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He can be awful

Posted by Meredith Goldstein October 26, 2012 07:52 AM

Heavy letter for a Friday. And yes, I'll stay in touch with the letter writer.

Q: I have been married for more than 20 years. My husband had some affairs (with different women) three years ago. I know that he is still talking to these women, as he makes comments about what they are doing and it seems pretty current information. I have not been able to gain back the trust and love that I once had. We have two children who are under 18.

My husband constantly calls me fat [and other inappropriate things] when our younger child is nearby. (I don't think that our child sees it though.) He pinches me until I tell him to stop because it hurts. He jokes, "I haven't even begun to hurt you." He flirts with friends and neighbors until we're all uncomfortable. When we tell him to stop, he says something like, "Oh, you can't take a joke."

He now accuses me (at least once a week) of having an affair with someone. I honestly will say I have never had an affair with anyone. If I refuse sex with, he gets very mad takes all the blankets.

He also threatens to divorce me and leave me with nothing. I used to kiss him after these threats, but now I'm at the point where I tell him to go ahead and leave me. I am at the end of my rope. We have tried counseling, both individual and marriage, and it hasn't worked because he has quit going after a few sessions.

– So Now What?, North Carolina

A: This is an abusive relationship, SNW. And I'm going to reveal to the readers (after much thought) that you emailed me several years ago about similar issues. It was a letter that we just didn't get to -- and it was much less severe than this version (it was about the affairs, not the abuse) -- but these problems have plagued your marriage for a long time. You've been pinched, harassed, questioned, and shamed, sometimes in front of your children. You need a way out. (And for the record, kids see and perceive more than you think they do. I'm sure that your younger child is aware of what's happening.)

You need to check in with a local domestic violence organization. North Carolina has them. (Click here if you're at a safe computer.) Pinching might not seem like real abuse, but it is. So are threats and intimidation. You must meet with a professional who can help you navigate this process. Because it will be process. If you can continue individual therapy, please do.

It's also a good time to reach out to your community. Don't be afraid to call friends and family. You mention that your neighbors have shared your discomfort over the years. Are any of these people real friends? Can you spend more time with them, just to feel less isolated?

You can't go through this alone, and you certainly can't put it off any longer. You might think I'm misusing the word "abuse," but find a safe computer and do some reading. You might be surprised by the definition.

Readers? Is this abuse? What should the letter writer do? Are the affairs relevant? Talk.

– Meredith

We're so different

Posted by Meredith Goldstein October 19, 2012 07:14 AM

Q: Hi,

I am currently dating a great guy. We live together with very few problems, we like the other's friends and family, and generally have a great relationship. We've been talking about a future together more often lately, and while part of me definitely sees him as the man I can build a life with, part of me can't stop thinking about the life I wouldn't have if I marry him. For example, I always envisioned having a big family. However, for money reasons, he only wants two kids. I love dogs; he is allergic. I'm Jewish (and envision raising my children that way); he is Christian. I'm up for having an adventure at some point in my life; he is content moving to his hometown and staying at the same job for thirty years. By no means do I think negatively of what he wants, but when we talk about these things, his general answer is, "We'll deal with it when the time comes." I'm just worried that by that time, his flat answer will be no --two kids, no dog, we can't move because of work -- and I'll have wondered why I waited so long.

He loves me more than anything and I love him. But should I keep going and plan on compromising, or get out not knowing if I will find someone with a similar vision as me? Any advice would be great. Thanks!

– Confused, Boston

A: These issues aren't deal-breakers -- yet. You both want kids, so that's a start. And really, he knows what you want from life and he hasn't run. That suggests that he's open to compromise.

(Of course, the dog is a non-starter. You can't expect him to sacrifice his health.)

But you're right -- you can't put off the discussion. My advice is to start asking my second favorite question in relationships: "How?" Don't expect him to have any specific answers, but tell him that you'd like to start planning a life that works for both of you.

Are you open to celebrating Christian and Jewish holidays? How much does he know about what it means to be Jewish? And how does he feel about travel, in general? Is he interested in trying some smaller adventures? (You don't have to ask all of these questions in one sitting. Take your time.)

You both should also admit how much you don't know about yourselves. You say that you want lots of kids, but maybe after a kid or two, you won't want more. And maybe after you have kids, you'll love the idea of living close to family and limiting adventure. And maybe he'll realize that he loves to travel.

Differences are inevitable. You just have to figure out if you're open to working together, and if so, how much. If he can't talk about any of it, that's a bigger problem.

Readers? Are these deal-breakers? Is it time to talk? What if he doesn't want to? Do they really know what they want?

– Meredith

A crush on a work friend

Posted by Meredith Goldstein October 17, 2012 01:16 AM

We won't chat today because I'll be in London. But -- if you send me notes on Twitter with the hashtag #LoveLetters, we can talk throughout the day. I'll be at a George Michael concert at about 3 p.m. your time, so I'll have plenty to say, I'm sure.

Q: Hi Meredith,

I'm wondering if you and your readers can weigh in on a potentially large dilemma. I am the parent of two small children, married many years. I recently started a new job where I am in contact several times a week with a colleague who I -- completely unexpectedly -- am drawn to almost unlike anything I've ever felt before.

We share a profession, which makes us look at the world similarly. But we also have a similar sense of humor, and this person makes me feel interesting and smart. Our conversation flows naturally without gaps. It helps that this person is also very interesting, well-traveled, intelligent, and good looking.

Literally from day three, I felt like I have known this person for years. I have a feeling that if we were both single, we would have already been dating. We have been emailing here and there outside of work, but nothing overtly unprofessional, mostly just funny things. There is an energy unlike anything I've experienced, yet I have to play poker face because of my situation.

My kids are so important to me, but my marriage, while it has its good times, is what I might describe as so-so right now. The difficulties that come with raising two children (there are joys too, of course) and managing two careers are not faring well with us.

And of course there is the possibility that my radar is completely off and this person simply sees me as a friend, and I'm freaking out for no reason.

My question is naturally: Am I being silly and selfish by even letting myself feel drawn to this person and wasting my time wondering how this person feels, too? Do you meet people at a certain point in your life for a reason and should I not ignore this? Or, do I need to just relax and make my kids my biggest priority right now? Obviously, the dissolution of a marriage would have ridiculously huge ramifications, and frankly not something I'm not sure I'd consider.

Further, I am not sure I would have the guts to say anything to this person about it, and I have a feeling this person is far too respectful to do anything either. I appreciate that, but again, I also can't help but wonder if you meet people for a reason at certain times.

I'm sure you'll say something like I should remove myself from the situation and stop talking to this person, but for the next couple months that will not be doable due to work. And yes, work is too important to leave right now as I am trying to establish myself in a new position. I feel like a scattered mess and thinking about it is eating me up. And yes, for the record, I feel incredibly guilty for even feeling or thinking any of this. Who wouldn't? I am only human.

Please be gentle, commenters.


– Scattered, Mass.

A: Calm down, Scattered. I can't speak for the Love Letters commenters, but I'm not going to yell at you for having a crush. I'm not going to tell you to quit your job. I'm not even going to tell you that you're selfish.

That said, I'm not going to validate your feelings for this guy. I don't believe that we're "meant" to meet certain people. And I certainly don't believe that your new friend is your destiny. But I do believe that this guy has taught you a big lesson.

He's taught you that you miss being you. You miss being someone who isn't just a mom. You miss being someone who has time for jokes. You miss having a husband, not just a busy co-parent.

So give your marriage a break and ask for some help. Instead of shutting the world out and focusing only on your kids, spend money on childcare (or call friends and family) and take a vacation. See movies with your husband. Do some of the things that you used to enjoy before you became overwhelmed with daily obligations.

You had this kind of connection with your husband once. That's why you fell for him, right? You can get that back. It just takes time and energy and some shared experiences. Again, this new guy is just a reminder of what you're missing. Don't let him become more.

Readers? Does she have to leave her job? Has she done anything wrong? How can she have this banter with her husband when they have so much to do? How should she set boundaries with this new friend? Discuss.

– Meredith

Anxious about the future ... and everything else

Posted by Meredith Goldstein October 15, 2012 02:38 PM

Just had a computer issue in Germany. Posting this (retyped) on a German computer that has weird keys (and the Y is in the wrong place), so I hope it all makes sense. I'll read your comments tonight.

(Writing this in a tiny German hotel at a weird hour makes me feel like Jason Bourne.)

Ok. Have fun.

Q: I am in my mid-20s and have been dating a wonderful man for a few months. He is all that I am looking for -- smart, kind, attentive, interesting, funny, and fun to be with. I would venture to say that I love him. I'm very physically attracted to him, trust him, and know he feels the same way about me. I would like letter readers to know that I have had a number of fairly serious, functional relationships and also that I am in therapy because I suffer from anxiety, often connected to relationships. This relationship feels adult in a way that the others haven't.

So what's the problem? Well, I recently started my first real "job" after a long bout of unemployment. It coincided with the beginning of my relationship. Although the job may help me in my career, it's a bit harrowing and not really what I'd hoped for. I began my job search after traveling and teaching in Europe. While abroad, I was part of a relationship that got out of my control (we moved in together too quickly, I suspect he was cheating on me, there were language barriers, etc). I suffered from so much anxiety and depression while abroad and in that relationship that I am extremely fearful in continuing my current relationship, even though I had been single for a year and a half before meeting my new beau.

I love my current boyfriend and want to explore this new relationship, but I am really scared of what it means to give up my single and unemployed life. It sounds dumb, but I was able to define my identity as that person. I feel really "settled" all of a sudden, and he has finished graduate school and is working a job he loves. I'm scared because I know most relationships don't last forever. I'm scared because some of my friends are getting married and I really don't feel ready for that. I'm scared because I will probably leave this city in the next year or two. I'm scared because I don't really know what I want from my career or from a relationship, but I want to be open-minded about exploring the possibilities, especially when I've met someone so great.

How do I hold all these "knowings" and "not-knowings" and be OK with them? How do I stop myself from running away from a relationship that is really healthy, fun, and great? How do I let myself be in my mid-20s without taking myself so seriously?

(I'd like to note that I have discussed this in depth with my therapist and we've agreed some anti-anxiety techniques and medication may help.)

– Anxious Explorer, NY

A: I'm happy that you're in therapy, AE. Please continue going. It's important to learn techniques to help you cope with "not-knowings." Because there are so many not-knowings in life.

It's also important that you ask questions. Lots of questions. If you quiz your friends and your boyfriend about their choices, you might learn that you're not the only person who's worried about the future. We spend most of our lives with our fingers crossed, hoping that things work out for the best. It's easy to get overwhelmed and to forget that everyone has doubts. Reality checks from peers will help you feel less alone.

Also, give yourself some time. You found a new job and a new significant other just a few months ago. Let it all sit for a bit and see how you feel. You might realize after time that some of this anxiousness is just the butterflies caused by excitement. Butterflies can be uncomfortable and scary, but they're not bad.

Readers? How can she calm down about the future? Is this just too much change at once? Does her last relationship have anything to do with this? Help.

– Meredith

My friend made a pass

Posted by Meredith Goldstein October 11, 2012 08:21 AM

Q: I'm a man in my mid-30s who was in a friend's wedding recently. One day prior, I got to hang out with an old friend I've known for more than 20 years, "Jeff." Jeff and I are both married with children, and as groomsmen, we had obligations to attend to the day before the wedding. Our wives stayed behind with the kids before joining me and Jeff at the festivities the following day.

Jeff was always an odd duck. He lives in Europe and just carries himself differently than most guys I know. A few of my other friends have always suspected that Jeff is gay, but I tend to shrug it off and insist that being a European metrosexual doesn't mean he's gay. Well, after this weekend, it seems my friends' suspicions are confirmed.

Jeff and I split a hotel room for one night. The moment we got into the room and put our bags down, he made a comment that if we pushed the beds together, there'd be an even bigger surface on which to "fool around." I laughed, assuming he was joking, and gave it no more thought. Later, we went to a nearby pub for dinner. He insisted on buying me dinner and then said that I didn’t have to sleep with him unless I wanted to. I feigned amusement and tried changing the subject to the draught beer menu. But he persisted, asking, "So, do you?" Humiliated, I replied, "No, thanks, and you’re not buying me dinner."

The rest of the evening went on without incident, but the next morning, Jeff made another pass. "Breakfast sounds good," was my terse reply.

Our wives arrived later that day. Once my wife and I were alone, I couldn't help expressing my relief that she was there, and I had to tell her what had happened with Jeff. She was wide-eyed and sympathetic. I admitted that I was not completely surprised, but certainly in shock, as I never expected to be the object of my friend's sexual advances.

Now what? The only person I've told is my wife. If Jeff had simply come out to me, I'd be honored and supportive. Instead, he hit on me and made me feel shamed and degraded. If I confronted him, I'm sure he would deny it, find a way to explain away his untoward actions, and I will in all likelihood lose him as a friend. Should I just forget it ever happened and leave Jeff to come to terms with his true sexual identity? And was I wrong to ignore his advances simply to keep the peace?

– Gloomsman, Maine

A: Your friendship with Jeff has changed forever, Gloomsman. There's no way to delete the weekend.

You can either ignore the issue because he's an ocean away, or you can bring it up and hope that he listens. And you never know -- he might be longing for someone to ask him what's going on. He might appreciate some honesty.

My advice, for the moment, is to give yourself more time to process what happened. You don't know what you want to do about this guy, and that's OK. There's no statute of limitations here. You can even wait to see how it feels the next time you see him in person.

For the record, you didn't make a mistake by staying silent and getting through the night. You were harassed in a hotel room by a guy who's supposed to be your friend. Your instinct was to set boundaries and make it to morning. That's understandable.

For now, you're entitled to time.

Readers? Should he confront Jeff? Will Jeff deny the issue? What should he say to Jeff? Did he do the right thing in the hotel room? Should he have this discussion soon? Help.

– Meredith

I want to leave my wife

Posted by Meredith Goldstein October 5, 2012 08:21 AM

Q: Dear Meredith,

I am in my late 40s and have been married for almost 25 years. I love and respect my wife -- she is intelligent and is a great mother to our two grown children. We have had a good life. There was a time about a decade ago where I was not in a good place personally. I was in a job I hated and just generally not happy. During this time I had a few one night stands with women I met through my job. I eventually confessed to my wife because I felt so guilty about it. She was devastated but said she forgave me and I have tried very hard to be a better husband and better person. I found another job that I enjoyed more (and where there were not many women). Things have been pretty good for the last nine years.

Recently my wife has been depressed, anxious, and sometimes has unpredictable outbursts. I think she is suffering with the whole empty-nest thing. I have tried to be supportive but it seems like she takes all her emotional issues out on me and several times has thrown my past cheating in my face even though she claims to have forgiven me. During this time, I happened to meet a woman (Sarah) and we have gotten close and have been physical a few times. I felt really guilty about it though so cut off the friendship. But I found I was miserable because I had no one to talk to about what was going on with my wife. So after several weeks of no contact, we have resumed our friendship and spend a couple of hours a day talking on the phone or emailing. We have only been physical once in that time. Sarah's a good listener and is also going through something similar (she is in an unhappy marriage and contemplating divorce).

After many conversations with her, Sarah helped me realize how unhappy I've been in my marriage for a long time. And that my wife has never forgiven me for my past cheating and probably never will. I am contemplating leaving but I'm worried about how that would affect my wife. I don't want to hurt her. I also worry about the financial aspects. My wife is the bread winner in the family and came into the marriage with some family money. We enjoy an above average lifestyle - without her income I'm not sure I could even afford a decent place on my own. I think my friend would be willing to move in with me (assuming she gets a divorce) but she doesn't work so would only have whatever alimony/child support comes her way after the divorce. Sarah says her husband does reasonably well though so we could probably enjoy a comfortable lifestyle especially if she were able to keep their house. But she also has two young boys and I'm not sure I'm ready to be in a step-dad type of relationship.

I know my wife would be devastated if I asked for a divorce. I have asked her to get counseling but she refuses. She's a good person and I do care about her but I'm just not happy. Should I do what's best for her or what's best for me?

– Unhappy, Mass.

A: Should I do what's best for her or what's best for me?

You should do what's best for both of you. You should stop cheating and get your act together.

Maintaining the status quo and lying to your wife isn't what's best for anybody. It's certainly not in your wife's best interest to live with someone who's miserable and lining up a second life behind her back. You have to drop Sarah, like right now. You're not entitled to her attention, and you both need to focus on your real lives.

You must also go to therapy, even if it's just for you. Perhaps you can go for a while and then ask your wife to join you for a session or two. Sometimes a visit on someone else's behalf is less intimidating.

And please know that you can't jump from your wife to Sarah. You sound crazy for prioritizing your escape plan and discussing your standard of living as your marriage is dissolving. You should show this letter to your therapist. I think it'd be quite revealing.

Again, in no particular order: Drop Sarah (now), go to therapy, ask your wife to join you, and be honest with her about what you want from your marriage, if anything. No more coasting, cheating, and planning for a live-in girlfriend. Sarah is married and so are you.

Say it with me: Married. You need to be a husband and figure out what's best for you and your wife.

Readers? Is there some narcissism going on here? Should he tell the wife about Sarah? Does he have to cut her off? What happens his wife continues to refuse therapy? Help.

– Meredith

I'm the other woman

Posted by Meredith Goldstein October 4, 2012 08:05 AM

Great chat yesterday.

As for today, just remember to be helpful. You can be critical, but please give advice.

Q: I carried on an affair with a man -- who later became my boss -- on and off for over two years. It is an extremely long story filled with unbelievable circumstances, so I will summarize the events.

This charming man has insisted to many, including myself, that he and his wife "have an agreement" that if she doesn't know, him having extramarital relationships is fine. I took this as truth, maybe because I wanted to, and have known others he has approached this way, though none that followed through. I had intended it to be a short-lived affair, and he is well-known as somewhat of a womanizer, which added to my belief in his claim. I met his wife on a number of occasions and based on things she said and allowed us to do as friends, I was pretty convinced they really did have the agreement.

When I showed no interest in "dating" him, he laid it on thick and seemed genuine; however, when I would show interest, he would disappear completely. This became a recurring theme. If I tried to talk to him about "us," he would often lose his temper, blame things on me, break me down, and claim he just wanted to be friend ... only to seduce me a short time later. He often accused me of having personal ads up and trying to "cheat" on him, which I later found out was something he had been actively doing to me.

Why did I carry on this affair? Because when he made me feel good, he made me feel like the only person in the world. It sounds pitiful, I am aware.

After two years of fighting, I finally had enough. I started encouraging him to leave me alone, be my friend, and be with his wife, but he was unrelenting. He wouldn't stop hassling me about getting back together. We finally had a huge fight and he became afraid I would tell his wife, so he told her. I did not believe he told her, as he often seemed to lie, and when he recounted what he said to her, he revealed he had lied at least about the length of the affair, so who knows what else. I believed him after she confirmed it in an email to me and asked me to cease all contact.

Still, we kept in contact. On and off, we were friends, but we often talked about getting back together (mostly fueled by him). We did not engage in sex, but he would still give me little presents and often made plans with me, which one of us would cancel. Over the last six weeks, he tried to come back to me multiple times, only when I wasn't interested, and when I finally became interested, he unloaded hell on me. I told him I couldn't handle the emotional strain of his mercurial emotions and to either come back or leave me alone.

Shortly after, he contacted me under innocent pretenses as a friend, and began the begging anew. I was resistant, but finally believed him again and wanted him back. A few days ago, we had a short phone conversation in which he accused me of being the juggernaut in this recent scenario (though I have emails that show otherwise) and was outright cruel. He claimed to me that he now honest and wants to work on his marriage (which he has claimed several times, only to come back to me), when just a few hours before he was trying to arrange a meeting with me. I am tired of him coming back. I feel gullible and stupid for believing him so many times and have told him to leave me alone multiple times.

I am considering "helping" him to be honest by contacting his wife with texts and emails, but there are literally thousands. I don't want to hurt her, I just need him to leave me alone and I think it's unfair that he broke my heart repeatedly, cost me my job and some mutual friends, and continues to wreak havoc on my heart whenever the mood strikes him. Should I send all of our communications and alert her to the reality of the relationship, or a select few showing that he has not kept his word and has been seeking me out repeatedly?

I am not malicious. There is something wrong with him and I have come to realize she lives in a bubble of her own denial. I want to be left alone and I want him to have no avenue whatsoever to come back to me, be it innocent or otherwise.

– Enough is Enough, Calif.

A: Do not send emails to the wife, EIE. And stop trying to be this man's friend. Change your email address and cell phone number so that only safe people know how to reach you. Cut him off.

You keep taking about his bad patterns, but you're the one who succumbs every time. His wife actually wrote to you and asked you to stay away, and you dismissed her request. You ignored her. She might be in a bubble of denial, but so are you. You started this because you thought he had an open marriage, but you continued it even though you knew you were the other woman.

My advice is to give yourself what you want. "I want to be left alone and I want him to have no avenue whatsoever to come back to me, be it innocent or otherwise." Fine. It's not that hard. You just have to change that phone number and go away.

This situation isn't out of your control. Everything that's happened to you has been a choice. Let this letter be the start of the rest of your life. Don't forward any emails. Just disappear from this man's world so that you can have a world of your own.

Readers? Why can't she let go? Is she addicted to this situation? How can she cut him off? Advice? Help.

– Meredith

He called off the wedding

Posted by Meredith Goldstein September 19, 2012 08:36 AM

We chat at 1.

Q: Hi,

My fiance and I have been in a relationship for almost 10 years, engaged for 3. We were ready to get married in a few months when he confronted me about my attraction to him.

I told him honestly that I wasn't attracted to him anymore and he called off the wedding. I told him that the loss of attraction is normal for couples and that we could work it out, but now he is questioning our entire relationship. He says that at this point, he doesn't want to be in a relationship. He says he questions his love for me and mine for him.

I admit that during our relationship, I haven't communicated with him as I should have, but I have started going to counseling to work on my issues of self-esteem, negativity, and communication. He feels as though he's been putting so much into the relationship (and that I haven't been doing my part) that he is burned out. I feel as though it's still too early for him to honestly decide if he wants to be in a relationship.

I have tried to tell him that couples counseling would be best to help us sort out our feelings clearly, but he is unwilling to go. He is only open to going to my therapy to have the psychologist tell me that he doesn't want a relationship anymore. I am working on myself, and am ready to give my all into saving our relationship. I don't want to lose everything that we have shared, and I told him that all I want is one last chance.

– Frustrated and Lost, Las Vegas

A: If he's open to going to your therapist, take him, FAL. That's your fiance's best offer and you just can't force him to do more right now.

You told your partner of 10 years that you're just not attracted to him anymore. It seems pretty fair that he decided to cancel the wedding and re-consider his options. He's putting himself first. I can't say I blame him.

You're in a state of transition. You might discover in therapy that you don't want to get married, at least not to your fiance. You might decide that you need some space to figure out what makes you happy, and that you waited three years for this wedding because it wasn't something that you could ever be sure about. Don't beg your fiance for a life together until you're sure that you want it.

Continue the therapy. Bring him along. Be honest with yourself about what's best for both of you.

I know that sex ebbs and flows in relationships, but you're telling us that you're not attracted to the guy you planned to marry. That's a pretty big deal. You should want more for yourself, and he has every reason to want to walk away.

Readers? Do they need couples therapy? Should the letter writer ask the fiance to stay? Should people be attracted to each other after a decade? What about their other issues? What's happening here? Discuss.

– Meredith

I cheated at the beach

Posted by Meredith Goldstein September 14, 2012 08:28 AM

Empathy. (I know, I know, this one's tough.)

Q: Meredith,

I'm a 20-something guy in a long relationship. I can see myself being with her forever, and I bought an engagement ring a couple months ago.

Now comes the hard part. I recently went to the beach for a bachelor party with a group of close friends. This was a week for us to forget, cut loose, and live like we did when we were in college.

I am generally an outgoing guy that will talk to just about anyone. One night at a bar, I started talking to a very attractive girl, and I could immediately tell she was into me. I, of course, did not mention my girlfriend. Nothing beyond conversation happened that first night, but when I got back to our house that night, I could not stop thinking about this girl I just met.

Fast forward two nights and I saw her again. We talked again, and had some drinks. I asked if she wanted to go for a walk on the beach. She did and very shortly into our walk/conversation, I kissed her. After making out for some time (maybe 30 minutes), I walked her back to her place and she invited me in, but I did decline, saying how it was late. I saw her every night for the rest of the trip, and every night we would have drunk make-out sessions and talk and joke and have a good time together. I was torn because I have this serious girlfriend back home, but I could feel myself falling for this girl, and very quickly. I even bought protection -- just in case this "vacation romance" were to progress.

On the last night of our trip, she and her friends came to the house we were renting and she threw herself at me. I told her I felt sick and had to go.

She and I have since exchanged a couple text messages back and forth, but nothing scandalous. I have thought several times to go and visit her to see if there is truly a big enough spark there for me to run away from my current situation.

I know what I did was not right, and I have not told my girlfriend about any of my indiscretions. Since I came back home, sex with my girlfriend has not been the same, as I am racked with guilt. I am constantly thinking of this woman and wondering what a life with her would be like.

I am happy with my girlfriend and love her. But, if I am having these doubts, that can't be a good sign for my existing relationship, right? If I tell her what happened, I am afraid I will lose her. Should I tell my girlfriend? Should I go on a trip to see this woman again? Should I delete her from my phone and cut off all contact? Am I a total jerk for (1) doing this and (2) now debating leaving a good situation?? Help!

– Heart Robbed on the Shore, Boston

A: Tell your girlfriend. You might lose her, but at least you won't be lying to her anymore.

You're having serious doubts about your long-term relationship. You're actually wondering whether you might be happier with a woman you met at the beach. You're a guilty mess.

My advice is to tell her everything. Like, everything. Tell her that you've been planning a proposal. Tell her that you regressed as soon as you set foot on the sand. Tell her that you spent your vacation week pretending to be a younger, single version of yourself. Tell her that you couldn't quite go through with the cheat, at least not all the way. Then discuss.

She might kick you out. She might be a friend. She might tell you about her own fears and concerns. Or maybe she'll just yell. Regardless, you can't pretend this didn't happen, and if you were her, wouldn't you want to know?

Yes, you're a jerk for doing this, but you're not a jerk for questioning what this means about your relationship. This cheat is now a part of your history. Your girlfriend needs to be part of the discussion.

Readers? Should he propose? Does he have to confess? Should he go see this other woman? Was this just a panic move because he's about to propose? Would you want to know if you were the girlfriend? Should he tell her about the ring? Help.

– Meredith

His dad cheated

Posted by Meredith Goldstein September 4, 2012 08:31 AM

Good morning. Make sure you check out yesterday's self-help reviews.

In other news, yes, we have some thoughts (positive and negative) about the new comments system. The folks in charge are watching to see what works and what doesn't. Feel free to leave some *constructive* feedback in the comments section. It will be read and considered. Just make sure that you give your advice to the letter writer first.

Q: I have been in a relationship for eight years. About three years ago, my fiance learned that his father had been having a long-term affair. His mother had found evidence, confronted her husband, and was preparing for a divorce. She shared this with my fiance.

Ultimately, they did decide to stay together. However, the experience wreaked havoc on my relationship. My fiance was angry at his father for the affair and angry at his mother for telling him about it. Not surprisingly, my fiance was upset and withdrew with worries that the "sins of the father would be bestowed upon the son." And though I hate to admit it, I too suddenly had doubts. Would my fiance also have an affair? Could I trust him? Instead of starting from a place of trust, I found myself beginning from doubts and becoming even more possessive and insecure. Ultimately, his father apologized to him but never to me. It has been the elephant in the room at every family gathering.

I have told my fiance that I am hurt as well, and that I would like to discuss it. My fiance's response: "Why?" He doesn't think that my feelings are justified because his parents experienced a greater loss than me. The issue has driven a wedge between us because I feel like he doesn't value my feelings. It's also hurt my relationship with his parents because I have lost all respect for his father.

I know that this experience has exposed many weaknesses in this relationship, but I'm curious about just one aspect: Am I wrong to believe that there should be a discussion with his family that includes me, in which the affair is at least acknowledged? Am I expecting too much to believe that his father owes me an apology as well?

– Still Wondering About My Place, Boston

A: Your fiance's dad hurt a lot of people when he cheated on his wife. For all you know, his co-workers are thinking, "Why isn't he apologizing to us for bringing his relationship stress into the work place?" For all you know, your fiance's parents' friends are thinking, "Shouldn't he be chatting with us about how he messed with the dynamics of the group?"

You're one of many people who got caught up in this mess. Your fiance's dad might bring this up with you eventually, but for now he's focused on his wife. That's understandable, even though I absolutely empathize with your anger and frustration.

My hope is that he rallies as a parent and explains to his son that every marriage is different. My hope is that your fiance can watch his parents overcome a relationship tragedy with love and support. That would be a great lesson.

In the meantime, you need to focus on your own relationship. Separate yourself from this indiscretion and maybe your fiance will follow your lead. His parents are not the Ghosts of Christmas Future. They're just two people trying to make it work.

Readers? Is she entitled to a talk with the father? Is the fiance being insensitive? What should she do? Help.

– Meredith

Having kids ruined our sex life

Posted by Meredith Goldstein August 30, 2012 08:27 AM

Q: My wife of almost 12 years and I are from different backgrounds and cultures. Those differences are the glue that has held us together.

We have two beautiful children. We've given our lives to them and are on the same page in terms of their upbringing. She has put her career on hold (it has been 10 years), and I have been fortunate enough to be able to provide a very comfortable lifestyle.

Here's the problem: We have virtually no intimacy anymore. It has been like this since my youngest child (he's 9) was born. We've talked about it millions of times, but nothing ever changes. Her explanation? All women change sexually after having children. I need to get over it. Yes, she's that abrupt. As for me, well, I'm a physical cling-on, which I know can be annoying. I'm also a man, so I could exercise between the sheets on a daily basis.

My problem is, 90% of our relationship works. The other 10% doesn't. She feels everything is just peachy and avoids intimacy as much as possible. Sometimes her behavior makes me feel insecure and sometimes even not loved.

What advice can you offer us?

– Gottohaveit, Boston

A: "What advice can you offer us?"

Am I really advising two people here? Or just you?

If this letter had come from both of you, I'd tell your wife to visit her doctor to see if there's anything she can do about her missing sex drive. I'd tell her that sex is important and that she's lucky to have a husband who's desperate to stay close to her.

But ... she's not asking me for advice, is she? It's just you here. So the real question is: How can you get your wife to acknowledge that this issue is legitimate?

My advice for you is to take it slow. Ask for kissing. Suggest visiting first base with the hope of a trip to second. Sit close to her while watching TV. Your wife might be less overwhelmed by light physical intimacy, and the light stuff often leads to the rest.

Also try to plan a trip for just the two of you. It won't necessarily lead to sex, but it'll give you time and space to talk about your wants and needs without kids around. You can ask her about that doctor idea. You can tell her that you feel lonely when she pulls away. "I feel lonely" is more difficult to dismiss than "I want sex." "What should we do?" is a better question than "How can I get what I want?"

Make sure you choose the right words and ask her questions about her own needs. Find out what makes her feel good. Ask her what used to make her feel great. Don't overwhelm her with demands. Just have a discussion -- as two people who still love each other. Because that's what you are.

Readers? What can he say to get her attention about this? Is it a lost cause? Is her reasoning valid? Are their cultural differences relevant? Help.

– Meredith

I might want a divorce

Posted by Meredith Goldstein August 16, 2012 08:30 AM

Q: I have been with my wife for over almost a decade and we got married a few years ago. And I think I want a divorce, I just don't know what to do.

There has not been any one big fight or one big issue. And without question there are times where there is no one I would rather be with. But there are times when I feel, even on good days, that we just very good roommates. And there are times that seem to be occurring with more frequency, where I just wish I was by myself. I had always thought of myself as a relatively even-tempered person, usually in a good mood. But she can put me in a bad mood. There are times when I think that she is in a bad mood (perhaps incorrectly at times), which puts me in a bad mood, and that leads to tension.

I feel as if my wife is not happy, but I am not entirely sure why. I know she feels stressed all the time because of her job, but I think there is more (and I will admit I am not the best communicator and that it isn't easy for me to ask what else is bothering her … perhaps I am afraid she will say I am the problem). When we got married and when we were dating, we both had discussed how we did not want children. I have found that I am warming up to the idea but still am not ready, but suddenly she keeps talking about wanting them now. I also think that when she wants to, she looks for a reason to be unhappy and clings to it.

There are also money issues. I used to have a job that paid very well, but I hated it. It was not what I wanted to do. So I took a step back in my career, received additional training, which then allowed me to pursue what I really think is my dream job, which I have now. The problem is that this job does not pay much (about 50% of the job that I hated). This has definitely limited what we can do, where we can go, where we can live. And it definitely impacts our ability to afford children. There are some similar jobs that pay better, but those are very difficult to get. And if I could get one of those jobs I would; but she wants me to move on to something, anything, that pays better and that makes me feel stuck. If I stay in my current job, we will continue to have money issues (we can pay our bills, live a simple life, but nothing else). If I leave for a job that pays more because she wants me to, I know I will just resent her for it.

I just feel as too often I am not happy at the end of the day. But with student loans and my current job, I don't know that I can afford to be single (my wife makes more money than I do). There is also just the shame I think I would feel in getting divorced. Most, if not all, of my friends really like my wife. Our wedding was a great time and everyone honestly always talks about it still. I just don't know if I could do it, and I don't even know where to begin. I know communication would help, but I also am scared at what might come out.

– Not sure about my marriage, Boston

A: "I know communication would help." That's the understatement of the month, NSAMM.

You don't know what your wife is thinking. You don't ask. You make guesses about why she's angry. You make assumptions about what she might say if you talked to her about your problems.

You're not allowed to plan a divorce until you know that you need one. You don't know anything right now. And seriously, your wife deserves to know what's going on in your head. She's probably anxious because you're obviously unhappy. She's working like crazy -- at her job and at home -- and you've done little to explain your plan for your personal and professional future.

The kid thing is huge. The money thing is huge. You give incredibly mixed signals. (You might want a divorce ... but you're warming up to the idea of having kids with your wife? How does that work?)

I'm not blaming you for any of this, but you need to stop running away from honest discussion. If you're a better writer than talker, email your wife. Tell her that you're confused about what you want. Tell her that you'd like to see her happy again. Tell her that you're ready for the truth.

Again, you can't rev up for a divorce until you understand your own relationship. Think about what you want for your marriage and then talk (or write) to your wife about making it happen. Please don't wait.

Readers? Should he be talking about divorce? Can you empathize with the wife? What about the job? And that last paragraph ... with the friends and the wedding? What does that tell you? Help.

– Meredith

Do cheats ever end well?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein August 13, 2012 08:34 AM

Make sure you read Friday's updates.

Q: Dear Meredith,

I know this is not going to go over well with the readers, but here it goes:

I am having a purely sexual affair with a co-worker. We are both late 30s, in decade-long unhappy marriages. We do not report to one another. Neither of us wants a "real" relationship, and neither knows whether our marriages will work out. We have been sleeping together for around a year, probably about once a month. We are very discreet, do not go out in public together, and only get together on business trips.

Either one of us can walk away and decide to fully commit to our marriage (This is not the typical "will he ever leave his wife for me?" situation). Alternately, if either one of us divorces and wants to start dating someone for real, it would also end our affair. We both have eyes wide open that this is a short-term fling and that we are in no way meant to be together.

Love Letters is generally filled with tales of woe from the cheated-upon -- hurting spouses, suspicious fiancés, etc. I am not trying to justify my behavior. I am not looking for people to condemn it, nor to tell me it is OK. Here are my questions:

Do you know of anyone who has had an affair that ended WELL? Has anyone had an affair and been able to salvage their marriage? Has anyone had a long-term "background" affair that didn't affect their marriage either way?

I guess I'm just looking for some insight as to how this might end...

– Am I kidding myself?, South Shore

A: To answer your first two questions, yes, many couples bounce back from affairs. Some couples come out stronger after dealing with a betrayal. It's possible, but it's certainly not a guarantee. It takes work, honesty, and the desire to stay together.

To answer your last question, no, you can't have an affair without it affecting your marriage. It's going to change your relationship even if you're the only one who knows about it.

You don't seem to want advice or to be scolded, AIKM, but … too bad. Here it goes:

If you're a Love Letters reader, you know that many of my letters come from people who are desperate to figure out whether their partners are cheating. These letter writers feel frantic and hopeless. They feel alone. How do you feel when you read their letters? Do you have empathy?

I won't make assumptions about your partner -- for all I know, your spouse is cheating too -- but I will say that for every month you continue this "background" affair, you're putting off the most important thing in your world: your unhappy marriage. Isn't it time to address your problems? Isn't it time to figure out what to do next?

If you can't stop cheating out of respect for your spouse, please stop for yourself. Because you're wasting your own time. You have questions to answer. This is no time to stall.

This affair is standing in the way of everyone's happiness. You will regret dragging this out. Stop kidding yourself and start dealing with reality.

Readers? Do affairs always end marriages? What can you tell this letter writer? What would the letter writer's partner say?

– Meredith

I need him to admit that he cheated

Posted by Meredith Goldstein August 3, 2012 08:39 AM

Happy Friday. I don't know where this letter writer is from.

Q: Hi Meredith,

I can't seem to get over a possible cheat. I say "possible" because my husband will not admit that he cheated. But I know in my gut he did.

About a year ago, he became very withdrawn from our family. He would come home and read a magazine while I got the kids their dinner. He would not initiate any affection or intimacy toward me. I did try to initiate "couple time" away from the house, but he always came up with an excuse as to why we shouldn't leave the kids or he'd say he was too tired from work. For fear of an argument, I didn't confront him and just focused on the kids, my career, and my relationships with my family and friends. Yes, I enabled him to withdraw, so part of this is my fault.

As time went on, I started to become suspicious. He was on his BlackBerry a lot. I snooped on his BlackBerry and sure enough there were quite a few emails between him and another (younger) woman at work. I didn't say anything right away and just monitored the emails from time to time. One morning, when we were eating breakfast as a family, I watched him write an email on the BlackBerry and smile and laugh. When he walked away, I picked it up and read it. Sure enough it was correspondence between him and the other woman.

I point blank asked him what was going on between him and Lady X. Of course he denied it and said how dare I cause him additional stress during what is a very busy time for him at work. He also said she was ugly and that they didn't get along. (I saw her Facebook page and she isn't ugly.) Also, from their emails it appeared they got along just fine. The email content was mostly flirting and joking. But why had he never mentioned her? And why was this happening during our family time?

I will say that he usually comes home from work at a reasonable time so he's not hooking up with her after work. At the very least, I think this was an emotional affair, which still hurts just as bad since I don't feel I get the emotional support I should as a his wife. In his defense, he is an excellent dad with the exception of when he was withdrawn last year. He also has made more of an effort to be a loving husband.

However, I can't get past this incident. He made me feel like I was being the jealous wife. I told him that this whole thing makes me feel insecure and he said, "That's your problem." However, since this confrontation, he has become more attentive and does not use his BlackBerry in my presence. But what happens when I'm not around? What happens at the office? Sometimes I feel that if he just admitted he had feelings for her but doesn't anymore, I could move past this. But then again, I'm not so sure. I want so badly to move forward but this alleged affair continues to cloud my thoughts. I feel I just need closure. I need him to admit to me it was some kind of affair. Then I either figure out a way to move past this or divorce him.

– Want to Know

A: Let's pretend I have proof that your husband never had an affair and that this woman is just a super awesome work friend who makes him laugh. Let's pretend that your marriage is just your marriage and that there are no third parties, just pals.

In this pretend world, are you satisfied with your relationship? Do you love your husband? Are you capable of intimacy? Do you have fun with him?

I don't know what your husband has been up to, and he's handled this so, so poorly. But you've asked him a question and he's given you an answer. He says he's not cheating, so that's that. Instead of focusing on sleuthing to prove that he did, please use your energy to consider your daily life with your husband. If he's trying a bit harder these days, take advantage. Tell him what you need.

This woman is a bit of a red herring. You keep asking about her and what she represents, but my questions for you and your husband are: "Do you want to be married?" and "How do you want that marriage to look?" Really, it's so much more productive to figure out what you want for yourself than to obsess about this woman.

It'll be easier to talk to your husband about your marriage if you keep her out of it. I empathize (I'd be obsessed with her too), but your investigation just isn't constructive right now. Feel free to investigate your marriage, but leave her out of it.

Readers? Am I right or should she figure out what's happening with this woman? Am I right to say that the woman is a red herring? Is she the cause of all of the problems? What should the letter writer do? Help.

– Meredith

Are we bored of each other?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein July 26, 2012 08:12 AM

Commonwealth Shakespeare Company week at Love Letters continues.

Today's letter will be performed as a monologue by actress Esme Allen, who plays Virgilia in the Free Shakespeare on the Common production of "Coriolanus." Enjoy.

The original letter and my answer are below.

Q: Hi Meredith,

I'm in my mid-to-late 20s and have been with my boyfriend for just over 2 years. We live together and are happily in love. We have discussed marriage and both seem ready to settle down. However, there is one thing that is bugging me: Our relationship has evolved from full-out infatuation to daily-routine comfortable.

What I mean is that there used to be a time when we would say "I love you" at the end of every phone call and make out just for the sake of making out. Now we give each other little pecks in the morning when we head off to work. It reminds me of my parents and other older couples who have been together for many years. But we're only at year two!

This hasn't affected anything in the bedroom (thankfully!) but it has me wondering about other things. Is this an attraction issue or are we just too convenient to each other?

I keep telling myself that we're growing up together, but is it possible that we're actually growing tired of each other?

– Growing Old Together Too Soon?, Mass.

A: You're still having fun in the bedroom? And you have a nice, comfortable daily routine? All of this sounds pretty good to me.

It's been two years. Infatuation doesn't last forever. If your boyfriend is still the guy you want to talk to (and sleep with) at the end of the day, you're good. You seem to be focusing on what your relationship has lost and ignoring all that it's gained.

Some of this romantic stuff is in your hands. You want to make out for no reason? Initiate. You want to feel smitten all over again? Plan a date or a trip. Rent a romantic movie.

You're not growing old together, you're just growing. You say that you're "happily in love." That's your answer.

Readers? Does the letter writer understand what "happily in love" looks like? Does the letter writer have anything to worry about? After two years, should there be making out for no reason? Are they too comfortable too soon? Help.

– Meredith

I want to marry the father of my child

Posted by Meredith Goldstein July 2, 2012 08:43 AM

Q: Hi Meredith,

I met this guy at work a few years ago. We hit it off and started dating. He seemed like a nicer guy than I was used to, a gentleman who took me out on real dates. We actually waited like two months before we slept together. Our relationship started to dwindle -- I really don't know why -- and then I found out that I was pregnant. I was in love with him I think, but he didn't want kids. I told him that I was having baby no matter what and that he could walk away. He decided to stay.

Our daughter is now 3 and the most beautiful little girl. I am so proud and blessed. We broke up when she was about a year old. To make a long story short, there was a lot of ugliness but we did become friends for the sake of our daughter. This past spring, we slept together. It was a shock because we hadn't been affectionate with each other since before we broke up. Now he will not call it what it is -- a relationship. We are not just sleeping together, but we are affectionate and spend time together.

One of the big issues on my end when we broke up was that he said he would marry me but I never saw any effort on his part to do so. He owns his house and lives alone. My daughter and I live with my mother. When we were together, he never once asked us to move in. I need to know, given the current events and how we're getting along, do you think he will ever marry me?

Not too long ago, I said something about him being afraid to commit and it seemed like he was offended. He said, "I'm not afraid to commit, I just chose not to." Should I walk? Am I wasting my time? Everyone around me is engaged and I am so bitter that it didn't end up that way for me. I am now 32 and he is in his early 40s. If he was going to marry, wouldn't he have already? Please help.

– Lost and Abandoned, Southie

A: You're too focused on the marriage thing, LAA. If he asked you to marry him tomorrow, would you really want to say yes? Would you be able to trust his intentions? He hasn't earned that kind of commitment from you. I understand why you want to wind up with the father of your child, but this man has been irresponsible with your heart. Your first priority should be creating a stable life for your kid.

I don't want you to give him an ultimatum, but I do want you to make this decision for him. If he doesn't want more from this, it's time to set boundaries. He can spend time with you for parenting purposes. The two of you can make schedules and figure out expenses like other non-couples who share children. Explain to him that if this isn't a real relationship with potential, you have to stop hanging out.

He told you that he doesn't want to commit to you. He won't call this a relationship. That seems to be the answer. He's obviously still attracted to you, but that's just not enough. You're only 32. There's a big world out there full of people your age who just want to find someone who will stick around. You need to start scheduling your life so that you have just a little bit of time to go out and meet them.

You signed your letter "Lost and Abandoned." Doesn't that say it all?

Readers? How can she turn the father of her child into a real ex? Should she? Why is he spending so much time with her? Does that mean that there's hope? What's best for the kid? Help.

– Meredith

I'm not excited about marrying him

Posted by Meredith Goldstein June 27, 2012 08:42 AM

We chat at 1.

Q: Dear Meredith,

I'm 27, stuck, and am seriously hoping for some feedback.

I've been in a relationship for 10 years with a truly great person. He is kind, considerate, loving, etc. He always wants to be in my presence and constantly needs attention and to be taken care of. He is my best friend. He is also selfish, lazy, and angry at times, and finds it difficult to move past obstacles (fights, disagreements, etc). We have been engaged for a couple of years.

We met through mutual friends and hit it off. I was still in high school and had gone through some very bad experiences in my life that made it difficult to be around men in general, but we hung out a lot and had a lot in common. We were in a relationship for about five years and I started having second thoughts. I ended up breaking up with him. I couldn't give him a reason as to why I was breaking up. Within a week of us breaking up, he went out a found a replacement (I don't blame him for this).

My mistake was staying in touch with him. I wanted to be friends. I found out about this other girl and became afraid to lose him and spent a month trying to get him back. We got back together but he continued to see the other girl on occasion. I think he was trying to hurt me the way I hurt him.

Six months later he moved in and we have been living together since then. We lived together for about two years when he proposed, but I couldn't answer yes or no. I just cried. I am not sure I want to marry him. I am 100 percent sure that I need to figure myself out before wasting time and energy on a wedding.

Although I respect him greatly, I am not happy in the relationship. I do not know if love him the way I should. I definitely don't love him the way he loves me. And let me be a bit shallow here -- there is not much physical attraction either (maybe I'm just messed up in that department). I feel like I shouldn't complain. This guy took me back after I screwed up and I don't want to hurt him any more than I already have. Looking at the situation rationally, however, I am probably hurting him every day because I am sure what I am feeling comes though my daily actions.

I still care for the man, but he deserves much more. Perhaps I am being overly rational and should go with my gut, but I am afraid of making a mistake. I don't think I will get a second chance at a do-over. I have never cheated on him (my parents are in a situation where one is openly cheating on the other).

I want to be happy, to want to run home from work because I can't wait to see the person I am involved with. I want to be giddy with excitement about getting engaged. Does this actually happen? Do these emotions exist outside of the Lifetime network movies and books? I haven't had particularly good role models when it comes to happy, healthy relationships. Is happiness not a part of the package? Other than this mess, I am a well-established, rational individual.

– Should I Stay or Should I Go, Boston

A: Get out now. You love this guy because he's your closest friend, but you're not attracted to him and you don't want to marry him. The end.

The Lifetime network stuff does exist (well, some of it). You should be excited about getting married. You should feel romantic about the process.

You shouldn't stay with someone because you're afraid of the unknown. That seems to be your issue. You've never really dated anybody else. You have no context. It's time to get some.

Letting go of him will be awful, but you have to make it happen. There will be loneliness. You will second guess yourself a million times. You'll also get just as jealous as you did years ago when you eventually hear that he's moving on. But this time around you'll have to fight the urge to call him.

It's going to be messy. But it'll be messier if you stay with him. You say that he deserves more, but so do you. So go. Your gut knows this is over.

Readers? Is there any reason to stay? Can you tell her what she's missing? Can you explain what she'll experience if she breaks up with him? Can you help her through this? Help.

– Meredith

She wants to wait until marriage ... for everything

Posted by Meredith Goldstein June 20, 2012 08:33 AM

We chat today.

Q: Dear Meredith,

"Sarah" and I have been together for a year and a half. It has been wonderful from the get-go; we both have the same interests and she is one of the kindest, smartest people I've ever met. We're also 12 years apart in age (I'm 36, she's 24), but we're both grounded. She still lives at home with her parents but says that will change once she gets a full-time job in her field. (That's taking some getting used to; I’ve been on my own for 14 years).

However, one thing has been nagging at me recently: she's waiting for marriage to have sex. She told me this very early on in our relationship -- it's a religious thing, as well as her own personal preference -- and I was fine with that at the time because I thought, well, there's other things you can do. It's also her preference; who am I to pressure her? I learned soon after that no sex before marriage meant no real physical relationship before marriage. It really never bothered me until the last few months when it's been on my mind constantly. I also realized that I'm nowhere near to getting engaged -- I'm still trying to figure out if it's because I will be making a career change soon, or if I'm still unsure if she's the one. This is the longest relationship for both of us (and her first "real" relationship).

Recently, she and I had a long conversation about this waiting. I told her that this no-contact thing is very frustrating to me, but quickly added that I wasn't looking for the obvious solution because I'm not forcing her into doing something if she's not ready. I've never experienced anything like this before -- nor have the few, close friends with whom I've discussed this, and they're all as perplexed as I am about what to do. What I'm worried about is losing interest in her physically, which apparently already is showing itself; I don't ask her to stay over anymore because what's the point? Can physical attraction ever leave and come back? What happens if we get married and on the wedding night, I have no interest in seeing her naked? It's like we're an old married couple and it's only just begun. I said this to her, concerning the wedding night, during our talk and all she said was, "You better not," which kind of says to me she doesn't fully understand where I'm coming from.

Look, I'm not some kind of sex-crazed person, but it is one of the fun parts of being in a relationship (like I need to tell you that). I really don't know what to do. Sarah is such a sweetheart and we do have a lot of fun together, but I'm kind of worried that the lack of physicality will doom this relationship and there won't be anything to get it back.

– Stop! In the name of celibacy, NH

A: You're either the kind of person who can accept the no sex before marriage rule or you're not. And you're not. You never were. You want to be in a physical relationship with the person you're dating. Seems fair to me.

I have to wonder why this relationship appealed to you so much and why you've let it go on for so long. It makes me think that somewhere deep down in that brain of yours, you're so afraid of rejection that you felt good about being with someone who talked about lifetime commitment on the first date.

Maybe you needed that kind of security to get going in a relationship, but you're obviously ready for more risks – and some reality. I'm sure that Sarah is fantastic, but she should be with someone who shares her philosophies about sex and marriage. And you need a peer.

You already want less of her. You're moving on. Let her move on, too. End this.

Readers? Any reason to stick around? Why did a relationship with Sarah appeal to him so much? Is it lack of confidence? What should he do? What's the lesson here? Discuss.

