“We Broke Up Because I Wouldn’t Marry Her”

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My girlfriend and I separated last month but didn’t really make it official until last week. She eventually told me that we need to let go and to stop communicating. We were together for nine and a half years and I take responsibility for causing the breakup, for making her feel like I wasn’t taking her seriously anymore during the latter part of our relationship. She wanted for us to get married when we were together, and I wasn’t ready to do it until after we broke up when I realized that I was finally prepared to settle down.

She told me that it was kinda too late for me, and that she wants to be alone and be on her own. She was very clear that, if I forced her to come back, we’ll only regret being together. It’s really difficult for me to come to terms with the fact that we’re now separated. I know I need to move on and look out for myself and it won’t help me holding on since she’s decided about it. I know it will be up to her if she will come back. I hope you can help enlighten me and help me slowly accept reality. — Feeling Regret

I can certainly help enlighten you though it will be up to you to accept the reality (and I’d advise accepting it faster than more “slowly,” since coming to terms with things too slowly hasn’t worked well for you thus far). Here’s the deal: In the scenario you’ve presented here, you are the one who hasn’t changed.

Sure, you’ve convinced yourself that in the month that you’ve been broken up from your girlfriend of nine and a half years, whom you refused to commit to long-term or take seriously for the latter half of your relationship, you’ve suddenly had a change of heart and ARE ready to settle down with her. But that’s not true.

You just aren’t used to being the one not calling the shots and it feels really uncomfortable – to have your fate in someone else’s hands. Probably for the first time in nine and a half years with your girlfriend, SHE is the one saying, “Nah, I’m good. I don’t want to take this further,” and it sucks, doesn’t it? It sucks to have the script flipped and not know what the next scene is going to be.

Here’s the next scene: For a little while, you will both miss each other a lot. You will feel some regret – a lot at first, and then the sharp edges of that regret will soften and you’ll be able to settle into it a little more comfortably until, finally, it’s not something that keeps you awake anymore.

In time, you will grow more accustomed to not having your ex in your life and the missing of her will feel less acute and she won’t be the first person you think to text or call when you have news to share. First you’ll go an hour without thinking of her, then hours plural, and finally an entire afternoon will pass without giving her a thought. In the evening, you might see a meme or catch a headline that makes you think of her and you’ll be tempted to text a link. Don’t do it.

The pain you’re feeling now is not as great as the pain she’s feeling. For years, she dreamed of marrying you. She pinned hopes on your changing your mind about refusing this. She probably endured shame and her own self-loathing during this long wait. And now, not only is she missing you, she also she has let go of a dream she held close. It’s an incredibly transformative yet difficult thing to let go of a dream. You didn’t share her dream and so, for you, the ending of your relationship, while sad and full of regret, is not the same. You don’t have to bury a dream and re-imagine a future you spent years trying to wish into existence. It’s just different.

If you have any love for your ex – if you miss her like you say you do and care for her like you should someone you suddenly think you want to settle down with – the best way to express that love now is to stay away from her. Resist any urge to reach out, to beg for her back, to tell her how you want to marry her now. Just stay away.

Your ex deserves a love story that doesn’t include years of rejection and always wondering why you weren’t able to commit sooner – why it took your own broken heart to finally appreciate how broken hers must have been all that time you kept telling her no.

You *do* realize how broken her heart has been for years, don’t you? If you are new to the sensation of a broken heart, you know it now. It’s overwhelming and desperate and stirs every instinct in us to fight against it. To sit with a broken heart – to move through the stages of grief in its path without trying to manipulate someone else’s path through grief—is the most gracious way we can accept a relationship’s end and the very best way we can honor the love once shared and the love that can still remain in memory if we resist the urge to touch it.

I’ve known my boyfriend for six years, but we only recently started dating about ten months ago. Everything was going great until we started talking about moving in together. I was happy with the thought of it, but his healthy and still-employed 69-year-old grandmother still lives with him.

She relies on him financially because she doesn’t get paid well at her job. She could live with her daughters but doesn’t feel comfortable doing so. His grandmother also makes him feel guilty by reminding him that she was more of a mother to him than his actual mother.

