Dear Wendy: “My Fiancé Doesn’t Believe In Happiness”

My fiance is not a happy person — he’s not blue or misanthropic, but he’s been raised to believe that happiness is something only naive people believe in, so one should shoot for security instead. We recently transitioned from living together to a long-distance relationship because he found a job after a year-long search. He likes the job and his co-workers, but not the small town in which he now lives. He says that whether or not he likes the town doesn’t matter because he’s able to put up with his living situation as long as he has security. He’s been told there’s “room at the top” and he’s now determined to stay in this town, in this job, for the long haul.

Our plan is for me to move to his location in a year’s time, when I will be done with graduate school. We are in the same small academic field and have been living with the fear that we’d never be able to find jobs close to each other, but now the prospect of me nabbing a job with his new employer looks like a distinct possibility (his boss has said as much). An outsider might say that we have beaten incredible odds, and that I should be thrilled to have this job prospect and this nice, handsome man who is currently working overtime to start saving for our own house. He’s worried that I won’t like living in a small town and that I won’t want to settle for “good enough” or “secure enough.” I’m worried about that, too, but I’m suddenly way more worried about planning a life with a man who is congenitally not happy. I love this man, but I cannot understand someone who says he isn’t happy, but isn’t concerned with being happy, either. Am I looking a gift horse in the mouth, or is this difference in our natures something I should be seriously concerned about as I contemplate moving to a small town for, and marrying, this man? — Daydream Believer

Is it possible to be happy with someone who doesn’t believe in happiness? What a good and important question! What do you think the answer is? I’m inclined to say yes, of course, it’s possible, but there are so many variables to consider. For example, if you’re striving for happiness while your partner is striving for security, but your ideas of those two things are perfectly in sync, aren’t you both aspiring for the same thing? Does it matter what you call it? On the other hand, what if you both believe in happiness and are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve it, but your idea of what happiness looks like is completely different? Then, does it matter if you share a similar philosophy (that happiness is something valuable to strive for)?

Perhaps the better way to gauge whether you will have a happy union — even if one of you thinks the idea of happiness is naive — is to take a closer look at what you want your future to look like. How do those images compare? And in what ways do you complement each other? How do you see yourselves working together to make those images a reality? It’s a lovely idea to think of one’s self as a free spirit, for example, but a flying kite needs someone to hold it to the earth. Maybe your fiancé’s pragmatism, as un-romantic as it may seem to you, is just the weight you need to keep you grounded. And maybe your romanticism is just what your fiancé needs to truly enjoy life and not just live it safely and securely.

I guess my advice for you is to not get too hung up in the words you and your partner use to measure what you value in life, but instead focus on how you make each other feel. You know this man, right? I imagine his desire for security isn’t a new thing. So, how has your relationship been with him thus far? How do you complement each other? Do you feel like you’re the best person you can be when you’re with him? Does he make you happy even though he says he’s someone who doesn’t believe in such a thing? If so, go to the small town where he is and see how you like it. You don’t have to marry him right away. You can test the waters first and see how things play out. After all, nothing is ever forever — especially not happiness, whether we believe in it or not.

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