– Meredith

How do I deal with my doubts?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein June 19, 2012 08:46 AM

Q: Dear Meredith,

I have been dating my boyfriend for almost seven years (since we were 21), and we have lived together for the last five. We are happy and in love and continue to enjoy each other's company. We are best friends and much more.

Recently, though, I have been struggling with nagging feelings of doubt and worry. We are in a season of weddings and many of my friends are head-over-heels in love with partners who they are committing to with what appears to be unwavering certainty. However, when I think about getting married, I feel mildly terrified (a sign I take to mean that I am not ready). Don't get me wrong, I do daydream about eventually (down the line) marrying and starting a family, and when I picture this future it is my current boyfriend who I absolutely imagine by my side. Yet I sometimes long to be single, and I feel a nagging worry that I will regret not having spent more time on my own and getting to know myself during my 20s (which are rapidly disappearing).

I also find myself frequently fantasizing about what it would be like to see other people, even though I suspect in my heart that it would lead me right back to the man I am with now. I want these doubts to go away, but they just seem to keep resurfacing. I have talked to my boyfriend about these feelings, and although he was understanding, it hurt him deeply. He said that he didn't share any of these types of doubts (or any doubts what-so-ever), and instead of making our relationship stronger, sharing my feelings just seems to have made him insecure and mildly paranoid that I am going to leave him or that I don't love him anymore.

I don't want to screw up and lose the love of my life, but I also don't want to ignore feelings that continue to plague me and may come back to bite me later. Should I try to get over my doubts and face up to what commitment really means? Do I have a classic case of commitment issues? Is this something that will just pass with time, or is it better to take action (despite the risk)?

– Needing Advice in New York

A: You don't have commitment issues, NAINY. You're just realizing that you can't have it all.

By having one great experience, you skip another. I figured that out in my late-20s, too. It freaked me out big time. I realized that by nesting in Boston in my 20s, I'd probably never travel the world. It's for the best; Boston is my home (and I get bad allergies when I travel a lot). Still, I had to mourn the loss of an experience I realized I was never going to have.

You mention doubts, but I have to tell you that your concerns are pretty tame compared to most of the "what-if" letters I find in my inbox. "I do daydream about eventually (down the line) marrying and starting a family, and when I picture this future it is my current boyfriend who I absolutely imagine by my side." That's a huge statement, assuming it's the truth.

You say that you might eventually regret not getting to know yourself in your 20s. I'd argue that you have been getting to know yourself -- very well. It's possible to grow up with a partner by your side.

My advice is to forget the married people. You're not on their schedule, and that's fine. Find out whether your boyfriend needs to get married soon or whether he can maintain the status quo. Make sure he knows all of the positives. Make sure he understands how much you adore him. Relax and see how you feel after wedding season is over.

Readers? Should she end this relationship and deal with her doubts? Should she have told her boyfriend about her concerns? Is this just about the stress of wedding season? Thoughts? Help.

– Meredith

My parents are more generous

Posted by Meredith Goldstein June 18, 2012 08:45 AM

Q: I am getting married to a wonderful man. My complaint is not about him but rather his family. My family is extremely generous. My parents are paying for the majority of the wedding. They also gave my fiance a very nice birthday present and have given us things in general, including frequent flier miles for our honeymoon so we don't have to pay for airfare.

His parents are contributing, but not much. They are giving us what they gave his brother and really have no idea how much this wedding will cost (mind you, his parents split the cost of his brother's wedding with the bride's family ... in our case they are paying around 1/6th of the total bill). It makes me uncomfortable that my family is so generous and his family does very little (we had to ask if they were going to contribute to the wedding as they never offered, and we knew how much they contributed for his brother's wedding). His parents can afford to do more but they don't even offer. I am not having an engagement party, bridal shower, or bachelorette party, which saves everyone money (especially his parents, who live far away) but yet my fiance's brother did.

I don't know how to discuss this with my fiance but it really bothers me because I feel like his parents should do more for us. I don't expect them to be as generous/even as my family but I just feel like it's unfair. What do you think?

– Uneven/Unfair, Boston

A: It's not unfair, U/U. It's just the way it is.

You can't go into a marriage assuming that you'll get stuff from parents. Anything you get from them is a bonus.

You also can't expect two very different families to share the same philosophies about money. You decided to have a certain kind of wedding. Your parents offered to pay for it. His parents are helping with the expenses. That's awesome. The end.

If your fiance brought this up as a problem, that would be one thing. They're his parents. But he's not freaking out about this, is he? It makes me wonder about your fiance's financial priorities. Do they line up with yours?

You might want to use this as a get-to-know-you moment. After the wedding is over and you guys have been showered in cash, have a talk about what to do with the money and how you feel about giving and receiving gifts.

Also know this: You never know how much money people have. You say that his parents "can afford to do more," but are you sure about that? Do you understand their expenses and what they have in the bank? Are you basing your statement on how they keep their home? Because having a nice house doesn't always mean that there's extra cash to throw around. Having a good job doesn't mean that there's always extra in the bank. Don't make any assumptions.

When it comes to financial philosophies and generosity, worry about yourself and your soon-to-be husband. That's the only couple that matters in this scenario.

As long as your parents and in-laws are respectful, involved, and show you love, you're in great shape.

Readers? Is this unfair? How do you balance families that have different philosophies about money? Should she bring this up with her fiance? Help.

– Meredith

I want to be engaged before I move

Posted by Meredith Goldstein June 15, 2012 08:14 AM

Q: Dear Meredith,

I recently ended a 3 1/2-year long-distance relationship. We were high school sweethearts who lost touch and reconnected a few years ago after almost 20 years apart. At the time we were both going through divorces and supported each other. Things progressed and we fell back in love and had a fantastic relationship -- up until the past few months.

We had always planned on a future together (getting married). This would require my relocating with my children to the other side of the state, finding a new job, selling my house, moving away from family and friends, etc. I was willing to do all of that but wanted to be married or at least engaged first. I told him that from day one.

About a year ago he bought a home that would accommodate all of us. I picked out all of the paint colors, carpeting, furniture, etc. That was a huge step (or so I thought) toward our future together, but still no proposal.

We have had our share of issues, mostly revolving around not being together more often. When we did argue, we just would not talk to each other for a few days and then pretend like the argument never happened. He is also of the mindset that even though we have two separate households and are not married or engaged, we should be "working together financially," something I strongly disagree with! (We both make very good money. We split most of our expenses or take turns paying.) Am I wrong to think that unless you are living together the financials should be kept separate?

Recently he ended the relationship via text message (mind you, we are both in our late 30s; this to me was extremely immature), saying the distance was too much, he didn't have the desire for a long distance relationship, etc. I was devastated to say the least.

My problem is that I can't let him go, I am trying, but he keeps texting or calling and we rehash our "issues," all of which I feel are resolvable with the right time and effort. Whenever I try to talk to him about an issue, I am told I am "picking a scab." I love him very much and want a future with him, but I'm not sure how to get us back on track, or if it is even possible to do so.

– Devastated, Woburn

A: Many people write to me because they want an engagement before cohabitation and their partner wants to live together first. Usually these couples compromise with a "soft engagement" -- the expression of an intent to get engaged if the cohabitation goes well. I think that could happen here.

But -- and this is a big but -- even if you guys work out the engagement issue, your boyfriend will still be a terrible communicator. Can you live with someone who shuts off for a few days after a fight and then sweeps it under the rug? Can you share your life with someone who can't listen when it matters most?

As a last-ditch effort, I want you to write down all of your questions and feelings (including the good ones) and then send him your list in a long email for his consideration. Write an intro paragraph that says, "I can't have an honest conversation about my needs without picking scabs. The scabs must be picked." Ask him to wait a few days before writing back so that he can really think about what you have to say.

If he can't talk (or write) about these problems, this is over. Not because of the engagement, but because you need to be with someone who can communicate like a grownup. After three years, this shouldn't be so difficult.

Readers? What happened here? Why does he want to combine finances if they don't live together? Should she move without an engagement? Is there any potential here? Help.

– Meredith

Pregnant ... and thinking about my ex

Posted by Meredith Goldstein June 12, 2012 08:36 AM

Q: Dear Meredith,

I've known my husband for 3 1/2 years. We're happily married and we're excitedly expecting a baby in a few months.

Before I met my husband, my best friend for two years was a guy I slowly fell in love with. During this time, I was getting out of a bad relationship/breakup, and my friend was long-distance dating someone who turned out to be cheating on him. We had a great time together and were always very real with one another. We didn't start a physical relationship until we were both single.

When we both became single we tried to go slowly, but we got intimate pretty quickly. In a sense we did go slowly because we knew we weren't in a place to commit to each other. I was, since I had been single for longer, but I played it cool. We decided to stay just friends several times but we would always keep coming back to one another. I think we both knew it was inevitable.

Then his housing fell through, and instead of getting a new apartment, he decided to move to a different state to live with his sister and her husband. I was confused by the distance and why he didn't try to stay around me and all his friends. He was also acting wishy-washy at this point, being very hot and cold depending on his mood. Then one day he told me he had never realized how much I loved him, and he didn't want to be with me like that.

I got upset and didn't talk to him for four days. It was during this time that I met my now husband. When my friend and I talked again, he did apologize. But at this point it had been a couple months of confusion with him, and my husband was like a knight in shining armor, even though I hadn't intended on dating anyone else for a while. He liked me, we had a wonderful time, and all my friends and family loved him.

My friend and I talked for about six more months and he visited a few times, but there was never any big declaration for me to be with him and not my now-husband. In retrospect there were a few mini-declarations, but nothing to push me away from my great new guy. Why would I be with someone who had hurt me over someone who never had? As the time passed, our conversations got more superficial, and now we rarely talk, if ever.

In the end, I know I made the right choice. There are many, many reasons why my husband is so good for me, better than my friend. But deep down, I miss my friend so very much. Why do I still miss him so much? And can I write him a letter expressing how I feel, knowing that I do not want to change the way things are now? He and I have both moved on and are very happy. I tried writing him a letter and throwing it away, but it didn't help.

Thanks for any advice.

– Torn Up for No Reason, Atlanta

A: You're never going to get that friendship back because it was never a friendship, TUFNR. Please don't write to him. There's nothing to say. Just know that he's gone. He's an ex.

You've experienced some serious life changes over the past few years. From what I can tell, you met your husband while you were in love with someone else, you got married pretty quickly (right?), and now you're having a child. Your brain is having trouble processing the meaning of all of these big choices.

You never gave yourself time to mourn the loss of your friend/ex. You can't skip that step. That's what you're doing now -- mourning. That's OK.

Be miserable that you can't reach out to him. Feel your feelings, as they say. But make sure that you feel your happy feelings, too. You married a guy who makes you feel good and safe. You're about to have a kid with him. You can be thrilled about that and sad about your friend at the same time.

You're also allowed to feel anger. Your friend was never that great to you. He was actually a pretty bad friend. Anger might help you speed up the mourning process.

Feel all of it -- and then snap out of it. That's your only option.

Readers? Should she reach out to him? Why is she still thinking about him? Is this about the baby? How can she get over the friend? What does this say about her marriage? Help.

– Meredith

We have to wait to get married

Posted by Meredith Goldstein June 7, 2012 08:18 AM

Q: Hello Meredith,

I have been seeing a wonderful man for almost six years. The first year was a friends-with-benefits type of situation that turned into a relationship and has lasted since. He is gentle, affectionate, romantic, responsible, funny, and kind -- just a good man who is good for me. He is also very attractive to boot. We are both on the higher end of mid-20s.

We have chosen to delay getting married because of a financial situation. It is not the wedding (we both want a very small wedding) or the ring (I would be thrilled with any ring he chose with care and meaning). It is my student loans.

I am in public interest and qualify for the public interest loan forgiveness program; after 120 payments the remainder will be forgiven. My payments are income-based because I do not make a lot of money, and there is the rub.

If we marry, my monthly loan payments will triple. He also has student loans but they are substantially smaller. We have enough to live but we are not going on vacations or going out to eat every week, and the additional payments will be a strain.

I was depressed realizing it didn't make sense to marry for 10 years, but I am coming to terms with it. My extended family is not so understanding. They have said that if I really loved him, the money wouldn't matter. This is incredibly hurtful to me, and also the basis of my question. Is there any truth to this? I feel like I cannot possibly love someone more than I love him, and this is not my first relationship. I personally think that if I really love him, what's the matter with waiting until it makes sense? But these relatives have all been married and I haven't. If I really loved him, would I say to hell with the six grand a year and do it anyway? Can you reassure me about how I should feel? How do I deal with these relatives while being firm but not rude?

– Too Cautious, Boston

A: I want you to make an appointment with a financial adviser, TC, because there might be some loan loopholes that only a professional can find. It's a good thing to do anyway, especially if you really want this guy to be your life partner. Sit down and have a pre-martial discussion about money. Talk about everything.

If this really can't be fixed, you have two options. One is to continue the status quo and to assure your relatives that you're happy. Tell them that your happiness should be their only concern. That's not rude. It's the truth. You have a great life. That should please them. Remind them that if your financial situation changes, you and your boyfriend can always change your minds about getting married. Maybe it will be more affordable in a few more years.

Your other option is to have a party. Maybe a religious ceremony (if you're affiliated) or just a big old barbecue. Do the paperwork for the marriage later but celebrate your love now, just like you would if the loans didn't exist.

For the record, I'm with you. I believe that you can have a fantastic lifelong partnership without ever having a wedding or signing the official paperwork. And I absolutely believe that you love him as much as other people love their spouses. The stress of coming up with a few hundred extra dollars a month is enough to make any new marriage pretty miserable.

Go meet with the financial professional and see what you can do. And while you sort it out, just tell family and friends, "We’re just so happy. You don't have to worry about us." Because that’s true, right?

Readers? Should the money matter? Should they really wait until her loans are paid off? What should she tell the relatives? Should they be pressuring her? Anyone in a similar situation? Help.

– Meredith

Unemployment killed the relationship

Posted by Meredith Goldstein June 1, 2012 08:32 AM

Q: I've heard it said that there are fewer divorces because of the bad economy, but I wonder how many layoffs become the catalysts of divorces.

I'm married with kids and am back to work after more than a year of unemployment. Before actually being laid off, my boss made me go from salary to hourly. When there weren't enough billable hours, he took away health care. I agreed to be laid off. We knew this could happen and I had already had my resume on the street for a good 6 months.

Yet when I told my wife I'd been put on billable hours she screamed, "What did you do?" As if the worldwide recession had been my fault. She assumed the lack of billable hours meant that I had been lazy at work. Those comments struck me and effectively knocked the wind out of our marriage. I felt like I was only a paycheck to her. That feeling festered during the time I was at home job hunting, as I saw how little she actually accomplishes at home (she says she's a stay at home mom, not a housewife). Nearly a third of our home is unusable because of her lack of organization. I've tried to help with this but she has to be in charge.

Frankly I'm ready to leave, except after a year out of work and a lower paying job I have no money for a place of my own. When I'm home I'm angry, and walking around (or trying to) makes me even angrier. When I'm at work I'm distracted by the anger and I dread coming home. We don't talk anymore and when we try, it usually becomes another argument. I haven't felt this lonely and anxiety ridden since I was a kid. I don't hate her, I just don't think I can live with her...

...and I need your advice/thoughts.

– Mr. Ampersand, Massachusetts

A: I'm throwing out the therapy card. Sorry. It might be too late for therapy to do magic things, but you have to try. You need to sit in front of a third party and talk about how unemployment made you feel -- and how she treated the situation.

I wish I knew what your marriage had been like before the unemployment. I wish I knew whether there had been a real friendship. Do you remember?

The thing is, unemployment is scary. Fear can make us say some awful things. It can also make us so much more sensitive. It's a bad combo.

You both learned things about each other that you never wanted to know, and I'm sure that if she wrote in to Love Letters she'd tell us a very different story. Maybe her story would be wrong, but it would be her truth.

Demand therapy. And after you've had a little time to relax in your new job, please continue the hunt. This new job isn't enough for you. Regardless of whether you're moving out, you need more. I want you in a more stable place when you make big decisions about what's happening at home.

Also, when you do search for jobs, do it out of the house. Go to the library or check out a career center. It'll be better for your brain.

Readers? Therapy? Does unemployment reveal a person's true feelings -- or does it just make them say crazy things they don't mean? How have other people dealt with these issues in their marriage? Can they get through this? What about how she runs the house? Thoughts?

– Meredith

He has to move for grad school

Posted by Meredith Goldstein May 21, 2012 07:27 AM

Q: Dear Meredith,

I'm a longtime LL reader. About a year-and-a-half ago, I started dating a wonderful guy after we had become close friends. Our relationship is everything I want -- we laugh, we support each other, we have fun, and there is plenty of physical attraction. Any other ex-boyfriend pales in comparison. We have talked many times about the future, and we both see us getting married and having kids (we are both in our early 30s).

Boyfriend has worked very hard, and he just got accepted to graduate school. He's elated. I'm proud of him. But the downside is that he has to move to a new city for two years. We will soon be shifting from inseparable to a long-distance relationship. I am trying to support him in his new adventure, but I am also terrified. We had started to plan on living together if he got into a school in Boston. Now we will be three hours apart. Will this delay our plans to get married and start a family? Should we get engaged before he leaves to solidify our commitment? Will we grow tired of the distance and fight all the time? How will we make this work?

These questions are wearing me down, and putting it mildly, I have not been my best self around Boyfriend. I'm snippy and emotional. All I can think about is what is going to happen with us. It's been difficult to enjoy my time with him, and I am fighting the urge to avoid him. I have told him how I feel and asked him these questions. He tries to be sympathetic, but he doesn't have any answers. He says he needs to think about it. So I have backed off. He is leaving in two months.

I don't want to rush the guy, but come on. I'm freaking out. Give a girl some answers. Show me that you're still in this relationship for the long-term and how you want to make it work. It's been about four weeks and I am losing my patience. Is there a way to balance his need to process with my need to know what's going to happen next? This is obviously a big change for him too. Should I be pushing for answers and for a sign of commitment or should I just let things run their course? Am I being a crazy lady?

– Losing My Cool, Boston

A: I understand why you're freaked out, LMC. This kind of change is scary, especially when you're in your early 30s and feel ready for kids. But I'm a little confused about the answers you're looking for.

You were supportive about grad school and knew that he might have to go far away. You obviously didn't have a discussion about how distance would work. What are your specific questions now? Are you asking him whether you're going to stay together at all -- or whether this move simply delays some of the hypothetical plans you've been talking about over the year? Does he understand what you need to know? If you don't know the answers, should he?

All he can really say right now is: "I love you and I want to make this work." That's the statement you should be looking for.

My advice, for now, is to make these questions a bit smaller. Instead of talking about your timeline for marriage and procreation before he even knows what grad school will be like, can you sit in bed with him and Google restaurants for you to try together in his new town? Can you talk about how you might spend summers?

You shouldn't get engaged just because he's going away. If he was going to propose anyway, fine, but you can't jump from point A to point M (marriage) just because you have a new challenge as a couple. You can't speed this along out of fear.

Just ask smaller questions and consider the spirit of his answers. I've found that tiny questions often turn the big, scary questions into no-brainers.

Readers? What should she be asking for here? Should they get engaged? Is it weird that he needs time to process what happens next? Are her questions too intimidating? How can she relax as she waits for this distance to begin? Help.

– Meredith

What if he doesn't want children?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein May 16, 2012 08:28 AM

I can't chat today. I'm in Maryland and Virginia for book dates. It's so cool that the people at these readings have checked in with Love Letters and think that the commenters are awesome. (You are, by the way.) Perhaps we'll have some new participants from Baltimore.

Also, it's 7,000 degrees here.

Q: I have been with my husband for over 6 years. We've been very happy together in that time. We aren't without our disagreements, but we've always gotten through them and wound up stronger for it. Lately we've been working on being even more honest with each other and more honest with ourselves. It was working out great for us -- we were getting even closer and developing a stronger bond -- but then my husband came to the realization that he doesn't want children. I've always wanted children and he had previously agreed that we could have kids someday, he just wanted to wait. I was fine with waiting so I never thought much of it.

Now that he knows he doesn't want children though, it's changed everything. I immediately went into a depression because I can't handle the thought of never getting the chance to become a mother. I tried to dismiss it, to tell myself it was okay if I could stay with him forever, but it's just not. Now I'm on the verge of tears every time I see a happy family, or pictures of my friends' children.

He felt bad that I took it so hard and he offered to someday have children with me. I'd just have to accept that he may not be happy about it. As much as I want to accept this offer, as much as I want both him and children, I know I can't accept it. If there's any chance he could be unhappy and it would be my fault for guilting him into children, it would kill me.

We're still young, both 24 years old. I was thinking that the best thing to do is to stay together for another few years, finish paying off our college debts, and see if he's changed his mind by then. If not, as much as it would hurt, I feel like we should split up.

But is it really worth giving up everything that we have? We're so perfect for each other in every way except for this. I don't know if I could ever find anyone again that I'd love as much as him, and I don't know that it would even be fair to anyone I would ever try to date again to bring all this baggage with me. I also know that my husband doesn't want to split up.

The only other two options I see are that we stay together and don't have children, and I won't be happy, or we stay together and have children, and he probably won't be happy. He's not as sure about how he feels as I am; it feels black and white for me while it's more gray for him. But is it really fair to him for me to hang on and hope he changes his mind?

– Torn over children, Mass.

A: I like your plan, TOC.

I hate telling people in troubled relationships to wait and see, but you guys are so young. In another few years (maybe two?) you both might have different priorities. His gray might turn into black and white.

You're in a unique situation, one that calls for more discussion until certain questions are answered. He knows that you're struggling with this, so you shouldn't be concerned about stringing him along.

It's so difficult to anticipate how children will affect your life. Some of my friends who were desperate to have children admit that the experience, while fantastic, isn't what they expected at all. And some people who were on the fence about kids have embraced parenting in ways they never expected. Based on what you told us in your last paragraph, your husband is unsure about all of this, which means that he just doesn't know. Allow this conversation to continue.

Frankly, it says so much to me that you guys are having honest discussions about this. Many young couples just move ahead with their plans because they're too passive to ask themselves whether the decisions they made in their early 20s are still appropriate.

Spend some time being 24. And when it isn't too stressful, talk about all of your options for the future -- what your lives might look like in five or ten years. If he doesn’t want kids, what does he want? Travel? Work? And for how long? How would a child change those plans?

Gray means pause. Take a deep breath and give yourself some time.

Readers? Should she quit now? Or wait? Does anyone know a final answer at 24? What should she do? Did anyone change their mind about kids? Discuss.

– Meredith

I drove her away

Posted by Meredith Goldstein April 27, 2012 08:42 AM

Q: Hi Meredith,

I met my girlfriend in college. We instantly hit it off and fell deeply in love very quickly.

Things were going great. After I graduated I decided to go to grad school and she was happy to come along. We moved in together that year; this was 5 years ago. We have lived together ever since. She is loving, kind, intelligent, and beautiful. My family loves her and she loves them. About a year ago, we decided to move to Boston to pursue bigger and better things. We did not know anyone except for a couple of college friends who happen to live in Boston. We transplanted our life together, and I had plans of proposing to her as soon as I found a steady job.

During the first several months in Boston, I went through a depression about my job search, which was difficult. My girlfriend was supportive and caring, but at the same time she was growing very tired of the situation and said she felt like she was walking on eggshells. It is also true that I have in the past shown a very dark side as far as my temper and mood swings are concerned. I want to make clear that I never touched her, but I would yell and fly off the handle. I never called her ugly names or insulted her, but I will admit that I was condescending and used a mean tone of voice. I have also become less romantic over the years, perhaps even letting her feel as if I didn't care about her.

She eventually told me that she has been going to a counselor about our situation, and that the counselor has informed her that she has to figure out things for herself before committing time to working on our relationship. My girlfriend has asked me for space and says that she does not know if our situation is fixable.

Since this conversation, I have been an absolute wreck. I admit my faults and I know that I can be difficult, but this is the woman that I want to spend the rest of my life with. I have no idea what to do. I have spoken to my family about this and they have helped me out in feeling better about the situation, but I still don't know how to approach it. We live together and we made an enormous move to Boston. I have finally found a job and hoped to propose soon.

I want to give her time to figure out the things that are in her head, but in the meantime I have been left with a huge void in my life. I feel as if I don't know how to act around her anymore. Please help me out, and let me know if this is something that can be fixed.

– Confused and heartbroken, Mass.

A: Is she still in the apartment? Do you see her every day? If so, just enjoy your time with her. Ask her questions. Try to relax with her. For now, take marriage off the table.

You messed up and you can't change that. All you can do is let her know how you feel and show her that you want to do whatever you can to make this work for both of you. Tell her that you'll join her in counseling. Tell her that you'll go to counseling on your own -- because you need it. Explain that your goal is to make her feel good again, even if that means having to leave her alone for a while. You're allowed to say, "I'm scared to lose you and I want to give you what you need."

There is no Control-Z in relationships. You messed up and can't hit "undo." Your only plan of action should be to support her as she makes decisions, ask her how you can help, and try to figure out how you can better cope with bad feelings in the future. You can't promise her that this won't happen again if you don't figure out why you behave the way you do, so get to work. Let her see that you're making this a priority.

Readers? Did he ruin what he had? How can he prove to her that he can make her happy? Can he make her happy? What should he do? How will this end? Help.

– Meredith

Ambivalent about the man of my dreams

Posted by Meredith Goldstein April 24, 2012 07:20 AM

Q: Dear Meredith,

I've been a longtime reader of your column and finally have a problem that I think is worthy of your attention!

My boyfriend and I have been together for over 4 years. We met in college and now live together. Like any long-term couple, we have been through ups and downs but have managed to work through it all. We share similar life values, money styles, parenting beliefs, and career ambitions. We are on the same page about having a family, how we want to raise our kids, and how we see our future going.

He is a wonderful person -- funny and smart, hard-working, stable, kind, and totally committed to me. Whenever we talk about the future, he always says that he doesn't care when we get married, but he wants to spend the rest of his life with me and so he's ready whenever I am.

And that's the problem. When I think about marrying him, I have to wonder if he's really the right person. Maybe I'm expecting a fairy tale, but I just feel like something is missing. We don't really have a spark anymore and the passion from our relationship has definitely dwindled. We have sex, but it feels like I'm having sex with a close friend, not the man of my dreams. When I think about raising kids with him or buying a house with him, I know he would be the most wonderful partner. But when I think about passion and romance and sex, I come up empty.

I tell myself that real love is built on mutual respect and willingness to work things out, that sex comes and goes ... and isn't a man who thinks I'm beautiful and wonderful and wants to have a life with me more important than bed-rockingness? But still, there's a voice in the back of my head that says, "This is it?"

I think about leaving but the idea of someone else being with him and having to start over alone always stops me. Leaving him would mean completely changing my life -- giving up my home and my life partner.

So do I break things off now because I don't feel the spark? Or am I just waiting for a Disney princess ending that doesn't exist? I'm afraid that I'm never going to meet someone who I respect like my boyfriend and who treats me so well, but I also want a life that's filled with passion and someone who knocks my socks off.

– Ambivalent, NYC

A: This hurts to write, but you have to let him go. You found a husband long before you were ready to have one. You're already wondering who else might knock your socks off. This isn't an I-fear-the-grass-is-greener question; this is about you being bored of your grass altogether.

If I told you that a socks-rocking guy was already waiting in the wings, you'd bolt, right? You can't start a marriage if that's how you feel.

You mention the fear of being alone. You mention the fear of someone else snagging your wonderful guy. But you seem less concerned about having to go through new experiences without him by your side.

After four years of dating, some people are begging for a ring. You're looking for a way to avoid one.

You said it best: "I don't feel the spark." That's your answer. After four years of dating the perfect guy, that's where you are.

Readers? She seems to have it all. Any way she can save this? Can she get the spark back? If she bails will she regret it? Is this a Disney princess issue? What should she do? Help.

– Meredith

Can I bring up marriage at 5 months?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein April 23, 2012 08:11 AM

Please say hi.

Q: Dear Meredith,

About 5 months ago, I met a great guy. He is nice, funny, and most importantly, "normal." So far this has been one of the healthiest relationships I have had in a long time. However, there is one problem: He's 27 and I'm 30. Like most women my age, I am looking for someone who is looking for a more serious commitment. And when I say serious, I of course mean marriage and family. I'm not saying I want/need all of this tomorrow, but I would like for this to happen within the next few years.

All of my friends are engaged or married and naturally it's something I want as well. My problem is that I don't believe this new man in my life (let's call him Frank) is ready for all of this. Frank still lives at home and never discusses these topics with me. Now I understand that it has only been five months and I am rushing into things here, but I want to know that these are things he is hoping for as well. My question is, do I stay and hope that within the next few years (if we are still dating) that he will want marriage, etc. -- or do I leave and hope to find someone else who wants those things that I want right now? Also, do I bring the subject up (and how, without scaring him off)? I don't need to hear that he is going to want to marry me tomorrow, but I would like to have the peace of mind of knowing that this is something he thinks about and that I'm not wasting my time.

Please help!

– Ringless in Rockland

A: It's too soon to ask this guy whether he's ever going to marry you, but it's not too soon to talk about life goals. That's a part of the dating process no matter how old you are. High school kids talk about whether they see themselves in college. New grads talk about whether they want to move to the same city. Sixty-something retirees talk to new partners about how they'd like to spend their free time.

You're absolutely allowed to ask your "normal" guy what he wants to do with himself over the next few years. He'll probably ask you too, and then you can say, "I want to be happy. I also want to be married to someone awesome who makes me laugh."

In another six months you can have a more specific conversation, but for now you can get a lot from a few discussions about hopes and dreams. If he tells you that his dream is to still be living at home in two years -- or to move to another country -- you can make decisions accordingly. But if he says, "In two years I want to be in my own place with an amazing girlfriend" ... well, that's a start. If he says, "I have no idea what I want," well, that's just honest -- and at least he'll know where you stand.

Five months isn't about big answers -- it's about asking a million little questions.

Readers? Is their age difference significant? Should she bring this up at all? Will it help to keep the focus on herself and her own wants and needs? When can she have a real discussion about marriage? Should she bail now? Help.

– Meredith

He doesn't want to get married

Posted by Meredith Goldstein April 13, 2012 08:29 AM

Q: Dear Meredith,

I am a successful, never-been-married woman in her late 30s who has been in a wonderful relationship with a divorced man in his late 40s for about 18 months. By all accounts, this has been the most fulfilling relationship I have ever been in on many levels. He is a funny, loving, smart, and generous man who is also a standout father to his three (now older) children from his previous marriage. His children have grown up to be smart and polite human beings who also treat me with great respect and for whom I have grown to care deeply.

So where does my problem lie? Well my boyfriend made it clear initially that he never wants to get married again. He had a terrible first marriage and his parents also had difficulties in theirs. He has also has seen the marriage of many of his friends end in bitter divorce, whereas I was raised with parents who have been blissfully married for 50+ years and I have many friends in (seemingly) happy marriages. Of course I thought that I could change his mind over time, but I am beginning to realize I was naive in thinking so. Over the years my perception of the importance of marriage has diminished to some degree, and I truly believe my boyfriend and I could have a great long term relationship for many years to come. That being said, I almost feel like I am selling myself short in this deal as I have been nothing but a wonderful girlfriend and often ask myself why I need to pay the price now for his ex-wife's terrible behavior?

By stating he will never again remarry, I take it as a personal insult that I myself am not good enough to marry, which I know is not the case. My dilemma now is whether to stay in this (almost) totally fulfilling relationship and just try to come to peace with the fact that it won't end in marriage, or do I cut my losses and hope to find something half as fulfilling with someone I might not care as deeply about, but who is at least willing to show long-term commitment to me? I am hoping your readers who are married can shed some light on the big question here: "Is marriage totally overrated and should I just be happy with what I have got?"

– Do I need a ring to make me happy, Cambridge

A: We're not really talking about marriage here, DINARTMMH. This is about love and commitment. You want to be with someone who plans to stick around, even when things get rough. There's nothing overrated about that.

If your guy told you that he wanted to grow this relationship with the hope of being together forever, would you be satisfied? If he began to treat you like a partner -- as opposed to a girlfriend -- would it be enough? I think it would. Because you don't seem desperate for a ring or a wedding. You just want to know that he feels bound to you.

Many people aren't comfortable with the idea of marriage. That doesn't mean that they can't commit. Your guy, however, seems to be saying that he doesn't buy into the idea of lifelong relationships. And you do. That's not good.

You don't want to be a girlfriend forever. Talk to him and explain your needs. Find out what he wants ... as opposed to what he wants to avoid. If he intends to keep things status quo forever, you can't stick around. You're capable of so much more.

Readers? Should she be happy with what she has? Is this about marriage or commitment? Do you think he's more committed to her than he lets on? Is her age relevant? Should she even settle for a committed non-marriage? Help.

– Meredith

Are we still getting married?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein April 4, 2012 08:11 AM

We chat at 1.

Q: Hi Meredith,

I am in a world of confusion and not quite sure where to go from here. My girlfriend and I met in college. We hit it off immediately and had a great, loving, and passionate relationship. She is from another state and I'm from Massachusetts. At the time of graduation, I offered to look for jobs in her home state so that she could return to her family's farm. It was my No. 1 priority to stay with the woman I love. She expressed no interest in returning down there, saying that she wanted to stay in Massachusetts. All of her friends were here and staying together was important to us. She also said that she wanted to get married. I agreed; we loved each other so much it was the best plan for us. I was thrilled and was lucky enough to find a great job in Boston. I bought us a house and eventually proposed to her about a year after graduation. This is when the problems started.

After the initial excitement of getting engaged and we started to settle down and make wedding plans, I noticed some problems. She was burning through jobs. It ended up being nearly 4 in a 5 month stretch. She's also become very paranoid. I constantly find her going through my phone, email, and bills. When I catch her, she usually makes a joke. She stopped making wedding plans and her attitude changed to "we will figure it out as we go."

Then things came to a head. Two days after she asked a family member of mine to be a bridesmaid, she said she was leaving and moving home for a while to help with the farm. After being gone for six years, I was a little taken aback but I understood and I ended up visiting her just about every weekend. She promised that she would eventually come home but didn't. My visits started to turn worse, she began to ignore me and make plans with other people. After a recent visit, I got a text message saying we should postpone the wedding. I was devastated and horribly confused.

I have tried talking with her, her response is usually, "I don't want to talk about this," then she either hangs up or changes the subject. I've been advised by some not to force discussion. I really don't know where to go from here. I love this woman, but I am very hurt. I planned my life around her and she just turns on me in such a short time. All of my friends and family said that she was constantly discussing wedding plans with them. Where did this come from? Is this worth fighting for or should I accept this is the end of the road and cut ties? I am really hoping for some advice on this!

– Where to go, Brookline

A: Sometimes relationships that work in college just don't seem as rosy a year or two after graduation, WTG. Your girlfriend/fiancee obviously didn't know what kind of life she wanted when she signed up for this big commitment. And as we all know, planning a wedding isn't the same thing as planning a marriage. She's been capable of choosing bridesmaids because that's part of the fun, but has she been capable of discussing what she'll want from your relationship in five years?

I understand that you've been advised not to nag her about all of this, but how can you not?

My advice is to tell her how you perceive the situation and what you need right now to keep yourself sane. You can say, "Based on what's happening in our lives, I assume that this wedding is off and that we're both taking some time to reevaluate what we want. I'd like to stop talking about the wedding and start thinking about whether we should stay together at all, and if so, how we should proceed.”

She's given you time for yourself so use it, please. Consider what you want from her. She was one thing in college but has become something else. Do you want to be with her now? Should you be pushing her to return?

Her move home is a gift. You were already having doubts. Right now, the idea of a party is distracting everyone. You need to focus on the basics. Take the wedding off the table and see how everybody feels.

Readers? Should he just cut ties now abruptly, or should he follow my advice by calling off the wedding and then reevaluating the relationship? What happened here? Discuss.

– Meredith

Should we get engaged before moving in?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein March 15, 2012 08:25 AM

Q: Dear Meredith,

(I am writing this letter on behalf of myself and my boyfriend.)

I have been dating this wonderful guy, "Justin," for almost a year and a half. He is an amazing person and I cannot wait to spend the rest of my life with him. We have purchased a few books along the lines of "1,001 questions to ask before getting married," and have had many of those deep discussions. Though we don't see eye-to-eye on every last thing, we have not found any deal breakers. We appear to agree on the topics that are important to both of us. We would like to get married in the summer of 2013. The problem? We disagree on some of the minor details of how to go from being dating to engaged to married.

Justin would like to live together before we get engaged. On the other hand I am not willing to live together without an engagement and a wedding date set. Some background on both of us. Justin was once engaged, but it did not work out. They did not live together at any point, but Justin believes if they had lived together before becoming engaged the relationship would have ended before a ring appeared. I on the other hand did live with an ex without being engaged. Needless to say it didn't work out and since my ex owned the house, I was the one who needed to move out. Along with moving out of the house I was also out several thousand dollars, which has taken me four years to recoup.

I need to make a choice about renewing the lease on my apartment by the first week of May. I have told Justin if I have a ring by then I am willing to renew my lease for 6 months, which will give us time to pick a venue, date, and allow me to move into the house he owns slowly. If I don't have a ring I am going to renew for a full year. (I have talked to my landlord and they are willing to give me a 6 month lease for about $150 more a month). I am willing to pay that extra money a month for a short term lease for a little while. Justin believes he won't be prepared to propose until late this summer/early fall. He is also upset that I won't trust him enough to follow through on the proposing to sign the shorter term lease without a ring.

We both are a little scared, though we both want the same end result. We want to respect each other’s beliefs and want to spend our lives together. Can you give us any advice on how to get from where we are now to where we want to be without hurting each other? We are turning to you instead of our family and friends since we would like to seek advice from someone neutral.

– Catch 22, Worcester

A: You're not going to like this (well, one of you won't), but I side with Justin. You want him to promise you that he'll definitely want to marry you no matter what, but that promise would be a lie. Yes, the ring would be a real symbol of commitment, but Justin has already told you that he wants to propose by the fall and get married next summer. He doesn't sound like a guy who's looking for reasons to end this.

Some people believe that they have to get married before they live with a partner. For those people, the choice is usually about family, religion, and tradition. But for you it's simply about wanting a promise. That's understandable, but I'm here to tell you that you already have a promise from Justin. He wants this. He just doesn't want to give you the matching accessory and wedding date until he's comfortable and confident. That seems fair to me. If he gave you a ring now, would it really have any meaning? The ring would only symbolize what you want. If you wait until he's ready, the proposal will be a genuine, two-sided gesture.

So yeah, I'm with Justin. I want you to move in there as soon as you can so that he can propose with fanfare in time for you to get married next summer. You both want that. Have faith.

I empathize with all of your concerns, but let's just move this along before the stress of the proposal ruins the 1,001 things that you guys get right.

Readers? Am I right or is Justin in the wrong? Both parties seem to be stressed about what happened with their exes. Should they be making comparisons? Thoughts on a compromise? Help them.

– Meredith

Still unhappily married

Posted by Meredith Goldstein March 8, 2012 08:36 AM

A big sorry to everyone who tried to chat yesterday. The software rebelled and shut down. We will make up for it next week, I promise.

Q: Dear Meredith,

I met my wife through some mutual friends about two years ago. She was visiting Boston and ended up falling in love with the city and decided to give it a try. We ended up spending a great deal of time together and dating.

During that time, I had felt rather happy and satisfied with my life except for one thing -- I had not had a chance to pursue a meaningful relationship. I had spent almost all of my time after college building my life into what I wanted with my job, friends, and family. Because I was new to the dating game, I did anything I could to keep this new relationship alive.

After about five months of us dating, she became very critical of me and began to complain about various details of my life. I would often hear that I would be spending too much time at work, with my family and friends, or that I didn't spend enough time with her. She began to threaten leaving me, and due to my weak sense of self at the time, I did all I could to accommodate her. I changed my job, moved, and essentially devoted as much time as I could into making her happy.

Soon enough we became pregnant and quickly got married. We never got a chance to finish the dating part of our relationship and essentially put it on hold as we prepared for raising a child. We now live closer to her family.

As you can probably guess, we have had a rough marriage. It is now a few years later and I still have problems being happy with our situation and working out our differences. We argue about everything from the smallest quirks to our plans for the future (although we have ensured these emotions don't leak to our child). In a desperate attempt to save our marriage and keep our family together, we saw two different marriage counselors. The first one pushed the idea of a divorce, so we left him to look for another one who would be willing to encourage us to stay together.

Fortunately, the second counselor has been helping us see past our differences and we have become considerably more loving and caring as a couple. We rarely argue now but no matter what happens through the sessions, I cannot be happy. It does not seem like I have any emotional issues, I am just so upset about what has happened and where I am in my life at the moment. My wife seems to be happy and I want nothing more than to be able to share that feeling with her.

As of right now I am having trouble becoming intimate and excited about life again. What can I do? I just want to get over the feeling that I lost control of my life and be happy.

– Want to Stay, Formerly Boston

A: Are you still seeing that second marriage counselor, WTS? Because you have to admit these lingering bad feelings in front of a third party. Counselor No. 2 obviously helped you guys make some huge improvements in your marriage, but you're still stuck. That's something worth discussing.

I can't fix this for you or give you a magic pill to prevent resentment and misery, but I can tell you that you need to start imagining ways to be happy in this relationship. Would you feel closer to your wife and happier about your situation if you lived near your friends and family again? Is there a geographic compromise?

I find it interesting that you bailed from the counselor who pushed you to get a divorce. That person was giving you a way out. You could have easily turned to your wife and said, "Well, the professional has spoken. Let's get this separation rolling." Instead you opted to find a person who could save the marriage. Is that because you love your wife or because you feel obligated to stay? You need to be able to answer that question -- out loud.

I want you to know that you're not the only person who feels like they lost control of their adult life. Sometimes change happens and we just have to cope. That said, your whole goal in life before meeting this woman was to have a great job and to be close to friends and family. By hooking up with her, you've lost all of it. There has to be a way that you can get some of those great things back (proximity to friends, an inspiring job, etc.). I have a feeling that if she prioritized creating a better environment for you, you wouldn't be so sad about staying committed.

I don't know whether I agree with counselor No. 1 or 2., but it sort of depends on whether your wife understands that you need a big community and a full life in order to be happy. Get the answer to that question, even if it means disturbing the peace.

Readers? Do any of us have control? Is he in a marriage that can be saved? How can he let go of this resentment? Am I right to say that he'd be happier if he was closer to friends again? Help.

– Meredith

We swept the cheat under the rug

Posted by Meredith Goldstein February 28, 2012 08:29 AM

Q: Dear Meredith,

I have been married for five years, and a few months ago, while I was nine months pregnant with our second child, my husband slept with another woman. I was made aware of the affair when I found a note from the woman in his work bag written on hotel stationery. I confronted him, and he admitted to the affair. He had met the woman a few months earlier, while attending a conference for work. They kept in touch and by coincidence (he claims), they were both in New York on business trips at the same time and she met him at his hotel and they slept together. He said that was the extent of the relationship, and that he felt so guilty afterwards that he cut the trip short to come home to me and he never talked to her again.

When all of this came to light, I was adjusting to life with a newborn baby and a toddler and felt that I could not mentally and emotionally deal with another thing. Of course I was devastated, but other than a lot of screaming at him, crying, and making him sleep on the couch for about a week, things slowly returned to "normal" and the affair was kind of swept under the rug. Our relationship on the surface has been fine, but I am still dying inside. We have not been intimate since I found out, I can't bring myself to even kiss him.

Recently, he left his computer on when he was out of the house and I checked his email. There was no correspondence with this woman, but I did find her email address in his contact list and I also saw an email receipt from an upscale body and bath store, from which he often bought me gifts when we were first dating. I sincerely thought, with Valentine's Day coming up, that he had bought something for me. V-Day came and went and nothing. This latest discovery is eating me up inside, especially because he continues to go to conferences.

Should I confront him with this? I will have to admit that I went through his email, and I'm not sure if he will even tell me the truth once I bring it up to him. I feel so alone in all of this, as I cannot bring myself to confide in anyone, because I don't want them to think badly of my husband, as crazy as it sounds.

Any advice would be a huge help.

– Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater, Boston?

A: You must tell your husband that you saw the receipt, OACAAC. Then tell him that you need some time for a real talk. Make plans to go to therapy and discuss. Ask a family member to watch the kids. Have the discussion that you've been putting off since last year. If you don't confront this issue right now, it's going to keep oozing out from under the rug. You might as well deal with it on your own terms.

My advice is to tell someone (maybe a few people) in your life what happened. I understand that you don't want to tarnish your husband's reputation, but you need help and that's what communities are for. Wouldn't you want your friends to confide in you? Wouldn't you be supportive? Disclosing the cheat will help you process the fact that it really happened. You need honesty right now. You need an inner circle of companions who can help you deal. You need perspective.

As for your "once a cheater, always a cheater" question, my answer is no, I don't believe that people who cheat are destined to repeat their mistakes. In fact, I don't even like to use the label "cheater." Let's call your husband someone who cheated. Will he cheat again? I have no idea. All I know is that he did once, and that it's time to accept what happened and talk about it so you can heal and figure out the next step. Please break the silence.

Readers? Once a cheater, always a cheater? Am I right to say that it's important that she tell her friends and family what happened? Or will that make the situation messier than it needs to be? Anybody else sweep a cheat under the rug? What should she do to deal with this? Help.

– Meredith

He doesn't want to talk

Posted by Meredith Goldstein February 27, 2012 08:07 AM

Q: I'm in my late 20s and I've been married to my husband for a little more than a year, but I constantly find myself unhappy. Every time I try to talk about my issues, my husband says that he is remarkably happy and that I'm just "over-complicating things" in my own head.

Let me explain what's going on. Ever since the beginning of our marriage, I've felt that I can't be emotionally intimate with my husband. He doesn't readily express his emotions about anything, really. No aspirations. No hopes, no dreams. Whenever I talk about having children someday, he just cuts me off by saying, "We're not ready yet." And whenever I talk about MY hopes and MY desires for our future, he believes I'm complaining about how bad my current life is and gets angry at me.

Whenever I try to have an emotional connection with him -- usually over dinner -- he says that I'm "trying too hard to have a serious conversation" and will change the subject.

He's a great guy aside from this. He's amiable, gregarious, funny -- but he can't ever talk about any serious emotional issues and seems to belittle mine. I feel like I have a college roommate rather than a husband!

I'm to the point that I've started to consider leaving. Do you have any ideas on how to foster effective communication between us before I throw in the towel? Is this a common problem in marriages? Or am I just "overcomplicating the situation" in my head?

Any advice would be appreciated! Thanks!

– Emotionally Wrecked, Virginia

A: I'm wondering what he was like before you got married, EW. Was he a better conversationalist back then? Did he talk about his hopes and dreams? Did you discuss kids?

My guess is that it wasn't easy for your husband to get his head around the idea of marriage and that he wants some time to settle into this new life before having to contemplate the next big step. He shouldn't be shooting you down, of course, but his attitude probably comes from a place of fear.

My advice is to give him examples of the nice, emotionally-intimate conversations you had before you got married so he really understands what you're missing. As in, "Remember that night we stayed up in bed dreaming about what our wedding would look like and where we would live? I loved that night and it made me excited about our future. That's the kind of conversation I need every once in a while." If you can point out specific discussions that made you both happy, he might be reminded that these talks can be fun, and that they're not always about obligations and taking the next scary step.

If he continues to shut you down, you can suggest therapy. And if he shuts that down too, yes, you're approaching throwing-in-the-towel territory. But let's not think about that yet. Start by giving him examples of good talks. Be clear about why you're unhappy. And please, don't bring this up over dinner. He obviously needs dinner for jokes and relaxation. Move the conversation later in the evening, or on a weekend morning after a nice sleep.

Readers? Why is he shooting her down? What's the other side of this story? Is it possible that she is trying to have too many heavy conversations? How can she get him to talk about the future if he belittles her need for discussion? Can this be fixed? Discuss.

– Meredith

My new friend is married

Posted by Meredith Goldstein February 24, 2012 07:49 AM

Today's letter has an appetizer. It's a cute note that isn't worth a full day, but I thought you could give the writer some tips before or after you deal with the main course. - M


Q: Not necessarily a LOVE question. But I need some advice!
My dad lives in a gated community and most of the time when I go over, there's a seriously attractive male working the gate. I'm never sure how to start up a conversation with him, or if it's even worth it! I only pass through the gate for a matter of 5 seconds -- we wave and smile to each other and then I'm on my way. What should I do?!

– KB, Delaware

Main course:

Q: Late last fall, I attended a convention for bicycling enthusiasts where I met an attractive, interesting, outgoing woman. After a bit of small talk, I asked for her phone number and suggested that we get together for bike rides or platonic social events. She agreed, so we planned a first date a month or so later.

On that first date, she admitted that she was married (unhappily), and that her husband spent half the year abroad on business. She told me she agreed to the date because of its platonic nature. We had a great time and have seen each other a few times subsequent to that day.

The problem is that she is giving unmistakable signs that she wants something more. I made it clear, early on, that I would not get romantically involved with a married woman. That reality has not changed anything between us. We still see each other, and nothing happens beyond a quick hug goodbye. We meet in public places and mind our manners in every case. Aside from moral considerations, the last thing is want in my life is an irate husband armed with a shotgun.

I realize that this relationship has no romantic future. I personally don't romantically date someone until they have been divorced for at least a year, and since we don't know each other very well yet, I certainly can't expect her to alter a marriage on account of me. Besides, she indicates that divorce is not an option. As I said, I will not do anything physical with a married woman. I'm free to date others, and can live my life as I choose without interference from her. Most important, she has no children that could be affected by this activity.

Is it wrong to date this married woman as a friend, or am I doing something wrong?

– Concerned in Connecticut

A: It's fine to have a married friend, CIC, but only if she's really a platonic pal. This woman has feelings for you, and you describe your outings as dates. That doesn't sound platonic to me.

I'm worried that after more time together, your relationship boundaries will begin to bleed. A friendship will become an emotional affair. An emotional affair will turn into something you never wanted.

My advice is to see her in groups -- and less frequently. Bring her out with a pack of bikers and let her see that she's one of many friends, and that she doesn't get special treatment. Many commenters will probably tell you to cut her off altogether (and I can't say I disagree with them), but if you feel like there's something to save here, turn her into a member of your greater biking community. It's what's best for her, too.

You mention that there are no kids to confuse, which means that you're doing something confusing. Reserve your date time for someone who's really available.

Readers? Does he have to cut her off? What is he getting out of this? What will happen if they continue this? What are his obligations here? Help.

– Meredith

Falling for my married boss

Posted by Meredith Goldstein February 17, 2012 08:42 AM

Two things:

1. Boston University is hosting a very fun panel on Tuesday night about love, Love Letters, and college relationships. It is open to all college students -- not just BU folks -- so if you're matriculated anywhere, please forget all Beanpot rivalries and attend.

