How to Know if You`re Really in Love/a chance of clouds

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Question
Hi Carl,

I've been with my partner for almost 20 years from when we met in college. We are still very much attracted to each other but I am wondering about life paths. You see, we were the ones to get together and get serious rather early on in our friends circle.  
Over the years others in our friends circle have gotten serious, married, and recently, started to have children.

Don't get me wrong- we are still very much attracted to each other and we still enjoy each other's company. But I wonder if the fact that we're not taking these other steps towards commitment signifies trouble for our relationship. It was never a big deal before, but as time passes and we get older, well invariably I'm starting to wonder if there's something wrong with us and our relationship.

I hope and expect that these are things he and I can talk about in the near future, but I'm not sure how much faith I should put in having the conversation because I have this nagging fear that there is trouble for us up ahead. To me, I can accept whatever happens with what he and I mutually decide, but I am having trouble getting the conversation started because I question whether these are societal milestones, and whether I really want these things or whether I'm feeling like I want it because it's expected.  I haven't quite sorted that out for myself yet.

Of course we are from a generation where delayed onset adulthood is a cultural phenomenon;  the milestones of adulthood are being met at later age than our parent's generation.  Yet there is a biological reality of age and childbearing that I must consider.

While he and I may consider ourselves young at heart and still enjoy the kinds of things that make us feel connected with our youth (music, culture, etc.) I wouldn't say that either of us are immature. We've settled into careers, we are exclusively together and co-habitating. But what of these other milestones of adulthood?

Are we at risk, if we don't move towards marriage or having children together, of our relationship being stunted? Certainly if we can't talk about this together that will be a factor in stunting our relationship, but beyond that (assuming this is a conversation that he and I will have), should I be concerned that our relationship won't develop further if we don't take those steps of getting married and starting a family?

Do you have thoughts on how I can start the conversation in a way that's conducive to having an honest discussion and not just hashing out our respective hopes and fears?

It's also so hard to understand what I really want versus what I'm told a person of my age and situation should want; what steps might I take to process that for myself?

Thanks very much,
Agnes

Answer
Dear Agnes

I sincerely hope this letter finds you exceptionally well.

Thank you for writing.

I think that at a time like this--if not at all times--it is best to steer a clear, simple course. Make some tea, sit down and ask him 'would you like to marry, have children, Dear?'

You don't have to know if you want that when you ask. That is why people grow in love and stay together: to face life and its questions, together--not just the joys--or alone.

Perhaps you don't know the answer, because you have tried imagining it alone, not as a couple.

Maybe you are at an advantage, because you do not have a firm decision in mind, making you open-minded, as it were. Now you can base your decision on the right things and on your feelings that will come once informed, based on the actual conditions, meaning how your partner feels--rahter than on the ego-centered notions people have that center on the self. You know what I mean. People say, "I want children." They should say, 'I want children if my partner wants children, too.' This means their love comes first, rather than benefits from a relationship, which is utilitarian.

What if his answer delights you? Or, what if it sheds light on why you should not do these things? You will be better prepared to understand--the only first step in love--always.

You know, astronauts approach emrgencies like this: 'how can I not make this worse?' Then, they do nothing until a step toward solution appears to be the best course of action, in logical steps toward stability. It is better to do nothing than the wrong thing.

Forget about culture and society. The purpose of love is to transcend both with the one you create a new culture with. That is what earns us the title "adult."

Let me know if this helps.

please consider making a donation if this has helped you, Agnes, and let me know if I can help any further.

How to Know if You`re Really in Love

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Mando (Carl Atteniese Jr.)

Expertise

I've read, thought, written, and taught about love for over eleven years. I've had thoughtful love-oriented relationships only--for about twenty-eight years. I struggle endlessly to be a supremely thoughtful, compassionate, fair, and empirical thinker. This is crucial. I believe in the feeling and process of love. This is also crucial. As an artist, a poet, and an essayist--as a teacher of ESL in other cultures--I have had ample opportunity for the analysis of love... personally and inter-culturally, and this has made my introspection and analysis of relationships--with original ideas and those of my favorite psychotherapists--very fruitful. I will tell you three things, which will help you now--before you even write to me: To have true love in yourself and with another, you must: 1. Be Free. 2. Be Adult. 3. Be Honest. 4. Be Disciplined. 5. Find numbers 3~5 easy, because you are overcome with love. 6. Be willing to do virtually anything reasonable (and many things unreasonable from the point of view of others).7. Never settle (in other words, be with someone you do not love), thinking that you will grow into love. 8. Never take a match made by another; your heart and mind must choose your love--period. 9. Never allow yourself to be put into temptation--ever (this is also natural--if you are in love). 10. Be able to listen like you never listened before--to yourself and to your beloved. 11. Love humanity--both the conditions & qualities, and all people.

Experience

I've been fortunate to have helped many people around the world and I love to do it. I will be happy to help you, too--no matter whom you are. If I am busy or unable to help you right away, consider these books to help you help yourself--until I can respond: "Being Happy", by Andrew Mathews; any books by Dr. Wayne Dyer; "The Art of Loving", by Dr. Erich Fromm; "Love", by Leo Buscaglia, "True Love", and "Anger", both by Thich Nhat Hanh. Also Read "The Beloved" and "The Prophet", both by Khalil Gibran. Read "The Road Less Traveled" and "People of The Lie", both by Dr. M. Scott Peck.... Learn more about me at http://carlatteniese.org

Organizations
Amnesty International Partner of Conscience (http://amnesty.org), Union of Concerned Scientists (http://ucsusa.org) and Avaaz.org (htp://avaaz.org)

Publications
Korea Herald (http://www.koreaherald.com/national/Detail.jsp?newsMLId=20110601000943), New York Newsday, The Planetary Review, The Long Island Catholic, Wake Up And Laugh (http://wakeupandlaugh.wordpress.com), The Ocean And The Stars (http://bitnacarlo.blogspot.com/), Cradle of The Universe (http://cradleoftheuniverse.wordpress.com/)

Education/Credentials
Certificates in recognizing violence in the home and child abuse, in preventing violence in school. Raised with an emphasis on loving all people and to be politically active. Studied Zen at Hwa Gye Sa Temple, Han Maum Zen & Culture Center, and The Buddhist English Library of Seoul, in South Korea. Taught seventeen years in the US and South Korea. Teacher Training in the U.S. at Berlitz and the Center for English Studies, NYC, and at Inlingua, Princeton. Studied Drawing, Photography, and Painting at the School of Visual Arts, NYC, and basic Psychology at Nassau Community College, Long Island. Fifteen years of experience teaching English as a Second language--many of those years abroad--has helped as well, as people from other cultures help us see ourselves and other human beings in a different light.

Awards and Honors
My reward is knowing I have helped people.

Past/Present Clients
I have taught and counseled people of all ages, experience-levels, professions and religions, and consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity and thankful to those who have shared with me. Every such interaction is a learning experience, and an opportunity for growth and improvement.

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