My on-and-off boyfriend of seven years and I finally split for good last year after a huge communication breakdown. When he told me he was still not ready to move in together, I recognized that he might never be ready. I logicked that if he took that long to decide to share a home with me, it’d likely take that long to decide to make any of the other big steps I was wanting, such as having children. And so I told him I would continue to casually date him until either he was ready to commit, or if I found someone else.
Turns out, I did meet someone else, so our relationship became one of platonic friendship. While navigating this friendship over the past few months, we’ve been discussing all the things that went wrong. All of these problems hang under one neat umbrella – lack of communication. You see, we failed to have the important conversations earlier, and we should have worked on our communication skills.
Four years in, I told him I wanted to talk about big, long-term things. I was three-quarters of the way through my degree and, with the end in sight, I was ready to start planning the next few years of my life. What city would we live in? When would we start having kids? How would we raise them?
For him, it was more important to figure out if we got on a basic level. We’d been fighting a lot about some rather mundane issues, such as how he was frequently late, and he wanted to clear up these issues before discussing long-term plans. I thought maybe he was right, so I let those conversations go to the wayside while we simply spent time together. A couple years later, I was ready to start fostering children and begin looking into the adoption process. When I told him I wanted a family, he let me know that he hoped to wait another 10 years. I was both shocked and crushed. Why had he not brought this up earlier? I felt like I’d been hinting at wanting children soon, and he should have noticed. I started thinking about waiting until my late-30s to even begin filling out adoption paperwork, and realized this was not something I was willing to compromise on.
While he compromised by promising he’d be open to discussing having children in less than a decade, learning about this huge difference in preferred timelines made me push for the big conversations again. Optimism about our future together crashed, particularly because he was merely open to a discussion, and not quite yet walking with me on the path to parenthood.
On top of our conflicting views of offspring, he wanted to stay in our home town of Winnipeg, and I was hell bent on living somewhere rural and outside of our home province. He hadn’t given much thought to how he wanted to have children, how many he wanted, or how he’d raise them. Spending a great deal of time around children since I was young, my opinions on childrearing are well defined. I’m set on having three children, at least one of whom I want to adopt. I don’t like the idea of being pregnant, and I think the love between non-biological parents and children is so beautiful. Ideally, I’d want to adopt all my children, but I’m open to giving birth to a couple if my partner has their reasons for wanting that.
My ex wasn’t even sure if he wanted to have biological kids, or if he was okay with adopting. After pressing him, I got non-concrete answers like “maybe” and “I guess.” While I was busy making plans for my future by reading about the adoption process and opening a retirement savings account, he hadn’t even given thought to what he wanted in life.
And so we broke up. For him, the break up was devastating because he loves me. For me, it was devastating not only because I loved him, but because I feel like, as someone who wants to be a young parent, I wasted time in a relationship that was doomed from the beginning. I just didn’t know it was doomed because I didn’t have all the information I needed.
Only a few weeks after I told him I could no longer be in a monogamous relationship with him, I was staying at a hot springs resort in Montana with some friends. The bass player from the live band was taking his dog out for a walk after the bar closed, just as I was on my way back to our cabin. The dog was too cute and the man with him too sweet; I didn’t make it back to my place that night, but instead stayed with them.
We spent a couple of nights and many daytime hours together over that weekend, and then began a long distance relationship this past January after I drove down to visit him in his hometown.
We started the relationship with a lot of openness and honesty. After the first night, I asked him when he’d last seen a doctor and been tested for STIs, a discussion I’ve never had with a new partner right off the bat when condoms are still in the mix. A few weeks in, I told him that if I accidentally got pregnant, I’d keep it. I told him he could bail without hard feelings, but I’m prepared to be a parent now and would welcome an accidental pregnancy. The first time I visited him at his home in Helena, Montana, I pointed to houses I thought were cute and we talked honestly about where we wanted to live and what we were willing to compromise on.
At first, being so vulnerable felt foreign to both of us. Only a few weeks into a long-distance relationship with someone who lived in another country , I was telling him I wanted children soon. I’d get married if there were practical reasons, like if it made moving closer to one another easier, or if there were enough financial benefits. We also spoke about mental health issues and our insecurities. We talked about all the things that impact the person who we’re romantically involved with to get a better idea of how we’d fit together. No one has ever so quickly known all the worst things about me, like the intricacies of how my generalized anxiety disorder impacts my relationships.
We both felt like maybe we were getting ahead of ourselves, but that feeling came more from how other relationships we’d been in and seen had gone than from talking about the future. It’s unusual to have these discussions so early on in a relationship, but for us it was reassurance that we weren’t putting energy into something that would never be anything more than a long-distance fling.
Do we get along on the most basic level? So far, I’d say yes. I instigated our first fight by telling him I was curious about how we’d fight and asked him what he thought we’d fight about first. We argued right then about me absent-mindedly rewarding his roommate’s puppy for jumping up on the table. We learned that we’re rather good at communicating through disagreements. Two months in, we get along enough so far for me to be content continuing to try this out. In fact, because we’re so open and honest with each other, we’re now exploring the idea of moving closer to one another.
If I didn’t ask the tough questions early on, I wouldn’t know he was ready for and seeking the type of relationship I want to be in, and I wouldn’t be willing to take such a huge chance on us.
Header image via: Andrew Branch