Q: I am in my early 50s and a single mother of college-age children. One lives at home and goes to school nearby. I work full time and do some community and volunteer activities. I also keep active and healthy and have responsibilities with my extended family.
For the past few years I have been dating a man who is in his early 60s. He is retired and has children who are out of college and on their own. We see each other about once a week and talk on the phone every day. In his words, he is kind of a hermit; he enjoys spending time with people but mostly likes being alone doing stuff around his house.
When I first got divorced I thought I would want to find a new relationship. Now I'm leaning toward appreciating the freedom of being single and having the comfort of a relationship that's "there" but not intense.
My main problem? We don't have the easy give-and-take that I would hope for in a relationship. He keeps track of whose turn it is to cook dinner and who has done what household task for the other. About half the time I carry groceries to his house on the T and cook there. This is fine, but sometimes if I've had a busy week I'd like him to cook even if it should be "my turn." He sometimes does small favors for me, like fixing something, but I feel like I am indebted for the favor. And, in fact, I know he mentally "keeps track" of favors he does for people, including things he does for me. He says that he believes that you should always have favors in the bank with people in order to maintain good relationships.
I think that people who are in a close relationship shouldn't keep track of everything too closely and should recognize that one person may need more support than the other sometimes. Even though my boyfriend and I aren't married and don't live together, I'd like to have some of that easy give-and-take.
My boyfriend has more free time, more money, and better resources. I'm more idealistic and community-oriented. He somewhat values the fact that through me he can connect with community events and get to know people. But he doesn't see that as a "contribution" to the relationship in the way fixing something in someone’s house might be.
I know this is a crazy situation and I'd like to improve it. So I guess I'd like some perspective - how do other people handle taking turns cooking and exchanging household repairs and the other small things that people do for each other?
– Is it my turn to cook dinner?, Boston
A: You sound really cool, IIMTTCD, which is why I want you to end this relationship. You can't improve this situation. Not really. You can't change how he sees the world. Some men would consider it a privilege to come over and cook for you. Some men would enjoy the process of picking out what to make and running it over to your house. This guy is too busy keeping score to understand what it means to enjoy a life with someone.
If he were just a friend, what would you think of him? Would you put up with a friend who made you feel bad when you needed help? Would you put up with a friend who didn't value everything you bring to the table?
I want you to be with an enthusiastic partner, not someone who keeps track of who does what. You say that you're happy with this once-a-week relationship, but wouldn't it be nice to be with someone who likes being around more often? Is this guy capable of more?
You don't have to try to repair this relationship just because you've been with him for years. You're allowed to walk away and find someone who shares your values. You should be dating someone who's a better friend.
Readers? Can she fix this? Is it possible that she's asking for too much? Is this an age difference thing? What should she do? Do you keep track of favors? Help.
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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.