Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“We’re Only Happy When We Don’t Discuss Political, Social, Cultural, or Intellectual Topics…”

My boyfriend, “Stan,” and I have been together for about six years and met while I was still a teenager. Not too long ago we broke up but then got back together pretty quickly. I initiated the breakup because I felt that I was allowing the relationship to hold me back from social and academic opportunities. We got back together because we felt that we could encourage each other to pursue other things while still in the relationship.

First breakup aside, I am noticing some things about the relationship that make me feel unsure about our ability to stay together in the long run. We have very different political and world views. On the rare occasion that we do discuss these topics, it does not end well. I find myself trying to change his opinions and unable to accept the way he thinks. Not only do we not agree about many issues, but also I find that I am much more interested and curious regarding societal/moral/cultural issues and he prefers to ignore them. It bothers me that he does not care about the same things I do, and I find it difficult to discuss intellectual topics with him.

When we are not discussing political, societal or intellectual issues, we get along very well. He is a good listener, able to share his emotions easily, and very kind and caring. My question is: How important are the topics we have problems with? Is it paramount that your partner be intellectually stimulating?

I realize that these barriers are significant and cause me to lose respect for my partner and treat him less than he deserves. I am terrified of breaking up with him. My social circle is smaller than I would desire and I depend on him for a bulk of my emotional support. The last time we broke up it was devastating and very lonely for both of us. I worry that I will be too lonely after the breakup and not able to remain strong in my decision. With our six years of history, we know each other very well. I hate to think of causing pain to a person I really care about.

(Side note: The first time we broke up his mother told me she never thought we were compatible and that I had stolen the best years of her son’s life. I am very stubborn and hate to think that, if we break up for good, she wins.)

How do I get past all of these things and do what is best? — Obvious Questioner

Ok, well, first of all: If one’s late teens/early 20s are the “best years of one’s life,” just shoot me now. And if that’s actually true for Stan — that his best years have already passed and you robbed him of them, then you most definitely do not want to stay with him. People who peak in high school or college tend to be… well, they tend to be the kind of people for whom intellectual and cultural pursuits, advancements in society, world news, and politics hold little, if any, interest or value. In short: not your type.

But here’s the thing: The questions you’re asking to determine whether Stan is the right guy for you or not (he’s not) are the questions you need to ask yourself. Like: “How important are the topics we have problems with? Is it paramount that your partner be intellectually stimulating?” If the topics you have problems with are of zero concern to either of you: a) they wouldn’t be problems; and b) it wouldn’t be important if you disagreed because neither of you would place much value on those topics and they would be pretty irrelevant to you both. But that’s not the case, is it? Intellectual discussions and interest in the world are important to you. It sounds like not only do you disagree on things like political views, but also you don’t even talk about your viewpoints because it’s not very interesting to Stan/he doesn’t have much to say, and/or because talking about these things you disagree on causes tension in the relationship. If you were the type of person who could NOT discuss those things and feel perfectly fulfilled and well-matched in your relationship, you wouldn’t feel so unsettled and you wouldn’t be writing to me. You KNOW Stan isn’t right for you. You know these problems in your relationship — which aren’t so much “problems” as much as they are points of incompatibility — are insurmountable. You are just too different. You have different values, different interests, and different needs (that aren’t being met by each other).

Your relationship has run its course. It’s no longer a question of figuring that out; it’s a question of summoning the strength to end it and move on. I know it’s not easy. It’s not supposed to be easy. If it were, that would mean the years you’ve spent together have been fairly meaningless. It’s a testament to your bond and the history you share that leaving him is sad. I get it. I’ve been in your shoes before. Four years with a guy who was very sweet and treated me well, but we were simply too different. We had different interests, different values, different needs. I knew in my heart that the relationship had to end — that I would never feel satisfied, content, or fulfilled, despite what a good person this guy was and how kind he was to me. I knew I would never get past feeling he somehow wasn’t “enough” for me (which wasn’t fair to him at all) and that I wasn’t right for him either. I felt all the same fears you describe — fear of loneliness, and of wavering in my decision, especially considering he was such an important facet of my emotional (and financial) support system. I’d forgotten how to be independent and was afraid I couldn’t re-learn, or that I would fail, or that I would regret my decision.

