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Your Turn: “Is My Boyfriend Right For Me?”

In a feature I call “Your Turn,” in which you, the readers, get to answer the question, I’m presenting the following letter without commentary from me:

I have been with my boyfriend for four and a half years. We are still quite young (I am 24, he is 26) but we have been discussing marriage seriously as something that will happen in the next two to three years. Now that it’s getting more real I wonder if I am making the right choice. I was always shy in school and never dated. He is my first (and only) experience for everything; I don’t think I have even held hands with anyone else romantically. I admit that I am inexperienced and I’m not sure if this is normal, so my question is how can I know he is the one for me?

I hear everyone say you just “know,” and my heart feels it but my brain has doubts. I don’t think just because I have doubts means I should MOA though. I feel like he is the one I want to share my life with. I started to compare him to other guys I know and that makes me realize he’s more suited for me than than they are. Like, how we have compatible life philosophies. We value experiences (in contrast to the friend that looks to increase his net worth). I love him because he thinks on a similar wavelength as me and is open to trying anything. We have fun together. He supports me and talks me up when I am feeling down. Are these the right reasons to love someone?

I know that no relationship is perfect. I just wonder if certain things could be more perfect. We have a different approach to dealing with family. For example, the type of relationship I have with my family is a source of stress, but his advice is to run off and do my own thing. Also, sometimes I am embarrassed by him, and these are things he does not see an issue with: He’s usually the butt of jokes around his friends for the weird things he does and I find myself trying to defend him. He lacks some manners with regards to boundaries (to be honest I could work on my manners, too). I hate him drunk. He has a temper, but I know how to deal with it. These are things I could live with, but should I have to?

I’m afraid that, if I try to find someone better, I won’t be able to. Also, those things people say when they’re with the one they love, like “he brings out the best in me” does not fit for us. I am not encouraged to be a better me when I’m with him, though I am making an effort to be. Another thing people say is “he just gets me,” but we have trouble reading each other’s non-verbal cues. It’s like we speak different body language.

Am I expecting too much? I think we work well together. Our personalities and lifestyles are compatible. I am happy with him most the time (and often could be more proactive with my own happiness). Is this how relationships work? — Unsure if I’ve Found The One

Before I turn you over to the commenters, I want to point you to this column I wrote recently about how you know when you’ve found “The One.” I think it will help you. Ok, readers, what do you have for our LW?

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You can follow me on Facebook here and Twitter here.

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

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Comments on this entry are closed.

avatar Desiree September 26, 2012, 11:03 am

I can’t say if your boyfriend is right for you or not. I will say that I get uncomfortable when anyone says, “I’m afraid that, if I try to find someone better, I won’t be able to.” That’s not the right motivator to stay in a relationship, because it is a negative motivator based on fear. I am marrying the love of my life next year. I have dated a lot of other guys before, and I can honestly say this relationship is different. Not because my fiance is perfect (far from it!), but because he is perfect for me.

avatar j2 September 26, 2012, 11:24 am

WDS!

My heart goes out to you! Four-and-a-half years — half your life since you turned 15! — is a long time not to be sure, but it is also a long time for a fatal flaw to have shown up and you feel one has not.

Part of me says you would benefit so much from broader life experience before making a life commitment, but high shyness can make being on your own frightening and even debilitating. Have you grown in these years? Has your boyfriend and your relationship supported such growth? How enthusiastic is he for marriage? You sound very monogamous, is he?

I think it is good that you are asking these questions now, two years before marriage and not two MONTHS before.

My advice is to not to MOA now, but to keep your questions and concerns in mind as you go forward with your boyfriend. Be wary of relationship inertia, though.

In short, you have the right questions and they are timely. You simply have to recognize when you have found the answers, and then be ready (and perhaps strong enough) to act.

avatar Desiree September 26, 2012, 11:31 am

That was my first WDS. Thanks!

avatar j2 September 26, 2012, 11:40 am

Your lead three sentences were perfect! I reacted to those words, too, but you explained it better than I could.

avatar Amber September 26, 2012, 11:09 am

It sounds like you are wondering if he is the “best” on vs. the “right” one, with all the comparing to others, etc.

Deciding who will be your life partner is not about analyzing numbers and data. And no one is going to be perfect. You just have to decide if you are happy enough with that person that you WANT to make that committment to them.

It sounds like that is something you are trying to talk yourself into, which is not a good sign.

