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Ask Kelly: Is There Something Missing In My Relationship?

Plus, what to do when close friends miss your 30th birthday.
Enjoying some much needed time in nature in Lake Tahoe

Enjoying some much needed time in nature in Lake Tahoe

Where did summer go?! The Google doc where I started writing down all my notes for this column was titled "Ask Kelly August," and now here we are at the very tail end of September and it's 40 degrees outside here in the mornings. I had a very busy summer (which by now you probably already know was spent interviewing 40 incredible people and eventually onboarding Katie and Steph!) and somehow the time has absolutely flown by. This summer I also found all the best ribbed tank tops, went to the Minnesota State Fair, and got Covid for the very first time after flying home from a wedding in Lake Tahoe which knocked both me and my boyfriend out for almost two weeks. Get those boosters, wear those masks, and stay safe out there :)

If you have a question for me, submit it here!

Hey Kelly! This is regarding something you wrote in one of your previous columns about the many reasons why people might call it quits early on in a developing relationship, such as "a general feeling that something is missing." You listed this as a minor reason but to me it feels major! It's something I've been thinking about a lot in my current relationship, which is about nine months old, so early-ish. I love spending time with him, am deeply attracted to him, our values align on the important stuff, we have similar interests but different fields of work, we're physically/sexually in sync, and he's a kind and thoughtful partner... but I can't shake the feeling that something is missing. Like I'm supposed to feel something more, something bigger... you know, that feeling of complete certainty that *this* is the person I want.

On the one hand I understand it might be asking for too much when we're not even a year into the relationship, but on the other I'm worried that if I haven't felt it yet, I may not ever?

For context, we're both in our mid to late 30s, so we're much more mindful of not wanting to be in a relationship without a future. Also for further context, I'd add that although I often feel strong surges of love and affection towards him, and adore being around him, at no point in our relationship have I felt head over heels in love.

So that brings me to my question, finally–are these kinds of doubts something you or someone you know have ever experienced? Is it better to listen to my gut, which is telling me that maybe something's just not right, or to give the relationship (and those feelings) time to grow and develop? – Feeling Unsure

Dear Feeling Unsure,

I’m not sure if you’re aware of the depth of knowledge I have regarding Miss Taylor Alison Swift and her entire discography since 2008, but you’re about to be served a large dose of song lyrics straight from the queen herself. Your question immediately brought to mind one of her songs from Fearless (which was her first Grammy win for Album of The Year) that sets the stage for my answer to your question. Here they are:

He is sensible and so incredible

And all my single friends are jealous

He says everything I need to hear, and it's like

I couldn't ask for anything better

He opens up my door and I get into his car

And he says, "You look beautiful tonight"

And I feel perfectly fine

But I miss screaming and fighting and kissing in the rain

And it's 2 a.m. and I'm cursing your name

So in love that you act insane

And that's the way I loved you

Breaking down and coming undone

It's a roller coaster kind of rush

And I never knew I could feel that much

And that's the way I loved you

First, I’d like to note: Taylor wrote this song when she was around 18 years old. Makes sense, right? She has this great guy and really can’t fault him for anything, but there’s something missing for her. She misses the “roller coaster rush” of her toxic ex, who she was so in love with that she “acted insane.” She actually liked “screaming and fighting and kissing in the rain” with this guy, and her love for him caused her to “break down and come undone.” Honestly the relationship she had with her ex sounds… awful? And Taylor sounds really young here, which she was. Like she has a lot of growing up to do.

It’s worth noting that the Taylor of now (almost 33) is in an extremely private, seemingly drama-free relationship with Joe Alwyn, and it appears she’s done a 180 on this whole “prizing a relationship that is super intense and makes her cry” thing. In fact, by the time she was working on her other Album of The Year winner, Folklore, she started writing about other people’s stories because there probably wasn’t quite enough drama going on in her personal life to fill an entire album. I absolutely love that for her. I think you likely get where I’m going here, but here’s my question for you: You say something is missing in your relationship with this kind of perfect guy, and that you’ve never felt head over heels in love with him. But is that the goal? To feel “head over heels” in love?

