I\’m a 29-year-old woman who approaches relationships like a guy — meaning not with the mentality that a relationship is the be-all and end-all. What about being fine with yourself without a man? (Oh, what a crazy thought!) For five months, I\’ve been seeing a guy who\’s loyal, funny, kind and in love with me — basically, everything a woman would want. I care for him, but something\’s missing — that really great connection part. If the relationship ended tomorrow, I\’d probably miss him, but I wouldn\’t really care. That sounds awful, I know. Maybe I\’m being unrealistic (people tell me that), but I don\’t want to settle. I know all relationships are work, and perhaps I\’m not working at mine as I should. Still, there are couples who seem so effortlessly in love and happy together. Am I just not long-term relationship material? Do I have some deep-seated fear of commitment? Or, could it be I\’m just too picky?
— Odd Duck
As many people do, you apply the Puritan work ethic to relationships: "All relationships are work." Maybe so, but some relationships are McJobs. Imagine putting an ad in the paper for your current low-benefit, no-advancement situation: "More fun than snuggling up with \’Accounting Made Simple.\’ "Or maybe, "Going nowhere with him beats going to the hospital with E. coli." (Oh, to be young and in apathy!)
Unbridled passion does have its downsides; for example, couples consumed by it are always so busy ripping their clothes off and shoving china from the dining room table that they never get to count the number of little white bumps on the bedroom ceiling. Also, if you do have a spark, there\’s a good chance you\’ll eventually be sitting around with your girlfriends complaining you\’ve lost it, and that nirvana is starting to look a lot like a run-down section of Bakersfield.
Even so, you\’d walk away from everything you have for a chance at a spark. Who do you think you are, missy, that "good on paper" isn\’t good enough for you? Well, for starters, you\’re a girl whose sense of self isn\’t modeled after a sinkhole. Oddly, you\’re still influenced by the relationship version of the "starving children in India" argument. In reality, you can hoover up every green bean in the Western Hemisphere, and it will not cause Happy Meals to rain down on Calcutta. Likewise, while there are legions of love-starved women across North America, your being grateful for what you have — zero connection, but with the perfect man — won\’t lead these women to unlist their numbers so as not to be annoyed at all hours by random marriage proposals.
I once got "fired" by a shrink after one session for an attitude like yours. I was in my early 30s and having a hard time finding a boyfriend. The shrink listened, then made her pronouncement: "You have high standards, you accept the consequences, that\’s very healthy, I really have nothing else to say to you, don\’t come back." OK, maybe you do fear commitment, maybe you\’re too picky — or maybe you shouldn\’t expect to find a guy who\’s right for you while you\’re tied up with a guy who\’s wrong. If you aren\’t unhappy holding out for more, why worry that you aren\’t unhappy? Just go back to being without a man and being fine with it, but keep looking. While you\’re at it, keep in mind that the couples who seem so effortlessly in love are those who held out for chemistry — having the physical, mental and emotional hots for each other — as opposed to what you\’ve had for the past five months: indifference with aspirations. (But, hey, whatever sinks your boat!)
Shrugs and kisses
I was pursuing a woman who\’d left me for another guy, and a woman I work with told me if I\’d stop obsessing over the past, I\’d notice somebody who was in love with me. She and I have now been together for two happy months, and I love her very much. The problem is, my ex just broke off her engagement, and my new girlfriend\’s feeling insecure. How do I convince her my ex isn\’t a threat?
— Middle Man
Sometimes "I love her" means "I love her," and sometimes it means "I got the worst stitch in my side chasing my ex." If you really do love your new girlfriend, surely you\’ve got reasons — beyond the fact that she was single, available and in love with you. If so, do let her in on them. In time, she should stop seeing herself as the human incarnation of a bad game show prize — like a boat trailer won by some struggling single mother. They zoom in on her face, and she\’s forcing a smile, but in her eyes, all you can see are the "for sale" signs.