And the fact that after over four years together you have enough doubt that you would write into an advice column about it, I would say maybe he is not the one for you.

avatar ktfran September 26, 2012, 11:10 am

Do not settle, LW. Just don’t. Like Desiree said, I can’t tell you if your boyfriend is right for you or not. But when I first started reading your letter, I was hoping it was a case of cold feet. The more I read, the less I thought that. You have raised a lot of concerns in your relationship. Only you know if those concerns are deal breakers. If they are, that’s ok. But honestly, nobody can tell you if you’re making the right decision but you.

I’m not saying see a therapist, but it really helped me to talk to a third party, who didn’t know me from adam, when I was making a life changing decision. I ended up making the right decision. For me.

avatar Kris_ September 26, 2012, 1:28 pm

Talking to a friend who is somewhat distant from the relationship also helped me. Someone more distant will ask the questions that you don’t want/don’t think to ask yourself.

avatar lemongrass September 26, 2012, 11:10 am

I can’t tell you if you are right or wrong for each other. It sounds like you need to take some more time. Put off the “forever and ever” thoughts and just be present in your relationship. Spend the next 6 months to a year focusing on what you have now. The issues that you have said you have sound pretty normal. How does your boyfriend feel? Have you talked more deeply than “I want to marry you”? Have you asked him what his visions of marriage are like? Kids? Vacations? Illness in the family? What happens if you lose your arm? Do talk about those things, and more.

avatar bethany September 26, 2012, 11:14 am

I don’t think you’re ready to get married/engaged yet. It sounds to me like you need some time to go off and experience life on your own a little bit before you commit to someone for the rest of your life. It’s WAY better to do this now, then to wake up one day when you’re 34, married with 2 kids and wondering what your life would have been like if you didn’t get married.
I know people who did both of those things. One is now happily married. She and her bf took a “break” for a year during college and then they ended up getting back together and got married. The other got married to a guy she wasn’t 100% sure of because she thought it was the right thing to do. She’s 36 and divorced with 2 kids…

avatar Sasa September 26, 2012, 11:15 am

I really liked Wendy’s column. These kinds of decisions tend to be very personal and in a way you have to find your own standards rather than referring to those of other people. The fact alone that you feel doubt isn’t necessarily a bad sign, sometimes it just means you’re evaluating things closely because you’re getting ready to make an important decision.
However, a few things stand out to me here. At your age, it’s definitely too early to worry that you wouldn’t find anyone else. And the fact that you mention being embarassed by him is a bit of a red flag, honestly. I don’t think you would mention this if it weren’t something that happens regularly.
My personal experience is that my world view has changed quite a bit between ages 24 and 28. If in doubt, I would at least wait a few years to marry. It’s the safer choice. If you get married soon, you’ll have a harder time getting out of this relationship if it turns out not to work out for you.

avatar Desiree September 26, 2012, 11:22 am

The embarrassment thing struck me as well. Sometimes I joke that my fiance embarrasses me (he is into musical theater and can be very ostentatious), but I am never actually cringing internally.

avatar ktfran September 26, 2012, 11:26 am

I actually use the embarrassed sign as an indicator as to whether or not I want to continue dating someone. For instance, would I be embarrassed to bring this dude home to meet my family?

If the answer is yes, I MOA. That may sound shallow. But it helps me.

So that point of the letter struck me as well.

avatar Desiree September 26, 2012, 11:33 am

I don’t think that’s shallow. I think being embarrassed to introduce a SO to important people in your life can be a real sign of important incompatibilities.

avatar ktfran September 26, 2012, 12:11 pm

Good. Because I often feel bad for thinking that about a person, but ultimately, it has become one of my litmus tests.

Lili Lili September 26, 2012, 12:19 pm

I knew it was time to MOA from a guy who I was embarrassed to be out with unless I was tipsy. He’d already met my friends, but it was the ‘what do the strangers here think’ that clinched it for me.

avatar ktfran September 26, 2012, 1:02 pm

Ha. I’ve had that feeling too. About strangers. I’m so glad to know I’m not the only one.

avatar Jiggs September 26, 2012, 5:26 pm

I agree. I think if you’re embarrassed to be with your SO it means you don’t have the baseline respect and appreciation of him/her that makes a good relationship tick. Doesn’t necessarily make either of you bad people, but their personality soup doesn’t mesh well with your soup. NOW YOU HAVE BAD SOUP.

