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Q: I'm in need of some unbiased advice – if the situation as viewed from my perspective can be unbiased. I met my boyfriend through one of the online dating services and we have been together for five years. I spent the early part of our relationship extremely stressed and busy with other things, mainly getting a master's degree while working full time. We moved in together within a few months, which is a little faster than I had wanted, but my roommate was moving out, and it just didn't seem feasible for me to live alone. I don't doubt that I love him and I don't doubt that he loves me.
My problem is I don't if I'm happy enough, which I know sounds a bit contradictory. My last three serious long-term relationships (thankfully not successively) were BAD. One guy wouldn't know fidelity if it came up and smacked in the head. The second was abusive. The third would rather party than pay rent or get a job. Given all of that, what I have with my boyfriend seems great, but I'm not sure because the bar has been set so low it's subterranean. I'm not sure if I am getting everything I want/need out of the relationship.
What I want out of a relationship is a partner, someone to work with me and occasionally take care of me. What I have with him now feels like mothering. As I mentioned, he is a great guy and supportive. But he is very ambivalent about everything. He has few interests and lives very much in the now. I am someone who likes to do things, like maybe going for a walk, checking out the new exhibit at a museum, hanging out with friends, etc. I feel like the things that I am missing from my current relationship are all things that I have had in my previous disastrous relationships, that there is no such man out there who can be what I need, and that I should just be happy that he has a job, will never cheat on me, and will never raise a hand at me.
Am I asking for too much? Can these things that I am missing be learned? Would couples counseling help? I don't want to give up on what I think is a good foundation for a relationship, but I don't want to spend the rest of my life with what we have right now.
– In love but not happy?, Boston
A: ILBNH, I'm recommending counseling -- for you.
Before you figure out if this relationship can be fixed, you have to untangle the mess in your head. The tone of your letter suggests that you doubt yourself and that you haven't had much time or space to process your bad relationships and life after grad school.
You need to talk about what you've experienced and how it created these standards. You need to come up with a list of wants for your relationship that fall somewhere between "He must be perfect," and the subterranean "I'm just happy he's not abusive." You need to figure out how to successfully communicate your needs once you're confident about what they are. Most importantly, you need to learn to trust yourself so that you're comfortable being single if these realistic needs aren't met.
My point is, before you set a goal of improving your relationship you have to deal with your own head. You don't have to be single to figure yourself out, but you do need to take some time for some mental spring cleaning. Once you become more confident about your wants, I think some of the sentences in your letter will no longer end in a question mark.
Readers? Am I right to say that she sounds unsure about herself and that she has to fix that before she can deal with her relationship? Do you get the sense that she has communicated any of her wants and needs to her partner? Should she be single right now? Thoughts? Discuss.
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Meredith Goldstein is a Boston Globe columnist who follows relationship trends and entertainment. She offers daily advice on Love Letters — and welcomes your comments. Meredith is also the author of "The Singles," a novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith at www.meredithgoldstein.netand on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.