I have been with my boyfriend for six years. We are not married, don’t have children (we don’t want them) and we live together. I am 29, he is 36. I think we have a good relationship and enjoy spending time together. I would like to get married (or at least engaged), but he says he doesn’t. We have had some bad arguments in the past, usually after drinking too much, but it’s settled down a lot in the past 18 months.
We live in his house and the mortgage is in his name and despite living together for five years he seems reluctant to put me on the mortgage. I am not looking to own half of his house and I would want to do it properly with a mortgage adviser, which to me seems like a reasonable commitment that he is not willing to make. We did start looking to move house and then get a joint mortgage, but he changed his mind and wants to wait.
I am worried that I am wasting my time with him. We do love each other and I want this to work, but I don’t feel like this is the best it could be. I don’t want to split up and to have wasted six years of my 20s with him, but I don’t want to stay with someone who doesn’t want to marry me or get a mortgage together. Everyone says we make such a good couple and that I shouldn’t split up with him, but I just keep getting these doubts about it working in the long term. I feel like I have made out that he is some noncommittal monster and he isn’t really, I just don’t know what it is. I don’t feel miserable in the relationship and I look forward to seeing him at the end of the day and spending time with him at weekends. I just keep getting this niggle …
Ah, yes. The bit after the “happy ending”. Films don’t really prepare you for this do they? The “is this relationship worth working on or is it time to get out now?” question.
I don’t have the answer for you. If you were sitting opposite me, I might say that you’re too young to be feeling like this. I would say that niggles are often worth listening to if they keep coming back and I would suggest you try to live on your own for a while and find out who you are and what you want. But that would be easy for me to say, perhaps hard for you to do, and it might have long-term ramifications.
There is no point staying in a relationship just because you feel you’ve wasted six years in it. Equally, it’s silly chucking away a good relationship because your idea of one is too far removed from reality. So I would look at what you expect a relationship to be like: is it realistic? Achievable? What is it based on?
Try to look beyond what other people say and think. I’ve found that people often want you to stay in a relationship or job etc because that’s what they’re doing and if you do something different it forces them to look at their own situation.
I showed your letter to Michael Kallenbach, a relationship counsellor (bacp.co.uk). He thinks it seems important to you what “everyone else thought” and also wonders why “being married and having a mortgage were so important to you, as both are things that can crumble”. Is it, I wonder, because you want something more concrete to “validate” your relationship? You don’t mention if you pay rent or anything towards the mortgage, and while it may not be romantic to discuss such things, with my hard hat on, I would say you’re not stupid to want to protect yourself. “I wonder,” says Kallenbach, “what your boyfriend’s real reasons are for not wanting to commit [in the way that you want].”
And this is what you need to get to the bottom of, so you know the landscape you’re looking at before you can decide if you like it or not. I know it seems scary to push for this answer, but you really do need to find out. You need to be honest with yourself about what you want (not what others want for you) and why. If it’s marriage and a joint mortgage, there’s no shame in that, but you need to say that and be prepared to walk away if necessary, otherwise you are looking at a lifetime of simmering resentment.
What Kallenbach also wonders is “why you’ve chosen each other. If you really want marriage and a mortgage, then why have you chosen someone who isn’t able to give you that?” (Or have you changed your mind since you met him?)
Your 20s are a period of immense growth. It’s not uncommon to feel you’ve completely changed as a person in that decade, and I wonder if that’s happened to you. I don’t want you to chuck away a relationship that may be, as Kallenbach puts it, “as good as it gets”, but I’d hate for you to put up with anything less than as good as it can get, either.
This article first appeared in the Guardian Family section on 15 May 2015.
The woman who wrote in to me wrote back not long after this was published to say she had left her partner and was much happier.