2. I'll be teaching kids how to write advice next Friday as part of a February break program at 826 Boston. I want kids to be answering real letters, so if you have a problem that you want the 12-and-up crowd to answer, please help by emailing me your dilemma to meregoldstein at gmail dot com with "826" in the subject line. This will be a very fun activity for these kids, and I'll post some of their advice. Keep the subject matter family friendly, please. Make them think. And if you have a Boston kid who's going to be bored next week, feel free to sign them up.

Q: Hi Meredith,

I'm in my mid-20s and for the past eight months have been working for a small business in the industry I want to specialize in. My boss is about 20-ish years older than me and established enough that his name is worth dropping in some circles. I'm a friendly person (or so I like to think), and he is always cheerful and open. We have a very easy working relationship that has extended to a mentorship. Although there is a big age difference, we have many similarities -- our backgrounds, ambitions, sense of humor, family loyalty, etc. Over the past several months I have come to regard him not just as my employer and mentor, but as a good friend.

In the last few weeks, however, it has become increasingly clear that my boss is interested in taking our relationship to the next level. He is charming by nature, and flirts with practically everyone he meets, so I was caught off guard when he became more flirty than usual one night after work. Up until that moment, I had never even considered him in a romantic light, partly because he is my employer, and mostly because he is married and has a young child.

At first I thought he was just lonely and in need of company (he has to stay in the city alone a lot) and I just happened to be nearby. However, he's made it clear that his interest in me is not purely sexual. I haven't felt harassed by his attention (I've done the corporate harassment training and know what is inappropriate). It honestly feels like he is pursuing me as if he were single and wants to date me properly.

My first reaction was knee-jerk -- to get away as soon as I possibly could. Regardless of how this all plays out, I have a lot to lose. The industry we work in and his reputation in it are such that he could damage my career prospects, not just by firing me, but also by blacklisting me in academic and internship placements. Obviously, I'm not the first girl to find herself in this situation, and it seems like the standard is that the junior people are the ones who have to quietly disappear. Of course, his family is also on the line, but I do wonder if this is even an issue for him, given how blatant he's been thus far. He often mentions his child, although rarely talks about his wife.

What makes it hard to go against my first reaction is that I'm finding it terribly hard to think badly of him (here's the part where I feel like a horrible person). I've considered him a close friend for a while now, and I'm certain that he feels the same. We've shared both professional and private worries, and I have always felt at ease with him. We have a natural, comfortable dynamic to the point that other people we've worked with have said that they've never seen two people more well-matched. Apart from his current circumstances, he is someone with whom I can easily see myself becoming seriously involved. He has told me that he is happily married, but is confused about where I belong in his life.

All this being said, I like to think I am a good person with a healthy set of morals. I have been cheated on before, and I don't think I could ever be responsible for making another woman feel that way, especially when there is a child involved. I've turned to friends for advice, many of whom have not been supportive. I've been called and accused of lots of unpleasant things, which has been upsetting to say the least. My guilt at what he is proposing does not change my feelings for him -- it's just added to the jumble of emotions inside my head. I could really use some constructive advice on how to move forward. Thanks in advance to you and the readers.

– Possibly the other woman, NY

A: I'm so glad that you emailed us now, PTOW. So many letter writers check in after they've become the other woman. I always wish I could throw them in a Love Letters time machine and give them pre-affair advice.

But you're catching yourself and asking big questions at just the right time. You know that a great professional friendship has evolved into a romantic relationship. You know that you like that relationship -- but that it's very wrong. I understand that you're charmed by this guy and that you're similar in some ways, but ... you're actually very different. Like opposites.

1. He's married and you're not.
2. He has a kid and you don't.
3. He's a pro in his career and you're just starting out.
4. He's 20 years older than you.

He did you a big favor by telling you that he's happily married. Now you can say to him, "I think it's wonderful that you're in a good marriage and I have no plans to spoil that. Let's focus on professional respect. Let's be responsible, trustworthy, professional adults." Set boundaries and respect them. No hanging out outside of work. No date behavior.

You emailed us now because you know what's right. Frankly, even if he wasn't married, I'd tell you to stay away. Mentors and bosses aren't supposed to be boyfriends. And you don't want to be with a guy who "flirts with practically everyone he meets." Ask those smart friends of yours to help you look for better dating options. Keep yourself busy after work. Read that list of differences over and over and over.

Readers? How can she stop this relationship from progressing? Is this a sexual harassment issue without her knowing it? What is happening here and how should she proceed? Should she report this to anyone? Discuss.

– Meredith

We have marital problems

Posted by Meredith Goldstein February 9, 2012 08:33 AM

Tomorrow night's Love Letters screening of "Cruel Intentions" is at 8 p.m. at the Somerville Theatre. You can get tickets for $8 here. Film critic Wesley Morris and I will be there to watch it with you.

In the meantime, I'm trying to come up with a "Cruel Intentions" drinking game for us to play. I'm taking suggestions on Twitter. It's going to be fun.

Now please give this letter writer some deep thoughts. She didn't tell me where she's from, but really, with this letter, she could be anywhere.

Q: Hi Meredith,

I've been married for almost a decade and have three kids with a man I adore. But over the years I have caught him in little lies. I haven't always confronted him for fear of an argument. My concern is if there are little lies, there must be big lies. Where there are little fish there are big fish not far behind. I can't help but feel he is keeping more from me.
He is never one to admit that he did anything wrong; any problems/issues that have arisen over the years are always someone else's fault. A good example is when I got pregnant with our third child; he acted as though he didn't sleep with me. He didn't accuse me of cheating but instead acted as though he thought I was on the pill. I haven't been on the pill in more than a decade.

We rushed into marriage because I was pregnant. I'm not 100% sure he would have chosen me for his wife if I wasn’t pregnant. I didn't give him an ultimatum but did give him the option to choose with me as to what we were going to do. I wanted marriage but did not in any way push it, since even back then I wasn't sure he truly loved me.
He almost never makes an effort for us to do things as a couple. The excuses over the years have included that he is tired or we can't afford a babysitter. However, the minute a friend calls to get together, he's there. Which doesn’t happen that often but it's frustrating that he can find energy, time, and money to go have drinks with his friends. We do take a trip as a couple usually once a year. But usually it's me who makes all of the arrangements.

I also work full-time but very close to our home, so I'm usually the one who shuttles the kids around. My office job is demanding but my employer flexible so I can spend more time with the kids. However, balancing a full-time office job and a job as a mom leaves me exhausted most of the time.

I don't expect a "mom of the year" or "wife of the year" award but would like some appreciation. I get absolutely none. I also never get compliments like, "you look nice." I do get I love yous. We are intimate -- that is the one thing that is great in our relationship. Not sure how that exists since I feel everything else is a problem.

Communication is null. He comes home and we basically say the same things to each other ("How was your day?"). It's difficult to make decisions with him, it seems he disagrees with any suggestions I have. As a result, I usually hold back feelings and don't want to talk to him. But I end up keeping everything inside, until it erupts.

Most recently, we had a huge argument where we both agreed we were emotionally drained from the marriage. When the dust settled from the argument, I tried to resolve things with him; he didn't want to talk about it. But he wanted to be intimate. We still haven't discussed how we are going to resolve our issues or save our marriage. It's business as usual. But it feels very different this time. He assures me he loves me but I'm not so sure.

Is he emotionally unable to communicate or just gliding by until the kids are older enough, at which time he will want a divorce? I really don't know how much longer I can glide by. A marriage is built on trust, communication, friendship, love, intimacy, etc. We only have one of those items. I would love to go to couples counseling but am almost convinced he will never go for it. My mother recently confided in me that she thinks he is depressed. I never really thought of that as being the issue, it could be but it's so hard to tell.

Thanks in advance for reading my letter. I really appreciate it. I really don't have anyone I can talk to.

– Where there are little fish, there are big fish

A: WTALFTABF, you have to ask for the therapy. You say that he won't go for it, but you might be surprised. Explain to him that you need it. He's not going to be shocked by the request and whether he admits it or not, he knows you both need help.

There's a lot to this letter, and I can't tell you exactly what to do to undo years of repressed feelings, confusion, and exhaustion (balanced by a surprisingly solid sex life). But I can tell you that you need to stop thinking about whether your husband would have married you had you not been pregnant. Many couples will tell you that their decision to get married was based on temporary circumstances and reasons that only made sense when they were young. It doesn't mean that their marriages aren't worth maintaining. It doesn't mean that they're marriages won't last for all the right reasons.

I do think that your mom might be right. Depression would explain a lot, including his inability to be accountable. But again, that's something to figure out in front of a professional. You and your husband are in an incredibly difficult phase of life, with three kids, a ridiculous schedule, and no energy for honesty. It sounds like you never learned to treat each other like friends. A third party might be able to show you how.

When you talk to him about therapy, focus on the positive. Explain what you want, not what's wrong. As in, "I want to laugh more with you. I want to go to bed in a good mood. I want our sex life to be even better. I want us to have a friendship, not just a marriage." Make the request, sooner than later.

And again, stop thinking about whether your husband would have chosen you in a parallel, child-less universe. It doesn't matter. You're living in this universe, he did choose you, and you're still married. He says he loves you and hasn't walked out the door.

Readers? I know this is a lot at once, but can you help her with baby steps to figure this out? Help.

– Meredith

Men and strip clubs

Posted by Meredith Goldstein February 7, 2012 08:25 AM

Buy your tickets to Friday's screening of "Cruel Intentions." Film critic Wesley Morris and I will be there to answer questions about this film and why it's so darn sexy. You can also enter this contest to have a free dinner with us.

Also, the woman who wrote this letter did not say "ice cream cones," but I'm keeping it PG. Please keep it PG.

And let's try to keep that off-topic stuff in the message boards (the champagne rooms) -- or save it for late in the day. I don't mind conversation, but these letters deserve some undivided attention.

Q: My fiancé of 3+ years is planning a vacation with his buddies/co-workers to Atlantic City. I asked if I could come along, since we had been talking about planning a similar trip. When he said it was an all-guys trip, I brushed it off until he mentioned that a woman, who happens to be a lesbian, is also attending. This raised a flag to me because I instinctively know what this means: strip clubs. When I asked why she was allowed to go, his response was, "Well, she's not gonna mind if I have [ice cream cones] in my face."

Keep in mind that his friends either have been married for a while or are single. Now I know that it is in every man's DNA to want to see a naked woman, but I can't help but be bothered by this. I am not sure if it's because we were trying to plan a trip like this for the two of us and now he's decided to go with his male friends, or if I'm just bothered that his sole purpose for going is for a strip club.

Regardless, I am bothered by the fact that his whole weekend will be spent blowing money at strip clubs -- money that we're trying desperately to save for a house and a wedding. I never thought of myself as a jealous person, but now that I am faced with this issue, I am beginning to think that's exactly what I am.

It's not that I think he's going to cheat, but cheating for a male means different things than for a female. If I knew that he was [looking at ice cream cones] and was very [close to sampling ice cream cones], I would be extremely upset. The counter-argument I brought up was, "If you found out I had my hands or face in some guy's [ice cream cones], you would be upset too."

Knowing that men go to strip clubs to see beautifully-sculpted naked women (and pay them to be their eye candy) makes me resentful that he isn't satisfied with what he has at home. I will give myself credit and say that I am a stunning young woman, who could stand to lose a few pounds, but nevertheless I am very good-looking and like to make my man happy.

Is this irrational? Am I crazy to get so upset by this, and do I just have to let it go? Or do I have a right to voice my concerns without seeming like a nagging girlfriend who can't let her man go to a strip club for a weekend. I know that telling/asking him not to go will only make him resentful and want to do it even more in the long run, but I won't be able to sleep the whole weekend he's gone, and I probably won't be able to get bad thoughts out of my head. I also probably wouldn't be able to look at or touch him knowing where he's been.

I just need some guidance from some rational men and women, in healthy, long-term relationships who have faced similar situations. Why do men feel the need to touch and look at other women, when they have their own beautiful women at home?! Who they don't have to pay...

– ConfusedAboutMen, Medford

A: I get a lot of letters from people who want to know how I feel about strip clubs, and, well, my answer is too complicated to stick into a simple Q&A.

But I can tell you that the people who write in about strip club issues often have other big problems in their relationships. If your guy was doing a good job of saving money for the wedding, would you be as upset about this trip? If he gave a more respectful, loving answer to your question about the vacation, would you be so focused on the strip club? Are you really jealous about what he'll do with these women -- or is this about your fiancé's priorities?

It seems to me that after a 3.5-year engagement, you're feeling a bit forgotten. I mean, even if the "ice cream cones in my face" thing was a joke, you were obviously upset. He could have comforted you and made you feel safe. He could have discussed boundaries for the trip.

My advice is to take the strip club thing off the table so that you can clear your head. Think (and talk) about the stuff that bothers you on a daily basis. Those are the issues that are worth your attention. And feel free to tell him how you define cheating. He should be open to (and expect) that kind of conversation before this trip.

Readers? Thoughts on strip clubs and cheating? Is this really about the strip club? Am I wrong to say that she'd be more comfortable with the trip if he were better on a day-to-day basis? Discuss.

– Meredith

Getting intimate after a cheat

Posted by Meredith Goldstein January 29, 2012 07:45 PM

About a year ago, Boston Globe film critic Wesley Morris and I made a list of our 16 favorite romantic movies and let you vote on them. We called it the Romance Rumble, and when it was over we screened the winner --- Wesley's pick, "Casablanca" -- at the Somerville Theatre.

Today marks the start of the second Romance Rumble. This year, Wesley and I opted to choose our favorite sexy movies (as opposed to romantic) and again, we're putting them to you for a vote. We'll screen the winner in Somerville on Feb. 10.

Vote and join us. No matter what wins, it'll be a fun night, and a great way to spend the Friday before Valentine's Day.

And now a letter ...

Q: My husband and I are in our 40s and have been married for 15 years. We have 3 good kids, and both hold rewarding jobs. Over the years, things have been up and down, as I think is natural in a long-term relationship, but it really started to go downhill a few years ago, with neither of us really paying attention to the other, then feeling hurt because the other was not paying attention. I had been depressed and put on some weight and felt unattractive, and he did not seem to want me. He also felt that he was unwanted. The fact that he travels for his job also meant that he was not home during the week to help with the house, kids, etc. and by the time weekends rolled around, both of us were just too tired to take care of the relationship.

Several months ago, I discovered he was having an affair with a much younger woman. The "relationship" is over, and I am working very hard to get past it. To give him his credit, he is working hard on this too -- being more considerate and accessible when he is home. Of course, I have my doubts, but I really want to get past this and get to a better place in our marriage.

However, there is a sticking point. He wants a sexual relationship, like now. I agree with him that sex is an important part of a healthy marriage, and I too would like to have a good sex life, but he has actually set a deadline for when he expects sex to resume. I feel so insecure about making myself open and vulnerable -- I just cannot relax enough to even think about being physical, and the more he pressures me, the more tense and anxious I get. And yes, I even feel resentful.

We did try couples' counseling, but that did not work out. I still think that it's important to try counseling, but I have hit a brick wall. He completely refuses to try that again. I just don't know where to go from here. It seems unfair to put so much pressure on me to resume a sexual relationship -- I feel as though this part of our lives will grow back organically and should not feel forced.

– Rock and a Hard Place, Somerville

A: Well, I'm on your side about deadlines, RAAHP. You can't force physical intimacy, and deadlines don't work. You've only had a few months to process this betrayal, and it's going to take time. That said, the longer you go without being intimate, the scarier it might get.

My advice? Tell him that you want to meet in the middle. Sex is overwhelming right now, but maybe some cuddling and first base isn't. Maybe first base will lead to second on its own. Maybe you can stay there for a while. Maybe you can start with some simple making out in front of a movie, something you watched when you first got married.

This shouldn't be something you do for him. It shouldn't be something that you have to get through. It should be an act of love for both of you.

If you can commit to testing the bases (or even the cuddling in front of the TV), he should be able join you in in couples therapy, Part 2. And please, no matter what, go to therapy on your own.

Let him know that you're willing to test out the bases if he reconsiders talking to a professional (and drops his ridiculous deadline). Trust is built on first and second base -- and on open and honest discussion. He either wants that stuff or he doesn't.

Readers? Deadlines? How can she reestablish physical intimacy after a betrayal? Thoughts on getting him back to therapy? Anyone have empathy about his deadline? Will the physical intimacy just come back naturally? Discuss.

– Meredith

Importing a bride?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein January 19, 2012 08:29 AM

Remember: Be constructive. Have empathy. Even when you want to yell at the letter writer. Even when you want to yell at each other. I know it can be difficult, but the point is to help.

(And today is a tough one to deal with.)

Q: Meredith,

I am a divorced man in my early 30s. I met my wife when I was a young working professional right out of college. She was right out of high school at the time. We fell hard and fast for each other, but over time it was evident we had little in common, plus her family and friends didn't really like me. In total I was with my ex-wife for over 8 years.

Today I find it increasingly difficult to meet anyone, let alone date, find someone attractive, someone who wants the same things and not play games. Instead, I've been doing a ton of research on finding a wife from a 3rd world country. Old school matchmaking as they call it.

I understand it is not love. These foreign brides come from almost nothing, most are just trying to help pay off family debt. Sometimes these girls are simply forced into it ... as in human trafficking.

There are many cases where 3rd world brides are abused, murdered, and subject to deplorable conditions in their adopted homes. Many run away just to end up as prostitutes because of the language/cultural barrier.

I'm a big believer in helping the less fortunate. My intentions are to find a suitable wife, not to take advantage of someone in a desperate situation. Most relationships are based on love, but love alone can't sustain it. We often act out of blind love, sometimes it works sometimes it doesn't. Instead, I'm looking for a relationship based on mutual respect and appreciation first.

I believe there are merits to this "arrangement." It is a different type of marriage/relationship but one that could last even longer. There are so many divorces today. Clearly the love was right at THAT moment (whenever it was), but wrong at THIS moment. I need a relationship that can sustain itself with or without love. I'm not a frog, have a successful career, only 30, tall, no physical handicaps. I'm perfectly capable of finding my match here. But nowadays nothing is for certain.

There are many types of "arrangements" today: one-night stands, hook ups, booty calls, friends with benefits, open relationships, etc. This one is just more old school, using matchmakers.

What do you think about going on a marriage tour?

– Third World Bride, Boston

A: Nope. Sorry.

You want to do your part to stop human trafficking and help the less fortunate? Volunteer for an organization. Donate money. Take on the cause.

You can't compare this kind of bride shopping to a matchmaker service. If you want a real "marriage tour," hire a local matchmaker, someone who will set you up with a peer who's looking for a similar life.

And speaking of the word peer ….

You had an unsuccessful marriage with someone you met when she was right out of high school. Yes, you were almost just as young at the time, but you were a working professional and she was just a kid. And now you're looking for someone who's helpless and dependent. An employee. What does that say about you?

Many relationships do end, but there are just as many successful unions out there, and countless women who are looking for an honest, stable partnership. There are no guarantees in life -- even arranged marriages can fail -- but it's worth searching for someone who does actually love you. Love isn't everything, but ... it's almost everything.

My advice is to make more friends. You need to be around peers who can give you a reality check. Make sure that some of those pals are female. And please, go find a therapist and talk about your concerns.

No marriage tours. No Googling mail-order brides. You're in your early 30s. There's no rush here. Concentrate on friendship and working on yourself. If you eventually want to hire a real matchmaker (and your therapist thinks you're ready), go for it. Just pick a service that matches you with someone who has the means to walk away if it's just not right.

Readers? What should he do? Thoughts about his plan? What's going on here? Help.

– Meredith

He says he's finally ready

Posted by Meredith Goldstein January 18, 2012 08:50 AM

It's chat day.

Q: Hi,

I am in my early 30s and was, until a year ago, in a tumultuous 5-year relationship. Although we loved each other very much and got along well, my ex couldn't make up his mind about whether he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me, whereas I was ready for a real commitment on his part after being together for 3 years. To be fair, he was in an unstable financial and career situation the whole time and felt he had nothing to offer. He had already tried to end the relationship a few times because even though I didn't make any demands on him, it was obvious I wanted something that he couldn't provide. He was just not mentally ready. But each time, our feelings pulled us back together.

We finally broke up last year when he decided it was unfair to keep me waiting until he made up his mind.

It took me a while to get over him, but two months ago I met a wonderful guy and we have developed strong feelings for each other. But after I announced to my ex that I had met someone, he called me back to tell me he loved me and was now sure he wanted to marry me and that he's ready to spend the rest of his life with me. It's been a few weeks and he is much more communicative (he couldn't say the words "I love you" before), loving and caring.

So here I am, not sure if I should give my ex another chance or try and figure out where this new relationship is headed. Both options feel risky. My ex hasn't made me happy in the past due to his emotional unavailability, but I have some doubts about my new boyfriend's ability to make me happy too. He had trouble getting over an ex until recently, he hasn't gone to grad school yet, which is usually a big strain on relationships and delays family and kids (and frankly, I don't want to experience grad school a second time), he has a busy life (friends, hobbies), and I feel as though I can be just another activity to schedule...

Meredith, I need your help. I need to either tell my new bf I cannot pursue this relationship or tell my ex I will not marry him. How do I figure out if it's worth pursuing this new relationship or if I can trust my ex and give him another chance?

– Which One?, Boston

A: This is a tough one, WO, but based on what you've told us in your letter, you should probably drop the new guy. You want marriage and kids and he's thinking about grad school. And the whole "just another activity to schedule" thing doesn't make me feel good about what he has to offer.

I can't tell you whether your ex is for real this time, but you seem to want to know. You're talking to him (more than once, right?) and letting him tell you that he loves you. It sounds like you're already negotiating with him. I've got a big problem with the fact that he only changed his ways after you met someone else, but ... I can't say for sure that he's not capable of being what you want.

You could wind up losing both guys. The situation is certainly risky. But you spent a good three paragraph discussing your angst about the ex, and one paragraph listing your new guy's faults.

If you need to find out if your ex is for real, go do it. Get to know him all over again and listen to what he has to say.

Again, there are no guarantees, but that's life.

Readers? Which one? Is the ex for real? Is there more to the new guy? What should she do? Discuss.

– Meredith

I want to be close to family

Posted by Meredith Goldstein January 4, 2012 08:32 AM

It's Wednesday. Let's chat at 1.

Q: Hi Meredith,

My husband and I married a little over a year ago and we have a very healthy, loving relationship. However, we seem to keep having the same fight over and over and have never been able to come to a reasonable conclusion. The fight is always about where we plan to eventually settle down and live.

I grew up on the West Coast surrounded by a large, close-knit family, who all still live in the same city. I am very close with my family and think it is important that my future children are able to grow up in that type of close-knit family environment.

My husband grew up on the East Coast and is also a part of a smaller but still very close-knit family. I know family is important to him, but he doesn't seem to think it's important for us to live near family like I do. He thinks it would be nice if it happens to work out that way, whereas I think its important that we make it work out that way.

I know some people probably think this is a conversation we should have had prior to actually getting married, and we did, but we're relatively young (mid 20s) and settling down just always seemed so far away that it was never something we needed to resolve right away. But now we are approaching the end of grad school and the job searches and location decisions that come along with that. Everything suddenly seems much more real and urgent.

Obviously I would prefer to move closer to my family. I am the only member of my family that doesn’t live in the same city and it's very difficult for me to be far away. However, I know it's not fair of me to demand that he pick up and leave his family so that I can be closer to mine. I have requested that we try to only focus our job searches on areas where we have family nearby; it doesn't matter if it's mine or his. He thinks we should just go wherever we get the best job and feels like I'm being unfair to limit him like that. I have even tried to compromise and say that we can go wherever he wants now, but once we have kids (which is still a few years down the road) we will need to move close to family, but he still finds that limiting.

I know you can't tell me what to do, but I would really like some advice on how we can resolve this. I'm worried that one of us will end up resenting the other no matter what we end up deciding.

– Lost and Drifting, NC

A: I hate to put it this way, LAD, but you're right and he’s wrong, at least when it comes to communication. Marriage is all about compromise, and from what you've told us, you've offered up a number of options to make this easier for him. You've told him that you'd stay close to his family as opposed to moving to be near your own. You've told him that you're open to moving around for a few years before you settle down near family to have kids.

Has he offered up any compromises? Has he budged at all? Because I can come up with a few compromises on his behalf. Maybe the solution is to apply for jobs within a two-hour drive of family. Maybe, depending on what you do for a living, you can spend a few weeks every summer close to the people you love.

My guess is that he's worried about finding any job right now and that he can't get his head around making sure it's in the exact right spot. Or perhaps this is about age, and he can't quite envision a reason he'd want or need to be so close to family.

My advice? Explain to him that you've taken two steps toward him in this debate. Now it's his turn. You’re not asking him to pick up and move to your parents' house; you're simply asking him to show good faith and add to your list of compromises.

During the conversation, ask him what scares him about these decisions and what his ideal living situation would look like. These might be questions he hasn't even asked himself, and they might help him learn to take baby steps in your direction.

Readers? How do you teach someone to compromise? Any ideas for them? Is this about job search angst? Will they change their priorities as they get older? Advise.

– Meredith

Is she my destiny?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein January 3, 2012 08:44 AM

Q: Meredith,

I just recently separated from my wife of 15 years. Totally my fault. I was not totally happy in my marriage so I had an affair. Not the right thing to do, but can't change the past. I know that it will be a tough road ahead, but I made my bed and now I am lying in it.

Here is my dilemma. My high school sweetheart, who was also married, is also in the process of a divorce. We have started chatting again -- nothing serious -- but talking/texting/emailing. I told her that I did still have feelings for her after all these years. It was a great relationship, but it ended quickly when I went off to college. She agreed that there was unfinished business, but she did not want to be the reason that I got divorced.

Since I moved out, I have asked her out a few times but something always comes up. I am thinking I may be too sensitive? Maybe she does not want to go out, maybe she does -- but why does she not have the same time table I do? Am I crazy for being so sensitive? Every time I decide that I am not going to contact her, she calls or text me!

When we dated in high school she had seen a movie, Mr. Destiny. The theme of the movie is: "Would you give up everything you have ever had for everything you ever wanted?" At the time I said no, because she was what I had, but now is she everything I ever wanted?


– Mr. Destiny, Central Mass.

A: MD, one of my first rules about dating and marriage is: Do not compare your relationships to movies that feature Jim Belushi. Not even "About Last Night." Although I do love that one.

In real life, you're separated from your wife of many years and have no idea what you need. Instead of deciding that this high school sweetheart is the answer to your problems, get to know yourself. Think about what you've done and what's to come. Consider that you might need time to process all that's happened. You can't give up what you have for this ex like you're in a movie. No one is giving you that option -- especially not her. Please take some time off from pursuing a relationship and get into therapy.

And know this: In the real world, we all have unfinished business with exes and crushes. Life just isn't long enough to finish our business with everyone. What-ifs are normal.

The warm feelings you're having for her right now? They're fueled by nostalgia. That's why you're quoting '90s movies. Take some space, get back to the present, and deal with your loss. It's too soon to ask anyone to be on your time table -- because you don't have one yet.

Readers? Can you help Mr. Destiny? What's happening with the ex? Help.

– Meredith

Let down after holidays

Posted by Meredith Goldstein January 2, 2012 08:36 AM

I know some of you are off duty, but here's a letter about holiday disappointment. If you're around, please help.

Q: Dear Meredith,

I've been married for over 20 years and my question is: How do I deal with the constant disappointment of my husband letting me down for special occasions? He has been like this since we met. He has completely forgotten to say "Happy Birthday" some years, never mind even getting me a gift or doing anything to celebrate. When he does remember holidays, he usually gets me the same thing -- a gift certificate to a store I like.

For my birthday several months ago he got me a gift certificate for an activity that we both enjoy, but he hasn't made the effort to schedule it or get a sitter so we can go, so it sits unused. This year for Christmas he got me a gift certificate to that same store and was perplexed that I was disappointed.

On his birthday, he's always in a great mood and can't wait to open up his gifts. But holidays are always a letdown for me. Why does this bother me so much? I am happy in our marriage in every other way, but I always know I'll be disappointed for special occasions and sometimes I shrug it off ... but sometimes it puts me in a bad mood for a couple of days until I realize how petty I'm being. Some people say to buy my own gifts, but the point is, I want him to put some effort into these things and make me feel special.

– Disappointed and Let Down, Boston

A: I get it, DALD. You're done with the gift certificates.

I see three options here. You can accept this as one of his flaws, give specific gift instructions, or get creative. Personally, I like option No. 3. Next Christmas, challenge him to see who can buy the most creative gift for less than $10. See what he comes up with. If he knows that creativity is on the line, he won't be able to resort to getting you the annual gift certificate. Tell him that you don't consider it cheating if he asks your friends for advice about gifts. Friends often know exactly what you want. Push him to investigate. And with the $10 limit, he'll know that this isn't about the money.

Also give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he gives you a gift certificate to that store because he likes the way you look in whatever you get there. Maybe he saw your face light up the first time you got that gift certificate and he's hoping that will happen again.

I'm not saying this isn't a problem -- he should step it up, for sure -- but he seems to be someone who struggles with this stuff. You don't have to buy your own gifts, but you can help him along. Before your birthday, give him a catalog of clothes (or pajamas?) and ask him to order what he'd like to see you wear. You can help him along and make this fun for both of you.

And please, use that activity gift certificate. Yes, he should do the legwork to make it happen, but meet him halfway. Otherwise the thing's going to expire. Like my catalog idea?

Readers? Ideas for this LW? Anyone involved with a bad gift giver? Discuss.

– Meredith

He's ruined our finances

Posted by Meredith Goldstein December 20, 2011 08:47 AM

Q: Dear Meredith,

I am in my late 20s and a newlywed. My new husband started working the late shift three months ago and things haven't been the same since. Now that we are married and have joint finances, I was shocked to discover how many bills have gone unpaid. Starting about six months ago I began receiving calls from creditors looking for payment. Most of these bills are in my name. I have confronted my husband about the situation and he admitted to hiding the mail so I would not see late notices. He seems to have no sympathy for paying bills devastatingly late. My credit has been ruined by these late payments. Most recently I received a call from our mortgage company explaining that our mortgage hadn't been paid in three months. I cannot just "let it go" and accept yet another excuse from my husband. I quickly became the only one putting money into our joint bank account, and also the only one to take action to remedy these embarrassing phone calls. His check now goes into a separate account that I have no access to. I don't know how much money he's making, or where he is spending it.

Here is where it gets messy -- we have a young daughter together. Beyond money problems, one night in particular I found out he slept at another women's house who my husband has always claimed to be "just a friend." This is the third time he has been MIA for the night. I have found myself to be a single mother married to a totally unpredictable spouse. I have made multiple exhaustive attempts to communicate my concerns to my husband who barely seems to be listening and laughs at my thoughts of another woman. He has refused couples or individual counseling and has asked me to move out half a dozen times. My emotions have gone from acting like the situation doesn't bother me to feeling completely alone and helpless.

I never would have predicted this situation and I just don't know how to move forward. I could use your advice!

– Incomplete in Boston

A: There's not a lot you can do about a bad marriage when your partner refuses counseling -- and honesty in general, IIB. Your only choice right now is to focus on yourself and your kid. Start by finding a financial adviser who can help you get out of this credit mess. You need to know about every bill that's out there and how this has affected your record. You also need to know what will happen and how you can budget your life if this marriage ends. Do some Googling and look for an expert who deals with couples. I recommend bringing a friend or family member to these appointments. It can be overwhelming to deal with on your own.

You should also be seeing a therapist during all of this. Yes, it'd be better if he came with you, but regardless, you need help figuring out how you can go back to feeling safe in the world. If he's this unpredictable, is it best for you to move out? If so, where can you go that will give you some stability?

My hope is that when he sees you making these moves, he'll realize that this is serious and join you for these appointments. But it's very possible that he won't. His reaction to your planning will also give you some big answers. At the end of the day, is he working to stay together ... or is he relieved that you're making plans to move on?

Take deep breaths. And again, bring friends to appointments even if it means calling someone you haven't seen in a long time. You don't have to be alone.

Readers? Does his night shift have anything to do with this? Advice from people who have dealt with partners not paying bills? Is this relationship fixable? Discuss.

– Meredith

She checks my cell phone

Posted by Meredith Goldstein December 16, 2011 08:51 AM

Thanks to everyone who came to the Missed Connections party last night. It was a good time.

Q: Hey Meredith,

For the last couple of months I have been in what we'll call a "deep discussion" with my wife and I would like some help with the following question: Does your spouse have the right to look through your mobile phone?

Before you answer let me give you a little background. My wife and I have been married for a little over a year now. We are both in our 40s; I'm on the short end and she is on the long end of 40. We were both previously married. She's been divorced for more than a decade and I've been divorced for about a year (if you do the math, we didn't date long, a little over a year, before getting married). One other important note is that I have two children who are under 10.

So back to the question. I've noticed that my wife has been looking through my mobile phone for about four months now. About three months ago I asked her why she was looking. (I had nothing to hide and didn't really care. I thought she would find it boring and soon stop). Her answer was that she wanted to know how many times I was talking to my ex-wife. My ex and I have put our past aside and we now have a business-like relationship to raise our two kids. I have explained this to my wife since day one but she still gets visibly upset when my ex-wife calls, which is not often.

In the last two months she has started questioning me about every local number she does not recognize. Every time this has happened, I've explained who it was. I keep asking her why she does not trust me and why is she going through my phone. The only real answer I get is: "Because I can.”

Well, last night it all came to a head. I think this was being a little passive-aggressive but I deleted my phone history to see what she would do. As a result we got into a huge argument. I asked her again why she had to go through my phone, and the answer was: "Because as your wife I can.”

After discussing this topic for an hour or so, I told her I would post this question to our friends on Facebook to see how they would respond. But instead I wanted to ask you.

Is there a right or wrong answer to this question? Does my wife have a truck load of baggage that I missed or am I just in way over my head. Any advice would be most helpful. I love me wife to bits but not sure how much longer I can put up with this.

– Should I Stay or Should I Go...NOW!!, Boston

A: Don't post this question on Facebook, SISOSIGN. This isn't a playful question. It's an issue that's ruining your new marriage and no one's going to be able to give you a definitive answer. Not even me. Some couples share cell phones. Some are more private. There are different rules for every partnership. The important thing is that you develop those rules together and respect them.

In your case, the cell phone obsession is about something else. Your wife seems to have major problems with trust, privacy, and control.

Get to a therapist with her and figure out who you married. Is this someone who understands what you need to do with your ex in order to successfully raise your children? Did you marry this woman for the right reasons? Why did you get married so quickly? What were your expectations for the partnership? How are you functioning as a family?
You must see a professional and talk about the big things. The phone is a little thing. It's just the catalyst for talking about issues that should have been discussed before you made this commitment. But it's not too late. Go talk to someone. Soon. Don't let the phone issue distract you.

Readers? What are your cell phone rules? What's happening here? Does he want to stay married? What questions should have been answered before this marriage began? What should he do now? Discuss.

– Meredith

I never wanted to get married

Posted by Meredith Goldstein December 9, 2011 08:55 AM

This one's messy. Remember to give constructive advice. :)

Q: Dear Meredith,

I have been married for almost a year, together with my now-husband for almost a decade. We moved in after a year of dating and were happy for a couple of years before he started pressing the issue of marriage. I never wanted to be married and I made this clear when we first met -- no marriage, no kids. He said he was OK with that but apparently he wanted to "have" me, and being happy with me in our relationship wasn't enough.

Fast forward four years and I caved. We signed the papers and I hoped for the best. Over the past nine months I have tried to work on myself and have come to realize how controlling and manipulative he can be. Friends and family say I've changed for the worst over the years and I am starting to think they might be right. From gaining weight and losing interest in the things I used to love, to losing touch with close friends and family. We became each other's only friend/hobby and I know that's not healthy. He is a great guy and I've loved him dearly (otherwise I wouldn't have made him my whole world for so many years). The problem is, the moment I want to do anything myself -- shopping, talking on the phone, anything that doesn't include him -- he throws a fit and I'm tired of it. I know part of this is my fault ... I've allowed this to happen for a long time.

Now on to the next issue (because the marriage isn't bad enough?!). Six months ago I reconnected with an old crush and we began a friendship that has turned physical over the last two months. We have so much in common. Back when we met I wasn't married, though I later found out he was. Though we lost touch, I never forgot about the what-if. When we reconnected it started with talking, which turned into coffee, which turned into talking on the phone, and now here we are. Now, ready for the worst part?

A month ago he found out his wife is pregnant. The wife he claims to be so unhappy with. Which of course has left me wondering if his home life is as unhappy as he has led me to believe. Before he found out the news, he told me he never wanted kids, but every now and then I question whether or not he was just lying to me all along. Then when I'm with him, all of my fears and doubts instantly slip away and it feels right.

He says it feels like she’s having the baby to try to save the marriage and he wants a divorce regardless -- that he can be a father without being with her. He sees a future with me. In the meantime, what about me? What if he watches her growing belly and can't leave? Then, even if he does, I've never wanted kids, and regardless of how amazing we are together and our feelings for each other, I’m just not sure I can stay with him with a kid in the picture.

Where do I go from here? Divorce? Wait and see if HE gets a divorce? Work on my marriage? Break it off with everyone and be alone?

– Lost in Love, Boston

A: LIL, the first thing you have to do is let this other man go. Maybe he'll get a divorce. Maybe he won't. But he's not anywhere close to figuring this out and you shouldn't be involved in any of it. Don't be the other woman. He has a pregnant wife. Your unhappy marriage doesn't entitle you to take part in this kind of betrayal. And like you said, there's nothing in it for you at this point. Even in a best-case scenario, he's setting up a life that you don't want.

After you get out of this new situation, take your husband to a therapist. Say all of the things you told us (the first two paragraphs of your letter) in front of a professional. Make decisions with the help of a third party.

I think you know how all of this is going to end. I'm not saying that it'll be easy to get there, but that's why you go to a professional -- for guidance.

You're in the middle of a mess, one you know you helped to create. You're accountable. You get it. It's awful. So hold the hands of some friends -- and some people who are trained to mediate -- and start fixing it. Now.

Readers? Any hope with this crush guy? Any hope with the husband? Should she tell the husband about the affair? Help.

– Meredith

I'm having second thoughts about moving in

Posted by Meredith Goldstein December 6, 2011 08:35 AM

Q: Dear Meredith,

I have been dating my boyfriend for a few years now and the topic of moving in together has finally come up. A little bit of background: I come from a very strict upbringing in which you only live with a man once you are married and there are no such things as "boyfriends" until you are engaged. I am also very close with my family and consider myself the Mother Theresa of the group -- helping everyone whenever they are in need, no matter what. My boyfriend, on the other hand, is very close with his family but knows how to put himself first. His mother doesn't object to us living together.

At first I was happy with the thought of moving in together and we both agreed we would -- we even lived together over the summer in a vacation house as a trial. Everything was fine. The conversation about moving into a new place directly from the vacation house came up, but I wanted to move home for a while to be close to my parents (I have been living at home all my life and this is a very big deal for me, especially since I know my mother will refuse to visit me if I live with my boyfriend). My upbringing was also on my mind; I really felt like I did not want to move in with someone until I was married or at least engaged. I have a fear that we would be playing house with no commitment, and statistics show there is a higher divorce rate in couples that live together before marriage. I expressed my feelings to my boyfriend, which were opposite of my original feelings of wanting to move in. He said that he wanted to live together before getting married and there was no question in his mind about it. He also said I hurt him because he felt like I put him behind my family (this has been a continuous battle) and he became bitter at me for not moving in.

I do not want to keep giving my boyfriend high hopes and then yanking his heart out. I understand why he feels I put him second. He believes that if we live together he will no longer have this feeling because we will see each other more often.

Now I am stuck. Why am I second guessing my thought process? Do I really want to be married that bad, and if so, why so sudden? In the past year, I was totally against marriage due to the many divorces happening around me. I thought about it, and if he were to ask me to marry him, I would be ready to move in a heartbeat. My problem now is I don't want to move in because I feel as if I am being forced in order to save our relationship. But I am scared that if I don't move in, he will continue to be bitter at me and we will eventually break up. Please help!

Thank you,

– Move in?, Out of State

A: This doesn't seem to be about your family, MI. It's about your fear of relationship failure. You're anxious about "playing house" without a plan. You're even more anxious about divorce. That's why you're not moving in. You want a guarantee.

But there are no guarantees. Even if your boyfriend proposes before you move in, there's no telling what will happen in six months or a year. And those statistics? Don't focus on them too much. For the record, I have no official opinion about whether couples should live together before marriage -- every twosome is different -- but my official opinion about statistics and studies is that they only tell part of a story. Some couples get divorced after living together because they have the financial means to do so. And at least a few of the married people who never lived together before getting hitched wind up staying together because they want to honor family and commitment no matter what, even if they're unhappy.

My advice is to explain to your boyfriend that this isn't about your family and that you've developed a real fear of living together without a commitment. If you move in and successfully live together for six months or a year, does he want to get married? Is that the goal?

Listen to his plans and hear him out. Explain that you're really putting him first, which is why you're so petrified.

Readers? Should she move in? Does her family have anything to do with this? Help.

– Meredith

My wife has let herself go

Posted by Meredith Goldstein November 28, 2011 08:08 AM

If I didn't run your update last week, I will.

There will be more updates around Christmas. And feel free to keep sending them.

Q: Dear Meredith,

I have been married to my wife now for some time; we dated even longer before that. We joyfully have a family together and are saving up for a home. We are lucky to have all the comfortable trappings of a content All-American lifestyle. That being said, there’s no way around the point that our relationship has become much less romantic and physical as time has gone by.

My wife is in the beginning of a demanding fellowship, before that she was in a grueling medical residency and before that she was a student. Needless to say, it has been a very long ride for us.

I feel lucky for all that I have, including a good career for myself and a wonderful set of children. But at the physical level, the demands on her have taken a major toll on our intimacy, and what's most difficult is that attraction has become an issue. When we were first together, she took very good care of herself; she dressed very well, had an extensive and impressive beauty regimen that included regular trips to the salon and led a healthy lifestyle of regular exercise and proper diet (right along with me).

Now I certainly realize that as time goes by people mature and change. I know that I don't have many of the hairs on my head left and that I can't keep the physique I had as a younger man. But my wife has truly done a 180, going from a very high maintenance, well groomed and well-coiffed dazzler to a low maintenance, clog-wearing slave of the hospital. Even for special occasions or holidays she seems underdressed. She hasn't worn makeup or elegant nightwear in ages and hasn't had her hair colored, cut or styled equally as long.

I don't want to be a shallow man, but I am afraid that is exactly how I will come out as if I discuss it. But I can’t get past the abandonment of her efforts to maintain her feminine appeals -- up to and including ... hairy legs. I don't know what to do and worry about the repercussions of addressing the matter. I don't feel like I should have to pine over pictures of her from 6 years ago even though the "light at the end of the tunnel" for her is so close (a few years away).

– Needing More From My Wife in Massachusetts

A: It's all in the delivery, NMFMWIM. There are some incredibly romantic sentiments in your letter. You love your wife. You fantasize about her (as opposed to other women). Let her know that what you want more than anything else is her.

Tell her that you miss feeling like she's excited to have a date with you and that you dream about the days when you used to go out of your way to impress each other. Maybe buy her a spiffy outfit and a pair of earrings to match. Tell her you want her to put it on … and then eventually take it off. (Cue sexy music). Treat her to a day of beauty -- because it's worth the cost. Continue to tell her how much you love her and miss the romance. Frame this as a gift, not a criticism.

She's no dummy. She knows that she's wearing clogs. She knows that you guys are less intimate than you used to be.

If she won't work with you and is simply miserable about the idea of wearing something that you bought for her, tell her you're worried about her -- because you should be. If she can't focus on her marriage -- or feeling good about herself -- she might be depressed or overwhelmed, in general. She might need to talk to a professional.

Go shopping. Set a night for a date. Work on a speech that is honest but loving. Remember, you don't want anybody else. You want your wife. Make that clear.

Readers? How do you tell a partner that you want them to step it up? What's going on here? Should he wait a few years before bringing this up? Should he be more straightforward and just tell her he's fed up with her letting herself go? Medical students, want to weigh in? Help.

– Meredith

I want him to be manly

Posted by Meredith Goldstein November 21, 2011 08:32 AM

Q: Hi Meredith,

I've been dating a great guy for a few years. He's smart, has a good job, is handsome, etc. People who know him think he's a "good catch."

We've begun to talk about marriage but one thing bothers me: I worry that he's not "manly" enough.

What I mean is that often times I feel like I'm the one in the relationship who does the things a guy should do. I hate to sound stereotypical, but let me give you a few examples:

Recently, we were at the movies. The theater was packed. The person sitting next to us kept interrupting and making noise throughout the movie. After not getting the body language cues I was sending, I asked the woman to be quiet.

During the recent snow storm, our neighbor, an elderly person, was outside shoveling snow. My boyfriend said he was sick and went to bed. I went out and helped instead.

I got a flat tire. We called AAA and waited. In the meantime, an old man had stopped to help. He insisted on helping us change the tire. My boyfriend stood by and watched. When I asked him about it later, his response was: "He didn't have to do it."

He can't fix anything in the condo and thinks nothing of calling the repairman to close a stuck window or change a light bulb that broke in the socket. I feel like it's a waste of money.

I know I must sound like some woman out of the 50s, but what I want to know is that my potential husband would protect me from a pack of wild dogs (or zombies) and not run in the opposite direction. Is this a deal-breaker? Am I being over-analytical? Over-critical?

– Overreacting in New England?

A: I know at least a few hot, masculine guys who look even hotter and manlier when they admit that they don't know how to fix a broken light bulb in a socket and call a repair person to get it done right. You know what's not hot? Getting electrocuted.

It's not about whether your boyfriend is masculine; it's about whether he's thoughtful and chivalrous. Who cares if he can change a flat tire if he asks you whether you're warm enough while you wait for the tow truck?

If he's too sick to shovel, fine. But when you returned from shoveling, did he thank you? Did he offer to make you some soup? Was he nice?

Ask yourself whether he's compassionate and thoughtful. That's all that matters. You have every right to expect empathy, but no one in their right mind would fight off zombies. Better to be with the guy who gives you a big romantic kiss and then takes you into the zombie-proof hideaway that he paid a real handyman (or handywoman) to build.

If he lacks compassion, you have something to worry about.

Readers? Is this about masculinity or compassion? Are her expectations fair? Zombies? Thoughts? Discuss.

– Meredith

I know I need to leave

Posted by Meredith Goldstein November 17, 2011 08:32 AM

Remember to be constructive with advice.


Q: Dear Meredith,

I can hardly believe I am writing this. But here it goes:

A few years ago, I got involved with someone. I was married at the time and he was allegedly single. We had been talking as friends online for years before that. I never thought I would do that, but I did. I had been trying to save my marriage on my own for many years and I finally succumbed to the temptation of someone new. Let's call him Steve. During this time I never once lied to anyone about my current state. My then husband knew exactly where I was and even knew who I was with. I went away weekends with Steve and my husband knew. I knew my marriage was over for good then.

I fell head-over-heels in love with Steve. He was everything I ever wanted in a man. Then I learned Steve was indeed still married. I should have walked away then but it was too late. I was in love, my marriage was over, and he assured me his was over long before he met me. I came to find out that he had walked away from his marriage several times prior to meeting me but that he always went back for the sake of his young child.

After I divorced my husband I found a place. It was with the understanding that once my divorce was final, he would start to finalize his.

He didn't. The first excuse was he didn't have the money to do so.

We broke up for a while after that. He wanted to come back. I told him I wasn't taking him back until he moved forward with his divorce. He promised me he was going to and had even talked to his wife about it and she agreed to the divorce. He moved in with me, and I let him borrow the money he needed to get his divorce done. His excuse then was we needed to wait until we were settled into our house together. That was in the spring.

I put my foot down again this summer and told him he had a month to file his divorce papers. He said he would, he made a lame attempt to do the paperwork ... but it sits uncompleted and unfiled.

I've made another demand for it to get done and this time the excuse is he's afraid of losing his son (ridiculous -- they have a great relationship) and his retirement to a divorce.

Please, Meredith and readers, give me the kick in the pants I obviously need. He's never going to divorce his wife and I really need to move on.

– Needs a Good Kick in the Pants, Mass.

A: You already know what you have to do, NAGKITP, so I'm not going to focus on kicking you.

Instead I'm going to boost you up and assure you that you're going to be OK. You've learned so many things about yourself during this relationship, and it helped you find our way into a new life. That new life is set (you're divorced, you're in your own place, etc.), and you can finally focus on enjoying it -- alone or with someone who isn't caught up in a lie.

I don't want you to punish yourself for wasting time. Sometimes we need to get the runaround three or four times before we're sure about a decision. I bet that a year or so ago you wouldn't have been confident enough to write the last sentence of your letter, but you did this time around and that means you're ready for great things.

Prepare yourself, because when you tell him that you're done with him, he might run and file that divorce paperwork. And if he does, do you care? Because it seems to me that it's too late, no matter what.

Readers? If he runs and gets a divorce because she breaks up with him, should she take him back? Thoughts on recovering after such a long, messy relationship? Help.

– Meredith

Should we have kids?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein November 16, 2011 07:00 AM

Chat day.

Q: Meredith,

I am a mid-thirties male who has been married for more than six years and have been with my wife for over a decade. The relationship is great. We love to travel to exotic places, see goofy movies, eat adventurous food, and all around have a wonderful life. So why am I writing, you ask? Well, as we are both now in our mid-thirties the question of having a child keeps coming up. We talk about it often and go back and forth about the issue. At any given moment I can be totally against having children (especially when we are out somewhere and there is a screaming child throwing a tantrum). But then I will see a couple with their young child playing in a park and the kid will run up and hug them and it melts my heart. To be totally honest I think I am slightly more on board then my wife is about having children (she calls it the big fade).

I have many concerns that I have expressed to my wife and we communicate openly. There are two major sides to the issue. The first in the negative camp is -- Will a child ruin the relationship we have now? I have been with my spouse for one third of my life and not to be corny, but she is perfect for me. We will have an issue from time to time but we are quick to resolve it through communication and respect for each other. What if we have a child and we start to fight more or she resents me because there is not nearly as much freedom as we used to have. What if we both resent the child for what it did to our relationship? Right now we can do what we want to do when we want to do it. Also, if we do not have a child we could most likely retire younger and just enjoy our lives together. But is that selfish?

That brings me to the pro side of the child debate. My wife is an intelligent caring person who I know would make a great mother. I hope that I could be a good father. I worry that we would be missing out on an essential part of human experience if we chose not to procreate. Would we look back in 30 years and wish that we had a child? I have always been a very content person. Before I met my wife I was happy. But after meeting her life was that much more fulfilling. A child might bring another level of enrichment to both of our lives. I love the idea of having a little piece of her and me to share my life with in a child.

I wanted to ask you and all the readers their thoughts on this conundrum. It would be useful to hear from both camps (pro/con) and how they live their lives. What are your thoughts, Meredith? Are you pro or con?

