I’m 23 and have been in a relationship with this guy for three years. He recently asked me to marry him. I said yes. Now that we are engaged, he stopped doing a lot of the things he did when we were dating for the past three years, like planning dates and buying little things I mentioned, to surprise me. It’s switched to me having to always suggest we go out to places, and he’s not as affectionate anymore. How do I know which version of him is truly him?
—Future Mrs. Jekyll/Hyde
Hello My Dear,
I have never met anyone who left their high school or college sweetheart and regretted it later in life. Not one. You will not be pining away for this man at 50, I promise. I tell my students all the time that if you’re in your teens or 20s and in a serious, long-term relationship, good for you! Revel in love. Young love is a singular experience. And here in Kentucky, it’s not uncommon for people to marry young or marry someone they met when they were young and be totally happy.
But, if you are young and want to break up with someone or question whether you should stay — leave the relationship. You don’t have kids, a wedding ring or even debt holding y’all together. If the fact that you have three years in this relationship is your major reason for staying, I promise you three years from now, you’ll be so happy you moved on with your life.
I know because I dated my high school sweetheart 6.5 years, and we broke up when I was 23. I was shattered, but I honestly think it wouldn’t have been as bad if we had just broken up three years earlier instead of struggling through another three years. We just didn’t know any better or anything really, or we would have been able to use some communication skills to articulate that our not belonging together wasn’t a reflection on either of us as people or even of how much we loved each other.
It’s so hard not to take a breakup personally, but not every breakup is because someone is abusive or terrible or lacking in some way. Sometimes, there are just things stronger than being with someone calling to you. In our culture, men are often given license to heed this call, while women are trained to fight and claw desperately to save a relationship as if love will never come their way again.
This will not be your last love or your last heartbreak, my dear. I don’t know your dude, but if I had to guess, the switch up in how your fiancé is treating you is because he’s feeling uncertain about your relationship ever since he proposed (which he might have done because he felt like that’s what was supposed to happen next). Maybe things feel too final for him at 23. Maybe he’s worried his whole life is planned out. Maybe he’s curious about dating other people. Maybe he’s curious about learning more about himself before he gives himself over to the confines of a marriage. I can’t be sure. But it’s likely at 23, whatever is going on, he doesn’t have the words to articulate it.
And, when people want out of a relationship but don’t have the words for why or are too cowardly to speak their truth because they’re afraid of hurting their partner or regretting their decision, they often try to put it onto their partner to break up with them by behaving disinterested, cheating, being a jerk, etc. And the partner often doesn’t understand what’s going on and will keep lowering their standards trying to save the relationship and hoping the person they fell in love with will return.
Regardless of which version of this man is the real him, do you truly want to be with someone who you know has the capacity to treat you with such disregard? There will always be the potential of this behavior lying in wait throughout your marriage. So, it’s time to have a direct convo with your partner and then decide whether or not this marriage is something you really want to go through with. If you break up, you’ll have to endure the pain of getting over him, and if you stay, you’ll both need to endure the pain of being honest with one another and doing the hard, emotional work to get this relationship back on track. But this is only an option if this is truly what he wants and if he’s willing to be truthful with you.—Minda