I recently ended a year long relationship with a great guy, except for the fact that he never wanted to get married. Looking back, I was the one who had to define the relationship AND the one to say I love you first. We got along really well, had so many fun experiences together, the same sense of humor, values, etc. he just never could see himself getting married. He was a few years older than me and at the age where all his friends were starting to settle down. He was very focused on his business and buying a home, but never talked about my inclusion in any of that. In the end, he was very cold, saying that he actually knew for awhile we did not have a future together. How could someone say they love you, have an amazing relationship with you, but not see a future with you?
The reason someone can love you, have an amazing relationship with you, but not see a future with you is because everyone’s idea for their future just isn’t the same.
Where we get ourselves confused is believing that because we’re in love they’re supposed to be.
Maybe you believe that once we’ve grown up we confirm this by settling down with a person, and that we do that by moving into a home and getting married and hopefully by having kids.
Maybe you believe that two people who share the same values would ultimately be stepping into their future in the same way, that those values would come together to create the same vision for their life.
In other words, if you both value loyalty and companionship, it’s easy to assume that to fulfill those values one would get married.
Only that’s just not true. That’s not how everyone chooses to do it.
Maybe you believe that if a man really did love you and really did enjoy you and really did feel that your relationship was that amazing then he would bend to your vision. He would give in to his resistance and overcome his reluctance toward marriage simply because marriage is that important to you.
Aren’t we fed this idea? That if we really are that important to someone then they should be willing to stretch for us, cave for us, change for us?
I mean, that’s what we expect love to do to others, right? Make them do things they never would have done and be people they otherwise never would have been.
In your case, the logic would be that if your ex loved you enough, he would see a future with you. And not just any future. Not just his vision of what the future should look like. But your vision of what your future should look like.
What this suggests is, that if your ex loved you enough, he would marry you precisely because that’s what you want in your future. You want marriage. Which means, he’d have to be willing to compromise on his grand vision to give you what you’ve always pictured in yours.
And again, we expect this because that’s what we expect of love. That we’d do anything to keep it. That love itself makes it so we are not only willing to do anything but want to do anything, anything that looks like dedication and allows us to hold on to each other.
Where it gets tricky is, we seem to expect our significant other to be the one who is emboldened by love in this way—who will stretch and cave and change for us—but rarely do we hold those same exact standards for ourselves.
So then, what happens if our partner doesn’t bend to our expectations? Well, we wind up feeling slighted, thinking that we’re suddenly not good enough or that our partner wasn’t actually as committed to us as they said they were.
These conclusions are nothing other than storylines though and they’re stories that leave us feeling unnecessarily bitter, blindsided, and broken. They leave us harping over questions like yours. Questions like: If my ex loved me and enjoyed me so much, how could he be unwilling to bend for me?
The question you’re not asking though is, if you love and enjoy your ex so much, so much that you would even think about marrying him, how come you won’t bend for him?
How come you won’t let go of this vision you have for your future where you have to be married to simply be with the man you love? I mean, you don’t need to be married to be committed to one another, right?
I imagine for you this option is unfathomable, and for me it is a nonnegotiable too. Marriage is just that important to me. It’s the direction I’ve always been headed in. And I’m not sure that it’s always why it’s important that’s so important, only that it is.
You see, I’m of the opinion that we each need—or maybe even deserve—something that can’t be touched, challenged, that can’t be poked and prodded, and treated as if it were conditional. We each owe it to ourselves even to have something that matters to us that doesn’t need to be explained away. It just is. Period. We each should be allowed this, should be allowed to have a vision we are in pursuit of simply because we believe that vision will not necessarily make us happy or complete so much as it will feel special.
That’s what marriage is to me.
It’s a special way to show my loyalty. It’s a special way to foster companionship. It’s a special way to manifest my values.
You see, it’s not that it’s a value itself. Marriage is the way I am choosing to manifest those values—that loyalty and companionship. And this, right here, is where I believe our thinking often falls short.
We identify values that we share with our partner and think: Finally! Finally! This is a match! We want the same things in life! We care for the same things in life!