– To Child or Not to Child, Boston

A: Oh, TCONTC, I wish I could tell you what to do, but I can't. I give advice about love -- but I'm not a Magic 8 Ball. I can't tell you whether a child will make your life better or worse. I can't tell you whether a child will destroy what you have with your wife or enhance your relationship.

But I can tell you that there's always something to miss out on in life. We can't do everything. If you don't have a kid, you'll miss out on raising a child with your partner, which is huge. And if you do have a kid, you'll miss out on more travel, giggling in front of the television without interruption, sleeping in on Sundays, and other fun things that make a relationship beautiful. Also huge.

I can't say whether I'm "pro" or "con" when it comes to kids, but I can say this: Couples don't have to have kids to have a complex, meaningful relationship. And the word "selfish" isn't a part of this decision. I know many childless couples who are a part of a greater community of family and friends. No matter what you do, you'll have a chance to give back to your world.

Please continue to have this conversation with your wife, but try not to frame it as FOMO (fear of missing out). It's not about which option deprives you of the most; it's about what you want to be doing in five years, how you define family, how you like to interact with each other, and what's important to you, in general. Don't make it about regret, because I promise you, both options have the potential to be very, very fantastic. Think of it as, "Which awesome and overwhelming life choice appeals to us most?"

Readers? How should a couple navigate this decision? Should it be about FOMO? Can people with/without kids speak up, please? Help.

– Meredith

My fiance and his ex

Posted by Meredith Goldstein November 15, 2011 08:06 AM

Q: Hi Meredith,

I am currently engaged to a great guy, who is sweet, loving ... and sometimes totally clueless. Or I hope it's cluelessness ...

We got engaged only after being together for less than six months, both of us being out of relationships shortly before we met. Trust me, we knew it was fast and didn't go get married or anything. We are still engaged after over a year and a half. We just knew it was what we wanted. We have our wedding set for next fall and things are moving along.

The problem is that my fiance has this ex-girlfriend who refuses to leave him alone. When we were first dating she immediately tried to get back together with him (I found this out later, of course) but he denied her and took things to the next level with me. I know, I know, I should feel confident about our relationship. But she constantly texts him, writes him on Facebook, and has her family members contact him. I even reached out to her one time, asking her to stop because of how disrespectful it is to me. She did for about a month. Then it started again.

My fiance claims it is just because he was close with her family. They want to see how he is doing, etc. There was a death in his family shortly after we started dating so a lot of people were there to support him and he claims that is all she is doing. I disagree. She texts him how she misses him, her family member sent him messages about how they always pictured her marrying someone like him, and how they hope he's not settling, etc. That is not being supportive about a situation; that is clear disregard for the fact he is engaged.

Why won't he just write back and tell them to stop?? Am I crazy? Should I just let this go because he is with me and not her?

– Frustrated in New Hampshire

A: I wouldn't let this go, FINH. This issue should serve as a big premarital life lesson for both of you.

I'd ask him to minimize his activity with his ex on Facebook and to set boundaries with her family. Quick one-sentence responses to them are fine. Nothing rude, just clear. "I'm very happy! Thanks for your concern!"

I don't think that your ex is clueless, but I do think that he's passive. And I think that the death in his family is causing a lot of these problems. His ex and her family assume he committed to you too quickly because he suffered a loss. He's afraid of being rude to these people because they were there for him when he needed it most.

But it's been almost two years. It's time for him to make some rules.

My advice is to start posing your needs as questions to see how he feels about them. As in, "Do you want to receive texts from her? Do you think it's appropriate?" Or, "Is there a way you can set boundaries with her family without being rude?" And, "In a perfect world, how often would you hear from your ex? How do you think you can make her understand?" See what you can come up with together. And make sure that you ask the most important question/statement: "I feel threatened by all of this activity with the ex. Do you understand why?" I'd also ask mutual friends for advice. Do they know this woman? Do they feel that she's in the right? Just curious about who's in your shared community at the moment.

When you get engaged after five months -- after a death -- some friends (or exes) feel they have the right to step in with questions and concerns. And that's fine. But this woman hasn't learned to accept her role as an ex, and your fiancé has been complicit.

You're not overreacting, but it’s time to get thoughtful with him about what to do next. You can't be doing this as a married woman. Make that clear.

Readers? Is this going to ruin their marriage? Am I right about the significance of the death in the family? Is it weird that his family is reaching out? Help.

– Meredith

My wife stinks

Posted by Meredith Goldstein November 11, 2011 08:15 AM

Q: Hi Meredith,

My wife has been on a health kick for the last year or so. She regularly goes to the gym and watches what she eats. She looks great and feels good about herself. So what's wrong? She stinks!

Yes, she smells, and not from lack of showers but from the food she eats. In the last year, she has gone from vegetarian to vegan. She is eating a lot of organic foods, greens, soups, etc...

Normally, I would tell her to stop eating things with garlic, as that was my first thought. But even now I find other foods without garlic make her stink.

She does not smell it on her so she is not concerned.

It is a huge issue for me because I no longer want to be intimate with my wife. I don't even want to be in the same room as her when she gives off this aroma. And this especially applies to the bedroom because then she is right next to me and there is no escaping it. I have tried things like going to bed earlier so I'm asleep by the time she stinks up the room. Sometimes the smell is so bad I have to leave and sleep in our guest room.

I know I do probably have a more sensitive nose than others as I'm usually the 1st person at work who yells out when someone starts cooking fish. But this is a deal-breaker for me. I feel like I have a roommate living with me rather than a loving wife.

I feel like I'm ready to walk but wonder what advice you can give me before I make this decision.

– GrossedOutHubby, Boston

A: You have to be 100 percent honest, GOH. Not mean, but honest. You have to tell her that the smell issue is beginning to kill some very important parts of your marriage. Tell her that you're scared. That should disarm her.

Frankly, your sensitive nose might be picking up something important. Perhaps she's eating too much of one thing. Perhaps she isn't getting enough protein. If she's concerned about her health, she's going to want to see a nutritionist about this smell to find out whether the odor is a symptom of a greater problem. You can even offer to go to the doctor with her to help describe the scent.

One thing to know: Even if she's empathetic, goes straight to a nutritionist, and begins experimenting to find out what makes her smell better/worse, this is going to take a while. My advice is to have as many outings as possible in places where scent isn't so important. Like a big, crowded restaurant.

If she refuses to address the smell issue and tells you that this is your problem, this is no longer about the odor; it's about her health kick trumping your marriage. At that point, you have every reason to ask her to go into therapy with you to talk about how to prioritize the individual without losing sight of the partnership.

But you're not there yet. Start with real honesty (and some compliments about she used to smell) and a trip to the nutritionist. And yes, once you have this talk, you're allowed to kiss her good night and camp out in the guest room. At least for now. No one's going to be happy if you spend the night tossing and turning.

Readers? How do you tell a partner that they stink? What if she refuses to deal with this? Anyone vegan? How important is a partner's familiar smell in a relationship? Discuss.

– Meredith

Dating a guy who's still married

Posted by Meredith Goldstein November 9, 2011 08:33 AM

Hi. Here's a link for today's chat.

Q: Meredith,

I have been in a long-term, long-distance relationship with someone that I care for deeply. We are both mid-50s, have already had our families, have each had substantial therapy, and now have a loving relationship based on sincere open and honest communication.

The long-distance is not a problem -- we actually like it -- but he's still married after many years and that has become a problem for me. I got my divorce finalized a few years ago and am so relieved to have it over. He has not moved on his divorce, claiming he didn't want "to rock the boat" when he moved out. Now, years later, his not-yet-ex has calmed down but is still a loose cannon. He says being technically married doesn't or shouldn't matter. He feels guilty about hurting her feelings. I think he is intimidated by her and afraid for how she might take it out on their children, plus, he doesn’t want to pay for a divorce lawyer. If he is waiting for her to make the first move, she has no motivation. It's never going to happen. She has the big house and all the trappings of a suburban housewife without letting on to the rest of the world what is really happening.

Despite our pride in our honest, open relationship, he has had a brick wall about this subject until I made an issue of it recently. We have no plans to get married; we don't even plan to move to one coast or the other. I truly do not think he would ever go back to his wife. Every day when he tells me he loves me, in the back of my head I think, "... but not enough to get divorced." And every day when I tell him that I love him, in the back of my mind I think, "... but I can't completely because he's not really available."

I don't know if I'm off base here. My usual reaction would be to cut and run, but everything else is so good with him. In the spirit of our openness, I kept talking and did not give up and neither did he. He finally realized that he had to explain himself to me and at least told me of the guilt factor. If the guilt is so strong, why doesn't he make amends?

Am I making this into too big a deal? Does it matter? Is this a deal breaker? Or is it ill-fated? I'm tired of dating a married man.

– Limbo Lady, Boston

A: This is a big deal, LL. You're dating a married man and you don't like it. Your comfort should mean more to him than his fear of causing trouble with his ex.

I do think that it's a deal-breaker. If he wants you, he can't be with her -- not in real life, not on paper.

Demand the divorce. Tell him that if he doesn't know how to start the process, he should head back to his therapist (and yes, pay for a lawyer).

And ... let me throw just one more thing out there, if you don't mind. You say that the distance doesn’t bother you, but ... doesn't it? Just a little bit?

I'm all for personal space, and I condone long-distance relationships that are either short-term or in neighboring cities, but for the most part, it's best to be physically close to the one you love. This distance is allowing him to avoid his responsibilities and to lie to his ex. It's certainly allowing him to remain stagnant with you. I want you to ask yourself: What is the plan for the future? How should this relationship look in two years? Does the distance really work?

Be honest. You're allowed to ask for everything you want.

Readers? Should she demand the divorce? Why isn't he getting divorced? Is age relevant here? Should she walk? Does the divorce paperwork really matter? What about the distance? Help.

– Meredith

I'm still angry at my ex

Posted by Meredith Goldstein November 8, 2011 07:50 AM

Q: I am engaged to a wonderful man who is most certainly the love of my life. My problem is not my current relationship; it is anger about my past relationship.

My high school boyfriend was my first love. We broke up but continued to date after we went to college, finally ending our relationship and cutting off all contact during my sophomore year. I dated someone else semi-seriously, but when that ended I found myself thinking about my ex more and more. Even though we hadn't spoken in more than a year, I was convinced that I was still in love with him. I made it my mission to get him back after I graduated. We ran into each other "accidentally" (on purpose on my part) and made plans to see each other. After some liquid courage that evening, I confessed to him that I was in love with him and we slept together. He was leaving on a trip the next day but told me that he would be back soon and that we would see each other again. After not hearing from him for several weeks, I called, only to have a casual conversation in which he did not mention our night together, or anything about us seeing each other again. I was devastated.

About a month later, my fiance finally asked me out on a first date. I said yes, if only because I knew that I needed to move on, and because there had always been an attraction (I knew my fiance through friends). I fell head over heels in love with him, and years later, we are engaged to be married next year.

I've only see my ex three times since my current relationship began. They were all awkward run-ins that included a meal that he initiated when he was near my workplace. During that lunch, he told me that he still knew who I was -- because people don't change. The rage that I had worked hard to suppress came bubbling up again when I realized he had never mentioned that one night or apologized for how he acted.

I don't think that I have a working phone number for him now, and beyond an email address and a Facebook friendship I don't have any way of contacting him, but I am still royally ticked off. I feel like I was taken advantage of. I feel used. I feel like he did a bad thing and has never had the guts to apologize for it.

This is not a fear of missing out letter; I am certain that I am engaged to the right man for me. I just don't want to bring these negative feelings into my marriage. I want to find a way to get over them so that I never have to think about my ex again. Sometimes when I'm at the gym, I find myself imagining what I would say to him to get through an extra mile on the treadmill and I leave enraged and wishing for resolution. I don't want to be angry anymore. Should I contact him and tell him how wrong I think his actions were? Is there anything that I can do to get over my anger?

– Sick of Being Angry, New York

A: SOBA, I'm going to validate you and then scold you, so prepare yourself.

These angry feelings are normal, especially the gym/revenge stuff. We all have tell-off fantasies about exes, especially when we're working out. And many of us have recurring dreams about victory over an ex. Sometimes those dreams are silly and immature, but they're therapeutic.

Your ex sounds pretty awful. I have no idea why he'd call you for lunch and then sit there, smug. If he cared about you as a friend, he'd send his best wishes from afar. And you're right -- he should have apologized.

But he didn't. And thank goodness he didn't. Had he been a prince, you might not have gone out on that date with your fiance. Only good things have come from your heartbreak. Be thankful.

You're allowed to dislike your ex, but you're not allowed to contact him. He can't give you closure. You have to get it on your own by breaking up with him in your head. Instead of thinking of him as the guy who wronged you, label him as the guy you'd never date again. Allow this to be your choice, because it is.

And now for the scolding …

That one night of passion? You're accountable for it, too. Yes, he took advantage, but you orchestrated the whole night. You made sure that you guys ran into each other. You consumed "liquid courage" and then allowed yourself to have high expectations for no good reason. He shouldn't have slept with you and then disappeared, but you should have been clear about what you wanted. You didn't call him up, ask him out, and calmly tell him that you'd like to start dating again. You dived in with no plan. You have to let that night go.

Forgive yourself. And know that anger (within reason) is OK. Sometimes that leftover sadness and rage fuels and informs our best decisions. It certainly did in your case.

Readers? How can she let this go? Do we ever stop being angry at our exes? Should she call him to get closure? Discuss.

– Meredith

Will I be his next 'crazy' ex?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein November 2, 2011 08:25 AM

Chat at 1.

Q: I've been in a relationship with "Kevin" for about two years. We're both in our late thirties/early forties. I love the time I spend with him. We travel a lot and spend time with my young child and his young kids. Our lives have merged nicely together over the last year or so -- family dinners with the kids, vacations, the whole nice family scene. So when Kevin asked my child and me to move in with him and his kids, it only seemed natural. He suggested we buy a house together.

But I'm having second thoughts. He says he's not ready to get married. His first marriage ended in a very bad divorce. I sense that he's gun-shy about doing it again. I get that. My divorce was no picnic either.

My big concern is that he'll never be "ready." It recently occurred to me that people don't stay around his life for very long. The people that have been around more than a few years are either colleagues -- or high school buddies who like to hang out at his really nice house. People stick around if there's a financial aspect to the relationship.

It's the people he knows on a purely social level that seem to disappear after a while -- neighbors, parents of his kids' friends, etc. If they just faded away naturally, I wouldn't be so concerned, but at least three former friends have told him off about something and angrily stopped talking to him -- all of them women. From the stories his kids tell, it seems that these people used to spend a lot of time with them – birthdays, weekend trips, etc. I've asked him what happened, and the explanation always centers on some minor disagreement. He can't understand why the person would "overreact" like they do and then he claims the person is "crazy." I haven't met any of these people and I don't know enough about the arguments to know if these people are crazy or not, but it's weird for it to happen over and over again.

I also have reservations about his divorce. He still refers to his ex-wife by a derogatory nickname -- even in front of the kids. He'll tell anyone who listens that the divorce was all her fault. He also has no explanation for why she left other than "she's crazy." Then he will go on and on about everything he did for her and how he couldn't understand why she wouldn't be happy. My husband left me, too, and it took me by surprise, but years later I have some insight into how our marriage broke down. Kevin has no insights like that at all. It's all very strange and uncomfortable and I'm not convinced he's over her.

This leads me to wonder if he's capable of a stable, long-term relationship with anyone, especially a woman. Our relationship seems wonderful. He and I and our kids have a nice life going here. Am I the next "crazy" person to leave in a huff or should I stop worrying about it? Should I move in with him and see how it goes or insist on a marriage proposal?

– Am I The Next Crazy One?, Massachusetts

A: My first piece of advice: Don't insist on a marriage proposal. You don't know if you want to marry him, so it seems weird to demand that he ask. You're allowed to take your time and answer these questions before you pressure him (or yourself) to move forward.

My questions for you: Does he make you feel safe? Does he listen to you when you have problems? Does he ever show signs of empathy for others? Does he only empathize when it suits him?

Based on what you've told us, my biggest issue with you guys moving in together is the name calling. You have every right to tell him that you don't want to combine households with a guy who calls his ex by a mean name. You want to set an example for your young child. No negative nicknames. That has to be a rule.

Make a list of other rules you keep in your own home. Can this man respect them? Does he understand them? Will he listen? If you're not so sure, it's not safe to buy a house with him. You don't want to get stuck.

Bring up the name calling and see how he responds. If he respects the complaint and can participate in a good discussion about how you want to frame your divorces in front of your children, that's a sign that he's not "crazy." If he barks at you for questioning him or accuses you of being nuts, that's a sign of something else.

Good luck. Ask your questions and make that list. I want you to feel safe and respected in your home.

Readers? Anyone call their ex names in front of kids? Is that ever OK? Should this LW be concerned about marriage? What should she do? Is it possible that all of the people who left him were crazy? Discuss.

– Meredith

Our parents are religious

Posted by Meredith Goldstein October 10, 2011 07:42 AM

I decided to run a letter today even though many people are off for the holiday. I assume that some folks are around to comment. Right?

Today's letter is about religion, which is appropriate because I'll be speaking about love and religion after Wednesday's performance of "Next Fall." If you want free tickets, please email me (at meregoldstein at and tell me why you want to see the play. Put NEXT FALL in the subject line. I'll pick a few winners. Feel free to include your own stories about love and religion -- conflicts, resolutions, etc.

Entries are due tomorrow by noon. Winners will be notified by tomorrow at 3.

Q: Dear Meredith,

I'm 25 years old and I've been dating my boyfriend for almost four years. After more than two years of a long-distance relationship, I moved from another state to live near him (in my own apartment). He lives with friends.

There are a lot of positives about my life after the move -- my new job is much better than the one I had before, and I don't mind living alone ... except for the financial part. It's tough to afford a decent, safe apartment by myself. And honestly, it does get lonely once in a while, which leads me to the next point.

Like many couples these days, my boyfriend and I would like to move in together when my lease is up late next year. The only problem? Our parents. Both of us come from Catholic families who disapprove of living together before marriage. My parents actually said that our wedding would "no longer be special" and seemed genuinely hurt and upset (not angry) when I told them about my plans. They pressured me to get married instead, saying it was essentially the same thing as living together. He hasn't approached his parents yet because they're more strict and have made their opinion on the matter known before.

My boyfriend and I routinely discuss getting married and intend to do so within a few years, but we feel 25 is a bit too young. We're independent adults, so we aren't asking our parents for permission, but we also respect and love them and we don't want to cause a major rift. Do you have any advice for a couple struggling to be independent without making our families angry? Is it worth the risk, or should we just wait it out living separately if we intend to get married in a few years anyway?

– Family ties (that bind), Boston

A: It seems to me that you have a bunch of options, none of which are great (sorry). One is to defy everybody, which just isn't ideal, especially for your boyfriend. You could also get roommates, of course, but that's not what you really want.

A third option is to consider getting engaged -- just engaged, not married -- next year. Something tells me that his parents will be less concerned about cohabitation if you're "promised" to each other. You can choose to enjoy a long engagement -- very, very long, if you want. Set your own terms once you've appeased them a bit. It's not quite all-the-way married, but it's something to keep them at bay.

It seems to me that your boyfriend has to weigh in here because he's the one whose parents might get angry about whatever choice you make. Does he think that an engagement is the best compromise? If not, what is?

My advice is to talk about the possibilities and then revisit the issue again in ... let's say ... six or eight months. By then, you'll be more confident about whatever decision you want to make. Take advantage of your long lease.

Readers? Will an engagement be enough? Should they be worried about their parents? Should they just suck it up and postpone the move in? Anyone have parents opposed to premarital cohabitation? Discuss.

– Meredith

She's chatting with someone she dated

Posted by Meredith Goldstein October 5, 2011 08:38 AM

Hey there. No chat today. I'm in New York -- and I'm actually meeting with someone about our next Love Letters event, which will be Dec. 15. Save the date. It will be lovely. Details soon. We will chat again next week.

Q: Hey Meredith,

I'm engaged and getting married soon. We've been together for a few years. Before we met, my fiance went on a couple dates with "Steve." She stopped seeing him because he was very busy with his job and wasn't really looking for a relationship. A couple of months later she met me and we started dating. Things got serious pretty quick. She told me about Steve but said she was done dating that kind of guy. She does tell me that once in a while she will text him but it's just to say hello.

Anyway, she recently saw on Facebook that Steve is getting married. She thought it was funny because he didn't seem like the type to settle down.

The other night she was on the computer looking at wedding stuff. I also suspected she was messaging someone, but I didn't say anything. She said a couple things about Steve, so then I knew that's who she was talking to. I don't mind her briefly talking to other guys but this was going on for a long time and it was kind of upsetting me. I didn't want to start a fight so I didn't say anything. She kept the screen turned slightly away from me.

I don't snoop but obviously her behavior was a little out of the ordinary. So the next morning I logged into her Facebook page and the whole conversation was still there. Basically, they started talking about the wedding and then Steve said he really did want a relationship with her but by the time he realized it, she and I were already serious. She kind of implied that if he had said something she might have left me for him. I'm not sure about that part though. She then told him that if she wasn't in the situation she is in right now, she would "be there in a heartbeat."

There are several things that bother me about this conversation. I really don't like that she purposely hid the conversation from me. That's never a good sign. I don't know how to feel about the "I'd be there in a heartbeat" remark. I understand that everyone gets tempted -- it's human nature. But I would have felt better if she didn't admit she was tempted.

I don't want to bring this up to her because she will get mad at me for snooping. I trust my fiance but this does alarm me. I also am angry that Steve is getting married and he is sneaking around, too (I assume his fiance doesn't know about this).

Any advice?

– Hoping I'm Wrong, Massachusetts

A: I'm sorry, HIW. Getting married is a big deal. No one should have to deal with this kind of thing when they're so close to making a huge commitment.

The good news here is that your fiance's crush is on an imaginary man. She only went on a few dates with this Steve character. She learned that he was getting married through Facebook, so she's obviously not in his inner circle. She's invented Magic Steve, the guy she could have fallen for had she not met you. Magic Steve doesn't really exist, and on some level she knows that. She told him, "If I wasn't in the situation I'm in, I'd be there in a heartbeat." That's very different than, "Just say the word and I'll ditch the guy I'm with."

My advice is to keep the snooping to yourself for now. But when you're having a nice moment with her, admit your insecurities. Try, "I'm so in love with you, but every now and then I freak out about whether you want this – especially when you bring up Steve. I don't want to be the crazy, jealous fiance, but is everything OK? Am I what you want?"

Try not to accuse. If you're nice, you're more likely to get honest answers. My guess is that this thing with Steve is her way of working out all of her premarital what-ifs. It's not ideal, but for some people, testing boundaries is a part of the commitment process.

Wait until a pleasant moment and then see what she has to say -- about you and the marriage, not Steve.

Readers? Is she cheating? Is Steve a real threat? Can you imagine what letter she'd write in (because I can)? Is this simply a Facebook problem (that it's so easy to talk to anyone, whenever)? Should the LW make rules about whether she's allowed to talk to Steve? Should he admit the snooping? Discuss.

– Meredith

My ex's wife is jealous

Posted by Meredith Goldstein October 4, 2011 08:30 AM

Q: Dear Meredith,

I'm not really sure what to do, and since it involves love, I thought I'd give you and your readers a try.

In the mid-2000s, I dated a very nice man, "Noel," who was great, just not a good fit. I was the one who ended it, but we both saw it coming, and while it was painful, we were both OK with it.

I have since started dating "Ben," who I've known for a long time. Noel met a nice woman and got married. Good for them.

The problem is Noel's wife. Noel and I don't talk much, but we know each other's major life changes. We are friends on Facebook (and here's where it's about to get icky). Noel recently posted that he finished a long race. I knew he'd been working up to it for a while, so I commented my congratulations. Nothing inappropriate.

When I got up the next morning, I had a Facebook message from Mrs. Noel. It was not nice. "Don't talk to my husband!" was just one of the choice phrases.

I am tempted to tell my ex that his wife is crazy, but that feels like tattling. On the other hand, I would want to know if my significant other was doing something like that.

– Should I Say Something?, Boston

A: You need to stay out of it, SISS. And no more commenting on his Facebook profile. I'm not saying that you're in the wrong for saying a quick congrats online, but you don't know what this woman has been told about you. For all you know, Noel has mentioned you over the years with a bit too much love in his eyes. For all you know, they're having problems.

If she really is a crazy person, he'll find out without you having to tell him. If she behaves like this with other people, Noel will figure it out. This isn't your problem to solve, and you're not his platonic friend. You're just a well-meaning ex who needs to fade away.

If he ever asks why you've stopped checking in, you can tell him that you want to respect the boundaries of his marriage. That will be enough of a hint.

Readers? Should she reach out to Noel? Is Noel's wife wrong about the contact or is this more about her delivery? Would you want to know from an ex if your new wife had acted out? Discuss.

– Meredith

Do I wait out his marriage?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein October 3, 2011 08:38 AM

Q: I've been friends with "Matt" for about seven years. From day one I felt instantly connected to him. During our first conversation we realized we had one very important thing in common -- surviving the same illness.

Initially, we met, exchanged emails, and hung out a couple times. I started to think, "Hey, this has the potential to go somewhere." And then I met his WIFE and KIDS. So I threw on the emergency brake. I no longer was in the pursuing mode and quickly retreated into friend zone. Only there was one big problem. I had already fallen head over heels for this guy.

Over some time, I tried distancing myself from him and was even in a relationship for a couple of years, but fate (our mutual love for sports) brought us back together ... as friends. The friendship was great. I enjoyed having him in my life. He made me feel completely at ease. Completely myself. Completely safe. Completely happy. We’ve been like that for years.

Which brings us to the present. "Matt" is fighting with his wife all the time. He is not happy. He talks about leaving her because he truly thinks the environment is unhealthy for him. He comes to me to release his frustrations and sit peacefully, watching the game, without any nagging interruptions. Meanwhile, his wife does consider me a friend.

I know that I should not offer much advice to him because my opinion is biased. I know that I should just let him talk and get it out, and just be there for him as a friend. But I'm conflicted. I think there's a possibility that I could love this man -- and have loved him for many years. Because of this, any opinion I could offer would have an ulterior motive.

In any other situation with any other guy, I have always told them how I felt. If the feelings weren't shared, I moved on. Simple. I want to do that now. I want to know if I should just move on. I don't know that I would be able to be with someone else completely until I know if "Matt" and I had a chance. I also know that I can't or shouldn't get involved because he's married. So, in the meantime, I just wait ... and hope ... and pray that the stars align and he somehow gets magic mind reading abilities to hear what is going on in my mind and in my heart.

What should I do? Do I tell him how I feel? Do I just be his friend forever and enjoy what we have (always wondering "what if")? I'm barely surviving over here ...

– Barely Surviving, Great Lakes

A: You have to tell him, BS. Otherwise, you might wind up watching TV with him for years.

He's your friend, so when you talk to him, you can give him the entire story. You can tell him that you've had feelings for him for a long time but that you were able to control them. Now that he's mentioning marital problems, your head is a mess. You don't feel comfortable giving him advice. You don't feel comfortable being his sounding board. You're sitting on the couch next to him with your fingers crossed. It doesn't feel good.

No matter what happens, you are not allowed to get physical with him while he's married. If you tell him how you feel and he leans in for a meaningful kiss, you must push him away. And you must set boundaries. Maybe you should only be seeing each other in a group. Maybe (probably), during this marital turbulence, you shouldn't be seeing him at all. Maybe you won't want to see him anymore after you hear his response to your feelings.

After you force the issue, you have to get your brain open to the idea of dating other people. Matt might give you a big "maybe someday" speech, but that's not good enough. You can't spend your nights watching him watch games.

You say that he makes you feel completely safe and happy. But how safe and happy can you be if you signed this letter "Barely Surviving"?

Readers? Any chance she'll wind up with this guy? Should she wind up with him? Should she stay silent and simply cut him off so that she doesn't get involved or tempt him? Should she confess her feelings? Help.

– Meredith

The Almost-30-Year-Old Virgin

Posted by Meredith Goldstein September 22, 2011 08:47 AM

Please watch your mouth with today's letter. Don't get your comment poofed away.

Q: Hi Meredith,

I grew up in a pretty conservative home and went to a religious college where sex wasn't unheard of, but there was no stigma for those who were not doing it. I kind of drifted away from the faith in college, but still didn't really date much. There were a couple girls, and I made my first grilled cheese sandwiches then, but never went all the way.

Since I left college I've had one long term girlfriend, but not anyone I really saw a future with. I've been waiting until I was married but always thought I would be married by this point. Now I am staring my 30th birthday in the face and feeling a bit like a movie should be made about me starring Steve Carell.

I'm not an Abercrombie model by any means, but I've had plenty of opportunities. My question for you is whether or not I should just take one. I'm not religious anymore, and it doesn't look like I'm going to get married any time soon. There's really no good reason not to have sex except that I've waited this long and I figure I might as well see it through.

Obviously that has been good enough for me so far, but I'm getting to the point where I am worried that not only am I going to a 30-year-old virgin, but a 50 or 70-year-old one. That was never part of the plan.

So what do you think?

– The Almost-30-Year-Old Virgin, Boston

A: It's never going to feel just right, TA3YOV. If you wait until you're married, it'll be weird. You'll wonder if you should have tried it with others. And if you try it with people you don't wind up marrying, you'll wonder if you should have waited.

My advice is to try it with someone you like enough -- someone with just a little bit of potential. Because my concern is that you're not connecting with the women you date because you're not really allowing yourself to be vulnerable with them. We talk a lot about emotional intimacy on Love Letters, but physical intimacy is another way we get to know people. It's certainly another way we get to know ourselves.

So yeah, try it. Not with just anybody, but somebody nice. Somebody you want to get to know better. And expect that you'll second guess the whole thing -- because you will no matter what. But also expect to learn something about who you are, what you want, and what it's like to do something scary with someone else.

Readers? Should he just wait at this point? Is there a reason he's holding out besides his religious past? Thoughts on physical intimacy helping with emotional intimacy? Stay G-rated.

– Meredith

He says he doesn't love me enough

Posted by Meredith Goldstein September 12, 2011 07:26 AM

Q: Hi Meredith,

I like to imagine what you would say to me about my relationship on any given day, but now that a real problem has arisen I thought I would stop pretending and actually ask for your advice.

My boyfriend and I have been dating for two years. Before I found him, I was more of a wild child and found it very hard to settle down with anyone. He was exactly what I needed; trustworthy, kind, fun, and he opened my world up to new experiences. My family loves him, his family loves me, and as he's in his 30s (I am a few years younger), we talk frequently about our future, including picking out our wedding songs.

Here comes the shocker: He tells me he thinks of me as his best friend, that he's never loved anyone more than me, but that he isn't sure he loves me "enough." He says he doesn't know if this will work because he thinks I deserve more love than he can give me.

What does this mean? I need more help deciphering this. I think he is amazing and I have never made him feel like he doesn't do enough for me. Is he setting the stage to walk out? If so ... why? Is it something internal he is battling (he has a history of depression), or is that just a cop-out?

– Isn't Love Enough?, Boston

A: It sure sounds like he's setting the stage to walk out, ILE. And it sounds like he's being pretty honest about why. He just doesn't know if he is as attached to you as he should be. And he seems to be putting the ball in your court, which, yes, makes this a bit of a cop-out.

I want you pretend that I'm next to you, the little angel on your shoulder giving you advice. (In your fantasy, can I be wearing this?) Imagine me asking you the following questions: Do you want to be with someone who's unsure? Has he given you any indication that his feelings for you have been affected by his depression? If you walked away from him, would he run after you?

Answer those questions and then ask him what you asked me. "Is this the first step to breaking up? Or are you just sharing your angst and fears before we take the next big awesome step?" That's what you want to know, right?

Usually, when someone says they love you but that they don't love you "enough," it means they want to move on. Get some clarity from him and then ask yourself whether his answer gives you enough confidence to stick around. Let this be your decision.

Readers? Is he just being neurotic and depressive or is this his way of taking a step out the door? Does it matter what's causing his doubt? Should she leave? Discuss.

– Meredith

Waiting for the next step

Posted by Meredith Goldstein September 8, 2011 07:10 AM

Q: Dear Meredith and LL enthusiasts,

I am a longtime reader and am looking forward to some unbiased advice. Some background: My boyfriend and I are in our mid-twenties and have been dating for four years and living together for more than two. We love each other very much and have discussed a future together. We are both very happy and secure in our relationship.

We recently relocated to a house he purchased. The house is not terribly far from our old home, but far enough that I needed to find a new job. Even though I was open to and excited about this move (and I still am), I've made some sacrifices that I feel are pretty significant, and I did so without any mention or pressure about an engagement, partially because I knew buying a house is big deal in and of itself, and also because I know we will take that step eventually.

I don't question his commitment to me, but lately I feel that the transition I've gone through recently is huge and that he has not recognized that at all. I also think we're at a place in our relationship where the next step is waiting right in front of us. I'm ready to take it, but I feel like it's out of my hands. Is it out of line to feel that an engagement, or a more formal commitment, is to be expected? Is it an unfair expectation? How do we discuss this without making him uncomfortable or making me sounding crazy?

– Great Expectations, Portsmouth, NH

A: GE, my gut (and your letter) tells me that your boyfriend doesn't understand that you've made big sacrifices. You've done all of this stuff with a smile on your face and have gone out of your way to make these transitions easy for everyone. How would he know that you're a bit overwhelmed and that you want more?

I don't want you to turn into a belligerent whiner or anything but it wouldn't hurt to let him know that this move has been a big deal for you. He can't empathize and hug you (and consider that it might be time for a proposal) if you don't tell him how you feel and what you want.

You don't win anything by playing it cool. Just be honest. As in, "I'm psyched about this house and my new job, but ... I have the future on my mind. I keep thinking about the next step and want to know how you feel about it. Ever since we moved and I changed jobs, it's been difficult not to focus on the next big thing." That doesn't sound crazy, does it?

This stuff is only out of your hands if you keep silent. Just bring it up with a smile on your face. Maybe he's been thinking about it, too.

Readers? Am I right to say that he hasn't acknowledged her sacrifices because he doesn't know that any of this was difficult for her? Are these decisions in her hands? Should she bring them up so close to the move? Discuss.

– Meredith

Can I reach out to my ex?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein September 6, 2011 08:25 AM

Q: Hello,

First time writer, long time reader! A few years ago I was in a relationship with a young man. This relationship was anything but healthy and rewarding. It was tumultuous, depressing, and isolating at times. The chaos was caused by both of us. We were both immature and wanted attention in any fashion. I turned into a person I didn't recognize and it was just bad all over. Eventually we lost contact and continued down separate paths. I was informed that he moved out of state and fell off the map.

Several days ago a friend told me that he is back in town. I am very happily married and living a very fulfilling life. From what I hear he is, too. I am very happy for him but am compelled to tell him this. I have been debating whether or not to contact him just to see how he has been and to let him know that I am happy for him. I am happy that he is no longer in that dark place. Do I contact him to say congratulations on all the good things we should be grateful for? Or do I leave it alone and pretend like he doesn't exist?

– Just want to say hi!, Mass.

A: Leave it alone, JWTSH. If you see him at the corner store, give him a warm smile and wave hello. If he stops to talk to you, be kind and congratulate him. But don't seek it out. If you've heard that he's happy, he's probably heard the same about you. Assume that good vibes are being sent from all directions.

I'm all for disclosure and hashing things out, but in this case, nothing would come of it. What happens after you say nice things to each other? What's the goal?

Also, what if he's not happy? What if the rumors aren't true? What if you reach out to him and he's a major jerk? It's not worth the risk.

I understand that you want to fix things and that you feel awful about how you behaved, but you don't have to make it all better with a cinematic closure conversation. All you can do is say nice things whenever a friend tells you that he's doing well. At some point, those positive remarks will get back to him. That's good enough.

Readers? Is she allowed to reach out? Am I right about it not being a good idea? Is it ever rewarding to reach out to an ex? Discuss.

– Meredith

Can I yell at my in-laws?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein August 19, 2011 08:03 AM

A few people asked me to post the rest of the "One Day" entries. It'll take me a little while to sort through them, so expect to see them on Monday. Glad you liked reading them.

Q: Dear Meredith,

I am a somewhat sporadic follower of your column. My question/issue is somewhat of a different variety than most of your writers. My husband and I have been married for two decades, and have been together for more than half our lives. We are very happy in our marriage (and I say that with complete confidence) and both know that we will live out the rest of our lives with each other.

My problem is with his family, specifically his stepmother AND his mother. (I hit the jackpot as far as in-laws go). First, let me start by saying that my father-in-law is an absolutely wonderful man. He is simply fabulous as a father-in-law, spends lots of time with his grandkids, and he and my husband are extremely close. My father-in-law's one fatal flaw is his choice in women. His first wife, my husband's mother, is a selfish, vain and small-minded woman, and so his second wife! They are eerily alike as far as seeing only to their wants and needs, and can be petty and downright mean toward family members.

My question is this: When the mother/stepmother crosses the line as far as what I can tolerate, when is it OK for ME to speak out directly to THEM? I would never, ever want to cause my father-in-law grief or anguish, nor my husband, but there have been a multitude of times where they've said/done/caused things that have been so downright awful that I've bitten my tongue not to say anything to them directly. I'm in this for the long haul, and over the years it gets increasingly difficult not to tell them how horrible they are, and how they are directly affecting the relationship between my husband and his Dad, never mind how it might someday affect the relationship between my kids and their grandfather.

– Biting My Tongue in Boston

A: Love Letters is about love so I'm going to avoid the etiquette part of this question (let's leave that to the awesome Miss Conduct) and concentrate on what's best for you and your husband as a couple. For many couples with in-law issues, the answer is to work as a unit. You must decide which battles you want to fight as a twosome and then have your husband (yes, he'd be the spokesperson) communicate the issues to his mother/step-mother/father. It seems like a roundabout way of dealing with problems, but from what you've told us, these women are not going to have a thoughtful discussion about their actions, especially not with you. If you call them out on their bad behavior you win nothing.

I know you want to freak out and scream at them or even sit them down and calmly tell them why they're awful. But really, it won't help. It'll just alienate the wrong people. You and your husband are the most important relationship in this situation. You have to stand together and protect your partnership. The question should be, "What do we want to do about this?"

There is one exception to this rule. If the mother or stepmother's bad behavior involves your kids, you're allowed to sternly explain how you do things in your household. In those situations, you can be the crazy mom.

Readers? Can she ever just speak out on her own or should this go through her husband? What battles are worth fighting? How can you deal with a terrible in-law without messing up your own relationship? Discuss.

– Meredith

Her stay-at-home friendship

Posted by Meredith Goldstein August 16, 2011 07:46 AM

Q: My stay-at-home wife recently became friends with a stay-at-home Dad (connected by our respective children). Initially, it was a play date here and there, but since the summer started, the frequency of play dates has increased and my wife has become friends with him and texts him often (very often). After a few days of feeling uneasy, I sat down with her and told her I was uncomfortable with the level of communication. She expressed her care for me and we moved forward.

The communication died down somewhat but after a recent long day together, I let her know how I was feeling, that I was still upset. After a long argument, we both said some hurtful things and I strongly advised that the communication with him cease. She now (of course) sees me as trying to control her. She is angrier at me than she has ever been and I am having an extremely hard time reconciling. She expressed the need for space but continues to make extremely hurtful comments. I am so afraid that this could potentially ruin on marriage.

I have attempted to move forward but she will not join me and shows no sign of doing it anytime soon. I am lost. I know she would never do anything physically but I felt that their connection was emotional and I was scared and threatened. She did tell me I have nothing to worry about, but I cannot change the way I feel. I felt awful when they were spending lots of time together, not just as a mom and dad -- but as friends!

– Extremely Uncomfy Dad, 93 North

A: I'm extremely uncomfy on your behalf, EUD. Really.

But let's think for a minute about why your wife might want to maintain a friendship with this guy. Sure, maybe she likes the male attention, but maybe it's more about having someone around who understands what it's like to feel isolated with kids. Maybe they bond about how much they dislike the neighbors, or about traffic on the way to the playground, or about ... well, the life they share as stay-at-home parents.

The trick isn't to say, "Honey, this makes me feel jealous and I want you to cut him off." I mean, you can say that a little. But it might be more productive to say, "We all need friends, but ... is there anything I can do to be a better friend to you? Are you enjoying the stay-at-home lifestyle? Do you feel isolated? Are there things that we can do to preserve our friendship while you make new companions?"

It sounds like you guys have been fighting too much about this man instead of being better friends to each other. My advice (and this is just a first step) is to ask her about her day-to-day and how the two of you can be more respectful in your marriage. It'll take some work on both sides. And here's a hint: Telling her that you're scared is important. You want her to have friends, you just don't want to lose her. Once she trusts your motives, you can set some boundaries together.

Readers? Anyone think this friendship is OK? Any stay-at-home people want to weigh in on the lifestyle? Anyone read "Little Children"? Thoughts on what this letter writer should do next? Discuss.

– Meredith

He makes hints about marriage

Posted by Meredith Goldstein August 11, 2011 08:28 AM

Q: My boyfriend and I have been seeing each other for two years. We have the most wonderful relationship. He is kind, considerate, helpful, affectionate, and loving. We have both been married before -- and they weren't good marriages. I have heard my boyfriend say to friends that he never wants to get married again. I would actually be OK with that since I don't think I am ready for that either.

Here is where I get confused. A few times, he HAS made hints that he wants to marry me. Example: We were driving through New Hampshire and I read aloud a sign that said "danger falling rock," and he responded, "Good, I hope it lands on your finger." The comment went over my head and I gave him a look like, "What, you want a rock to fall on my finger?" His response was, "Yeah, then I won’t have to buy you one." Another time around the holidays, he told me that his cousin said that he should by me a ring. He told me he laughed at his cousin and said "yeah right." Then he told me, "Maybe next year, no need to rush things, I don't want to put a time line on something like that."

Since he has said those things, he continues to tell people he doesn't want to marry again. I’m confused. What is your take on this? I will eventually bring it up if the topic ever arises again while we are alone. I just hope I'm not a dimwit and miss it like I did with the last ones.

– Curious in Love, Mass.

A: Don't bring this up "eventually," CIL. Bring it up now. He's making weird passive-aggressive comments about proposals, but you can respond like a grown-up. After two years, it's fair to talk about what you want for your future. If it's not marriage, fine. No need to make weird jokes about it.

This is a pretty childish way to deal with the subject of commitment. And my guess is that this is how he communicated with his ex-wife. You must say to him, "We're not kids anymore. If you want to talk about getting married -- or never getting married again -- just tell me how you feel, and I'll do the same. I'm not sitting around waiting for you to propose. I'm sitting around wondering what you mean when you make all of these weird, loaded comments about our future. Just talk to me like I'm your friend. We're in this together."

Something tells me that he does want to get married but that he wants to feel as though he's doing it to appease you. There's less accountability in that kind of decision. But you can't let him get away with that.

Don't put off this conversation. Tell him that if he wants to talk marriage, that's fine. But no more "rock on finger" jokes. (And for the record, it took me a while to get that one, too.)

Readers? How do you deal with someone who's making weird comments about marriage like this? How can she talk to him about the issue without being critical? Do his comments suggest that he wants to get married or that he doesn't? Anybody else want to write her a speech? Discuss.

– Meredith

I'm too young to settle down

Posted by Meredith Goldstein August 10, 2011 07:00 AM

Chat at 1.

Q: I have been with, you guessed it, "Rob" for 3 years, I have lived with him for almost 3 years. Things moved incredibly fast, that much I'm aware of. Rob is 32 and I'm 23. The age difference has never been an issue until recently. I'm feeling as though I have too many things I want to experience before I settle down and really commit to someone like he wants me to. He has been talking about marriage for about 2 years now and it's kind of a scary thought to me. Rob is a great guy. He fulfills a lot of the things I need in a relationship. We've had our problems but they have nothing to do with why I'm looking for advice.

I'm very young, I know that. I don't always make the best decisions and I know I've got a lot to learn. The point of all of this is, I know I'm not ready, but I care about him very much.

Can you shed some light on how you're supposed to decide between throwing away a great man and a good relationship so that you can live your life and be ready for settling down when the time comes -- or whether you're supposed to stay with someone who cares very deeply for you even though you might be stuck wondering whether there is something more suitable for you than just a nice guy?

– Where to Go From Here, Boston

A: You have to fly free, little bird. Your boyfriend was talking about marriage when you were just 21? He should know better. He probably wasn't ready for that kind of thing until he met you when he was in his 30s, right? It's time to tell him that marriage won't be on your mind for a long time -- maybe years.

Your letter doesn't say, by the way, that you're madly in love with Rob and confused because of your age. You call him "great" and "nice," not "the guy I know I want to marry, just not now." Even if he wasn't talking about marriage, you'd be having doubts.

Come clean about where you are in your head. Make it clear to Rob that you're not on his track -- not now, and maybe not ever. He might make this decision for you.

I know that the thought of being alone is scary, but isn't the commitment scarier? You asked how you're supposed to give him up. My answer: By trusting yourself and leaning on your friends. You're 23 and you've got lessons to learn, but you know what feels right. Believe in that.

Readers? Should she let go of something good for the unknown? Is Rob to blame here? What is Rob says he'll wait for her? Discuss.

– Meredith

He's married and dating

Posted by Meredith Goldstein August 9, 2011 08:52 AM

Q: Hi Meredith,

I am a married man in my early 30s. Been in Boston my whole life but moved to the West Coast two years ago with my wife in search of sun, beaches, and a job. I found the first two but the job is ever elusive. Found some temporary work here and there but nothing long term. During this time our relationship deteriorated and I started abusing substances. We argued constantly about our careers, finances, and how we didn't have a community of friends and family. On top of that, her family kept urging her to leave me and come back to the Bay State. Basically, we had very little support from family and friends since they were all back on the East Coast. I wanted to try some counseling, but obviously being a temporary employee you do not get any benefits so that was out of the question. We are very unhappy with each other.

Not too long ago, I started seeing this woman I met at a job. I knew it was extremely risky because I could get caught. But I found myself falling for her -- and this other woman does not know I have a wife. I'm just unsure of what to do. I know I can never get away with it, eventually someone will find out. I also run the risk of losing them both and ending up with nothing but my miserable self. Furthermore, I'm not sure how this other woman feels about me. What should I do? I've always been told I should do whatever makes me happy. I'm much happier with this other woman, but things are moving real slow. I think I'm just a "rebound" guy for her, since she just got out of a relationship. So my options are go back to an unhappy marriage and try to work it out, or pursue someone else who may or may not feel the same. Any advice?

– CaliforniaGurlz

A: "I've always been told that I should do whatever makes me happy."

Who told you that? They don't even say that to little kids on "Sesame Street." Please wipe that piece of advice from your brain. It doesn't make any sense and it's turned you into an entitled liar. Here you are, worried that you might be this new woman’s rebound guy, and you haven't even told her that you're married.

I hate oversimplifying with tough love (or as Bart Simpson calls it, "soft hate"), but with you I have no choice. You must tell this other woman that you're married and cut her out of your life. Then you must sit down with your wife and tell her you've been pretending that your marriage is already over. Maybe she feels the same way. Maybe she's been waiting for a cue from you to move back to Boston. Or maybe your news will shock her and she'll tell you that she wants more than anything to work it out. Maybe she'll tell you that she wants both of you to come home together so that you can be surrounded by the people who care about you.

The wife stuff is complicated, but it'll help if you start having honest discussions. You also need to look into subsidized therapy. It exists, especially for substance abuse. Google some local programs -- and maybe call your family for help. But before you do any of that, come clean with this other woman. Have some empathy. You are not the center of the universe.

Readers? Any hope for his marriage? Any hope for the LW and this other woman? Is his unemployment relevant? Ideas for couples therapy during unemployment? Discuss.

– Meredith

Is she the one that got away?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein August 8, 2011 08:22 AM

Q: I'm an early 30s guy who tried out a dating site years ago. The first person I met was the cool girl, we'll call her Miranda. She was finishing up her master's while teaching and I was already working full time. We seemed good for each other, went on dates, hung out, enjoyed the company. For whatever reason, it didn't work out. We were never "official" so nothing really ended. We've stayed in touch through email/text/FB throughout. She moved out of state and has been with a guy on and off. Meanwhile, I went back on the dating site and the next girl I met is the one I am now engaged to.

Recently, Miranda and I had a sort of soul cleansing text-a-thon (we had both been out drinking) where we both opened up about feelings that never really got put out there five years ago. She regrets that we didn't keep at our budding relationship and I have always regretted the same thing.

I love my fiance and nothing would turn me away from her. This isn't a morality question, i.e., "What should I do, stay or try with Miranda?"

This is a human dilemma of how do I get Miranda out of my head, because despite my love for my fiance, the "what if?" with Miranda is always present.

– Reading my Miranda Rights, South of Boston

A: I read this letter and I thought, "Woulda, coulda, shoulda." Maybe Miranda had the potential to be great for you, but she never committed. And instead of running after her and disclosing your feelings, you hopped back on the dating site.

What-ifs are annoying, but I'm not convinced that you even have one. You and Miranda dated and were able to walk away from each other.

Consider yourself lucky to have a "one that got away." It makes for a good story. But that's all she is. Someone you were more than happy to let go.

You have the right remain content and confident about your choices. (Sorry. I had to.) If you had wanted Miranda to be more than she was, you wouldn't have been able to move on so easily. You would have chased her.

Redefine her in your head and you'll stop thinking about her.

Readers? Is he as sure about his fiance as he says he is? Should he be allowed to contact Miranda? Is there a real what-if here? And -- is it relevant that he's only dated two women from the website and fallen for both of them? Discuss.

– Meredith

Should she give it a second chance?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein August 2, 2011 08:32 AM

Update at 1:30 p.m. ... Some questions answered by the letter writer via email:

Yes, he was deployed and saw combat many years ago (before we were together). He is out now and has a new career. The period of long distance was toward the beginning of the relationship. We've been living separately but close to each other and spending many nights together for the past 2 1/2 years. Yes, he is continuing therapy alone. There have been some failed or failing marriages and engagements very close to us recently. He has referred to these. Yes, the final decision to cancel the wedding was mutual, but he was the catalyst for the conversation.

Q: My fiance and I just called off our wedding and I don't know if I should stay with him.

Background: I am a mid-20s professional working in Boston, he's in his early 30s and was in the military. We've been together for over 5 years. We've been through a lot together including long-distance. He's the first person I've dated that I really thought I could marry. We started having problems a few months ago when we moved in together. Once a loving, affectionate person, he became distant and cold. We didn't talk much (unless we were arguing) and all of a sudden I felt like I didn't know this person I've been with for so long. I tried many times to talk about what was bothering him, but we never really got anywhere. We both realized there was a problem, but didn't know what to do. I suggested counseling and we started going.

Finally he tells me that he's unsure about getting married. He's afraid that things will continue the way they've been for the last few months and we'll end up getting divorced. (Honestly, I've had the same nagging fear, but truly believed that we could work through this tough time together.) He says it's not me, but his own fears that are causing him to feel this way. After a lot of talking, we both decided that we should not get married this fall like we had planned. Of course I'm devastated, but I'm also relieved that this has come out now rather than later.

