Should I Break Up with My Boyfriend or Plan on Marriage?

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Reader’s Question

My boyfriend and I have been together for nearly two years; and we’re both pursuing medical degrees. I had been in a serious relationship before, but this is his first relationship. You can say that he is a bit immature and childlike, and also overly possessive of me; he doesn’t even let me hang out with my female friends.

Still, we are great friends and he is really very caring. I had even thought of marrying him after a year together as he is really serious about our relationship. The problem is that he is not that serious about studies, and his goals keep changing. He says he wants to change his career now, after five years of medical study; he wants to become a journalist or photographer, as these fields interest him. Getting established in these new fields will take another five or more years, but I have different plans for our future. I want us to become doctors and then get married.

My mother and sister believe I can get a much more mature and settled man as a husband. Plus I want to get married in a year and, in our country, women older than 26 get proposals from the ‘leftovers.’ If I marry my boyfriend, and he becomes a photographer, then just after graduation I will be earning more than him and I will have to raise the family on my own. I dreamt of a husband who could support me both financially and emotionally.

Last, he and I are great friends but our sexual compatibility is nil. Whenever we have tried to be close I have ended up crying, as he behaves like a child in the bedroom as well. He wants me to give him pleasure but does not make any attempt to understand my body. I have even seen him get disgusted and wash his hands again and again after touching my genitals. I now don’t even think of being alone in a room with him and don’t have any sexual attraction left for him.

He is emotionally very dependent on me and breaking up with him will devastate him. Should I call for a breakup or agree with his decision to change his career and make him meet my parents for marriage?

Psychologist’s Reply

Marriage is one of the few really important decisions we ever make. So, ultimately you have to make that decision yourself. Still, you seem to have laid out well your concerns with either choice. The issue of his wanting to change careers is a primary concern in that it affects both of your futures, and certainly does not fit your vision for how the two of you would proceed together. Still, such changes are faced successfully by many couples provided that they want to remain together because they love one another. The word “love” seems conspicuously lacking from your description of your relationship.

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Of course there are numerous cultures in which love is not the primary basis for marriage. In such cultures, compatibility with regard to family, social status, and acceptance of male and female roles within the marriage are most important. In cultures where mates put much more emphasis on romantic love, the notion is that love will help each mate cope with incompatibilities in these other aspects of the marriage (and provide an incentive for marriage despite such incompatibilities).

Looking through your letter for signs of either strong emotional involvement or perceived compatibility left me finding little of either. Instead, it appears that the primary reasons for considering marriage are that 1) he is serious about the relationship, 2) you are friends and have already invested nearly two years, and 3) breaking up with him would be difficult because of how he would react emotionally. Also, there is the issue of uncertainty as to whether and when you would meet a man who is a much closer fit with your ideal. The question becomes, are these solid enough reasons for making a life-long commitment to a partner with whom to raise a family and build a satisfying life?

There’s an old saying that we ask for advice when we know the answer but wish that we didn’t. I suspect that your reluctance to break up with your boyfriend stems from the fact that it will not be pleasant, and there is a degree of uncertainty then about your future. Still, entering into marriage is difficult and risky enough when we feel sure, let alone when we have serious doubts. Taking the path of least resistance (trouble) in the short-run often leaves us more troubled in the end.

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