‘A little less shiny when I’m with him’

I'm a 30-year-old woman. I was married for most of my 20s. My husband was a kind person, but I never really felt that we saw or understood each other. I think part of the reason was that we'd had such different experiences in life; I'd gone through a lot (sad single mom, absent dad, many deaths of friends and family members, an eating disorder, etc.), and he'd been sheltered with very few challenges. It's complicated, but we couldn't really relate to each other. He was introverted, whereas I'm super outgoing and place a high value on connecting with people.

Anyway, after many years of doubts, I ended the relationship about a year and a half ago. I still feel some guilt about breaking his heart, but I'm working through it.

I've been seeing someone new for about nine months. He really understands what it's like to have struggled to overcome hardships. I'm extremely attracted to him – it's like we have this fundamental chemistry. But I can't shake the feeling that it's not right. I have doubts about whether my boyfriend and I share core values. He is vegan and a bit of an evangelist about it. I respect the veganism, but on some level, I think he actually feels that people who eat meat are bad people, which I could not disagree with more.

He's overbearing and can be critical of things, so I always fear that he's going to think something's wrong (the way I wash the dishes, how often I change my towels, what I eat).He can be a know-it-all with other people, too. And sometimes he makes references to women that make me slightly uncomfortable. I think they're just normal guy things (I'll notice him checking someone out even though he tries not to, or he'll say an actress is cute or whatever), but they bother me. And yet, when I bring issues up, he really hears me, says sorry, and adjusts his behavior accordingly.

I struggle to understand how I really feel about the relationship. My gut says that I'm a little smaller, a little less shiny, when I'm with him, and that I see him as some kind of moral authority when I should be looking to myself to define what feels right and wrong to me. But basic chemistry is really important, and we come from similar backgrounds. I don't know.

At the same time, I have the opportunity to move. My best friend – the person around whom I feel most like myself – lives in a great city, and I visit her a lot and I think about moving there sometimes. But ... won't my problems just follow me there? My boyfriend says that if I decide to go, he would be open to going with me. My therapist thinks I should stay and work on my issues here for the time being.

My job is boring and I spend way too much time reading your column, other advice columns, and listening to podcasts about the psychology of relationships. I intellectualize everything.

Should I move? Should I break up with my boyfriend? And, more importantly, how do I show up as the person I want to be?

– Questions

You care a lot about people's backgrounds – who's had similar formative experiences – but I'm not so sure that kind of history is as important as you think it is. Some people are simply better with empathy than others. It's not clear that your marriage failed because your ex-husband was sheltered growing up; the two of you were different in so many ways.

Similarly, your new boyfriend might not be right for you even if though he's overcome hardships. In fact, I'm pretty sure he's not your match. Chemistry aside, you feel less shiny when you're with him. You feel wrong – like you're breaking the rules.

Also, you're not 100 percent in with his vegan lifestyle. That seems to be a deal-breaker right there.

It sounds like it's time for you to break up with this guy and try single life, maybe for the first time. If you're going to intellectualize something, let it be your own brain. Get to know yourself.

I can't tell you whether to move, but it sounds like a cool idea (if you go by yourself). I don't want to be in conflict with your therapist, but moving sounds like the thing you want to do. You've described it as a step toward showing up as the person you want to be.

Your problems would follow you, but that's OK. We can work on our problems anywhere.

– Meredith

Readers? Vegan?