But that’s only Step 1. Do our values match?
Step 2 is really the determining factor. It’s the factor whereby two people who sincerely love each other might find themselves having to inevitably split ways. It’s the factor that asks whether we wish to manifest our shared values in the same way.
Is marriage, for example, your way of living out your loyalty or is your pledge of commitment alone enough to do that? Is marriage the dynamic where you feel most comfortable cultivating a deep and intimate companionship or is cohabitation your ideal scenario?
It’s questions like these that determine whether you and your partner can see not a future together but the same future together. These are the questions that ask you to be specific, that ask you to get real with yourself.
And trust me, I understand that it’s not always easy having to get real with yourself like this. It’s not always comfortable.
For me, facing the details of my own boyfriend’s life—that is, facing our differences—is uncomfortable for the very reason that I love him more than I have ever loved any man and, not only want a life with him, but know we could have a fulfilling life together. What’s uncomfortable then is knowing this and still not knowing if love is enough to help me overcome the details in his life that conflict with the future I’ve always envisioned for myself.
Let me explain.
I live in New York and my boyfriend lives in Louisiana. He grew up in the small town he lives in today, whereas I grew up in Miami and have lived in five major cities. The reality is, my wellbeing almost depends on it. And while he would love to start over with me, what keeps him there is his two children.
The fact is, I never, ever saw children or a small town in my future and initially those details of his life challenged me at the core. I came into this relationship with a lot of absolutes—like, I would absolutely not be with someone with children; I would absolutely never move to a small town; I would absolutely not talk about my future with someone who had never graduated from college; I would absolutely not marry someone with tattoos.
Of course, these absolutes were, arguably, total insanity (the last one especially) but they were born out of my comfort zone, out of all I know, and it’s been the vision I have for myself, in large part because that vision is what I’ve seen unfold all around me in life. It’s what I’ve grown up in and that’s made me happy. To be totally upfront, I think it takes a brave and independent person to rock the boat and challenge an equation for happiness that’s already proven to work in their favor.
My boyfriend, however, doesn’t fit my equation. The thing is, he does fulfill and exceed every dream and deep need I’ve ever had for a partner emotionally, romantically, sexually, and even ideologically. In other words, when I looked at his life, I didn’t see what I was looking for and I certainly didn’t see myself in his world but, if I closed my eyes, I felt everything I had ever needed for myself.
The scary part, the part that can keep you up crying at night if you dwell too much and let it, is that we can’t go through life with our eyes closed even if it feels right.
I’ll probably never forget the moment when practicality first tempted me to bolt. We were two weeks into our relationship and already confidently in love. The feelings were unshakeable. Unquestionable. They were impossible to ignore. Impossible to reject. It should have been the perfect moment and yet, as I shared the news with friends and family, the questions began pouring in.
Do you even know where Louisiana is?
Do you actually believe you’ll ever be able to move there?
If New York makes you happy, how could a small town do the same?
The questions terrified me because the answers seemed obvious, incontestable, and yet that made me question who I believed myself to be and the woman others know me as, that is, a woman who prioritizes love over everything, who knows that without it there is little life in me.
After all the questioning, I felt a sort of disbelief with myself. A sort of disgust. How could I encourage others to fear less and love greater if I wound up valuing some geographical life more than the emotional? How could I have worked so long at removing myself from the relationships that left me depressed and lonely, only to shut down around the first relationship that had me feeling alive and seen?
I knew in that moment that pursuing this relationship could present me with choices that would force me into seeing what I was really all about, what I was really willing to do for love. Knowing this, knowing that eventually this love I’m in could land me at a crossroads where I’m urged into seeing myself in a light that inevitably makes me feel ashamed of myself still scares me some. But something within me wants to go there, wants to put my integrity on the line if that might bring me closer to not only a life with my boyfriend but myself in the end.
