high proportion of challenge / inspiration to comfort in a romantic relationship” person.

      Those are both fine ways to be. We haven’t yet figured out how to balance them in a way that makes us both happy.

      OTOH, he is still the first person I want to tell about *anything*, I still feel weak-kneed looking at him after over a decade together, and I still want us to know each other deeply when we’re 80. This is what makes me think of the last couple years as “a rough patch” and not a sign that we’re not right together.

    2. Totally. The thing that really attracted me to my spouse was that everything was EASIER when I was with him. I never had to agonize over whether to call him, he was super straightforward and I always knew exactly where I stood. He wasn’t afraid to say, “I love you” or jump in with both feet, we never argued about where to go for dinner, or whether to go out or stay in, and he did lots of little considerate things, just because, that made my life feel like less of a struggle (and also warmed my heart.)

      I can’t say, after 20 years and two kids together, that it still feels exactly like that, but sometimes I do wonder how much I take the easy factors for granted, and how much harder it would’ve been with someone who was less of a good fit. I also grew up with parents who have never stopped trying to make me relentlessly better, and so being with someone who allowed me to just be myself is extremely comfortable and sustainable on an everyday level.

    3. Thanks for this comment. As an introvert I have had a few budding relationships fail when it became clear that I wasn’t actually all that into Trying New Things all the time. This comment helps me put that into perspective and not think that there’s something wrong with ME for not being Spontaneous Interesting Adventurous Person all the time.

  13. OK. I am stepping through the lurk-curtains (lurktains?) to say this: I love this SO, SO MUCH and I needed to hear ALL OF THIS SO, SO MUCH right now, and except for a few details that throw it out of alignment I would have suspected I got out of bed and wrote it to you in my sleep last night. Thank you so much, Captain. 🙂

  14. What love and long term commitment means is very different for different people. But in general I think the Captain’s test is a good one – if he called you tonight and asked you to marry him, would you be excited and happy? If not, I think you know the answer to your question.

    You’re right that true love isn’t, in any way, like the media perception of it – or probably what you see from your friends (everyone feels a need to present their love within a perfect narrative, I think, because any ‘crack’ could be judged). The bulk of life feels like getting home from work, being tired and making the easiest meal you can think of and being irritated that it is apparently time to do the dishes a-fucking-gain. That’s the same if you’re single or in a relationship. The most amazing person in the world couldn’t change that. I would suggest you look for the little things your partner does that make you happy – jokes, thoughtful actions, doing the dishes more than 50% of the time…whatever is it that makes life better for you. ‘Cause I think what it comes down to is, is your life better for having that person in it? And being ready to make a commitment means knowing that that person being in your life for the long-term is going to make it better. Whatever better means for you.

    I got engaged earlier this year. It is not all dreamy and perfect – it wasn’t before we got engaged and it isn’t now. Life remains as messy and difficult as ever. But it is better for him being there with me. I think that’s what you need to look for – ’cause it kinda sounds like your current boyfriend isn’t having much of an impact either way.

  15. I might suggest a different contrast. If you want a great relationship, there are all kinds of forms it can take and times it can come along and you should aim for the stars on all fronts. If you want traditional marriage (happens in your 20s and 30s, lasts till you die, involves a legal contract, is monogamous, you live in the same place and your finances are combined), the only ones I know that are happy over the long term involve the coming-together of two people who are fundamentally… polite.

    Because the second scenario involves so many teeny tiny daily logistics and both people have to be considerate constantly, in large and small ways. I actually think these kinds of people are pretty rare and when two of them find each other it is pretty rare and thus long truly happy marriages are pretty rare. If you want the second thing, I would pay the *most* attention to stuff like: how does this person treat waitstaff? If there is a party and somebody who doesn’t know anybody turns up, does this person notice and try to include them? Do they listen well and take turns well in conversation? How often do they get visibly annoyed by little things — slow service, long lines, small social snubs? How do I do on those fronts? (full disclosure: I suck on the last one) & you can predict the future pretty well from there.

  16. “Stable and boring” vs. “passionate but dysfunctional” is a false dilemma, LW. It really is. Those may be the options you’ve had to choose from so far, but they are not the only options. I know you say you understand that intellectually, but I don’t get the sense you really believe it, and you deserve someone who makes you believe it. My partner may not be everything I would’ve asked for in a dream guy, but some of the things I love most about him are things I wouldn’t have realized I value as much as I do before I started dating him, and the things that are real problems are things that we’re able to talk about and work on together. If there are issues with your partner that keep coming up and aren’t getting better no matter how much you talk about them, that’s important. Don’t disregard it just because you don’t think those issues should be as high on your list of priorities as “good job” or “emotionally supportive.”

    Also, I think even “stable” is a false assumption when, as the Captain points out, it’s only going to last as long as your desperation for a way to get passion or whatever else is missing back into your life doesn’t overwhelm you. Worry less about the perfect combination, and more about whether what you have is making you happy. Really happy, not just “I should be happy.”

  17. Oh gosh, this is helpful and timely. I’ve been kicking this can back and forth for the last year or so, and because I’ve also made some really horrible choices in pursuit of Intensity and feeling Meant To Be Together, which has also made me wonder if I would be chucking something that feels pretty OK most of the time in pursuit of something that feels more exciting but that I might never find — or if I am committing to a not-great status quo because I am not brave. At least thinking about this this way makes me feel like I can initiate some conversations about what we both want, and what we are and aren’t getting from the relationship, and whether we’re willing and able to do what we would need to do to be the person the other partner wants.

    There’s been a string of breakups and divorces in my social circle the last couple of years, which has also influenced my thinking about this. Partly in a neurotic way (like, is this a contagious thing? Will I be next, and if I am, is it because that’s what I want or because it’s what everyone else is doing? To which I have to be like, Brain, shut the hell up, I’m doing stuff right now). And on the one hand, it’s so hard to see friends (most of them in their 30s and 40s now) grieve relationships they had invested so much time and care in. On the other, talking to people about what made them decide to break up has been really eye-opening. One pattern I’ve noticed (and it’s something I can relate to from my own relationships) is that people don’t always leave relationships during a crisis point, or even at the point where it becomes clear that the relationship is not going to work. For instance, I was in a long-distance relationship where for the first two years, we very infrequently (and then only briefly) ever talked about the possibility of one of us moving. Then I got a job that meant I would have to stay in my city for at least a year, and I started putting pressure on him to come live near me, and he applied for a job and had a phone interview and then the company just never called him back, and he admitted he felt more relieved than anything else when that happened, and that he’d realized he didn’t want to move after all. That conversation could have been the end of us. But we stayed together for several more months after that, talking about the possible ways we could work out. And we realized there were no options we liked, and decided to end the relationship.

    I think the difference between the actual breakup conversation and the wailing, HOW COULD YOU NOT WANT TO BE WITH ME conversation we had when he first told me he didn’t want to move is that once I moved past the crisis point, and also once we started to have some (in hindsight) long-overdue conversations about what we needed, I started to feel hopeful; I started to see that there were other ways we could both be happy.

