My boyfriend's a dreamer

I'm trying to keep my feet on the ground but he's up in the air

By Cary Tennis
Published March 29, 2011 12:29AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I've been reading your column for quite a while, but I have yet to see any problem similar to mine. I'll get right to the point. I'm in love with a dreamer. I like to dream, too, but I also like to face facts. Neither of us are getting any younger. He's 57, I'm 55. We have known each other for over 40 years.

We dated as teens, but he was a bad boy then. To make a long story short, he went to jail, and I met and married his older half-brother. It was a huge mistake on my part. My marriage only lasted nine years. We didn't keep in touch. When he got out, he married and his lasted 25 years before it also fell apart. Last year he found me through Facebook, and asked me out, and we have been together ever since.

Before I started dating him again, I had been alone for over 10 years. I was quite used to taking care of myself and I think I'm pretty comfortable in my own skin. Other than the time he was in jail, he has never been alone, and seems to be quite uncomfortable with the very idea. He says he wants to marry me, move to a warmer climate, and get a fresh start. That is his dream, but it's not mine. I would love to spend the rest of our lives together, and I would marry him, but I don't want to move.

I am in my "happy" place now.

The reality is that we are both financially unstable. Here I have a mortgage that I can barely afford, a job I dislike, and four old cats that depend on me. I also have many family members and grandchildren nearby that I love and would miss terribly. He has an apartment that is tied to his job as head of maintenance, which he has had for 20 years. He has alienated most of his family members and would not miss them at all.

He's also allergic to cats, although he has one that I know he loves. There is room in my house and my life for him and his cat. He would rather I pick two of my cats and move in with him. His job is hard as he is on call 24/7, but he can't work there unless he lives there. His health is not good, but then neither is mine. So now what? He wants me to make a decision on our future, but I just can't. If I sold my house today, I would be lucky if I came away with $5,000 after all was said and done. At our ages and abilities, job prospects in a new state would be dismal. He says he doesn't care what I do with my house, sell it, rent it or give it away, he's not interested in sharing it with me. So here we are, deadlocked. I don't have a crystal ball, Cary, do you?

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Dear Between,

If you don't want to move, don't move.

If he wants you to decide, go ahead and decide. Your decision is pretty easy. You're not the one who's desperate for a change. You're basically fine. There are things you can work on, but you're safe where you are. You have family and friends. You have a house and a job. It's true that you don't like your job but we'll get to that in a minute. It would not be wise to quit your job without another one lined up.

If he's restless and does not like living alone there may be many reasons for that. A divorce after 25 years is a big deal. It would be normal for him to face difficulties adjusting. It may be that he has trouble sitting with his own thoughts. It may be that isolation leads to destructive behavior. It may also be that much domestic labor that used to be performed for him is no longer being performed. So his standard of living has gone down.

Since his apartment is tied to his job, it makes sense for him to keep his apartment. If he's unhappy in his apartment, there may be many things he can do to make living there better. If he is allergic to cats, then keeping a cat is not wise. He might be happier if he gave you the cat and had his apartment thoroughly cleaned. He could visit his cat at your house. And when you want to get away from all the cats, you could go to his place.

I say consolidate where possible, but maintain your separate residences. Each of you has ample reason to keep the place you have. This is no time to make changes and take risks. Just stay put and try to improve your lives.

Here is one way you can begin to make changes. Make a list of the things you are most unhappy about in your life. Here, why don't you do that now? Just make a list of the things in your life you are most unhappy about, and pick the one thing you would most like to change. I wonder what that would be. Would it be your job situation? Or perhaps your unstable finances? Your mortgage? The condition of your house? The unresolved questions with your partner?

Look at the things that are bothering you the most, and ask which ones you can change today, or this week. You may not like your job, but it takes time to change jobs. However, there may be certain aspects of your job that you can change, like your environment -- your regular chair, vehicle or work area -- as well as your commute, what you eat while at work, whom you eat with and the quality of your relationships with other people at work.

Your mortgage is another thing that would take time and effort to change. But you may be able to improve your house with paint or a new gardening project, so that while you are in it you are happier. Look for tangible changes that are relatively easy and inexpensive.

If your health is bad, you might take some simple steps to start improving it. You could exercise with an exercise group, or begin walking regularly, and try eating some new foods that make you feel a little better, and get a checkup to see if your nutrition is adequate and if any medications you are taking can be altered to make you feel better.

These are the kinds of changes I suggest you make. They are incremental changes that may not bring immediate rewards, but will slowly improve the quality of your life.

In making small changes, we also learn to pay attention to more subtle things, and this in itself can be an improvement.

These are things you can do.

For the time being, change what you can change, and let the rest be.

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Cary Tennis

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