I stayed for a while and we tried to work on things, but I ended up moving out of our house. He had become really resistant in counseling and didn't want to try any of the things the counselor suggested. I felt like he had completely given up on us. I was so frustrated that I had to take myself out of the situation, even though it was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. I am still in need of help though, because now he's decided he wants to work it out. He has completely changed his tune, saying that it was a huge mistake to let me go and he'll do anything to fix it. I really do love him but is it healthy for me to stay with him? Or should I try to move on with my life? It's true that I've been unhappy for the past few months, even miserable at times, but for years we were smitten together. Is it possible for us to ever get back there again?

– Should I stay or Should I Go, Massachusetts

A: It's not possible to go back to where you were, but it is possible to evolve into something more honest.

My advice is to spend some time with him without rehashing all of the problems. Go out for some dinners and watch some movies. Cuddle up. Take a day trip. See if the romance is still there. If it isn't, and you can't be in the same room without bickering or feeling bad about yourself, that's your answer. Sometimes the damage is just too great to get beyond. But if you find that you can enjoy each other and that the space has given your relationship new life, keep dating. Then maybe visit that therapist once or twice to talk about what comes next.

Usually, when it's over, it's over. But your situation is a bit trickier. You were long distance. He was in the military. Then you were suddenly learning to live together and planning a wedding at the same time. Without all of the pressure and rushing, you just might thrive.

You have to find out whether you're trying to save something that's still there, or if you're just hanging on to history. Explain to him that you just want to enjoy him without all of the pressure. Find out if that's possible.

Readers? Any possibility of a second chance? Was this just about the pressure? Can they go out without rehashing all that happened? Thoughts? Discuss.

– Meredith

He's apathetic at 29

Posted by Meredith Goldstein July 25, 2011 08:31 AM

Q: Hi Meredith,

I have been with "Rob" for over two years. We've lived together for over a year and have a dog together (kind of a big deal, this dog is like a child to me). His family is great and overall we do have a good time together. The last few months though, a couple things are bugging me. He's a little older -- he's 29 and I'm 26 -- and he seems to lack any ambition/goals/drive for a successful career or to better himself.

I have a decent job, although our first year together was the roughest year I have ever had as I was laid off and couldn't find a solid position for a year. I thought we'd get through that and we'd be cool, but now he is a "freelancer" and is more off than on, and when he is off there is no urgency in looking for the next gig.

I have been working my butt off going to school to change my career to something I feel I will love, and he seems to be content with "just floating by, earning just enough to do the things he actually wants to do." When I ask what he means by that and what he sees for himself in the next few years, he says (aside from being incredibly defensive and assuming that I'm looking to talk about marriage) that he will never love any job, so he will just do whatever he can to make enough to travel, make music, go to bars, and ride his bike. I calmly listen to what he says, he asks if it bothers me, and I tell him that it's fine for now, but not when I want a family etc. I also note that none of his responses include me. I tell him we don't have to talk about it now, it's just something to think about, and the next day he apologizes.

I'm not sure if it's that he grew up in a well-off family, but he seems to have a real disconnect between money and being able to do things ... or earning the things you want vs. just getting the things you want. After we have these talks and he apologizes, nothing changes at all. He's incredibly defensive, shows no initiative with anything (if I want to go somewhere, eat something together, make the apartment look decent, I'm required to do all planning, etc.) I love him more than anyone and it isn't just about money, but when do I say I deserve someone who actually has drive and wants a career? I'm not naive enough to think people will just change, although I think people can certainly improve, but I can't see myself marrying him or having kids because I won't do either without being financially stable. I do eventually want these things, so when do you give up hope that someone will provide what you need?

– Increasingly Disappointed, Boston

A: ID, it seems to me that you actually do want to talk about marriage and kids right now. The future is more than "just something to think about." And that's fine. He's 29. You've been together for two years. You live together. You want to be planning for something. So my advice is to be honest about that. Instead of asking him if he eventually wants a real career, say, "Where do you see us in five years?" Instead of asking him why he doesn't plan, say, "I want to take a trip with you next year -- an amazing voyage to another country. How can we make it happen? How can we afford it?"

Sure, some of this could be upbringing, but my guess is that a lot of this is age. Some people hang on to 29 like a floatation device while others see it as a stepping stone to real life. And that's why it's good to ask him about his five-year plan. Remind him that in five years, he won't be 29. Find out what he imagines his grown-up life will look like. And when you ask, keep your tone supportive, not accusing or patronizing. Be his friend and tell him what he's good at. You should sound excited, not disappointed.

If he looks at you and tells you that he doesn't care what happens in five years or that he might want to continue doing what he's doing until he's 40, that's when you reevaluate your partnership. But if he does see a future with you (marriage, kids, travel, etc.) and just doesn't know how to make it happen, listen and help. Again, 29 is a weird age. Find out what he wants 34 to look like, see how he responds to your own honest fantasies about 34, and then make decisions accordingly.

Readers? Has she been asking the right questions? Is it OK that he wants to work to live as opposed to live to work? Is there any hope here? Am I right to say that some of this is 29? Discuss.

– Meredith

Should I have ended the engagement?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein July 21, 2011 08:31 AM

Q: My fiance and I broke up about 2 months ago. We'd be together for just over 5 years after meeting our freshman year of college. I find myself constantly questioning whether I made the right decision to end the relationship. I'll briefly explain some of the things that led to my decision to end it.

My fiance was very emotionally closed off. He wouldn't talk about his feelings and when I shared mine, he was quick to simply apologize and say whatever it took to stop me from being upset, even if he wouldn't/couldn't follow through on his promises. His idea of showing me he loved me and was attracted to me was spending time together and cuddling. I rarely got a "you're beautiful/hot/sexy" and he almost never initiated sex. I became paranoid that he really didn't find me attractive or wasn't IN love with me. I knew he loved me, we were best friends, I never questioned that. But I decided I needed to be in a relationship where I felt wanted, physically and emotionally.

I'm also a very motivated person and he struggles to find direction in life. When we moved (in order for me to attend graduate school) he struggled to find work. I supported us for over 6 months before he found something and I had to prod him every step of the way in his search. Once he got that job he started to take some pride in it, but it still concerned me that he didn't seem to have the same motivation I did. I'm the kind of person who jumps in and solves a problem as soon as possible, whereas he puts it off till the last minute. This made me concerned that if something big happened in our lives, I wouldn't be able to depend on him to deal with his share of life's challenges, that I would be his mother, telling him what to do and nagging him until he did it.

Now that we've been apart for a while, I wonder whether the things that bothered me were really that important. Were they worth giving up a person who took care of me when I was sick, talked with me late into the night, was always there to listen when I had a hard day at school, made me laugh when I was stressed? Basically, were they worth losing my best friend over? I also question whether I'll ever be able to find another guy who doesn't have those bad qualities. And if that's the case, will I have given up those wonderful things in hopes of finding something that's not out there?

– Heartbroken, Colorado

A: There are guys out there who are awesomely proactive about their careers. And I can assure you that there are guys out there who will make you feel desirable in the bedroom. But those guys might not want to cuddle. They might not take care of you when you're sick. Humans are packages of good and bad. No one's going to do everything right.

I have mixed feelings about your letter, to be honest. Part of me thinks that you simply moved on and should find someone else. You were young when you met him and your lack of context is part of the problem. You could use some dating/alone time. But another part of me is thinking, "He moved for her. He loved her. She loved him. After five years, he still wanted to listen to her all night. Who cares if it took him six months to get a job in a bad economy?"

But I'm missing some important information (and maybe you are, too). Do you miss hearing his perspective? Do you wish you could call him to tell him something funny? When you're alone at night, do you wish he was next to you -- or are you picturing some faceless fantasy man? When you ended the relationship, did he fight it? Or did he simply let you walk out the door? If you had more dating options, would you be thinking about the ex as much? Does dating seem like cheating?

You're mixed up about the reality of this right now, which means that you might need to see him to get answers. You might have to be face-to-face with him to figure out whether these feelings of regret are about a fear of being alone or about realizing that you actually do want to spend the rest of your life with him. You're muddled. Go unmuddle yourself. Talk to him and figure out what happened.

Readers? Did she make a mistake? Is this about needing a warm body or realizing that she wanted something that doesn't exist? Can you tell how she feels about him based on this letter? Is it relevant that he isn't knocking on her door (as far as we know)? Should she see him? Or will that muddle her more? Discuss.

– Meredith

He was an addict

Posted by Meredith Goldstein July 19, 2011 08:08 AM

A noon update from the letter writer that answers some of your questions.

"Yes, he goes to group meetings, has a therapist, is in a long-term rehab program, and yes, has (clean) friends and a supportive family. Yes, I have asked to go to see his therapist. Yes, we are very honest with each other. Yes, I told him if he lies to me/happens again I will not stay in the relationship. Yes I am researching Nar-Anon meetings because I feel it would be greatly beneficial. Nothing else has been brought up in the marriage/child department (was more like a one-time discussion). Instead, we have kept it light, we have fun together: we go on outdoor adventures, take walks, go to events, watch movies, make dinner together, etc."

Q: Dear Meredith,

I'm a longtime LL lurker, and I've fallen in love.

I met *Robert* about two months ago. We met on a dating website and hit it off right away. We're both aware that we're lucky to have found each other. We laugh a lot. There have also been some serious conversations, which mostly involve our future and plans together.

One of the serious conversations at the beginning of our relationship was about his history of drug addiction. He told me that he went to rehab about two years ago for prescription drugs, he knew he had hurt a lot of people, he has tried to mend his ways, and has cut off all of his "friends from the past."

He is working hard at starting over and being proactive (working, saving money, going back to school, etc.). He recently admitted that his new night shift job started to take a toll on him and that his stress level caused him to have some "cravings." He said it was just a craving -- nothing that he couldn't handle.

This past weekend, the topic came up again and Robert mentioned that it was more than prescription drugs (cocaine, heroin, etc.), and it was just about 6 months ago that he stopped abusing drugs and became clean.

I was caught off guard and a little upset about him not telling me the entire truth at the beginning. I didn't realize how intense the situation had once been and how recent it was. He told me that his life has truly turned around. He is happy for the first time (our relationship), and doesn't want to ruin such a positive thing. He didn't tell me everything because he was scared and embarrassed.

I run with a healthy crowd. We are always active, positive/optimistic, and have never really known anyone who is in recovery. I love to listen and have not judged him, but I am scared that one day he could give in to drugs again. He tells me that he has been taught to handle this one day at a time. We talk about marrying and having children, but I'm nervous.

I forget about our serious discussion for the most part, but the situation still hangs in the back of my mind. How do I not focus on his past and focus on the future without being a little cautious? I want to be able to trust him down the line when we move in together and build a life together. What would Meredith do?

– Nervous but Hopeful, Boston

A: I'd have a tough time forgiving him for the lie, NBH. But it seems like you have, so let's move on from that and address the whole "Will he relapse?" question.

The answer is: I don't know. All of this is pretty new. Is he seeing a therapist or counselor? Is he in a support group? And ... do you get the sense that this relationship is an addiction? Because I find it interesting that he's talking about marriage and kids after two months. You need to figure out whether he's building a whole life for himself or whether he's simply drowning himself in you. Who else does he hang out with now that he's sober? Anyone?

My advice is to slow things down. Get to know him and see how he's adjusting to his new routine. Take a deep breath and just date him. That's all you should be doing this early in the relationship. You might decide to ditch him in a month for reasons that have nothing to do with drugs. No need to jump ahead.

Readers? Should he be dating after six months of being clean? Could you forgive the original lie? Should they be talking about marriage? Discuss.

– Meredith

Falling for a married man

Posted by Meredith Goldstein July 7, 2011 08:47 AM

Q: I am a divorced woman in my early 30s. I am of the mindset that you can fall in love several times, especially when the right person comes around. For the last three years, I've had an increasingly friendly relationship with a coworker who is married.

Because of the nature of our work, we have spent many hours together in social settings. In the last year, our relationship became closer, as we would text, email, and discuss everyday minutia and work. We would also find ourselves running errands or doing activities together that we both enjoy.

Eventually, our relationship changed. He confided in me that his life at home was not good and that he had feelings for me. At this point I backed off and told him that he should concentrate on his life and work things out at home. I always had feelings for him, but I knew that he was married and that I had to keep those feelings to myself.

That lasted a very short time. I felt such a connection to him and it was difficult to go back to that "he's not available" mindset knowing that he had feelings for me. At that point it seemed like things intensified. Before we knew it, we were right back in an inappropriate relationship. After some time, I again tried to stop communication with him, but because of work, would still end up around him where he would say things that would lead me to believe that he wasn't sure what was going on with his relationship.

I know that he is married, I know that he isn't going to leave his wife, but there is a part of me that can't let go of the connection we have. If he were single, this would be an amazing relationship. I've been miserable not being able to talk with him and so we recently met to digest everything that has happened over the last months and mutually decided that we could remain friends, but without the constant contact we had been having. He also made it very clear that his relationship with his wife is still undecided. My question is, is it morally wrong for me to remain friends with him? Or should I just do the strong woman thing and move on and forget?

It isn't easy for me to find meaningful relationships. My struggle is that I know deep down inside that I may be keeping him close just in case ... just in case he does leave his wife or just in case it makes it easier for him to leave his wife. I don't want to be a homewrecker, but I also don't want to lose a very meaningful relationship in my life either. I know that the rational thing to do is to stop all communication with him and move on, but my heart is telling me otherwise.

– Knows the Right Thing to Do but Hopeful, NYC

A: It's probably morally wrong to continue a friendship with him, but that's not why I want you to cut him off. I want you to cut him off because this is a bad friendship for you. It's one big tease. It involves too much effort and too much hope, and I'm not convinced that either of you are capable of setting real boundaries.

I know it's frustrating. You finally got to know someone you like, fell for him, found out that he reciprocated those feelings … and there's nothing you can do about it. But it is what it is. He's married and you're a single person who has to take care of herself. This is one of those awful situations where you have to ignore your heart and let your brain to do the talking.

I recommend minimizing him as much as you possibly can. You don't have to give him a dramatic speech about cutting him off. Just ban yourself from texts and calls. Make plans with real friends who can keep you busy. Try to develop a crush -- even if it's on a celebrity. Start training your brain to think about someone else's face when you start to daydream.

Every time you second guess yourself, write down the facts. "He is married." "He has a wife." Reality lists always help.

And remember, you're only in your early 30s. You've already had two meaningful relationships -- the one with your ex, and the one with this guy. There will be others, and you have plenty of time to find them.

Readers? Is she allowed to be his friend? What should happen here? Will this guy leave his wife? Does it matter? Is her age relevant? Discuss.

– Meredith

I think about women

Posted by Meredith Goldstein June 28, 2011 08:24 AM

Please eat some birthday candy in my honor.

Q: Hi Meredith,

I'm a long time reader, first time writer. I am a married woman in my mid-40s. My husband and I met when we were both undergrads. At the time I was wrestling with the fact that I was probably a lesbian. I had just started to date women and found an emotional and sexual connection I had never felt with men.

And then came my husband. He was extremely bright and funny. He was outgoing and athletic, I was quiet and studious. He had a string of women running after him, while I did not have members of either sex running after me. We became great friends and I really adored him. One night he kissed me and the rest is history. I had told him I had an interest in women but the truth was that I fell very much in love with him and was attracted to him. We were married more than 20 years ago. He is a great husband and father. He has a great career and has been extremely supportive of my career. He pitches in around the house and is as adoring today as he was when we met.

Things are more challenging for me. I ignored any feelings I had for women for years. After all, I was a married woman and it doesn't matter the gender because I made a vow to my husband. The problem is that something inside me is changing. I just don't find my husband attractive any more. I want to, but I really don't. I notice women everywhere. I feel silly writing this, but I buy lesbian fiction and hide the books from my husband. I'm always extra friendly around gay women thinking one of them will certainly notice that even though I'm not wearing the uniform that I'm part of the team. At night when I close my eyes I see women's bodies. It's driving me crazy and driving a wedge in my amazing marriage.

Anything I say to my husband is going to make him feel inadequate or bad. I realize he's not the problem, I am. I've tried to tamp down this overwhelming desire for women, but sometimes it's all I can think about. I should note that I've never cheated on him.

I keep telling myself that I have to control myself. I made my choice back when I was 22 … but it's hard to understand the consequences of the life choices we make when we are young.

So, wise Meredith, how am I supposed to handle this? I'm afraid I will meet the right (or wrong!) woman and end up cheating. I'm also afraid I’ll never meet the right woman and spend my life with this unrequited longing.

– Confused in the Suburbs, Suburban Boston

A: You were physically attracted to your husband for a long time, CITS. That's excellent -- and very, very important.

The fact that you were attracted to him for years means that you're probably experiencing what many people deal with after 20 years of marriage. Bedroom boredom. Fantasies about other people. FOMO (fear of missing out). Mid-life questions (let's not call it a crisis).

If you were 100 percent straight, you'd probably still be having fantasies about people other than your husband. You'd just be thinking about men.

My advice is to tell your husband about these fantasies. Not to make him feel bad, but to involve him. Talking it out might give him his own real estate in your private world. You don't have to say, "I'm not thinking about you anymore; I'm thinking about pretty girls." You can just say the part about the girls. The conversation could get interesting. It could bring him into the part of your brain that you've been hiding under the bed (that's where I assume the lesbian fiction is kept).

Because at the end of the day, you don't seem to want to leave your husband. And really, that's the only other option here.

You said that he's been a great friend to you and that he knows about your attraction to women. Let him in on what's happening in your head. And maybe loan him some books. Do you really think that any of this will shock him? Because I don't. I think that the more you tell him, the more he becomes a part of the story.

Readers? Is this normal I've-been-married-for-20-years boredom or is this something more? Does it change matters that her default fantasies involve women, not men? Should she go explore this other side of her? Should she talk to her husband about this? Discuss.

– Meredith

He's not in love with me anymore

Posted by Meredith Goldstein June 24, 2011 08:31 AM

Q: Dear Meredith,

My husband and I have been together for 30 years (high school sweethearts). Neither of us has ever "been" with anyone else. We have two kids, a nice home, nice friends, and everyone thinks we have the perfect marriage. I included myself in that until about six months ago when he started to question whether he is in love with me or not. That's when I found out about it, but he says he's been feeling it for much longer.

He hasn't come near me for months, and there was some trouble prior to that. (Up until then, the sex was great). I have gained about 40 pounds since he met me, and he says that's part but not all of it. He feels like he doesn't know if he wants to be an empty nester with me. Depression runs in his family. He has a stressful job, and provides for almost all of the financial needs of our family. He's very athletic and I'm not, so we really don't have many common interests. In hindsight, I guess our marriage was far from perfect since he's never really been affectionate with me outside of the bedroom and that's something I think I need. Now that that the bedroom activity is gone, there's nothing. He says he's sorry, I didn't do anything wrong, he still loves me, but isn't in love with me.

Needless to say, I am beside myself. I feel rejected and blindsided by this whole thing. My question is this: Would you call this a mid-life crisis or depression? (We're both in our late 40s.) If so, how do these things usually end? I don't know how long is fair to wait it out before I have to move on. We had another blip on a much smaller scale many years ago, went to marriage counseling, but I don't really think it helped that much. I know I still love him, I don't want a divorce, but I also don't want to live my life in a loveless marriage.

– Lost In Limbo, Suburban Mass.

A: I don't think that this is a mid-life crisis, LIL. Your letter suggests that there have been problems over the years and that whatever is happening right now is the cumulative result of two people growing apart. I guess my question for you is: What does your husband want to do about all of this?

He told you all of these upsetting things ... and now you're asking us how long you have to wait it out before you move on. Does that mean that he expects you to be the one who devises a plan? Is he giving you options? Is he suggesting that he wants to work on this again?

My advice is to ask him what he wants to do. Like, in a dream world, would he magically fall in love with you again? Would he move into his own place and be your friend? Even a maybe-depressed person can fantasize.

And I want you to think about your life as an empty nester. What do you want to do? Hike? Travel? Move to a new town? Paint? Can you see your husband tagging along as you live your perfect life after 50?

I wish I could tell you how these things usually end. There's no "usually." But for now, you have unanswered questions. Your husband has given this a lot of thought but he hasn't come up with a plan. He hasn't said, "I want to separate to see how it feels." He hasn't said, "I want to stay and work on this." He hasn't asked, "What do you want to do?" Not really.

Have those talks and get some answers. Find out whether he's waiting to make a move because he wants you to be the one to do it.

Readers? Am I right to say that she doesn't have enough information from her husband? Is there hope here? Is this depression or a mid-life crisis? Do his financial responsibilities have anything to do with this? Discuss.

– Meredith

He's texting another woman all day

Posted by Meredith Goldstein June 9, 2011 09:02 AM

Q: My husband and I have been married for a long time. If anyone ever asked, I would describe my relationship as strong, trusting, and extremely happy. We're best friends who can talk about anything with each other. This is the first time in the 20 years that I have known him where I have been at a loss for words.

He has a large group of friends. Many are women. That never bothered me as most of my friends are men and I believe that you can be just friends with a member of the opposite sex. But there is one particular woman who makes me uneasy. And lately that uneasiness has turned into sleepless nights and a feeling of heart sickness that I've never experienced before.

She has known him as long as I have and previous to our relationship expressed interest in him as more than friends. He rejected those advances but they have always been good friends. Good friends who text and write to each other incessantly. Practically every day they are going back and forth on their cell phones almost every hour on the hour. It started some time ago and was getting to be so much that even our friends noticed and mentioned it. I talked to my husband about it and told him that while I knew nothing inappropriate was going on between the two of them, that didn't mean that their constant contact wasn't hurting me. He was very understanding about it and agreed to temper the texts.

Which he did for about a year. But recently it has started up again full force. And this time it isn't as open. He waits until he thinks I'm not in the room and is practically glued to his phone. There have been many times when I've come in and the phone has disappeared again, but not before I see her name.

And this is the part I'm not proud of. I'm not a snoop. I like my privacy so I try and give him his own, but my jealousy and curiosity were getting the better of me. I've looked at the phone without his knowledge once. Most of the texts were just back and forth about every day minutiae, but there were some that really bothered me. Her saying she missed him and his replying back with the same. Affectionate back and forth that was not consistent at least in my opinion with a normal friendship. No concrete plans for meeting or anything that was not above board, but enough to make me uneasy. Banter that I recognized as what we had at the beginning of our relationship. He was being more affectionate and attentive with her than he has been with me in some time.

What do I do? I want to trust him and I want to believe that there isn't anything more going on than just this. I'm not as confident as I once was. Could it be that his hiding it was his idea of continuing what is an innocent friendship but without hurting me further? If this continues, should I be that woman who lays down an ultimatum? Her or me? Or should I trust my husband and swallow my misgivings?

– Tired of Texting, Massachusetts

A: Your letter makes me heartsick, too, TOT. My guess is that this is simply a flirtation, but it's still awful.

I'm worried, but you have a very important thing going for you that many couples don't have: "We're best friends who can talk about anything with one another." Thank goodness for that.

The last time you asked him about this, he was honest and understanding. He didn't get defensive; he simply did what he needed to do to make you comfortable again. That's pretty great. And it means that when you talk to him about this again (and confess to him that you snooped), he'll probably explain what's going on in his head.

I have to wonder whether the texting is simply an addiction. It almost sounds like he's blogging -- but just to her. And let me tell you, when you write something down and someone comments on it, validating your existence by the hour, it feels good (said the blogger). It can become a part of your routine. It can be the thing that keeps you going. I'm not condoning his behavior, but I'm open to the possibility that he's using her as an audience.

It's something for you both to consider when you have the talk, which should be soon. I'd save the ultimatums and start with an honest discussion.

Readers? Could I be right about the blogging? Is this other woman just his audience? Or is he having an emotional affair? What should the letter writer say and do? Help.

– Meredith

Can I call our breakup a break?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein June 6, 2011 09:01 AM

Q: Dear Meredith

My fiance and I have been engaged for over 5 long years with no movement on the marriage front. Initially we intended to marry within two years, but he expressed some initial reluctance which both surprised and scared me. Since that time, he really hasn't endorsed the idea, aside from when I mention it. When I do mention it, he says things like, "Let's do it," but now I have questions.

During the course of our relationship I have been responsible for all of the household financial responsibilities (we have been living together since the engagement). I had to sacrifice time with friends and family in order to do so, which has left me pretty isolated as a result. The responsibilities of being the breadwinner (I allowed him to focus on a business idea that has ultimately failed as a result of inaction on his part) as well as the isolation have taxed our relationship.

To further complicate matters, I have recently realized that I am developing significant feelings for a former coworker who has also expressed interest in pursuing some type of relationship. I realize this is a separate matter but it is weighing on my overall thought process.

I recently turned 30 and realized I need time to determine if our relationship is in fact moving in the right direction. I would like to leave our apartment.

I'm scared about potentially sacrificing my current relationship. I need some guidance with how to move forward. I believe I'm entitled to some space while I decide the fate of our relationship, considering the sacrifices I have made, but I don't know if such "breaks" are really just the figment of Hollywood's imagination.

Am I being fair, here? Please help!

– Murky Waters, Brighton

A: Your waters aren't very murky, MW. They look pretty clear to me.

You're sick of supporting your fiance.
You're tired of your relationship.
You have feelings for someone else.
You turned 30 and your priorities changed.

It's fair to leave your relationship as long as you call this what it is, a breakup. You can't move out and make your fiance wait around for you until you're 100 percent sure that you're comfortable as a single person. I know it's scary to jump without a safety net, but you have to be honest with him.

You have to say something like, "I'm leaving. This isn't what I want," instead of, "I'm taking some time to think." Don't pretend that you're simply hitting the pause button.

Sorry. I know it's tough, but read your letter to yourself and the answer will pop out at you like one of those Magic Eye illustrations. Sometimes a relationship is just ... over.

Readers? Is she allowed to call this a break? Is she entitled to a trial breakup because of all that she's done for the relationship? Is this about turning 30? Should they have been engaged to begin with? Is she just confused because there's a new guy? Discuss.

– Meredith

Should I reunite with my first wife?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein May 31, 2011 08:09 AM

Don't forget to spend some time with yesterday's questions -- and Hoopz.

Q: I'm a TWICE divorced father in his late 40s. Meeting new people has never been easy for me and now that I'm older, it feels impossible.

I don't like being alone so much. I feel like I lose touch somehow. I'd love to meet someone with whom I really "connect," whatever that means. However, all the "Date-dot-com" websites seem so one-dimensional. I can't discern any spark or attraction from a coyly smiling face, quarter turned, and a caption that reads "Searching for my soul mate.”

Enter the first ex-wife; when it was good, it was GREAT, but when it was bad …

She reasons that it was the lack of maturity that brought about our demise more than 15 years back, and that, in retrospect, "we were made for each other." I see that she doesn't want to be alone; she's currently seeking her second divorce. Neither do I, but I'm finding it very difficult to reconcile what went wrong in the past with the here and now.

Is a rekindling reasonable or simply a reach for a past that no longer exists? Is there a someone for whom we were "made"?

– AloneinBoston

A: I don't think we're made for anyone in particular, AIB. But ... I do think that some of our exes wouldn't be exes if we had met them at a later age, after we had matured and learned about ourselves. I do think that now-single, self-aware exes have a lot to offer us if we meet up with them again later in life.

Of course, I can't tell if you're really interested in your ex or if she's just a possible diversion from the loneliness. Are you still attracted to her? Do you like being around her? Does she make sense for you in the present? My guess is that you don't know. For that reason, my advice is to go out to dinner with her. As friends. Friends with potential. See how it feels. Remember that those past mistakes are now almost two decades old. Assuming that the relationship wasn't abusive, there's no harm in having dinner.

Just make sure to be clear about your intentions. Let her know that for now, it's just dinner. You want to reconnect without great expectations. Call her out on the fact that she's just as confused as you are.

If it becomes clear that she's just a friend, you might want to consider some of those date-dot-com websites. I know that the one-dimensional profiles are weird, but in person some of those people might make you smile. Those online women are like your ex-wife -- big question marks that need to be taken to dinner.

Readers? Is the ex-wife worth pursuing or is she just a quick fix for the loneliness? Should he try to date her again? Are they made for each other? Any words for the LW about online dating? Discuss.

– Meredith

Anticipating his mid-life crisis

Posted by Meredith Goldstein May 25, 2011 08:56 AM

Chat at 1.

Q: Hi Meredith,

I'm a long time reader, occasional commenter. Most of your letters are about breakups, but mine is about preparing for the future. I'll give you some background. My husband and I got married at a young age (early 20s). We are now in our early 30s, have 3 beautiful boys, and a great loving marriage. My husband is a great father and awesome husband, and the list of awesome qualities goes on and on. Although things are fabulous now, I live with one fear every day of my life: I'm scared of his potential mid-life crisis.

I hear from so many women who, like me, were married young, and they tell me how their husbands woke up one morning and decided they wanted something different and had an affair. I'm scared that the same fate lies ahead for me simply because we were so young when we got married and also started a family right away.

So my question for you and your commenters is: What causes a man's mid-life crisis? Is it preventable? What can I do to make certain we grow old together? I'm okay if he buys a sports car or speed boat as a result of a mid-life crisis, but an affair would be devastating! Is my worrying about it like creating a self-fulfilling prophecy?

– Mid-Life Crisis Ahead, South Shore

A: I bet that if you interviewed these men who got married young and had affairs, MLCA, they'd tell you that they didn't just wake up one random morning with a desire to cheat. I bet they'd tell you that they'd been questioning their marriages for a long time. I have a serious hunch that many people know that their relationships are in trouble by the time they've been married for 10 years.

I'm not telling you that you're 100 percent safe from relationship decay because you've survived a decade – bad things can happen to any good twosome no matter how long they've been together – but the fact that you're happy after 10 years says a lot about your strength as a couple. And know this: A lot of women email me about wanting a fresh start after marrying young. You're just as likely to have a mid-life crisis. And you're pretty confident that you're not going to bail, right? Why would your husband be different?

Don't waste your time worrying about this stuff. Just remind your husband that if there are ever any problems, you want to talk about them immediately.

And maybe when he turns 40, buy him a ridiculous car. Couldn't hurt.

Readers? Should she fear a mid-life crisis? Does marrying young mean that you freak out later? Is there anything she can do to prevent the freakout? Am I right to say that she's just as likely to have a mid-life issue? Discuss.

– Meredith

She doesn't want a fake wedding

Posted by Meredith Goldstein May 24, 2011 08:07 AM

Q: Hi Meredith,

I met my fiancée a few years ago through a mutual friend. She is English. She was traveling through the States and we hit it off. We had a bunch of trips back and forth, decided we wanted to give it a go, and I moved to England. Our deal was, I would be there a few years and then we would spend a few years in the States and decide from there where we want to raise a family, etc.

In order for her to come to the States and be able to work, we need to be married. We are planning on doing that, then moving to the states. However, in order to apply for the visa we need to be married. Basically, it’s a timing issue. If we wait to apply until we get married then we won't be able to move back to the States for 8-10 months (processing times). We talked about (and I thought we agreed on) getting married (the paper work) earlier, applying for the visa, then having the wedding and being able to move to the States together in 2012. However, she's been making all these comments -- "I'm talking the romance out of our wedding" and we are now having a "fake" wedding and things of this nature. She's says she's doing it for me, that she'll have to live with it. But with all these comments it's making me feel really bad and I feel that she will resent me for this.

I'm not sure what to do. It's causing a lot of stress in our relationship, but our options are - get married early (just us and a witness) then file the paper work, have our "fake" wedding with friends and family, then move to the States. OR we just have the wedding and I move to the states and she can't come over till the paper work comes through. So, 8-10 months after the wedding. (I am required to move back, I don't have an option). I feel this puts more strain on us than just signing the paper work. I don't see signing the papers early a big deal. But she does. I guess I'm just not sure what to do!

– What to Do, Boston and London

A: You need to ask her what she wants to do, WTD. Yes, you already had this discussion, but she wasn't being honest with you (or herself) about her needs back then. She changed her mind. The old plan isn't sitting right with her. Undo it.

My guess is that she hasn't even admitted to herself that she has specific ideas about how weddings should be treated. If you start over, maybe she'll be able to process those ideas with you. Maybe she needs to wait and do a long-distance relationship until she can get married "right." Sounds crazy, but she's probably been dreaming about this day for a long time. Maybe she'd rather visit you a few times over eight months so that she can have the perfect "we-signed-the-papers-on-the-right-day" wedding experience.

My guess is that when you have this conversation again, she'll come around to the original plan. But hopefully it will feel better this time. I think she just agreed too quickly without considering her longtime dreams about the first day of her marriage.

Start over and keep an empathetic tone. Make sure she knows that the decision is a shared one. You can't do any of this without her.

Readers? Should she feel weird about signing paperwork and then having a wedding? Is she being immature? Anyone have citizenship/love stories? How can they deal with their logistics without losing the romance? Is she stressed about getting married, in general? Discuss.

– Meredith

Wife vs. Mom

Posted by Meredith Goldstein May 20, 2011 07:56 AM

Q: Dear Meredith,

My wife has never really had a good relationship with my mother. I actually thought things had gotten a little better, but a few weeks back, things took a major turn for the worse.

I know my mom can be difficult to handle at times. She is definitely lonely and lives a long drive away from us. When we do see her, she does some things to make sure I am giving her my entire attention. I understand how that can bother my wife. But I don't think my mother is acting out of any ill will or with any ill intent.

A few weeks ago, we went to my mother's house for a visit. My wife and I were doing some married couple bickering over something trivial, but it was really nothing. But when I went to another room, my mom told my wife that she needs to treat me better. She was wrong and never should have said anything. But my wife responded by telling my mother she overstepped her boundaries and then essentially made us leave. After that, my wife told me that she hates my mom and that she intentionally acts in an evil way.

That is my problem. My wife says she feels like my mom is always trying to get me to choose between the two of them. And I can see that, but I also feel like my wife is making me choose, too. I agreed to speak to my mom, to tell her there are boundaries and things she just should not say to my wife, but that wasn't enough for my wife. I want my wife to also give my mom a break. We don't see her that often (maybe once a month). They don't have to be friends, but just be friendly, civil. But my wife has said she can't do that.

I really don't know what to do. I love my wife and I know my mom can be difficult. But I also don't know if I can shake what my wife said either (that she hates her and thinks she is evil), and I also feel like as a mature adult, she should be able to look the other way every now and then.

Ultimately, I love my wife, but I worry that there is this wedge being driven between us. My wife is really asking me to make a choice and to choose her every time all the time. And if I can't do that, I feel like we can't survive. What should I do?

– My wife hates my mother, East Coast

A: Yeah, you'd think that two adults would be able to figure this out, MWHMM. But it doesn't always work that way. For the record, I think the "evil" talk is just your wife's way of letting you know that she's serious. She's being dramatic. She might despise your mom (which wouldn't be an uncommon mother-in-law situation), but there's no way she really thinks that your mom is Voldemort.

You need to make demands of both women in your life based on your needs. Don't ask your mom to change her behavior to please your wife. And don't ask your wife to tone it down out of respect for your mother. Ask them to do (or not do) specific things for you. Because you're annoyed. Because you're putting your foot down and you've grown tired of all of this. Because you're not going to dump your mom, and your wife knows that.

If you have married siblings, please ask them for ideas. I bet their spouses feel the same way about your mom, and maybe they've come up with a good routine. And consider compromises. Do you really want your wife to hang out with your mother once a month if you have to sit there watching her fake it? (I don't know the answer to that question, by the way.) Would it be easier if you went alone every other month?

Also: Do you think your wife treats you well? Just curious. Because while I understand why this mom thing is complicated, hurtful, and uncomfortable, I'm surprised that you're worried about the survival of your marriage. I'm wondering what else might be going on here. It might be worth asking your wife, "Besides the mom stuff, are we OK?"

Readers? How can the letter writer manage these women? Is the wife being unreasonable? Is the letter writer being too loyal to mom? Discuss.

– Meredith

He won't grow up

Posted by Meredith Goldstein May 13, 2011 08:46 AM

You'll get to see "Bridesmaids" entries on Monday. Still waiting to get OKs from readers to post.

And ... go Bruins.

Q: Dear Meredith,

My husband and I have been married for a few years and I am reaching the point where I want to start thinking about children. I am in my mid-twenties and he is a few years older. Problem is, my husband seems to be moving in the opposite direction. He tells me he wants to have children soon but his actions say otherwise.

I'm not sure if he has really changed or if I have matured and he has stayed the same. He has gone out a few times over the past year and gotten into fights at bars. While I don't think fighting at any age is acceptable, it is certainly not acceptable at his age.

Recently he took a boys vacation for a long weekend and didn't call me once. This has happened before and I was livid after the first vacation (and also hurt that he did not feel the need to make sure everything was OK at home). I thought I got my message across after the first vacation but obviously I didn't. Now he is planning another boys’ vacation for later in the year. I don't think it is my right to say he can't go (and he also would never tell me what I can and can't do), but how do I make sure I get my point across?

Another time, I was traveling for work all week and he made plans to hang out with friends the night I got home. I would understand if he had had the plans for a while, but he made them at the last minute and didn't see anything wrong with it. It really hurt my feelings that he did not want to see me after I was gone all week.

And it has been numerous little things over the past year or so. I am a very easygoing person but I feel like he completely takes advantage of it.

We have "talks" and he always says I am right and that he can see my point, but nothing changes. How do I get him to see me as his number one priority, not his friends? How do I get him to believe that I am serious and will not continue on in a relationship like this? Should we try therapy? Or is it not realistic to think he can change?

– Confused, Charlestownr

A: I'm not worried about his occasional insensitive decisions, his self-absorbed trips with friends, or the fact that he forgets to check in with you while he's gone. But the bar fights concern me. I mean, what are the bar fights all about? Is he depressed? Does he have a problem with alcohol? Anger management?

That's what I'd talk to him about, what he's trying to accomplish (or escape) with this behavior. Because the other stuff is pretty typical. Most people don't start behaving like perfect parents until they're really parents. To me, this is about what he does when he's not with you -- how he behaves and why.

Not surprisingly, I'm going to say a big yes to the therapy question because I think that you should talk about the fights in an emotionally safe place with help from a professional. I think that your other questions -- the ones about insensitivity -- will be answered when you start asking about the bigger stuff.

And when you tell him that you want to go to therapy, keep your tone empathetic. He sounds like he's just yessing you whenever you give him a lecture. Treat him like a friend. Tell him you just want to make things better for both of you.

Readers? Am I right about the real problem? Is it so bad to go on trips and not check in? How can the letter writer fix her marriage? And should kids be on the table? Help. Weigh in on song of the day.

– Meredith

I dread his return

Posted by Meredith Goldstein May 12, 2011 09:00 AM

Q: My husband of many years is nearing the end of two years of military deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan. He's due to come back for good in a few months.

Everyone around me has been very sympathetic and supportive of my family during his deployment. He himself has let us all know over and over again how anxious he is to get back home and resume his life here. I get comments all the time about how difficult this must be for me and how glad I must be to know he'll be home this year. Well, actually, I am wracked with dread.

While I am anxious for him to be out of harm's way, I am not looking forward to him resuming his place at home. Our kids (teenagers) and I have created lives without him -- we have our work, school, and social schedules the way we like them. They're different than things were when he left. My husband is a bit rigid about how he wants things done at home. The kids and I have found that we like a more relaxed approach to life. (I don't mean we've fallen into some sort of disorganized life. It's just ... different when you don't have to factor in someone who has very strong likes and dislikes.) For example, we've taken a couple of vacations that he would never have agreed to because it's not what he'd want to do. I have been able to cook whatever I want because he's not here to weigh in. I go to bed when I want, watch what I want on TV, or I don't watch it at all.

I love him -- and like him -- but when I look at what my life and my stress level is now (low) compared to what I anticipate it being when he returns, I wonder if I'm going to make it through this homecoming and re-entry into family life. And just in case anyone wonders, no, nobody else has entered the picture. The thought that "there's somebody better out there" has not entered my mind. That's the thing -- I think I want to be by myself (with the kids).

I'm wondering if this means that I am selfish. Not a good partner. A control freak.

Or (and this is what I'm hoping) is this a common feeling among military wives and husbands who get used to life for long periods without their soldier? Have any of your readers experienced anything similar? I can't talk about this with the military families we know -- word would go straight back to my husband and I don't want to hurt him needlessly if it's just cold feet.

(I should say that my husband is not career military. He's a reservist who volunteered to go active duty, so his deployments have not been against his will. But I admire him tremendously for wanting to serve, and the example it's given our kids has been a very positive one.)

– Dreading the Homecoming, Worcester

A: Thanks so much for sending this letter, DTH, because there are probably a lot of people out there -- military spouses and people in other long-distance relationships -- who have had similar thoughts but have been afraid to admit them. You're not a jerk. And your feelings are normal.

I remember a friend of mine coming to me for advice years ago when she was coping with her Marine husband's return from a year-long deployment. Sure, she was psyched that he was finally by her side, but she wanted to claw his eyes out for loading the dishwasher all wrong. Her husband wasn't just her husband. He was an annoying roommate who was messing up her house.

Luckily, the military has support for spouses dealing with this stuff. If you reach out, there should be a person to talk to about adjusting to real life. Actually, I recently talked to one of those people on WBUR's "Radio Boston." He was super cool.

The other thing to know is that being away changes both people in a long-distance relationship. Your husband might come home wanting to take different types of vacations. He might be excited to try the recipes that you’ve concocted while he was away. He's certainly going to be curious about the routine you've established with the kids.

Yes, he will annoy you, and no, you won't have a queen-like rule over the television, but there will be benefits to having him home that you can't even imagine right now.

My advice is to a) seek out those military helpers and b) give your husband the benefit of the doubt. You respect all that he's done over the past two years. He also respects what you accomplished while he's been away. Start thinking of his homecoming as another chapter in a marriage that will continue to require adjustments, new routines, and getting to know each other all over again. It'll be awkward but you'll figure it out together.

Readers? Is this normal? Is it something that also affects all long-distance relationships -- and people living together for the first time? How can she explain to her husband that her routines have changed? Discuss.

– Meredith

Help me save my marriage

Posted by Meredith Goldstein May 6, 2011 08:24 AM

Q: Dear Meredith,

It's very painful for me to write this letter because I'm a middle-aged man who is considering leaving a loving but troubled wife, and I would like to have primary custody of our two young children. My question to you and your readers is: When is it time to leave?

I'd describe myself as introspective, serious, and shy. I've always had a few friends and people generally like me, but until recently it has been hard for me to make friends out of acquaintances. By the end of college, I had never had a girlfriend. My self-esteem was so low that I honestly thought I might never find someone who would love me.

I was in this miasma when I first met my wife. I saw immediately that she's extremely intelligent, caring, attractive, athletic, and that she really liked me. She saw me as an honest and true person and admired my kindness. But from the start, she was also very critical of me, was constantly upset with me and tried to change almost everything else about me. Our relationship was completely imbalanced and I took all of her criticism to heart. After a year of trying to appease her and absorbing her anger, I finally meekly began to defend myself. She'd always say that things would get better after certain situations had passed -- like the death of a loved one, or a difficult apartment situation -- and I'd hope that she was right because she is an extraordinary woman.

If things hadn't gotten better bit by bit over time, we wouldn’t have stayed together, and there were a few golden periods. As is often the case, one of those golden periods led to the conception of our first child. But then, my wife immediately decided that independence and fun were now completely out of the question. Her anxiety and foul treatment reached new highs. Again I rode out the storm, hoping that life would improve as our little one grew up. Our second child is much loved but was unplanned.

Currently our relationship has recovered to some degree but we are struggling. Last week, my wife took a much needed four-day vacation with a girlfriend and I took time off from work to take care of our kids. To say I enjoyed those four days would be an understatement. With some help from family and friends I fed them, got them to their appointments, played with them, got them to bed on time for naps and the night, and generally had a great time. I expected my wife to return with new energy and the patience necessary to attend to our children, but have been sorely disappointed. Nothing has changed. She's constantly battling with them, me, and everyone else close to her.

So when is enough, enough? I am in therapy. She is in therapy. She's still miserable. I'm miserable when I’m around her and ecstatic when she's gone. Tom Waits sang "I wish to God you'd leave me, Baby, I wish to God you'd stay." We've lived that song, "Please Call Me, Baby," so many times that our movie would be a comedy not a drama. The inner peace I experienced during her absence last week came like a revelation. I even stopped reading Love Letters for that time. When I came back to work, I told myself why spend the time. Well, today, two days later, I remember why. Because my inner being is desperately searching for answers, and I want to do the right thing, but the world and my options all seem wrong.

– BG, I can't …

A: BGIC, I wish she hadn't taken that trip with girlfriends. I wish she had taken it with you. Because I wonder if she'd be capable of enjoying herself with you, even on vacation. It's not as though you guys were having a ball before the kids came along. Your golden periods sound like blips.

You say that you're in therapy and that she's in therapy. If you're not already in therapy together, you should be. Because in therapy you can ask this big question: "If we had all the money in the world for babysitters, would you want to stay married to me?" If she says that she would, it's time to make a list. Tell her what you need to be happy, whether it's specific help with your kids, a certain amount of positivity, date nights, etc. Then, with her help, come up with a second list of practical ways to make those things possible. Maybe you need hired help around the house (I know, it isn't cheap), more vacations, or more involvement from friends and family. The lists give you specific goals. And if those goals aren't met, you can feel better about whatever choice you need to make.

Tom Waits sings, "I wish to God you'd leave me, Baby, I wish to God you'd stay," but that's not your lyric. You sang, "I'm miserable when I'm around her and ecstatic when she's gone." You're not longing for your relationship to return to what it used to be. You're longing for brief, unexplained golden periods.

Get to therapy with her if you haven't already. Ask her if she wants you. Then make your lists. Check those lists twice as you move ahead. In the end, if your needs can't be met, remember that doing "the right thing" should involve being able to smile in front of your kids -- and in front of a mirror.

Readers? Any ideas for this LW? Is there something to save? Was his euphoria during his wife's vacation about her being gone -- or about not working and having so much extra help? Is this about the stress of kids or a marriage that was wrong from the start? Help.

– Meredith

Should I go to the wedding?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein May 4, 2011 08:38 AM

Chat day.

Q: Dear Meredith,

My mornings during the week are always about my friend and I drinking our iced coffees and talking about Love Letters. Sure, sometimes we struggle with finding sympathy for the young twenty-somethings who worry about finding the one but then we realize love hurts no matter the age.

I'm your typical 34-year-old, never-been-married, got-it-together (for the most part) girl. I sometimes have relationships (2 yrs, 8 yrs, 6 mo), sometimes try all activities they say to meet someone when I am single (even lowered my salary on an internet dating site) and then sometimes just go out with the gals for vino because dating gets draining. Eight months ago I met a guy organically and even though at first I didn't think I'd want to date someone with kids, I realized how much I loved being with him. He moved in and the kids were going to live with us this summer. His cousin asked me to be her maid of honor and I agreed even though this is my 8th wedding and I swore I would politely decline after the 7th. But I stepped up and due to a short timeline there were three days of non-stop wedding planning to the point I was given the sole task of planning the meal. The night I got home from trying on the bridesmaid dress I left to the bedroom to privately feel sorry for myself and have a good cry. I have always wanted to get married but it just hasn’t worked out for me. When my boyfriend asked what was wrong, I exposed that all the wedding planning has been hard because it makes me think about my own situation of turning 35 and not ever being asked myself. When we moved in together I was clear that marriage and kids were something I wanted and that he shouldn't move in (for my sake or the sake of his two girls) if he wasn't interested. He did move in and I loved every minute of us being together. Two weeks ago, I came home and his stuff was gone and that was it. No goodbye, no waiting around to tell me. I didn't even get the post-it note Carrie got.

When I say I that I felt like I got punched in the gut, I'm not sure that even describes the feeling. I was sick for days over this but I pulled myself together. This past weekend he declared that he has decided that he does want to get married and have kids with me and that he just panicked. Can I really believe him? Should I put myself through being the maid of honor? The wedding is four weeks away and he is the best man, and I cannot think of more torture than that. I know the bride didn’t do anything -- she was supportive of me the whole time so I feel obligated to do it -- but I'm not sure if I will keep it together.

– Always, Always the Bridesmaid, Lowell

A: AATB, you're going to feel wrong no matter what you do about the wedding. Let's say you back out of being the maid of honor. Will you regret not being there? Will you wonder what you're missing? Will you spend the day obsessing about the whole thing? I'm not sure that showing up for the wedding will feel great either, but consider that you're going to be miserable either way.

The bigger question is about your relationship -- whether you can believe that your boyfriend really wants you back. And the answer is: I don't know. It's normal to panic when your girlfriend of eight months has a wedding-induced meltdown and starts talking about kids and marriage, but it's not acceptable to pack up all of your stuff and move out while she's gone for the day. That kind of behavior is cruel and cowardly. And frankly, it's a bit dramatic. He knew he'd see you again. It's almost like he did that for effect.

I can't give you a definitive answer about his motives, but I'm all for getting as many of your questions answered as possible. If it were me, I'd talk to him about what happened and why he wants you back. Then I'd go to the wedding. Because I'd want to see what it feels like to be near him at a joyous occasion. I'd want to see if it feels right to be by his side.

Sometimes the best way to get answers is to immerse yourself in the problem. See if going to the wedding with him feels like coming home – or returning to something that you're ready to leave behind. And remember, the wedding isn't the big question, the relationship is.

Readers? Should she go to the wedding? Should she forgive the weird move-out? Has she been focusing on the wrong thing? Were they just not ready to move in together? Should she let go of some of that wedding angst? What happened here? Discuss.

– Meredith

Getting over the old betrayals

Posted by Meredith Goldstein April 29, 2011 07:44 AM

Q: My wife and I are approaching our 20th anniversary. We have a beautiful 5-year old daughter. It hasn't been a smooth 20 years. There has been a lot of admitted deceit by my wife, and most of it over finances. Since I took control, we are back into a good financial position and on the surface, we are moving ahead as one.

Three years ago, I found out about a non-physical emotional infidelity she had. She swears up and down it was just a friendship. It would have become physical, I believe, over time, but I do believe it didn't get there. We got past it, but it was rough. I felt very betrayed.

I recently found out about another relationship that started probably eight years ago and lasted for about two. I am less confident that this one was purely emotional, but so far, that is all she is telling me. She admits to wandering, wanting out, as we were not in a good place at the time. I can understand the want to get out. I can't fathom following through with it, but I do at least understand.

I am really torn on how to move ahead. On the surface, it's old news and doesn't affect where we are today. But, I can't get this out of my mind. I pointedly asked her if she could guarantee this will never happen again. She said she cannot. She doesn't want it to. She isn't trying to. But, she can't guarantee it.

Maybe I'm a fool, but I still want to stay with her. I'm at a total loss on how to proceed.

