Dear Carolyn: I am 27 and recently broke up with my boyfriend of three years after eight months of excruciating deliberation. Although I love him, there were certain deal-breakers that would make building a life together fairly difficult. First, I want to plant roots near my family, across the country from our current city, and he doesn’t. Second, our lifestyles don’t exactly match up, and he drinks a little bit more than I would want my husband to drink. Some incidents include drinking – at 8 a.m. – warm white wine that was on the kitchen table from dinner last night; drinking to the point of speaking nonsense a few times a month; getting drunk at least three nights a week.
Other than that we are best friends, have common goals and love spending time together. I just could not shake the pit in my stomach when thinking about the two big issues.
I have had moments of peace with my decision, but every time I see my family, they never fail to remind me what a great guy he is, ask me if there is any chance of us working out, and remind me there are a lot of dirtbags out there who won’t compare to him.
I realize my biological clock is ticking and I know deep down my family does have my best interests at heart, but I am tired of second-guessing my choice every time I see them. Is it worth reassessing the relationship if my family truly thinks he is what is best for me? I do love him and maybe my “deal-breakers” are actually “deal-benders.”
And if not, how do I kindly tell them to PLEASE STOP adding to the agony the breakup is already causing me?
A: May I suggest second-guessing your preference for living near your family? If you think they’re up in your grill now, then imagine when you bring yourself and possibly your own family to within easy meddling range.
As for the ex, you had me at “drinks too much.”
Whether you want to tell your family he’s a problem drinker is up to you, but certainly you can make your point, very clearly, without that detail: “I made the only right decision for me. If you’d like to marry him, then you get some say in this; otherwise, please either respect my judgment or stop bringing it up.”
As for the central problem here, it’s not your family or your ex, because being torn is never about Choice A or Choice B – it’s always about the person doing the choosing.
Specifically, it’s about your uncertainty with yourself. You have a boundary-impaired family and were drawn to an (in all likelihood) alcoholic best friend/boyfriend; maybe it’s a reach to conclude that you have the overdeveloped sense of responsibility and underdeveloped sense of self that dysfunctional homes tend to breed, but it’s not my biggest reach ever.
So. Whether your ex is a “great guy” is not important right now. Whether your family knows best (or warrants your eventual relocation) is not important right now. What is important is that you distinguish between what moves you forward and holds you back – a standard that cuts through emotional clutter.
Also important – huge, even: Noting whether the people in your life help or obstruct your good health.
The players in your brief story appear to have their best interests at heart, not yours, and you appear to be attentive to their interests as well – even as you muscle through this breakup, this highly deliberate act of self-determination. And you’re wracked with doubt over it, not to mention external pressure.
The people you need in your life right now are the ones who listen to you, who respect you, who trust you, who back you, and who don’t make you pay when you disagree with them or ask them to back off. Do you have any of those in your life, or are you the pleaser in all your emotional transactions? Look closely, think hard.
If it’s the latter – or if you just find yourself stuck – then I recommend at least a few sessions with a reputable family therapist. Taking full charge of oneself is never easy but, unless there’s an underlying problem, it also isn’t this hard.