Listen, I don’t know what will happen. That’s just the nature of relationships, right? We want to know, but we can’t. We can’t ever be sure. What I can tell you is that as my relationship has progressed I have been surprising myself. Those absolutes that I came in with, I’ve found that because it’s him, I’m willing to let them go. I’m willing to give them up. And I think this is an example of what we expect love to do to us, right? That it will allow us to bend for the people we love. And it’s true, I have been able to bend because I love not only this man that much but I love who we are as a couple.
The thing that so few of us will attest to, however, is the emotions that come with this bending. For me, the more I bend, the more I experience the sudden anxiety of snapping. The creeping voice that asks what if you give in to everything, does that mean you’ve given yourself away? Does that mean you’ve given up? Does it mean you’ve given up on that vision, on that element that always felt so special to you?
Sure, maybe it’s not the values themselves but something like the way you always dreamt of manifesting those values. For you, this might be marriage and, for me, my location, the place I raise a family and call home. These can sound like superficial markers of a life, like trite details that should be overlooked for love, but what if they feel like markers you are meant to live by? How can you just explain that away? What if these markers are the blueprint by which you access your livelihood, by which you manifest your identity? Isn’t that important? Isn’t that worth standing firm on and clinging to?
The truth is, I’m not convinced of the answer yet. But I think so.
I think there’s a certain part of ourselves, a certain vision, that is more important than we even wish to admit. Because admitting that vision at once holds us accountable to it and, in doing so, calls all the other visions that are offered to us into question, into doubt.
That’s why being upfront about the vision we have for our future can be so uncomfortable. Because our vision is what propels us and limits us. It’s what sets us off on our own unique path and keeps us from running off course and pursuing the dreams of others.
And yes, while the fantasy may very well be that our love for a person will exonerate us from holding on to seemingly superficial markers and visions and absolutes—like where we live and whether we marry or have children—I have this feeling (a feeling that I almost wish I didn’t have!) that those that fall for this fantasy are the ones that either end up trapped or divorced.
I have a feeling this is how couples wind up resentful because one part of the pair wakes up and realizes they’ve done everything—they’ve bent themselves around every expectation—just to be with the person they love and in doing so prioritized their love for another over the love they should have always advocated for themselves.
As much as you don’t want to wake up and be this person, you also don’t want to be the reason someone wakes up and notices they’ve lost themselves in the effort to please and keep you.
My advice is, settle down with someone who already wants to grow in the same direction as you and make sure you know what that direction looks like by asking specific, albeit uncomfortable, questions. Having a clear picture as to what you have to have for yourself and your future and what another person needs for theirs isn’t supposed to isolate you or leave you estranged and single, it’s supposed to keep you sane and intentional. This sort of clarity is what keeps you from committing yourself to an uncomplimentary partnership that’s racked with resistance, animosity, and unnecessary compromise and guilt.
My advice is, ask people what they want for themselves and let them be entitled to that vision. Don’t interfere with the direction of their lives or your own by assuming that your love for them and their love for you can influence them to become someone they otherwise had no intention of being.
I wish I could give you an exact answer as to why your ex didn’t see a future with you but, of course, without talking to him I have no way of being sure. Heck, he may not even be sure. But I am willing to bet on the chances that he did see a future with you, at some point. Perhaps you wanted that future to happen all too quickly for him and he just couldn’t get there fast enough. That’s exactly why people believe love comes down to timing. But maybe you also spoke up about your future in a way that made it blatantly clear that you each had two different visions for your life and that those visions would never match up. That doesn’t make you inferior or undesirable, it just makes you not right for him in the long run. Respect him for realizing that now.
And while I can’t predict my own future, I can promise you that if I ever have to part ways from my boyfriend that parting won’t be because I didn’t see a future with him because I can and I do. It will be because we just couldn’t agree on how we breathe life into that future together.
The reality is, sometimes we lose each other not for a lack of love but because we are too afraid of what it will take for us to hold on, of what we would have to give up about ourselves. Sometimes we let go not because we can’t see ourselves together but because what we see just doesn’t look the same. Sometimes we let go because we love each other, but we are realistic.
Originally published on https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/advice-column-how-to-love-someone-and-not-see-a-future_us
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