#18 Don’t Agree on Anything–Including the State of your Relationship

Once upon a time there was a lovely girl named Selena. Selena had a big heart and a strong character and, of course, like all heroines, smoking hot too. Selena worked at a research lab, trying to help scientists and teachers and occupational therapists better understand autism. I’m not saying she was Ma Theresa. I mean, she worked at a RESEARCH lab, and sometimes very late at night they would–well, that’s not pertinent.

One day Selena was giving a lecture to a group of teachers about the newest discoveries in autism research. At the end of the lecture, a ruggedly handsome and smolderingly vulnerable man approached her. His name was Justin, and though he wasn’t a teacher, he was an architect who had just returned from three years building houses in war torn Uganda, his newborn nephew had autism, and he wanted to be as informed as he could be so as to provide his nephew with the best support he could. Selena’s soft heart was touched, and she offered to meet Justin again for coffee to give him more information.

It did not take long for the relationship to turn romantic. Justin persistently but non-stalkerishly pursued Selena, taking her out to dinner, sending her flowers, texting with sweet excitement about their dates. And when Justin introduced Selena to his sister’s family, and his adorable little nephew, she knew that he was falling in love with her. Also, it was good that he was into that late night stuff too.

OMG, aren't they like, SO super cute?

Selena and Justin delved into a wonderful, lovey-dovey, sickening to their friends relationship. Justin was sweet and attentive and would come over to shovel Selena’s driveway in the winter. Selena was supportive and understanding and was just naughty enough to make Justin feel like he was dating a seductress and not a slut. After two years, they moved in together.

After four more years, Selena had resorted to online auctions to ice the sore spot in her life.

Selena wanted to get married.

Some people don’t want to get married. I have opinions enough of dating and marriage, hooking up and living together, but I also hold, for the most part, that if two people agree on the state of their relationship, there’s no problem. If two people want to live together, raise children, build a home, and never get married, that’s completely their prerogative. The problem sneaks in when the two individuals want DIFFERENT things.

Whenever anyone brought marriage up to Justin, he would grunt. Not in an assenting or even noncommittal way, in a “shut-the-hell-up-no-one-gives-a-baby-panda’s-ass” way. Justin’s family had been through several divorces, and he just couldn’t see the value of marriage in today’s transient culture. And because Selena was level-headed and mostly reasonable, she didn’t push or manipulate. She loved Justin and respected his opinions and only faked a pregnancy once.

She thought he was going to propose that night. He just sang her some dumb song.

But now she was in her late 30s, with a man she loved but who didn’t share her life dreams, and she had to make a choice–stay with Justin, a dreamboat in a fantasy river, or end it and look for a lover who wanted the same life she did.

Ok, so, the story of Selena and Justin may not be exactly accurate, but I do know a couple who has been together for over five years, and the guy has zero interest in proposing–not because he doesn’t have enough money or because he thinks he’s too young or because he has something else he wants to accomplish first. He just has no intention of getting married. And he doesn’t want children. Ever. And my friend is caught–stay with a guy she loves who won’t marry her or move on.

Here’s the problem, and this may seem a little harsh, but I’m just going to say it–Justin is never going to wake up one day and realize he wants to marry Selena. For the most part, people resist change. And if Justin is comfortable–if he LIKES the state of his relationship–he’s not going to spontaneously become interested in matrimony and shared names. So for Selena to hang around, hoping that one day his eyes will be opened to the beauty of legally forever, is stupid.

She has three options–

1. Stay with him. If Selena decides she loves Justin more than her own dreams of marriage and babies. And that is totally cool–if she REALLY decides she wants Justin more than her own family. But Selena does want a family. Really really badly. And usually, when we sacrifice our dreams for another, seeds are planted. Resentment. Frustration. And sadness. If Selena stays with Justin, it’s not a compromise. It’s a complete surrender.

2. Give him an ultimatum. This is dumb. If he proposes, he’s only doing it because she forced him into it, and that just seems… bad. If he doesn’t propose, either they break up or she sticks with him, her bluff called and everyone knowing it.

