I’m a little over 50 and in a long-term situationship. How might I change the situation? Or leave?

·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Alamy</span>
Photograph: Alamy

I’m a little over 50 and have been in a long-term “situationship” with a man a little older than I am. Mostly it’s fine, and useful on a practical level, but I often find myself confused and hurt over emotional matters and not being included in his life outside of his house.

A recent birthday outing, which I was not invited to, has brought into focus how I am not his partner. He is old enough to be of a different generation to me and seems unable to discuss feelings, commitment or anything of that nature. When I try to say what I feel and need, this is met with silence, a change of subject or if I push, anger.

I’m coming to realise I’ve allowed this to carry on while feeling I’m not getting much of what I need. I think the situation is not very good for me. Staying around feels as if I’m half alive, but when I decide leaving is my best option that leads me down a path of despair. How might I change the situation? Or leave intentionally and finally?

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Eleanor says: When the situation we want to change is a matter of someone else’s decisions, the strategy for changing it is almost always: “We can’t.” It sounds like this man has made a decision not to include you in the rest of his life, at least not as much as you’d like.

It’s very difficult to get someone to change that kind of thing, and you can waste a lot of time and self-esteem banging your head against their decision.

What we can change is whether we stay.

It can be very difficult to realise when to call time on hoping someone will change their mind. Hope is such a powerful engine of relationships. Being attracted in the first place, wanting a second or third date, it’s all fuelled by the hope that the next thing we see of this person will be exciting too. It can be really hard to stop seeing someone through that optimistic lens; to switch from assessing what’s coming next in terms of what is possible to what is likely.

But at a certain point that’s what we have to do. “You can’t eat hope,” as the saying goes: we need sustenance in our relationships, not just the possibility that we might get it someday.

You say you feel you’re not getting what you need, that this situation isn’t very good for you, and that you often feel confused and hurt. It sounds like you’ve given him opportunities to care that you feel this way, and that you haven’t walked away from those conversations feeling more seen or held than you did before.

This isn’t necessarily a death knell for the relationship: some people have reasons for acting stilted in emotional conversations, or fearful of the needs of others. What matters is whether that resistance is something he’d like to push through, or whether it’s his way of telling you exactly how much (ie how little) you can expect from him. Only you’re in a position to assess that, but I’d bet your first thought was the right one.

If you do decide to leave, you asked how to do it intentionally and finally.

These things don’t need to feel like conflict or tragedy. You can present your exit matter-of-factly as an if/then: if this relationship isn’t going to make me feel secure or wanted, then it’s not good for me to stay in it. It can have the flavour of “my hands are tied”; “I just can’t do something that isn’t good for me.” Putting it this way can help us reclaim some of the power or dignity that wears thin when people don’t want us in their lives as much as we’d like.

But if you leave you have to leave. Situationships are like pets or kids in that regard: saying “no” but not sticking to it can lead to worse outcomes than if you never refused in the first place.

It’s painful to decide it’s time to stop investing your hope in someone. But at least once you do, that hope can be redirected: to the possibility that life can feel better than it does right now.


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