You Need Help: You Want Different Things

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Welcome to You Need Help! Where you’ve got a problem and yo, we solve it. Or we at least try.

I officially came out about a year ago. I dated a few girls until I met my girlfriend. We’ve been together almost a year, and my emotional and physical connection to her is amazing; it’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. As we are approaching a year, however, I’m starting to realize that logically, we are total opposites. Finding her made me realize I wanted a family someday when I never did before; in one breath she says this is what she wants, and the next she is saying the type of life she wants to lead isn’t one where children would work (traveling, moving from place to place, etc.). I’ve always known that I needed someone who was better with finances than myself, yet I fell for a girl who can’t get this part of her life in order. No matter what I suggest she do (and I’ve held back a lot) she always has an excuse about why that won’t work — it’s like she’s not willing to change this. And since I want a child and it’s absolutely going to cost us money, this concerns me. The list really, truly goes on unfortunately. So here I am, absolutely smitten with a girl who, when I look at it logically, probably isn’t right for what I want. I feel like I answer my own question over and over, but I need guidance and someone else to tell me I’m not crazy. Or maybe tell me I am crazy. Do I pass up this amazing love that I’ve been waiting forever for? Or do I spend my life wishing things would change when they might not (and probably won’t)?

Hello. You should break up with your girlfriend. I know. Stay with me.

The minute you start to worry about all the life stuff together is the minute it starts being relevant. In some relationships, this happens almost instantly. In others, it never happens at all. There are plenty of healthy relationships between partners who only agreed to be partners because they’d established they want the same things in the areas they consider important. And there are so many healthy relationships that never look forward, that opt out of the relationship escalator, that are content to stay at the same level — still growing forward as people and together, but not necessarily growing more enmeshed. Both these scenarios are fine and can be beautiful but they are not yours. You’ve been together a while, and from the boxes you are concerned about checking — children, finances, the type of life you each want to lead and what that might look like together, enmeshed — the problem is this: your relationship and your girlfriend have been working for you so far, but you don’t know whether they’re going to work in the future. It sounds like to move forward, one of you either has to resign themselves to living a sort of life they don’t want, or you have to break up.

Here is what will happen if you stay together: you will still be together, for weeks or months or years or decades. You are smitten now, but being smitten is not enough to make up for giving up so many other things you want. Resentment will, sooner or later, overtake your love and your relationship and your life. That amazing physical and emotional connection will wither. You will see your girlfriend as holding you back, as stopping you from living your best life — and if you’re hesitating to leave now, after a year, imagine how you will feel in two or five or ten more, when you’ve rearranged your life and goals around this person who, “logically, probably isn’t right for what [you] want.” You might find a way to make this situation work, but you might never be truly happy or satisfied or content with either your relationship or your life. You will still break up eventually, but you will be so much more enmeshed, and you will talk yourself out of it time and again because of sunk costs or because of how hard it will be or because you just don’t know what to do next, and it will be so, so much harder.

Here is what will happen if you break up: it is going to suck. It is going to suck so much. You are going to have to look across the table at the person you love most in the world and tell her that you shouldn’t be together any more because you have different answers to different life questions and you’re ready to consider those questions. (You do not need to be ready to act on them, but a certain point knowing in your heart that, say, you have a different opinion on having children than your partner becomes too much to handle.) She may or may not agree. You are going to cry, and she is going to cry, and the second the words are out there you are going to wish you could put them back in your mouth because anything seems better than facing all the feelings you’re suddenly having. Face them. Pack up your life together. Do the hard scary thing. When you are faced with it, when it is happening, it is amazing how easy the hard scary thing can be.

My ex-partner and I had a ten-year age difference, and before we had our very first date we had already discussed, in brief, the big things that would end us — for her, maybe wanting to have kids soonish, while I do not, and for me, being poly and kinky, while she is not. I am grateful that we did not let these discussions stop us from dating and living together for almost three years, because our relationship shaped the person I am and want to become and because I will always hold the best of what we had together in my heart, but I am also so so grateful we broke up when we did, because at a certain point you have to admit you know who you are and what you want even if that means not knowing who you are and what you want, and you have to go for it, for your life, as hard as you can.