I know most people may not have a problem just moving in with a man and his grandmother, but I have a 12-year-old daughter and I want her to feel comfortable in her own house. My boyfriend at first wanted me to move into his house, but I said no, that I want to buy our own house together and start fresh. He agreed with that. He wants to move forward and is getting ready to sell his house, but I see the weight of not knowing what to do with his grandmother upsetting him.

I get mad at the fact that his grandmother has lived a life relying on other people and puts this guilt on my boyfriend. He has given her the run of his house for the past nine years, and when he told her that he wants to marry me and move on, the first words out of her mouth were, “Just make sure I’m taken care of!”

He looks at his grandmother as a martyr since his mother (the grandmother’s daughter) was never home and his grandmother would watch him as a child. So he feels he owes her. I cannot tell him that that isn’t the case because he gets upset with me and says I don’t understand.

Am I wrong for not wanting her to move into our new home? I know he loves her, but I’m looking out for my daughter’s best interest and, honestly, I think it would be healthy for him to break away from her a little bit.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I appreciate your help in any way. — Granny’s Got to Go

If you are truly looking out for your daughter’s best interest, quit talking about moving in with a guy who has lived a lifestyle for at least the past nine years that you are uncomfortable with and think is unhealthy. This is a classic situation of “he would be perfect if he could just change this one little thing.”

For him, the little thing is he has taken full responsibility of his grandmother and shows no signs of ever living apart from her. For someone else, the little thing might be alcoholism, or a gambling addiction, or a marriage to someone else, or a child you don’t get along with, or an ex who is still very much in the picture, or 1500 miles between you and no interest in moving.

The thing that keeps someone from being the right someone differs from relationship to relationship, but the beginning is always the same: You believe you can be the one to get the other person to change – to stop drinking, to get a divorce, to create healthy boundaries with his ex/grown child/dependent grandmother. And just like the beginning, the ending is always the same, too: You can’t change anyone.

A person has to be willing and interested in making the change himself, and your boyfriend has not made it clear to you that he is. And, frankly, after only ten months together and with a 12-year-old daughter who should be your number one priority, it would be a huge, HUGE mistake to push him on this.

Moving in with someone before your relationship is ready for that kind of commitment is bad enough when the move only affects the people in the relationship, but when there’s a child in the picture, you need to slow things way down and move forward only when it feels right for everyone involved. You are far from that place.

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


  1. LW1: “it won’t help me holding on since she’s decided about it.”: this says all! Of course, you don’t choose to be dumped. It was to be expected if you reject a commitment during 9 years. It is surprising that you are surprised.
    I don’t think that she misses you so much. Sure, she has missed you as a reliable partner with whom she could project herself in the future during 9 years. Sure, it is tough to end a 9 years relationship. But my guess is that she feels relief and confidence in her choice.
    Use this time to reflect on your own inhibitions. And actually, I don’t think that this relationship was really so great. A good relationship makes you want to invest more, not to be in a rejection mode all the time.
    LW2: why do you want to buy a house with a guy you date since less than a year? That is crazy. Why is the granny a problem regarding your daughter? Anyway, he comes with a baggage. It seems he will have to support her – if not live with her – for the rest of her life, but her children could contribute. She could have a little flat if he can afford to help her. But she will be in the picture.

  2. LW2: I agree that you shouldn’t move in with your boyfriend right now, but I have one thing to say about the grandmother: You say that you’re mad that she has lived her life relying on other people. Bear in mind that women have not always had the opportunities that we have now. She may have lived her life this way because it was the only option she had. Women of older generations had fewer choices. They were raised with the expectation that the men in their lives would take care of them. (And the men were taught that that was their obligation.) Times have changed, but grandma hasn’t. While guilting her grandson is wrong, she may be doing it out of fear of being abandoned. Just something to think about.

    1. I don’t really agree with this given that his grandmother is 69. I’m not saying there aren’t any generational differences, but women have had the option to earn incomes throughout her adulthood.

    2. Sea Witch says:

      A 69 year old came of age in the early 70s, when opportunities for women were starting to open up.

      1. Someone can’t do math
        If your 69, you were growing up in the 1960’s, not 1970’s. I’m 10 years younger and have absolute horror stories of my early employment history. One being asked why they should hire me as a manager if I was going to get pregnant and leave anyway. I never had children

        Grandma probably really needs financial help. She’s still working at 69. That says a lot.
        If you don’t want Grandma around, find someone else. Or, you can try multi generational housing. A house with an in law apartment. They’re gaining popularity where I live
        America is weird country when it comes to taking care of elderly relatives. Most other cultures just do it without whining about it and seeing it as something bad.

