Dating at Midlife/I don't want to blow it
QUESTION: Dr. Belove,
I have been dating a man for a year now. He is 59 and I am 50 so this is obviously not our first go around with relationships.
I am in need of a bit of guidance however. During the last 5 months of the relationship we have begun to spend literally every day together at some point. On the week days we meet either at his house or at mine, cook dinner together (or go out to eat) and then we either go to a movie, or just snuggle on the sofa and watch tv. Weekends we are together all weekend. All day and all evening. We also have an intimate relationship as well. However, due to his choice.... we never spend the night together. At the end of the evening whether it is just hanging out, or having sex as well, one of us goes home.(this I still don't exactly understand but am trying to just honor his choice# If we are at my house and end up having sex we will snuggle and nap sometimes until 2am and then he goes home. If we are at his house same thing happens and at some point I go home. #only because he doesn't invite me to spend the night.
Early on in the relationship we talked about what we wanted from a relationship. We both seem to be on the same page about wanting someday to get married when the time is right if it is clear to both of us that we are the right ones for each other. I have also made it clear that I don't want to be in a relationship dating someone for years if it isn't the right relationship. At my age I don't want to wake up 10 years later still "dating" and it never going anywhere and watching more time pass by. He says he completely understands that and feels that we have what it takes to have a future. However, he expresses that he is happy where we are in the relationship right now and at the pace it is going.
So, herein lies the dilemma. While he is happy with where we are now, and the pace it is going.... apparently I am becoming less and less happy with the pace. Meaning after a year of being together he still can't, or doesn't tell me that he loves me. That is beginning to bother me. It isn't that he isn't capable of saying the words because I hear him tell his children and parents that he loves them every time he talks to them. He just doesn't tell me. Some days I handle it well and I am able to keep from focusing on it, and other days it is a strong focus. Seems it becomes more of a focus to me on the days he is especially demonstrative and loving and I can feel in his touch that he truly cares deeply. Then I just find myself wondering if he does... then why is it that he can't or won't say that he does. Those days overwhelm me and then I find myself getting frustrated and ultimately upset. Then I begin to find all kinds of reasons to just give up on it.
And, it isn't that I don't think he feels love for me, because his actions give all reason to believe and indication that he does. The way he treats me, the tenderness he shows, how demonstrative he is etc., it is apparent that he feels something deeper than "like". And at one point when i asked him if he felt he could ever feel more for me he said yes he knew that he could. That he does more than like me now. However, still... no telling me that he loves me.
Tonight I just hit a wall. After an amazing evening together cooking dinner and laying snuggled on the sofa watching tv, the way he treated me gently kissing my head, holding me, nuzzling his head into the crook of my neck and napping it just touched my heart so much and while it felt good, it also hurt my heart because I start thinking that if he can't tell me he loves me, apparently he doesn't. And if he doesn't then why am I spending time with someone that doesn't love me. And given our relationship, that hurts.
I remember once reading something John Gray wrote about the stages of a relationship. And that if one person is in a different stage than the other in a relationship, that the one in the advance stage has to take a step back and allow the other to catch up. Let me tell you my friend, that is easier to read about than it is to do.
In an effort to step back and give him a chance to catch up to me in feelings, I have found myself thinking that I should remove the intimate part of the relationship so that I wouldn't feel so vulnerable to it. However, then I feel that would just be punishment for not giving me what I want.
Then I think I will just stop spending every evening with him where it feels to me as if he has all the perks of a marriage... without the marriage. However, again after this long of spending every evening together I again feel like it is punishment for not giving me what I want.
So... under the circumstances of our relationship, how does one "step back" in a different stage?? I already try during the course of the day to let it be him that makes all initiative. I rarely call him. I let him do the calling which he does several times a day to say hi and see how my day is going. Every night I wait for him to initiate the "what do you want to do for dinner" bit so i don't make an incorrect assumption that we are spending the evening together. And I do try to make sure I incorporate a few nights during the month with my friends just to help keep me grounded. But all in all for the most part... we are together the majority of our time initiated by him.
I have also had friends tell me that I should just tell him that I love him. However, given that he has said he likes where we are in the relationship and the pace at which is is moving... I don't want to be the one to say I love you first and either make him uncomfortable because he doesn't feel that way, or have him feel he has to say it when he doesn't mean it. So I am trying hard to wait until he says it because it is how he feels.
