I'm a 40-year-old woman who has been in a relationship with a wonderful guy for the last decade. He's everything one could want: handsome, responsible, and incredibly loyal and loving. However, I have a terrible problem. As he has pressed for marriage in the last few years, I’ve come to a horrible revelation: I don't love him. He's really more my best friend. These days when we have sex I am only going through the motions, and that was enough for me until now, when I must commit more fully. The whole relationship has been unfair to him, because he wants more, and to me, for I am miserable living a lie. He often wonders why I don't express more fulfillment in my life, thinking it must just be the way I am. In fact, it's because I have not been fully honest with him and feel trapped by my own lies. How do I extract myself from the predicament? The guilt and remorse is killing me.
He Said: Start by stopping the self-flagellation. When we sign up for a relationship, there is no predicting the future of your feelings. People in relationships change in mysterious and uneven ways. The perfect match at 30 can be a disaster at 40, and the descent into the non-erotic partnership you describe is incredibly common. The fact is that many adults may not be cut out for lifelong monogamy with a single partner, with, perhaps, serial monogamy being the more natural state of being for many of us. Or monogamy punctuated by bursts of promiscuity. Or non-monogamous relationships. For some, a few close lifelong friendships is enough. Basically, we must struggle to figure out which, if any, kind of relationship works for us. The one-size-fits-all kind went the way of the Model T, and in our contemporary urban culture we have way too much freedom, at almost any age, to live in a proscribed—and circumscribed—way. At any rate, the truth will set you free. You owe it to your partner and to yourself to tell him the truth, the sooner the better, so that he may find the relationship that suits his needs as you pursue yours.
She Said: Well, “He” couldn’t have said it better. As I said in a column a few weeks back, guilt is effective for one thing: helping us change our behaviors. If you feel guilty for living a lie, then come clean and stop. Also, please keep in mind that relationships are 50-50. Until now, what you have given your boyfriend, both erotically and in other ways, has obviously been enough for him to want to marry you. I’d venture to say the person who has suffered the most from your lies so far is you. But of course, now that you must end things, he will be very hurt. So the way to extract yourself is firmly but gently, with empathy and responsibility. Unless he presses you and resists a breakup, you don’t have to use language like “terrible revelation” and “I don’t love you” and “I just go through the motions.” Instead, you can simply say that as time has gone on, you’ve come to realize you two aren’t meant to be married, that you feel more like his best friend than his lover, and that you aren’t fulfilled in the relationship. If you are living together, you be the one to move out, and make the breakup as simple, calm, and civil as you can, with the goal of remaining friends afterward. It can be done. Your letter is full of extreme statements, but the truth is probably that both you and your boyfriend have gotten a lot out of this relationship, or it wouldn’t have lasted this long. In fact, you may be surprised at the level of grief you feel once he’s gone. A responsible, loyal, loving partner is a very good thing, and could tempt many women to lie to themselves for a while. So have some compassion for yourself as well.
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