    That was a good relationship and I’m not sorry to have invested those years and train tickets in it. But I’ve seen it happen with friends leaving really bad relationships, too. They don’t necessarily leave when things are their worst, but when they start to feel hopeful, when they start to think things could be different and better. (Note: by “really bad” I do not refer to relationships where someone is in physical danger. The LW didn’t indicate that at all, but I want to be clear that I would not recommend any of this “stick around until you feel good enough to leave” stuff to someone who is really scared of their partner.)

    Another thing about that breakup that I want to pass along because I really think it made all the difference in the world, for both of us. The point where we actually broke up was a pretty bad time in my life for other reasons (like, we declared a hiatus and the next day I had to fly home to deal with a family emergency) and at first I dealt with it by picking fights with him over text. We both realized that was counterproductive and making him feel bad was only making me feel worse, so we declared a ceasefire AND I decided we should each text the other a compliment once per day. At the time, I just needed to do something that was positive and loving to counteract all the horrible feelings I had about my life. But we did this for, oh, a week or so, and then later we had the let’s-breakup-for-real conversation. For a long time I thought that the reason we parted so amicably — despite initial indications that was not going to happen! — is that we took that time to thank each other for what we’d meant to each other, and called out specific things we appreciated. (The compliments ranged from silly small specific things to bigger and more general things, if I remember correctly.) We both left feeling cared for in a way we probably hadn’t in a while. But it hit me recently that maybe listing out all the specific reasons he was a good person and partner and someone I loved — that those reasons weren’t the same as us getting what we needed. That they weren’t enough. And that that was OK.

  18. I know sometimes we want a ‘right answer’, but sometimes I think there just isn’t one. Unfortunately, that means you eventually just have to choose the path you think you want, and embrace whichever choice that is.

  19. LW, “I love you” is a declaration of feelings. Note the lack of promises or commitments in that sentence.

    “I love you” does not mean “so we are together forever and ever.”

    “I love you” does not mean “so of course I will move with you to your new out-of-state job, and wherever your career takes you after that.”

    “I love you” does not mean “so I want what you want.”

    It really doesn’t. Those are separate thoughts. I hate that I can hurt someone just by loving them but not wanting the same things they do. It sucks. But I’m important, and so is what I want and what I need. My partner’s needs and wants are not, by default, more important than mine just because we love each other.

    You are important, too, LW. Your wants and needs are important.

    1. YES. Was scrolling down with a view of quoting that exact line. Captain, you really know how to turn a phrase!

  20. It is definately true what the older folks say: When you find the right one, you just know.
    I never believed that in my dating years. But, gosh darnit, turns out that really is how it works. On a random Friday, sitting on my couch watching some random TV show, I looked at my then-boyfriend and felt the most amazing feeling of contentment. And the crazy thought popped into my head, “That’s him. He’s the one.” And I truly Just Knew. His flaws, mine, his plans, mine, my fears, the what-ifs….all faded away as I sat there staring at him watching the TV. I didn’t say a word out loud about it and it took him another 6 months to have his own epiphany and when he did, he didn’t waste any time proposing.

    Hindsight is 20/20. And when I thought back on other boyfriends and the doubts I had, the inner turmoil, the sleepless nights some of them put me through, I realized it was because they weren’t him. They weren’t the one and part of my Self knew that – hence, the doubts.

    Trust your gut LW. If it doesn’t feel right -if you’re not completely at peace with whatever the nature of your relationship is – trust that.

    1. I’ve ‘just known’ twice in my life, and yet I am now 37 and single. I suspect the ‘just knows’ who stay together are a case of confirmation bias.

      1. I’ve “just known” twice as well at 32, and I am single-ish (poly, with only low-intensity relationships at the mo’). But I do admit that those two are the exes that I still love deeply over a cup of tea or to just sit in the same car with or speak intimately with once in a while. When I met the second one, the feeling of “this is the one I’ve been waiting for” actually made me stay much longer than I should have in a relationship that didn’t really work (long-distance, long story).

        I think that feeling might be the recognition of deep and resilient intimacy and/or comfort, which is an important, even crucial aspect of partnering for me, but I do also know there are more than one person out there I can have that with. To me, it’s more like… one of the signs a relationship will have resilience, at least from my end – a sign I am in deep while comfortable and will probably stay there. I do hold out for it, in a way, but I am not bound by it.

        And in a way, these persons are no less “the ones” for me no longer being partnered with them. So I don’t know. I think there is something important to that feeling, when it is the recognition of deep intimate connection (and not infatuation/fear of loneliness), but I don’t think it means it will work out, or that “it was meant to be”. As I commented above, finding love is accidental, cultivating love is a skill. Ending love (as a partnership, rather than as a felt connection) can be necessary, or also accidental. Cherish and care for the love that happens, while respecting yourself and others. That’s about as much control as there is.

        1. Yeah, to a large extent I agree. Both of my ‘just knows’ are people that I remain enormously fond of, and I do still believe that my Just Knowing indicated deep connection that has lasted beyond the end of the relationship. In both cases our lives were just incompatible, in terms of what we wanted. And also – people change a lot over the courses of their lives, and not always in the same way. My first Just Knew ex and I got together when we were 20 and 21, and at the time we were enormously compatible, whereas if we met now … nope. I think we’d still like each other a lot, but I don’t for a second think that we’d end up in a relationship with one another (quite aside from the fact that he’s happily and monogamously married!).

      2. I absolutely believe they’re confirmation bias. I “thought probable, but that I was probably too young to settle down” at 19-21, and then decided that yes, I was too young, and I still think I was right that we’d have been amazing together if we’d met when I was older. When I was 21-22, I “just knew”, and I was oh-so-wrong. Then I “thought very likely”, and we’ve been together 12 years.

        I’ve also been “just known” at, and wow, no.

        “Just knew” is sometimes right, sometimes undramatically wrong, and sometimes dramatically terrible, the sign of a really horrible relationship on the unhealthy-abusive spectrum.

        1. “Just knew” is sometimes right, sometimes undramatically wrong, and sometimes dramatically terrible, the sign of a really horrible relationship on the unhealthy-abusive spectrum.


    2. My perspective is a bit different. I had a similar moment with my college sweetie. We were watching telly one night and I looked at her and she at me and we both “just knew” that the next step was marriage. But that wasn’t self-aware knowledge, or listening to my gut, or even a feeling of contentment. We were in our early 20s, in a relationship that was a couple of years in the making, and so we “just knew” what the next step was because that’s where we were on the “relationship escalator.” The wedding was great, the marriage not so much, and went on for much longer than it should have, but getting off of the escalator is a lot harder than getting on it.

      Just because there are all sorts of narratives from family, friends, daytime TV, that insist every relationship must follow a certain pattern and look a certain way, that doesn’t mean it is true. That sense of “just knowing” may be more about recognizing the next steps in the dance you find yourself in rather than a realization that you’re in the right dance.

    3. I think I’m turning into one of the older folks, and based on life experience so far, I hope someone calls me on it if I ever say I’ve “just known”. Because I would be lying.