– Trying, New Hampshire

A: I don't have any easy solutions for you, T. And I empathize; it's incredibly confusing to find out about a cheat that happened years ago. Your wife has already processed it. You're dealing with it like it’s a fresh betrayal.

I'm going to suggest therapy (the "duh" answer) so you can talk this out over time, but I'm also going to advise you to focus on enjoying each other. After a betrayal, it's tempting to obsess over the possibility that something could go wrong again. Instead of thinking about all the negative what-ifs, I want you to find out whether the two of you are still capable of making good memories. Do you enjoy each other's company? Do you laugh? Can you be romantic? Because if you can -- if she's still with you because she's chosen you – you should be able to make new, good memories that minimize some of the bad ones.

I want you to figure out whether you're moving ahead as one because you can pull it off or because you really want to. And again, you do that by wallowing in the positive, not the negative. It'll give you better context.

Readers? Can he move on from the cheats? Should he? Did he tell us enough about why she wants to stay with him? How do you get over something that happened years ago? Will he even be capable of making new, positive memories? Discuss.

– Meredith

I fear the stats

Posted by Meredith Goldstein April 27, 2011 07:58 AM

Chat at 1.

Q: Hi Meredith!

I am a long time LL lurker, and I mean YEARS. My problem (more like a general grievance) is that there is no advice out there for people in successful relationships to maintain those relationships. People speak in generalities about things getting rough. What does that mean?

Some background: I am 26, my boyfriend is 28, and I have finally stumbled upon the kind of fairy-tale romance that little girls dream of and women like me assumed was the way of the unicorn. My boyfriend and I are great together. Even our fights are constructive and make us feel closer by the end. I am moving in with him next month and we are starting to talk about marriage.

The problem is that I am way too logical for my own good. I can't get over the fact that 50% of marriages end in divorce. I'm assuming that 50% of these marriages don't occur in Vegas, so what is it exactly that's tearing people apart? My wonderful boyfriend tells me that we shouldn't worry about it because we have such great communication skills (cheesy, right?) and talking about this stuff will prevent it from happening to us. This reminds me of the statistic that something like 80% of people think they are smarter than average. I don't want to just "wing it" and then, two years down the road, find out what those divorced 50% know that I don't. There seems to be no advice or literature or anything to help someone like me figure out what is necessary to make this thing work. All I can find are books that are either about finding Jesus or taming your chakras in order to have a fulfilling relationship.

I would love nothing more than to spend the rest of my life with my boyfriend. However, I know things will get rocky. What are those things? How can I get a head start so I know how to handle them when they come up?

– Maritally Illiterate, Newton

A: I hate the "50 percent of marriages fail" stat, MI. It's misleading. There are a lot of people out there who stay together for decades without getting married. There are also a lot of people who stay unhappily married for years. Once you consider that, the stat becomes meaningless. If only we could poll mature couples who communicate well. Maybe the numbers would be different.

You have everything you need to succeed – except the willingness to admit that a lot of this is out of your hands. You can't anticipate what your fights will be when you turn 40. You can't anticipate what issues will make you want to move out of the house for a few weeks when you turn 35 (it might happen). But you also can't anticipate all of the wonderful things that will occur during the marriage, all of the great memories that you'll make as a couple.

The best thing to do is to ignore the stats and move in with your boyfriend. Because once you do, you'll see some of the stuff that might bother you later. And you'll see that your boyfriend is right -- at the beginning of a good relationship, all you can do is communicate and cross your fingers.

Readers? Will she figure all of this out when she moves in? How do you ignore the marriage stats? Could anyone have anticipated their marital problems at the start of their relationship? Discuss.

– Meredith

We've been engaged for years

Posted by Meredith Goldstein April 19, 2011 07:33 AM

Q: Hi Meredith,

I am in my mid 30s and have never been married. I would like to experience this in my life. I have a beautiful daughter I have raised by myself. I sometimes feel I have failed her by not giving her the childhood I had with both parents. I have tried to find a person to share our lives with for most of hers. That brings me to "Greg."

I have been in a relationship with "Greg" for eight years. He is a wonderful man who I love very much ... however ... we became engaged four years ago and he won't set a date.

I took my ring off because I feel he doesn't want to marry me. When I mention it, he just avoids the conversation or plans a surprise trip to keep me from ending it. He was in a bad marriage before and I think he's scared to try it with me. I think this is unfair and he should have faith and trust in me. Isn't that what a relationship is all about?

I don't know what to do.

Although Greg is good to my daughter he is not a dad to her. They don't have a relationship I would consider a close one.

Our relationship has suffered because of my closeness with my daughter. At times I think he's jealous of her. I actually feel guilty about it. Like it or not, I am a mother first!

As I read this back I think ... this is SO obvious that it's time to move on ... but I feel stuck.
I guess my question is...when is enough, enough?? How do you move on when you thought you were going to spend your life with someone??

– Heartbroken, Massachusetts

A: Sounds like you have a great boyfriend who isn't doing much to be a great husband. He loves you. He takes you on trips. After eight years, he still wants you. But you want more.

I want you to make a decision about this relationship based on your needs, not your daughter's. I know that you're a mom first -- and that's great -- but you're not shopping for a new dad for your kid. You're looking for the right partner for you, someone who respects that you're a parent and can give you the support you need to do the job. If your partner bonds with your daughter, that's just a bonus.

And because I'm prioritizing your needs, I keep coming back to the opening of your letter: "I am in my mid 30s and have never been married. I would like to experience this in my life." Daughter aside, you want a different relationship than the one you're in. I can't promise that something better is waiting if you leave -- ending things with Greg is a risk, for sure -- but you have to stay true to yourself. After eight years, your wants haven't changed. Get some final answers from Greg so that you can make a real decision.

And as for moving on, well, there's no easy fix. You'll need a new routine and some time to mourn. That's another letter for another day.

Readers? Greg does seem to love her, but what's holding him back? Is she being unrealistic about the dad stuff? What should she say to Greg? Should she end this relationship or give it a chance? Discuss.

– Meredith

I wonder what could have been

Posted by Meredith Goldstein April 18, 2011 08:30 AM

Happy running.

Q: I am a married mother in my early 30s with a great husband, the best kid in the world, a strong career, and a nice house. But to me, it feels like something is missing. I am a Facebooker and every once in a while I catch one of my old friends online. Let's call him Joe. Immediately when I see Joe's name pop up, my heart skips a beat.

Backstory: During high school, we were very close friends. We had all the same classes, lived in the same neighborhood, and had an overall great high school experience. I was one of the only girls who hung out in this group, and there was always an underlying emotional connection between him and me. But we never acted on it, ever. Not even a kiss. I think we were too afraid to mess up our great friendship.

Off we go to college to different schools, but still keep in touch. We would always reach out to each other for advice about family issues, dating, and even what classes to take that semester. I saw him frequently, me going to his school, and him coming in to the city to hang out with me and our other friends.

One night, we had a few drinks and started talking about regrets. How much we both regretted not acting on our feelings and now it was too late. I was in a very serious relationship with my now husband and he was dating. But I have never forgotten that discussion and the feeling of how things could have been. After all, this was my best friend for over 10 years. Would we have worked out as a couple?

Fast forward to present day: We are both married and living in different states. Sometimes we go months without chatting or seeing each other, but when we do, I still feel that same feeling that I felt back in high school. My heart leaps. I wonder, does he still feel anything for me?

Should I just let this go and try to suppress these thoughts forever? I love my husband very much and we have built a great life together and I would never put that in jeopardy. But I always felt that Joe was the one that got away and I wonder what could have been. I think I am just torturing myself and need to let this go, but I would like to hear your thoughts.

– Thinking of old times, Boston

A: You don't have to suppress these thoughts, TOOT, but you do have to define them. They're just simple what-ifs. They're normal and not at all problematic. You and Joe never made it happen and that was a real choice. You didn't really date in high school, you didn't do it in college, and then, when it mattered most and you actually admitted your regrets, you did ... nothing. You guys could have jumped all over each other the night you had that talk but you didn't. You kept on trucking -- separately.

Make peace with these feelings by calling them what they are -- shots of nostalgia mixed with flirtatiousness. They shouldn't be crippling if you allow them to be normal.

You said in your first paragraph that you feel that something's missing in your life. I don't think that's true. I just think that you need some good dates with your husband and an occasional reality check. Most married people will tell you that there will always be what-ifs. You can get through them.

Readers? What's going on here? Is this about Joe or her marriage? What can she do to stop thinking about the unknown? Is Facebook giving her FOMO? Discuss.

– Meredith

Should I tell my friend she's wrong

Posted by Meredith Goldstein March 25, 2011 08:40 AM

Forgot to mention yesterday that there were two updates in Wednesday's chat. If you fish through it, you'll find updates from Drunk With Love and Monday's March Madness letter writer.

And, if you're a theater person (or a Love Letters person), come to Tuesday's performance of this. I'll be doing a "talkback" after the performance. It will be fun, and the play is right up our alley.

Q: Dear Meredith and LL community,

I am a major lurker on the LL scene and I truly think that this is a great place to come for advice. Like most others, I never thought I would be writing in, mostly because after a few failed relationships I decided it was time to focus on me rather than on boys. My reason for reaching out is that I'm worried my best friend is making a terrible mistake and I don't know how to stop it/if it's really my place.

My friend "Kate" has constantly been in relationships since she was a teenager. She's a naturally flirty person and attracts a lot of guys, so while I've never seen her as a liner-upper, I've also never known her to be single for more than a month or two. We used to joke about this and laugh it off as it didn't seem like a really big issue.

She's now in her mid-20s and in a new relationship. He's in the military which means he's deployed for six months at a time and moves around, so they've only ever spent about a month actually together. He also has kids and is going through a custody battle. I tried not to judge these parts of his life (she's a lot more spontaneous than I am so I guess she can handle these sorts of things). What got to me is that she's now rearranging her life and goals to be with him and I think it's wrong.

Kate's always had dreams of getting more degrees and has worked her butt off to get all the necessary internships in place to do so. She told me that her next internship was going to be in the state where the guy in question was going to be stationed for the next few years. When I asked her about this, she promised that she wasn't making the decision for him and that it was just a lucky coincidence. Now it turns out that he's going to be in a different state and she's decided to follow him. She also tells me they are hoping to get married so he can help her pay for her schooling.

I've told her in a very non-confrontational way that I feel like she's losing herself in her relationship and that I’m worried she's giving up on her goals for the wrong reasons. I'd like to believe in love at first sight/finding your soul mate but, being a more cautious person, I think it's important not to make major life decisions for a guy (especially early on) or you wake up down the line with a lot of regret.

My question is: Am I imposing my own fears/worries on the situation? Should I just go with the flow and see how things turn out? Or should I tell her about my concerns in a more forceful way, knowing that it might do nothing more than distance her from me?

– What Would Meredith Do?, Somerville

A: What would I do, WWMD? Well, I'd want to tell Kate not to move. I'd want to tell her that she's taking a huge risk and ruining her future. But I wouldn't say those things. I'd ask her if she has any concerns about the move so that she could talk about them on her own terms. Then I'd tell her that I'm here for her, no matter what. It wouldn't be easy, but I've learned that that's what friends are for. They're supporters, not advisers (says the advice columnist).

You don't know what's best for Kate. The two of you designed life plans for yourselves when you were young. Not surprisingly, one of you is veering off track. Maybe Kate doesn't want grad school as much as she used to. Maybe she wants it, but not as much as she wants to be with this specific partner. Really, moving and settling down with a guy she adores might turn out to be an awesome decision. Who knows?

You're allowed to be concerned, but your level of stress about this does suggest that you're projecting. You're probably afraid to lose her, which is understandable. You're also probably afraid that Kate's decision says something about your own place in life. I'm not saying you're secretly jealous of Kate, but I do think it can be difficult to watch a close friend jump on a path that opposes your own. In your 20s, other people's decisions mean too much.

This is how life goes. At some point, somebody puts off work to have a kid, gets divorced and goes back to school, or winds up on a reality show. Somebody was bound to make a spontaneous decision. Just keep asking nonjudgmental questions and tell her to be safe. That's all you can/should do. And remember this: You're on your own right track. Kate being right doesn't mean you're wrong.

Readers? Would you tell Kate what you think? Is the LW's angst more about her own place in life? What would be the point in telling Kate? Thoughts? Discuss.

– Meredith

Fantasizing about what could have been

Posted by Meredith Goldstein March 16, 2011 09:00 AM

Chat day.

Q: Hi Meredith,

Three years ago I met a guy through an internship. Nothing really sparked until after the job was over. We started exchanging e-mails and texting a lot, all leading up to a romantic kiss when he came back to town for a few days for work. By then he was living and working out of state. I visited him a few times and he came to visit me. No solid relationship was ever established but he was the only one on my mind.

I was very emotionally invested. He was quiet, kept to himself, and never really shared his feelings. He finally revealed his feelings two years in and then a month later decided he needed "space" because the distance was just too much for him. Needless to say, I was heartbroken.

I regrouped and met a man who has been nothing but a prince to me. The problem is that this other guy popped back up through e-mail to say that while he understands that I am happy and in a stable relationship, he does wish he had done things differently and still cares about me. He doesn't want to be that thorn in my side and get in the way of my current relationship, but did say that if ever given a chance, he'd be completely different.

I don't plan on leaving my current relationship to take a chance on what could have been, but I can't lie and say that I haven't been thinking back to old times and wondering exactly how things would have turned out. I am in love with my boyfriend -- but how do I get the other guy out of my head?

– Needs to Stop Thinking About What Could Have Been, Waltham

A: It could be great with the internship guy, NTSTAWCHB. It might even be better with the internship guy than it is with your boyfriend. But you know what? It might also be amazing with about 1,000 guys you've never met. That's life. As we get older, we're forced to choose a path -- and that means missing out on an infinite number of others paths. Pretty paths. Exciting paths. We just have to cross our fingers and hope that we're getting something good from the path we're on.

It'd be one thing if you were telling us that you were on the fence about your current relationship, but you've made it clear: "I don't plan on leaving my current relationship to take a chance on what could have been."

So that's that. It's fine if you want to fantasize about the what-ifs, but remind yourself that if you picked the other guy, you'd be having the same fantasies about your current boyfriend.

Go watch "Sliding Doors" or "The Adjustment Bureau" or any of those "What would my alternate path look like?" movies and remember that you can only live one life. The fantasies are part of that life. They're totally normal. Try to balance them with memories of the years of uncertainty you had with the other guy and you should be fine.

Readers? Is she not as sold on her relationship as she says she is? Is it normal to keep thinking about an old flame? Why is this old flame messing with her head? Are these fantasies OK? Should she cut off communication with the other guy? Discuss.

– Meredith

I'm apathetic about marriage

Posted by Meredith Goldstein March 14, 2011 07:30 AM

Q: Dear Meredith,

I am in a relationship with a great guy, "Rob." We dated for two years, broke up for a while, worked things out, and have been together now for four years. The relationship is so much better than before. We've lived together now for three years, can't imagine being with anyone else, neither wants kids, are on the same page with how to handle finances in the long term, and have even jokingly talked about what to do after retirement. I'm in my late 20s, he's in his early 30s. Our parents have met and get along. It all sounds perfect, right?

It's almost like we're married. But we're not. And it seems that everyone in the world is waiting for it to happen. Except, I don't care about getting married. I'm not fundamentally opposed to marriage, it's just that I don't care. It doesn't mean anything to me. Not to say I don't appreciate it when other people do it, but I just don't see how it would change what Rob and I have. I could roll my eyes and brush off the idea when it was my mom asking about The Big Question, but my friends are hinting at it as well. They think I'll come around eventually. Do they all know something that I don't?

Rob and I have talked about this and his stance is, "I'll marry you if you really want." Mine is, "We're already so committed to each other, so it's not a life changing event." If he asked me to marry him, my response would be "Sure, why not?" Somehow this feels wrong. Shouldn't I be jumping up and down screaming "YES!!!" to that question? Instead, I feel so apathetic. I feel like getting married would just be a play put on to satisfy others.

My question is, what's the big deal? Is there something I'm not understanding? Is the whole world in on a secret and I didn't get the memo?

– Apathetic About Marriage, Boston

A: You're not a wedding/marriage person, AAM. That's OK. In fact, it's more than OK. Despite what you see in movies and on television, your apathy doesn't mean that your relationship isn't what it should be -- or that you missed a memo. You might start jumping up and down and screaming "YES!!!" when Rob tells you he wants to go on a cool vacation ... or buys a great television ... or learns how to make cheesecake from scratch.

You just need to figure out what to say to friends who take the whole "first comes love, then comes marriage" thing seriously. I'd come up with a one-line explanation. Something like, "It's just not a priority; we're too busy making our retirement plans." That won't silence the masses, but it will give you some temporary relief.

It's annoying, but your friends mean well. A lot of people do want to get married and have kids. Those people -- your friends -- want you to share their excitement about a big decision. They also want to make sure that you're getting what you want. And you are, right? Be happy about that and ignore everything else. Don't let other people's expectations give you doubts.

Readers? How should she deal with the questions? Anyone have a good one-liner for her to give to her friends? Should she be more excited about the idea of matrimony? Should she be more excited, in general? Will this problem go away when she and Rob are in their 30s/40s? Should she just get married? Discuss.

– Meredith

I can't marry the military

Posted by Meredith Goldstein March 10, 2011 08:06 AM

Q: I'm dating a guy who is in the military. I am 25 and he is 27. It was love at first sight. He is amazing. I love him with every single bone in my body, which is why I am having such a hard time grasping the current situation that I am in.

I've been a military girlfriend for 5 years. He has been deployed twice since we've been together. He just returned from his latest deployment. I was so happy to have him come home safe and alive. I am beyond proud of the work that he has done serving our country.

On Valentine's Day he proposed. With the proposal I got news that he was planning on reenlisting. I am having an incredibly hard time with this. I don't know if I can handle the military life forever. The thought of moving from base to base, never having roots and always having the chance of losing the love of my life -- breaks my heart. I honestly have no idea what to do. I want to marry this man, not the military.

So my question is this: How I figure out this situation. Do I talk to him about the way I'm feeling? Or should I just suck it up? Please help!

– In love and war, South End

A: You must talk to him about your needs, ILAW. You can't marry him without finding out whether he's open to a civilian life. Because marrying a military lifer is marrying the military. And you just told us you don't want to do that.

I know it's difficult to look at someone and tell them that you don't support their passion -- especially when that passion involves heroically protecting our country. But you have to come clean. You have to work with him to come up with a plan/timeline that suits you both or you're setting yourself up for failure and heartache. I'm sure military husbands and wives out there will tell you that you can't just "suck it up." It's not like getting a dog instead of a cat or living in New Jersey when you want to live in Massachusetts. It's a way of life -- and it's not for everyone.

Be self-aware and honest. Have a big talk. Sooner than later.

Readers? Is it possible to suck this one up? Is there a way to compromise? Any thoughts from people who are in the military or know military couples? To what extent should she have a say in his plans? Discuss.

– Meredith

Can I date his ex?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein March 2, 2011 08:30 AM

Chat day.

Q: Hi Meredith,

I'm a divorced 30-something father (separated about 3 years ago) who has been trying to adapt to life after a nasty divorce. Now that the dust has settled, I can safely say that things between myself and my ex-wife "Jen" are amicable, although it is clear that we will never be friends again.

About a year ago, a close friend "Steve" (who is also divorced and now with someone else), without even the nerve to inform me, decided to end our friendship and has since barely uttered a word to me to the point that others are noticing his blatant avoidance. My understanding (based on observation) is that Steve became friends with someone who took my ex-wife's side in my divorce.

Over the summer, I ran into Steve's ex-wife "Mary" (whom I had not talked to since before Mary and her Steve separated) at a sporting event. We talked, caught up on old times, and swapped phone numbers -- with the intent of getting our children together. About a month later, Mary called me to arrange time for our children to see each other. At the play date, which had to wait a few weeks because of parenting schedules, everyone had a great time and my friendship with Mary resumed.

Fast forward about 2 months: Mary tells me that she had been thinking about me in a different light and wants to go out on a date with me (neither of us are seeing anyone now). She also told me that her pre-teen daughter has noticed Mary's reaction whenever my name has been brought up -- and offered an approval to us dating. Quite honestly, I am intrigued at the idea as well ... but is it OK to date the ex-wife of a former friend?

My gut feeling: It is none of Steve's business who his ex-wife dates; Steve chose to end our friendship (for whatever reason) and Mary and I are both free to date. So, what harm is there to see if there is more than a spark?

– Cautiously Interested In The Next Step, Boston

A: Your gut is right, CIITNS. To me, this is a no-brainer. The fact that Steve bailed on you is a major bonus. You can go into this without having to worry about his blessing.

But know this: If Steve and your ex-wife's friends think that you're the enemy now, it's only going to get worse. Assuming they find out about you and Mary (and they will), they'll probably talk trash. You'll probably wind up having to see Steve, especially if it works out with Mary. It'll be awkward. And maybe awful. But ... love after divorce is always a bit messy. You just have to own your feelings.

My only advice is to make sure that Mary understands your history with Steve -- the fact that he bailed without reason long ago. She probably knows that, but just in case she doesn't, be clear about the timeline. Mary should know that the bad feelings with Steve have nothing to do with her.

You have my permission to be not-so-cautious.

Readers? Should the LW stay away from Mary to respect Steve? Should he tell Steve? Should he talk to his ex-wife about it? Should Mary be concerned? What are the rules here? Discuss.

– Meredith

Why am I thinking about my ex?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein February 28, 2011 08:30 AM

Q: Hi Meredith,

I'm 35 and about 4 years ago, my fiance and I split up. We had been dating for over 2 years and had been discussing marriage, but after he proposed I began having panic attacks and did not feel that he was fully committed. We were also living out of state and I was homesick, and after many stalled talks about our future, I decided to move back home. A few months passed and he moved to my home state to try to give it another run, but eventually he left because he was unhappy. When he left I was devastated, but also felt relief because it had seemed like we were fighting a losing battle.

Fast forward four years later: I'm in a new relationship. We started seeing each other about 10 months after my previous relationship ended. Although I was trying to take it slow and keep myself open to date others, I really was only seeing him. He is someone I've known for quite some time (about 10 years) and he was a good friend and really helped me move on. Eventually we fell in love.

So, now we've been together for almost 4 years and we've been talking about marriage. I love him and can see a great future with him, but all of a sudden, I'm thinking about my ex again. I had thought about him occasionally over the past few years, and while these memories were always fond, I also felt that I had dodged a bullet. In fact, one time he tried to contact me and I didn't respond because I was with my current boyfriend. So, I don't understand why now that my current relationship is going so well I'm having thoughts and regrets about my ex. I keep thinking that maybe I shouldn't have moved back home and that I made a mistake "abandoning" him. It doesn't help that we have several mutual friends that spend a lot of time with him and I keep hearing about all the exciting things he has been doing lately, and I keep seeing pictures of him and his new girlfriend. I keep thinking how that could have been my life. It's as if the pain I felt right after we broke up is back. I'm assuming that maybe these thoughts are connected to the fact that I'm thinking about marriage again, but that doesn't make me feel any better, nor does it help relieve any of the guilt I feel about having these thoughts while in a relationship with a great guy. Why am I all of a sudden stuck in the past?

– moving on, again?, Pembroke

A: You're not stuck in the past, MOA. You're just having jealous FOMO (fear of missing out). It's a temporary feeling and it's normal.

I'm not even convinced that your obsessive thoughts about your ex have anything to do with your fear of commitment. I think that this is all about seeing those pictures of your ex and his new girlfriend. Those pictures would drive anyone crazy.

It's never fun to hear about exes through friends. You'll always be jealous when you hear that your ex is doing well. You'll always wonder if he'd be doing as well with you. That's often how it goes with big, important exes. We have doubts about leaving them and fantasies about reconnecting with them -- but then we wake up next to the person we actually chose and remember why we're there.

If you allow yourself to define these feelings as a simple reaction to news about the ex, you'll be able to write them off. And maybe focus on what's real. Because your reality sounds pretty great.

Readers? Is this about the ex or is she unhappy with the new boyfriend? Is it relevant that she got more serious with the current partner sooner than she would have liked to? Is it normal to think about an ex this much? How do you stop the pattern? Discuss.

– Meredith

He lied about being divorced

Posted by Meredith Goldstein February 17, 2011 08:03 AM

This letter writer loves putting things in parentheses. (Who doesn't?)

Q:Dear Meredith,

I am a 40something divorced mom of a grown child. I have been divorced for more than a decade. I have had several (3) long term relationships in that time, but all have failed to progress past the two-year mark for a few different reasons (ultimately, they were just not the right men for me).

I recently began online dating (again). I have tried it quite a few times over the years (all of the different sites). I recently met a man on a site and went out with him despite some misgivings about him being divorced a relatively short time. (About a year, according to his e-mail.)

We went out and had a fabulous time. We went out on a second date within a few days and had another great time. After this second date, he writes me an e-mail stating that he needed to come clean -- that he was not really divorced, he was only separated. He then told me that everything had been decided about the divorce agreement and he was staying with a friend and coming back to the family home to take the kids every other weekend. I was not comfortable with this, but I really liked the guy. So, I continued seeing him a few more times. After lots of chatting online and on the phone, (again, feeling like I was very connected to this guy) I started getting the feeling that he was not staying with a friend but still living in his marital home. I confronted him on this and he did admit that this was the case, but the marriage was over and it was just out of convenience that this was happening. I told him that I felt like I had been purposely misled by him and that I could not date someone who was still living with his wife, even if it was just because of the children (3 under age 10) or finances or under any other circumstances.

This guy got rather upset at me about this and could not understand how things were going along so well and then BAM, I changed my feelings for him. I tried to explain that it has been my practice for a long time not to date separated men. It has only been about 3 weeks since I met him and I feel that I was duped. Even though I felt we clicked, I do not think it's right to date someone that still lives in the marital home no matter what the circumstances are. I feel that the divorce process is agonizing and that he is doing a disservice to himself and his children by not focusing on the situation at hand and trying to begin a new romance with me. He has announced that he is moving out of the home in a few weeks in hopes that I will change my mind. (I feel his moving out has a lot to do with me and not really his own desire to move on, despite what he tells me.)

He just cannot understand why it's a good idea to wait to begin this relationship with me because he feels in his mind that he is 100 percent ready to move on because "his marriage was over for a long time before they decided to split." I think, at the very least, that it's going to take him 6 months to year to really get his life in order, move out, set a routine with his children and start getting his divorced finalized. (Another thing he is told me is that they will not be filing for divorce for at least a year, for financial reasons ---Something else I am not at all comfortable with) He thinks I should start back up with him after he moves out of the marital home. Am I being unreasonable to think that someone cannot move on in such a short time?

Should I just go with the flow and continue to see him because we clicked so well? I am going with my gut feeling, which I think is a good thing, but I just want a reality check from you and your readers. I also would like to say to this guy, "See, I am not being overcautious, the entire readership of Love Letters agrees with me!"

– No More Guys On the Rebound

A: It's possible he's rushing this whole thing and that his priorities are all messed up, NMGOTR. It's also possible that his marriage has been over for quite some time, that he was dating online to test the waters, and that he wound up meeting someone great long before he thought he would. All of that is probably true. He really likes you, but he has no idea what he's in for over the next year.

I'm sure there’s a person out there who wouldn't mind dating someone during the slow, uncomfortable, weirdness that comes with divorce, but that person isn't you. And at three weeks, there isn't much to lose besides the promise that comes with a few good dinners.

If he hadn't lied, you might be able to forgive. If he was already living alone, you might be able to reconsider. If he had plans to finalize his divorce within a month, you might be able to put up with dating someone who's only separated. But you're dealing with all of those things, and together, they're one big fat, deal-breaker.

Again, I think he really is smitten with you for the right reasons, so feel good about that. Please allow yourself to be flattered and let the experience remind you that there are people out there who can make you feel great. And commend yourself for knowing what's what. You're thinking of what's best for him and his kids. That's pretty selfless and cool. (Really.)

Readers? Is there anything here to salvage? It's difficult for her to meet people, so is it worth waiting it out? Is it admirable that he's moving out of his house for her or is that the wrong way to think of his decision? Are his lies forgivable? (Discuss.)

– Meredith

Our troubles with alcohol

Posted by Meredith Goldstein February 9, 2011 07:33 AM

I have compiled a massive rundown of Love Letters history for Saturday's paper – as in, the age range of letter writers, geography, topics of problems, number of times "grilled cheese" references were used (or food euphemisms, in general), and which commenter got the most number of recommends during our second year.

I'll try to have post it online on Friday. It's cool.

Also, we chat today at 1.

Q: Meredith and Gang,

I will start with some back story:

I grew up with alcoholics all around me, my mother and grandfather being the most notable. My mother sobered up when I was a teenager and hasn't looked at it since.

I am 28 and engaged to a wonderful man. He is smart, funny, treats me well, and is very good with my 4 year old son. We love each other very much.

He drinks. Less now than before we met and got serious. We have been together 2 years, lived together for 1 and set to get married in April 2012. We have had both serious, sit-down conversations and big blow out fights over his drinking. He knows it borders on a problem. He drinks every night. If my son is there, he doesn't drink until after he goes to sleep and he will not drink if he's there alone with him. But it's still every night otherwise. Every once in a while he likes to spend his weekday off playing video games and drinking beer. He is home alone when he does this. Most of his friends are the go out and drink type. They rarely do anything else when they hang out. I admit that I like to have a drink every now and then but definitely not every day and not in too much excess.

My previous relationship (not my son's father) was with a severe alcoholic. I am talking first thing in the morning until he passed out at night, with little to no recollection of what went on in between (this man was NEVER around my child). So here's my problem: I know I have had bad experiences with alcohol and alcoholics. I am unable to tell if my fiancé’s drinking is "normal" or if it's a problem. I compare every little thing to this last relationship and can't tell if I am over-reacting. He has altered his drinking habits since he knows it’s a big deal to me. I tend to get snippy and defensive if I know he is drunk, but since this doesn’t happen EVERY time he is drunk I end up sending mixed signals to him. I also feel guilty when we go out together. I told him if he committed to stop drinking altogether I would never touch the stuff again. He is not interested in AA.

There is so much good here. He is respectful, loving, a good father-figure, and he literally makes my heart melt and knees weak when we are together. But I live in fear of putting my son in the same situation I grew up in. So where do I go from here?

– Drunk with Love and Resentment, CT

A: My advice, which might seem lame, is to take the fiancé to therapy. I say that because you can't decide what kind of drinking feels "normal" because of your family and your ex. I certainly can't tell you what's normal. We all have different boundaries when it comes to alcohol. We just have to figure out what they are.

You need to sit down with him -- and a counselor -- and talk about when you're OK with the drinking and when it feels scary. Then allow your fiancé to give his impressions of his own substance use. There's no need to shame him right now; from what you've told us, you can be confident that you're both on the same page when it comes to prioritizing safety. What's unclear is whether his drinking is a habit or an addiction. What's also unclear is whether you're allowed to enjoy some social drinking with him without feeling like a hypocrite. It's time to throw your hands up, admit to your fiance that you're thoroughly confused, and go work it out as a team in a safe place. Because again, boundaries can only be respected if you know what they are. It's best if you figure out your rules together -- and before the wedding.

Readers? Do they need a third party to help? Is she projecting her own family's past onto her fiance? Care to share any stories about partners, alcohol, and boundaries? Discuss.

– Meredith

His former friend with benefits

Posted by Meredith Goldstein February 7, 2011 08:50 AM

Q: Dear Love Letters,

I need help!

My husband and I were married, then divorced, and have been re-married for six years. During our time apart, he lost his license. He then began hanging out with one of his sister's female friends, who became his chauffeur. Well, one thing led to another and they became friends with benefits. They decided not to pursue a relationship. The problem is, years later, this girl attends every family event hosted by my sister-in-law. She is referred to as "Auntie." I am not jealous -- actually, this girl is unattractive and very loud. The problem is, we are invited to her surprise birthday party. I definitely will not be attending -- it is bad enough that I have to spend time with her at family functions. She is not related to me nor is she my friend. My question is, am I wrong for asking my husband to not attend?

– Don't Want Her Around, Boston

A: This one's tricky, DWHA, because your husband's relationship with Auntie is really about his relationship with his own sister. He's not inviting Auntie to your house for family meals. He's not proud that he knows Auntie. He's seeing Auntie when he sees his sis -- and Auntie seems to be a big part of his sis's life.

My advice is to sit down with your husband and pose this question: "What's the best way for us to deal with Auntie without alienating your sister/family or making me feel awful?" Maybe the answer is to attend parties like this one but to leave within 45 minutes. Maybe the answer is for both of you to skip these events and tell his sister why. Maybe the answer is for your husband to go to these parties for a bit and then meet you after for a great dinner.

Just know that there's no perfect answer. It would be great if his sister approached you and said, "Feel free to skip these parties. I don't want anyone to be uncomfortable." But she's not going to do that. She loves Auntie. And your husband wants to be present for his sibling.

You just have to get through these events with temporary solutions. That's the best you can do. There's one annoying person at every party. There's always someone from the past who shows up to haunt relationships. Don't make it a fight. Take a deep breath and deal with it together, one party at a time.

Readers? Am I wrong? Should he have to skip the party? Does the LW have the right to be upset about Auntie? Are we concerned about the husband's loss of license and the fact that he was using Auntie for rides? Thoughts? Discuss.

– Meredith

He's stalling the marriage

Posted by Meredith Goldstein February 2, 2011 07:32 AM

It's "Why won't he marry me?" week.

We can discuss during chat at 1.

Q: My boyfriend and I have been dating for about five years and living together for most of that time. We talk about getting married and he has made it clear that he wants to. But not before he has finished his master's degree and secured a more lucrative job. (We are in our late 20s.)

These are both valid reasons, and I understand them. I love him and I'm willing to wait. I've made it clear that marriage and a family is my priority. I've finished my masters and love my job, and I'm willing to wait for him.

And if that were all that was going on I wouldn't be writing in. He hasn't really made any progress in attaining these goals. He talks about it, looks into things, but doesn't follow through. We've talked about this, but I don't really think that he understands how important this is to me. He seems to get defensive and almost annoyed that I'm trying to talk to him about it at all. I can wait if there are goals with real time lines attached to them.

I guess what bothers me the most is that I really just want to be totally OK with waiting. I want a marriage and not a wedding, but I'm genuinely sad about this and I don't know how to make myself be more settled with the wait. Lately, it feels as though I'm ready to get on with everything and he just isn't there yet. We love each other and otherwise have a happy, healthy relationship. How do I make it clear to him how important this is to me, and make myself OK with waiting?

– Sad and confused, Boston

A: SAC, there are two things happening here. 1) You want to get married. 2) Your boyfriend is stuck in a tiny rut. One has something to do with the other, but not everything. If you're asking him to speed up the degree and job so that you can get married, well, I'm not sure that's a huge incentive, especially if he wants to stall his adulthood. If you're asking him to speed up his degree and job for his own sanity, well, that's a different thing. That's just being a good friend.

I'll give you some of the same advice I gave to the letter writer yesterday -- the part about making a list of fun goals. But in your case, I'd also advise that you separate the marriage talk from the degree talk as much as possible. My fear is that everything has become too … tethered. His degree has ceased to be about him getting a degree. It's about getting to the wedding.

My last piece of advice is to start living like you're a married couple. Don't treat your relationship like you've pressed the pause button. Plan big vacations. Buy some plants. Talk about where you would get married/have kids when it happens. If he's unwilling to discuss the future and to do some of the things on the list now (assuming that a few of the items are financially feasible), you've got yourself a bigger issue on your hands. Because waiting on a wedding isn't the same thing as waiting to live a life with someone. There doesn't have to be a party right this second, but your relationship shouldn't feel like one big warm-up.

Readers? Is the wedding too connected to the degree? Should she be confident that he does, in fact, want to marry her? Why is he stalling the degree and job? Should they wait to get married? How can she put herself at ease? Discuss.

– Meredith

He won't talk about it

Posted by Meredith Goldstein February 1, 2011 08:30 AM

I don't think this letter writer is lying about being a lawyer. Lots of evidence here.

Q: Dear Meredith,

I'm going to throw out a few disclosures to your readers, just to get some of the obvious concerns/details out of the way:

1. Me: 30, lawyer. "Dave": 32, engineer
2. Dating: a few years, friends prior
3. Live together, generally same values (family, financial, etc.)

Aside from the occasional discord, there are no major "deal-breaker" problems. Then again, there has to be something, otherwise I wouldn't be writing to you. I am certainly in no rush to get married, but Dave and I are floundering and need help moving in that direction.

We are both at the point in our lives where we want to get married. I've "known" since I met him that I wanted to be with him for the rest of my life; as he says, I'm much more in touch with (and likely to discuss and analyze) my emotions than he is. Totally fine. My parents' marriage was -- and continues to be -- awful. My mom used to confide in me a lot when I was growing up (OK, not healthy to do but that's in the past), and I became very aware of relationships at a young age, which carried over into the way I look at relationships today. Dave's parents had similar problems from what I can tell -- they never talked about things, would sneak around with finances, and eventually divorced.

A year or so ago, I started to ask Dave about his future goals, where he wanted to be in life, etc. If he felt the conversation starting to veer into the M-word, he instantly closed up. He admits that he closed up and proposed talking about one or two topics a week before thinking about getting engaged. Excellent, but he hasn't brought up anything over the last six weeks since this conversation came up again.

My questions are two-fold: (1) Do I have to get over myself and take the initiative to broach these topics again? (2) If so, does anyone have recommendations about where to start and what things (other than the obvious family/kids, religion, financials) to talk about? Counseling is probably a good place to start; I'm hesitant to suggest my pastor as Dave does not embrace my faith.

My biggest fear is that I feel like this should be easier to talk about ... and once upon a year ago, I wasn't really afraid to discuss. Perhaps I'm over-analyzing, but I just want to feel like I'm with someone who wants to be with me and is moving toward the same life goals.

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated!

– Wanting to get married without pressuring, Quincy

A: Wow. I love when you read 90 percent of a letter and think that you know everything and then -- boom! -- there's talk of religious differences.

WTGMWP, I don't think that Dave's lack of interest in your faith is a deal-breaker, but it's certainly a big thing. Perhaps religion is on a long list of problems that he doesn't want to discuss because he fears that a conversation will lead to him losing you … or keeping you forever. Both options are understandably scary.

My advice is -- you guessed it -- to get some therapy. Not with your pastor but with a non-religious third-party. I'd also ditch the idea of talking about two marital topics a week. That idea stresses me out big time.

Here's the thing (and please repeat this to Dave using your best lawyer voice): This planning stuff -- it's supposed to be fun. Yes, deciding whether to commit to someone for life is scary, but it's also sort of cool. The planning isn't just about anticipating conflict, it's about choosing where you might want to live with someone, or whether you plan to buy a house with a hot tub. It's about imaging a life with kids -- or what you'll do with your money if you decide not to have them. These talks are supposed to be about figuring out everything you want, not what you don't want.

Get him to a therapist's office so that he can talk about the big stuff in a safe place. But before you do that, sit down with him and make the fun list -- everything from how often you both want to have sex in a marriage to where you'd take vacations. The cool stuff. Don't forget about the good because you're both so worried about the big questions.

Readers? Why doesn't he want to talk about this stuff? How have their families influenced the problem? What do you think of the two-topics-a-week idea? Can the marriage talk ever be fun? Discuss.

– Meredith

I don't trust my wife with her work friends

Posted by Meredith Goldstein January 25, 2011 08:22 AM

Q: Hello,

I am assuming the fact that I am happily married and wish to remain that way does not preclude me from using this forum.

I have an interesting problem, and yes, I recognize that the problem may be mine. I have been married for nearly 20 years. I love my wife more than anything else. More than this, I am in love with my wife. We have a great relationship, we do most things together, and we truly enjoy most of our time. I am not saying that we do not have our issues. We have arguments and fights. We mistreat each other at times, and take worldly frustrations out on each other. But, this is part of having a life together. We respect each other and apologize when necessary.

Ok, now here is the problem. Years ago (more than 15) things weren't quite as good. My wife had an affair. It was a long affair, over a year I think. During this time she would bring up social things that she and "the other man" would talk about, like common interests, along with problems that the other guy was having in his life and marriage. Now, the affair is long since over, and somehow we survived and I have forgiven her. We have both dramatically grown over the years, and as I said before, we are great. However, when my wife talks about social conversations she has with men at work I find myself immediately bothered to a great degree. I don't care who you are, or how much therapy you may go through, when a spouse has an affair it is always there.

Now I find myself telling my wife not to have social conversations with men at work and to keep topics solely professional. I have even explained why, citing a correlation between what she was telling me in a conversation to what she had told me from dialogues so many years before.

Am I going too far by asking her to not associate socially with men from work? Should she understand my position on this as someone with "post whatever syndrome" that will probably always be there?

– Extremely Happy, But…, Framingham

A: Are you going too far by asking her not to be social with men at work? Yeah, EHB.

It's really difficult not to make friends at work. It's sort of unnatural to ignore the people you're around all day. This affair -- it happened 15 years ago. And while you're allowed to have some post-traumatic stress, you're not helping anyone by making rules that are too easy to break. Is she supposed to sit silently at her desk (assuming she has a desk)? Is she supposed to avoid all outings with peers?

My advice is to set boundaries that make sense. Maybe it's not OK for her to go out alone with male co-workers. But is it really so bad for her to chat about movies with them by the water cooler? Also, can you meet these co-workers so you know what you're dealing with? Maybe they're just nice guys who love their own wives. Maybe they're interns who treat your wife like a mom. Tell your wife that if it's ever appropriate, you'd love to say a brief hello to these people. Be honest and explain that it'll help you calm your nerves.

You both learned plenty from what happened 15 years ago. Don't underestimate her. She made mistakes, but those mistakes went beyond simple social time in the office. You can't force her to wear blinders. Just tell her to practice the Golden Rule. Meaning, she shouldn't do anything behind your back that she wouldn't want you doing behind hers. That's the best you can do.

Readers? Am I wrong? What rules are acceptable? Is he setting her up to fail? Is it possible to avoid being social at work? What boundaries should he set? Should he meet her work friends? Discuss.

– Meredith

I can't stand his mother

Posted by Meredith Goldstein December 28, 2010 01:00 AM

Q: Meredith,

I am hoping you can give me some advice about how to deal with a situation involving my fiancés mother. I love my fiancé, Simon. He is the greatest, most generous guy in the world. The problem is that his generous nature has allowed him to rebuild his relationship with his deadbeat mother, a woman who left her children when they were young. Everything I don't like about this woman I learned from stories my fiancé told me. But now that his mom is old, Simon is starting to feel bad for her. We all live in the same area now and his mother is often over our house. I feel like she is trying to weasel her way into living with us because she is running out of money. Every time I see her car in our driveway or know that she's coming over I get overwhelmed with anger. I know she's here to make herself comfortable and "borrow" money from Simon.

The problem is I don't know how to talk about this with Simon. We are recently engaged and the wedding is over a year away, but the idea of his mother living with us makes me want to flee. It is Simon's house so I really don't feel like I can say that his mother cannot live there. But I know that the attitude I adopt when his mother is around will ultimately ruin my relationship with Simon if that woman is with us 24/7.

My question is how do I bring this up with Simon? I don't think he would mind his mother moving in. He would probably enjoy it. But I would hate it. I don't want to say "if your mother moves in I will move out," but to be honest, I will actually do that. I don't want to hurt Simon's feelings by telling him how much I cannot stand his mother, but I don’t see any other way of preventing the inevitable. Please help.

– Can't Stand My Fiancés Mother, Sudbury

A: It might be Simon's house, CSMFM, but it's also the home he shares with you, his soon-to-be wife. Now is the time to be honest about your boundaries. Now is the time to say, "I can't live with your mom -- ever."

Of course, that honesty will have to come with a compromise. Simon might agree to keep mom out of the house, but you might have to promise to show more respect when she's on your couch. You might have to support a plan to help pay for housing for Simon's mother, assuming that she's not going to be living with you.

Be honest and polite. Tell Simon that you're struggling to make this work. Threats aren't necessary. Disagreements don't have to involve ultimatums.

Just start the negotiations as soon as possible. It's not about who owns the home, it's about making a marriage work.

Readers? What should she say to Simon about his mom? Will this break the marriage? Is there a good way to be honest about the issue without becoming confrontational? Discuss.

– Meredith

My wife insults my coworkers

Posted by Meredith Goldstein December 20, 2010 08:00 AM

Q: Dear Meredith,

My wife and I have been married for seven years in what for the most part has been a happy marriage. About a year ago I took a new job, which I love, at a small office with about 12 employees. I have come to develop professional friendships with many of my coworkers, some of whom are single women. These relationships have remained very professional and have in no way ever been inappropriate. My coworkers, including my boss, are a very social bunch, and every six weeks or so have some form of work outing. These outings have including ski trips, drinks after work, or an evening of bowling. Spouses, boyfriends, and girlfriends are always invited and these are generally fun times.

The problem is my wife's insecurities about my young, female co-workers. She is becoming increasingly rude to them, making obvious backhanded compliments and catty comments. It is very embarrassing to me and to anyone else who happens to overhear. It has reached the point where I have stopped including my wife, and myself, in any after-work excursions. Although I miss these social occasions, I would rather save myself the embarrassment of my wife's rudeness.

I am starting to feel like an outcast at work, and I think my boss is offended that I have been turning down the invitations (he often picks up the bill at these events). I love my wife and respect our marriage, but this has affected my work relationships and could even affect my career. Advice?

– Caught Between Work and My Wife's Insecurities, South Shore

A: You know, CBWAMWI, I'm not convinced that your wife is jealous of these women. I think she might be jealous of you.

You have a new group of friends. You have inside jokes. You have people who share your passion for a profession. I'm not sure what her community is like outside of your marriage, but she probably doesn't have what you have.

This problem calls for a mix of validation and tough love. The tough love is telling her that she's embarrassing herself (and you) with her mean one-liners. Quote her. Give examples. The validation comes next. Tell her that she's awesome and that you want her around as much as possible. Let her know that she's your best friend. You want her to be a part of the group. You want to share this part of your life with her. She shares her "outside friends" with you, right?

It'll also help to tell her some personal information about the so-called "competition." Maybe if she sees these women as real humans -- with boyfriends, families, pets, and personalities -- she'll stop assuming that they're husband-stealing vixens out to get her man.

Marriages -- even the good ones -- feel a bit fragile every time there's a big change, whether it's a new job, a new home, a new neighborhood, or a new kid. Sometimes it takes a while to adjust to the differences. But please, keep going to events, even if it's without her. Isolating yourself isn't going to help anyone.

Readers? Is he allowed to go to these events without his wife? What can he do to make her less jealous? Am I right to say that she's jealous of him? How do you think she'll respond if he criticizes her behavior? What does this problem say about their marriage? Discuss.

– Meredith

My prince thinks he's a frog

Posted by Meredith Goldstein December 10, 2010 07:50 AM

Here are some of the entries for the "Cast a 'Casablanca' Remake" ticket contest. Winners have already been chosen, but feel free to leave a comment with your own ideas.

As for tonight:

1. Pre-party is open to everyone. It starts at 6:30/7 p.m. and goes until 8:30. It is at Orleans in Davis Square. It's first come, first served, so try to get there on time. It is a pre-party, not a post-party -- I think the movie theater's website said "post," but it's pre, for sure.

2. At 8:30ish, movie ticket holders should make their way to the Somerville Theater. Right at 9, Wesley Morris and I will do a quick Q&A/introduction and screen the film.

3. I think it's about sold out, but there might be a ticket or two here.

4. See you there.

Q: Hi Meredith,

I am engaged to a wonderful man. We are both in our mid-to-late 20s, and have been together for four years. Our wedding is set for next year, and after we got engaged a few months ago, we moved in together. We are obviously not without our squabbles, but at the end of the day, I can honestly say that I am marrying my best friend.

There's just one small thing that has started bugging me more and more. My fiance went to community college and then went on to a not-highly-ranked state school due to numerous financial and familial problems. He graduated a few years after he was “supposed” to. He now has his Bachelor’s degree and a job that he has been in for several years, which he enjoys and plans to make a career of. I went to an impressive university and got a post-graduate degree in my field. My career is a bit more fast-paced and demanding, and my colleagues are all quite intelligent.

My fiance does not lack self-esteem. He tells me quite often how he knows that he will be successful in his life and how driven he is. That is one of the things that I respect most about him. His ambition is something that I know I will always be attracted to. But sometimes he doesn't do himself justice.

For instance, friends of his have joked that I am smarter than him. This is by no means the case. But sometimes I think that he buys into all of it. For instance, a few weeks ago we watched a movie that was difficult to understand and when I tried to have a conversation about the plot, he brushed it off and said something like "I just loved watching it with you." While that is very sweet, I want to have intelligent conversations about books, movies, and plays with my spouse and I was bothered that he didn't want to discuss it. When I try to talk about work issues with him, he tells me that he doesn't know how to respond because he doesn’t have a background in my career -- but sometimes my problems are just about interpersonal issues. He shuts down discussions that I try to have with him about things that are bothering me (not about him, about other aspects of my life) by just saying "Well, I love you," but I'm looking for more of a conversation. When I vent to him, he listens, but then he changes the subject without really acknowledging what I've said, telling me he doesn’t know what to say. I honestly don't know if he does it because he thinks we are not on the same intelligence level.

I have told him many times how smart I think he is and how envious I am of the things that he is good at. When interacting with my colleagues, though, he often "defers" to me in a way that he thinks is cute, but I think it’s embarrassing. I want a partner, not someone who puts me on a pedestal.

He is usually a strong-willed guy who knows his own mind and is not afraid to share his opinions. How do I get him to treat me like an equal? I honestly don’t think I’ve done anything to make him think that I view him as anything less than my partner and I think that he thinks he is showing me how much he loves me by treating me like a princess. And while I love him for that, I am just as lucky to be with him. How do I get him to see that he's just as smart as I am and that I value his advice and opinions?

– This Princess Wants Her Frog to Know He's a Prince, Cambridge

A: You know, TPWHFTKHAP, I'm not convinced that your frog doesn't know he's a prince. He values his job. He has self-respect. Is it possible that he just didn't feel like discussing a movie he didn't enjoy? Is it possible that he defers to you in front of your work friends because he's counting the minutes until he can escape a party that bores him? Is it possible that he doesn't give you advice about your problems because he's not the best listener?

I think that he's proud of you -- maybe even in awe of you -- and that he likes to show it. But he has different interests than you do, and he doesn't always like to broaden his horizons. My advice is to give him the option of saying, "I don't love your work parties," or, "That movie was great, but now I'd like to watch 'Road House' and not talk about it."

You have to accept him as he is -- a smart guy who can't be everything to you. You might have to have some of those work conversations with a friend who gets it. You might have to go to artsy films with a family member.

My gut tells me that he's a prince who knows he's a prince. He just doesn't feel comfortable in all situations. Unfortunately, some of those situations are the ones you have to put him in because you're his fiancee. Accepting his interests and his social strengths and weaknesses will make the marriage much easier. I assume the married folks will tell you the same thing. He's just not going to be good at everything.

