"There is a very significant age difference, and he's ready to settle down."
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Dear Miss Information,
I have been dating an awesome gentleman for over a year. We have known for the duration of our relationship that it is not destined to last. There is a very significant age difference (15 years – I'm younger), and he's ready to settle down, make babies and do the kind of grownup things that I am not sure I'll ever do, let alone do in the next few years. Other than this difference in life stages, we get along surprisingly well and relate to each other in most ways. For most of the relationship we've spent our time together as though there's no expiration date. I think I can safely say that I fell hard for him while he has remained more reserved, but we absolutely love each other.
We have tried various "methods" to separate ourselves. Our relationship has always been open. I pushed myself to try to date others, despite feeling little-to-no desire to do so, while he sensed my jealous tendencies and didn't date anyone else, so he wouldn't hurt me. We ended up back together.
I realize that I'm only happy when I'm in denial, when I forget that we have to break up. The problem, of course, being that the relationship WILL end, and my hopefulness is probably completely counterproductive to my healing process. He hasn't pursued anyone for our entire relationship, but I can tell that a tide has turned. He's feeling increasingly resentful towards me when I have jealous feelings, and there's a new friend who I have my suspicions about. It's time. I know it's time. And I'm fucking miserable. Just picturing him sharing a beer and a movie with someone new makes my heart hurt and hurt and hurt.
There is a huge wrench in this issue, and that is that we work together. We work really well together. We're considering going into business together, and if we were to separate professionally, it would set me back decades to start my dreams over on my own. Even if that doesn't end up happening, I can't imagine throwing my career away. How do you break up with someone whom you have no bad feelings towards? How do you see them with someone else and not want to die? The plan is that we will continue to work happily together, continue to be best friends, and otherwise lead our own separate love lives. I just don't know how to get from here to there. Any ideas?
— May-December Blues
Dear May-December Blues:
Step 1: Take all of your vacation days at once.
Step 2: Go to Thailand.
Step 3: Come back with feathers crimped into your hair and a new septum piercing. Talk about Thailand constantly, as if you weren't just drinking in Irish pubs with Todd from Boise and Katie from Detroit the whole time.
Step 4: More feathers. Extra feathers.
Step 5: Is this just the Guinness, or is Todd kind of cute?
Step 6: Nope, OK, the Guinness.
Step 7: There! Heart mended.
Oh, did I say "heart mended"? I may have meant, "You're now a parody of our generation." You did it!
First, May, I want to give credit where credit is due. You seem pretty sure of what's going on. You know you can't be together; you know that you aren't meant to tattoo his name on your knuckles. You've done the hard part by achieving that clarity! Now you just have to muscle through it. (Pro tip: you can't have enough hair feathers.)
We all have two decision-making brains: the rational one and the emotional one. The emotional one almost always wins. A relationship like this requires your rational brain to methodically stomp the emotional impulses until the impulses lose their spark. If it sounds hard and unpleasant, that's because it will be. If you and he are both mature and value the long-view ("I want you in my life") over the short one ("my bed is cold"), though, you can re- draw your professional and personal lives to a configuration that fits you both better.
To left-brain your way through this, agree what topics are safe (work) and which ones aren't (with whom he is sharing beers), and respect those lines. Stick to the approved topics, finish your work at 5 on the dot, and don't let your time together stray into social or personal territory. You've got your whole lives to build a close friendship. Let it breathe.
In moments of weakness, remember what you're ultimately fighting for here: a relationship that meets you where you are, and doesn't pressure you to speed up or slow down. This is not that relationship. You will find that relationship, and it'll be worth the work. You just have to clear the way to let that relationship happen.
And look at all the money you just saved on airfare.