Lianne Lianne September 26, 2012, 11:18 am

When you say, “I started to compare him to other guys I know and that makes me realize he’s more suited for me than than they are. Like, how we have compatible life philosophies. We value experiences (in contrast to the friend that looks to increase his net worth). I love him because he thinks on a similar wavelength as me and is open to trying anything. We have fun together. He supports me and talks me up when I am feeling down.”, it strikes me that you are comparing him to the small sub-set of guys in your life. There is a WHOLE world of men out there, many of whom will share your life philosophies, think on a similar wavelength as you, have fun with you, support you, etc. None of these traits are specific to one person. It seems to me like you are doing too much comparison to others and not really getting at the root of what you want/need in a partner.

I think, based on your email and lack of experience, you may want to take a step back. Marriage isn’t supposed to be for the short term, and if you’re already having these doubts, I think you need to do some real soul-searching about what you want. You ask if “these are things you should live with.” Only you can answer that. You are the only one who can decide your deal-breakers. I also think you should check out some of Wendy’s posts about things to talk about before you get married. This decision shouldn’t be made lightly!

Good luck!

avatar TECH September 26, 2012, 11:23 am

I don’t believe in such a thing as “The One” and I don’t believe there’s a time when “you just know.” But I do think it’s completely normal and healthy for you to question if he is the right person for you considering he has been your only boyfriend. There are thousands, probably millions, of men in the world you could be happy with. Your boyfriend may be one of those people.
You are correct, no relationship is perfect. You could break up with him and meet a new guy, and that new guy will have a whole host of imperfections that will make you doubt the relationship. I think you need to answer two questions. 1. Do you share the same vision for the future? 2. Are you happy most of the time?
If the answer to those two questions is yes, this relationship is probably worth continuing.
I think much of the problem is that you’re worried about what other people say. You think you’re supposed to feel a certain way. You think he’s supposed to “bring out the best in me” and all these other cliches. But they’re just that, cliches. People often say these stupid things to make their own relationships seem better. So when a woman says, “Oh, when I met my husband, I just knew he was the one.” I think she’s saying to make other people think, “Oh, wow, what a great relationship. I wish I had that.” It’s just BS.
The bottom line is that there’s no guarantee in any relationship. You just take a chance on someone you trust and hope to God that over the years the two of you will be able to work on the relationship enough so that it lasts.

avatar Amanda September 26, 2012, 11:35 am

WTS!

Lili Lili September 26, 2012, 1:16 pm

HA! Love this line: So when a woman says, “Oh, when I met my husband, I just knew he was the one.” I think she’s saying to make other people think, “Oh, wow, what a great relationship. I wish I had that.” It’s just BS.

It makes me feel sad for people who need to announce it too. Like that to me is the biggest indicator that they’re in the fake it til you make it crowd.

Copa copacabananut September 26, 2012, 7:31 pm

That’s how I feel about people constantly Facebook about how much they look their SO. Like, really? Are you trying to convince me or yourself that you’re happy? Hehe.

avatar HoneyBee September 26, 2012, 2:10 pm

I also believe the those two questions are simply the most important ones to consider before moving forward; however, I disagree to say that it is just ‘BS’ for somone to say “they just know”. I do not think this is a ploy that women use to make other women jealous. It actually happens, and it happened to me, and it happened to my mother. The reason we say “you just know”, is because we honestly don’t know how to describe our feelings. Everything just works, and that one person is everything you have always been looking for through all the ‘fish’ you threw back. I’m not saying that you can’t make something work without that gut feeling, but I think something has to be said about true love. It’s out there…you just can’t settle. Be happy in your own skin and in your life, and that person will fall into your lap when you least expect it.

seven7three seven7three September 27, 2012, 2:17 am

A thousand times yes to this. This was everything I wanted to say, SPOT ON! WTS, indeed!

avatar Sheryl September 26, 2012, 11:32 am

As someone who did not have much dating experience before i met my husband (together 11 years now), I have some thoughts…

– Please make sure you are not just thinking in terms of only “I haven’t been with anyone else” and I need that experience. You don’t need a bunch of one-night stand/ horrible dating experiences to have under your belt, just because you feel that experience is missing. You just need to know that you are happy and you align with big-ticket items, and the flaws that you S.O. has are not ‘deal breakers’ if they don’t change. This is the thing my mother (who dated very little before dating my dad) said to me when I had these thoughts.