Readers? Is this about intelligence or does he simply shut down when he can't relate? How can she teach him to have big discussions? Is this something that will affect their marriage? Discuss.

– Meredith

He's not affectionate

Posted by Meredith Goldstein December 9, 2010 08:30 AM

I'll post the "Casablanca" contest entries tomorrow. Thanks to everyone who entered. It was good reading.

Remember to get your movie tickets, and that the pre-party starts tomorrow at 6:30/7ish. Join me here.

Q: My boyfriend and I are at a breaking point. The time has come to get engaged or go our separate ways. We have been together for a few years. We are in our mid-late 20s and we are best friends. We respect each other, care about each other, laugh all the time, etc. I have no complaints except for the "making grilled cheese sandwiches" part. That area is definitely lacking and he is aware of it. We have tried to improve it and I honestly think he is okay with the current state of things. Clearly, I am not okay with it, but I've reached the point where I realize we have different preferences when it comes to intimacy. My question is -- how important is all of that in a marriage? I feel like without it, we will be nothing more than best friends, and I love him and myself too much to allow that to happen. I'd rather let him go so he can find someone who is more compatible in that area with him, but I do love him and I cannot imagine my life without him so it is hard to let go. I just don't want to marry him and 10 years down the road complain that he isn't passionate enough for me. It's not fair to him or to me. I'm in a tough situation right now and I don't want to be selfish. Thoughts? Suggestions? By the way, there are no third parties involved or anything like that. We are very open to each other and loyal. My boyfriend and I just come from different backgrounds. My parents were very loving and affectionate; his parents were distant and cold. While my boyfriend has taken great strides to improve our love life, I can tell something is still missing.

– Sad in Boston

A: It sounds like you've already made a decision, SIB. The fact that you're even open to the idea of him dating someone else suggests that you've already come to terms with what's going to happen.

You want more affection, and not just the grilled cheese. He's working hard to make things better for you, but it's not quite enough. That sets him up to fail over and over again, and it sets you up to be continuously disappointed.

We all have a list of things we can't put up with in a romantic relationship. Some people can cope with a lack of grilled cheese but consider financial irresponsibility a deal-breaker. Other people could care less about grilled cheese and money but require have a partner who shares their religious beliefs.

You're telling us that you love your boyfriend but that you don't think he can make you happy in the long run. Fearing that you'll miss someone is not a great reason to marry them.

Readers? Do they have to break up? Should marriage be on the table? Am I right to say that she has already made a decision? Discuss.

– Meredith

Why the rush?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein December 1, 2010 07:00 AM

Romance Rumble. Wow. Well, I guess, in the end, there can only be one winner. Vote. Get your tickets. Let's have a moment of silence for the films that didn't make it.

In other news, some of our most popular commenters asked whether it would be possible to donate to Globe Santa in the name of Love Letters. Nice, right? If you want to do that (no pressure – I know money is tight), go here and make sure it says "Love Letters" at the bottom.

And chat at 1.

Q: I'd like to start by saying that I love my boyfriend. (I'll call him John.) More than I could ever put into words. We've been together for almost three years, and about two of those three have been spent long distance. We started dating at the end of high school and went to different colleges. We're still in college and are able to see each other every three to five weeks. When we're at home, we're always together, hiking, challenging each other to games of Mario Kart, cooking, you name it. We have so much fun together.

Starting at the beginning of this semester, John's been saying that he wants to live together once we hit grad school. I'm all for it, don't get me wrong, but what's with the timing? Then, in the last two weeks, he's brought up engagement. I told him that I was speechless and thrilled, but that I thought it would be best for the actual asking bit to wait for a few more years. He looked completely crestfallen. Completely unromantic, I know, to be putting a time table on his spontaneity. His said his reasoning was this: if we're already this close and talking about futures, why wait?

My reasoning is that I want to mature with him, together, before we make a commitment as big as this. I want to pursue my studies further, not that I wouldn't be able to do that if we were engaged, but I just want more time to be a "normal" student. I guess that's the best way of describing it.

It depends on the individual couple, but what and when is a good time? This is a touchy enough subject, how do I go about talking to John without stepping on his toes further?

– Confused in Love, Boston

A: Why wait? How about money. Sanity. Distance. The list goes on.

I know that engagements are about romance, but marriages -- which are a bigger deal, right? -- are about love and practicality. You're allowed to step on his toes. You're allowed to say, "Honey, I love you, but stop rushing this for no good reason." Somebody has to be the realist.

You mentioned distance at the beginning of your letter. You could have omitted that detail but you didn't. The distance concerns me, and it obviously concerns you. I'm not saying that you don't have potential as a couple because you only see each other every few weeks, but I am saying that it's a good idea to put off all big promises until you know what it's like to be sick of each other.

You're worried about spoiling the magic. I get that. But you're offering him something better than magic -- an engagement based on legitimate, adult awesomeness. You're instincts are right. Don't rush. Be loving but honest. It sounds like he'll follow your lead even if he's frowning as he does it.

In the meantime, play Mario Kart and enjoy your youth.

Readers? If they both know they've met their mate, is there a reason to wait? Is he rushing? Should she embrace his enthusiasm? Discuss.

– Meredith

He won't compromise

Posted by Meredith Goldstein November 29, 2010 06:44 AM

Good morning.

The "Romance Rumble" starts today. You vote on romantic movies and we'll screen the winner Dec. 10 at the Somerville Theatre. There will be a pre-party that night in Davis Square (location to be announced soon). Make sure you vote and buy a ticket. And then deal with today's letter.

Q: I'm a 35-year old woman who has led her life backwards: married at 21, divorced by 23, and dating ever since. Generally I'm a happy gal. I've got a great career, close friends and family, tons of hobbies, and live a pretty full, independent life. Admittedly, I've got some abandonment issues (as you may see), but they don't stop me. I look forward to finding love and someday marrying and having a family.

I've been dating a divorced dad of a young child off and on for the past two years. We are two hours apart but have made it work with mutual effort. We've both made mistakes and have had our share of break-ups and make-ups. We've chosen to work on it and stay together.

Lately I've had a growing sense of unease about how much is too much to "bend" in a relationship. For example, when I expressed my desire to take the next step in our relationship, he asked me to move in. Since his child is the priority, I told him I would move there to begin our life -- with an engagement. This move would necessitate me quitting my job, selling my home, and moving far away from my current circle of friends and family. This doesn't daunt me -- I'd do so happily; but, he states that to him, engagement means marriage and he is not ready for that.

Since there is young child involved, moving in without an engagement is not an example I choose to set. Since then I've thought about what I want for my life and told him my plan: if in the spring he is still unsure, I will need to leave him. While I understand his need to be "sure," I need to move out of this holding pattern.

Ever since we started discussing commitment, my respect for the relationship is deteriorating and all the petty things are surfacing. For example: differences in lifestyle and standards of living. He lives in a rural area and holds frugality in high regard. His historic house is a ramshackle. When I bring up my interest in fixing it up to basic living standards to create a "home" (contributing equally, both financially and in "sweat equity") he questions why I need to change him and tells me that I insult him. All I can think is: here I am prepared to change my entire life for him and "us," yet he is incapable of meeting me halfway on some pretty basic things. So you see, I'm noticing a pattern of it being on his terms, all the time.

My questions for you are: How far is too far to bend and compromise? Am I sabotaging a perfectly good relationship because of impatience, or am I communicating healthy boundaries?

– The Bends, Boston

A: Ah, TB, I'm with you. You're being asked to bend until you break.

I might argue that flexibility isn't the only issue. The real problem seems to be whatever caused those break-ups and make-ups. You say that you've been off and on for two years. Why were you off so many times?

If this were a more solid relationship, you wouldn't be questioning what love you'd get in return for the move. If this were a more respectful relationship, your guy would be open to letting you change his house so that you're more comfortable there.

I have to wonder how this would work if you lived down the street from each other. Sometimes distance rips us apart. But sometimes it allows us to avoid talking about what's not working.

My advice is to ask your boyfriend to explain his vision for your shared future. Then you share yours -- home improvements included. Does your plan appeal to him at all? Does his plan appeal to you? And -- if he isn't ready for marriage, what would this move mean to him? Is it a test run for something? A real discussion about the what-ifs seems more productive than a spring deadline. Do some more talking and it'll either get better or blow up. That's how it goes.

At the moment, he's offering no ... "sweat equity." That's something all relationships need.

Readers? Is this relationship doomed? Should they be moving in after two rocky years? What does it mean that he doesn't want to get engaged? Does his child factor into this? Discuss.

– Meredith

Milan being Meredith again

Posted by Meredith Goldstein November 23, 2010 09:25 AM

It's day two of Boston Bruin Milan Lucic helping us with Love Letters. If you missed yesterday's letter, it's here. Milan and I will answer one more letter tomorrow. I'll post updates that will carry us through Thursday and Friday.

Tickets for the Love Letters movie party are here.

Q: I know that I'm probably going to be criticized to death for this letter but I need someone who is impartial to give me a healthy dose of honesty.

My problem is that I'm 27 years old, in grad school part-time and working part-time. I have been in a relationship for four-and-a-half years. The man in question is amazingly wonderful, he's my best friend, and I truly enjoy spending time with him when we can (because of work/college, we live a few hours apart). We usually see each other Friday to Sunday unless I don't have to work, then I travel to him.

The problem is that I'm very much ready for marriage and have been for the past year. I have told him that this is what I want and that I want it with him. This weekend it all came to a head because I'm uncertain about our future. He has decided to take the MCAT and apply for medical school next year (which I applaud), which makes me wonder when will we marry. I asked him that, and he told me that marriage wasn't an option yet because he wanted to do it right -- a beautiful ring and a huge wedding. I absolutely would love that too, but in the absence of money I would be happy with a tiny affair, maybe a location wedding and a big family celebration later. But that's not what he wants at all. I feel that it is very unfair for him to ask me to wait for a life-time commitment until I'm in my mid to late 30s.

Right now we are a deadlock and I don't know what to do. I love him with my whole heart and believe that he could be the one, but if I stay with him I will give up on my hopes and dreams of having a family and being a wife.

What do I do? I'm so confused.

– Stubborn in Boston

A: SIB, are you fighting about the party or the marriage?

Does he want to be married to you? Does he want to commit to you? Does he want to start building a life with you? If so, he should be ready to show that in some way. Maybe the compromise is a long engagement. Maybe it's a small wedding and a party later. Maybe it's a commitment to save during med school with a plan to get married in a few years. What does he want to do? Did he really say he wanted to wait until he finished med school to seal the deal?

You're worried that he doesn't want to commit to you until he's Dr. Whatshisface, but that's not what he told you. He's claiming that it's not about the commitment -- that it's about having the right ring and ceremony.

Which is it? Find out what he means when he says he wants to wait and whether his delay has anything to do with doubts about the relationship. It seems to me that you're having two conversations and both lack honesty. You want to know whether he's in forever, meanwhile, he's talking about the wedding. Once you get real with each other, you'll find the compromise -- or you'll feel more comfortable moving on.

Readers? Are they debating the wedding or the marriage? Should the ceremony matter so much? Is his hesitation about commitment? Do you agree with Milan about weddings vs. marriages (and women)? Discuss.

– Meredith

Milan being Meredith

Posted by Meredith Goldstein November 22, 2010 09:10 AM

Remember to buy your tickets for the Love Letters/Movies event. Film critic Wesley Morris and I will be posting our favorite romantic movies soon. You'll vote on them bracket-style, and we'll screen the winning film Dec. 10.

We have a special guest on Love Letters today -- Milan Lucic of the Boston Bruins. Milan, 22, is the second athlete in my "Sports People Trying to Give Love Advice" series, which featured Manny Delcarmen earlier this year.

Milan answered some letters on Friday, the day after he earned a hat trick against Florida. (I hope I said that right.) Turns out, Milan is not only great at hockey -- he's also a natural at giving love advice. He oozed empathy. He was a natural. I hope he joins us again (and I hope his teammates don't make fun of him too much).

Q: So my boyfriend and I have been together for almost three years. Last year, we went through a little a rough patch. (OK, "little" might not be the best way to describe it.) He cheated on me twice, and the only reason why I found out is because I saw a text he sent to his friend about making out with two girls at a bar (so that's four different women). I confronted him about the text and he apologized and said it would never happen again. We had many discussions about it, and eventually we ended up getting back together (at this point I only knew about him kissing the two girls).

A month or two later, it came up in a conversation that he had slept with two separate women during that time as well. I wasn't really sure what to make of it. We had already worked through the first issue and were trying to put it in the past, yet, here it was again, cropping up worse than before. I was devastated. But I truly believed that he was sorry (not just sorry for getting caught), and that he was/is trying to be a better person.

But it's a year later and I still find it hard to trust him when he goes out with his friends. When we are together, everything feels great. But as soon as we are apart, I just get this gut feeling that we aren't right for each other -- that there isn't a future for us. He's my best friend, and when its good, its great, but when its bad, it's heartbreaking and painful. I'm obviously not over what happened last year.

I know the obvious answer is to break up. If I read this, that would totally be my advice. It's harder when you are in the situation. I'm not worried about being alone or not finding someone else because I am confident that I could find someone (and he's my first boyfriend, so I was alone for 21 years before meeting him, so I'm not worried about that either). But it has been three years and we are starting to talk about marriage, and I just can't figure out if I want that or not. I can picture our life together, and in a perfect world, we could have something great. But if I feel this way now about trusting him, won't it only get worse over time? Is there a way to fix this? Is there a tangible way to work on my trust issues?

– Jaded by Love, Boston

A: JBL, your boyfriend has been a pretty terrible best friend. He lied to you. He only told the truth after getting caught. Then, after telling the truth, he lied to you again. He cheated with four women. You can't undo that, certainly not within a year.

You don't want to start a marriage with big doubts, and at this point, I don't even know why marriage is on the table. Yes, breaking up with your closest companion is easier said than done, but that's why they say that breaking up is hard to do. Because it is. Because yes, you lose the bad, but you also have to say goodbye to the good.

Is there a way to fix the relationship? Not right now. Right now, you have to focus on you -- doing all that you can to experience what's out there so that you know what you deserve. Maybe you'll find that trust isn't so hard to come by when you're with someone who doesn't make out with girls at bars. Maybe you'll find that your boyfriend makes a better acquaintance than romantic partner. Or maybe, after some big learning experiences, the two of you will grow up and be together again. Maybe.

But for now, you're just a young woman who's dating a man who hasn't proved his worth. You don't have "trust issues." You just don't trust him. This isn't your problem to work on. If your gut is telling you that you have reason to worry, please listen to it.

Readers? Should the letter writer stay with her boyfriend? She says that she would advise someone in her shoes to bail, so why doesn't she? Can cheaters change? Can trust be restored? Thoughts on my advice? Milan's? Milan vs. Manny? Discuss.

– Meredith

Did I marry the wrong guy?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein November 19, 2010 09:00 AM

Tickets are now on sale for the Dec. 10 Love Letters/Movies event. Please join film critic Wesley Morris and me for the screening. We'll be posting our favorite films next week. You'll vote on them, and we'll screen the winner at the Somerville Theatre that night.

And have a good weekend. After this letter.

Q: A couple years ago, I met the most amazing man. He was fun, funny, smart, handsome, and a great listener (I love to talk), and we just seemed to connect. The only problem was that I hadn't met him sooner. I was already living with my boyfriend of almost two years. Since the other man and I were both students, we had a similar schedule, worked together, studied together, and on our days off, we hung out. I knew this was wrong, but I did it anyway.

I thought of leaving my live-in boyfriend, but this decision was complicated first by the fact that I had no where else to live, and second, by the fact that we had always gotten along great. A couple months went by, and my live in boyfriend proposed to me. I was anything but excited, but I said yes anyway.

I spent the following two years of the engagement trying to find a way out. I feared that I would regret leaving him and so I struggled with the decision. I tried going to counseling, but I was never able to make the decision to leave and found my time running out. I was sure I'd leave him when I found the "right time." As my (already postponed) wedding approached, I wondered if I was making a huge mistake. I still saw the other man frequently (and should mention that my fiance discovered this and forgave me).

I've been married for two months now, and although the other man and I live in the same town, we don't speak or see each other. So many things remind me of him, and I think about him from the moment I wake up until I fall asleep. To say that I miss him immensely is a huge understatement.

I do enjoy the time that I spend with my husband but we don't connect on the same level as I did with the other man, and I've always known this. I want to move on and build a good life with the man I chose, but my heart aches every second of every day for this other man who became my best friend.

Did I marry the wrong man? Will I ever be able to forget the love I left behind? How long will it take before it doesn't hurt so much?

– Unsure in Melrose

A: Ugh, UIM, I never thought I'd say this to a letter writer, but yeah, I think you married the wrong man. Not because I think you should have married the other guy, but because you shouldn't be married to anyone right now.

I'm not sure what led to the disappearance of the other/better guy -- whether you cut him off or he gave up on his own -- but to me, he's irrelevant. I believe that even if he hadn't been around, you wouldn't have been psyched about marrying your husband. You never wanted to take that step. You just didn't know how to leave.

My advice is to (gulp) come clean -- to yourself and your husband. Be honest. Tell him that you went along with things for years, and that while you "enjoy" your time with him, you're not 100 percent in. That's the truth, right?

You've made a mess, but you know that. The time has come to clean it up. I can't promise that the other guy will want to be with you if you become single, but I don't believe in making do with what you have because you're too passive to do anything else.

Be brave. Be honest. Sooner than later.

Readers? Is she not telling us enough good stuff about her husband? Does she have to end her marriage? Is the other guy the right guy? Is it possible that she thought she was doing the right thing by maintaining a relationship with the man who had already committed to her? Can this be fixed without divorce? Discuss.

– Meredith

Am I manipulating him?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein November 9, 2010 09:16 AM

Q: Hello Meredith,

I'll just jump right in. I've been dating "Tom" for more than three years now. He's in his early 40s and I'm in my early 30s. Neither of us have ever been married. We've been living together for about a year, the first for both of us. We've been talking about and looking for houses, and over the course of conversation about the houses, kids have been brought up (mostly by me, but occasionally by him).

Everything was going great until last night, when I brought up marriage. I said, "So we've talked about the house and the kids … what about that other thing that goes with it?" I honestly felt safe bringing it up since we'd already gone there in my mind. He freaked out. He said that I was manipulating him and backing him into a corner, and that the only thing that he could say to a question like that is "yes, I want to marry you." He also said that if and when he decides he wants to marry me is entirely up to him.

This is just absolutely crushing to me. I know that all of his previous relationships (and there were several long ones) ended because the girls wanted to get married. I honestly thought that since we had already been talking about houses and kids that we were on the same page, and obviously we're not. I'm at a complete loss. I thought that I could go there. The only resolution in his mind for the argument was for me to apologize for manipulating him. I told him that I could not apologize in good conscience for something that I honestly didn't feel like I was doing. My questions are as follows. Was it wrong of me to bring it up? Am I manipulating him? Should it be his decision solely if and when he decides?

– Susie, Boston

A: Susie, you're not manipulating him. The word "marriage" obviously makes him lose his marbles. You were not wrong to bring it up. He was wrong to punish you.

He behaved like a baby. He said some ridiculous things. But your question -- the "what about that other thing that goes with it?" question -- it was a request for a proposal, right? He might not be ready for that.

Don't apologize, but do have the conversation again. Explain that you're overwhelmed and confused by his response. You're not trying to trap him. You're just hoping that growing old together is a possibility. Why else would you be buying a house together? Marriage aside -- how does he feel about maybe spending the rest of his life with you? How does he feel about sticking around? What does the house hunt mean to him? My advice is to be as specific as you can with your questions. Tell him that "I don't know" is always an acceptable answer.

If he really can't have the conversation, well, then I'm at a loss, too. Manipulating him? Come on. You're allowed to ask tough questions. He doesn't have to have answers, but he's not supposed to yell at you.

Readers? Is this about how she asked the question? Was she being manipulative? Does his reaction mean that he’ll never commit? How can she deal with his irrational reaction? Should she apologize? Discuss.

– Meredith

He smells like smoke

Posted by Meredith Goldstein November 3, 2010 06:30 AM

Chat at 1.

Q: I have been dating my fiance for about three years and we moved in together about six months ago. We became engaged about two months ago. I am in my late 20s and he is in his early 30s. Things have been good and seem to be on track, but there is one issue that comes between us constantly.

He is a smoker and I am a non-smoker. This was always an issue from the beginning, but it became tolerable when we found a way to compromise. He cut back and never smoked around me, and whenever he came inside he would wash his hands and brush his teeth. That seemed to work.

Now that we are living together, things have changed. I'm not sure if he is smoking more or if I'm noticing it more because we are constantly together now. He still goes outside to smoke but he has dropped the routine of washing his hands and brushing his teeth and he brings the stench inside with him.

The main problem is that it has gotten to the point where I don't even want to kiss him and that has definitely put a strain on our intimate relationship.

He knows how much I hate it, and when I make comments about it and ask him to wash his hands, he seems to get frustrated with me. I don't know how to mention how much it bothers me without getting him mad or having him become defensive. The conversation always turns into an argument. Maybe I'm saying it the wrong way.

So, how do I get him to try to quit smoking or at least cut back? If he won't quit, how do I get him back on the same routine as before? Do I even have the right to ask such things of him? I love him and I want to be intimate with my future husband but I can't get around the smoky breath, hands, and clothes. It is such a turn off. How do I fix it?

– Concerned, Boston

A: Well, you've both failed to compromise. He promised he'd wash his hands and he hasn't. And you said you wouldn't push him to quit but you're making it clear that you want him to.

My advice is to start over with a new plan. Reestablish the terms. Explain my theory (you can take all credit) -- that you've both misbehaved -- and he'll probably be open to a discussion. Tell him that you just want to be able to love living with him and to grab his face and kiss him without tasting nicotine. Come up with new rules that you both can follow.

And invest in some major air filters. Put them all over the house.

And if you really want him to quit, if that's the bottom line, please be honest and tell him that. You're marrying a smoker. That's your reality. If he intends to smoke for the rest of his life -- if on cold winter nights he's going to be out on the porch with a pack of butts -- well, that's something to really consider. Better to draw a line in the sand before you walk down the aisle.

Readers? Am I right? Did they both fail? Can she ask him to quit? Is this just about adjustment after the move-in? Is this something they can learn to live with? Discuss.

– Meredith

We have a newborn and marital problems

Posted by Meredith Goldstein November 1, 2010 09:10 AM

Q: I've been a huge LL fan from the beginning. I'm sad to join the ranks of those needing your sage advice, Meredith, but here goes.

My husband and I are going through a rough patch. Really rough. We've been together for over a decade. He told me (while I was seven months pregnant with our second child!) that he didn't love me anymore. I was floored. My husband has a history of freak-outs before major life changes (getting married, having our first child, etc.), so I asked him to wait on it, and to at least pretend to love me (yes, I did debase myself this much) until the baby was born, for the sake of the baby.

I sensed this freak-out was different. Normally he just withdraws into his little "man cave" and is really quiet and freaked -- but he never says he doesn't love me. He slept on the couch by his choice. I waited it out.

Baby is here and things are not better. He hates all the extra work the new baby entails and makes little comments all the time about how unhappy he is with his life. Ouch, ouch, ouch. We start couples therapy next week. But life has been excruciating -- the desire for separation is not mutual. Two weeks ago, he finally admitted (during a tearful breakdown, after I told him I was taking the kids to live with my mother) that he is profoundly depressed and can't imagine ever being happy again -- and even said that this wasn't about me, that it was about him. I've never seen him so vulnerable. I promised to help him be happy again. I want to keep that promise and hope to heal my trampled heart. He has slipped back into being pretty nasty to me, but we start therapy soon so I have hope.

My question for you, then, since we are starting therapy soon ...

Should I stop saying "I love you"?

He never says it back and it's like a dagger to my heart every time. Part of me thinks no -- if the depression did this to him, maybe consistently showing my love will help. However, the other part of me can't take the (almost) daily rejection and wonders if I'm just smothering him. I've always said "I love you" with a kiss as he left for work. Now, even if I lean in for the kiss, he turns his head so I kiss his cheek -- and it takes everything in me to keep a straight face and not cry in front of the kids.

What do you think I should do?

– Heartbroken New Mom, Boston

A: There's a lot going on here, HNM, so I'm going to focus on your specific question: Should I stop saying "I love you"?

My advice is to stop saying it if you're trying to provoke a specific response. Stop pretending. Stop trying to get him to fake it. All you're doing is stressing everybody out. Showering him with love means that you have to deal with constant rejection, and that he has to choose between disappointing you and giving you an answer he's not sure about. Don't push the disingenuous sweet talk.

I don't know what's going to happen, but I do know that you need to start using your energy to support yourself. "I promised to help him be happy again." You said it yourself -- this isn't about you. He's in charge of his own happiness.

Instead of telling your husband that you'll work to make him happy, ask him practical questions. Does he have any plan for coping as a family while this is all being figured out? As him how he wants to get through the next few days/weeks/months. Ask him if he can refrain from being a jerk during this process -- it's not good for anyone.

I was at a wedding over the weekend (my third this month), and the couple had that famous quote in their program about falling in love with the same person more than once. I think it goes, "A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person." The quote implies that at some point, you'll fall out of love, maybe more than once. You have to want to fall back in, and I hope he does. But if he doesn't, you're going to be OK. Every time you have the urge to say an insecure "I love you" to your husband, say it in the mirror.

And good luck.

Readers? She's got a lot going on here, but should she be professing her love? Can they figure this out? How can they be honest without hurting each other? Help.

– Meredith

Should I tell my ex I'm getting married?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein October 29, 2010 07:30 AM

Quickie contest -- the Central Square Theater and the storytelling group massmouth are having a Love Letters night Nov. 6th. They want people to share their personal tales of love and redemption -- and I get to choose those tales. Send me a love/redemption story and I'll pick a few of my favorites. Winners will get tickets to that night's performance of Eugene O'Neill's "A Moon for the Misbegotten." Don't apply unless you're free on the 6th and willing to read your submission in front of people before the show. (I know, I know, you're not shy.)

Entries are due Monday by 3 p.m. Keep them to 400 words. I'll pick winners by Tuesday morning. Send to meregoldstein at gmail dot com. Put "love and redemption" in the subject line.

Q: I was married for six years, but left my husband after he turned into a controlling, conceited, self-absorbed hermit who thought his paycheck was where his contribution to our relationship began and ended. I left him -- and his financial security -- because I was losing myself and couldn't accept what my life had become.

Our divorce was quick. He was devastated but cooperative. Our post-divorce ties went on forever because of real estate that wouldn't sell in a bad market (the super-size house he saw as the route to his happiness was not popular with buyers).

He had intensive therapy, which led him to apologize for the years of bad behavior. He moved away, met a woman, and reported being really happy. At that point we tried to maintain a friendship. Six months into his new happy relationship, I had just started dating someone and didn't tell him because it was so new. He came back to town and hired people to do some work on the house and so that it would be easier to sell. I stayed with friends during this time.

My new boyfriend came by while a not-so-great contractor was working and pointed out areas of the work that were in dire need of improvement. He told the contractor not to mention his presence to my ex-husband because things were strained between us. Of course the contractor mentioned my boyfriend's presence when following up with my ex over the phone, and that resulted in my getting the silent treatment and a bitter e-mail asking about my boyfriend. This was almost two years after our divorce and more than six months into his new, happy relationship.

My ex and I now only interact by e-mail when there's official business that comes up. He was prone to temper tantrums, making me want to opt for as little communication as possible. When we do communicate, it's with a fake friendliness. We still have some mutual friends, and our parents still keep in touch a few times a year. I don't know where he's living and don't really care to ever see him again. I do know he's still with the same person he met a few years ago.

My quandary: my boyfriend and I are planning on eloping (we very much want to make a lifelong commitment but don't want to deal with the hoopla and expense of a wedding). What is the right thing to do -- should I tell my ex when we are married? And if so, by what means? I don't want to deal with drama and I don't know if there would be more drama if I did or didn't tell him, and he's bound to find out by some other means.

– Happily Moved On, Providence

A: My advice is to tell him, HMO. Not because it's any of his business, but because you have mutual friends and family connections, and if he's going to find out, it might as well be from you.

He was angry and jealous when he found out about your boyfriend because that's how he behaves -- but also because he shared news about his own relationship and probably expected you do the same. Instead, he heard from the contractor. Ouch.

That's not to say that I'm on his side about this. Really, I'm on yours. But save yourself the trouble of a tantrum down the road. Send him an e-mail that says something like, "I just wanted to share the news that my boyfriend and I are eloping. I'm not sure if you want/need to know -- but I didn't want you to hear about it through the grapevine. I'm so happy that you and I have moved on to such great new experiences. I hope you're doing well."

I'm not convinced that there will be crazy drama. More time has passed since the divorce, and he's been capable of pleasant business e-mails. Maybe he'll reply with a fake-friendly note. Or maybe he'll surprise you by not caring enough to respond.

Readers? Am I wrong? Does she have to tell him? Should her ex have had to hear about the boyfriend from the contractor? Is his issue jealousy or being blindsided? Will telling him just make it worse if she has already set an effective boundary? Discuss.

– Meredith

Sex after cancer

Posted by Meredith Goldstein October 20, 2010 08:30 AM

It's a heavy letter today. I hope people who have been through this will chime in.

Also, chat at 1.

Q: I have been a long time reader. Really enjoy everyone's input. Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I thought my issue may be timely.

I've been married for almost 10 years. Right after we were married, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was in my 30s and was devastated. After multiple surgeries (including a mastectomy), chemo, and radiation, we started to build our married life. We were blessed to have two beautiful children. After my second child, my remaining breast started showing "signs" of potential breast cancer. Over the next year, I had two biopsies and multiple mammograms. Emotionally this tipped me over the edge and I had the remaining breast removed.

My issue? Since my last surgery three years ago, my husband refuses to have "marital" relations with me. No grill cheese sandwiches. No touching. No nothing. I mean NOTHING!!!! A peck in the morning to say good-bye and a peck in the evening to say good night. A few "I love you"s throughout the day. I understand for men breasts are very important. I miss them also. I've tried to approach the topic and his response is "we need to schedule a time." Well, with two children, it's difficult to schedule a time. Counseling? He owns his own business and works seven days a week. He feels he doesn't have time to go. And no, he isn't cheating on me.

I love my husband but I can't remain in a non-physical marriage. It's lonely. He knows I'm not happy but he feels that the marriage is OK. Well, its not. I hate ultimatums but I don't know what else do to.

Meredith ... Readers ... Help!

– Breastless in Massachusetts

A: This isn't about his busy schedule, BIM. And it's not about your breasts. It's about the whole ordeal.

When someone gets cancer, their family and friends become a full-time support group. And when it's over -- if things work out for the best and life is preserved -- there's this massive sigh of relief and everyone tries to go back to their normal lives as best they can.

That's fine, except for the fact that the main caregivers are still emotionally exhausted. They've used up all of their energy to help their loved ones (and themselves) get through the experience. Sometimes they're not just tired, they're angry. Irrational or not, sometimes they're furious with their formerly sick loved one for unintentionally putting them through so much. And no matter what, they're panicked that the illness will return.

There's a lot of literature out there about sex after cancer -- that caregiver spouses are afraid of accidentally hurting their partner physically by taking part in sexual activity, or worse, hurting their partner's feelings if they have a negative reaction to their new body. That could be a part of his problem. Fear.

There's less literature out there that adequately describes the emotional crash that happens after years of compartmentalizing a very scary thing. Having cancer is lonely and scary and weird. So is helping someone with cancer. You've asked him for support for years and now you're asking for something else. He's having trouble understanding that this request is supposed to be a fun one. I think he's still shell-shocked.

I'd start slow -- with cuddling. Sit close to him in front of the television or offer up a back rub. See if you can move it along from there over time.

No matter how he responds to PG touching, he has to make time for therapy -- probably without you. You can tell him that a lack of interest in sex after cancer is very normal -- and fixable. He'll probably be relieved to hear that he's not a horrible jerk for wanting to avoid it all after all that you've been through.

Assure him that you'll watch the kids while he takes an hour to talk to a professional or, better yet, a cancer support group (of which there are many). Do this with a loving smile on your face. Remind him that your marriage is "OK" only if you both think it is.

And maybe plan a vacation. Get some of those supportive friends to watch the kids. The more new memories you make that don't involve waiting for the results of a PET scan, the better it will be for both of you.

Readers? Anyone been through this after an illness? Is this really about her breasts? What can she do without giving him an ultimatum? Talk.

– Meredith

He sleeps on the couch

Posted by Meredith Goldstein October 18, 2010 08:00 AM

It's a very short letter but I'm into it.

Q: I have a problem that I have been dealing with for years. My husband falls asleep on the couch every night. I have tried to tell him that he should come up to bed. That is where couples get close, and most couples I know sleep together.

What aggravates me most is that sometimes he will come up to bed in the morning only to try to "get together." This makes me feel used. He also prefers "alone time." I feel he takes the time to watch his "movies" but will not make the effort to come to bed. I feel unloved and unwanted.

– Unloved, Boston

A: Thought 1: Your husband joins you in the morning because he finds you attractive enough to want to be intimate with you. You are wanted in that sense, right? I'm feeling glass-half-full about that, Unloved.

Thought 2: Do you have a TV in your bedroom? I assume your husband falls asleep in front of the television. If he could watch TV in bed, he'd fall asleep next to you, right?

Thought 3: Do you snore? Does he? Is there something about his or your routine that makes him flee to the couch? Does he object to your bed time? It's worth asking.

Thought 4: Would a new bed help? Pricey, but worth it. Go shopping together. Debate pillow top and memory foam. Make it a romantic retail experience.

Thought 5: He's probably embarrassed about the movies. And I get why they make you feel bad. But we all have active fantasy lives. He might be more open with you if he knows he's not going to have to feel ashamed about his interests. Let him know that you just want to feel closer to him.

Thought 6: You're focused on the sleeping. He might show you love in other ways. Don't ignore those other ways.

Readers? Do married people have to sleep together? Anyone have trouble sleeping comfortably with their partner? Is his couch time about a need for alone time? Is that OK? How can the letter writer make her husband understand that mornings aren't enough? Discuss.

– Meredith

My husband and his women friends

Posted by Meredith Goldstein October 13, 2010 08:23 AM

Chat at 1.

Q: Dear Meredith,

This is my second marriage and my husband's first. We are both in our late 30s. We have been married just over a year after dating for five years. Throughout our dating, my husband continued to have lots of female friends who he dined with, traveled with, and "communicated" with (all without me). I was "OK" with this most of the time, more so when the other woman was already in a relationship with someone else. When we were dating, I was not consulted when he "went out with," met, or talked to other women.

Since we've been married, he does check with me, but on the few occasions when I have expressed discomfort with his going out with other women, a fight has ensued. While he has always agreed to abide by my wishes, he has expressed serious disappointment at what he perceives as my distrust of him. I trust him as much as anyone can trust another person, but a couple of the women have treated their relationship with my husband as if it never changed since we were married.

Two examples. The first is a woman my husband dated for a while. She has never married and her most recent e-mail to my husband professed that she was "always in love with you, but you knew better." When she calls or texts my husband (and he tells me), it is always with reference to something they did or somewhere they went when they were together. I wanted him to stop communicating with her and he said he would, but only because I asked him to, not because he thought there was anything wrong with it or that she had any ill intent.

Most recently, he received an e-mail from a married female friend stating that her husband was out of town and she had one extra ticket to a show and would he want to go with her. I told my husband I thought it was odd, and he agreed, but he said he was inclined to go because, according to him, the woman would never do anything inappropriate. I know the woman and he is probably right, but I don't know her that well. I asked him not to go because it made me uncomfortable, and he agreed, but he made a point of telling me that I was being paranoid and that I didn't trust him. This caused a fight.

I'm open to objective advice on this one. Am I being paranoid, or is it reasonable for me to ask my husband not to go out with other women without me unless it's someone I'm "comfortable" with? I just feel like he's being naive when he states that these two women are harmless. What would you do?

– Lately Wed, Bolton

A: This isn't about crazy paranoia, LW. This is about how he behaved while you were dating.

Of course, I can't blame him for this problem, at least not entirely. He was doing this before you got married and you let him think that you were "OK" with it. I don't know why you thought that he'd magically understand the rules when you got married. It was up to you to say, "Hey, I'm not 'OK' with this," while it was happening.

But it's not too late to have the discussion now. Have it on a neutral day, not after you've just seen an e-mail from a lady friend. Tell your husband that you wish that you had been more honest with him before you got married -- that in reality, you're not sure why he needs attention from so many other women. Tell him that if there are women he really wants as platonic friends, that's cool, but you'd like to know them. You're a couple. He needs to behave like someone with a partner.

You married a guy who likes a lot of attention and has a big group of friends. You knew that going in. The best you can hope for is an understanding of what's appropriate behavior and why. If he tries to make this about your jealousy, just say, "I just want us both to be comfortable. Help me help us so we never have to have this fight again." Then remind him that you're having these issues because you love him. He really can't argue with that.

Readers? Is she allowed to change the rules after marriage? Is this about jealousy, and even if it is, does that mean she's wrong? What's going on here? Does he have a weird perspective on this because he was single into his late 30s? Discuss.

– Meredith

She calls the shots

Posted by Meredith Goldstein September 22, 2010 09:00 AM

Twitter people will notice that I've started posting a Love Letters song of the day. Mainly because I don't do anything interesting on Twitter, and I sort of always have a Love Letters-ish song in my head. Feel free to bother me on Twitter to recommend a song of the day. If you don't, it's going to be a lot of George Michael. And it will be your fault. Local musicians -- bring it on.

Chat at 1.

Q: Hi Meredith,

Here is a question that will probably get some ire from those looking for a loyal partner. I have been with my girlfriend for the past five years (since the end of college). I trust her in every way. We get along really well, yet I worry that my passive personality is the big reason we've made it so far.

She is an only child and she is used to getting her way most of the time. We are both very close to our families, and I see that her parents still coddle her in certain ways. And even though she feels that we have a 50/50 relationship, we don't (which I'm sure is related to her relationship with her parents). Part of this is my own doing -- at the beginning of the relationship I didn't stand up for what I wanted and let her get her way because I was too concerned with making her happy. This passiveness has led me to have very few friends. We pretty much spend all of our time together. I know I need to make an honest effort to expand my social circle, but I fear that replacing time with her on the weekends with other activities will not go over well with her.

We've talked about this issue over the past few years, but nothing has changed. I can't entirely blame her since we are just used to the way we've done things for the past five years, and I only reinforce this at times to keep the peace between us. I've accepted it as the "way things are," but I don't know if I could handle this for the rest of my life.

She has told me numerous times within the past year that she wants to marry me but that there's no rush. I can envision her being my wife at times, but there are times when I don't feel "it" and that scares me.

Since we do almost everything together, if I were to break things off, I would pretty much have nothing in terms of a social life since I have an almost nonexistent social life outside of her. She is pretty much my life outside of my family and work, so in a way, I wouldn't just be moving on from her, but pretty much moving on from my way of life for the past five years.

Am I crazy to consider giving up on a relationship with a woman who honestly loves me, relates to me, and wants to spend the rest of her life with me, even though I have a gut feeling that things could feel more 50/50 with someone else?

– Confused, Boston

A: I find it fascinating, Confused, that you thought your letter would anger readers. It's not an ire-producing letter. That comment is just more evidence of your fear of honesty. You must work on your ability to disclose. As you've learned, keeping your wants to yourself doesn't help anyone.

My advice is to sign up for some specific weekly activities -- recreational sports, a cooking class, or maybe some sort of book club. If you don't have a hobby that requires you to mingle with other people at a specific time, that socializing won't happen. An organized activity will allow you to schmooze. It will also help you gauge whether your girlfriend will allow for extracurriculars. If she reacts negatively to something as simple as a softball league, well, you have cause for concern.

It's very difficult to change the power structure in a relationship, but it's possible. The change has to come from you. You have to be assertive (not passive-aggressive!). You have to be honest. You also have to be empathetic about the fact that after five years, you're changing the rules.

Some readers are going to say that this relationship is doomed, but I'm not so sure. As you said, you've enabled this behavior. "I fear that replacing time with her on the weekends with other activities will not go over well with her." You fear her reaction -- but you don't know what it will be. Give her some credit. Talk to her (again) about your concerns. Then take action. And whenever you get scared of speaking your mind, remember why you're doing it. It's the best thing for both of you. It's about figuring out what will make you happy for the rest of your life.

Readers? Will this relationship ever be 50-50? How can the letter writer lean to speak up? Is the girlfriend taking advantage of the passive tendencies? What's going on here? Talk.

– Meredith

Should we elope?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein September 16, 2010 09:00 AM

Chat at 1.

Q: Hi Meredith,

I am a 24-year-old woman and have been with my boyfriend for over a year and a half. We've been living together for one year. My boyfriend is going to be 30, has a steady career, a nice family, and is a very loving. We have a great relationship. The communication is awesome, we recently opened a savings account together, and we're looking to move into a larger apartment to spend the next five to seven years in. We have had some rough times like everyone, but we have been able to get through it.

We're going on vacation in November to a tropical and romantic place. A few weeks back, the topic of marriage came up. I’ve never been too keen on the idea of marriage, but after thinking it over, I think it's the wedding stuff that makes me uncomfortable. To me, if we get married, I truly want it to be about us and not our 300 "closest" friends and family (his family is huge, so there would be a lot of people). Because of this, we agreed to elope. My boyfriend was a little sad because he likes the idea of weddings (I call him my bride), so I asked him if he would feel like he missed out on not having a wedding. His response literally almost made me burst into tears. He said, "I would never hold anything against you like that. But if you left me tomorrow I'd feel like I missed out on something. And in 10 years time I'd still know that I'd missed out on something."

I spoke to several of our friends to get their opinion. Their reactions have been positive. A few of my friends told me to wait a year. I totally get the concept of waiting, but I feel like this trip is kind of the time and place I would want to do something like this. We've decided it's a better idea to wait until after we get married to tell the families because I'm sure my mother would never stand for an elopement. And we're both OK with the consequences. I've looked over LOTS of premarital counseling guides, and I feel like every time I read one I know all the answers. I know what I want, and I'm pretty confident I know what my partner's answers would be.

So what kind of advice would you give to a friend in my situation?

Thanks a bunch!

– How To Tell When You're Ready, Boston

A: Are you asking me whether you should elope or whether you should wait a year before you get married? I'm going to answer both questions by saying this: plan a wedding -- and schedule it for next fall.

Your boyfriend wants a wedding, HTTWYR. His family wants a wedding. Your mom wants a wedding. I don't care if you're shy or if you look terrible in white. You're the only one who doesn't want the wedding. Be kind to your "bride" and to everyone who loves you. Plan the party.

If you want to do something special in November, just get engaged. That's a pretty awesome thing to do on a romantic trip.

A wedding kills all birds with one mighty stone (sorry, birds). You'll be able to spend the next year gaining more confidence about what the marriage will mean, and you'll be satisfying the relatives.

I know you think weddings are silly, but I think getting married just because you're somewhere tropical is sillier. When in doubt, give yourself more time. And when in doubt about the need for a wedding that everyone wants but you, have one.

Readers? Should she have a wedding? Is there anything she needs to know that premarital counseling guides haven’t told her? Why have some of her friends told her to wait a year? Am I right about the fact that she should do the party for her husband and the family?

– Meredith

He doesn't want to get married

Posted by Meredith Goldstein September 14, 2010 08:20 AM

Sorry about the tech issues yesterday. They're fixed. If you want to add some comments to yesterday's letter (the comment box wasn't working after about 3 p.m.), feel free, especially if you're looking for some closure.

Not that I believe in closure. No such thing.

Q: I have been in a relationship with "Joe" for almost two years. I have never been so enamored with anyone in my life. We have a fabulous time together and he has a wonderful, caring heart. Everybody loves him because he really is just a great guy.

We are both divorced. I was married for just under four years. I married the wrong person and I was just too young and immature at the time. I married my ex because it was something that I thought I "should" do and because everyone was telling me what a great couple we were -- but I was never truly in love with him. We have an amazing son who is now five, and my ex and I are very amicable. He has since remarried.

Joe was married for over 20 years. He is 18 years older than me, which I have never had any problem with. His divorce was extremely tumultuous and the last years of his marriage were extremely difficult. His kids are older and I get along very well with them. I waited a while for Joe to meet my son because I didn't want my son to be subjected to a revolving door of dates and relationships. After about eight months of dating, I started to let Joe and my son spend some time together because I felt the timing was right and I felt very secure in the relationship. Joe was aware that it was a big step for me.

My issue is that I am looking to get married again. I am in no rush to get married soon. I don't need to get married this year or even next year but I do want to share my life and my son with someone. I know that I don't need to have more children, but I do want that long relationship and someone to grow old with. The problem is Joe is definitely not looking to get married again in the near future and perhaps ever. We've been having this discussion often lately and we talk in circles. I say that I understand that maybe we are just simply at different life stages, and that I get that he's "been there, done that" with a long marriage and is enjoying his freedom. I'll go on to tell him that I'm doubtful that we'll ever be on the same page and that we should go our separate ways. His response is that he loves me, is committed to me, is happier than he's ever been and doesn't want to lose me BUT he is unsure of if or when he'll want marriage again. I genuinely love this man Meredith, but I don't want to keep investing my time and heart in something that has no future.

Furthermore, I don't want my son to grow attached to someone who will leave.

Am I spinning my wheels? Am I wasting my time? Or am I trying to anticipate the future too much and over-thinking the situation? Am I being too anxious and fidgety? Should I just relax and enjoy? Take one day at a time? HELP PLEASE!

– Anxious in Love, Boston

A: You're not being unnecessarily anxious and fidgety, AIL. You want to know if your boyfriend of two years plans to stick around. You say that you don't need to get married again soon -- but maybe you want to. Your wants count.

Have you asked him what he means when he says he doesn't want to get married again? Is he opposed to living with you? Is he opposed to sharing money? Does he expect to bail in a few years? Or is he open to everything but the legal title?

If you knew he had hopes to share his life with you -- just without the wedding and the marriage license -- would that calm your nerves? If so, ask him if he has any interest in committing without the party. That would be a start.

If he doesn't want to get married because he's only comfortable dating, I think you should consider looking for someone who wants more. This guy is almost 20 years older than you. He has raised kids. He knows himself. If he's telling you that he doesn't want to get married because he has "been there, done that," well, that's just not good enough for you. You've been there and done that but you want to do it again.

A fresh start would be very difficult for your son, but it would be worse for him to watch his mom spin her wheels, as you put it.

Find out what your guy means when he says he doesn't want to get married again. Then be honest with yourself about what you want.

(You probably wanted me to tell you that you're overreacting and being silly but you're not. Sorry.)

Readers? Should she just enjoy the status quo? Or am I right? Does his "been there, done that" attitude mean he can't share his life with the letter writer? Discuss.

– Meredith

Can a cheater ever change?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein September 10, 2010 02:51 PM

Q: Hi Meredith,

I am 61 and have been engaged for the past four years. I have had a relationship with my fiancé, who is about my age, for 10 years. We are both divorced.

My fiancé's 16-year marriage was ruined by his infidelities. He cheated with at least four to five other women. He was up front about this from the beginning. I met him when he had been separated for six months. He has always had many platonic female friends, some for over 20 years, and my friends find him charming and handsome.

Months ago, I was informed by another woman that he has been in a physical and emotional relationship with her while I have been with him. The woman is someone he has always been close with. Their first affair lasted on and off for years and then continued with breaks up until last year. I am very hurt but feel that he is committed to our relationship. I have asked that he cease connections with all his women friends and seek counseling.

The longer I stew over his history the more I realize he has treated a lot of women poorly in the past. At this point he has been deceitful and betrayed every woman he's ever been with, including myself. I have only this one mark against him but the ghosts are lurking in my mind. I have read about narcissism and pathological personalities and I am worried he may be a man that has long periods between his affairs or that a real personality disorder exists for him.

We live with each other on weekends and see each other every night but he sleeps in his condo during the week due to his job requirements. He has stated that he is unhappy with this separation during the week but abides by my wishes that I remain in my home in the country. I have no desire to live in the city.

I want a future I can feel secure about, but I can't easily forget the past. Should I continue to ask him not to have contact with his female friends and believe the one was a red herring? Should I remain in a status quo situation forever or just press on for marriage. He wants to marry me and tells me he will never be unfaithful again. Is there hope for a man with such a history? He has always claimed that his unfaithfulness was due to no woman meeting his emotional needs. Something doesn't sound "kosher" to me. I would appreciate other women's feedback and can't turn to my friends or family because of my professional position.

– Can he be fixed?, Western Mass.

A: CHBF, get thee to therapy. With him. As soon as possible.

"I have only this one mark against him." Um, that one mark is a long-term affair with one of his close female friends. That's one big, fat mark. And it's not like he was the one who came clean. You heard from the other woman.

From what you're telling us, your fiancé blames his affairs on his partners. It's their fault for not giving him enough attention. And here you are telling us that you don't give him attention on weekdays, when he lives in the city. Recipe for disaster.

You need to ask him all of your very fair questions in front of a third party who can help you navigate what happens next. For whatever reason, it's difficult to avoid the truth with a professional in the room. It's also difficult to forgive the unforgivable when someone with a license is watching. Gross proclamations of narcissism sound even sillier with an audience.

Yes, you're always going to wonder if he's cheating. That's just the way it is. He cheated on others. He cheated on you. You either live with that anxiety and trust that he's working to ignore his desires, or you walk. The therapy should help with that decision. It's not easy to figure out on your own after 10 years.

And if he refuses to see a professional, well, there's your answer. At this point he should be doing everything possible to convince you that he's for real, including making your country abode his home base. If he has no interest in working this out in therapy, he isn't taking you/this problem seriously.

Readers? Can chronic cheaters change? Will therapy do any good? After 10 years, what is worth saving? Is it relevant that they've been engaged for four years but didn't get married? Discuss -- and have a nice weekend (and New Year, for those who celebrate).

– Meredith

He won't admit he's cheating

Posted by Meredith Goldstein September 8, 2010 07:08 AM

Chat today at 1.

I had to edit some bad words out of this letter. She was angry, understandably.

Q: Hello Meredith,

My husband and I have been married for over 15 years and we've been together since we were teenagers. Over the past year, my husband's ex-girlfriend has made her presence known. She "found" him on one of the internet networking sites and has since been a pain in my rear end.

Ever since she arrived, things have gone from bad to worse. Our marriage was a bit rocky at the time. We were constantly fighting. He was always in a bad mood. He started working out. He became very secretive and paranoid about my being anywhere near him whenever he was doing certain things. He no longer wanted to be intimate. I was always saying or doing something wrong. And at the time I couldn't understand why. I tried to rationalize it to stress from work or something. Then I found out about her and that explained a lot of things.

When I first found out about her, I questioned him. I pointed out all of the reasons for my suspicions, even told how I came to that point. Questioned him about specific things. About how I knew that they were communicating by phone, e-mails, and text. Of course he denied it – looked me right in the eye and lied. Even when I confronted him and quoted things she had said, just to get a reaction from him, he still denied everything.