    4. JIll, really glad it worked for you. However . . . .
      I met a guy and I Just Knew that I was never going to like him the way that he clearly liked me. I was sure of it. I was crushing on someone else and really wasn’t interested in this guy at all.
      11 years later as of this coming week, and after kissing him goodbye this morning as he went out the door, I have a sneaking suspicious that I might have been wrong. 🙂

  21. Up until this year, my love life had been nonexistent: lots of unrequited attractions on both sides, real life making me feel like I wasn’t ready, etc. I kept getting prodded to join OKC by my well-meaning brother, and only did so because I figured I could delete my profile later and tell him, “yeah, not worth it.”

    I didn’t expect to meet the boy there, but I did, and we’re both in our 30s. I don’t know how things will pan out, but what I do know is that I’m very happy with him, and it’s definitely not too late for you, LW.

  22. The Captain’s advice is good, and I think in many cases is right. Without pressuring you, LW, if you’re feeling like you don’t want to go (yet or at all) or if you’re afraid that future dreamy stable partners will also lack a spark, allow me to share an anecdote. I spent much of my early life in abusive relationships that I didn’t realize we’re toxic. The stable people in my life were good friends, who supported me through tough decisions and bad relationships. For a very long time, though, I thought that romantic love felt dangerous and energizing (sometimes that is true but it certainly isn’t a requirement). Because of the way an abusive parent shaped my ideas about what love felt like, I unconsciously was drawn to toxic and unhealthy dating relationships. At the time, I thought the rapid pounding of my heart was the exhiliration of blooming love, but in part it was my body warning me by going on high alert. With the consistent support of my loving friends on Team Me, I was slowly able to extricate myself from a series of bad life choices that I had given my best whole-hearted efforts (though the people I had been involved with were Vaders). All of this took place over 12 years. My best and closest friend during that time, who had been a constant in my life, began to change in my eyes. I was loved by that person, even when I made mistakes. They never said they had warned me (even when they had) if something went wrong in my love life. We had loved one another platonically for half of our lives, and though it took a long time, their loving friendship (and the support of other friends and my siblings) helped me to recognize the messages my body was sending me about my experiences of love. I grew an ability to recognize when I was thrilled (simultaneously delighted and afraid) by someone’s attention which helped me learn to recognize what sort of attention made me feel delighted and what made me feel afraid. Slowly, as I healed my ideas of what a healthy and mutually rewarding love felt like, I began to notice a change in my feelings. My longing began to stir over simple acts of supportive, reliable presence. I got all aflutter not over wondering how my actions would be perceived but over the fact that however things played out I would have the comfort of this one person’s compassionate companionship. My best friend and I are just now celebrating our third wedding anniversary. I did not settle for them, and they did not stick around pining over me (though I have since found out they were interested for some time before we came to a place of mutual attraction). The spark, which I had not felt early in our knowing one another, suddenly flared up for me as I healed my previous emotional wounds as an expression of the types of love I was now able to perceive and experience as legitimate. The spark is very much alive and enduring for us, though it took me some time to grow it from an ember. I had not thought I was tending to that fire as I worked on my mental and emotional health, but it grew as a result of that healing. I feel that re-learning affection in the aftermath of my abuse enabled me to see and experience the full, passionate and mutually supportive partnership I have now. If you are sad and confused out of guilt, though, please do not take this message to mean that you owe your boyfriend a chance to grow the spark in you. I only mean to reassure you that the spark can be present in stability, and that you aren’t hopeless to want to search for that feeling. You are not broken, though, for not feeling what you think you should, and affection doesn’t manifest in a quid pro quo sort of way. I hope you find the spark — whether it is for another person or for the love of yourself. Good luck.

  23. Some things that seem missing in the letter:

    How does he feel?
    How are you on your own?
    What have you tried to address the mismatched libido thing? What are you both open to trying?

    He may feel like he’s settling for stable too. That matters. He may be wildly in love with you but not communicating it well. That matters too.
    While we all know we’re better off with no one than with a violent asshole, it’s unclear whether we’re better off with no one than with someone who’s kind and unchallenging. Ask yourself how you’d feel if you never met anyone better. It’s okay to admit you want stability. It’s okay to admit you want tingly love.
    The sex thing isn’t likely to change by itself. At some point it’s going to make someone very unhappy, quite possibly unhappy enough to leave. In fact, this ” Our relationship has a range of problems, from mismatched libidos to different senses of humor, ideas about healthy living, and consumption” makes me think this relationship isn’t as stable a jackpot as it first appears.

  24. Long Term Lurker Reporting For Duty

    I needed this advice exactly one year ago. As it was I spent months obsessively reading through every piece of relationship advice the Captain has ever given and cobbled together a form of what has been said here, now. (Thank you by the way, all the Nuggets of Wisdom were there and I did The Hard Thing That Was Right because The Captain made me see that what I was feeling was OKAY.)

    LW, when I (eventually) found the courage to break up with my Perfect Dreamy Everybody Thinks So long term boyfriend who had NOTHING WRONG WITH HIM and we talked about marriage and he was so committed, I did it because I decided I wanted to fall in love again, with somebody new. And I decided that even if it ended horribly, I knew it was something I wanted for me. I made a 100% selfish decision to end a Lovely relationship. And that was okay.
    I wish you all the joy and happiness LW, wherever and however you decide to find it.


  25. Dearest LW, I went through almost exactly what you’re going through now–I wasn’t happy, but were things really bad enough to break up? Was I broken for not being completely in love with this guy who was objectively a good person but didn’t match me in so many important ways? If I ended it, would I be spoiling my last chance for happiness and dooming myself to horrible spinsterhood? And, spoiler, less than a month after I filed for divorce and moved out, my mom told me that it was the first time in years that she’d seen me not looking like I was carrying a horrible weight.

    Don’t break up with him because I said so. Don’t feel like you need to make a decision NOW or never. But pay attention to the Captain. Did you notice the thing that I noticed in her response, that she kept coming back to the idea of wholeness? That she, as a person, and independent of her relationship, is whole. So are you, and so am I, but we were tricked into believing that we aren’t, that we need someone not only to love us, but to make us worth loving in the first place.

    You deserve to be happy, LW. I say that in comments to most of the letters like yours, because I don’t know if anyone has ever told you before, and if they haven’t, shame on them. Nobody told me until I was sitting on a therapist’s couch, trying to figure out how to make myself love my husband. Those five words changed my life. So, find out what might make you happy. Sometimes you don’t know for sure until you take the step into the darkness, but I promise you–I PROMISE YOU–that there are very, very few ways that you can irrevocably fuck up your life in this situation, and if you’re willing to follow your gut and take a risk, whether that means staying or leaving, I think you’ll find that it’ll pay off somehow, even if the payoff is just, “Well, that didn’t work. What do I try next?”

    You’re not a bad person for feeling the way you do, and you’re not a failure because your relationship isn’t going the way you think it should. The ancient Greeks had this idea, “pathei mathos,” literally, “in suffering, education,” though there are far more poetic (and less fatalistic) renderings. Take how you feel right now and learn from it. Learn how to voice your dissatisfaction, how to ask for what you want, how to avoid ever feeling this way again. Because you have that power, and you deserve to be happy.