-However, i dont think you are just looking for the experience. If you really do think there is someone ‘better’ for you out there even after all your comparisons, then you should probably break up, as it seems like you think something is missing. You will be bitter and constantly comparing to every other guy you meet. I did do this for a brief period of time before my husband & I got serious, but quickly realized that every guy does have flaws (usually way bigger than my husband’s), and that I really did love my husband and wanted to accept his.

It IS normal to love someone, but have certain parts of them drive you nuts. But are those things you can deal with for the rest of your life? If not, then you need to break up. If so, then you may have found one of ‘the ones’ (like Wendy said in her article). Very few people who find someone they ‘know’ is their soul mate, actually end up living happily ever after.

avatar MJ September 26, 2012, 11:33 am

Nope, no one can make this decision for you.

It’s likely that you could marry this man and be happy. You could also meet another man and marry him and be happy. There are so many different people in the world and so many people who are flawed in their own particular ways.

There is no way to know how this is going to turn out, and no guarantees. If you have similar goals, get along well, and enjoy each other’s company, then those are all good signs. You will grow and change, and hopefully do so together.

I wish there was a magic test (for you and for me!) in order to discover if this is the “right one.” But there isn’t. There is only commitment, love, and willingness to take a risk.

avatar Painted lady September 26, 2012, 11:33 am

No one can tell you if you should stay with him. It’s not like each potential partner has an objective numerical score, and you try to get the highest scored guy you can. It’s your choice, and you can choose however you wish.

I will say, though, that if you need to convince yourself that someone is your best match, or you think of them as your best option or last chance, this is not a reason to spend your life with someone. It’s not like car shopping or apartment hunting, where eventually you narrow a list down to two or three options and pick the best deal, and you have to choose one or you’re homeless and car-less. You can take your time. You don’t have a deadline – this isn’t a lease. You can choose not to choose anyone, now or ever. And you should consider all of this because, unlike a car or an apartment, you can’t just sell it or move. You’re stuck, presumably for life. So don’t choose because you feel you must, and by a certain time. Choose because you love him, because you want him, and because your life would be less without him.

avatar Riefer September 26, 2012, 11:39 am

You’re missing a question: Am I ready to be married?

Wendy’s article that she linked to addresses that, if I remember correctly. The guy could be your perfect match, but if you’re not ready to be married, then it doesn’t matter. Stop worrying about how you feel about him and start worrying about how you feel about you. Are you interested in having any part of your adult life where you’re single? Do you want to try things on your own, even though it’s scary? Are there things you want to do that you know he’ll never want to do? If yes, then you should probably think about whether those things are more important to you than being with him the rest of your life.

Also, I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to “take a break”, because that kind of strings the other person along. Like, they’re waiting for the break to be over so you’ll come back to them. Figure out what you want from your life, and see if he fits in at this time. If not, then even though it’s hard, you should break up with him.

avatar rangerchic September 26, 2012, 11:46 am

You’re embarrassed by him…not a good thing. I mean are you embarrassed by him a lot? You hate him drunk…well how often is he drunk? If it is more often than you can live with then I would say no you can’t and shouldn’t have to live with it. And, he has a temper – you know how to deal with it but does it flare up all the time and are you dealing with it all the time? Marriage is a long, long time. So think about how often all of this occurs and think about how often you have to deal with it – is it something you can live with and is it something you want to live with?

avatar anonymous September 26, 2012, 11:47 am

I liked the earlier comments about the embarrassment factor. For me, the determining issue there would be, “is he willing to grow?” For instance, when I met DH, he never said please or thank you. Sounds like a silly issue, but I found it embarrassing, particularly around my family, where those words are a must. I eventually said something along the lines of, “Hey, it’s generally considered an important thing to say please and thank you, and it makes you look like a boor if you don’t.” He was completely surprised and said that in his family, they’d just interacted in a pleasant way, but didn’t really use those specific words. End of story? He inserted them into his lexicon, and everything was fine.
Seems trivial, but embarrassment can lead to long-term unhappiness. You want to be proud of your wonderful man! And you want everyone else to think he’s wonderful too! So, for me, it would be important to know how he’d handle your input on these issues.
If he’s embarrassing because he’s a bit of a klutz and does stuff occasionally without thinking, that may be an issue of mindset…you can convert “that is so embarrassing!” into “he’s human just like me, and that’s part of what makes him lovable.” His friends laugh at him? I don’t take that as a bad thing…after all, they’re still around so they must see something they like — and the laughter may be more along the lines of loving his imperfections.
I do think that good partners encourage each other, and love each other despite (or because of) their imperfections.

avatar sarolabelle September 26, 2012, 11:56 am

My fiance is my most serious relationship to date. First really serious one.