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Ryan Yates

Ryan Yates was the NSFW Editor (2013–2018) and Literary Editor for, with bylines in Nylon, Refinery29, The Toast, Bitch, The Daily Beast, Jezebel, and elsewhere. They live in Los Angeles and also on twitter and instagram.

Ryan has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. “The minute you start to worry about all the life stuff together is the minute it starts being relevant.”

    boom. yes.

  2. I relate to this so much. My ex-partner, who is older than me, was resentful of the fact that I wasn’t in a place in my life where I could procreate, and making me feel bad about being 22 and childless, when logically, it is PERFECTLY normal to be 22 and childless. TWENTY-TWO IS YOUNG. And then, I wanted big things in my life, like being an expat and traveling a lot and raising global citizens. She was more into living in a mcmansion in the suburbs of the midwest. I liked the idea of raising my children on land and with chickens and going camping and keeping them electronics-free as long as possible. She was addicted to video games. Etc etc etc. That’s only a very small part of why we broke up, but it was still a part and it bred other issues.
    I will say, though, that saying that traveling and moving a lot isn’t conducive to procreating is a sorry excuse. I was raised that way, and so was my mother. For both of us, when we were kids we really liked the idea of never leaving a place once we turned 18, but that didn’t happen for my mother, who went on to continue living nomadically. And I shudder at the idea of staying in a place too long, especially here in the US. I’d get bored. And how are you supposed to be globally minded and exist outside of a bubble if you never leave your small white Midwestern town?
    Breaking up is going to suck so hard. But you can do it, I promise. Future you will thank you.

  3. Whoa, disagree. Or at least, I wouldn’t divest just yet (unless that’s what you want to do, and you just needed someone to tell you that).

    You’ve been together a year. While I do agree with (my mother’s) conventional wisdom that a year is around the time you should shit or get off the pot, it sounds like you have a lot of worries that you might want to potentially consider… talking to your girlfriend about.

    You’re thinking about ending it, and you love this person. So… talk to them about it. Really. Like, a lot. No need to set it up as a ‘it’s me and financial stability and a family from here on out starting NOW’ type deal thingie (unless you’re 40+ and you need to get on the baby train because your ovaries are turning into tumbleweeds), but maybe you could say that you’ve been thinking about your future together a lot and need to step back from the trees a little with her and take a look at your little forest. My friends and I refer to this is as the DTR. The direction of the relationship talks. Y’know?

    I’m writing from the perspective of someone who has definitely ended relationships over problems that could have maybe been fixed, had I ever actually thought to discuss the issues with my person, which is possibly the opposite of the official advice-giver, hence the very different advice.

    Also, it might be worth to think about your own motivations here. Why are you fixating on these issues right now? Is it because you are in need of some extra stability because the rest of your life is a bit of a fruitsy nutsy mess? Are you looking to ‘lock it down’ or ‘just know’ that it’s going to work out? Are you starting to feel suffocated or like you’re missing out on something else? Invest in a journal.

    People do compromise, grow, and change (except when they don’t). Example: my girls-just-wanna-have-fun ma convinced my hermit crab dad to travel with her around the USA for three years before they picked one place to put roots down, and she ended up with three kids after he insisted that one was enough please and thanks, and they’re still married after 35 years. They are wildly different people who no sane person would have ever paired together, but they are in love and they have always made it work.

    There’s no way to know really whether or not your person will get her financial shit together…or if you’ll end up having a family. All you can really decide is if sticking around for the ride is what you need be doing. If you really think this relationship is something special and don’t want to lose it, then don’t.

    • Total agreement!
      Less than a year if you assume previous girlfriends lasted at least a few weeks each, and potentially LW’s first serious relationship! Just because it’s exciting to be adults in mutual love doesn’t mean they have to lock it down immediately. It doesn’t seem unreasonable that Girlfriend would see no contradiction in agreeing to maybe kids together “someday” while not being ready to arrange her life around them right now.

    • Yes! This! I think ultimately the kind of response that Carolyn gave might well end up being what happens, as shown by how many people relate to it, but equally it seems like a hasty and perhaps unnecessarily abrupt decision to just break ties and move on. I don’t know that this response really gave credence to the complexities of these situations when you’re in them and, also, how different people function so, so differently in similar-looking situations. I’d urge the person who wrote in to think things through and talk very thoroughly with their partner, rather than just to follow Carolyn’s (frankly kinda brutal) advice.

