Dear Carolyn:

My boyfriend of a year and I love each other profoundly but both agree (however sadly on my part) that we are incompatible for marriage. He wants at least three kids, I want no more than two. He wants to live in a remote place, I am more of a suburban girl. Etc. On the other hand, we are only in our early to mid-twenties and nowhere near ready for a life commitment anyway. Am I "wasting my time" (eww, that sounds so callous) by being with someone who loves me and whom I also love, but who knows he doesn't want to spend his life with me? Should I be out looking? What if there isn't anyone more compatible and whom I will love as much as I love my boyfriend and who will love me as much as he does?

New Jersey

Depends. Do you love each other?

I (almost) don't have it in me to bust on you about your weloveloveloveloveLOOOOVEeachother, because you're a heartbreak waiting to happen.

Except it has already happened -- you just haven't fully grasped it. Understandably, since there's a lot going on here. In ascending order of importance:

6. You don't "both agree" you're incompatible for marriage. He has declared it, it's pretty clear. All you've done is not disagree.

5. That's to your great credit, though. When you learned his goals were both different from yours and nonnegotiable, you could easily have said, "Just kidding!" and grabbed your pompoms and transformed yourself into the world's biggest booster of rural big-family life. ("2-4-6-8! Aren't these knitted diapers great?!") You'd hardly have been the first to cave in and say, wait, wait, I can change -- only to hate the result, yourself and him.

4. Funny thing is, you might change, as might he, and you get credit for making the right call there, too; that's what it means to be "nowhere near ready for a life commitment." Your clay is still soft, your ideals are largely untested. Suburbs may seem perfect, say, till you've sat for five years in traffic.

3. And, four kids might seem perfect till he meets someone who happens to have a two-kid ideal and he marries her anyway because he doesn't want to live a day without her and then they have triplets and she wants another and he says, "Eee, no mas!"

2. That's why letting a love run its natural course is never a "waste of time." You let the feelings teach you what works, what doesn't, what matters. For as long as it takes you to learn.

1. And: That's why your question is a heartbreak accompli. You both have ideals that you expect will shape your lives. But where your mind is open to the possibility that life might shape your ideals -- that your love might shape them -- he "knows he doesn't want to spend his life with me." Apparently, his mind is closed. Not to suburbs or two-kid families -- to you. Useful to know, but yowch.

Should you be looking? I won't say. And I can't say whom you'll meet or when or how the love will compare. However, I also can't say enough about loving someone who loves you back with equal, life-altering depth. Please hold out for this.

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