Q: My boyfriend of four years is a wonderful man who makes me incredibly happy. He was there for me throughout my breast cancer, making me feel sexy, beautiful, and loved. I’m 43, divorced five years. He’s 41, never married, and his longest relationship was with a train wreck of an alcoholic on house arrest (I know, red flag). Six months ago, he moved in with his dad (45 minutes away) after his dad asked him to help renovate a house he bought to flip. We text daily and sometimes talk on the phone for 10 minutes, but I only see him every two weeks for a weekend. I’m lonely every day. I miss the day-to-day of coming home to the person who loves you, cooking together, working through life together. Realizing the renovation will take more than another two years, I asked him whether he’d ever consider moving in with me. He said he’s already unpacked and it would be a pain to move again. Couples marry and have babies in the time we’ve been dating! He says they’ll all be divorced in five years and we’ll still be together, which could be true. I just don’t know how to get past wanting more.
— Empty House
A: Sure, absence makes the heart grow fonder — until it makes the heart yank out its calculator and notice that it’s spent 85 percent of its year sitting next to a dent in the couch.
You’re experiencing an unbreakup — a breakup where you don’t quite break up. Your boyfriend has managed to get out of your relationship, but without the wrenching breakup conversation or the bummer of no longer having you in his life. And although it’s been six months since he had himself downgraded from boyfriend to biweekly houseguest, you’re still referring to him as a “wonderful man” who makes you “incredibly happy.” In fact, you can’t help but bubble over with the language of joy: “I’m lonely every day” and “I don’t know how to get past wanting more.”
Wanting the man you love to be around to cook dinner with you isn’t exactly a freakish sexual fetish. Still, he isn’t a bad person if he doesn’t want that — just a bad person for you. But, consider that his relocation to Home Sweet Home Depot might stem from some emotional itchiness on his part. Maybe it’s overwhelming when a woman just needs him because she loves him and not because she can’t get to the liquor store herself while wearing her state-supplied ankle jewelry or because she’s too weak to hitchhike to chemo.
Whatever your boyfriend’s problem, it’s making your happiness come a distant second to his dad’s need to reface the cabinets. This isn’t entirely his fault. It might be worth it to him to work through his commitment heebie-jeebies or whatever, but you can’t just hint at what’s bothering you (asking whether he’d “ever consider moving in”). You need to tell him flat-out that you’re miserable without somebody there day to day. This tells him he’d better come through, or he’ll lose you. (Spell that out if it needs spelling.) As for your priorities, you emailed me some wise words from your oncologist: “You deserve to be happy. You only get one life, and you worked really hard to keep yours.” This suggests that the right guy for you will be there for you because you’re there and alive and you want to be with him; you won’t need to dress up as a leaky faucet to get his attention.
Q: I’m a woman dating a woman who never really cooked until she met me. I’m not a professional chef — just seriously into cooking. At first, she loved learning from me. Now, when she has me over for dinner, she gets upset when I make suggestions. I just hate to see her plan a great meal, sometimes with expensive ingredients, and have it not turn out.
— Dicey Situation
A: She was probably planning on serving capellini, not Mussolini. Sure, it’s got to be hard to watch her violate a tomato, but maybe the “right way” to dice one is the way that doesn’t break you two up. To avoid meddling, don’t think of her cooking for you as cooking; think of it as an edible gift. (If it were your birthday, surely you wouldn’t tail her to the mall, lecture her on what to buy, and then berate her on how she’s wrapping it all wrong.) Compliment her efforts, and when you cook, you can enlist her help and show her a thing or two. Ultimately, knowing your way around the kitchen sometimes entails knowing when to stay out of it and keeping your mouth clamped shut until it’s time for Mr. Fork to fly a big load of oddly rubbery mashed potatoes into the hangar.
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