      2. I think her math is fine. If she is 69 years old, then she turned 18 in 1970 and 21 in 1973. She said ‘came of age’, not spent her childhood.

  3. LW2: I don’t understand why you don’t want your daughter around the grandmother? Or why after only a ten month relationship you think it’s ok to move in with someone, let alone force them to sell their home and relocate their grandmother. You should see it as a positive that your man is taking care of her. It’s possible she’ll even help with babysitting for date nights.

    This is more of a YOU issue than a HIM issue. If you do end up buying a house together in the future then look for one with a separate apartment or MIL suite for grandmother to stay.

    1. Sea Witch says:

      Yes, she has a problem moving her daughter in with a 69 year old woman… but not a man she’s only dated for 10 months? Which is really a bigger potential risk to a 12 year old?

  4. I suspect but have no proof that LW 2 is unhappy with the situation because:

    1. Grandma runs the household, while the BF pays the bills. She wants to be seen as an equal, but her BF isn’t playing equal to Grandma, so she wouldn’t be an equal to Grandma either.
    2. BF pays the bills, Grandma doesn’t. Therefore any money she puts into the house or contributes, would be advantageous to Grandma.
    3. Depending on the size of the home, and the number of bedrooms, there may not be a bedroom for the daughter unless Grandma moves out.

    So LW2 – you need to decide what specific things would need to change if you were to live with your BF and Grandma and then determine if that works for you.

  5. CattyGoLightly says:

    LW1: Yeah, you kind of blew it. I think if you had truly wanted to marry her, you would have done it already, and not just when the break up affects you. That’s one of my pet peeves, when someone is begging for something from a relationship, and the other person won’t budge until their partner breaks up with them (by which time, it’s too late). You should have cared about her feelings sooner because you care about her, and not change your mind now because all of a sudden you aren’t having everything exactly the way you want it without regard for your partner’s feelings. Wendy nailed it with this response. If you ever cared about your ex, just let her move on with her life. Take this as a lesson learned, and try and not make the same mistakes next time you date someone.

    LW2: Yeah, this sounds like too much. It’s only been ten months, so cut your losses and keep your environment stable for your daughter by yourself. Hell, looking at the first letter, maybe breaking up with him will be the only way to get him to realize something (/sarcasm)! Honestly though, this guy sounds like he isn’t willing to set a boundary with granny. I mean, I get wanting to take care of family, but I also don’t know if I could handle living with a partner’s grandmother in the house, especially if she is used to doing things her way.

    If you do insist on buying a house with him (don’t do it!!), maybe somewhere with an in-law suite so that way she has her own space, your boyfriend feels like he has taken care of her, and you can have your own area to which she doesn’t have a key. But 10 months just isn’t long enough to buy property with someone. Also it sounds like she might always rule the roost… so yeah. It’s just too much.

  6. mellanthe says:

    LW1: Oh dear.

    Wendy’s response was spot on. Your GF hoped for many years that you would see a future with her – she must be incredibly heartbroken right now. Let her be. She’s told you she won’t take you back. After you put things off for so long, she just can’t believe that you love her enough to commit – you had 9 years to prove that you did.

    So many people (particularly men) make this mistake. I’m sorry, but this is something you have to bear the responsibility for. You were together for 9 years – that’s a lot of time to consider whether you see someone in your future and want to marry them. By this point you know someone extremely well and you’ve handled a lot of life together. If you were living together, then what made you basically live married life for so long whilst refusing to commit to life together? You need to think about this, because it could mar every single relatonship you have if you’re not careful.

    Think carefully, do you really want to marry her? What was holding you back? How did you change it? Or are you more afraid of losing the status quo? Is it because you don’t want anyone else to have her? Is marriage something you really want, or do you just want to do it now to get her back? Because how you feel right now may have complex causes.