  26. LW,

    I, too, once dated a guy when I was young who was fantastic and checked all the boxes. His greatest wish was to settle down and have a family with me. I knew he would be completely loyal. The problem was, I had no spark for him. I found him clingy, cloying, and trying way too hard to please. I was sad to let him go, but it was the right decision. I’m now married to a guy I’m crazy about, AND he is a wonderful, responsible human being. Life isn’t close to perfect and magical all the time, but I enjoy seeing hubby and spending time with him.

    There is no need to settle for a relationship that lacks chemistry. There is more than one good man in the world!

  27. LW, it’s so hard as a woman, especially a late 20s one, not to buy into the hype that says you will be forever alone if you don’t nail down that hubby before your sell-by date, which apparently these days is 30. But please try not to. Being alone is way better that being with the wrong person. Being alone is better than settling, because even when you find that awesome partner, you will still have to make tough choices.
    Nor is being alone a forever state, any more than being together is, because life is weird, and if you keep exploring it as much as possible, seeing new places, learning new things, meeting new people, you will just have more options, romantic and otherwise. And even if the romantic doesn’t always work, you will have that big interesting life.

  28. “I don’t need to be completed, because I am judged to be complete.”

    YES. This, right here, is how I finally knew that Mr. Chameleon was the right choice for me. I never felt like I had to work for his approval.

  29. Good advice, and what I mostly read from your letter is this:

    “Is it okay to want to break up with this guy?”

    Yes. It is absolutely okay to want to break up with this guy. Wanting to leave is enough of a reason. Being sad and confused is enough of a reason.

    Some of my favorite advice I’ve ever read for dealing with doubts is this: If your diety/angel/cosmic force of choice opened the heavens and gave you permission to Do The Thing, how would you feel?

  30. Hi LW,

    I was the person who stayed with the guy for “the right” reasons – because it was “right” on paper, because he was a super person and treated me well. I, too, thought I must be some miserable, selfish wreck because I wasn’t happy and I couldn’t nail down an “airtight” reason for it.

    Letter Writer, I was miserable and self-loathing for YEARS!

    The Captain is right — if you have to ask yourself these questions, you already know the answer. The Captain is also right in that *just wanting to leave* is a good enough reason to leave. You don’t need permission, and no one else gets a vote. It’s YOUR life.

    In my case, when the misery of being in the relationship outweighed the possible misery of leaving — all your same concerns — I decided I would rather be miserable by myself with the possibility of happiness, rather than miserable in a relationship where nothing was every going to change.

    A couple years later, I married the love of my life, with no doubts at all. Miracles happen!!! And I’m past 40!

    But what I really wanted to add is this: my previous relationship taught me so much, it really prepared me for my current relationship. Although it was painful to break up, ultimately it was the best decision for both of us, and we’re both happier for it.

    Again – the Captain: Just because a relationship ends, that doesn’t necessarily mean it was a failure.

    Some relationships are meant to last forever. Some aren’t. It’s not a reflection on your value as a person.

    You deserve to be happy in your own skin, and you don’t need permission to do what’s right FOR YOU.

    Best of luck!

  31. LW, I like many here, have stayed with someone when I should not have, and looking back I am gentle with myself but regretful about the extra pain I cause both him and me.

    I also for a time believed that I was simply not the marrying kind, and that I would never be able to turn off my inner critic enough to have an actual functional and happy relationship. I thought I would forever be a seething pile of nothing’s good enough, even when it should be.

    However: I am getting married in 6 months. And, like me, my partner is so far from perfect (he doesn’t even read books – the horror). But so what – it turns out I don’t care. I do not doubt him, or us. I mean, occasionally in the depths of hormones and under duress I feel a bit of TAKE TO THE SEA, but I don’t long for actual freedom from him, only from my whole entire life, and only for a moment.

    But I don’t doubt him. I don’t wonder. He’s my partner, and I am his, and that’s all there is to it, and it’s up to us to make the very very best of the magic that is love and care and support and sex and romance and mundane chores and family and struggle and resentment and the very rare out-right blind rage. It’s not a question. It’s an answer.

    And, like the Captain and so many others have touched on, my partner does not make me whole. He also doesn’t push me. The trust and space and love I feel allows me to push myself, and explore myself, and do all sorts of wild and interesting things, for myself. My partner is the home I come home to, the rock, the romance, but there is this whole other miraculous world out there that I get to explore on my own terms.

    That’s just the way I have experienced the end of romantic confusion, and it is not how everyone does, and the end of romantic confusion may not be a goal. But I want to tell you that

  32. LW, I may very well be projecting onto you based on how I felt in my late 20s, but is some of this because you feel like you’re supposed to have your life partner picked out by 30? If you need someone to tell you otherwise, then here goes: there’s no magic age by which you have to find The One. I turned 33 this year, and I am here to tell you that you and I? We are SO YOUNG. We have SO MUCH TIME.

    I’m not going to tell you what you should do. I’m going to invite you to think about something.

    In my late 20s I was in the wrong relationship. I was with someone who didn’t make me happy; the reasons don’t matter. I had married him because I felt the weight of time bearing down on me making me think I had to pick someone before it was too late. I decided I didn’t want to settle for less than that amazing magic combination you describe of someone who shares my values and life goals and lights me up inside. So I filed for divorce.

    I don’t know if I will ever find that “perfect” relationship. I don’t know if it’s really out there or not. I know I’m not willing to settle for less than it. I know I’ll be fine with it if that means I stay single for the rest of my life, because I’m finding that joy and love within myself, for myself. I sing Sara Bareilles’ “I Choose You” to the mirror when I’m getting ready for work in the morning, that’s how in love with myself I am. It’s really genuinely awesome and I highly recommend it.

    1. Yes. In retrospect, the “meet my partner by 28, married by 30” was REALLY powerful in my life (I’m now 39, with no partner in sight.) “Too late” is still a force for me, although less so. “Too early” (read: early 20s) was also a thing- it meant your relationship couldn’t be trusted because you lacked maturity. My sister and her immediate friends were all magically married between ages 27 and 30, adding to that squeeze-of-life feeling.

      Of my closest friends growing up, two were deemed too young to get married by everyone around me, having met their spouses at 18-19 and marrying mid-20s. I was and am the perpetual single. My third friend got absolutely everything right and fit our current cultural narrative perfectly: met her husband at 28, married shortly after her 30th birthday, pregnant at 33. They divorced this year after 9 years of marriage, and she is getting adjusted to being a late 30/early 40-something single. She said recently that the best thing to come out of the end of her marriage is total freedom from the “shoulds” of life and relationships.

  33. The Captain’s advice is great, LW.

    What will make a relationship the right one for you to commit to, long-term, is going to be unique to you, so I can’t tell you what to look for or what to settle for or what to refuse to do without. Only you can figure that out, and some of that figuring is going to end up being painful.

    My philosophy has always been that there is no One True Love. There’s the person (or people) we choose to love and commit to, and we make that choice knowing that there are other people out there we could also be happy with. I believe that we need to be complete in ourselves rather than looking for the person who completes us, because losing that person would then make us no longer whole.

    This particular set of beliefs tends to lead to the conclusion that it is better to break things off with someone you could have been happy with than to commit to someone you’re not-quite-happy-enough with. But they’re my beliefs; I only share them in case you find them useful.

