Dear Carolyn: When my boyfriend and I get in arguments, he inevitably says, “Maybe we shouldn’t be together” or “There are obviously compatibility issues.”
Our relationship is complicated by the fact that he is in the process of getting a divorce, which has recently become more dramatic and has led to more stress on us. I am hurt by his comments and am increasingly becoming more insecure in the relationship. Can you provide any insight? If it helps, “I love yous” have been exchanged as we’ve discussed our future together. – S.
I know your “if it helps” is about helping me answer your question.
However, that talk of love and futures strikes me as being particularly unhelpful to you.
That’s because, when you and he gaze into each other’s eyes and see white picket fences, you, naturally, start mentally writing a fairy tale about the two of you. Then, when he says things like, “Maybe we shouldn’t be together,” you’re not thinking, “Hmm, maybe not.” Or, “Was this fight worth fighting?” Or, “Was I being fair, and was he?” Instead your mind is jumping right to that fairy tale – oh no! – and your primary focus becomes save that picket fence.
I feel no particular resentment toward the princess myths of my childhood, I swear, but “dreams” are vastly overrated. Ideas? Great. Plans? Necessary. Inspiration? Bring it on. Imagination? Sure, as long as you know you’re just making stuff up, and reality will eventually have its say.
But dreams, I don’t know. They seem to get cultural carte blanche, when in many cases they’re just imaginings unmoored from reality. Exhibit A, the bridal-industrial complex.
You, S., are likely feeling insecure because you’re harboring dreams of where you want this relationship to go, when in fact there’s a whole lot of reality clearing its throat to be heard. You’re hoping. He’s doubting.
You’re both fighting. His divorce is escalating.
Please just wipe out whatever you’ve imagined happening, and force yourself to think clearly about what is happening.
Specifically: Do you get along, in most cases, without much effort? Do you like him as-is? If you weren’t physically attracted to each other, would you choose each other as friends? Do you talk easily? Do you seek each other out equally? Can you hit your normal highs and lows without fear of scaring him off?
And no sanity list is complete without these: Are you strong enough to say out loud to him, “If you don’t think we should be together, then why don’t you break up with me?” Don’t be soap-operatic, just matter-of-fact.
And, if this relationship ends, can you envision yourself crying it out and then carrying on?
The first set of questions is about the way you get along with him.
The second is about the way you get along with you. Unless you get yeses on both sides, the white picket fence is a trap.
Meanwhile, a divorce is dramatic when the feelings are still raw; they’re not all like that. Those raw feelings in his ongoing divorce are already telling you to slow down, calm down, pace yourself, and think. Now I’m saying it too.
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