When Feelings Aren't Quite Mutual

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When Feelings Aren't Quite Mutual Empty When Feelings Aren't Quite Mutual

Post by eselle28 on Wed Apr 01, 2015 1:53 pm

Sorry for the vague title. It's actually a pretty clear, specific problem: I really like my boyfriend a lot, while he is in love with me. When he dropped the l word over the weekend, I wasn't able to reciprocate and we had to have a talk about it. I don't think that my not feeling quite as strongly is a sign that I need to end the relationship or anything. I've only been in love two, maybe three, times in my life and can't really imagine having those feelings for someone who I've known for such a short period of time. I mean, we're just into the period where we're willing to change into sweatpants in front of each other, and the closest we've come to having conflict was me telling him to stop being such a backseat driver and him agreeing I was right and cutting it out. It just seems like it needs a little more time to grow? Anyway, I've explained most of this to him, and he seems basically okay with it. Has anyone had the experience of not being quite in the same place feelingswise and having it work out? Tips for getting through the next few months would be appreciated. I assume that being affectionate and affirming within the boundaries of what's true for me will be helpful - anything else?

Oh, and this is a slightly different issue, but he's also sort of in the making plans for the future phase. I enjoy the "Oh, hey if we both use our miles we can go on an awesome vacation together - should we go to Italy or Spain?" conversation and am okay having more like that. I'm uncomfortable with the "Wow, your rent is more than my mortgage. Maybe when your lease is up..." conversation. Is something like, "Yeah, my lease isn't up until next fall, so I'm not ready to even think about whether I'll renew it," firm enough? Is it too dismissive? I haven't enjoyed living with romantic partners in the past and am not entirely sure if I want to do it again period. Am I obligated to disclose this sooner rather than later?

Anyway, I know this kind of rambly and to some extent is looking for problems in what's basically a happy situation, which is something I tend to do. I do appreciate having a place to ramble.
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Post by kleenestar on Wed Apr 01, 2015 3:58 pm

Not quite the same situation, but there was a point where Mr. Star really wanted to get married and I didn't. I did two things that helped us get through that period (or more accurately, the first few months of that multi-year period, until we settled into a new normal).

First, I made it clear that I was on his side. Heavily reconstructed, I said something like, "I love you, and I know you want to marry me. Because I love you, I don't want to say yes to marriage unless I can mean it wholeheartedly, and love marrying you as much as I love you." I made it clear that I wasn't saying no (and you're not saying you couldn't love him!), but rather that I was only ready to say yes when I could say a yes that he deserved.

Second, we (at my instigation) set a time and date when we were allowed to talk about it again. In our case, the right period was every year - with the caveat that if I magically decided I wanted to get married I should let him know. For you this might mean that it's okay for him to say he loves you, as long as he doesn't expect a discussion of whether you love him until the date in question. It will also likely help if you can have a code phrase that you can use to respond when he says I love you, that summarizes "I care about you a lot; I'm neither saying that I love you nor that I don't."

I would definitely talk about the living together thing - but I'd encourage you not to think about it as an issue to disclose, but rather as something he will want to take into account and that, should it be relevant, you will both address together in the future. Saying "I haven't had good experiences living with romantic partners in the past" can be the beginning of a helpful and productive conversation. You might say something like, "Hey, you may have noticed that I'm not super enthusiastic when you talk about maybe living together. I want you to know why that is. I'm not looking to have this problem solved right now - I just don't want you to think I'm unenthusiastic about the relationship, when what's actually going on is that I've got some prior experiences that need to be taken into account if we ever get to the point of making this decision seriously."

Does that make sense? Pardon me if I've been elliptical - typing around baby. Razz
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Post by Wondering on Wed Apr 01, 2015 4:33 pm

My husband told me he loved me first, and at what I thought was far too early in our relationship. His timing for actually saying the words was really bad, too.* I think I might have said "okay." But maybe not even that. I don't remember specifically, but other than that, I ignored it. We didn't talk about it. He didn't say it again or mention it. But it didn't change how we interacted at all. We continued the slow build of our relationship and feelings for each other. And many many months later when I had gotten to the same level of emotion as him, I told him I loved him.

If you do decide you want to talk to your boyfriend about the living situation, I might advise keeping it clearly separate from conversation about him saying he loves you. It possible he might get discouraged if "No, I don't love you (yet)" and "No, I really don't want to move in with you, now or probably the future" comes at the same time or close together.

*If you want specific details, send me a PM. I don't want to post more here.

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Post by Guest on Wed Apr 01, 2015 9:25 pm

I am terrified to say "I love you" for this reason. I don't want to wind up in an awkward place where neither of us feels like we're sharing the same footing for a relationship. I know that's probably not helpful, but I think feelings about the feelings are always complicated and big.