    About a month after Mr. OtherBecky and I got married, I was telling my grandmother how happy I was. She responded that what I had wasn’t happiness; it was contentment. Happiness, she said, comes and goes like the weather, but contentment settles deep into your bones and stays there. It was what made me smile when I talked about my husband. It’s what still makes me smile when I think about him.

  34. I married twice, once at 21 and once at 28, both times, in retrospect, because I didn’t know what else to do and thought it was what I was supposed to do, even though at the time I thought I was in love. I’ve been single since I was almost 34, and I’m 56 now. As it turns out, being single is what I’m meant to be. I know it’s not true for everyone (otherwise the species would die out), but I am so much more fucking happy single than I ever was married. I’ve been actively anti-looking ever since I left #2.

    There’s no guarantees, anyway — my third sister’s husband left her three years ago — they’re both in their 60s, and she had no clue until it happened, to hear her tell the story. My oldest sister hid how unhappy her marriage was until after her husband died. My second sister has been married to her second husband for thirty-plus years. My dad died in 1993, which means my 91-year-old mother, who, from all I could see from my viewpoint as one of their kids, had a very happy marriage, has been living alone as long as I have. Just because you find the right person doesn’t mean they’ll be part of your life for the rest of your life.

    I just wish everyone the best of all possible lives, no matter who they are (or aren’t) living with.

    1. Thank you for that – at 46, I’ve resigned myself to fact that I’ll likely be single forever. It’s nice to hear about others that have made their single life work and are completely happy.

      1. I recently realized that, although I’ve thought for awhile that “Maybe I’m not going to find someone, but I guess I could cope with that,” it’s not something I have to resign myself to. Now, this is just me personally, but I realized that one of the big reasons why I have spent most of my life single (I’m 31) is because I LIKE to be alone. I have always liked being alone. I have friends and family whom I love, I have definitely gotten some pleasure before from dating/relationships – but I also really value solitude. So while I’m not ruling out future relationships, I have decided that Contendedly Single is not Life’s Consolation Prize for not hitting the Healthy Marriage jackpot. They’re both really good things with their own advantages and challenges, they’re just different.

        Note – This may not be true for everyone! Also while I do genuinely believe what I wrote above, it’s a paradigm shift that I’m still getting used to – I definitely fall into the black and white thinking trap pretty frequently and changing the thinking activates some anxiety. It still feels good to recognize that the kind of relationships other people have – even the happy ones – don’t have to be the relationships I want.

        1. Personally, I’ve basically always been completely single and always basically liked it, but I also always wanted it to be one stage of my life rather than the only kind of life I ever get to experience. So I _am_ unsatisfied with my lack of relationships, but it has nothing to do with not liking my own company or thinking only a partnered life has meaning.

  35. LW, for what it’s worth, I think you’re building yourself a false dichotomy. I say this as someone who used to build up these false dichotomies in her head and bemoan the lack of compromise available. (See numerous ice cream gab fests with friends wailing “is it really that hard to find an attractive, considerate person to date? Why is it either/or?!”) One thing I noticed is when you give yourself time and space to really get to know yourself and take a little extra time to go out and meet more people, your options become a lot less limited.

    Captain, I needed this so much right now. Thanks in large part to your blog and it’s help teaching me to become my own person and be unashamed about asking the best out of my life, I got my first boyfriend. We’re closing in on a year of dating, and I love him more every single day. Our That Things line up perfectly (some shared things, some separate but the other is willing to listen to stories about it for hours on end) and we’ve grown together rather then stagnate. When I met him there was an audible click as our paths aligned neatly. And yet, there’s a huge cultural narrative telling me people don’t stay with their first boyfriend forever, people sleep around before they settle, college is for experimenting, etc. So some days I do wonder, am I doing it wrong? Is this what it’s supposed to be like? Surely that was too easy? Can a partner I met this young really be so perfect for me? (I’m not young compared to my peer group, but in the cosmic sense, 22 is YOUNG! I can’t even run for President yet, let alone pick out a life partner!)

    Whether I stay with him “forever” or not, we will leave each other better then we found each other. The idea of ever being without him hurts a lot, but I think as humans we often fail to recognize that forever is longer then any of us are ever going to get and admitting and reconciling that one day you may be alone again isn’t fatalistic or pragmatic, it’s just life.

    What even is love? I think it’s very similar to happiness: https://youtu.be/hKKjqzkGo3o?t=1m25s (Sorry, I couldn’t resist the perfect thread for Peanuts. They really do have all of life’s answers.)

  36. I wish I could send this site back in time to myself. For too long I (have) conceptualized ~love~ as Nebulous Magical Thing That Chooses Everyone Else, But Not You, Probably Because You’re Flat-Chested.

    1. “Damn time traveling robots covering their damn tracks!” …. No wait… She’s not a Terminator…. Does Not Apply…

    2. Or because you’re weird in the wrong ways, too awkward, too ‘unfeminine’, just not the kind of girl guys like that way.

  37. Hmmm. Married 23 years, here. And my major observation in life to date is that marriage is hard. I adore my spouse but, damn, marriage is hard. In the immortal words of Dorothy P “Hell is other people.” But I will share the advice I’ve given my kids about finding their partners.

    First, don’t expect a partner to fix you. It is not someone else’s job to make you feel beautiful,or accomplished or sexy or secure or complete. You, yourself have to be whole before you can be a decent partner.

    It is not somebody else’s job to make you better than you are, to inspire you, to be your muse. That is an unrealistic thing to ask.

    You should marry someone you trust enough to let carry your load sometimes. Because that is what it means to be partners. This is especially true if you’ve grown up amongst the disordered. In my family I was always the adult (even as a child). It was my job to be sensible,responsible, in charge, to pick up the pieces and make things make sense.Finding someone whose competence, intelligence and judgment I trusted enough to share those duties with was like being let out of a cage. It was a revelation.

    Finally, there was someone to whom I could pass the baton now and then, and my heart eased for the first time in years. I could set down my load, for just a little bit.

    But mostly I don’t want them to marry a Death by Chococlate Ice Cream Sundae. That is, something that looks unbelievably good, and sounds unbelievably good and that when you think about it your mouth starts to water and you get all excited. And the first bite is exquisite, and the next ten are amazing, but if you had to eat it three times a day every day you’d be sick of it pretty quick.

    Instead I’ve suggested that they imagine they are parched; that they’ve been walking in the desert. And then they come upon a cool glass of water. Perfectly cool, no ice, bottomless. And they take a drink, and then another and they feel like they could just go on drinking this glass of water forever. It is unassuming yet utterly essential. I want them to marry that glass of water (not that that makes any sense).


    1. I think I want to write those two paragraphs — about marrying an ice cream sundae vs. marrying a glass of water — and put that all over my house everywhere. Or at least embroider it on a pillow or something.

      It makes total sense and it really speaks to me.

  38. Other people have pointed out how “fireworks vs. sensible choice” is a false dichotomy. The thing I got from your letter is that even if you take the dichotomy at face value, your relationship isn’t necessarily the sensible choice. Mismatched libidos, different senses of humor, and conflicting ideas about healthy living and consumption can all be huge deals of they’re important to you.