  4. God help you.

    I met a girl. I knew we wouldn’t work out on the first date when she told me she wanted kids in 1 oder 2 years. I wanted kids in 10 years. Or never.

    We dated anyway. For two years. She was the best thing that ever happened to me. The kindest human, the cutest, the best.

    I broke up with her in March, for some logical reasons. I can tell you that it’s the worst because you can’t tell yourself “well, I feel better now” or “now she won’t treat me badly anymore” because it wasn’t bad, it was good, often even great.

    I’d love to tell you now, that it will be the right decision, that after 10 weeks I feel great and that I don’t miss her anymore and that you won’t miss your girlfriend.

    But tears started running down my face while writing this.

    I don’t know if you should end relationships for logical reasons. I really don’t know.

    • Sind Sie ‘n Deutsch spracherin? – you can tell my German sucks, sorry, or an ex-pat who’s picked up a Deutscherism?

    • This is so relevant to my life it hurts.

      I’m so sorry and I totally know what you mean. But it’ll get better – as life after heartbreaking break ups always manages to do. <3

      • Thank you. I think it already hurts a little less than it did 2 weeks ago, so I have hope :)

        I hope you feel better too.

    • *HUGS* if you want them. I have been that person that ended a relationship when I was still very much in love.

      It takes time, a whole lodda time. But you’ll get there.

  5. First of all, awesome advice. Love is not enough.

    It might be helpful to also look at a hypothetical: if love is not enough, what *would* be enough, in an ideal yet realistic partnership? What are the things you can compromise on, that are not deal-breakers? And which of those deal-breakers are long-term but maybe could tolerate over the short-term (finances learning curve)?

    Basically, no one should wait around for a life partner that matches their goals in every way because 1) never happen and 2) boring. But it could help you and maybe lead to a good discussion with your partner to think about what a successful relationship would look like wrt compromise, deal-breakers, and long-term vs short-term goals/preferences.

    Another thing is motivation: like if your partner *wants* to be better at finances, is a different situation than if they actively *don’t* want to get better at it, and why or why not.

    Good luck!

  6. Sorry, but Carolyn’s advice is spot on. Call time and move on. Go for what you want, don’t settle for the short term fairground attraction.

  7. It’s not quite clear how long you have been together. And if the previous girlfriends happened before or after your official coming out.

    Nor is age mentioned but behavior that’s acceptable in Your twenties is not after a certain life stage.

  8. I’m with Carolyn on this. Possibly the best, most compassionate advice I’ve seen for this scenario. It’s going to hurt, but in the end, it will be the most compassionate thing for both LW and her girlfriend. Hugs offered.

  9. Holy Relevance Batman!

    So, I was having a nutty a few months ago, that was probably related to SAD and trying to taper off my meds, but the ideas were good. The execution was not. Take a deep breath. Are you hydrated? Are you taking your meds? Is it warm where you are? If these things are not true, wait, before making a hasty decision, make those things true, wait another few weeks, and then do it. Is something happen where you have to make decisions right now (college ending, you just lost your job, anything)? If you don’t, then give it a month. Sleep on it, talk about it in a “so, what do you want in the future?” kind of way.

    Most of my January nutty was because everyone (we’re poly) realized that what my partner talks about wanting to do is probably not compatible with having super well educated and stable children while both parents get careers. As someone raised by diplomat parents, I know that the moving around thing is hard, but can be really good, and strengthen family bonds, but that the poly thing and the hella rural thing are not going to work well for that. Except, I don’t want kids. That’s my partner’s other partner. I had just gotten a job after 6 months of unemployment, and wanted to both see the world and put down roots. And I felt like I needed to push a conversation faster than it needed pushing, because no decision needed to be made then. I wrote a feelings-heavy email breaking up with my partner the week before Valentine’s because I let thought-spiral logic overwhelm my actual sensible self. Thank G-d for Uhauling, because I then had a chance to fix it, by making my own decisions about what I wanted rather than waiting for someone else to make a decision and then build my life around that.

