Dear Dana is a bi-weekly advice column for humans who engage in romantic relationships. Please send your dilemmas, issues, conundrums, assumptions, conflicts, anxieties, worriments, obstacles, complications, predicaments, queries, questions, and any other synonyms for “problems” to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m currently in a long distance relationship of four years. Although I care very much about my partner, I’m worried we don’t have a future together.
We disagree on important aspects of what we want from a relationship. I want children (someday) and my partner doesn’t. That alone should be the end of it, but we keep ignoring the problem. Ideally, I want us to agree that this makes us incompatible rather than me needing to end the relationship because it’s “in our best interest.” That to me sounds fake, and what gives me the right to decide what’s best for her, but I can’t see another solution.
My partner wants to get married, but I don’t see the point. Her version of marriage is that it’s a big church wedding but then nothing changes. She doesn’t want to change her last name so we’d just be cohabiting with each other as we’d be able to do without a wedding. For me, her changing her last name is a sign of commitment and the first step toward us being our own family. I don’t understand why you’d want a traditional church wedding but not do it properly.
Then there’s the problem of location. I think the best place to be is my home town (better healthcare, lower crime rate, less inequality, etc.) but my partner is reluctant to move away from her friends and family.
I’ve explained my concerns to her but it hasn’t helped; she just says that she doesn’t know. Every time we start to talk about this my partner starts to cry and tells me that she loves me. I hate to see her upset so we change the topic of conversation. Is there a way I can help her realize that we’d both be unhappy with this future? What’s the best way to deal with this situation?
It’s March, spring is (technically) here, the snow, though still falling, will melt soon. Soon, flowers will bloom, the sun will warm our faces again, we’ll be able to walk outside without everything hurting, and we all know what this means: cuffing season has come to an end. Break up season is upon us!
I received a whole handful of emails this very week from people agonizing over ending their relationships. I’ll handle these questions on a case-by-case basis because, like all unhappy families, each unhappy relationship is unhappy in its own way. And yet, we don’t want to break up with our partners. We want things to, somehow, work out.
Let’s take your email point-by-point.
1) She doesn’t want kids and you do. You’re right in thinking this is a deal breaker. I believe that we should trust people when they tell us they don’t want kids. I hate the argument, “Oh, you’ll want them someday” because it’s so patronizing. We shouldn’t assume that wanting kids is a default position that applies to all adults. That being said, I do know some people who spent years saying that they never, ever, ever want to have children who right now, at this moment, wait for it, have children. We’re all entitled to change our minds, but you can only proceed with the information you currently know to be true: You want kids and she doesn’t. So you guys should break up.
2) She wants to get married and you don’t. She also wants to keep her name when she gets married and you want her to take your name when you get married, which you also don’t want to do. So – there’s a lot here. If you don’t want to get married you shouldn’t get married. People get to want what they want and not want what they don’t want. But, also, please really examine your insistence that, at this made up wedding you don’t want, she take your last name. Getting married and keeping your own last names doesn’t invalidate your marriage. The commitment is still there, the legal protections are still there, the sense that you are now a family instead of simple romantic partners is still there. You’re putting a lot of significance on the outward sign of ownership she would agree to by taking your name. Do you know that she already has a name? One she was born with? Do you know how hard it is to change your name? Logistically, emotionally, spiritually? Are you willing to change your name? If not, why not? Why would you require her to do something that you aren’t willing to do? Just because she has ovaries and ovaries don’t get to own their names? Really examine why you’re so set on her behaving in a “traditional” manner at this wedding WHICH YOU ALSO DO NOT WANT. Fighting about the way in which you won’t get married is like fighting about what color a unicorn should be — it’s not real, so why are we talking about it? But, over all, she wants to get married and you don’t. So you guys should break up.
3) You both want to live in different cities. So you guys should break up.
These are three of the most fundamental decisions a person can make when shaping their adult life. Where should I live? Do I want to get married? Do I want to have children? And you guys disagree on all three. So you guys should break up.
But you already know that you guys should break up. It’s your partner who isn’t sold on the idea, so you want my help in finding out how to convince her. But, you don’t need to convince her. One of the reasons that so many songs and movies and books are focused on break ups is because they are unilateral – you don’t need consent to break up. You just need to do it and then she needs to get over it, which she’ll do by writing a song or a movie or a book.
I know it would be better for you if she did agree. You’d feel less guilty, less like you’re breaking the heart of someone that you love. But she’s not going to do that. And you need to reframe how you’re thinking about breaking up with her. It’s not you deciding what’s best for her, but instead you deciding what’s best for you. Which is breaking up. When weighing what’s more important, her happiness or yours, you have to pick yours. If you guys were married, or had a child together, I wouldn’t be saying that, but the thing about dating is that you get to, when things get tough, pick yourself. The act of getting married, or making a long-term promise to someone, is the act of promising not to choose yourself. But you still get to choose yourself and you really, really should.
Do you know that being single is better than being in a shitty relationship? That being alone is better than fighting with someone? That having space in your life to rediscover yourself is better than trying to conform your will to someone else’s? Do you know that you’ll be doing your partner a favor by letting her go? You’ll be freeing her up to meet a person who lives where she wants to live, who doesn’t want children, who doesn’t want to get married, who doesn’t care if she keeps her own last name. And you’ll be allowing yourself to find a partner who shares your values as well.
You break up like this: Make sure you can look her in the eyes, even if it’s just over a video chat. Tell her why you’re breaking up with her – there are fundamental things you want in life that she doesn’t, and the other way around. You don’t want to keep on torturing each other. You don’t want to maintain your present pain in order to avoid a future.
Don’t wait for her to agree. Tell her what is. You guys love each other, you’ve had a great run, but it’s come to a close, the way most relationships do. You’re doing the kindest thing you can think of, for both of you, by letting this relationship go. You wish her light and happiness and a big church wedding with a person who really, really wants to be in that church with her. You cherish the time you’ve gotten to spend with her. You learned so much by being with her. But a good past does not absolve either a shitty present or a looming, shittier future. Let it go and let yourselves move on. And if she disagrees, move on without her.
Dana Norris once went on 71 internet dates, many of which you may read about here. She is the founder of Story Club and editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine. She has been featured in McSweeney’s, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Tampa Review and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. You may find her on Twitter at @dananorris.