  39. I haven’t read the comments yet so someone else may have already linked to this, but this reminds me of a great Dear Sugar column, The Truth That Lives There, that is very appropriate to this case. So LW if you want more great writing on this subject (because the Captain’s answer was great), go read Sugar’s response to those letters.

    I have a niggling feeling that there is also another one that would be even more relevant but I might be imagining it.

    Good luck Letter Writer!

    1. I was going to post this is someone else else didn’t. Is the other Sugar column your thinking of the one where she talks about being in a car crash with her first husband? Time stood still and they held hands and said “I love you” and deeply meant it, and it was incredibly romantic, heady, life and death stuff, but ultimately (my words) this was the stuff around which she built a lot of false syllogisms that he must be “The One” and thus tried to logic all of her feelings?

  40. Unlurking to add my own potted history:

    At 23 I met a guy who was great ‘on paper’ and married him at 25. We got on pretty well but there were a lot of ups and downs and even before we got married I had some serious doubts. But I went ahead because I had no idea what I wanted out of life – I felt that time was running out (older me’s eyes are boggling at this concept now) and because he fit the narrative I’d assumed for my life. So, because I didn’t know what else to do, I did what I thought was required and married him. I was divorced by 28.

    Then, I met a lovely man and embarked upon an agreed ‘6 months of fun and light hearted, few strings relationship’. We stayed together for SIX YEARS. Lived together, worked together – it was nice and he was (still is, I assume) a great person. Tons of fun to be around, never toxic, a genuinely nice bloke. But we were seriously mis-matched where it counted. It took me a long time to see that, while I loved him dearly and wanted only the best for him out of life, I was never going to get the best out of my own life while we were together. Neither of us would. So I broke it off. He’s married now and I couldn’t be happier for him.

    After him, I jumped feet first into a relationship with one of my and the good ex’s close mutual friends. That lasted 5 years and was an unmitigated disaster. What little there was left of myself, I lost. I don’t have many regrets in life, but I do regret continuing with that relationship once it became clear that it was only ever going to cause me pain. I stayed because I still didn’t know what I wanted out of life. I’d never been single for longer than a few months and I had no idea what I wanted my life to be. Eventually, he cheated on me and left me anyway. By this time, I was 38.

    Just before I turned 39, I decided to take some time out for myself and to finally figure out what happiness would look like for me. I made a few concrete decisions, started to draw some boundaries and began actually looking forward to being single for some time (maybe even forever!). I wasn’t scared anymore, of being alone, of making the wrong choice, of lopping off parts of my personality to fit someone else’s ideas of what I should be. It was an exciting time! I learned a lot about myself.

    Whaddya know, just as I’d made all those decisions, who pops up but my version of the Captain’s Gentleman Caller. This is not meant as a ‘when you stop looking, you’ll find them’ promise, I don’t think that’s a promise that can be made. It was just random timing and the fact that I was starting to figure out who I was and was therefore able to truly be that person helped to highlight all the ways in which we were a good fit. With my new found clarity on what I wanted, anyone who wasn’t a good fit would not even have crossed my radar. Even so, I took some persuading to go on that first date. But I’m so glad I did. Turns out, he’d had similar experiences and was looking to become himself, at long last, too. So we promised to support each other in those aims and give it a go. Our determination to do what was right for us as individuals led to a lot of early ‘here are my dealbreakers’ and ‘this is a boundary’ and ‘I want my future to include this but not that’ and so on.

    I’m 43 now. We fit. We are solid. Tough times come and go, so do good times and we lean on each other when we need to and support each other when we need to and we look at each other in a kind of stunned wonder when times are good. It’s great.

    We do inspire each other and cheer each other on to become our best selves, that’s true. But that inspiration is always built on what each of us as an individual is doing or wants for ourselves, first and foremost. I think you can find that inspiration within yourself and push yourself to become your best self – whatever that means for you. If or when you find your person, they will be one of your cheerleaders and may help you get even further. But the underlying impetus for that will always be you inspiring yourself.

    I’m not so blindly in love to say that nothing will ever pull us apart but I’m pretty confident. And even if it does, I will forever feel blessed that I met him and was able to live my life side by side with him, for however long it lasts. If I hadn’t met him though, I think I would have been content to do the work of becoming myself on my own, for however long that took. And if, in the future, I am alone again, I will always have myself to see me through.

    Best wishes for whatever decision you make, whenever you feel it’s right to make it.

    1. A million and ten “YES!!!!! THANK YOU’S” for this comment, which is golden: “This is not meant as a ‘when you stop looking, you’ll find them’ promise, I don’t think that’s a promise that can be made.” If there was one thing I wish I could tell people *not* to tell someone who’s leaving a bad relationship, it is that ‘your someone is out there and you will find them.’ It’s possible that you never will—-and that’s ok!

  41. Yes, I’m in my thirties with very little dating experience, and for me the point isn’t that I think it’s impossible I’ll meet someone, but that it does seem very possible I won’t. It’s good to hear stories of people meeting each other at older than ‘conventional’ ages, but sometimes it ends up sounding like it’s inevitable.

    1. It’s entirely possible that it doesn’t. (My Mum didn’t meet ‘her’ person; she and my father were in love, but it didn’t work out; she never met anyone else she liked as much). So I went into this whole thing with low expectations; had one moderately short bad relationship where I wondered whether this was it (no. NOPE.) and was happily single again, until I moved in with an old friend for a while when I was on the far side of 40 (I’d kept thinking ‘we really ought to meet up’) and not only did we get on well, it clicked. For both of us. Much to my surprise, I’m now happily married; something that hadn’t been part of my life plan at all. And it’s great, but if you ask me _how_ to get there, I have to pass. Circumstances. Being open to the right person when they come along. Not settling for people you don’t like being with.

      And there are probably a number of things that make it easier to be a good partner like knowing what you can and cannot live with and where you’re willing to compromise; facing your brainweasels (doesn’t mean eliminating them, that would be lovely, but being _aware_, practicing kindness (and sometimes kindness means taking down the rubbish unasked so the other person won’t have to) etc. There were certainly periods in my life when I’d have struggled more sharing space and developing new shared habits.

  42. I feel you, LW. I’m 34 and in a relationship with a man I really like after a seven year hiatus where even thinking about a relationship made me panic and run away screaming.
    I like him a lot, we get along great, have tons to talk about, I’m happy to see him, but I don’t know what romantic love feels like. I love him in the same way I love my friends, but it’s not hearts and flowers and starry eyes. We’ve been together a year now and we’ve never said “I love you”.
    I’ve never considered myself the marrying type and I vacillate between the idea “it would be nice to see My Person everyday” and then “but MY SPACE”.
    I’m taking things a day at a time and that’s working for me. Tomorrow might be different, but today I’m content.

  43. This post and the discussion in the comments came at a good time for me. I turn 28 tomorrow and have struggled so far in life to find that special person. I am a reserved and sometime shy person who has never had a relationship longer than a few months. Leading up to and after my best friend’s wedding this summer dropped me into a funk where I felt hopeless about my situation. The classic “it’s too late” feeling. This post has reminded me to be kinder to myself, take care of myself, and not lose hope, so thank you. I needed this.