Let’s examine that phrase a little. Being “head over heels” immediately reminds me of being on a beach vacation as a child, the first time I ever experienced what getting caught in really intense surf was like. That completely out of control, will-I-ever-come-up-for-air feeling; my body being thrown carelessly around by the waves like a rag doll. My dad was picking rocks and sand out of my hair for days. Let me tell you, being literally head over heels wasn’t exhilarating. It was terrifying. I’ve been a little bit afraid of the ocean ever since.

I think Hollywood has done an incredible job over the years convincing us (especially women) that Great Love often comes with drama, unpredictability, and even a little toxicity. That relationships can’t just be easy. Take Carrie and Mr. Big, for example. Aidan, the really great, “drama free” guy who treats Carrie with more love and respect than she deserves, gets the boot because Carrie prefers the man who moves out of the country without even consulting her, comes back married, and then cheats on his new wife with Carrie because he’s just so addicted to her. And they end up together in the end! This is where the idea that “nice guys finish last” comes from, people!

From your question, I can’t help but wonder (see what I did there) if you’re feeling dissatisfied about some aspect of your life that you’re mistakenly attributing to your partner. My mom broke up with my dad for this very reason when they were in their early 20s, but they got back together shortly after when my mom realized that my dad (kind, respectful, extremely non-toxic “nice guy” energy) wasn’t the problem. It was her career–my mom got a degree in chemistry but has the personality of a CEO, and realized she kind of messed up right after she graduated. One marriage, an MBA, and two kids later, she figured it out. Thankfully for me (lol), my drama-free dad wasn’t the problem!

All this being said, I could also easily write a full essay about the other side of this argument, too. The side that acknowledges listening to your gut is important, and if you truly feel something is missing, it probably is. I’ll be honest, I was surprised to learn that you and your partner are in your mid to late 30s, so you probably do have a lot of dating experience that provides important context about how you feel in this relationship compared to others you’ve been in. This tells me that maybe, despite being a great partner who checks all the boxes, this isn’t your person. If you haven't read this essay yet, see how it makes you feel.

A few more questions you could try asking yourself are these: How upset would you be if this relationship suddenly ended? Have you found the right person but you’re afraid of commitment, and you’re looking for an excuse to end it? Are you caught in a cycle of toxicity that leads you to believe that a relationship needs drama to thrive?

I’ll leave you with a personal anecdote from my own life (rather than taken from fictional characters and celebrities who are not our actual friends, even though we wish they were!!). This summer, a friend of mine wrote some wedding vows I hadn’t heard before, and they really stuck with me. In front of all their loved ones on a warm day in June, she told her partner that she didn’t fall in love with him, she walked into love, head held high, eyes clear, feet fully on the ground. She said it was the most sure feeling she’d ever had in her life– this process of walking into forever love, slowly, with caution and clarity, rather than falling in love quickly, intensely, and all at once.

x Kelly

Dear Kelly,

So this question feels semi-silly, but I turned 30 last week and had a ton of people in my life reach out and felt so much love, which was of course great! Two friends, who I consider close friends, both never reached out and it has left me with this nagging feeling. I have tried really hard to focus on all of the love that I did receive, but for some reason these two people not reaching out really hurt my feelings. I consider them both close friends so much so that I am supposed to travel (outside the country) to visit one of them in the fall.

 They both live internationally, so we do communicate less frequently (maybe once every 6-8 weeks or so) than some of my other friends. I understand that people get busy and sometimes it just slips someone's mind, but 30 feels like a big one to miss. I have never missed either of their birthdays so I think what I am feeling is a sense of imbalance of the friendship. I find myself questioning: Are we not as good of friends as I thought we were? I am not really on social media so I didn't post about my birthday or anything, which I know can be a way to nudge/remind people.

I am also trying to remind myself that people texting you one day out of the year should not be the measure of a friendship. I have thought about how these two friends have shown up for me in many other ways over the years. So why is this bugging me so much?

My question is: Do I have a right to feel hurt? Is it something you would ever bring up to a friend? If so, how do you even bring that up? It feels a little dramatic to me. Yet, here I am writing this question. Do you just move on and pretend they didn't forget? Has this ever happened to you or someone you know? I would appreciate your perspective and/or advice.