    So, Carolyn is right: you should probably break up with that person if your head is on straight, and you are taking your meds, and not being affected by SAD, and not letting other people’s life plans color your life plans. If any of those things are true, though, you should wait a few months. Get some sun. Go on a trip. Up your meds a little. Make sure you aren’t breaking up because of an irrational fear of the future masquerading as rationality (you seem smart, you can find evidence to support any claim), and sit with it, and have some very calm conversations for the next two months. Maybe get some distance? Give yourself a chance to miss her.

  10. “The minute you start to worry about all the life stuff together is the minute it starts being relevant.”

    Oh, christ. My boyfriend and I literally had the “but you want kids and I probably don’t” convo TWO DAYS AGO. After nearly six awesome months together. And even though I tried to convince both of us that it wasn’t a big deal, because I am still sorting so much out in my life and not yet ready for kids, I spent all of yesterday crying. Because the moment you look towards the future, and don’t see each other in it…you may pretend you’re not, but honestly, you’re pretty much over.

    But I like him. I love him. I’ll miss him. I don’t want to break up.

    And then there is this horrible part of me that thinks, but if he loved me enough, wouldn’t he start wanting kids too? Or wouldn’t he not have worried about that future, because the present was enough for him?

    • The second you think “if they loved me enough they’d change” the relationship is over.

  11. Oh my god I wrote such a long comment here and it all deleted. Basically:

    1) I love this column and I love Carolyn’s writing on AS, but I was a little disappointed with this.

    2) I know we all write and advise from experience – and Carolyn’s experience in this case is fairly common – but it doesn’t mean that a given (even common) experience is a universal rule, as attested to by Marx’s comment and how many people liked it.

    3) This might be personal preference but I really think the best advice columns on here (and anywhere) tend not to be ‘if you do X thing then Y will definitely happen, if you do Z thing then Q will absolutely happen.’ Instead, I prefer those which ask probing questions, offer support/suggestions to help the asker reach conclusions for themselves (in line with Marx suggesting getting a journal, thinking about what your different desires come from, talking at length, etc), offer relevant info/references where useful (e.g., an online guide to discussing through relationship priorities? if such a thing even exists) and then offer some honest realism drawn from the writer’s experience, such as what Carolyn did write.

    4) Bearing all this in mind, here are some things that came to me whilst reading through this:-

    – How old are both persons?? Carolyn’s response (and the letter itself, which makes sense of the response’s tone) is written assuming that the two people are of an age where change/growing (together or apart) is very unlikely. People can compromise, character qualities can shift and mitigate, and values can sometimes be adapted. It doesn’t mean they should have to be nor that they even definitely will, but rather that it’s an option that Carolyn’s response didn’t really allow for.

    – Have the asker and their partner discussed these issues? Or has the first effort to make sense of them been this? If the latter, what’s stopped the asker talking with their partner? Could they try doing so?

    – How do the things listed in the ask (being good with finances, etc) compare to the connection they have? Which does the asker value more importantly? Have they considered values beyond those “pragmatics” that were touched upon?

    – Like Marx asked, are there specifics about the situation that have made this person suddenly realise they want a family and feel such an emphasis around it? If so, are these feelings significant in the moment or more longterm? What bearing do they have on “the now”?

    – What makes the asker think that things ‘probably won’t’ change? This is a big claim, although is understandable if certain issues seem intractable regardless of how often they are raised.

    – This is the asker’s first serious, mutually loving (adult?) relationship. It makes sense that they’re worrying about this stuff and also that they don’t really know what to do. But, whilst it might feel at the moment that this is the ultimate connection of their life, the solid likelihood is that there will be more in the future. When this sort of decision comes up, it can feel like a decision that marks the rest of your life. But it doesn’t have to be, regardless of how hard it is.

    – Sure, Carolyn’s advice is based on a common experience and is useful but often, in these situations, we need to live these things to really take on what the advice meant. Often the sort of advice Carolyn is offering – gained from her own experience of a three year relationship and sad, hard break-up – is something that only really feels compelling in retrospect of your own comparable situation. If the response to somebody asking about something like this is ‘I had a similar(ish) situation and did this and you should too,’ it neglects to consider how different people and situations each are, and also how easy it is to ignore sensible-seeming advice when your heart and head aren’t in it. It doesn’t matter how many times you remind a friend that they are destined for heartbreak with a certain person or situation, they are unlikely to avoid it if they haven’t felt the effects yet.