    This is not to be rude, but. Genuinely. What did you think was going to happen if you kept telling her you wouldn’t commit to her, when she made it clear it was something that she needed? That she’d stay with you forever, despite feeling rejected? She’s probably lived with seeing all her friends settle down – seemingly everyone get married whilst the man she loved just couldn’t love her enough to envision the rest of his life with her. She’s probably lived with years of everyone asking when you’lll propose. She’s lived with her biological clock. Shes hoped and hoped for a long time- and put off leaving because she loved you that much. But you never changed.

    I’m not blaming you here: nobody should agree to anything they don’t want. But it’s clear this was never going to work and would have made her miserable. Did you think that she would put up with it forever, and that therefore not marrying her was the least risky thing? I think a lot of the time people are afraid of the risk of commitment, but they forget that refusing to progress the relationship always carries the risk that the other person will leave, and find someone who wll take that risk. She gambled all those years stating with you. There is no risk free option. Whether you realise it or not, you also gambled, and you also lost.

    Next time around, though, be careful. so many people rush into committing fast after such a breakup because they are afraid to lose someone again, and often express that it ‘doesn’t matter now my love won’t take me back’ – please don’t settle or marry quickly – take your time to find the right thing for you.


    10 months is very soon to move in if you have a child – what’s the rush? Why not take time to get to knwo gran and introduce the kid. She may be stepgran so it’s important for people to become comfortable. You can’t isolate a man from his friends and family – they are part of his life. You don’t just get to have him.

    I personally couldn’t live with in laws – we do it in my culture and I’ve seen too much drama from it. It can be hard for the old generaiton to relinquish control, and the new couple want to do things their own way. So I can understand. But is he actually willing to live apart from her?
    If he can’t find an arrangement in which granny is close but not in your face, what will you do?

    Take your time and think carefully. Until granny passes away she’ll be a part of his life. Are you prepared for that? Can you accept it without taking it out on him and her? If not, wendy is right and you need to find a man whose life matches what you want.

  7. LW#1 – you repeatedly decided over the course of 9 years that you were unwilling to marry her. You thought simply living together gave you more power, or something. It’s surprising she went along with that as long as she did. Having gone along with it for so long should give you an idea of how truly angry she was to force herself to walk away. No going back. You were a selfish ass. You miss her, but you really don’t want to be married to her. You are just playing in your mind with how you might get her back by marrying her and still have the upper hand. You can’t. She’s had enough of your stringing her along.

    LW#2 —
    Yes, you are moving fast for a mother. Yes, it sounds like this is unlikely to work. What do you propose he do with his grandmother?

  8. Outstanding advice to LW1 from Wendy and also signing off to the comment by mellanthe above. Your response further reveals your selfishness; are you considering *her* perspective in this? Just as you neglected her need for commitment the last few years, now you’re ignoring her feelings surrounding the breakup. You still want to string her along. Let her move on completely and find someone who appreciates her enough to commit.

  9. ” … his grandmother has lived a life relying on other people …”

    Uh, except when she stepped up to raise your boyfriend.

    All of this stuff about the grandmother is completely and totally beside the point. If you’re so keen on looking out for your daughter, WHY are you BUYING PROPERTY with someone you’ve been dating for less than a year!?!? How exactly will that be beneficial to your daughter — to move her into an unstable situation? And, yes, it is unstable because he has a long-term family situation that you want to disrupt, and your daughter will have to move out of her home. WHY? What is your hurry!? WHY are you trying to force your way through a major block? Because you think he should be different?

    I’d really recommend, in the strongest possible terms, that you slow the eff down. You don’t buy property with someone you want to change.

    1. Sea Witch says:

      This one has me shaking my head. Why would somebody who has a kid be in such a hurry to push their kid into their new relationship?

    2. This is sad to hear that you’ve only dated your bf for 10 months, then you expect everything to change for own good, while the grandma was taking care of him as a child & she never ever abandoned him. I think you like to be in control, sounds like to me you wanted him only for yourself. She’s older, don’t have much that she can support herself. She don’t have anyone, what your asking is selfish to me. I’m sorry if I may sound harsh. As you mentioned & worried about your looking for your daughter best interests, is your bf grandmother abusive? Is she using drugs? Stealing? All that illegal things?? I am a caretaker for elders, I never look the elders as someone else family, I treat them & look at them as they are my love ones. You should be proud of your bf how great he is taken care well his grandmother.

