My boyfriend of three and a half years told me a few weeks ago that he was not ready to move in together. I said, “Good, we’re still on the same page. Good thing we’re not planning on moving in together until next year.” But he’s worried he won’t be able to turn the corner in 14 months and be ready.
He tends to have a breakdown every July. He gets very upset, cries, holds my hand, and tells me he doesn’t want to break up, but that he is scared of the doubts he’s having. I’ve tried to comfort him, telling him that it’s normal to have doubts now and then but, if he still wants to be with me, we just have to talk to each other and work through things. About a month after these freak-outs, he’s okay again.
He’s a year younger than me and was raised quite catholic: moving in together is a much bigger deal to him than it is to me, plus there are a lot of big life changes for him coming up; big, scary risks to take in his career and with our relationship. I don’t want to put too much pressure on him (because we seriously have so much time to deal with this) and I don’t want to punish him for being honest with me about his feelings (that took a lot of guts), but he hasn’t said “I love you” since then and it’s starting to worry and frustrate me.
I asked him why and he said he still cares about me a lot but that he scared himself a few steps back.
What’s my move here? It does not feel so great telling him that *I* love him and not hearing it back after three years of love and friendship.
I Can’t Put His Big-Boy-Pants On For Him
Dear I Can’t Put His Big-Boy-Pants On For Him,
It’s been three and a half years. You’ve shared love and friendship but he’s a guy that comes with baggage. A lot of baggage. He’s a year younger but emotionally there might be a larger gap than that. You’ve put his needs before yours countless times and worked with him through a ton of freak outs. Now you’re reaching your limit and want to know what move you can make that lets him know you’re not trying to push him but you can’t push your own needs aside. Did I catch it all?
Spider-Man couldn’t make a more intricate web to get caught in. I want to applaud you, first and foremost, for how patient you’ve been with him. The kind of time and effort you’ve put into his needs, recognizing that emotionally he’s trying to pull himself up from a different level than you is a surefire sign that you deeply care about him. A lot of people don’t have that kind of patience or perspective. They cut and run when things get hard and don’t recognize that when they say a relationship takes work, it means that a relationship takes WORK.
I also applaud you for understanding you’ve got limits you’re working with. There will be times in a relationship when one partner has to be more the caregiver and the other is in need of the care. But it shouldn’t always be the same person in the same role. You have to both be able to give and take. It sounds like you’ve done A LOT of giving and you’re sensing you’ll have to give A LOT more in the next couple of years. The question I have for you is this: How much left can you give before you’ve given all of yourself?
It’s an oddly worded question. Being strong all the time can start as a great feeling but can get really draining really fast. You’re with him because you’re looking for a partner and not a child. You can’t force him to grow. You also can’t sacrifice yourself while you wait for him to grow. There’s nothing gained there.
There comes a point where you’ve given all that you can and need to ask yourself what you’re getting in return. Is he able to be a partner or are you, essentially, playing big sister? You can’t force someone to be ready. You can’t make them get ready faster than they’re capable of. You can’t hope that they’ll someday be the person you need them to be while you give up months, even years, of your own life and happiness to that hope. Our tomorrows aren’t guaranteed, to quote one of my favorite Oklahomans, and we have to make sure we’re getting the most out of our lives today.
I think a frank discussion with him is in order. You have to sit him down and tell him what your needs are. You have to tell him that you can’t keep going through his regularly scheduled freakouts anymore. That’s not healthy, that’s enabling. You have to talk with him and decide together what you’re both able to give to each other now and what you both need now. If he’s too scared, if he’s so scared that he’s unwilling to move forward, then you have to take that for what it is: you’re ready, he’s not, and there is a point where you can’t wait any longer.
Have you reached that point? That’s up to you. The fact you’re writing in to me might be a sign that you’re pretty darn close. And while it may hurt to shut the door on the relationship for now, it also might be what you need to do to take care of yourself for a change.
My spider-sense is tingling,
[Got a Dude itch you just can’t scratch? Sick of trying to come up with a not-totally-crazy-girl way to bring it up to your guy friends and get their take on things? Totally over over-analyzing the cryptic messages he leave on your Facebook Wall? We got your back, girlfriend. Send your question over to askthedude [at] collegecandy [dot] com. The Dude won’t sugarcoat it, beat around the bush, or any other weird cliche that means lie to you. Like a nice, juicy hot dog, he’ll be 100% real beef, 100% of the time. So bring. it. on.]