One Question Quiz
The single life is calling. (Image: Tina Tiller)
The single life is calling. (Image: Tina Tiller)

SocietyFebruary 29, 2024

Help Me Hera: I don’t want to marry my partner of four years

The single life is calling. (Image: Tina Tiller)
The single life is calling. (Image: Tina Tiller)

I do love them, but I dread the prospect of settling. Is it wrong of me to want something more?

Want Hera’s help? Email your problem to

Dear Hera,

This might not have an easy answer, and that’s okay. Maybe it does and I’m just not ready to face it.

I’ve been dating someone for four years. I do love them, and I love spending time with them, though we live in two different places (I take the train down as much as possible to spend weeks with them). We have two games of D&D, one that I run and one that they run, that involve all of our immediate friends. I’ve been there for the death of their cats, and for their graduation for their master’s program. But they want to get married, and I’ve always thought to myself that I’ll never get married to anyone. I dread it.

All of our friends are mingled together – we share a friend group that is as close as I can think of. But, I just – I don’t want to get married. I don’t want to go and settle down in the small beautiful city that they live in with all of its artists, walking paths, and lovely coffee shops. I want to travel the world, and meet more people, and do things that make me feel like I am having more of a tangible effect on people’s lives (I do what I can here, with the funds I have).

I feel like if I go with them, if I stay, I’ll settle there forever. And I’ll be happy! But I won’t be fulfilled. Our lives are so intertwined, and they are a wonderful person who I love being around, but I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to be abandoned by them and by our friends.

We have something good. I do know that. Is it wrong of me to want something more? I’m sorry if any of this sounds pretentious or poorly thought out. I’ve never put it into words before.



A line of fluorescent green card suit symbols – hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades

Dear Unsettled,

You have a big decision to make. Only, it doesn’t really seem like you’re struggling with the decision. You seem like you’re struggling with the justification for the decision. You say you love your partner. You have a close mutual friend group. If you got married and settled down you’d probably be happy together. Whereas if you break up, you risk destabilising your social group, hurting someone you love, and potentially living to regret your choice. But that doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do.

Perhaps you would be happy if you decided to settle down. But life isn’t about accumulating as much happiness as possible. Life isn’t really about anything. So you might as well decide what’s most important to you and go after it. 

Your letter seems to suggest the reasons you want to break up are primarily situational and have nothing to do with your current partner. But I wonder if that’s really true. You say you “do” love them. But the word “do” hints at a certain reluctance. Forgive me for saying you don’t actually sound very enthusiastic about your current relationship. Reading between the lines, I feel like part of the freedom you’re seeking is the freedom to date other people. 

If you were truly anguished about the prospect of abandoning your partner, I’d offer a different solution. Maybe they’re open to the idea of travelling or moving overseas. After all, living in a city with good public walkways doesn’t necessarily mean your partner is ready to be buried there. And getting married isn’t the same thing as settling down. Perhaps you’ve already raised the idea with them and they weren’t receptive. But the reason I’m not pushing for a more creative solution is that it seems to me you’re more concerned about incurring reputational damage than you are about losing your partner.

This, by the way, isn’t a bad thing. It doesn’t make you an asshole not to want to be with someone, even if that person hasn’t done anything wrong. It’s a lot harder to leave someone you genuinely care about than it is to leave someone who insulted your mother and poisoned your houseplants, especially when your lives are so entangled. But staying with someone you’re not enthusiastic about is more cowardice than kindness. After all, your partner deserves someone who is excited to marry them, not someone who’s going to spend the rest of their life sighing inwardly every time they sees a postcard of a Madagascan jungle canopy. Suppressing your dreams in order to protect someone else’s feelings ultimately does nobody any favours. 

One relationship lesson everyone needs to learn for themselves is that wanting to leave is a good enough reason. You don’t need to have a watertight moral justification. I’m not saying you should moonwalk out of any relationship the second you get bored. But a lack of enthusiasm is a perfectly respectable reason to end things, even if it’s not a popular one. You don’t even have to soften the blow with vague promises of future philanthropy. In fact, if you do end up breaking up, I’d strongly encourage you not to raise the subject. Nobody likes being dumped for allegedly ethical reasons.  

That doesn’t mean your partner or D&D group will necessarily take the news well. But if you’re looking for advice on how to leave a relationship without hurting anyone’s feelings, I’m happy to tell you it’s impossible, so you may as well stop worrying. There will always be people who take sides or get angry at you for upsetting the social equilibrium. But I also think people are also more understanding than you give them credit for, and there’s a good chance many of your mutual friends will understand your perspective, even if things are awkward for a time. 

If you were more ambivalent about marriage, I’d suggest a compromise. But “dread” is a very strong word. I’m curious to know what terrifies you about marriage. Is it the ceremony? The commitment? Does the idea of being with someone long term scare you, or are your objections rooted in a horror of what marriage represents? If you have a habit of abandoning people and the urge to flee is an insidious pattern in your life that causes you and the people you love harm, I’d suggest rethinking your relationship to commitment. But it sounds to me like you’re just young and figuring out what sort of life you want to lead, not an immediate candidate for intensive psychotherapy. 

I’m always wary of telling people to break up. It’s one of those pieces of advice people love to give but never take, like drinking two litres of water a day, or reading the collected works of W. G. Sebald. But I feel like your situation is slightly different, in that you haven’t already made a firm commitment. You’ve been straddling two worlds, and now it’s time to shit or get off the lavatorial apparatus that is, for the purposes of this metaphor, your partner’s heart. 

The pain of hurting someone you love is real. So is giving up safety and comfort for a more nebulous quest for existential gratification. But it’s never kind to stay with someone out of fear of hurting their feelings. That will only diminish both of your lives, and hurt you both, in invisible and insidious ways. Nobody wants to be someone else’s second choice. 

Want Hera’s help? Email your problem to all the previous Help Me Heras here.

Keep going!