I am 28 and my boyfriend is 33. We have been together for 6 years, and have lived together the entire time. We share a mutual trust of each other, and have never had any issues in that area. Both of us have traveled for business in the past, but he travels more than I do, sometimes for a few weeks at a time. We call or leave a message for each other every day, and that seems to work out well for us. We do not have any children, but we have several animals and pets that are considered mostly mine-although he will happily help if I ask him to.
Two years ago after renting a couple of different houses together, we decided to buy some land and build a house in the country and a farm. We designed the home, and worked very hard together on this project. We did have contractors, but we also did a lot of work ourselves. Our decorating styles are similar, so many things worked out very well. We are both proud of what we built together, although I really did not contribute anything financially to the project, as I do not have any savings. My boyfriend and his father paid for the house and the land. When I was 16 I left home due to a physically abusive father and past sexual abuse from my only sibling-a brother who was 3 years older. My mother was very manipulative and emotionally abusive. I come from a family that always had money. We belonged to a private country club, had an in ground pool in the backyard, and my father drove a brand new Porsche. When I left home I stayed in school, and even finished University, but I was very poor. I have always worked since I was 13, but with full time school I couldn't work during the day, so I was also on welfare. I did still manage to work 5-6 nights a week. It was exhausting, and even though I sometimes went without any food for several days at a time, I had the strength to get through. I did receive some counseling from a social worker, and a psychologist, which I also found to be helpful. As a result of all that, I was unable to save money, although I have a good professional job, and have always done well in any position that I have held. After years of trying to have some kind of good relationship with my parents, I gave up on them and stopped speaking to them about 6 years ago when I realized they were never going to change.
My boyfriend is not an emotional person. I have only seen him cry twice, and the first time he asked me to leave the room. He does not like holding hands or demonstrating affection in public. His father is also very non-emotional, so I can see where he gets it. He is also an only child that was adopted shortly after birth, and has no plans to seek out his birth parents. Him and his father are close, and his mother (who he was very close to) passed away about 7-8 years ago of leukemia. He has always told me that it would take a while to marry someone, although this is not the first live-in serious relationship that either of us have had. I was willing to listen and be patient. This past weekend it was our 6-year anniversary. He has always said that birthdays and anniversaries are not big for him, but we have always given each other gifts for birthdays. We haven't done so well with anniversaries. Usually we do nothing or give each other a card. He is out of town right now, but I still hoped that he would call to say Happy Anniversary. He did not call, and cannot even remember which day is our anniversary. In the past I have had to remind him. Late last year around our 5th anniversary I was beginning to feel as though our next logical step would be marriage; I mean, we have lived together, and built a house together. I told him my feelings, and suggested to him that I wanted to have some kind of engagement/commitment to marriage by the end of this year. I didn't want to have to do that, but I realized that I have to look after my own feelings as well as his. He has not moved any closer to wanting to marry me. We have discussed this many times, and I still feel that it is important to wait until the end of the year. The fact that he forgot our anniversary this year really hurt. I told him that I was angry with him for forgetting, and that I really didn't want to speak to him until he figured out what he was going to do about forgetting. That was yesterday, and I have not heard anything from him yet.
Our sex life is not bad, although I wish we had sex more often. Right now we have it about every 2-4 weeks. We are able to communicate new things that we want to try. His biggest problem with not marrying me is that he says he doesn't love me, but can't see himself with anyone else either. I agree that if you don't love your partner, you shouldn't get married. I don't understand why he doesn't love me after all this time together. If we break up, I would be moving out, as I did not pay for the house or property. We do both pay a monthly mortgage to his father, as we still owe him money for some of the costs, but that has been the extent of my financial contribution. I do not believe that I should ask for half of everything, as I am quite capable of earning my own money, as I do now. My boyfriend would insist that I keep the car (we make equal payments on it), and I would take all the furniture that I had before we met (which isn't very nice stuff, but I would be able to furnish a one bedroom apartment). I would be able to keep my dogs at the farm, but they would be my responsibility. The problem is that there are also 2 cats, 2 pigs, an iguana, and 30 ducks, geese and guinea fowl that we have as well, and I cannot afford anything more than a one-bedroom apartment. It would be devastating to me to have to give up any of my animals. My boyfriend would help me move and set up the new apartment, and he would truly help me out if I needed it in the future.
Am I wasting my time on an emotionally unavailable person? My brain tells me yes, but I don't know if I can start all over again from scratch. We live an incredibly good life on a beautiful property, and it has taken a lot of hard work to get to this point in my life. I need an outside opinion.
Laura (28 year-old woman)
You are in an unusual position, and it may take some time and joint counseling with your boyfriend in order to figure out what the next step for you will be. Usually when there is a discrepancy between a person's actions and their words, the actions are a better indication of what the person's true feelings are. In your case, although your boyfriend says that he does not love you, he acts, in many respects, as if he does. Because of this it is important to discern what exactly it means to him to love someone: what does he imagine that it would feel like to love someone, how would he know that he loved someone, and how exactly does he feel about you.
There are many positive aspects of your relationship: it sounds like you two like, respect, and trust each other, work well together as a team, and have accomplished quite a lot together. You are also able to communicate openly and honestly together, and you feel certain that he would behave fairly and decently towards you if you were to break up. Because there is so much that is positive in the relationship, it seems worthwhile to try counseling before deciding to end the relationship.
There are clearly areas for improvement in your relationship as well: you wish that he would remember anniversaries and do something special to mark the occasion, and you wish that you had sex more often. While these issues are hurtful to you, they do not, on their own, mean that he does not love you. These are issues that could be addressed in joint counseling sessions. It may be that if you communicate clearly to him what you would like to see from him in these areas (and I give you great credit for recognizing that it is your responsibility to do so, rather than expecting him to be a mind reader), he may be willing and able to change. Also important would be exploring your desire for marriage and his feelings about marriage.
It does sound like your boyfriend has some difficulty with intimacy, and the problems you are experiencing are his way, perhaps, of keeping you at a distance from him emotionally. The question, if this is so, is whether he is at a point where he is ready to change. Overcoming these issues would require effort and introspection on his part. Counseling, if he truly desires it, could be very helpful to him in sorting out these issues. The fact that he is adopted probably plays a significant role and is worthy of being explored in counseling, but again, only if he is ready to do so. Efforts to push him to do something that he is not ready to pursue on his own will not help.
If he is unwilling or unable to change, then you will face the hard decision of whether you are content with things as they are or whether you need to leave. No one can make that decision for you. Your own instincts are your best guide: if you continue to feel dissatisfied, like you want more from him than he is able to give, then you will need to leave. You deserve to have a relationship in which you feel valued and loved and are treated with respect. You already have a demonstrated capacity to leave situations that are not healthy for you, and if it is necessary to leave and start over once again, you will be able to do so. You are a person with great survival instincts, strength, and inner resources and resilience, or you would not have been able to do all that you have done in your life. The prospect of leaving may seem overwhelming to you, but you have already figured out quite a bit of the logistics as to how it would work. It might not be the most appealing scenario, but it would be manageable.
Talk to him. See if he will go to counseling with you. Establish another time frame that you are willing to wait to see if there is any forward progress, and evaluate the situation at the end of that time period. Know that if you do need to leave, you will do it. You will treat yourself with the respect you deserve by choosing what is best for you in the long run, despite the hardship it might entail in the short term.
Susan Maroto, LCSW