He doesn’t bring out the best in me because I am already the best! That’s strange that people say that and I have never once said or thought that.

He doesn’t just get me. We have had to work (and still work) on communicating in the way the other understands. We talk non stop sometimes in circles to make our message clear. He doesn’t just get me. In fact I think the way I confuse him often intrigues him and he gains more interest in me.

We are engaged and we have never lived together, we’ve never had sex. We are pursuing marriage because we want to share our life together. There is no one else I’d rather spend life with. Just thinking about spending life with other guys makes me sad. Because that would mean I wouldn’t be spending it with him. Do you feel like this at all? If so then you have found the one!

Humans have a great ability that some animals lack. We don’t just live off of instinct. We CHOOSE who we spend out lives with.

theattack theattack September 26, 2012, 12:57 pm

You make some important points that I really think the LW needs to understand. Love is not a romantic comedy where everything “just clicks.” Sure, some things just click, like your compatibility together and your chemistry. It really scares me when people think imperfect communication is a sign of incompatibility because it’s not. It’s a sign that you need to work on communication.

I didn’t read that the LW is doubting her relationship for legitimate reasons like it sounds like others did. I read that the LW is comparing her really good relationship to what she thinks some “perfect relationship” looks like, and obviously it’s not adding up.

Fabelle Fabelle September 26, 2012, 11:57 am

I think you’re being too cerebral with this– your letter reads like a pro/con list, with only a little genuine doubt and genuine love thrown in. Although it’s a good thing not to let your emotions overwhelm your decision-making skills, your feelings do matter as well.

So what do you feel? Do you actually FEEL a deep-down restlessness, an itch to “sow your oats” & gain some more experiences before settling down? Or is that just something your brain tells you is required? Does everything *click* when you’re with your boyfriend, but you’re hearing stories & reading articles about compatibility, soulmates, internalizing sound bites like “he just gets me” & then negatively comparing all of that to your relationship?

As for your final question (“is this how relationships work?”), I’d answer– from what you described, yes. People in good relationships often experience doubt, annoyance with one another, & even happily married couples might be able to list a few things they’d like to change about their partners. You aren’t always “your best self” around each other. Sometimes verbal, body language, or mood cues are misread. It doesn’t NECESSARILY mean you’re with the wrong person.

Of course, all these are just things to consider… none of us can really tell you if your boyfriend is right for you. Despite everything, he may still be the wrong person, or you may want to try the single life out for a while before committing to anyone. Instead of intellectualizing it– or applying outside sources to your own, unique relationship– you need to listen to your heart (which is corny. Definitely. And I wouldn’t give this advice to a different LW, but you don’t seem like to type whose “heart” will suddently tell them to run off & have 5 babies with the nearest drug dealer. So there you go :))

theattack theattack September 26, 2012, 12:59 pm

Perfect. This is exactly what the LW needs to hear.

avatar MJ September 26, 2012, 1:10 pm

I find it funny that we all have these built in cliches about dating: soulmates, the one, doubt is bad, he brings out the best in me, “I just knew” etc., etc., but then when you read things about marriage, the advice is completely different: it takes work, you won’t always like your partner (or what your partner does, anyway), commitment is the most important thing, shared values, etc.

No wonder people get confused.

avatar Turtledove September 26, 2012, 12:01 pm

I have a few observations.

First, think of your boyfriends worst trait, then imagine experiencing that trait over breakfast for ten years. If it seems a small price to pay to be with this wonderful guy, then that’s awesome. But people’s annoying traits tend to get more annoying with time, not less so that’s something to think about.

Second, is this guy as cool as your friends? Because here’s the thing, you may not have a lot of romantic relationship experience, but you’ve got a whole slew of relationship experience– friends, family, co-workers, etc. Draw on that experience and not just on your experience of men when you’re considering whether or not he’s right for you.

