Whatever the flaws in their relationship, he told himself, being with her was better than being single in Portland again. Now in his early 30s, Jacob felt he had no idea how to make a relationship work. Would permanence simply happen, or would he have to choose it? All of a sudden I was going out with one or two very pretty, ambitious women a week. They dated for a few months, and then she moved in.

“It’s always ‘I wish I was as important as the basketball game or the concert.’ ” An only child, Jacob tended to make plans by negotiation: if his girlfriend would watch the game with him, he’d go hiking with her.

He was passive in their arguments, hoping to avoid confrontation.

She placed a high value on things he didn’t think much about: a solid credit score, a 40-hour workweek.

Jacob also felt pressure from his parents, who were getting anxious to see him paired off for good.

Past girlfriends had complained about his lifestyle, which emphasized watching sports and going to concerts and bars.

He’d been called lazy, aimless, and irresponsible with money.

Having lived in New York and the Boston area, he was accustomed to ready-made social scenes.

In Portland, by contrast, most of his friends were in long-term relationships with people they’d met in college, and were contemplating marriage.

“I went from being someone who thought of finding someone as this monumental challenge, to being much more relaxed and confident about it.