Also, I just wanted to say that if either of them remembered (even if it was a month late) and realized that they forgot and texted me, I would be totally fine and not give it a second thought. So in terms of what I want from them: I want them to remember this major life milestone. – Vanessa

Dear Vanessa,

I feel you on this! Truly. I’m acutely aware that most people really don’t care about birthdays (and when I say “most people,” I actually have no idea how many; I would love to do a poll and find out) but I definitely feel a little deflated when my close friends forget my birthday or other life milestones that I feel are noteworthy. I have a similar situation happening right now with one of my best friends from college, and I’ve spent a lot of time and energy questioning our friendship and my own feelings about her missing my birthday (among other things) this year, even if it wasn’t a major milestone. So your question doesn’t seem silly at all to me, it feels very relatable!

You’ve just turned 30, which I do think is an important rite of passage and something worth celebrating, even if it isn’t something you chose or achieved (it will happen no matter what!). My 30th birthday was coincidentally around the exact same time I first noticed that I was drifting farther away from my college friends. I don’t think there’s a magic formula that can predict when/if this will happen, but ask around, and see what your other friends around your same age are experiencing with their friendships right now. Speaking for myself, I have not lived in the same state as any of my college friends since we were 22, and although we worked really hard at maintaining our friendships throughout most of our 20s, sometimes these relationships do fade naturally over time. You mentioned that the two friends in question live quite far away from you, which doesn’t make it any easier.

Long distance friendships require effort on both sides. My college friends are all still pretty tight, but a big part of that is because they all stayed in Colorado after college–I was the only one who left. I started living a totally different life out in California, and now in Minnesota. Trips, phone calls, and texts worked for a long time, but maintaining a friendship (even those that aren’t long distance) is a two-way street. Seems obvious, right? But as life gets more complicated and filled up with career building, new friendships, relationships, children, buying houses or settling down in a new city, and everything else that often happens in your 20s/30s, friendships that don’t benefit from easy in-person reminders do take more effort to actually maintain, and can easily get lost in the shuffle of everyday life. Social media unfortunately is a really helpful way to remember birthdays and other important milestones amidst all the chaos, so the fact that you’re not on it could definitely be in play here. We are all busy, burnt out, and dealing with *tiny* things like inflation, having our rights as women taken away, climate change, and the lasting effects of a global pandemic. It’s a lot!

While I totally relate to the birthday thing and similarly read too much into it, I think it would be more useful to focus on the imbalance in the friendship that you feel. Is this the first time you’ve felt the imbalance? If so, I’d try your best to shrug this off. I think you have every right to feel hurt that your friends missed a major milestone that was important to you, but try to keep the healthy perspective you already seem to have. I’d send your friends a text that says something like: “Hi {name}! How are you doing? It was my 30th last month and it bummed me out to not hear from you. Could we schedule a Zoom date soon to catch up?” Your friends will probably smack themselves on the head and go out of their way to make it right.

However, if you’ve noticed this imbalance for a while, that’s a bit of a different story, and unfortunately, harder to figure out. I actually wrote in to Ask Polly a few months ago with a very similar question to yours (sadly she didn’t choose it) because I’m not exactly sure what the answer is. When you feel an imbalance in a longstanding friendship with a close friend who may never live in the same place as you again, what do you do? Try to salvage and reinvigorate the friendship, or let it fade naturally and move on?

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot recently, and like many things people write in to my column with, I could easily argue both sides. Speaking for myself, as I approach my mid-30s, I find that I really only have the mental and emotional capacity to maintain a certain, somewhat limited amount of friendships, and the ones I already have (and focus on maintaining) are truly incredible. Any energy that I have left in the friendship category I think would be better spent building new ones with women in my new city, rather than attempting to revitalize old friendships that are naturally fading. I love that you asked me this question because it is complicated. I totally understand that you feel like it sounds dramatic. But is taking the time and space to focus on understanding your emotions and relationships with others dramatic? I think it’s necessary, mature, and I respect the hell out of it. I don’t have any definitive answers, but I applaud you for writing in with this question. If I ever find any clear answers, I’ll definitely let you know.

x Kelly

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