And third, I actually think one of the best things you can do for yourself and your relationship right now is to do something for yourself, by yourself, that takes you completely out of your comfort zone. Whether that’s taking a class in a new thing, a trip to Europe, building a school in South America, that’s up to you. But doing something daring will do several things for you– you’ll grow as a person, it will probably shake up that shy shell you’ve got going (not dispel it entirely, but there’s nothing like an adventure to make you feel powerful and confident which can make it easier to talk to others), and it will cast your relationship in a new light. You’ll get out of your relationship comfort zone as well and you’ll get to see how you both deal with that. You’ll also get a chance to meet a bunch of people you wouldn’t otherwise have met. Overall, it will tell you a lot about your relationship and your life that maybe you wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

bagge72 bagge72 September 26, 2012, 12:09 pm

I really can’t tell you if you are compatable with your boyfriend, but I would say that you sound like you have been convincing yourself for a while that he is the one, because you don’t know anything else. I would say that you need to go out and live your life a little while with out him to see if he really is the one. I would do this sooner rather than later, because if you wait another 3 years, that is a lot of time to waste if you realize that you really don’t like him when he is drunk, and you do hate that he doesn’t encourage you, and you don’t like that he can’t stick up for himself with his friends.

Kate Kate September 26, 2012, 12:12 pm

Just some context – I got married, at 21, to my first boyfriend, who I started dating at 17. We stayed married about 6 years, separated, and divorced at about the 7 year mark.

It’s pretty unlikely that your first boyfriend, who you started dating when still a teenager, is going to be the right fit for you long term. It’s hard to see it now, but you’ve already grown and changed so much from your teens to your mid-20s, and you will change so much more in the next 5-10 years, you can’t even imagine.

There’s a lot of safety and security in a relationship you’ve been in “forever,” and it seems unimaginable that you could move on and find someone else and be happy. Of course it does. But please believe me, you can and will if you choose to. The next guy you date might not be right for you either, but eventually you will meet someone who is just the right fit, and you don’t have that sense Wendy talks about that something is “off.” In fact, you’ll have the experience and perspective at that point to feel very sure that he’s what you want and need.

As to whether this guy is the one you should marry, again, it’s pretty unlikely. I think he was probably a good fit for you at 19 as a shy girl who never dated, and has filled a lot of needs for you. It’s good that you have compatible values, you have fun together, and he supports you. But I would have said those things when I was planning to get married to my first boyfriend, and ultimately I would have been wrong. What he thought he wanted turned out to be a lot different a few years down the line, and definitely wasn’t what I wanted. We stopped having much fun together when things took a bad turn, and it was hard for him to be supportive of me when he was feeling bad about himself and there was hostility between us.

Also, I’m not hearing anything about how great you think this guy is and how much you respect him. You’re comparing him to other guys and cringing in embarrassment over his behavior. He’s a bad drunk and has a temper. He doesn’t give you the support you need regarding your family situation. These things would seem to indicate two major necessities that might be missing in your relationship: Feeling safe with him, and respecting him as he is now (not how you hope he will be). You also don’t say anything about sex / physical attraction. That needs to be there too, and it needs to be strong.

Compatibility / shared values are a good start, but they actually end up meaning little or nothing if you don’t have all the foundational stuff like trust, sexual attraction, comfort / safety, respect. If you’re just not ready to move on yet and really do feel in your gut that you want to share your life with this guy, I wouldn’t say walk away, but do recognize how unlikely it is that the very first guy you date is going to be what you need and want years down the road. And it sounds like even now there are issues that make your relationship shaky.

Ultimately I’d say that fear of the unknown, comfort, some elements of compatibility, and a sense of fun aren’t *enough* reasons to make a permanent commitment to someone. I think your second to last paragraph says a lot. If the fear that you won’t find someone better is a major reason you’re staying in a relationship, it’s probably not the right one. I also think there is HUGE benefit to someone like you being able to feel strong and confident alone, outside of a relationship, before getting married. If you never do that, I think it will come back to bite you in a big way.

A really good book that may answer your questions is “Should I stay or should I go” by Mira Kirshenbaum. It helped me a lot when I was stuck in my last relationship which had died a long time ago but I was sticking with it out of fear. And if the answer is that you should stay with him, it will help you figure that out so you don’t keep questioning.

Amybelle Amybelle September 26, 2012, 6:30 pm

This is really good advice, and I second the book recommendation!

Kate Kate September 27, 2012, 9:26 am

She has another great book called “Is He Mr. Right” that I have found amazingly helpful in understanding the dimensions of chemistry you need to have with a guy before you get serious with him. I’d recommend this one to the LW for more context on what a relationship is supposed to be like.