  10. Sea Witch says:

    LW1: So it was only after she left that you decided that gosh, maybe you could do some things her way. In other words, if you were still together, you would laugh off her asking once again to get married because heck, the relationship was working just fine for *you*.
    Too little too late, mate. Should have given more thought to what SHE wanted at least 7 years ago.

  11. Sea Witch says:

    LW2: Please don’t move in with a man you’ve only dated for 10 months. If you were free and single, it might be okay, but you have a 12 year old. Stay in separate houses until she’s old enough to live on her own if she decides that she can’t get on with your new partner. You can choose to live with him or not, but she doesn’t get a choice.

    1. I agree this sounds too early, but no moving in together until all kids are old enough to live on their own? Many kids can’t afford to move out until their mid-20s anyway, making “old enough” moot. This rule would basically mean no step-families or second-marriage couples with kids ever being able to live together.

  12. CinderALLIE says:

    LW2) What is the problem with the Grandmother exactly cause it sounds like you are just pissed he spends money he works for on her and you want him to spend on you and a house for your daughter to live in.

    Why is it okay for him to support you and a child that is not his but not his grandmother? or are you 100% paying for everything when you live together, or at least 66.6% (your shre for your child and yourself)?

    If my partners grandma was still alive and needed help, I’d be okay with him wanting her to live with us as that shows how compassionate and unselfish he is. That’s what you need in a partner, not someone who will ditch their grandma because of your selfish needs, how would you like it if he felt same way about your child?? She could live with her Dad or another family member after all.

  13. From LW1: “Thank you so much for taking time to respond to me. I really appreciate your straight forward answer. It was very clear to me and I honestly accept my selfishness and irresponsibility. I was really “hurt” for HER
    in reading your message. I totally messed up and agree that I need to set her free and she totally deserve someone way way better. I really appreciate your message. All I can do now, is pray for her so she can fully heal from all the hurt I caused her. “

    1. Jenni Lyn says:

      I feel for the both of you. You both loved each other to remain together that long and it’s never easy to end what you built and your comfort of routine. But this is a common problem for us women. We give our all and stay because of our intense love for our men and the hope for the ultimate commitment that proves to the world this is my husband, this is my wife.
      Yet our boyfriend’s take us for granted. My current boyfriend of 2 years reminds me of you and your post has enlightened me…will help me leave my relationship now before I waste any more time as your girlfriend did. I can’t image after 9 plus years how she stayed, as 2 years being so in love and him avoiding/ being defensive, all the arguments over the marriage talk when he’s the one obsessed over me and expects me to play the wife role. She reminds me of me and as a loving woman that wants a future holds on to that when they find their other half, which is rare to find these days, especially now that I’m 41 and he’s 46.
      That’s why I need to learn from you. I need to end 2 years invested before it becomes over 9 years, which I see inevitable. He, too, is a lot like you. Would finally realize what he lost. Issue is most men get comfy with their perfect set up for them. They get all the perks and us playing the wife role, are simply stuck for years with the bf/gf title and it sucks. No promise of commitment. No risks as marriage would arrange. But if you love someone, known them for all those years. As a commenter brought up, that was a risk too of losing her and it was inevitable.

      I applaud your courage for reaching out and being humble. Take this as a painful, yet important life lesson on cherishing the ones you love. Life is really so short. At 41, I know this and your post has moved me to make a hard decision to not waste any more time at my age. I’d rather be alone again, then waste my precious time and energy on someone that doesn’t see me valuable to hold those same values. Worst yet is forcing a man to want to marry me, yet he proclaims his love and is very obsessed with being with me. Thanks for this. I have no idea when you wrote this, but you’ll be in my prayers to have enlightenment yourself be it happy married to someone you truly love, or to remain single and happy to be yourself and not take advantage of any one you truly love.

      1. ManPerspective says:

        I think many of the replies here on LW1 are one-sided, and I’d venture they come from a woman’s perspective. I can appreciate that investing years in a relationship without the commitment of marriage is especially painful for many women, I would like to offer a perspective from the other side (that LW1 might not have explained…or felt).

