I'm 30 years old, and I've been in love with the same girl my entire adult life. I'll try to keep this straightforward. We went to the same high school and began dating after graduation. We attended universities several states apart, but we were together de facto (dating other people but always coming back to each other). After spending a year in South America, I moved to Arizona to be with her while she attended graduate school. Later we moved to the Bay Area. We started talking about marriage.
She broke it off, feeling unhappy with our day-to-day life together, taken for granted, unloved. She moved to San Diego, and I was crushed. She was able to move on in healthy ways, see other people, and eventually get involved in another serious relationship. I was unable to do the same. I don't think there was a day for two years that she wasn't the first or last thing I thought about. The pain gradually subsided, but I still loved her. I became a ghost trying to nullify my conscious, individual existence. I let work consume me, and that was my life for four years. Then we got back together.
I really do apologize if you've made it this far, but I'm finally to the present. She's still in San Diego, and I'm still in the Bay Area. We've been back together long-distance for over a year. I've been out of work for most of that duration, and it has become a heavy strain on our relationship, to the point that breaking up again is being discussed. The thought of it is agonizing for both of us. I have not been serious about finding a job for any sustained period until recently, and it's letting her down. She's losing faith in her ability to count on me, and I don't blame her. Right now I'm trusting that I'll find work soon and it'll fix things. My real concern is in our sustainability. This has always been a pattern in our relationship. We get along swimmingly until some unresolved current, some sin of omission or character flaw on my part, comes to a head, and the ensuing discussion inevitably leads straight to the brink. All I want is for us to be together, but I'm plagued with the idea that she deserves far better than I can give and will one day leave me. Can this work? Should it?
Dear Gotta Believe,
The phrase "for better or for worse" sure cuts through a lot of bullshit. Marriage is not magic, but the commitment you make enables you to stop the endless and painful cycle of negotiation that characterizes some relationships. If you and she have not reached the point where you are willing to commit to being together, then I think some fundamental understanding between you is absent.
Perhaps at rock bottom you are in love with her and she is not in love with you. Perhaps you have to face that and move on.
The only way to know is to force it to a head. Put it to her point-blank: Is she willing to join forces with you, to face life together, to accept you as you are: your present earnings potential, social status, educational level, genetic makeup, spiritual state and all? Is she willing to completely accept you? If she is, it's the most glorious thing. You can make a life on that, a blood test and a rent receipt. And I would love to believe that she is only waiting for you to put it to her like that. But if she's not, she owes you the truth. If she just isn't ready to make a life with you, it's time to stop the negotiating and move on.
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Want more advice from Cary? Read yesterday's column.