Just another word of advice to the LW and other ladies who are young – early to mid 20s. I remember that feeling that I was supposed to be in a serious relationship leading to marriage so that I could lock down that part of my life and be an adult. You feel enormous pressure and expectation to do that, both from within yourself and externally.

But, especially if you don’t have a lot of relationship experience, you probably lack some really important knowledge of what you need in a relationship in order for it to be successful long term, as well as what *you* really need to feel happy and fulfilled. It may be scary, but I assure you you can let go of this “last chance” mentality and confidently move on. Maybe the guy you’re with now IS the one you’ll be with all your life, but he doesn’t have to be.

Trust me, you’ll be fine if you decide it’s not the right fit and move on. The worst thing you can do is stay in a dead or dysfunctional relationship out of fear that you won’t find someone better, or the feeling that this is what you’re “supposed to do,” or because you want to grow up and be an adult but aren’t sure you can make it on your own.

I can’t say that the LW’s relationship is dysfunctional, but I’d strongly recommend these books to help her figure it out.

KKZ KKZ September 26, 2012, 12:35 pm

Finally, a letter I feel I can actually speak to from experience!

My husband was my high school sweetheart. We got together as a couple when we were freshmen and “never looked back” – we weren’t on-again/off-again or anything. He was my first sexual partner, not just for intercourse but the whole gamut of sexual interactions. We got engaged during my freshman year of college and got married after I graduated, and just marked our 3-year anniversary.

And you can bet your ass that I had the same thoughts you’re having, LW – how could I choose to spend the rest of my life with this guy when I’d never dated anyone else – when I had no idea what other guys could potentially offer me? My heart said I loved him, my brain said “but can you be sure? Sure enough to commit to marriage?”

And even now, three years post-wedding, I have moments of doubt. DOUBT, not regret, is the key word. I mostly have these moments when I’m reading sites like Dear Wendy and all these dating issues come up that I have absolutely no experience with. I haven’t been on a first date since I was 15, so how can I relate to first-date horror stories? I don’t know if I would sleep with a guy on the first, second, third or umpteenth date. I don’t know the anxiety of whether or not to say “I love you” or when to say it or who should say it. I’m coming up on 25 and there are so many life & dating experiences that, it feels like, every other 25-year-old woman has had. So it’s hard not to feel like I might have missed out by not dating – missed out on these experiences, and possibly missed out on meeting someone who matched me even better than he does.

My husband is not perfect. In our 10 years as a couple there have been times when he embarrassed me (and I’m sure, when I’ve embarrassed him, as I am the more socially awkward of us). We’ve both thrown temper tantrums. His dynamic with his family and approach to family relationships is WAY different than mine. I wouldn’t say he brings out the best in me – in fact, we’re incredibly good at enabling each other’s flaws. I wouldn’t say he “just gets me” either, because we have plenty of communication breakdowns. But those phrases are just pop culture normalisms, the stuff of Hallmark cards and Lifetime movies and feel-good stories. They’re not hard and fast rules for what makes a couple work.

My husband may not be perfect, but he is good enough. And a lot of people, when they hear “enough,” immediately jump to “You’re settling!” but in the end, good enough is good enough. Compatibility is what makes a relationship work, and if you feel you’re basically compatible, you get along most of the time and think/believe similarly and share values and life goals, and there are no major red flags, I don’t think that’s “settling.” I think that means you’re a good fit. Could there be someone out there who’s a better fit? Anything’s possible.

There was one day about two months before our wedding that we had the fight-that-wasn’t-a-fight, when all of these feelings came out – on BOTH sides, because he had many of the same doubts and reservations as I did. This went on all day, and plenty of tears were shed by both of us. We eventually decided we did not want to leave what we had on a hope and a prayer that we’d each find someone better for us. That could have turned out badly for us, but so far, it’s holding up.

Making a commitment to marriage is a risk for any couple. You can both be 100% sure that you’re doing the right thing and it can still end badly. Or you can be 90% sure, and he 90% sure, and you can make it work. There are no guarantees – but that’s not a reason by itself to not try, to not give it your best shot and create the relationship you want with the person you love. And since you’re not staring down the barrel of the Get-Married gun just yet, I think you can relax a little about this question for now. Keep focusing on your relationship and working to make it what you want; by consciously and actively making the relationship a priority and a work-in-progress, rather than a given, you can uncover the weaknesses while reinforcing the strengths. Some of the weaknesses may be dealbreakers – that’s up to you to decide. But you’ll be better off for investing the time and energy now, before a lifetime commitment is made.

avatar HmC September 26, 2012, 1:36 pm

Thank you for sharing your story! I wish I had this site about 6 years ago when I started feeling antsy with my high school sweetheart, who was an amazing person and partner. We had been together for 8 years at that point, and the whole “sow your oats!” crowd got the best of me and I shitcanned him, only to immediately regret it. He found someone else and moved on, and I ended an otherwise great relationship for basically a non existent reason. It hurt for a very long time.

