Carolyn Hax: Try shifting vision for relationship

Dear Carolyn: I am 43, have two great kids 12 and 9, and have been divorced very amicably for four years. I am cheerful, outgoing, financially independent, healthy and lucky in every way possible. I am in my second serious, post-divorce relationship, and this one is coming up on one year.

But there are problems that mean this relationship isn’t going to go anywhere, and I want one that will. We adore each other, are monogamous and get along great, but it’s time to let go because I want more than he can give right now. He just got divorced and wants a little more freedom – not to see anyone else, but just to do his own thing without having to be accountable all the time.

I get that in some ways, but not others. If you love someone, and she (read: I) isn’t cloying and controlling (which he agrees I’m not), isn’t it kind of NICE to be accountable to that person?

How do I let go of someone I adore, but who can’t give me what I really want and need? I feel I should be on my own to be available to someone new. But I also love this man deeply and find the thought of being without him so painful. We have tried breaking up, and it never seems to stick. What do you say? – Can’t leave, can’t stay

You say you “get” his need for freedom “in some ways,” but not persuasively. It sounds instead as if you believe to your core that if he just wakes up and notices he’s crazy about you – and you believe he is – then he’ll give himself fully to you, the freshness of his divorce notwithstanding. Not because he’ll choose it over other options, but because that’s what people do when they care about each other. You know he cares and that’s the way you define caring.

You may not be “cloying and controlling,” but you’re rigid in your vision of a relationship.

This is a hunch, not a certainty.

It’s also a place for you to start in finding a better solution than being unhappy with him and unhappy broken up: by challenging your vision of committing to someone.

It is of course essential to hold out for the relationship you want and that feels right – but it’s so very easy, and so very ill-advised, to let that cross over into wanting the person you love to give you the relationship you want.

The only relationship you can expect or hope to have with anyone is the one you both freely give each other. So can you accept what he’s offering – adoring you, being faithful to you, and not calling sometimes because he’s caught up in something else? Can you let down your guard enough to sympathize with someone who just doesn’t want to be a seven-day-a-week presence in anyone’s life but his own?

Now, he could just be breaking up with you and waiting for you to figure that out; maybe he does have someone else on the side; he also could be happy with you as Ms. Pleasant Diversion as he keeps his options open. The obvious risk of opening your mind and/or the relationship is that you’ll accomplish nothing beyond leaving yourself open to getting hurt.

But, then, sticking to a script for a relationship when the man you love doesn’t fit the lead role is just a different way to get hurt. If only as a mental exercise, see if you can play the female lead in the story you and he are actually writing together. If the role feels wrong, then at least you’ll have that much more conviction (spine) when you decide it’s time to go.

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