I begged and pleaded for the truth, and to this day I haven't gotten any real answers from him. He has only been telling me what he thinks I want to hear. He tells me that since I have no proof I can't accuse him of anything. But I did and still do have proof. I even showed him and he still denied everything. I even went as far as to confront her and she also denied everything. She claimed they were just "friends" -- but seriously, do "friends" who haven't seen or spoken to each other since high school talk about becoming physically intimate? It apparently came up in conversation and was seriously considered by both of them.

I felt not only hurt but insulted when he confessed to that. I had no qualms about telling him what I thought of her. What I don't understand is why he encourages her. By "encourage" I mean by calling and texting her and answering her phone calls and texts. She's not even supposed to be able to contact him because he changed his number twice already. She even has his work number and has called him there, which of course he denies.

Everything cooled down for a while, but recently I found out that she's back.I once again confronted him and he once again denied it. All I have ever wanted was the truth. He claimed he didn't want to tell me the first time because I would leave him. And I should. I told him if he hadn't done it in the first place, or if he had just told me the truth when confronted with proof, we wouldn't be at this point. How can I get him to tell the truth without giving away my aces?

Please advise me on what to do.

– Confused In A Hopeless Marriage

A: Really? All you want is the truth? If I were you, I'd also want a happy marriage, CIAHM. I know it's frustrating that he hasn't come clean, but honesty is just one thing that's missing in this relationship. It's a huge thing, but you've got other problems. Even if he confesses, he's still answering texts from an old girlfriend.

I'm glad you've explained to him that you're more likely to stay if you start hearing the truth, no matter how unpleasant. Your next job is to stop trying to catch him in the act and start thinking about what kind of relationship you want. You want someone who doesn't have to keep changing his phone number. You want someone who doesn't keep giving his new number to the same woman who inspired him to change it. You want someone who isn't trying to get away with things. You're tired.

You said in your last paragraph that you think you should leave him. Is that because there's no way to return to the first 14 years of your relationship? Is it too late? Do some soul-searching (maybe in therapy). I'd also ask your husband -- forgetting this new woman for a moment -- why he was afraid to lose you. Why does he want you around? Where does he see you both in five years? What is he trying to save? Forcing him to say it out loud -- assuming there's something to say -- might clarify whether you're on the same page about your future.

You might not be on the same page. I don't know. But neither do you. You're letting the investigation obscure the real issues.

Readers? Has she lost perspective about what's important here? Does it matter that she keeps catching him in lies? If he told her the truth would that help at this point? Do you think he really wants to stay married? How can she save her marriage -- and should she? Discuss.

– Meredith

The proposal ultimatum

Posted by Meredith Goldstein September 7, 2010 09:20 AM

I'm back. My sinuses are drained. It's a good day.

Feel free to continue yesterday's holiday discussion about the T.

Today's letter is about forcing a proposal.

Q: I've got a question for you and your readers. Quick background: I've been with my girlfriend for 4-plus years. I'm 29 and she just turned 31. We met when we were both living in another state. I got a new job in Boston a couple years ago. My girlfriend moved to Boston after a few months of me living here. She got her own apartment because she does not believe in living together before you are married. We are at a crossroads because I just found out that I got a promotion and that I am going to have to relocate to Washington D.C. in the fall. She's willing to go with me but she has some requirements. She says in order to move there with me she expects a deeper commitment (i.e. engaged).

Even though I love her and want to stay together, I am not ready to get married. Maybe someday but not right this second. She's everything I could ask for in a future wife. She's extremely kind, loving, and gorgeous. I understand her point of view and that wanting her to move to another city without a ring is selfish on my part. But I just don't like the idea that I proposed because of an ultimatum. My guy friends say that I should just propose since she's the best thing to ever happen to me. They also say that a ring will keep her happy for a few years and then maybe by then, I'll be ready for an actual wedding. I wonder if we should split up now due to the marriage issue or if I should just man up and get a diamond? Have others been in my shoes? I have no idea if I should go left or right. Any insight is much appreciated.

– Pressured in Peabody

A: I hate ultimatum proposals, PIP. I'm with you. Nothing says romance like, "I was forced!"

To be fair, your girlfriend just wants to be assured that she isn't committing herself to a shaky relationship at 31. As if an engagement means that you'll love living together enough to get married. As if the promise of marriage means that everything will go smoothly. If you propose because she has threatened you, it's not as though you'll be any more confident about your relationship or the concept of marriage. You'll have fulfilled a requirement. If she's comforted by that, well, I feel bad for her. That's a real false sense of security.

My advice is to tell her what you really want and ask for a compromise. Don't propose and cross your fingers that you'll want to get married later. See if there's a third option.

Of course, she might not budge on her demands. And if that's the case, you either give in or you don't based on what scares you more, losing her or marrying her.

I have no idea if I should go left or right. That's a bit weird, right? I mean, after four years, shouldn't the thought of losing her scare the heck out of you? You don't sound very scared to me. Marrying her because your friend tells you that you can't do better just isn't a good idea. You're supposed to do it because you're sure that life is better with her than without her. If you're not, well, there you go.

Readers? Could he really go either way? What’s the deal with proposal threats? Has she ruined this with her demands? Should he propose without living with her? As a 31-year-old who has been with her boyfriend for four years, is she allowed to expect a grown-up commitment? Discuss.

– Meredith

He hasn't cut off the other woman

Posted by Meredith Goldstein September 3, 2010 08:39 AM

Q: A few years ago my husband and I were separated for six months. We both felt like our marriage was ending -- we were living far from family and friends and we had no resources (like counseling) available to help us deal with it. The situation was miserable but we resolved to maintain a friendly co-parenting relationship. I moved back to Boston for work with our two small children -- absolutely the toughest months of my life. After a few more months, he landed a job here and moved.

Well, many of our older problems started to seem kind of trivial and we discovered that there were some very strong parts of our 10-year relationship that had survived. It seemed natural to start spending all our free time together, and after a few months he moved back in. He still tells me every day how much he loves me and how grateful he is for this second chance. We're making plans for buying a house. We're talking about having more children (we had both always dreamed of a big family). We have great friends and family who are happy to see us back together. And thankfully our children barely remember the time we were separated. Sometimes it seems like a bad dream -- although we both learned a lot about ourselves during that time and hopefully came out of it wiser.

Our relationship had several issues that led to the separation. We were married young and after 10 years, there were still issues both of us needed to resolve. But the immediate trigger was (of course!) another woman. She was quite a bit younger and she believed whatever he told her -- that he already planning to leave me, that he was sleeping on the couch, that he was staying around for the kids, etc. Now that we're back together, she still holds onto the idea that he's just sticking it out with me until our children grow older and will then be "free" again. She still e-mails him and tries to make plans with him occasionally. He answers her e-mails but hasn't seen her in person -- mostly he just tells her he's busy.

I would like him to set the record straight with her and explain that he was not quite so "finished" with his marriage as he made it appear. He doesn't think it's right to burden her with the knowledge that he lied and says she'll eventually figure out that he's serious about staying in our marriage and growing old with me. He says she's naive and a bit silly but genuinely a nice person and he doesn't want to hurt her feelings. What do you think? Would it be kinder for him to tell her the truth? It would certainly make me feel better, but then again, he hasn't done anything in these few years to give me a reason to worry and I don't want to be paranoid about this.

– The Other Woman Won't Give Up, Boston

A: You're right and your husband's wrong, TOWWGU.

There are only two reasons for your husband to be vague about his marital status with this other woman. Reason 1) He wants to know that she'll be waiting for him, just in case. Reason 2) He's behaving like a big-time coward because he feels ridiculous about leading her on for so long.

It's probably 2. It's usually 2. But 2 is still pretty bad. Yes, this woman should take the hint and stop waiting around for a guy who's living with his wife, but your husband is giving her reason to be confused.

He has to tell her for her sanity. He has to tell her for your sanity. He has to tell her because marital do-overs take courage. Your husband needs to prove he has some.

Your gut is right. By not being the bad guy, he's being the bad guy. It's sort of inexcusable.

Send him a link to this. Because I think everyone's going to agree with me (and you).

Readers? Is he really scared to hurt this other woman's feelings? Does he have to be cruel to be kind? Does he want this other woman around as a back-up plan? How can the letter writer make her husband understand why this is cowardly? Talk.

– Meredith

Her negativity is making me miserable

Posted by Meredith Goldstein August 10, 2010 09:00 AM

You know I love it when guys sparkle.

Q: I'm in a five-year common-law marriage with a woman I love and care very much about. We are in our mid 50s. She has chronic and sometimes debilitating physical problems, work problems, and personal estrangement issues. Her problems seem endless and often self-inflicted.

I have been there for her through it all, and consistently so. She is very appreciative of this and sees me as a "golden boy." Here's my problem. She is a kind, loving woman, but has nasty attitudes. One part of this is general sourness and cynicism. "Those people are awful." "Look at this idiot on TV." "Here's the story (again) of someone who ripped me off." It's endlessly negative and obsessive deep whining. (I've made assertive comments about it, which has improved things slightly.)

The other part is an egotistical attitude and inappropriate talk in public situations if she disrespects someone. This will sometimes be directed at me. Usually when she's having a bad day. It's not often and is usually subtle, but it bothers me.

I have tried to discuss specific incidents and the reaction is overwhelming, but generally a denial. "I didn’t say that," and "I’m not that kind of person." I’ve asked her if she's angry at me. She says she isn't and I believe it to be true. My request for counseling was dismissed. Having an argument is a very scary proposition. I believe her attitudes are basically about anger. Emotional abuse from childhood probably plays a part. (Menopause does not.)

In the past two years I've become kind of sullen, hypersensitive, and obsessed with all of this. It's a difficult undercurrent in our life, but our life is also reasonably good, too. Seems like a contradiction, I know. She is generally a good person. I was aware of her attitudes when we met, but it was very low key then.

– Sparkle Plenty, Boston

A: You are a golden boy, not a whipping boy, SP. I get that she has had a tough life, but she's becoming a jerk. She's abusing the guy she knows will put up with it. You're an easy target.

Tell her that her negativity is driving you away. Like – away, away. Don’t threaten to leave in some big, dramatic fashion (especially if you're bluffing), but make it clear that talking about this with a third party will help you remain happy in the relationship. It's not about her, it's about you. Assure her that you're not taking her to therapy to attack her. You're taking her to therapy to talk about how you feel.

To be honest, it sounds like you're afraid of her. That's bad. At the very least, you can start this process by going to therapy on your own. You need to figure out how to cope with your situation -- and to decide how much negativity you can shoulder before you break. I get that sometimes in life, people have the right to be miserable, but I have a problem with the fact that she's not worried about you. She hasn't said, "I know I can be a handful ... what do you need from me? What can I do to make things great for you?" Even when someone is sick, it's supposed to be a give and take.

I'm afraid that if you allow her to keep making these comments (even if you fight them by being assertive) you're going to lose your sparkle. Please don't. Take this seriously. Talk to someone.

Readers? How can he get the woman he loves into therapy? Can a negative person ever change? Does she have the right to be negative because of her ailments and problems? What should he do? Discuss.

– Meredith

We have different drives

Posted by Meredith Goldstein August 6, 2010 09:03 AM

It always comes back to food metaphors with us, even when it shouldn't.

Q: Meredith,

Love your column. I am an avid reader and part time poster. My problem is not a "do I stay or go" problem, but an appeal to the masses for advice on how to either fix it or learn to live with it.

A little background ... I'm about 40, female, with children from a previous relationship. My partner is about my age. We are getting married in a few months. He is, hands down, the most awesome man I have ever known. He is affectionate, loving, kind, easy-going, close to his mother, sexy, funny, etc. I never doubt that he loves me. I trust him completely (it's been a long time since I've been able to say that!). He tells me he loves me all the time, is respectful, a great step-dad-to-be, and my kids absolutely adore him. I honestly believe I have the best relationship of anyone I know.

So, what is the issue, right? Intimacy is RARE in our house -- especially intimacy that's centered on me. In the beginning it was great, but a few months after we started dating, it dwindled to weekends. Now it's become basically scheduled maintenance once a week. He has said he’s not a fan of intimacy at night, so I started setting my alarm. We ended up cuddling and chatting. For a while he said it was stress at work. That should be resolved by now because summers are easier for him. Finally we had a serious talk about it, and he said he was perfectly happy with intimacy once a week.

You probably noticed I specified that intimacy is rare when it's about me. He's very appreciative for all of the "attention" I shower on him -- and I am not the type to stop serving dishes just because I’m not getting fed in return. That seems petty and passive-aggressive, and it’s not the tone I want to set for our relationship.

When we do manage it, the intimacy is wonderful. When he comes to the table, he brings a five-star meal. Of course, I'm starving a few days later because it was really delicious, and I'm a fan of fine foods. He tells me he's attracted to me. He makes comments that let me know he finds me appealing. I'm in pretty decent shape -- a big gym person. He reassures me that he understands that he doesn't participate enough, and stresses that it’s not a reflection of his desire for me.

So, what do I do with this? It's not a deal-breaker. I'm old enough, and experienced enough to know that guys like him don't come around that often, especially willing to take on a single mom. But the prospect of being intimate three times a month for the next 40 years, ESPECIALLY when I know I have a master chef lying right next to me, is beyond frustrating.

– AandD, South of Boston

A: This is a big, loaded problem, AandD, but in some ways it's like any other relationship problem because the answer is compromise. On both sides. He can step up his game and you can manage your expectations. I would have the talk again. This time, make it less about what he lacks and more about how you can meet in the middle.

I understand that he's content with the schedule, but both of you have to be content for this to work. And really, it's not like you're asking him to do the dishes more often. There's something in it for him, too.

With some of these lack-of-intimacy letters, I suspect physical problems or depression. If he's participating once a week, I doubt that's the issue. Sounds more like laziness, stress, and his natural drive. Again, compromise. You have to respect his drive. Perhaps six times a month is all you're going to get. That's not so bad if he can make those six times all about you.

I'd also ask him how you can help get his mind in the right place to participate. Morning vs. evening is just one thing. But … a weekend away? Dinner out? Kids out of the house for a night?

Be sensitive. This is a problem that causes defensiveness and hurt feelings. You need to know that you can't expect everything you want. When you have your next conversation about this, maybe ask him what he'd like more of -- TV time? Cuddling? Alone time for him? See what's missing and where compromises can be made. That's more productive than, "I need more. Step up your game." Come up with a real strategy so it's not just a complaint.

And remind him that this is important. Sex and money. This is big stuff.

Readers? How do you deal with someone who says, "I’m fine with once a week." Is it wrong that he hasn’t tried to compromise already? Is she expecting too much? Discuss.

– Meredith

I tried another flavor

Posted by Meredith Goldstein August 5, 2010 07:55 AM

We all scream for ice cream.

Q: Meredith,

Longtime lurker, first time writer. I need your objective reasoning and advice with a somewhat complicated issue. To protect the innocent and not so innocent, I’ll make it a tale of two half gallons.

So, I’d love your take, as well as your readers, on the idea of passion versus love. I relate it to vanilla versus chocolate. Say you are married to vanilla. Vanilla is good. Vanilla is a perfectly acceptable dessert every night. Vanilla respects you, admires you. Vanilla has committed to always being in your freezer, whenever you need it. Vanilla is love.

Then there’s chocolate. One day, a bowl of chocolate gets set in front of you, and you scoop up a tentative spoonful. You’re mouth explodes with excitement. You want more. Chocolate satisfies your taste buds, makes you realize you *have* taste buds that vanilla seemingly never even knew existed. Chocolate all of a sudden takes over your appetite. You want it for breakfast lunch, and dinner, and THEN dessert. But, alas, this half-gallon belongs in someone else’s freezer. Pints find your way into your freezer here and there, and, in the meantime, you go back to vanilla. Chocolate is passion. Chocolate introduced itself to you, chocolate told you your freezer is the best freezer it’s ever been to. That it dreams of your freezer. You and your freezer feel the same way.

You start to notice vanilla’s flaws. But, vanilla is there for you, so you make do with vanilla, but dream about chocolate. You sneak a kiddie scoopful here, a pint there, but dream about having that half gallon in your freezer. There’s only room for one in there though, and you can’t bear giving vanilla the boot. Meanwhile, chocolate is attached to its own freezer anyway, and nearly melted the last time it tried to visit yours, and is now seemingly staying put where chocolate belongs.

So, the question is, how do you make yourself satisfied with the vanilla that’s yours, after you’ve had the taste of forbidden, but delectable chocolate? Vanilla is good. Sometimes, it’s rich and creamy and feels like a nice treat. But the taste of chocolate is still there, the craving for it, while dulled, is still there. You walk buy the freezer’s glass door every day and see the chocolate. You know not to even try to open the door that is locked, b/c it ain’t for sale, but that doesn’t mean you don’t pause to look. Can one go back to Happily Vanilla ever after? Will the desire for chocolate ever go away?

– I Could Eat Chocolate Ravenously Even After Meals, Foxborough

A: ICECREAM, what you're describing isn't vanilla vs. chocolate. It's vanilla vs. rocky road. And here's the thing about rocky road – it's awesome (so many marshmallows, nuts, etc.), but if you ate a dish of it every day, you'd get sick. It would make you want to puke. I swear.

I'm here to tell you that vanilla is the base of all things. It goes with everything. As you put it, vanilla is love.

All rocky road does is remind us of vanilla's potential. It gives us ideas for spicing up vanilla -- like toppings. Skittles? Fruit? Perhaps vanilla could be served with a slice of tart apple pie. Vanilla is flexible -- you just have to see its potential and ask for what you want.

Rocky road is a temporary joy. I'm telling you, if given the chance to have it live in your freezer for the rest of your life, you'd decline, especially if it meant never eating vanilla again. Can you imagine a life without vanilla? No vanilla ever? I can’t.

Desire for rocky road may never fade. And there will be desires for other flavors (I'm partial to coffee ice cream), but whenever you have these urges, remember how bitter the world would taste without vanilla. Rocky road is all hype.

Readers? Does she have to tell vanilla about rocky road? How do you suppress the urge to go out and get a rocky road brownie sundae when you're married to vanilla? Does this letter writer win for best sign-off ever? Discuss.

– Meredith

Should I marry him?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein August 4, 2010 07:35 AM

Most of the book reviews are in. Good job. Will post/pick a winner soon.

Chat at 1.

Q: Dear Meredith,

A year ago I met an intelligent, kindhearted, affectionate man who is also very cute and has a great career. He is incredibly good to me and tells me every day that he is in love with me. I am fairly certain that he intends to propose in the next few weeks and I’m feeling very panicky about it.

I know I’m incredibly fortunate and I should be ecstatic about the idea of spending my life with a man who will certainly be an excellent husband and father. However, some small part of me thinks that if I accept, I will be settling because I’m in my mid-30s and want to have a family of my own someday soon.

I do love him, but not in a madly passionate sort of way. We are good friends, we each enjoy the other's company, and we have similar values and temperaments. My family loves him and his family likes me very much too. We have frequent pajama parties that range from pleasant to very nice (but never mind-blowing). In short, I’m sure we could live together contently for decades to come, but do I want to settle for content?

My older relatives and married friends tell me that the mad passionate sort of love is just lust and it fades after a few years. They feel it is much better to settle down with a good person who I respect and admire. A good friend of mine, who is Indian and in a happy arranged marriage, tells me that my boyfriend and I have the perfect foundation for a good marriage. In fact, she believes people should be wary of making a commitment to someone who they are “madly in love with” because that sort of passion fades with time, leaving little common ground on which to base a partnership. My younger unmarried friends tell me to hold out for that mad passionate love.

I would love to hear your thoughts and the thoughts of your readers, particularly the long married ones.

– Cold Feet or Just Wary of Settling?, Boston

A: CFOJWOS, you're going to get a lot of stories today from people who married good/blah partners and wish they hadn't. You'll also probably hear from folks who married amazing, passionate partners and wound up getting their hearts broken. Then you'll hear from the people who learned that "settling for content" turned out to be the kind of love they always wanted. Everyone's story is different. No one knows the answer to your question.

Except for me, of course. And my answer is: stop this man from proposing. Tell him that you get the sense that he's about to take that big next step -- which is lovely -- but at the moment, you have no desire to go there with him. You're just not ready.

I'm not saying you should spend years wasting your/his time delaying a proposal, but you need to be able to evaluate this relationship without a big, romantic question hanging over your head.

I'll also say that our choices about partners are usually about timing and what's going on in our own heads. What I mean is, if you had met Mr. Nice Guy (your boyfriend), after a wild, passionate romance that blew up in your face, you might be twice as passionate about Mr. Nice Guy -- because he'd offer all that you lacked in your previous relationship.

We never get to know what else is out there, and choosing a mate is always a risk. Even if we start out confident, we might have doubts later on in a relationship. All you know is that right now, you have fears. Fear of missing out. Fear of settling. Fear of losing him. If you can spend some time considering those fears without thinking about marriage, you might be able to figure out which fear is most important to you.

Sometimes you have to let an itch get really, really itchy before you feel confident about scratching it. Make sense?

Readers? Could this go on indefinitely without a proposal or will the desire to stay or go become more obvious over time? Will you share your stories for her benefit? And should she use your stories to make any decisions about her own relationship? Discuss.

– Meredith

We avoid his ex

Posted by Meredith Goldstein August 2, 2010 09:23 AM

It's August. That's weird.

Q: Dear Meredith,

My husband was married once before. He and his ex-wife are both from another country and share many friends from their ethnic community in common. These relationships with people from home are important to both of them.

When I first started seeing him, his ex-wife's behavior made me uncomfortable. I don't want to belabor the point but I'll give one example. We had been dating for 2 months and he bumped into her out at a bar on his way to the bathroom. She asked to meet me. I didn't see any reason to know (or size up) his ex-wife, so we left. Over the next few weeks she called him regarding finances but would bring me up and try to make comparisons between us. Once she told him she was going to send him a picture of herself that she liked.

I am not now nor was I ever insecure about his past relationship, thanks in large part to my husband's consideration for me in that regard. But we both got the impression that his ex-wife was insecure and that our relationship bothered her. I encouraged my then boyfriend to limit his contact with her. She complained to mutual friends about him cutting her out but he defended his actions, and me, saying that his current relationship was his priority. He told me his friends were understanding.

However, this was a few years past and we are married now. As we are often invited to the same gatherings and parties as his ex-wife (who I still have not formally met), I wonder if I should stop avoiding her. We always call ahead to find out if she will be there. My husband doesn't like to socialize with her, but the truth is I'm the real reason we avoid events with his ex. What do you think? My guess is that she has moved on by now. Is time for me to move on regardless? Should I be willing to socialize with her? Or am I right to try and keep his past at a distance?

– Got the (Great) Guy, Boston

A: GTGG, I'm impressed that your husband has done so much to make you comfortable and that he has been honest with you about his communication with his ex. Two thumbs up for your husband.

I'm not so sure that this woman has moved on after three years. Frankly, it sounds like she's intrusive because she’s competitive, and that doesn't go away. And she's probably less likely to be nice after years of being "shut out." But it's worth giving her the benefit of the doubt. Show up to an event. Be nice. See if she can be nice back.

If it doesn't feel right, try not to cross paths again. Or -- accept the fact that this woman is going to look you up and down when she sees you and offer to send pictures of herself to your husband. Make the decision with him to laugh it off and enjoy the gatherings without taking her too seriously.

Either way, I think your husband will appreciate the attempt. It's his community, after all. And if you can give it a shot after all of these years, I think you'll feel better (and less guilty) about whatever events you decide to skip in the future.

Readers? Is it fair that they skip events because the ex-wife is there? How does one cope with an aggressive ex? How should the letter writer deal with this? Discuss.

– Meredith

I'll be his second proposal

Posted by Meredith Goldstein July 15, 2010 09:02 AM

Those of you coming to the movie tonight -- get there early to get a good seat.

Those of you who didn't get tickets -- please join us at the after-party anyway at Flat Top Johnnys in Kendall Square. We should get there by 9:30, so just see a different movie at Kendall at 7 and we'll meet you over there. Maybe "I Am Love" at 6:40? That would get you out at about the same time.

Q: Hi Meredith,

I don't know if this is one of your typical questions or not, but I'm sort of stuck as to where to go from here.

My boyfriend and I have been together for over a year and half. He's one of the best things that has ever happened to me and we're both head over heels in love. All we do is laugh, have fun, and enjoy each others company. We work together, live together, and have talked about our future with one another. About six months ago, my boyfriend surprised me and took me ring shopping. We found the "perfect" ring (he didn't purchase it then) and went home giddy with excitement over our future.

My hold-up here is this: My boyfriend has been engaged before. He was with someone for almost four years but they broke it off eight months before the wedding. I'm not doubting that he's ready to be with me, marry me, or anything like that. My problem is that I keep thinking, "What if he plans the same proposal?" (which I can fully admit is SUPER silly to even think about let alone stress about). I'm also thinking "will he be as happy/excited/nervous as he was the first time?" I've asked him if he'd share with me the details about how he proposed to his ex, but he told me that he didn't want me to compare the two and that he doesn't feel comfortable sharing that with me as it is in the past. He's been super honest about everything in his past in regards to his ex. Do I tell him it's something that is bothering me or do I let it go? Thank you!

– Silly Girl in Central Mass

A: Yes, the proposal is SUPER silly to stress about, SGICM. It will be different because he's proposing to you. It will be different because he's older and wiser. And do you really think he'd duplicate his first proposal? Give him some credit, please.

My guess is that your anxiety has more to do with your boyfriend's ability to make it work this time around. He was with his ex for four years and the relationship ended. He wants to marry you, but it has only been a year and a half. I don't think that means anything, but I can understand why you'd want proof that he knows what he's doing.

Be honest with yourself. If this is really about understanding why it's different with you, talk to him about that. Let him convince you. But really, get the rest of it out of your head. Second proposals are no less special.

Readers? Is this really about the proposal or is she denying a greater fear about his commitment? What are the odds he's planning the same proposal? Does it matter? What's the story here? Be nice.

– Meredith

Am I having an emotional affair?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein July 12, 2010 07:30 AM

Looking forward to seeing some of you at the movies on Thursday.

Q: Dear Meredith,

Like everyone else, I never thought I would write. For one, I am married, so I never thought I had reason to. Until now. I have no idea where to begin. There are so many different chapters to this story.

I had a baby almost a year ago, my second. With my first, I had postpartum and cried a lot because she never wanted to sleep in her crib at night. When I got close to my due date with my second, my excitement turned into anxiety of repeating the few months of what happened before.

Fast forward, I had the baby. While home on maternity leave, I saw the internet as a lifeline -- my connection to the outside world. I also started chatting on Facebook with someone I'll call Brian. Brian had friend-requested me a few months prior to this point and we exchanged a few msgs here and there. Because of his job, Brian kept the same hours I did. So after I had the baby, we chatted often, catching up. Instead of fearing the last feeding, I stayed up until then (2AM) and looked forward to it. I truly believe that he helped keep the postpartum from returning. I thought of Brian as a distraction. When I returned to work, my hours would be back to normal, no more five hour chats (no exaggeration.)

Brian and I had liked each other in school. We were too young to date and so it was one of those young teen crushes. He ended up moving a few hours away and that was the last I saw of him. He called me about 20 years ago when I was in college and told me that he still had feelings for me. I was flattered, but dating someone, so we lost touch again. Throughout this time, I have thought about him off and on, wondering whatever happened to him and what he's doing now. Now, it turns out, he and I are both married, both have kids. And he still lives a couple of hours away.

He is also not a distraction. It's been about eight months and we still chat, text, and call. Lately, I find myself not being able to stop thinking about him, and according to him, the feeling is mutual. He has also recently told me that his feelings for me never went away, and he has thought about me too all along. That doesn't scare me off at all.

Don't get me wrong, I love my husband. This letter isn't to ask you if I married the wrong guy. I know I did not and if given the choice, I would still pick my husband over anyone. I know the grass isn't greener, and I'm not looking to explore that. My friends tell me that adult crushes and flirting is healthy, and maybe they are. Brian is planning a visit to the area to see family and we have tentative plans to get together when he does. My husband knows I have reconnected with him and told him if he wasn't comfortable with us getting together, then I wouldn't. He's OK with it. And no, I would never physically cheat on him.

My question is whether you think I am emotionally cheating on him. Is it okay to be in love with two people? And could this be love, or just still a puppy crush from 20 years that hasn't gone away.

– Mrs. Brightside, Massachusetts

A: MB, I believe that you have no intention of starting anything physical with Brian. And for the record, I do think it's OK for people to have friendships with exes and past crushes, even if they're married, even if the interaction with those exes still causes butterflies. I mean, whatever gets you through a 2 a.m. breast feeding, right?

But (you knew there would be a "but," right?) Brian has a wife. Brian tells you he still has feelings for you. You chat with Brian frequently. I'm all for getting an ego boost from an ex-crush every now and then, but Brian has become a part of your routine. I'm not loving that.

I can't tell you whether you're cheating on your husband. I don't mean to cop out on my answer, but cheating is subjective. Some people think that going out alone with someone who is not your spouse is cheating. Other people think it's cool to sleep with other people as long as there's disclosure. Every couple comes up with its own rules.

I do think you should be concerned about what Brian represents and how he will affect your marriage. You want to be with your husband now, but if you continue to bond with Brian, will you stay committed to your marriage? What if Brian asks for more? What if your husband eventually decides that he’s uncomfortable? Are you prepared for all of the problematic possibilities?

My advice is to limit your interaction with Brian. I know, I know -- you don't want to. But is his attention worth all of the risks? And do you really understand what those risks are? Do some soul searching about where this is supposed to go, because like all relationships, it has to go somewhere.

Readers? Is she cheating? Does it matter that her husband condones the contact with Brian? Is she really in love with two people? Is this a post-baby thing? Discuss.

– Meredith

Missing my fiance

Posted by Meredith Goldstein July 2, 2010 10:24 PM

Happy almost fireworks.

Q: Meredith, I met my ex-fiancé in another state in 2004. We'd been out of college for a few years and working while applying to grad schools. He was accepted to a MPH program in Boston and I agreed to move there with him despite it being very hard to leave my friends and family. We have been living in Boston for a few years and have been doing quite well, though both of us are very busy and not very social. He asked me to marry him last fall and I ecstatically accepted his proposal. We had set a wedding date and had told everyone about it, bridesmaids and groomsmen, the whole nine yards. However, earlier this year I began talking to a man who I see at work. As the months went by we talked a lot just being friendly, him giving me advice on where me and my fiancé could go for our honeymoon, where me and my fiancé could move after we had saved up enough money. However, it was apparent, at least to me that there was this connection.

One day, he said he loved everything about me and that I was his favorite person, but in a platonic way. I was shocked to find he felt the same way about me as I did about him and a few days later I said I felt the same way. From there our talks became almost entirely centered on how great each of us thought the other person was. I was convinced that though there were these feelings, I would never act on them and thus everything would be fine. One weekend when my fiance was out of town, I slept with my "friend." I've slept with him several times since as well. Eventually, I made the decision to break the engagement -- not because my "friend" wanted me to be with him, as my friend was actually very adamant this not be about him and that it would have to be something I would do whether he was around or not -- but out of guilt that I cheated on my fiancé and my feeling that he would be better off without me.

It has been five weeks since we broke up and I moved out. Over the last eight days I have been alone a lot since my "friend" has been out of town, and I am beginning to feel more and more that I have made a huge mistake. My fiancé and I are great together, and though we never had the most passionate of relationships, we do have some passion, and we have been together for five years and worked wonderfully well together until my infidelity. If I try to get back with my fiancé, I feel almost certain he will take me back with some begging, but not if he knows I cheated on him. And if he took me back and somehow found out about my indiscretions he would be hurt again and possibly worse. I also feel that the relationship with my "friend" will never work since it is severely tainted because of the circumstances during which it began.

This whole thing makes me sick and my gut tells me the only way this will end well is if I sever ties with both.

– Wanting my fiancé back, Massachusetts

A: I appreciate that your gut wants to bail on everyone, WMFB. My gut tells me that your gut should probably be alone so that you can do some soul searching.

See how you feel when your "friend" is around more often. You said it yourself -- you started to miss your ex when your "friend" went out of town. Sounds to me like this is a fear of being alone.

If you continue to regret your decision to end the relationship with your ex and you decide you want to do some begging, please come clean about everything -- not just the affair but all of your insecurities. Your relationship might have been great, but quite obviously you weren't ready to commit for the long haul. Talk about the busy schedules. Talk about how life in Boston has changed the relationship.

It might do your ex some good to know the truth. Maybe he'll forgive you, maybe he won't. But he'll probably be relieved to get some answers. I'm sure he's been wondering why you left him. I'm sure he's been struggling to make sense of it all. He might be open to moving on from this with you if he knows and understands what he's moving on from. Make sense? I’m all for coming clean.

Readers? Is this just a fear of being alone? Should she keep the affair to herself and move on from both? What does her affair suggest about her engagement? Is it possible that her relationship with the "friend" could work? Discuss.

– Meredith

Falling for the gym friend

Posted by Meredith Goldstein June 24, 2010 06:48 AM

There's a lot going on in this letter. I mean, a lot.

Q: Dear Meredith,

I met my wife on vacation in college. We had a fun couple of days then went our separate ways. Daily e-mails turned into phone calls that turned into her staying with me for a month. After graduations and a summer together, I went into the military and she went off to grad school. We were again miles apart, but kept the relationship alive with nightly phone calls and bimonthly trips to see each other. We were married by year's end, a mere nine months after first meeting.

We continued the long distance now-marriage while she finished her degree -- until I was diagnosed with an illness. She left school to come be with me and although I had numerous no-kidding near death moments, I pulled through. The military decided I should be medically retired. We were in our mid-20s at this point.

Realizing that I was going to be jobless in a few months, my wife took her dream job a few states away. I was supposed to join her six months later when I was released from the military. During this time I had a gut feeling that something wasn't right and I considered not moving out to be with her.

I was able to get into her e-mail accounts and found suspicious emails between her and another guy. She said that nothing had happened but that we were losing touch. We decided I would come out and we would work on our marriage. Our marriage remained pretty rocky with frequent arguments. Then she received a promotion which moved us to Boston.

Things were going well in Boston and we decided to have a baby. We were blessed with a healthy son and I was fortunate to get a great job.

A few years after moving to Boston I started seeing regular e-mail and text contact between my wife and the guy, and I again got into her accounts to try and find some sort of evidence. I ended up finding some suspicious email between her and different man. We agreed that we had other issues and that we should try marriage counseling.

My wife eventually confessed she'd had an affair. My first reaction was "It's over," but over time I agreed to continue with the marriage counseling. While my wife started to put forth great effort to improve our marriage I didn't feel the same way about her that I had; I just fell out of love. This is where things get complicated. For the past few months I have been friends with a girl I see at the gym who is younger, married, and has a child. It started out innocently but escalated into hand-holding and lengthy chats about what we were doing and how we felt.

Now I'm wondering if I'll ever be able to feel the same way about my wife that I once did. Given all of our other issues I believe I will just be settling and not truly happy. I don't believe I will ever be able to trust her and I believe we may be incompatible.

And are my feelings for this new woman real? If we end our marriages, we'll need time alone, and she should have a chance to be single. Are we doomed anyway and is what we are having just a means to tell us we don't want to be married anymore?

– Marital Troubles, Boston

A: MT, you're falling for your gym friend for all of the reasons you fell for your wife years ago. Gym friend wants to get to know you. You have intimate conversations with her. You have dates. Isn't that how it started with your wife back in the day?

You were in the military for a long time. Then you were dealing with an illness. That means you didn't have time to learn to live like a normal couple and experience being in a relationship with the usual, everyday stresses. Staying happily married is sometimes more difficult when you're living together with jobs, routines, a kid, and threats to your relationship.

I understand she had an affair, but before you see your wife and raise her one, sit down with her and talk. Find out what she wants. In therapy again, if possible. Don't divorce her in your head just yet. I think it would do you both good to have some verbal diarrhea about all that's happened in the last few years and how you want to proceed.

What I don't want you to do is commit to your new gym friend in your head before you deal with your wife. Gym friend is a catalyst. Gym friend is a reminder of what you want from your marriage. And if you lived with gym friend and paid bills with her, she'd be a different gym friend, maybe more like your wife.

This is between you and your wife -- not between you and gym friend, and not something you decide by yourself. I'm not trying to get your hopes up, but sometimes hitting rock bottom with someone brings you closer. Sometimes you can get to know someone all over again. Sometimes you build the friendship that's been missing. It's worth finding out if it's possible. And if not, you'll have come up with a plan with your wife instead of around her.

Readers? What does gym friend represent? Can he save this marriage? Was the distance a factor in his marriage? What should he do? Discuss.

– Meredith

A mediocre marriage

Posted by Meredith Goldstein May 26, 2010 09:22 AM

Remember to RSVP for the June 4 Love Letters/ Extra Bases party to We need to know how many free cars to bring.

Just kidding. No one is getting a free car.

And remember to chat at 1.

Q: Hi Mere,

I have been a faithfully devoted reader of yours even though I have moved to NY.

I have been married for five years. I am 27 years old and I have a very young child with my husband "Steve."

Like I said, Steve and I have been married five years, but we've been together for almost a decade. We met online when I was a junior in high school. Anywho, to make a long story even longer, after talking online for two years, we met, connected, and were engaged within a year. I was engaged by the time I was 20 ... and also very overweight. I love Steve, always have, always will. I just feel like things are off between us.

When we were about a month away from our wedding, I found out he had been online, trading pictures with women and commenting on their pictures. He was so apologetic, and to be honest, I was scared that I would never find anyone else because I was so overweight. And I loved him, so, so much. So I went through with the wedding.

He is my best friend, really and truly, and I would tell him all of this if I didn't think it would hurt him. We have been separated once before, a few years ago for a few months. We decided to try to work it out. The next year I had our child. Since then (well, for longer than just then) things have been strained between us. I have lost A LOT of weight (something snapped inside me when I realized that I had another life to worry about) and slowly but surely I lost 112 lbs. So here we are, 2010, 112 lbs lighter, in a whole lot better shape (I actually fit in for society's standards), and more confident. Not completely though.

Since about a year after we started dating, we have had issues with our "frequency" *ahem*. At the beginning, we were all over each other, then it became less frequent, maybe once every other week, then once a month, then once every other month. Now I am lucky if it happens every three or four months. Like I said, I am 27, I have a young child, and I am so scared. He is an EXCELLENT father and he loves me, but I don't feel as though he is IN LOVE with me. I don't even know if I'm in love with him at this point. I gave up my job so that he could take his dream job in NY and now I am a stay at home mom and I spend all day alone with my son (have been going to Mommy and Me classes, but those haven't been working out for us the greatest).

I just want to know what you would do in my situation. Does a passion-filled-relationship exist? Is it possible to have someone that is IN LOVE with me, as well as treat me with respect? I don't think it's fair to have my child grow up with my husband and I having just a friendship. I don't want my child to think a relationship can't be more. Will anyone else want me even though I have a baby? Or should I just accept what I am in and realize that I am lucky to be married to a friend? I asked Steve to go to therapy with me and he said that he "doesn't need it."

Steve wants me to figure out what it is that I want and to talk to him about it when I have decided. I don't know what to do. I hope you can help ...

– Oh, So Confused, NY

A: OSC, you know what bothers me most about your letter? This: "Steve wants me to figure out what it is that I want and to talk to him about it when I have decided."

Um ... does Steve not have an opinion? He quite obviously hasn't rallied and yelled, "I love you. Please don't leave."

I cringe at the thought of telling anyone to get divorced, so I'll say it advice-columnist-style. You are way too young to be in a relationship with a guy who makes you feel like a roommate. Kid or no kid, you deserve to be in a happy household, especially at your age.

I can't promise you that the transition out of your marriage would be easy, and I certainly can't promise that there will be some awesome guy who appears out of nowhere and says, "Wow, I'd like to help you raise your baby." But there might be. And at the very least, there would be hope.

Steve's lack of accountability in this process is what makes me think that he's already banking on a split. He's refusing therapy. He is what he is. He's a good father -- which will come in handy whether you're in the same house or not -- but he's not a good husband, at least not for you. If he has no plans to change, you have to think about what's best for you and this baby. I think it's pretty important to have parents who are full of hope about life. You seem to feel the same way.

Readers? Should she stay? Is there something to be salvaged here? Are people open to dating someone with a very young child? Is here weight loss an issue here? Discuss.

– Meredith

Do I walk if he doesn't propose?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein May 3, 2010 09:00 AM

Boil this letter before consuming.

Q: So to start, I am 23 and my boyfriend is 28. We have been together for four years now. After about a year together things got serious, we moved in soon after, and have been living together for about three years. I never wanted to get married (and yes, I've been in love before). I saw my parents relationship turn to something horrible, and I have always said I didn't see why people need a piece of paper to prove anything. Until now. I want to marry my boyfriend.

We have had the "future talk" and he says that he doesn't know what he would do with out me and that he knows that I am the woman he wants to marry. With our four-year anniversary coming up this month, I have brought up the marriage thing again. He says that he knows he will ask me but that he does not know when. He said that he would like to be more financially stable, and that there is nothing wrong with our relationship so why do we need to change it. He also points out the fact that he has at least three friends that have been in relationships for seven to 15 years and are not married still.

I have never said, "I want to be married within ...," and I have always said that I would never give a guy an ultimatum. I have said that when I'm ready, I will make sure the guy knows, and then it's up to him to make his move. I've said that if he did not make a move in the time I thought was acceptable, the relationship would be over. Although I did not state that five years is my deadline, I did make it obvious that five years is my time frame before I would walk out. When I said that I would just leave, my bf said he didn't think that was true -- that I wouldn't just up and leave over getting married. I explained that if I gave a guy an ultimatum I would always feel that he only married me b/c I was ready, even though he wasn't. I would just leave and never look back and think "what if" because I would know that I put everything I could into the relationship and it didn’t work. Soooo ... is it wrong to walk away after five years if we are not engaged -- or if our relationship is good should a piece of paper not really matter?

– Hopeless Romantic, Westborough

A: HR, you say you're not giving him an ultimatum, but "I did make it obvious that five years is my time frame" means you have. Just because you've passive-aggressive about the deadline doesn't mean it's not an ultimatum. He knows that if he doesn't make a move within the next year, he may lose you. And he's already said he's calling your bluff. He doesn't think you'll actually leave. He's matching your passive-aggressive behavior with his own. Awesome.

It seems crazy to walk from a good relationship because you've set an arbitrary deadline based on what makes you feel comfortable. Wanting a proposal after four years isn't crazy. But what does it mean to you? Why do you need it? Do you fear that he's not being honest about his intentions? Is this about needing security? Or is it just that you feel as though a person should be able to commit after five years and that there's something wrong if he can't?

You seem to know that the important thing isn't the wedding or the paper. You know that it's more important that you both share the same goals and that you both intend to follow through. Your boyfriend seems to share your promise and your plan, except for the marriage thing. Are you worried that he won't follow through? If so, you need to explain that to him.

It seems to me that the two of you define "marriage" rather differently. For him, it's a party celebrating what already exists. For you, it's about solidifying a promise.

Abandon all deadlines. Abandon all rules. Just sit down and talk to him about what you want without being passive-aggressive about it. Instead of threatening each other, talk about what you want and how you can get there without rushing him or making you wait 15 years. That seems to be what’s missing here -- a simple conversation to come up with a plan that suits both your needs.

Readers? Should she walk if he doesn't meet the deadline? After four years, should he know? Is this about him not knowing? Is it OK to want to wait 15 years if the status quo is good? And ... is this just about different perceptions and definitions of marriage? Share.

– Meredith

Help me save my marriage

Posted by Meredith Goldstein April 23, 2010 08:59 AM

I think this makes the best-of list for Love Letters lines:

"How do you convince someone you'll love them till death without dying?"

Q: Hi Meredith,

I must admit I never thought I would be the guy asking for advice on my relationship, but here I am ... on the verge of a divorce from my college love. I need help because I don't want to lose her, but she seems to be bent on becoming a new person and starting a new life.

So let me preface this story of an ending by telling you a little bit about the beginning. Many years ago, when we met in college, she had the courage to call me up blindly and tell me that she had been stalking me for a couple weeks. This was our freshman year. Her confidence and overall attractiveness sold me. We met and instantly liked each other. It wasn't instant love or a passionate college romance, but we had fun and grew to really love each other by college graduation. In fact I knew that someday I would marry her.

She moved in a year after graduation. We did everything together and we enjoyed many of the same things. But as we grew more accustomed to each other, I think some of that sparkle in our eyes started disappearing. The love got stronger but sex was rare. I was OK with that. The problem was, she wasn't OK with that. Over the years I think she started to doubt her attractiveness and self worth, even though I would constantly give her praise and attention. She needed actions not words, and I tried, but the pressure of my job, my sick parents, and everything else pertaining to daily life was weighing on me. I had a hard time being the romantic that she wanted me to, even though I tried my hardest.

The issues persisted year after year, and we had conversations on a quarterly basis about how we'd fix it, but we never did. Both of us just talked, agreed, and then crossed our arms. She didn't do anything and neither did I. I'm not sure why. She started gaining a lot of weight and started working late just to avoid me, and I feel like she would try and say things just to annoy me so that I would hate her. But all I kept doing was trying to get her out of her rut. Maybe I was too supportive. I don't know. Maybe I was a friend and not a lover. Again, I'm not sure. But as our friendship grew, our passion disappeared.

Fast forward to last year, we're in marriage counseling, she's in exit mode and I'm trying to convince her to look forward not back. I have a new job. My parents are still sick, but I'm more comfortable now with their situation. I was and still am a changed man, and I have been constantly fighting, hoping that she'll have an epiphany of some sort -- an epiphany about who I am and how much I really mean to her.

For the past two years, she has been telling me that she is confused. She doesn't know what she wants, but she knows that she has a hard time forgetting our past. She has a hard time processing the downs, and she doesn't focus on the ups. She's depressed and upset and no matter how much I tell her I love her, she doesn't believe me. "Why now?" she would ask. "Why do you try hard now?" And all I could do was say that "When times got bad, I realized what I really wanted, and it was you" -- and that was the honest truth.

I love and I want my wife more than ever, but she tells me she can't get past what's happened. She can't get over the doubt. She moved out of the house and it has been months now since I last saw her. I cry every day, I'm on a rollercoaster of emotions. I still want her as my wife but how do you convince someone you love them till death without dying? We were born to be together, but a blip in our past is blinding her future. I am willing to do whatever it takes to keep her. Is there anything I can do???

– Dog Willing to Try New Tricks

A: First of all, DWTTNT, what you're describing doesn't sound like a blip to me. I'm not trying to make you feel worse, but your wife dealt with years of rejection and self-doubt.

I feel for her. It probably took a great deal of courage for her to make the decision to let you go. Then, just as she's feeling confident about her choice, you rally. Talk about confusing.

I don't know what you can do to fix this besides words followed by actions, assuming she's open to either. It's about classic, consistent wooing. It's about showing her that you want what she wants.

But before you do any more lobbying, please think about what you really desire. She felt unattractive because you didn't want to sleep with her. Do you want to sleep with her now? She felt as though the romance was gone. Are you feeing romantic about her now?

If your angst and pain over the loss of her is really about losing your best friend, think hard about whether you should be begging her to come home. Some people are very happy just being best friends with their partner after a decade or so. Your wife has made it clear that she wants more, that her definition of marriage involves romance and passion from start to finish. If you can't live up to that expectation (or have no desire to), consider what's best for both of you.

You both love each other to death. I don't think she's really questioning that. She's questioning whether you have similar goals for your marriage. Do you?

Readers? What can he do to get her back? Should he get her back? Is this too little, too late? Why isn’t she responding to his new agenda? Help.

– Meredith

She's lost that loving feeling

Posted by Meredith Goldstein April 15, 2010 08:24 AM

Tax day.

Q: Love your column. I never thought I would I have to write you but my situation is getting to me. Married seven years with three wonderful kids. I love my wife dearly. I'm more attracted to her now then when we first dated. But here's my problem. Our lack of intimacy and her lack of affection is killing me. She is never in the mood, never initiates. She never tells me she appreciates me. I have told her how I felt and how much this hurts me. I have cried during our discussion yet she thinks there isn't an issue (readers, please go easy on me). She is always turning me down. Nothing hurts more then being rejected by your significant other time after time. Sometimes I just want to give up.

She thinks I don't understand her and I'm unreasonable. I do understand we have three very active kids and both work. I cook and prepare dinner on most nights. I help feed, bathe, read and help our oldest with homework every night. (This is the reason why it irks me when she claims she is too tired for intimacy.) When she has had a rough and stressful day at work, I try my best to keep the kids away from her and let her relax. I'm not looking for praises from others. I just want acknowledgement from my wife and not be taken for granted.

I don't want a divorce, it's not an option. I don't want my kids shuttling back and forth between parents. We both adore our kids. If we were to separate, it pains me how this will affect my kids life. I want to work things out. I love her dearly and want to spend the rest of my life with her. But this emptiness is killing me. I have suggested counseling but she thinks we don't have any issue. She's very adamant against counseling and thinks I'm overreacting. Meredith and readers please help me. Can counseling help my marriage? I'm I asking for too much?

– Sometimes Love Is Not Enough, Cambridge

A: Love is almost always enough, SLINE, especially when love involves considering your partner's needs. You're not asking for too much. You want your wife to be more than a friend. You're attracted to her. That's pretty great.

But something seems to be missing in your letter. When she says you don't understand her, what is she talking about? It makes me wonder whether there's a bigger reason she isn't interested in affection. Like … a chemical thing. Sometimes we lose our drives for reasons that are beyond our control. Sometimes a medical doctor winds up being more of a help than a head doctor.

Here's my thought: e-mail her. Write a letter to your wife. She can wave off a problem in person, but in writing, she'll have to put it into words. It might be a more comfortable way for her to say uncomfortable things.

You can tell her how much this is getting to you. You can tell her that you're concerned that the lack of intimacy will drive you apart. You can explain that intimacy doesn't have to mean sex. If she's exhausted and simply wants to cuddle while watching "House," that would be nice. She may believe that this is an overreaction and that intimacy isn't a key part of your relationship, but you don't agree. Ask her in writing what she wants to do about this. You're certainly open to suggestions, unless her suggestion is to ignore the problem.

And most importantly, ask her what you're missing. Is it just the hectic schedule? Is there more? Is it something physical? She's saying you don't understand her. You want to understand her. You're ready to listen.

Something tells me she won't brush you off in writing. As many of our letter writers will tell you, writing is a good way to get some quick, clear honesty. Make her do that. If she can't, therapy is just about the only option.

Readers? How can the letter writer get his partner to listen? Any thoughts? Discuss.

– Meredith

ABOUT LOVE LETTERS: Welcome to Love Letters, the place for love advice (giving and getting). Globe relationship columnist Meredith Goldstein and readers are ready to take your letters and tell you what's what. Have a question? Click here to submit or email us at
Blogger Meredith Goldstein

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.

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