I'm a 26-year-old American woman living in France. I've been in love with a "perfect on paper" Turkish man (who's 31) for three years. We met in the U.S. shortly before I graduated from college, while he was working abroad. We stayed together somewhat happily through moving to different cities five times, several changes in jobs and varying distances. We've been living in the same city for a year.
I say somewhat happily because I've always felt as though he loved me, but he's always kept me at an arm's distance. I was the first to say "I love you" and waited a year for him to say the same. I asked to move in together, he refused. The excuse? His very tightknit, traditional family. He knows that they expect him to marry a woman of the same race, religion and nationality as theirs. I lose on all three counts.
It's like he lives two separate lives, the one he shares with his family and the one he shares with me. They have no idea that I exist, which bothers me because everyone in my life (family, friends) are aware of my relationship with him. He's always said that he couldn't introduce anyone to his family that he wasn't sure he was going to marry. Culturally, this was unusual for me as I've never made the habit of presenting fiancés to my parents.
I stewed over his reluctance for a long time, bouncing between feeling like he was right, it was too soon to get engaged, and feeling unloved and angry about his lack of availability. We've talked about the issue at length. He's always given me just enough to convince me to give him more time. I told him a few months ago that I was tired of feeling like a dirty little secret and I was ready to leave him. He shocked me with his response. He said he loved me deeply, wanted to introduce me to his family, get married and have children. I was elated and told my family and friends that they could stop worrying, he was ready to tell the people he loves that he loves me. We set up a date for the "big reveal." Quelle surprise, the date came and went. We set up other dates, none of which so far have been kept for various reasons. I confronted him again, saying that the resentment I was building up toward him was getting to be too much. He said he needed more time to think about how he was going to tell his family, he was too scared of them rejecting him for not respecting their wishes for him. He's afraid that they'll never accept blending their family. He doesn't know how long it will take but he "can't live without me."
I don't know what to do. Now that I've opened myself up to the idea of being his wife and the mother of our children, I'm reluctant to let it all go. Other than the giant elephant in the room, I love him and feel that what we have together (compatible life goals, open communication, a great sex life, deliriously happy in each other's company) is something that I'm afraid of not finding again. Should I give it more time or cut my losses?
Dirty Little Secret
Dear Little Secret,
I am going to speak as though I know everything about this situation although I have never met you or this man or his family. I feel certain what you should do, so I'm just going to say it.
Break up with him and get on with your life. Date other men. Travel and work. Enjoy France.
When you break up with him, he will plead with you. He will make promises. He will buy you things. He will do and say whatever is necessary to keep you in his orbit.
As long as you stay with him, he will continue to do as he is doing. He will tell you things that turn out not to be true. He will say that things are going to happen that do not happen. When you question these phenomena, he will make you feel that you have misunderstood the situation. And he will be right. If you expect him to do what he says he's going to do then you do misunderstand the situation. Your logic and expectations are those of a modern American woman. He is a traditional Turkish man. You are farther apart culturally than you realize. It's not that he's a bad man. He just operates in a different universe.
In that universe, you are at a distinct disadvantage. It does not make sense for you to willingly join that universe. It's unfortunate that you're in love with him, but love does not conquer all. Culture conquers more.
He has many incentives to keep the relationship as it is. As long as you are willing to be his secret girlfriend, you are no threat. You have no power over him. He can live a second life. He could even get married to someone else and expect you to remain in your role.
But still, you are better off as his girlfriend than as his wife.
If he were to marry you and take you into his family then you would really be in trouble. You would cease to be an independent woman. You would become his wife, that is, the woman who belongs to him and the family, who has pledged to serve him and his family, who owes her life to him and to his family. Expressions of independence would not be viewed as charming evidence of your interesting nature; they would be viewed as disobedience.
You would not like it there.
We Americans with our multicultural fantasies! We try to see the world as it is, but in our little elementary-school-indoctrinated hearts, we truly believe that once people see us for the charming and admirable people we are, they will adjust their outdated cultural expectations to make room for us in their lives. Aren't we wonderful? And if they don't adjust, we can always bomb them!
For your own good, assume the worst: What you see is what you get. What he seems to be he is. He's not going to change. His family is not going to change. He holds all the cards. You can only lose.
There will be theatrical remonstrances and declarations of eternal passion, but the truth is clear.
He can live without you. You can live without him. That would be best for everyone.
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