Hello, Internet! Welcome to Ask Dr NerdLove, the only dating column that's the sole survivor of Vault 111, bringing love advice to the post-nuclear wastelands.
This week, we deal with a common issue: getting over that last hump between knowing what you need to do and actually doing it. Sometimes the answer to our dating problems is plain as day and we just need that little nudge to make us go through with it.
So it's time to put the boot of loving correction to arse of obstinacy.
Let's do this.
I am a 25 year old guy considering getting married. I've been dating my girlfriend since freshman year of college and we've been living together for 4 years, for a total 7 years with a short break in there. I've been 95% certain that I wanted this relationship to go in the direction of marriage, kids, house for the last several years. She's amazing and my best friend in the world, we always have fun together regardless of activity. We've begun seriously talking about getting married, I even bought a ring fully intending to use it in a fairly short timeframe.
All the sudden I'm absolutely losing my mind. I desperately want to live in another country and travel more, and I want to drastically change up my job. I've never seriously thought about wanting these things before (I like travel but never desired to go for more than a week and I like my job) but I feel like a thousand paths are closing to me and I should rush through them. We've talked about this and she has no desire to live elsewhere. In fact, I'm upsetting her because I started talking about this craziness as she was discussing getting more committed. Before this though, I was perfectly happy to lead a simple, hopefully happy life with one person (in fact, the one person thing still doesn't bother me).
It's worth mentioning that the first time we broke up was similar. I suddenly got afraid of being committed. I never managed to actually do anything interesting during the break and we still hung out constantly. I realised I was being stupid and mistreating someone who really meant alot to me. We've been dating much longer since the break than before.
She deserves someone as excited about getting married as she is and I'm letting her and myself down by acting like this but I can't just ignore these desires to travel and adventure before settling down so I'm completely lost.
Are we really incompatible or do I just have cold feet?
Put A Ring On Me
Once again, we have a classic example of "the question you think you're asking is not the question you're really asking." You know exactly what's going on here. You're the one who just told me all of these freakouts come as soon as you start getting serious with your girlfriend.
So before we get too far into this, do yourself a favour, PAROM. Take a deep breath, have a drink, and chill the hell out.
Now, between you, me and the thousands of people who read Kotaku every day, let's just be honest: you don't actually want to do those things you suddenly think about doing. If you did, you'd be doing them already. These are only things that come up when you're confronted with the possibility of spending the rest of your life with the woman you love (Quelle horreur!).
It really shouldn't take you a loudmouth with a fake doctorate and an advice column to tell you what's going on here: you're terrified of commitment and whenever you get close to being serious, your jerk brain starts to wig out and spams you with all these ideas of things you think you want to do or should do or need to do because you won't be able to do them when you're married. Right?
All of the things you're feeling the urge to do? There is literally no reason that you can't do them while being married. You're young, you've got minimal responsibilities… the fact is, you're probably in a perfect position to do them right the hell now. And, in fact, they'd be even better with your best friend in the goddamn world by your side.
So what's the problem here? Well, I suspect the problem is that you — like many people before you — have bought into the idea that marriage is the death of adventure, of sexual excitement and of fun. It's an incredibly common meme, a joke so old that Euripides thought it was a tired cliche, and it infects more people than you'd believe. I've lost track of how many people I've heard from who can't get the freaky-deaky sex they really want because their partner's not some rando, she's the mother of their children and you just don't do that with your wife.
So where did all this come from? Maybe your parents had a turbulent marriage and you heard your mum or your dad talk about how the other was the anchor dragging them down. Maybe you heard your folks (or other people's folks or hell, Paradise By the Dashboard Light on repeat) lament everything they did when they were single and the fact that now that they're married they can't do all of that stuff.
It doesn't help that so much of pop culture focuses on the early days of relationships when it's crazy and exciting and turbulent, and then end at a wedding. TV and movies love to sell the idea that crazy adventures — sexual or otherwise — don't happen after marriage; all you've got left to look forward to is missionary sex with the lights out if you're lucky and interminable vacations in the family truckster. And when couples are adventurous, it's played for laughs. Hey look, it's lumpy middle-aged married couples having kinky sex, isn't that wacky?
No and also those movies can go screw themselves, because those people are awesome. The whole point of marriage is to have a partner in crime, someone to share in all of life's adventures, whether it's whitewater rafting, backpacking through Asia, putting the "try" in triangle or raising a parcel of kids. That's the great thing about marriage and relationships; you've got someone in your corner to back your play and to share all these amazing moments with. Now if she doesn't share those same goals, then sure, there may be compatibility problems. But like I said: I don't think you want to do those things as much as think you should do them.
So what should you do? Well, I think you should steer into the skid, man. OK, you want to travel more, maybe live abroad and shake up your life? OK cool… so make plans to do those things with your wife. Your married life doesn't need to be boring. Hell, even life in the suburbs with a couple of kids doesn't have to be end of adventure and fun. You and your wife are a team. Worry less about what you "can't" do when you're married (that is, nothing) and more about what the two of you will get up to together. Let Gomez and Morticia Addams be your relationship patronus; your married life can be one great big, amazing adventure if you just let it.
