Are thoughts of leaving my partner and moving abroad a sign of an early midlife crisis? | Ask Annalisa Barbieri

You can’t not do something for fear of another’s reaction – but you need to talk this through with her first

I’m a 32-year-old man and find myself at a crossroads.

I have a good life: a decent job, I live comfortably with my girlfriend, who I know loves me. We are the same age.

All of my friends and family, who were local, have either moved to different cities or started families. I have some very good friends but our communication is all online and I often feel isolated.

Our life is nice but I sometimes feel bored. My girlfriend spends a lot of time with her family who live nearby. She wants to start a family in the very near future. I’ve always been more unsure about children and this issue has caused minor arguments lately. I found myself agreeing to start trying next year, but the more I think about it the more I wonder if I did that just because I love her and am choosing her needs over my own.

Recently, I went abroad to meet some friends and had the best time. I met so many great new people, including a woman who I got along well with. Nothing happened, but she made it clear how disappointed she was that I was unavailable. One of my friends has been saying for a while they could help me get a job over there, but I always dismissed it. I found it hard to come home, and for the first week felt very restless. I still have a niggle in the back of my brain that I can’t get rid of.

I’m not sure how to reconcile my different priorities with my girlfriend. I’m also worried that if I were to leave, it would destroy her. Is this just a silly midlife crisis that will pass, or should I pursue it?

It’s fine, laudable even, to put the needs of others before our own sometimes, but eventually our own needs do come knocking.

Psychotherapist Mark Vahrmeyer ( says: “You can’t seem to bring your needs into a relationship and are dismissing your feelings but your inner world is trying to communicate something with you at the same time.”

I got a strong sense of you being stuck and lost. Stuck with your girlfriend (stagnating even), and a bit lost without family and friends to orientate you. I wonder where and with whom you feel most yourself long term, not just on holiday? It’s often from a stable base that we make the best decisions. Have you tried talking about this to friends and family?

Unless you can communicate to your girlfriend how you really feel, it’s not the right environment into which to bring a child. It’s also only fair you tell her the truth about your feelings so she can make a decision for herself. Far from being devastated she may be relieved to hear the truth. Also, you are 50% of the relationship and what you want matters.

You can’t not do something for fear of another’s reaction. I wonder if somewhere in your past you were overwhelmed by someone’s feelings and have learned to subsume your emotions.

While it’s great you discovered a different part of yourself abroad, Vahrmeyer pointed out something quite important – the woman you met was “disappointed” that you weren’t available, but again we didn’t get a sense of what you wanted, only her. In other words, if putting people first and not really tapping in to what you want is what you’re used to, eventually, when the novelty and the shine of a new move or place wanes, you’ll do that wherever you are. We can’t escape ourselves. Vahrmeyer explains that “going away wasn’t really about the country you were in, more escaping [the confines of] your inner world.”

You need to recreate how you felt abroad here, where you live, and make it a sustainable feeling. To do this you really need to “slow this right down,” suggests Vahrmeyer – “what does love mean to you? What do you want from your life? These are huge questions and there’s not a simple answer but one that will emerge over time.”

These are also scary questions for someone used to putting others first; by going along with what your girlfriend wants (or any woman you meet) you can avoid these hard asks. For a while life seems easy, but that inner world will come knocking.

• Every week Annalisa Barbieri addresses a personal problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Annalisa, please send your problem to Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions.

• Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure the discussion remains on the topics raised by the article. Please be aware that there may be a short delay in comments appearing on the site.

• The latest series of Annalisa’s podcast is available here.


Annalisa Barbieri

The GuardianTramp

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