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Post by eselle28 on Wed Apr 01, 2015 9:28 pm

Thanks so much for the help! I'm used to dating guys who are as skittish about commitment as I can be and also apparently absorbed a little more of the narrative that women are the ones who should go first when it comes to things like this. It's helpful just to see that other women have been in the same boat, honestly.

kleenestar wrote:
First, I made it clear that I was on his side. Heavily reconstructed, I said something like, "I love you, and I know you want to marry me. Because I love you, I don't want to say yes to marriage unless I can mean it wholeheartedly, and love marrying you as much as I love you." I made it clear that I wasn't saying no (and you're not saying you couldn't love him!), but rather that I was only ready to say yes when I could say a yes that he deserved.

Okay, this is all very encouraging, because this is pretty much how I framed it on Saturday. I actually used the word "deserve" when I was more or less explaining that I didn't want to say "I love you" until I really fully felt it because it's a meaningful thing to me and I wanted to give him that at full power.

Wondering wrote:My husband told me he loved me first, and at what I thought was far too early in our relationship. His timing for actually saying the words was really bad, too.* I think I might have said "okay." But maybe not even that. I don't remember specifically, but other than that, I ignored it. We didn't talk about it. He didn't say it again or mention it. But it didn't change how we interacted at all. We continued the slow build of our relationship and feelings for each other. And many many months later when I had gotten to the same level of emotion as him, I told him I loved him.

kleenestar wrote:Second, we (at my instigation) set a time and date when we were allowed to talk about it again. In our case, the right period was every year - with the caveat that if I magically decided I wanted to get married I should let him know. For you this might mean that it's okay for him to say he loves you, as long as he doesn't expect a discussion of whether you love him until the date in question. It will also likely help if you can have a code phrase that you can use to respond when he says I love you, that summarizes "I care about you a lot; I'm neither saying that I love you nor that I don't."

I think this might be closer to Wondering's situation (and it totally makes sense that you don't want to spill every detail!) in that I suspect it's unlikely he'll express the sentiment in those words again until I've let him know I can reciprocate. We talked a bit the night he said it, and had a conversation the next morning which essentially consisted of, "Uh, so do you remember much about our conversation last night?" (we'd both been drinking) followed by, "Oh, ouch. I'd half hoped you had, but half hoped you hadn't." I think he was a bit embarrassed, and I think it might be more anxiety-inducing than helpful to set a date for another conversation on the topic in a few months, especially if there's a real possibility that the answer will still be "not yet."

He's started texting "as you wish" (we're both Princess Bride fans, like so many other people in this general age bracket) occasionally, which I find pretty cute and which is less intense in a good way. I think it's a good suggestion for me to think of some sort of expression of caring that's neutral on the love question - I'll play with some things and see if I can come up with something he really enjoys hearing. I'm hoping that we'll also be able to have a bit of the slow build until we both feel more or less the same way - or at least that sounds like a great thing I'd enjoy looking forward to.

I think the scheduled date to talk about things issue might be very helpful for the living together issue, though - I'll say more on that further down.

kleenestar wrote:I would definitely talk about the living together thing - but I'd encourage you not to think about it as an issue to disclose, but rather as something he will want to take into account and that, should it be relevant, you will both address together in the future. Saying "I haven't had good experiences living with romantic partners in the past" can be the beginning of a helpful and productive conversation. You might say something like, "Hey, you may have noticed that I'm not super enthusiastic when you talk about maybe living together. I want you to know why that is. I'm not looking to have this problem solved right now - I just don't want you to think I'm unenthusiastic about the relationship, when what's actually going on is that I've got some prior experiences that need to be taken into account if we ever get to the point of making this decision seriously."

That seems like a very reasonable script and like a more positive approach to having this discussion. I think you've got my feelings about this gauged correctly. This isn't something I'm dead set against, more something that I no longer think of as an automatic next step and have some things I'd want to consider before making a decision about cohabiting with someone again. Some of my past issues with living together had to do with traits other partners have had that he doesn't seem to - because I really made an effort to look for men who had the opposite traits this time around! - but there were some other problems that had to do with partner traits and behaviors that I'm not sure whether he has or not and some further ones that were mostly a result of my behavior and preferences. I'm not sure how much the last set of things has changed since I tried living with someone, and I'm also not completely sure which things I can and want to change, and which ones I might need or want a partner to accept. Obviously I have some work to do on this count. It's been at about five years since this has been something I actually wanted to work through instead of freaking out and breaking up when someone wanted more commitment than I was willing to give.