  44. I would like to offer a different perspective than the majority in this threat. I’ve been in a medium/long-term relationship (4 years) with a man who was perfect on paper and incredibly great IRL : adorable, supportive of my career, attentive, funny, sharing my goals in life (children, white-fenced home, a dog, the WHOLE FAMILY THING). I still ended leaving him, after much soul-searching, because the relationship lacks (on my part) the passionate, giddyness element that you described.
    I don’t want to come across as bitter because I’m not, but now, almost ten years later, I’m not sure I made the good decision not having a family with him. I’ve been in an incredibly passionnate relationship for three years that started with a bang and ended, not miserably, but with a whisper. It was fulfilling and made me very happy, as long as the passion/spark/butterflies-in-the-stomach lasted. I’m now pushing on forty, unlikely to have children naturally because of a medical issues developped 2 years ago, and single. I have a satisfying life; with professionnal success and personnal happiness with my friends and family. Still, I do recognize, had I not leave my “nice-enough” BF, I could have had a family on my own and a romantic relationship with a person I cared greatly about, had very good sex, respected and had plenty of fun with. It wouldn’t have been perfect – what is ? – but it would have been a different life, that could have made me tremedously happy.
    I’m not saying you should stay with your BF, OP ; I try to offer a different perspective. You don’t know what life will get you : you may have medical issues, like me, that will leave you infertile in a few years, you may have to move in a place where you can’t meet new people easily, you may have others relationships, more passionnate than the one you left, with men who have great, brilliant qualities but who lack the solid virtues your ex had. You have to be prepared to maybe not find the perfect relationship you want.

  45. If this lovely comment thread has taught me anything, it’s this: life is strange, and people have interesting and different experiences, and some of those are lovely and some are horrible and some are pretty good with a few downsides. You don’t know, of course, that if you break up with him you’ll find someone better, and that’s what makes it so scary.

    But I think that it’s more important to go after a *life* you want than a relationship you want. Pursue a career you love (or one that pays the bills in a place you love with plenty of time to go horseriding, or do competitive ballroom dance, or write a cookbook or grow a vegetable batch), look for communities of people to surround yourself with, move to a place with people you like that suits you. I can’t promise you a relationship that’s better for you than this one – though the balance of this comment thread seems heavily in favour of “it’s never too late” – but I can promise you that staying where you are and wondering if it would be better somewhere else is unlikely to fulfil you.

    Even if, in the end, you decide you could have been happy. If you pursue life and happiness and connection of all kinds with all your might then the bad times, anyway, seem important and worthwhile (even if they sucked) in retrospect. I wonder if the sadness and confusion of not being happy in this relationship (but not unhappy enough to “justify” leaving, though of course leaving needs no justification) would affect you less if you were power walking towards some goals and dreams that would make you happy – after all, a relationship is only one aspect of life.

    If it helps: I had a few long relationships where we discussed formal commitment type stuff, and I loved them and they weren’t right for me and that became obvious and so I left, because there is a cold and practical part of me that will insist I leave something that isn’t working. All this time I had known and loved a dear friend, and then we got together and I loved him more than I thought it was possible to love anyway, and I wanted him in my life forever, and I thought if we could just be together I’d be happy. We were really compatible, we never fought, we had fun, the sex was great.

    I broke up with him, because of life circumstances, because the rest of my life was going somewhere different and I had to choose between him and it. I broke up with him and broke my own heart and knew that I’d, perhaps, never meet someone I loved as much, who was as perfect for me. I knew and I did it anyway. It wan’t about the person I wanted, but the life I wanted.

    I moved into a shared house with a new friend, and now we’re getting married. I don’t love her the same way – the way that felt like it was the movies, only it lasted – because I’ve never loved two people the same way. The whole dynamic is different. We disagree, sometimes. Sometimes I’m frustrated or annoyed or desperately sad that I can’t help her as much as I’d like to. She is home to me, though, and missing her is not desperate longing but a quiet sort of homesickness. We’re both doing travel-y, scary, independent sorts of things with our lives and that’s good and it’s working. We’re poly, so I anticipate us both having other relationships, but we plan to retire together in the country somewhere.

    My relationship is entirely different. I wouldn’t necessarily call it better, except perhaps for the quiet voice in the back of my head saying: Yes. This. But that’s as much in reference to the rest of my life as to my relationship.

    Life is strange and love is strange and the only thing I know is that you have to keep going, you have to keep changing, and if you’re feeling stuck and low-level unhappy somewhere then staying where you are, doing the same thing you’re doing, is never going to work. I don’t mean that you *must* leave your boyfriend, just that in your place I’d find something to go toward, and if that took me away from my boyfriend I’d take that as a message. Staying somewhere you’re unhappy* is only appealing when you haven’t found somewhere better to go yet.

    *metaphorical staying. You don’t need to physically go anywhere, of course.

  46. A lot of people have already said a lot of good stuff, LW, and it seems almost redundant to share my story… but, well, in the off-chance that it helps, I’m gonna. 🙂

    I met my ex-partner at 18, online. We became romantically involved after I got out of a bad relationship and was single; I’d gone out of state to stay with them for a con with a favorite author that I know personally (and got to have dinner with — Tamora Pierce!). And, well, we hit it off. Within a month, I’d moved in, and a month after that we were engaged. Granted, we didn’t get legally married for awhile later, and for tax/insurance reasons, otherwise we probably never would have gotten around to it. But I was 20. I was probably more self-aware than most 20yos because I knew both myself and my ex well, and I remember saying to my ex after we had talked about engagement and marriage, that our relationship probably wasn’t going to be a lasting one. Long-term, probably ten years (scarily accurate on that, it was a couple months under 10yrs), but that I… I grow, and change, and change is a constant in my life. My ex prefers things to not change, actively fights it, and I knew that at the time. We both agreed that there was a fair chance of that happening.

    And… well, that’s exactly what happened, honestly. My ex-partner looked great on paper, but by the last few years, we were functioning as roommates who had sex occasionally. We were poly and my partner preferred that I lean on my other relationships for support. They loved me, I absolutely believe this, but they became complacent. I kept bringing it up, but nothing changed. Still, my life was… convenient. My partner supported me while I worked on my writing (and also because I’m disabled), and they were well-paid, so, especially after their workplace got bought out and they got a retention raise, we were doing pretty well. My ex did not mistreat me, they honestly cared for me, but the “spark” wasn’t there anymore. As I said, we functioned as roommates.

    When my polyfamily moved to my state, my now-fiance, who I’d been interested in but my fiancee was trying to rebuild a relationship with (I didn’t feel comfortable pursuing anything until she said “Go for it”), ended up staying with us for a few months job-hunting while the rest of the family prepared for moving cross-country. He and I ended up developing a relationship, and by the time everyone else got here, my ex-gf, who was living with us at the time, threatened to harass me in a way that would not qualify for a restraining order. So, I stayed with my fiance, fiancee, and her husband until she could move out, because otherwise it would have seriously impacted my mental health. My ex resents that they had to be left in the house with her during the eviction process, even though she mostly avoided them, which I recognize and accept; they try not to resent me, but the situation.