I’m fine now, I’ve moved on, and I’m really happy with someone else. I got lucky. But that doesn’t mean I would endorse others to make that same decision I did. You live and learn.

KKZ KKZ September 26, 2012, 1:51 pm

Agreed, HmC.

During our day-long breakdown, we even discussed separating for a while and going to do our own thing and coming back to this question after, but thankfully we both realized that a back-burner, Plan-B relationship isn’t really a good model to follow. Part of our doubt came from the fact that we both identify as bisexual and I think we were a little freaked about making our heterosexual arrangement permanent, closing the doors to any further same-sex experiences – essentially canceling out that part of our sexuality. I still feel that tension sometimes (I go through occasional super-gay phases where only women interest me, and get frustrated by look-don’t-touch) but we’ve found ways to manage.

I guess I just get frustrated by the idea that if you’re not 100% sure about committing to a person, that means you shouldn’t do it. I read that opinion in an Ann Landers column when I was a girl, long before I was dating or anything, and even then I found it a little extreme. I think some people are naturally analytic, anxious, and prone to worrying. I think for these people, doubt and worry are normal experiences, not warning signs – they’re never 100% sure about *anything*. I can be like that sometimes, and that’s the sense I got from the LW. I didn’t feel like her gut was telling her this was wrong, but that her brain was filling up with doubts and reasons and bits of evidence and she doesn’t know what to do with them – especially when she framed it as a heart vs. head issue.

theattack theattack September 26, 2012, 2:01 pm

“I think some people are naturally analytic, anxious, and prone to worrying. I think for these people, doubt and worry are normal experiences, not warning signs – they’re never 100% sure about *anything*. ”

YESSSSSSS

“I didn’t feel like her gut was telling her this was wrong, but that her brain was filling up with doubts and reasons and bits of evidence and she doesn’t know what to do with them – especially when she framed it as a heart vs. head issue.”

YESSSSSSSSSSSSS again!

avatar MJ September 26, 2012, 2:01 pm

“I think some people are naturally analytic, anxious, and prone to worrying. I think for these people, doubt and worry are normal experiences, not warning signs – they’re never 100% sure about *anything*.”

This is so totally me. Thank you.

KKZ KKZ September 26, 2012, 2:08 pm

I also don’t think the flaws of his that you brought up are instant red flags. You sound like a person who probably makes pros and cons lists. You’ve given us some pros and cons in this letter, and the cons are not all that severe – don’t like him when he’s drunk, has a temper, mis-communicates sometimes, has a different approach to handling family.

And that’s the tough thing about a pros and cons list – you expect that it will give you a clear answer, that one side outweighs the other. I think you had your lists in mind and got worried because there wasn’t a clear winner. I think that’s why you might have started pulling in other criteria by comparing him to other guys and to standards like “he brings out the best in me,” to see if there were some questions you weren’t answering that could make the pros side or cons side a little more decisive.

Having an even balance of pros and cons, and having relatively non-serious cons like you have, is still an OK foundation for a relationship. No one is going to be all pros, as others have said. Prince Charming probably farts in his sleep. So if the pros are really good, and the cons you can live with, that’s good enough, IMHO.

avatar Kris_ September 26, 2012, 2:16 pm

“Prince Charming probably farts in his sleep.” <- That totally made my day. Thanks!

avatar Eagle Eye September 26, 2012, 3:56 pm

Thank you for this! Although I started dating my boyfriend at the very tail end of college, for whatever reason he’s turned out to be my first real boyfriend. I love him to pieces but sometimes there’s this gnawing in the back of my brain asking me if I should’t be out sowing oats, but then I remind myself that 1) I really do love the pants off of him and he does make me happy and that 2) in college I had time to sow all of the oats I could ever want, and I still didn’t and 3) I over analyze everything and then I shut up my brain for long enough to be happy and enjoy the relationship that i have.