Here’s what happened: I was really sad for a few months, and then I wasn’t. I dated again, I got my own apartment and painted it all the colors I loved, I got a new cat, I made new friends (really great friends!), I got new hobbies, I tried different workouts and got in great shape, and I spent a lot of time alone and liked it. I also started a blog after we broke up, which got me writing every day and which led to freelance writing assignments followed by a full-time writing gig and eventually an advice column and my own website which you are reading right now. A year and a half after my ex and I broke up, I met my now-husband. He is a really, really good match for me. We share similar interests and values and political and world views. He’s kind and good to me and a great father and he makes me laugh. I am so relieved and happy that I risked some short-term loneliness and discomfort for the chance of making myself available for someone like him. I consider myself very lucky, but luck is only part of the equation. I also made some good decisions along the way – decisions that took some risk and felt a little scary but ultimately paid off.

I recommend making good decisions and taking some risks. Short-term loneliness and discomfort beats the pants off life-long discontentment.

***************

Follow along on Facebook, and Instagram.

If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy​(AT)​dearwendy.com.

17 comments… add one
  • avatar

    LisforLeslie November 16, 2017, 10:49 am

    WWS – These things are important as one of many facets of a person. Now that’s not to say that Republicans can’t love Democrats and Liberals and Conservatives can’t partner. The issue is what about those groups is appealing to a person. Are you a conservative because you think that keeping the government in check is important or do you align with them because you are a religious fundamentalist who wants to set laws that align to the Christian bible? If you’re aghast at his opinions, that would indicate to me, he’s not the right person for you. I’m a liberal’s liberal and I have a few conservative friends. We remain friends because their adherence to conservatism doesn’t include being assholes, although I’ll be the first to admit the last year has been a bit tough.

    And eff his mom – she doesn’t win because you break up. There is no win here. You win because you don’t have to deal with her.

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  • bittergaymark

    Bittergaymark November 16, 2017, 10:57 am

    In this era of Trump — conservatives who support him have all revealed themselves to be racist, sexist, homophobic abject idiots. Why any smart, thinking person would ever willingly and deliberately choose to date a racist, sexist, homophobic abject idiot simply escapes me… Poor self esteem, I guess?

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    • avatar

      K November 16, 2017, 12:19 pm

      I have no clue. I do know someone in a relationships like that and I don’t know how she’s dealing with it. I’m very grateful that my boyfriend and I can laugh at the idiocy of Trump together.

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    • avatar

      LisforLeslie November 16, 2017, 12:57 pm

      I am guessing that most people who find themselves on opposite sides are already married and trying to figure out if they need to initiate divorce proceedings. I have heard a few anecdotes of people finding out their date voted for Trump and have just walked out of the date.

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    • avatar

      SpaceySteph November 16, 2017, 8:47 pm

      YUP! I am so glad my husband also can’t stand him. But i also don’t know what I would do if I was married to and had a kid with a Trump supporter…its not like you can just walk out of a marriage but damn I would want to.
      I’m pretty sure my ex is a Trump supporter. We aren’t in contact so i can’t be sure, but it fits the profile.

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  • TaraMonster

    TaraMonster November 16, 2017, 11:11 am

    I dated precisely one guy whose politics differed greatly from mine- my HS/early college boyfriend and his mother also said dumb shit like that to me because she is small-minded and petty. My relationship with her son was my very first one where I learned a lot about what’s important to me- like not dating idiots who vote for George Bush (although at this point, I’d probably vote for him if he was the only alternative to the insanity going on right now). You’re going to be fine, LW–more than fine, actually. You’re young enough that you’re still learning who you are as a person, and you’ve discovered a value that’s really important to you. You won’t be happy if you continue to compromise that value. Don’t avoid short-term pain at the expense of long-term happiness; there’s so much joy to be had on the other side of this breakup. Go after it.