So how exactly do you navigate the landmine of two people possibly at two different emotional attachment stages of a relationship. Especially when the physical stage of the relationship is every day together and includes sex? I believe the relationship has potential to be everything we both could want. For as much as I know he truly has strong feelings for me, we apparently are at a different stage emotionally even though our daily routine depicts yet a different relationship.
I don't want to force his hand to anything. I want it to all come natural to him. However, I need to be able to take care of my feelings at the same time. Tonight the feelings were so strong I finally just abruptly got up and said I had to go home. I didn't want to say something I would regret because I was having a "moment" of weakness.
So.... how do I spend everyday with a man, have a marriage type relationship until bed time, want him to express his love for me and keep from blowing the relationship wide open because he doesn't say that he loves me? How do I love him without messing up the relationship because he apparently isn't ready to say he feels that way about me? And, how long do you wait for someone to love you, or decide to walk away if it doesn't happen in an effort not to resent the fact that they don't?
Bottomline, I don't want to be stupid and mess up something that could be a good thing if I allow him to express his feelings naturally when he is ready. Nor do I want to mess up a good thing by being frustrated if he doesn't. All the while taking care of my needs too.
ANSWER: Dear Carrie,
A question this long and thoughtful, with so much at stake probably deserves more than
this one shot answer. Feel free to follow up.
As I work through this you'll notice that there are several things here to
think about and they probably deserve thoughtful conversations and reflection.
You might want to consider working with someone for a bit.
but ... onward....
I think the heart of it is is here, in these sentences: I don't want to force his hand to anything.
I want it to all come natural to him. However, I need to be able to take care of my feelings at the same time.
This is your core conflict. What comes natural to him isn't enough for you. You want more.
There are so many assumptions here which have you trapped. Without a more nuanced
exchange with you I can only make guesses based on what I have seen in many others in similar situations
over the years.
Now the weird thing about this list is that everything on it is true part of the time,in some circumstances.
Change always involves a bit of risk.
1. If you protest, then he won't reveal his true feelings. He'll just be doing it to please you.
Possibly this is how you operate. Maybe it is how he operates as well.
but are either one of you capable of knowing your true feelings and being true to them
even though someone you care about will be challenged by that truth?
By the time you are 50 , it's worth knowing knowing yourself better in these regards.
2. If your partner does something to please you, it's "just" to please you and not a true
measure of their love. If they "really" loved you,they would know and just do it.
3. IN a good partnership the woman has to accommodate to the man, otherwise she is not
being good partner material.
4.Something that is stable and comfortable for a man and for a long time, will one day change.
The secret is loving patience.
5. There is something about you that he isn't talking about that puts a basic limit
on his ability to actually love you.
6. A good relationship should never have moments of serious tension where partners
are really tested as to the depth of their commitment. The best and strongest commitments
are those which are never tested.
You get the idea.
So, without knowing much more, I am suggesting that you force a conversation
about the fundamentals of this relationship.
If you've never done one of these, I will tell you that they are very scary.
I'm really good at it and
I will tell you that when I older, late fifties, and my wife died and I had to negotiate a
new relationship and despite all my training and skills,
I had forgotten how really anxious you could get. And I'm a pro!
So, feel free to follow up.
I'm a little worried about how complex this answer is and I hope
it addresses your question well. Let me know.
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: So, let me make sure I am understanding what you are sharing with me. You are saying that the points 1-6 are assumptions that I am making about the relationship. Rather than being based on actual fact. Is that correct?
If that is the case, should I initiate a conversation about the fundamentals of the relationship and the realization is proven that "What comes natural to him isn't enough for you. You want more." How does one move back to a place where you are giving him the time he needs to move to the place of wanting more, while still taking care of you?
It is hard to play the role of being "more" day after day, and not actually want more. However, if one of you gets there before the other... it does tend to cause problems.
Yes, They are assumptions. The are intuitions. They might be correct. They might not.
They are based on your reading of the patterns which you've observed.
There are probably other dots to connect and there are other was to connect the dots.
But even if you've read it correctly, you still can't really thrive under those ground rules.
So you have to do something.
Yes, it does tend to cause problems. Anytime you disturb a routine it causes problems.
but if you want a living working relationship,
from time to time you have to amend the constitution.
You don't do it lightly or casually or without great civility but sometimes it's a good idea.