        I was in an 7 year relationship that ended when my gf placed a marriage ultimatum down, take-it-or-leave-it style. Many of the replies here believe that the man was happy in the relationship and just refused to commit. Personally, I wanted to marry my girlfriend very much – from year 1. And I loved her deeply. But I was always unhappy with how we didn’t spend much time together (quality time love language) and our time bonding, connecting was so incredibly limited (extreme work hours on her part, quiet nature). Perhaps I should have taken the inability to work through that in Year 1-3 as enough of a sign and bailed, but I very much wanted to marry her, so I stuck it out hoping things would change. She never took our “quality time” problem seriously until Year 3 when she wanted to get married. When I said we needed to improve our relationship before an engagement, she took that as refusal and was never the same again. She was hurt by what she perceived as rejection (which I see as faith in us despite problems) and she could never really show me genuine love again, so we lingered on from year 4-7 with fake attempts at quality time and further diminished love and connection. I did say “let’s get married” but to her credit, she didn’t want to do it when she knew I was less than enthused. She dumped me a couple times in those years insisting she didn’t want to waste more time…which is incredibly hard to build trust after for both of us. When someone abandons your relationship over a marriage ultimatum, it becomes very hard to believe their offer of till-death-do-you-part. It all went downhill for us both.

        Sometimes a man isn’t just scared to pull the trigger or commitment phobic. Sometimes he sees a red-flag and wants you both to work it out first. If you’re able to, together, great. If you’re so resentful about a marriage ultimatum that you can’t, then everything gets poisoned. Most men don’t want to lose something and someone that they truly enjoy.

  14. What I find so interesting is that with the right attitude the grandmother thing could be amazing. Another adult to help around the house, perhaps contributing a bit financially and with the 10-year-old, and a nice warm family unit. She doesn’t say much about the grandmother’s personality, but I really don’t get the impression they get along or that there’s any fondness at all. It’s a shame.

  15. LW1
    WWS. Every word beautiful, true and wise. I also admire this woman’s strength and wisdom for not returning for more hurt.

  16. LW 2 WWS
    Do not move your daughter into any situation about which you have reservations. No matter how good a job we do as mothers, guilt can come to us looking back. And guilt about situations in which we did not heed our reservations, i.e., mother’s instincts, is always the most haunting.
    Your priority is your daughter not this relationship. I believe you know that, and that is the reason you wrote for advice. All best and blessings to you and your daughter.

  17. mellanthe says:

    It’s good to see a LW who’s thought about it.

    But I hope he realises why he messed up. That it’s not because he didn’t marry her (you don’t HAVE to marry anyone), but because he didn’t think about her feelings the whole time this conversation came up again and again – he never thought whether it might end things between them if he couldn’t give her the thing she most wanted in the relationship- and that maybe it meant they were incompatible.

    If you keep rejecting something until the opportunity is on the table, it suggests maybe you haven’t really reflected on why you were rejecting it, or why you suddenly wanted it so badly after it was taken off the table. That he owed her having a real hard think about what marriage meant to him, and if it really was incompatible with his happiness.

    If it really was something that he couldn’t countenance, then he owed it to her to have a chat with her and discuss whether they should be together at all if they both wanted such different things. But I get the impression he probably gave vague answers about whether he’d consider it – because he states he wasn’t really taking her seriously.

    You messed up, not by not caving in to marry her, but by not having a mature talk about what you wanted, and letting her go much earlier if you both wanted incompatible things, rather than letting her hope you’d change your mind. And clearly, by not really thinking about what you wanted at all until it was too late.

  18. Erika Gloss says:

    I like the way you think

  19. No woman should wait 9 years to be proposed to. If you are in your early 20s, 2-3 years max, 1-2 30s+. It does not take this long to know if you want to be married to someone. IF you still don’t know, it means you are not ready to marry anyone and let that woman go.

  20. LW2: Your boyfriend is helping his grandma as she helped him earlier in life, by taking care of him and raising him when he was a child. Even though she is working, she probably cannot afford a place on her own. Many working people cannot. Perhaps in her younger years, instead of saving for retirement, she needed those funds for the child she raised–your boyfriend.

    It’s too soon to buy property with your boyfriend. If you buy property with him later, make sure the plan includes a good future for Grandma; one that gives her a cherished place in your lives.

    Don’t expect your boyfriend to chose between you and the person who raised him. That’s cruel. The fact that he is helping his grandma shows he has good character and values. However, there are other ways he can help her while still giving you, your BF, and your daughter some space, when and if things reach that point later.

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