He won’t compromise

Good morning.

The "Romance Rumble" starts today. You vote on romantic movies and we'll screen the winner Dec. 10 at the Somerville Theatre. There will be a pre-party that night in Davis Square (location to be announced soon). Make sure you vote and buy a ticket. And then deal with today's letter.

I'm a 35-year old woman who has led her life backwards: married at 21, divorced by 23, and dating ever since. Generally I'm a happy gal. I've got a great career, close friends and family, tons of hobbies, and live a pretty full, independent life. Admittedly, I've got some abandonment issues (as you may see), but they don't stop me. I look forward to finding love and someday marrying and having a family.

I've been dating a divorced dad of a young child off and on for the past two years. We are two hours apart but have made it work with mutual effort. We've both made mistakes and have had our share of break-ups and make-ups. We've chosen to work on it and stay together.

Lately I've had a growing sense of unease about how much is too much to "bend" in a relationship. For example, when I expressed my desire to take the next step in our relationship, he asked me to move in. Since his child is the priority, I told him I would move there to begin our life -- with an engagement. This move would necessitate me quitting my job, selling my home, and moving far away from my current circle of friends and family. This doesn't daunt me -- I'd do so happily; but, he states that to him, engagement means marriage and he is not ready for that.

Since there is young child involved, moving in without an engagement is not an example I choose to set. Since then I've thought about what I want for my life and told him my plan: if in the spring he is still unsure, I will need to leave him. While I understand his need to be "sure," I need to move out of this holding pattern.

Ever since we started discussing commitment, my respect for the relationship is deteriorating and all the petty things are surfacing. For example: differences in lifestyle and standards of living. He lives in a rural area and holds frugality in high regard. His historic house is a ramshackle. When I bring up my interest in fixing it up to basic living standards to create a "home" (contributing equally, both financially and in "sweat equity") he questions why I need to change him and tells me that I insult him. All I can think is: here I am prepared to change my entire life for him and "us," yet he is incapable of meeting me halfway on some pretty basic things. So you see, I'm noticing a pattern of it being on his terms, all the time.

My questions for you are: How far is too far to bend and compromise? Am I sabotaging a perfectly good relationship because of impatience, or am I communicating healthy boundaries?

– The Bends, Boston

Ah, TB, I'm with you. You're being asked to bend until you break.

I might argue that flexibility isn't the only issue. The real problem seems to be whatever caused those break-ups and make-ups. You say that you've been off and on for two years. Why were you off so many times?

If this were a more solid relationship, you wouldn't be questioning what love you'd get in return for the move. If this were a more respectful relationship, your guy would be open to letting you change his house so that you're more comfortable there.

I have to wonder how this would work if you lived down the street from each other. Sometimes distance rips us apart. But sometimes it allows us to avoid talking about what's not working.
My advice is to ask your boyfriend to explain his vision for your shared future. Then you share yours -- home improvements included. Does your plan appeal to him at all? Does his plan appeal to you? And -- if he isn't ready for marriage, what would this move mean to him? Is it a test run for something? A real discussion about the what-ifs seems more productive than a spring deadline. Do some more talking and it'll either get better or blow up. That's how it goes.

At the moment, he's offering no ... "sweat equity." That's something all relationships need.
Readers? Is this relationship doomed? Should they be moving in after two rocky years? What does it mean that he doesn't want to get engaged? Does his child factor into this? Discuss.

– Meredith