DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’ve been dating an awesome guy for five months now, and things between us are genuinely great. I’m 33 and I haven’t had a whole lot of relationships in my life – I’m quite content in my own company, and if I don’t feel like someone could make me happier than I would be alone, I don’t bother pursuing them. As such, I’ve had a few serious relationships that have broken off amicably when we realise that we want different things or are no longer compatible. I don’t talk to my exes much, but I’m pretty sure none of them look back on me badly. My partner is separated from his wife of seven years while the mandatory waiting period for divorce ticks down (it’s just about up now, and I’ve helped him with some of the divorce paperwork and overheard convos with his lawyer, so no doubts that it’s happening).
My issue is that, never having married myself, it’s really hard for me to comprehend loving someone so much that you promise to be with them forever, and then… a few years down the track, deciding that you can’t actually stand being in their company anymore. Their split is not a kind one, and I can’t help but be frightened of the idea that as much as he and I like each other now, what if that situation is us down the track? What if things change and we hate each other enough to take it to court and fight over every scrap of our life together? I’ve never dated a divorcee before, so this realisation is new and uncomfortable, that you can love someone enough to marry them and end up dreading the moments you must spend with them.
I know this line of thought is unhelpful, but it’s there every time I’m reminded of it, and especially when I hear about people getting divorces after just a year or two. How do I get over this irrational fear that, just because he split up with an ex badly, I might be next? I want to be happy with the time I have with him, not wondering if his (or other possible divorced partners I may have in future) feelings for me are going to flip as easily as switching off a light.
-Divorced from Reality
DEAR DIVORCED FROM REALITY: First rule of dating, DfR: All relationships end. Until you get to the one that doesn’t. If you go into every relationship worried that this one won’t end with one of you dying in the saddle, you’ll never get anywhere. You’re just going to continually what-if yourself to death. Which, in fact, you’re doing right now. What if things change? What if you hate each other? Well… what if you step outside and get hit by a meteorite? What if the caldera under Yellowstone finally blows and kills us all?
Second rule of dating: a relationship that ended isn’t a relationship that failed. As I’ve said before: not every love story is meant to be an epic poem. Some of them are short stories. Some of them are just dirty limericks. And that’s fine. We all grow and change over time. You obviously aren’t the same person you were at 23. Your boyfriend isn’t the same man he was at the start of his marriage. But relationships grow and change over time too, and some come to a natural end. This doesn’t mean that the relationship failed; it just meant that it was right for you in a specific place and time in your life. If the two of you can have a cordial relationship – even a friendly one, if you can continue to respect one another and still carry that kernel of affection and understand yeah this is why we were together, even if we aren’t now… well that’s actually a pretty damn successful relationship.
And here’s something else you need to consider: your boyfriend’s feelings didn’t just change for his soon-to-be ex. It isn’t that he flipped a switch and suddenly love became hate. Just as people change over time, so too do emotions. What happened between them was a process, not a bolt of lightning. Maybe it was something that could have been nipped in the bud if they’d been paying attention. Maybe it was a case of them not being right for one another and they tried to ignore it. Hell, they may have tried to push their relationship past its natural life span and the shambling corpse eventually turned on them. But it certainly wasn’t instantly.
But here’s what you need to remember: the third rule of dating is that proper preparation at the beginning of a relationship makes everything better. Taking time at the beginning to drama-proof your relationship – having some necessary conversations, learning how to have your own space as well as time together – can make your relationship last longer and run smoother than just going at it with no plan. Fortunately, I’ve written a book – It’s Dangerous To Go Alone, A Relationship Survival Handbook – that covers this in some detail. I’d suggest you check it out as you start your path with your snugglebunny.
Because the fourth rule of dating is that a relationship can’t succeed if you don’t give it a chance in the first place.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: It’s Ace Girl here, from the 1st January 2019 letter. Thought I’d send you an update of what’s happened so far, bc honestly it’s been a wild ride.
I’m still struggling with my mental health – I’m in a far better place, I’d say, but it’s still not easy. Despite that, I’ve managed to get my bachelor, am starting a job next week, and plan to return to uni for a master’s in October.
Most of all, though, I’m not single anymore! Believe me, no one’s more shocked than I am.
My girlfriend is honestly amazing. She’s my best friend and we get along splendidly. We’ve been living together since November and it’s been great so far.
We’re not in what you’d call a “traditional” relationship, even by queer standards: I’m still as ace and sex-repulsed as ever, and she’s aromantic and pansexual. You could describe our relationship as queerplatonic, a word coined by the aromantic community: there’s no romance involved, and, in our case, no sex either. We’ve also been exploring our gender together and currently both identify as nonbinary. We still call each other our “girlfriend”, though, both because we’re mostly in the closet and because it’s easier than explaining what is a datemate or a zucchini.
The biggest problem so far is that neither of us is out to our parents, and we’re anxious about telling them. Our families are Catholic and pretty traditional, and with recent aura of homophobia around Poland, I’d say our worries are not unfounded. But that’s your standard queer experience, I guess.
There’s no shortage of issues we’re facing, but they’re nearly all external, like the one above. We do our best to communicate clearly, spend a lot of quality time together, help each other with their issues, and (tentatively) plan for the future. Also, raise our two cats.
I wouldn’t call my case a happy ending – mostly because it’s far from the end. There’s still a lot going on, and I guess there’ll always be. We’re happy, though, and working at both getting to a better place and enjoying what we have right now.
Thanks for your advice and wishing you all the best.
Ace (not a girl anymore)
DEAR ACE: Thanks so much for writing back and letting us know how you’re doing Ace! Glad to hear things are going so much better for you!
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)