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  • avatar

    Brise November 16, 2017, 11:20 am

    Do you seize now these social and academic opportunities you speak about? You don’t need a boyfriend for that, nor does a boyfriend prevent you to do it (or it is really a bad boyfriend). Do seize them. A good thing for you would be to pursue these projects, extend your friendships and cultural activities, so that you develop your independence and you don’t expect all this intellectual stimulation solely of your boyfriend. A single individual can’t bring you everything and its contrary. Then it is for you to see what attracts you most in a romantic relationship, what kind of relationship makes you go forward in your life. Common values and intellectual complicity are important, very important for the long term, even though there are differences of opinions. I can’t really imagine a couple where certain topics are forbidden, unspeakable. It is a fragility for the relationship. It has to evolve or you will meet a wall. Develop this cultural side of your life, and your romantic situation will become clearer for you. When you have more clarity, you can act with more serenity, because you agree with yourself.

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  • avatar

    va-in-ny November 16, 2017, 11:35 am

    Wendy is spot-on here. No further comments on that…

    Here’s what made me roll my eyes: “The first time we broke up his mother told me she never thought we were compatible and that I had stolen the best years of her son’s life. I am very stubborn and hate to think that, if we break up for good, she wins.”

    My goodness! THAT’S what you’re thinking about? Because honestly, if you stayed in this relationship for the sole purpose of “defeating” his mother… well, YOU lose regardless. Grow up.

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  • avatar

    Northern Star November 16, 2017, 11:35 am

    “I realize that these barriers are significant and cause me to lose respect for my partner and treat him less than he deserves. ”

    Your relationship is done. Break up. You’re only staying with the guy at this point because you don’t have a ton of friends. That is a stupid, though popular, reason to be with someone.

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  • avatar

    Bree November 16, 2017, 11:39 am

    WWS. I’m an intellectual (like it sounds like the LW is too), and I dated someone who didn’t like to have intellectual conversations with me. I always felt disappointed about that. I broke up with him and met my now husband, and we have intellectual discussions all the time. Our values and political beliefs also align. I could never be with a Trumper. We are best friends in addition to being spouses, and we are both able to meet each other’s need for intellectual discussions. We’re both in different fields, so there is the added benefit that we teach each other. My point is that looks and lust can fade, so you need that additional way to connect. I absolutely agree with the other commentors that liberals can be happy with conservatives, etc, but it’s really important that you find someone who you just love talking to about whatever topic. No one person can meet all of your needs (that’s what’s great about friends and family), but it’s good to be with someone you are best friends with. Best of luck LW.

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  • avatar

    Ron November 16, 2017, 12:14 pm

    Being able to talk to a SO or spouse about the intellectual things which are important to you is an essential part of a long-term relationship/marriage. The problems you describe, LW, are only going to get worse the longer you try to continue this relationship and will morph into disagreements in other areas. The two of you have a different world-view. One outgrowth of BGM’s concern is that our nation has become very polarized and that polarization extends to more and more areas of life, because it has become basically tribal. So, expect differences of opinion on appropriate gender roles and sharing of work/housework/child-rearing duties within the family if you marry, different choices in friends, different views in what you want for your children, fights over religion and how close he expects you to be to his mother and the rest of his family.

    You’ve analyzed your situation well: the two of you are incompatible, you are losing respect for him, you want to grow intellectually and he, your relationship is failing. Where you are falling down is lacking the optimism and courage necessary to walk away for good. Breakups, even of failing relationships, hurt a lot an.d leave a void which takes time to fill and is only filled if you actively work to fill it and move on. That takes more than a month to happen. You have to stick with the breakup and allow the necessary time for you to heal. The optimism comes in by helping you to see both emotionally and intellectually that there is better ahead of you, that most H.S. relationships don’t last because you grow and change as you mature, see the problems, and look for better. Virtually every happily married person has been where you are now, has suffered through the recovery from a breakup, and has been eternally grateful that they are with their spouse rather than the mismatch they clung to for too long.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros November 16, 2017, 12:34 pm

    The fact that this bothers you enough to write in to an advice columnist and that you lose respect for him over it means it’s important enough. Also, dating someone because you’re lonely is a bad reason to date someone. People survive being lonely and there are other things you can do besides being in a relationship with someone you don’t respect or like much in order to have a social life.

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  • avatar

    TheRascal November 16, 2017, 2:30 pm

    Oooof. Your relationship conversation is like the type of conversation I have with my super conservative, asshole dad, topics of which include the weather and cats. But that’s about it.

