Dear Carolyn: I was sure I wanted to spend the rest of my life with my boyfriend of three years, until I asked him if he felt the same and he said no. He says he doesn’t want to get married or move in together, but he might feel differently in the future. We discussed breaking up and he made it clear that he doesn’t want that.
But where do we/I go from here? Now I feel insecure and unsure. Part of me thinks I should just enjoy the relationship without needing to be sure of a future, but a big part of me feels betrayed that he doesn’t want to make a commitment.
Unsure: I’m sorry you didn’t get the answer you hoped for. Any good news that follows that, like his wanting to stay together, rarely gives much of a lift.
I don’t have a clear path to advise for you because it depends entirely on you and what you want and need and feel. I do have a couple of thoughts, though.
First, I don’t think feelings can be betrayals. It’s when people act on their feelings that the possibility of betrayal comes in. If your boyfriend were to act as if he wanted a future with you while auditioning your replacements on the side, then that would be a betrayal. If he gave you the answer you wanted while privately having no intention of marrying you, then that, too, would be a betrayal.
If instead he’s being honest about his feelings as he’s having them, or at least after he’s had a chance to figure them out, then he’s honoring his commitment to you. He just might not be doing so in the way you’d prefer.
This might seem like a picky point to make, but how you respond emotionally to his revelation will likely have a huge effect on how you act around him and on how this all plays out. Being angry or resentful about his truth will push you to act defensively, whereas being sad but appreciative (or just respectful) of his honesty will open you up to each other more and, in all likelihood, help you feel better about the outcome, whatever it may be.
My second thought is, give yourself some time — to grieve the future you had envisioned and to come up with a new one. You’re already taking small steps in that direction, but in a binary way, it seems — stay or go. While that is technically the choice you face, you have a whole diner menu of choices on how to feel. For example, you can look at his have-and-eat-cake attitude toward your relationship as a reason to think differently of him as a person. Or you can look at your own focus on marriage as something overdue for scrutiny. Since you’re not using the I-want-him-to-marry-me eyes anymore, you can see him in a completely different way — because the filters our brains use to promote our causes are so powerful.
Don’t use the time to wait for him, but instead just to think and see what develops. Short term, maybe get away for the weekend, too? Spend time with someone who brings out your unguarded self. Useful insights tend to follow.