Chill out. You're going to be fine. Now go plan some crazy adventure with your fiancée.
Hey Doc, S-O-fucking-S!
I broke up with an ex in January this year (messy stuff- almost 3 years) and went on to have a casual relationship that I broke off before it became too serious. Moved to a new city for a job, met a guy I found cute. We ended up breaking the no-sex-on-the-first-date rule; impulsive and I don't regret it.
The problem is, he tells me that I'm his first girlfriend.
I was shocked! First relationships are no joke, and I wasn't looking for anything serious or too cuddly! I loved his company, still do and kept asserting myself time and again that I don't want it to be serious, he'd agree. But he's already taking this way too seriously than I ever possibly will.
What complicates matters is that he grew up in a broken home alone with a single mother, so he has very few people he really opens up to - me becoming one of them after we started rambling after a few drinks and shared the stories of our lives. And I've become smitten with someone I've been getting to know over the last few weeks.
I've been oscillating between sticking to him - which is agitating- & telling him how I really feel, even though I haven't told him the specifics.
He's the quiet kind who tends to lash out if driven to the edge. I don't know what to do. I've lived with myself for a while and especially with that 3 year old relationship fucking up, I don't see myself not repeating this performance again. I also find that the other guy I've just met stimulates the mind, is a great conversationalist and makes me want to improve and grow.
With the guy I'm seeing, I always feel like it's too, too intense for me to stay in.
Broken and Disoriented.
B&D, you know what you need to do. You just want me to give you permission. So: permission granted. Break up with him.
Before you do though, some straight talk. It's commendable that you worry about the fact that this is his first relationship. But the fact that it's his first doesn't mean that you're obligated to stick around for fear of damaging him when you do leave.
First relationships are important in that they're learning experiences. And one of those experiences in this case is learning how not to get into a relationship with someone. Your boyfriend has done something that many other people have done before: they nodded along when someone told them something that they didn't want to hear under the assumption that they could change the person's mind later.
You said you wanted something fluffy and casual and he said "OK, sure, so do I!" with his fingers crossed behind his back. If you've seen 500 Days of Summer — or, if you're me, lived it — you know exactly how this goes: badly. It's unfair to everybody involved; to you because he's trying to backdoor his way into a relationship you've explicitly stated you don't want, and to him because he's being held back from finding someone who wants the same things he does.
Which brings us to the next learning experience: learning how to cope with someone breaking your heart. There's a passage from Terry Pratchett's The Hogfather that I love that's relevant here:
'You can't give her that!' she screamed. 'It's not safe!'
IT'S A SWORD, said the Hogfather. THEY'RE NOT MEANT TO BE SAFE.
'She's a child!' shouted Crumley.
'What if she cuts herself?'
THAT WILL BE AN IMPORTANT LESSON.
Learning how to avoid getting hurt, and how to heal after getting hurt, is an important lesson. Your boyfriend is going to have to learn that lesson, same as everyone else does. It hurts. It's awful. Maybe he's going to feel like he wants to die and that nothing well ever be good in the world again and then he'll realise he's getting over it and he will survive after all. Eventually, he'll get over it. Maybe he'll learn from it. Maybe he'll learn all the wrong things. That's part of life and there's no real way for you to control that.
But that's all on him. Now let's talk about your responsibilities here. It's on you to cause as little unnecessary pain as you can. Notice very carefully how I say unnecessary pain; relationships rarely end without some pain. The clean break heals the fastest; sticking around longer than you should is only going to make things worse. Just how long are you going to stay with him out of fear of hurting him? One year? Two years? Four? A lifetime? How much worse is it going to be when you do end up leaving him (finally) and he realises just how long you've been waiting for your chance to leave? That is going to hurt far worse than a simple "This isn't working for me and it's not the kind of relationship I want."
It's a damn shame that he comes from a broken home. It sucks that he doesn't have that many close friends. None of that obligates you to stay with him. You're not his doctor, his therapist or his parents and you're not required to do all of his emotional labour for him. You can't let yourself be held hostage to his life and what you worry will happen to him after you leave.
And frankly you saying he "tends to lash out when pushed" doesn't exactly inspire me to say "give him a chance! He may grow on you! Like a fungus!"
You know what you need to do. Make it quick and clean and wish him well. It will suck for him but he'll survive and find someone he is compatible with.
Did you have cold feet before getting married? Have you been hung up over your own personal Summer? Share your experiences and tips in the comments section, and we'll be back in two weeks with more of your questions.
Ask Dr Nerdlove is Kotaku's fortnightly advice column for matters of the heart, hosted by the one and only Harris O'Malley, AKA Dr Nerdlove.
Harris O'Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr NerdLove and the Dr NerdLove podcast. He is also a regular guest at One Of Us. He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook and on Twitter at @DrNerdLove. Dr Nerdlove is not really a doctor.