July 10, 2019

What Trade-offs Are OK in a Relationship?

Hey, Bonita…

Hi Bonita, 

My boyfriend's actions are getting to the point where I think I need to end the relationship before I end up with a longer, more painful situation down the line. However, I question my own judgment, because I know that no one is perfect, and I don't know what is a real problem and what is just regular humans-being-humans stuff that I have to accept in order to be in a partnership. Many of my relationships have ended two or three years in, because I couldn't deal with different aspects of these boyfriends' lives or personalities or differences. It's been suggested to me that what really happened is the infatuation phase ended, and I didn't stick around for the good stuff where relationships really get built. 

I feel that for my boyfriend's over-attachment to his family and seeming unwillingness to commit, there's a guy out there who wants to commit and has a healthy relationship with his family, but doesn't have a job or any plans for the future. For every guy who plays copious video games instead of hanging out with his partner, there's a guy who doesn't play video games, but doesn't cook or know how to iron a shirt. 

I'm just saying, I don't know what trade-offs to choose! My boyfriend is funny, has a great job and always includes me, but he's also way too connected to his family and seemingly unwilling to commit. The last guy I dated lied constantly, to the point that he didn't have a job when he claimed he did—but he was down to commit. I know no partner is the complete package, but I don't know what I'm supposed to accept as human, and what are deal-breakers in the long run. 

What trade-offs are normal in a relationship? To what extent do I need to grow up and accept the difficult things about my boyfriend? Do you think I've bailed before the good stuff because the shine of infatuation has worn off, and, if so, how can I stop this pattern? 



Hey Trade-offs, 

Ignore whoever told you three years is still the “honeymoon phase.” That’s plenty of time to determine if someone is marriage material. You haven’t described anything unreasonable in your expectations of a boyfriend—you want commitment and stability, like anyone does. No partner is a complete package, that’s true, but you’re allowed to walk away from liars and cheats. 

I’d like to know more about your boyfriend’s relationship with his family, because it’s not odd to me at all that a grown man would want to be close to his relatives. It’s not reasonable to ask someone to take time away from family just to date you, because frankly, those lifelong relationships run deeper and will outlast whatever you have with your boyfriend by a mile. On the other hand, ever-present in-laws can be bothersome when a couple is still in the discovery phase, and it can also feel a little awkward to be meeting the parents on the second date. But I don’t have any real facts here, so I’m just spitting in the wind. Tread softly when it comes to family. 

We all have to accept the less-than-perfect parts of our partners, but more than anything, I don’t want you settling for truly bad behavior in the spirit of a relationship “trade-off.” Lying about work is never acceptable and is a tremendous red flag for all kinds of dishonesty, but cooking and ironing are life skills that I personally didn’t lean into until I was well into my 20s. 

How old are y’all? If this is guy is a fortysomething, you should get laid a few more times and block his number—he’s done growing. But if y’all are both young, then you’re both still figuring stuff out. Maybe he’s got the job stuff down, but he’s still working his way through ​The Joy of Cooking, and he needs mom on speed dial so he doesn’t burn the roux. Who knows? There’s stuff you can meet him halfway on, for sure, but your standards and expectations are perfectly reasonable. 

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