Dear Wendy: “I’m Engaged, But I’m Not In Love”

Wendy is off today, so I’m reposting an oldie but a goodie from her Dear Wendy column. She’ll be back at it tomorrow!

I have been dating my boyfriend for about three months. We get along great and he would do anything for me. We just have one problem. He doesn’t believe in evolution and I very passionately do. We got in a discussion about it which quickly turned into a huge fight. Although my current career has taken me down a different path, I have my masters degree in biology concentrated in ecology and evolution so I know a little something about it and pretty much dedicated my entire education to learning about it. He is an engineer and very smart, but I just found out that he used to be really religious, hence his disbelief in evolution. I tried to answer his many misconceptions about evolution as best I could without being prepared for such a heavy debate, but he persisted in refusing to listen to the evidence I presented and even compared me to a religious zealot who has been brainwashed by my schooling. I know that when I feel passionately about something I can get quite worked up and come across as condescending. I understand that a lot of couples have different beliefs and make it work so I know that we can too. However, I don’t want us to have restrictions on what we can or can’t discuss in a rational manner. So I guess what I am asking is how do I broach this topic in a manner that doesn’t turn into a huge argument? Should I just accept that we may never agree on the topic and try to get over it? — The “Mad” Scientist

You need to decide on a couple of things here, Mad Scientist. First, is it a boyfriend you want or a student? Because you can’t have both. If it’s the former, you need to decide how important it is that your partner’s beliefs align with your own. We aren’t talking about a casual interest in the Yankees versus a vague support for the Red Sox here. Evolution and creationism are beliefs that are at the basis for entire life philosophies, values, and behavior. They can be the lens through which people view their world, particularly if they’re very passionate about their beliefs, as you say you and your boyfriend are.

If, at three months in, you’re already having huge arguments over your differing viewpoints, imagine how difficult things could be after the novelty of a new relationship wears off. And don’t even get me started on the problems that could arise if you were to marry and have kids. You’re right that couples who have different beliefs can “make it work,” but the key to success is mutual respect and a commitment to compromise. If you can’t even have a real discussion in a “rational manner,” as you say, with your boyfriend about your differing beliefs without tuning each other out or resorting to name-calling, I can’t imagine you have much chance at a harmonious future together. But if you’re determined to see this through, you need to back off on your “teachings” and accept that your boyfriend has arrived at his beliefs the same way you have and doesn’t seem open or interested in changing them. If that simply isn’t something you’re able to accept, I think it’s probably time to move on.

Two and a half years ago, I moved back home from out-of-state. I had gotten out of a dead end relationship and was ready to start anew. I met a new guy, courtesy of my brother, who was also recently single and we started out casually dating, but quickly became “serious.” He was everything my ex-boyfriend wasn’t and he really liked me. He was also extremely confident and outgoing, things I often wasn’t and I felt he was a good influence on me. But, there were a few times in our relationship where I wasn’t happy dating him anymore. I forged on, though, thinking that maybe if I just tried harder, I would be happier. I stuck it out and after two years of dating, he proposed to me on a vacation with his family last July. Even before the trip, though, I still had doubts, but I kept trying because although we had talked about getting married, we had also “decided” it would have to wait another year for financial reasons and I therefore felt like I had plenty of time to figure it out. So imagine my surprise when he popped the question! I said ‘yes,’ thinking things would get better with an engagement. Well, I still have doubts. I finally got the courage to tell him how I felt about things and that I wasn’t happy anymore, and he kept telling me that we could get through this, that things would get better. I broke off the engagement with him for about 24 hours, but I felt miserable the whole time — I couldn’t get out of my head the sound of his voice as I tried to hang up the phone and end the conversation. He sounded like he was in complete and utter despair. I didn’t really feel much relief, either, which I had expected because after I got out of my last relationship, I had felt so much better. I tried to get excited about wedding planning again, but I just don’t feel like my heart is in it. I feel like if we weren’t engaged, I would have ended the relationship by now, but I also feel that if we were already married, we would just work through this. So what does one do when you’re engaged and feeling this way? — Unenthusiastic Bride

Good lord, UB, are you both out of your mind? How in the world can you possibly think it’s a good idea to go through with marrying someone you are not and have never been in love with? Never mind that you’d be screwing your own life up, you certainly wouldn’t be doing your fiancé any favors by marrying him. He sounds like a wimp who can’t bear to be alone, but that doesn’t mean he deserves to be stuck with a woman who used him as a rebound and was too spineless to end things when she realized he was way more serious about her than she was about him. Get it together, woman, and break off this engagement ASAP. Sure, your fiancé will probably be in “complete and utter despair,” if for no other reason than he has to be alone again, but I guarantee the misery won’t be anything like what he’d feel after a few years of marriage to a woman who never really loved him. He’ll be fine again as soon as he meets someone else who’s willing to date him. Cut off ties with him, and let him heal and move on.

In the future, keep in mind that relationships are not something you “forge on” through, particularly when you aren’t even married and don’t have kids together. You forge on through a cold winter, or unemployment, or a particularly gruesome bout of the stomach flu; you don’t forge on through the first two years of a relationship when there shouldn’t be any reason to stay together but your mutual and genuine interest and enjoyment with each other.

*Do you have a relationship/dating question I can help with? Send me your letters at [email protected]