I have two people in my circle of friends who both say they’re in relationships that are going nowhere. Though neither of them seem desperately unhappy, both have mentioned to me that they know their respective partners are not the people for them, but that they’re okay “for now” and can “get by” for a while. One couple has been dating for one year; the other has been dating for almost two years. Maybe I’m missing something, but what are these people waiting for? Neither of them is asking for my advice, but they do bring it up from time to time and I’m never sure what to say; I personally don’t understand why you’d keep dating someone who drives you crazy or whom you know isn’t right for you. I’m wondering what you guys think about this; it might help me to hear others’ thoughts and experiences on this issue so I can better contribute to the conversation when they bring it up with me again. —MD, Denver, Colorado
The Gay Man’s Perspective: Darren Maddox
Sadly, I think this is the case with a lot of people who are dating, and even married. Too many times, when the spark is gone in a relationship, people continue with it just for the sake of the comfort it brings them. I think it’s a crutch that gets them from one relationship to the next, something sturdy for them to lean on to justify their current stance. They hang on to what they have long enough to find the next Mr. or Miss Right and avoid the feeling that they don’t have someone at the ready at any given moment.
What are these people waiting for? They aren’t waiting for anything; they’re simply avoiding finding someone else. They’re lazy. And they don’t want to take control of their own lives. They think life just happens without any effort, and they’re content to leave it that way. Not my ideal world, but if it works for them, then just realize that they probably aren’t strong people; feel sorry for them. Whether the person is or isn’t right for your friend, eventually she will either take a stand to find someone else, or wait for her partner to finally get so tired of the apathy that she gets dumped.
The Straight Woman’s Perspective: Rebecca Brown
I never know what to say when friends bring that up with me, either. Generally, I say nothing; I think many times, people just want to see how it feels to say out loud that “things aren’t going well” to someone other than a partner. They want to try the idea on for size a little, see how it feels coming out of their mouth, or see if anyone’s head will explode in disbelief when they hear such a proclamation. I’ve been in relationships before that I knew needed to end, and it exhausted and overwhelmed me thinking about how we’d separate our intertwined lives. Saying it to someone is sometimes the first step in getting things going … even if it takes months or years to end the relationship.
I think all you can do is listen without judgment and tell her you’re around if she ever needs to talk or needs your help in any way. But if it comes up again and again, I wouldn’t feel bad pointing out to your friend that she’s mentioned it before. Ask her what you can do to help her put a plan into action, whether that plan involves leaving or staying. It’s frustrating to listen to someone complain about the same thing over and over again and then watch that person do absolutely nothing to fix the situation, but you’re not the captain of your friends’ destinies—they are. Maybe there’s more going on behind the scenes that you don’t know about. Assume that talking to you is part of the figuring-it-all-out process and try to be as patient as you can.
The Lesbian Woman’s Perspective: Jody Fischer
Have you brought up your concerns directly with your friends, or is your situation with them “okay for now” and you can simply “get by” with it for a while? My point here is that sometimes we don’t know how to move forward and sometimes we’re just fine with what we have. I commend you for wanting input on how to approach the conversation the next time it comes up, but posing the question to your friends is different than encouraging them to find ways to change things. And from the looks of it, neither person is that interested in changing their status quo.
Each of your friends may be getting lots of great things out of his “this person is not the one for me” relationship. If they are truly being driven crazy by their dating partners, that’s another story, but you clearly state that neither seems too unhappy. We’re not all looking to settle down with “the one” at every point in our lives. I would encourage you to really question what the phrase “going nowhere” means to you. Even if the destination does not lead to walking down the aisle, every intimate relationship is a journey.
The Straight Man’s Perspective: Chris Kennedy
When we learn to ride a bike, we use training wheels to help us get the feel for the activity while eliminating much of the risk of falling. Once we make some progress, we get rid of the training wheels. While this may initially be scary for the novice rider, it’s a necessary step if she is to grow and develop. It sounds as if your friends are afraid to take the training wheels off their relationships because they don’t want to be alone and at risk of falling. They’re comfortable despite their not progressing and are accepting the safe, boring, training-wheel ride through life. The worst part is they yearn for more and talk about starting anew, but don’t act on it.
As their friend, you should be able to tell them how you feel. Life is short and they’re wasting time. By sharing your thoughts about how they can potentially move on, you’re loosening the bolts of the training wheels and, eventually, you may be able to help remove them completely. It’s up to them to find their own balance; your opinion can provide the push.