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July 10, 2007

The Perma-Girlfriend

We were talking about the whole Insta-Girlfriend phenomenon, and we realized that there's a parallel (parallel? adjacent? perpendicular? rhombus? okay, it's definitely not rhombus, that's just a fun word) situation: the Perma-Girlfriend.

Perma-Girlfriend refers to people who will stay in a relationship forever, even thought it's just not quite going where they want it to go. Some of them will say that their relationships are great most of the time, but occasionally slip and admit their frustrations. Some of them are honest about the fact that things aren't progressing the way they'd like, but still won't do anything about it. And some are just in denial. We're not talking about someone who procrastinates for a few months on a breakup because the relationship is safe and comfortable, but then sucks it up and does the right thing. And we're not talking about Gene Simmons and Shannon Tweed. We're talking about the girl who says "oh, so what if we've been together for nine years and he still hasn't proposed yet? Marriage is just a piece of paper", but keeps a secret stash of bridal magazines under the bed.

Don't get us wrong. We're not saying that every relationship needs to be serious, or that everyone should want to get married, or that relationships that aren't following the ring-kids-dog-whitepicketfence formula are a waste of time. We're the last people who would argue any of that. We just have a hard time relating to the mindset of a person who would stay in a relationship year after year after year when they know deep down that they aren't getting what they truly want out of it.

We've known a couple of perma-girlfriends that seemed happy enough most of the time, but would occasionally go off on rants about how annoying engaged people are, how annoyed they were that society valued married and engaged couples more than other couples, and how stupid concepts like "true love" and "the one" and "soulmates" are. Now, we agree that engaged people can sometimes be annoying, and our society does have a pretty screwed up view of marriage in many ways, and it's okay not to believe in things like soulmates. But when your ranting is less about social commentary and more about a thinly veiled expression of your own unhappiness and jealousy, it's a problem.

One of us knew a girl who started dating her boyfriend in college and finally married him at 29. She said that at one point in their relationship, she got frustrated that things weren't progressing faster and told him that they were "taking a break" so he could "figure out what he really wanted'. (It's one thing to ask for a break because you need time and space, but kinda another thing to force the other person to take it. In some cases maybe it's warranted, but still doesn't seem like the best possible situation). When he would try to contact her during the "break", she would tell him that he wasn't allowed to speak to her until he had figured things out. (Open and honest communication was clearly not one of the things she wanted to work on.) Apparently he finally told her what she wanted to hear, because they got back together and eventually he proposed. Hopefully they'll have a long and happy married life with no major problems, because that whole break/silent treatment technique gets a lot more complicated once you're actually married, and it's hard enough to get a "time out" to work on kids, let alone husbands.

Another girl we knew was living with her boyfriend, a med student. They had been together for years, except for one brief period when he left her for another woman, then eventually reconsidered and came crawling back. Almost all of his time was (understandably) spent either at the hospital or studying, but she was often frustrated that she couldn't get him to spend any of his limited free time on her or their relationship. On the rare occasions that she convinced him to actually take a little time off, it would always have to be on his terms, like going away to visit his friends only. Last we heard, they were engaged. Guess that's one wedding that she'll be planning on her own.

Another acquaintance was dealing with that fact that her sex drive didn't match with her long-time boyfriend's at all. She wanted it every day (a girl after our own hearts) while he was happy with once or twice a month. It may not seem like the most serious relationship problem, but in some ways it is a compatibility issue and it is a big compromise. And another girl was caught in a cycle of breaking up and getting back together with her boyfriend because they really loved each other, but one wanted to have kids and the other didn't. She thought about going to therapy to work on her family issues, but never actually went, and he thought about just breaking it off for good, but couldn't quite do it. So they were stuck.

We understand that relationships take work, and that breaking up and getting back together isn't the end of the world. We even understand ultimatums. In theory. In some situations. But do you really want to have to manipulate and guilt someone into proposing (or having sex with you, or having kids, or anything else)? Do you really want to marry someone who doesn't 100% totally and completely with all of their heart want to marry you too? Do you want to put yourself in a position to say "wow, I can't believe I wasted so much time"?

This sounds a little cheesy, but we think it's true. Safety and comfort and the familiar are all nice. But if they don't come with real true deep-down happiness...they're not enough.


Shar said...

Fuck yes.
100% agreed.
I have been there done that and learned from that. NEVER again...kids or not.
Kids respond to happiness ... married or otherwise.
i have a friend or two going thru it now and will learn the lesson eventually.
unless they turn into the type that need the "insta-___" then they may never learn it.
I complain at times, and even complain bitterly about being single and being single for a long period of time... but i tell ya what...i would rather be single for the rest of my life than end up in a shitty relationship trying to convince myself that I am "in love" for the rest of my life.

Pheonix said...

I dunno, I think the one who took a break did the right thing. Check this:

Man has woman
Man has all the sex he wants
Man probably lives with woman
Man throws his laundry in with woman's
Man doesn't have to make bed
Man has maid who also cooks
Woman does all things man would get if he were married minus kids and sharing his cash.

So her backing off and saying, "damn you I want a pretty sparkly thing on my finger!!!" is a step in the right direction. She gave him too much shit for nothing and taking it away made him realize how much she was really worth to him.

I think the real problem in situations like those are the "why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free" kind.


- also... I hate people who try to force their boyfriends into marriage after only dating for 6 months... I also hate people in their late 20's who date 19 year olds, AND I HATE HATE HATE when family tries to "introduce" you to people...

:) the end


Actually, the couple who took a break didn't move in together until after they got engaged. It's a valid point though, so maybe it was kinda the opposite situation--she was frustrated because she was following the 'rules' and not 'giving it up for free' and he still wasn't proposing. So she resorted to just cutting off all contact ;)

It wasn't so much what she did as her attitude about it--it's totally legitimate to say 'hey this isn't working so let's take a little time and figure it out', but it was more like 'hey this isn't working for me so you need to take some time to figure out how to do exactly what I want, and during that time we're not allowed to talk so we can't actually communicate or work anything out'. I get what she did and why she did it (and hey, it worked!), it was more the way that she did it that I had an issue with.

We hear you on people who try to force their partners into marriage really quickly (the insta-marriage? haha) And we also just love that show Engaged and Underage on MTV, there are some super 'healthy' relationships there.