My partner and I met more than a decade ago when I was in my late 20s and he was in his 30s. He was my second boyfriend but, although we shared interests and tastes, I didn’t find him attractive. The sex, however, was great, even though he was a virgin and I had only had one experience. We dated for a while, but he was adamant that he didn’t want children so I was cross and grumpy until he broke it off; I wasn’t mature enough to end it myself. Every year after that, he sent an email on my birthday and, finally, after 10 years of not having a date with anyone else, I suggested we meet up and try again. I am now (mostly) resigned to not having children and would prefer to have someone in my life.
We have now been dating for two years and, although we both have our own places, we meet every weekend. The sex is still excellent. We are at it morning and night and in the afternoon also. However, sometimes I think that is all we really have. He doesn’t have any hobbies or interests; he likes to wander around local towns or cities every weekend. He takes several holidays each year to different European cities. I prefer to do things: I have lots of hobbies and like taking classes. I have recently set up my own business. On holiday, I like to be alone in empty spaces. I get irritated when he is with me 24/7, so we no longer go on holiday together. I often get irritated with his mannerisms and lack of decisiveness, but I am getting better at being patient and hiding the irritation. Luckily, he doesn’t usually notice and I think that being with him has helped me to be a much nicer person.
We have discussed eventually getting married and moving in together, but that doesn’t look likely to happen soon. I am determined to move to the coast as it has been a long-held dream of mine and, although he is happy to get a place on the coast with me, he is also happy in his job and talks about retiring in six years.
I say I love him, but usually after sex, when I feel that I do. Neither of our families say “I love you” and I want to be the type of person who does. He always replies that he loves me too, and I know it’s true by all the little things he does. He is financially very stable and together we would be financially well off and have each other’s company as we grow older. However, sometimes I wonder if I am just settling, or using him, or if this is the way normal relationships work.
What I didn’t get any sense of at all, and what I would have liked to know more about, is what you are like in relationships with friends and family. You talk about your boyfriend in an odd, almost detached way.
I talked to the sex and relationship therapist Lorraine McGinlay (cosrt.org.uk) about your letter. She wondered whether any of your dissatisfaction (of which there was plenty) was being communicated to your boyfriend? “Are they deal breakers? You need to ask yourself, ‘Am I able to tolerate this for the rest of my life and be fair to both of us?’ Are you afraid to leave because you have not found anything better?”
I really do believe you need to think very carefully about this. From the way you write about your relationship, it sounds as if your boyfriend already irritates you a lot. Whether this is because there is nothing else to tell me about it, or that is how you have chosen to present it, I don’t know. McGinlay wonders. “Outside of the sex, what is there?”
It is only the sex part of the relationship that you describe as really good, and while that is excellent, I do wonder if it will be enough to compensate for the other things you seem to lack. (Next week’s problem is from a reader who has a wonderful relationship but doesn’t have sex, so you may be interested to read that for some perspective.)
Your lament of wanting to be “the sort of person who says I love you” made me wonder if you felt you had missed out on a great, passionate relationship and how realistic that was.
While I totally understand women, and men, not wanting children, your aside that you had “mostly” resigned yourself to not having them made me wonder if this is a time bomb waiting to go off in your relationship.
McGinlay wants you to think about the following: “Are you happy with yourself. If not, then are you putting an undue burden on your partner to make you happy? What does the relationship give you outside of sex and money? Do you have relationship idylls – a prerequisite of what a partner should be like, and how far away is your boyfriend from those? It is not about if he is good enough, but if he is right for you.”
Staying in a relationship that’s not right for you will eventually make you bitter and angry – two emotions that you really want to avoid. The word that kept coming back to McGinlay was “resentment”. She says, “You’re already feeling it. I can’t see it getting better without couples therapy. Is this better than being on your own? You’re already sort of single. Where is the relationship?”
Your problems solved
Contact Annalisa Barbieri, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.