    WWS and WEES.

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    • avatar

      Ron November 16, 2017, 5:14 pm

      Yes, Rascal. It’s like everything is great as long as she can continue to pretend she has an IQ of 70 and the social awareness of a rock.

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  • avatar

    Rick November 16, 2017, 6:15 pm

    I’m not convinced the he’s not the right person for you. First of all, you’ve been together for 6 years. That’s a long time! How was this sustained for this period?
    The other thing you can do is get intellectual stimulation from other people (friends, cousins , join a group) etc.. Also, if you were to break it off and find someone new, you’ll find the new boyfriend may lack some qualities that your current boyfriend has. He may not be as good a listener, he may not share his emotions and he may not be as kind or caring. Wendy, your thoughts here?

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  • avatar

    wobster109 November 16, 2017, 6:34 pm

    I could see it both ways, the intellectual conversations being mandatory or not. In college, I thought I was looking for someone to have deep philosophical discussions with, or talk about the intricacies of math or computer algorithms. And that was great when I had a small dorm and lived alone in it, dating a brilliant mathematician who leaned Democratic.

    But when we actually worked and shared an apartment, it turned out that philosophical, theoretical discussions were few and far between. What we actually talked about was important too, work and friends and goals and feelings. It wasn’t all sports and the weather. But it was these everyday conversations that drove us apart. I felt that he was bitter and resentful; he was angry about his position and unable to be civil about other people’s success. So in the end, being able to talk about what was going on in our lives ended up being way more prominent day-to-day than theoretical mathematics.

    Weirdly, I’m now dating a conservative-leaning man, although he doesn’t consider himself a Republican anymore given recent events. We’re actually able to talk about politics fine. He agrees with basic principles such as “people don’t deserve to die just because they can’t afford healthcare” and “police should treat all races the same”. Because we’ve established that we both care about people, this makes it possible to discuss policies, rather than arguing over who has the moral high ground.

    ——

    That said, here are some things that shouldn’t even be part of the picture – you rely on him for friends, you don’t want his mother to “win”. Who cares what his mother thinks? If you break up you’ll never talk to her again. If you marry someone for 50 years, that’s like 20,000 days of coming home to this person and sharing a house and a night with them. Is that worth it? I mean, what if I said “bet you can’t run a marathon in under 3 hours”. Are you going to devote the next year to training so you can prove me wrong? More likely you’d shrug and go “whatever”. Well if training for a year sounds like a lot of work, think about spending the next 50 years coming home to someone you don’t like.

    By the way my mother does this. She tells me I have a “loser personality”, and when I say “that’s mean”, she tells me I’m “too sensitive, like your father”. I used to say “no I’m not, you’re wrong” and we’d get into an argument. Now I shrug and say “that’s just how I am” – not just about “too sensitive”, but about the “loser personality” too. If I can be ok with my own mother thinking I have a loser personality, you can be ok with your ex’s mother thinking you two weren’t compatible. Either way it’s someone’s trash opinion that doesn’t affect your life in any way.

    I’m sympathetic to you that you don’t want to lose friends, but again. 20 thousand days of sharing a house and a life. Reach out to these friends and try to stay in touch, or join a gym, a choir, a knitting club, whatever, and make new friends. I know it’s easy to say and hard to do. But what’s even harder is enduring 20,000 days of marriage to someone you don’t like or love.

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  • Copa

    Copa November 17, 2017, 10:35 am

    “I realize that these barriers are significant and cause me to lose respect for my partner and treat him less than he deserves.”

    This relationship is over. While I don’t think that anything written in this letter is terribly unique, there is something about that sentence ^^^ that I just cringed to read. You’re scared to break up with someone you’ve been with for awhile — a lot of us get it. But you KNOW that you don’t respect him or treat him the way he deserves. Stop being so selfish and end it already.

    FWIW I’ve only dated one guy whose politics were very different from my own, and it was very brief — about two months. I’d never dated a conservative before and learned just how important it was for me to see eye-to-eye with someone on these things. I think I always knew it, but had never experienced it. We saw the world completely differently, and it would’ve been a major problem if we’d continued dating.

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