I’m a 40-year-old guy seeing a 29-year-old woman for four months. I seem to have a pattern of dating women with serious problems. Sure enough, weeks after we met, she suffered a major emotional upheaval that triggered issues from her history of abuse (a vicious marriage). As an understanding companion, educated about abuse (I’m a part-time counselor), I’ve elected to stay. This has meant shelving my needs across the board. Sex was OK at first, but we hadn’t been together many times before she fell apart, suffering from major PTSD symptoms. I’m her mainstay, so we’re still seeing each other, but without physical intimacy, and she isn’t even comfortable going out on dates. There’s no telling when she’ll want me as a companion again, but I can’t just toss somebody to the curb when they’ve been hit by a bus.

There For Her

So, you’re a part-time counselor. Aren’t you supposed to close your case files and take off your telephone headset before you leave the crisis center? I mean, if you were a doctor, you wouldn’t go home and remove your wife’s appendix or go to neighborhood barbecues and do tonsillectomies.

Of course, probably a big part of your self-image is how different you are from ordinary men. For starters, most guys just have to match their belt and shoes. You’ve got an additional element to coordinate — that 9-foot wooden crucifix you strap on your back every morning. But, hey, it’s for a noble cause. Or is it? There you are, time and time again, pairing up with women who are too wounded to leave you. Hell, this one probably had a hard time leaving some guy who beat her up. And then, just weeks into knowing you, she’s too shell-shocked to go on dinner dates. Yet, instead of telling her, "Hey, let’s be friends," you trot over, make her a little nest and feed her out of an eyedropper.

Now, it’s one thing if your longtime love gets diagnosed with a brain tumor. Of course you’re not gonna be, like, "Well, bummer! I’m outta here. Good luck with chemo! If I remember, I’ll send you one of those cute knit hats with a butterfly pinned on it." It’s a totally different story — or should be — when you’ve just met somebody, and it’s clear that they aren’t partner material in really fundamental ways. That’s your cue to extend your arm and flail your hand around. Also known as waving goodbye.

The reality is, you’re probably too wimpy to take the chance that somebody would want you just for you, and not because having your shoulder to cry on saves them hundreds of dollars in Kleenex. But, instead of recognizing your wimpiness as a flaw to fix, you spin it like you’re on assignment for Doctors Without Borders (uh, try Man Without Testicles). As a bonus, you get to feel like Dr. Phil next to all these Humpty Dumpties — giving you even less incentive to mop up after yourself. Breaking your pattern takes having the guts to be selfish. Not mean-selfish, but appropriately selfish: Putting your needs first. You should also redefine your idea of a relationship. Here, try mine: "Two people who have more fun together and are better together than they are alone." You’re sure to find it more satisfying than the redefinition you’ve been working from: "It’s not that she won’t have sex with me, it’s just that her idea of foreplay is a decade of intensive therapy."  

What would John Cusack do?

I’m a guy in my mid-20s. Because I’m an idiot and nervous about commitment, I broke up with my girlfriend. I promptly realized I’d made a terrible mistake, but she said she couldn’t risk getting hurt again. I am serious about her, but I also don’t want to hassle her.

—  Hoping It Isn’t Hopeless

"OK well, goodbye," isn’t exactly the stuff chick flicks are made of. That would be the guy playing the boombox under the girl’s window, running into center field to tell her he loves her, or going to Hertz and renting the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse pulling the rolling billboard, "The end is near, let’s tie the knot!"

If she truly couldn’t risk getting hurt again, she’d join a convent and raise tomatoes. She’s asking you to prove you’ve got what it takes to be with her. Some extravagant gesture is called for. If the Four Horsemen are booked, maybe show up with some vast bouquet of flowers and move on to a show of vulnerability: She’s hurting, you’re hurting, you’re hurting that she’s hurting, and, boy, have you learned your lesson. And let’s hope you have, because relationship-saving stunts work best in movieland. In reality, if some lovesick guy climbs a hooker’s fire escape, they don’t call it "Pretty Woman," they call it 3-to-5 for breaking and entering.

(c)2008, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave., #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail AdviceAmy@aol.com (www.advicegoddess.com)