I think your practice of periodic conversations might be one I could use here. I can have our last conversation and this new proposed one, and then I think I need a bit of a blackout period where I can think about my own feelings about the issue on my own time without being asked. And even if the answer is still no six months from now, I think I'd be open for discussing things at an even later date. He's been very good about honoring the limits I've set on a couple of very unrelated issues and not bringing up those issues again, so I think this is a boundary he could respect. He also probably has some things he'd like to have or avoid in a cohabiting relationship (like me, he's had one brief, unhappy marriage, though his was more recent than mine) that he might want to discuss or at least could put on the table. I think that might provide some mutuality to the discussion that could make us both more comfortable with it.

Wondering wrote:
If you do decide you want to talk to your boyfriend about the living situation, I might advise keeping it clearly separate from conversation about him saying he loves you. It possible he might get discouraged if "No, I don't love you (yet)" and "No, I really don't want to move in with you, now or probably the future" comes at the same time or close together.

It's good you pointed this out, because this helped me resolve myself to make the harder choice of initiating the discussion versus waiting for him to bring it up. I'd never pair the two issues intentionally when talking to him. I think it was helpful for me to do so here because in my mind they're part of the same package of small concerns, but I understand it's an ego blow to get two messages that can both be perceived as somewhat rejecting at the same time. I do think that there's a possibility I might accidentally bring up the two issues too close together if I wait until he brings up living together again or until I'm feeling concerned about commitment levels, though. That seems like a good reason for me to be proactive about having the living together conversation.

ElizaJane wrote:I am terrified to say "I love you" for this reason.  I don't want to wind up in an awkward place where neither of us feels like we're sharing the same footing for a relationship.  I know that's probably not helpful, but I think feelings about the feelings are always complicated and big.

That makes sense! I think sometimes this sort of thing gets portrayed as being pretty easy in everything I read or watch, and it's good for me to remember that's not really hope things operate in the real world. I'm admittedly pretty cagey about saying it first even if the feelings are there. It always seems like it has the potential to make something that's easy and good seem suddenly complicated (though thankfully we spent time together again today and it was still pretty easy, which is a huge relief).

Thank you all again for the thoughts and the advice!
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Post by eselle28 on Tue Apr 28, 2015 10:07 pm

So, just by way of update (mostly because I like hearing what happens when others ask for advice), the love issue worked itself out recently. I think I was most of the way there even when I posted this, but now I'm comfortable saying it. He didn't say it again until I did, but was very happy when I did.

I had the talk with him about the house thing. He took it well, but then started backsliding into mentioning things like how $hismortgage/3 is a significantly smaller number than $myrent/1 and would let me save for some of the things I want or describing how he could rearrange a mostly unused room so I could have plenty of space to do work at home or enjoy gaming. I had to clarify that hinting wasn't in the spirit of what he agreed to. He apologized, and I think he gets that this is a serious expectation and that I'm not up for moving in talk even in diluted form.

Also, this might not make a lot of sense to anyone but kleenestar, who recommended a book to me called Love is a Story, but I think I have a better understanding of where the behavior comes from and am more comfortable now that I do. I think he may relate pretty strongly to The Travel Story, which tends to view love as a journey that two people take together and tends to be very future-focused, sometimes with a lot of planning and possibly (though not always) with an element of physical travel. That's fine by me, actually, since that was the story that sounded by far the best to me out of several stories that could lead to healthy relationships. When I view the behavior as one pattern for forming a relationship rather than, as I'd worried, a path toward getting me to commit to things I might not be ready for, it fits a lot better with the other things I'd seen of his personality and concerns me less. It also suggests alternative conversations. He also likes to talk about more literal trips together like the several small and one large one we're planning, and he enjoys spitballing about things further off in the future like potentially relocating in a few years and what traits we both value in cities and neighborhoods or browsing on the internet to see what it's like to retire in $foreigncountry and how much places there cost. I think having these conversations might fill some of the same relationship functions as talking about sharing a home while not being as troubling to me (I find discussion of more distant futures to be fun rather than worrisome, because there's not the same expectation that I'll commit to them anytime soon).

Anyway, the tl;dr is that things are going well and that everyone's advice was quite helpful.
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Post by Enail on Tue Apr 28, 2015 10:21 pm

That sounds really awesome, Eselle! Yay!
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Post by kleenestar on Wed Apr 29, 2015 10:17 am

Oh, huzzah! I am so happy things seem to be working out, and especially happy that the book was helpful. Grin
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Post by Wondering on Wed Apr 29, 2015 2:33 pm

Yay! I'm glad to hear this. Grin

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