3. Leave. Just leave. Just tell him, “Hey, I’ve love you, but I know that what you want and what I want are different. And I need a relationship with a guy who wants what I want.” And then it’s over.

Selena compensates for her lack of an engagement ring with other obnoxious jewelry.

Yes, it will suck, but if Justin is going to recognize the value of marriage, it’s going to be because he lost a girl he wanted to be with forever. And I’m not saying that he will. Door #3 is a risk–Justin may never connect the sadness of the breakup with his inability to commit. And it’s very unlikely that if he DOES change, that he’ll pursue Selena again. The most likely best case scenario is that, by Selena dumping Justin, the next time he’s with a girl who he wants to love forever, he’ll let her know. In every way possible. He’ll take the chance with her and risk his love on marriage.

And Selena, the wonderfully chic, awesomely cool girl that she is, will meet an guy of comparative character, who’ll want to give her everything she’s dreamed of.

#5 Plan the End

This one time I went to a divorce party.

I know. It’s kinda difficult to keep going–I mean, what else could I possibly say to follow that up? I feel like anything next will be a let down, but I’ll press on.

It was my first semester after I transfered to Michigan. I was noncommittally dating this really nice guy Ethan. Really nice. Deserved better than my certifiably crazy self that semester, but that’s another story.

Ethan was a really nice guy. In the military. But not a prince.

Ethan had a friend a few years older than us who was a grad student. This guy got married right out of college and was getting his first divorce at 26. Ethan and I were standing in the middle of the student union, checking our email, when he goes, “Hey, do you want to go to a divorce party?”

Ethan had received an e-vite. It was trying to be very light-herated about the situation. At the bottom it read, “Yes, we’re being serious! [Because I’m sure many people thought they weren’t. This is a no-joking matter, people–it’s a party matter!] Feel free to come with a friend, significant other, or get in the spirit of things and bring an ex!”

“Do you want to go?” Ethan asked me.

Someone was electronically inviting people to a celebration of the demise of their marriage–if guests really brought their ex’s it could be a whole showcase of failed relationships! Heck yes I wanted to go!

Sadly, I could not bring my own ex because he and Ethan were friends [oops, my bad, I know] but Ethan and I went. When we got there, there weren’t a whole lot of other guests. I don’t remember if it was because we were just not cool enough to be fashionably late or if the rest of this couple’s friends just weren’t as comfortable with the idea of a divorce party as I was [not that I was at ease with this couple’s break up. More like I had a writerly morbid fascination with it.]

If I didn’t feel awkward at the beginning of the party, I quickly fell into it. Despite the couple’s assertions that this was going to be a fun, light-hearted event, it was definitely no such thing. The couple had split into their two separate camps, the girl on the couch with her friends, the guy with his buddies by the makeshift bar.

I found it, as someone who didn’t know the happy couple very well, pretty difficult to make small talk.

“So…how long were the two of you married? What was that final nail in the coffin? Do you have plans to date again soon?”

None of these question would work. But then again, it didn’t seem appropriate to ask about his grad work or where they were originally from, all the while staring at the cake topped by bride and groom figures with their backs to each other. And as delicious as the cake looked, I wasn’t about to suggest that anyone should get a knife. I was worried one of the ex’s would decide to cute the tension by cutting the other’s face.

Ethan and I did not stay long.

Look, I’ve [clearly] never been lucky enough to be married. I’m not even going to get into marriage here, let alone divorce. I have zero judgement on the lives of these two people. But I know that no one goes into any relationship hoping for a break up. I’m not saying people don’t get married knowing they’re going to get divorced. I think some people do. But people don’t take a deep breath on their wedding day and say, Well, if this doesn’t work out, there’s always divorce. And you know what? That’s kinda scary to me.

Please believe me–I’m not judging this couple. Relationships dissolve for a myriad of reasons. Ethan and I eventually fell apart because I could not commit. I accepted the end from the beginning. I think this couple was  brave, trying to be upbeat about their divorce. You shouldn’t go into marriage anticipating its end, and I don’t think they did. In the end, I just feel bad for them. It hurts.

Maybe Ethan and I should have brought a gift.