    And, during that time period, with my now-fiance and fiancee, and her hubby (who I’m very close with and we have a casual thing that I don’t quite have words to describe; English needs more words to describe relationships, dammit!), I realized just how much I’d been missing, because I was with people who loved me, cared for me, wanted me, and showed it. My ex, well-meaning as they were, showed it but not always in the way I needed, and on a less frequent basis. I felt.. alive, and I realized, once I followed them from a residential hotel to an apt, that I didn’t want to go back. There was also an incompatibility in that I wanted to live with my polyfamily and my ex-partner wanted it to be just the two of us.

    In a couple days, it’ll be one year since we officially broke up. Divorce is still in the works. I’m 30.

    My fiance doesn’t look good on paper. But the way he treats me, the way he shows his love for me, how he pays attention to me, how he tries extremely hard to work on any issues, and so many things I don’t think I can name them… it’s been amazing. If I’d stayed with my ex-partner, I wouldn’t have the relationship I do now; I’d probably have a relationship, but I would still not be getting what I needed from my ex while not being able to live with the people that I loved and wanted more than anything to be with.

    I had it, in some ways, easier because of being poly and being able to see the difference like that. But… don’t settle for what’s good on paper. If you’re not feeling it, it’s not going to get easier. Believe me, with my ex, I tried for years beyond the point I felt the “spark” start to die. That “spark” usually does fade, but it shouldn’t be replaced by roommates who occasionally fuck (and that’s about it). I don’t regret trying to make it work, because if I hadn’t, I would have felt horrible about myself; that was something I needed to do for me. But I finally realized I was settling, because I’d changed, and what I need now is not what I needed 10 years ago. My ex… at the time I left, hadn’t changed much at all in 10 years. We’d drifted, and I’d, in a way, outgrown the relationship, because I needed someone who could truly be a partner, and my ex was not that (I use the term ex-partner because they prefer it, and I dislike the word “spouse”).

    When you’re young, you’re still learning who you are. I am, in many ways, a more confident and less volatile version of my younger self. My base nature hasn’t changed, but my belief in who and what I am has become more solid; I don’t need the external validation I did even not that very long ago, comparatively speaking. I know me, and I’m comfortable in my own skin in a way I wasn’t when I was younger. I am no longer willing to settle.

    It’s scary, or at least it was for me. I knew it was going to hurt, and my ex and I went through a period where we were definitely not amicable (although we’ve sorted things out and are good friends again, yay). Leaving a long-term relationship is hard. It was hard for me, and I had relationships with people I loved, my new one with the fiance-creature and my fiancee/girlfriend of 5yrs. It’s got to be even harder jumping into the abyss of the unknown.

    Sometimes, though, you come out all the stronger for that. I wish you the best of luck, and *hugs* are offered, if you would like them.

  47. This topic gives me anxiety. I’m 36 and have never had a romantic relationship. But I think most of the anxiety comes from the fact that I’m 36 and still am uncertain over what I really want; I’ve never been in a relationship because I’ve declined the opportunities I’ve had to be in a relationship. So rationally, it would seem that I really DON’T want to be in a relationship, right? So why do I have anxiety about it? Why do I have (constant) fantasies in my head where I have a partner with love and sex and intimacy? Why do I – if only in fleeting thoughts – imagine a potential life together with just about every woman to whom I’m attracted? Yet, I’ve been on OKC for 5 years now and haven’t so much as had a conversation with someone with near 100% of the reason for my lack of success with it due to the lack of effort I put into it. Why can’t I figure out what I want?

    (Gonna stop now because I can sense this about to turn into a big FEELINGSPOST.)

    1. I had pretty much this exact same monologue with myself today — before I came here and read this letter. I didn’t come up with any answers today. We probably need to start by making it OK for us to be who we are. That’s a pretty hard thing to do.

      I don’t know. It sucks and it seems so damned confusing and unfair. But while I in no way wish these feelings on someone else, it is a comfort to find concrete proof that I am not all alone in this struggle. I hope knowing that does the same for you.

  48. This is similar to my problem right now (the same as, with a difference in time of relationship). Thank you.

  49. I’m a cis man, 25, bisexual but probably heteroromantic. I’ve gotten a lot of comfort from reading all these stories. And from hearing again that there is no standard happily-ever-after. Still, not one of these stories sounds anything like the lifelong relationship I have always thought that I wanted. I have begun to wonder if the partnership I had always dreamed of is a real thing, or if I should give up on it and adjust my expectations. I’ve had relationships that were very good for me, some based on romance and sexual passion, some based on comfort and familiarity. I am in the early stages of what could be a serious relationship. None of the relationships I’ve had has looked anything like what I think I want, including my current one. If anyone has found what I’m looking for, please speak up and tell me. If anyone thinks I’m misguided, please advise me on how to change course.

    If I had to pick one word to describe my fantasy relationship, it would be “challenge.” Followed by “stimulation,” “investment,” “collaboration,” “inspiration,” or even “rivalry.” My main identities are “gamer” and “creative,” and I always hoped I could partner with someone who shared one of those identities in a big way. I dream about a fellow writer or designer who is invested in the success of my projects, not (simply) because they are mine, but because my partner finds the work itself genuinely exciting. Someone who either has work of their own to share, or could collaborate on a project, or at least someone who would put serious effort into reading drafts and who would encourage me to spend more time writing even it mean less time with them. Or, someone who was as excited as I was to play the latest board game. Not just to spend time with me, but because they loved the game, and they were as good at it as I was. I’d like to play games with my partner and win no more than 60% of the time, and learn new strategies from them are develop new strategies to beat them. I’d like to watch one episode of a show on Netflix and the spend the next hour arguing about its themes. Or, I’d like to date a photographer who genuinely likes me as a model and wants to build a portfolio together.

    I haven’t found anything like this. I date exciting people — poets, photographers, intellectuals — but I don’t find the relationships exciting because our relationships never turn out to be about poetry, photography, or intellectualism. I get that excitement when we first meet, because that’s what draws me in in the first place. And for a few dates, because we’re trying to impress each other. Then they become comfortable around me, and when my partners get home from work they ask to come over to unwind, relax, have a drink, share a meal, watch a show, have sex, and sleep. I understand that people don’t want to feel that they have to be “on” for their partners; that they want a partner who helps them relax and takes off the pressure of the outside world; that’s a reasonable thing to want, but it’s not for me.

    I understand that everyone needs to relax, but I’ve always considered that a private thing. If I don’t have the energy to achieve — if I just want to rest — I don’t see the need for anyone else to be involved. If I come home tired from a long day at work, I want to say “I’m just gonna go to my room and read.” If my partner comes home tired from a long work day, I want to say, “I’m gonna go game/write/debate; come find me when you’ve recovered enough energy to do something.”

    I’ve never met anyone who felt the way I do. I’ve had many people tell me “it sounds like you want a friend more than a partner; you shouldn’t expect a partner to share all your interests or use all your shared time for “activities.” And it’s true that I have very few friends, desperately want more, and meet new people almost exclusively through dating and kink sites, so maybe if I had more friends I’d expect less of my partner. But right now I feel that it’s rarer to find someone really challenging than really comforting, and so if I make a lifelong commitment, it would be to make hold onto that challenge.

    Can someone help me figure out if that’s reasonable?

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