    – Relationships don’t have to be right for forever to be right for now. As intimated by above questions, this is definitely an issue impacted by how old the people involved are and what makes them have these priorities now. But, honestly, it might be that your love/connection does fade in time anyway but that you’d still have rather had that time together before you moved on, rather than broken things off abruptly and tried (almost falsely) to move on before you were totally ready.

    – If the asker does break-up with their partner, the assumed clean break Carolyn implies isn’t actually a guarantee. Your first break-up of significance with your “first love” is almost definitely going to be messy and hard. And that’s something that is perhaps better coped with through communication – with yourself, with support networks, with the partner – before, during and (maybe) after the break-up. Resolution might be a false promise, but there are degrees of resolution and lack thereof.

    Because the thing is… Carolyn may well be right. But she isn’t definitely. And her advice isn’t necessarily going to be what helps this person work things out. Being told to break things off doesn’t necessarily resolve your internal conflict (not that anything guaranteed will), but talking through worries and contradictions like these with your partner might do more so. Is there any way that this could at least be a process of ‘raising concerns with partner and talking through the prospect of breaking-up,’ rather than Carolyn’s more definitive ‘this isn’t going to work, you need to end it’? Cos, quite frankly, communication is going to be needed in spades even if you end up wanting to break-up.

  12. Sorry Carolyn but I also dissent. I am a self proclaimed hopeless romantic so I always vote for love. My partner and I are totally different people. People are frequently surprised by our pairing. Our interests are opposite. I am physically active, she is sedentary. We don’t have the same taste in music or books. I am a rule follower, she isn’t. I am a planner, she is more spur of the moment. When we first met I saved money, she was horrible at managing money. I was set on a college track she was anti-education. Neither of us had ever had a relationship before and we were each others first women.
    DRUM ROLL: We have been together for 20 years. We work. For the record the passion did not fade it matured. I am head over heels, over the moon etc. with my partner and the cool thing is I can count on our relationship in a way now that I could not at the 1 or 2 year mark.
    Things do change. I am not saying you should move forward hoping she will change – that is never a good idea.
    The thing you have to decide is whether or not you are in a deal breaking situation. I wanted kids and my partner was clear about not wanting them from the beginning. We do not have children. I could not justify ending something so amazing for a person I had not met yet. I don’t regret this. So think carefully and listen to your priorities before ending something that may not be so common.

  13. All I know is that if you truly want to be happy in life, it’s when you feel good about yourself without the approval of anyone else.

  14. I’m up at 3am writing this comment because I’m madly in love with a man 10 years older than me. He has two teenagers and a vasectomy. He’s the love of my life. The problem is….I’ve always wanted to be a mom. I’m 31, he’s 42.

    This has caused us tremendous pain over the almost two years we’ve been together. We have a tremendous dynamic and he is my very best friend. We wre very much in love. We have been on and off (always breaking up over the kid thing) and we seriously broken up 5 months ago and after 2.5 months we found our way back to each other. He got on the right depression meds, he went to counseling and we both worked on our relationship. It was the best 2 months of our relationship and my life.

    Yesterday he mentioned that we still want different things. He didn’t see how we could continue our relationship and my heart shattered. Everything in me tells me that this isn’t right. That this doesn’t feel right and losing him is not the direction my life should go. We are going to therapy tomorrow and I’m choosing to fight for this relationship. He’s the love of my life.

    I have to believe we can make this work. I have to believe that the universe wouldn’t put a love like ours on this planet with the intention of us being a part.

    My hope is we can find a way to forge a path. I simply can’t imagine my life without him in it.

  15. Frankly, I am not sure what qualifies one to give advice to another on such matters. It’s all depends so much on personal circumstances and value systems. I myself value love above all things and feel that many practical details can be worked out if its worth it to both partners…I have friends who are way more practical in matters of love (which I think is missing the point completely). Love is rare!

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