I’ve been dating a guy for two years now. We currently live on opposite coasts (I’m in graduate school, he’s a professor), but we manage to see each other relatively frequently. We’ve had
our share of problems, mainly due to past bad relationship experiences, but also because we have very different ways of relating. I’m very passionate, though I try not to let my emotions have too powerful an effect on my actions, something I learned, in part, from him. He is dispassionate and sometimes almost cold. He’s been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which has obviously had a significant effect on how he interacts with people. He’s very controlled, all the time, and when he does get deeply depressed, he hides it from pretty much everyone (though not me).
The problem is we do not see eye to eye on what being a good partner means. He’s not big on saying “I love you” or buying gifts outside of holidays. He thinks such things are unnecessary, and that a desire for them suggests neediness and insecurity. Providing reassurance is something he dislikes intensely. He says he shows me he loves me by being faithful and dependable and that’s what’s important. I agree about the importance of those things, but I think the other stuff is important, too. I do send him little gifts and cards. I do express my love for him (though not as much as I used to as it’s kind of awkward). Now, that stuff is annoying and perhaps indicative of a lack of commitment on his part.
He says he shows me he loves me by being faithful and dependable and that’s what’s important.
When I’ve pressed him on the commitment issue, he says he is committed to me, fully and completely. But he doesn’t think about us having a future together because he never thinks about the future. I know he’s not lying, he truly doesn’t think about the future outside of unavoidable logistical matters. His job is very stressful and he’s a very intense individual, with the added handicap of trying to keep his highs and lows under control. Thinking about the future really is terrifying for him at this stage in his career (pre-tenure).
Anyway, I am troubled by this whole situation. I know he loves me, though I’m frustrated that he has so much trouble telling me. More importantly, given the long distance nature of our relationship, I find it hard not to sometimes long for a future time when we’ll actually be living in the same place. It bothers me that he doesn’t want to think about that. I agree that thinking too much about the future of a relationship can lead to serious problems, but can you really be committed to a relationship if you’re not at least a little future-oriented? He believes that if you act like a rational, careful adult in a relationship, the future will take care of itself.
So I’m conflicted. I love him and I want to be with him. He’s brilliant and funny and completely dependable in most ways. When we’re physically together he’s very affectionate and sweet. And we have a wonderful sex life. But he doesn’t want to think of the future, not even to plan to be together someday. He’s also anti-marriage and children but I don’t care too much about that, except in that it also suggests that he fears commitment.
Writing this has made it obvious to me that this is an issue I have to figure out for myself. I want reassurance that he does love me and does want the relationship to last. But should I need that? Nobody knows what will happen in the future, and most relationships do end. So my question to you is, what does commitment really mean? Is it just a lie we tell ourselves? Is it actually better to just take things a day at a time and try to be the best people we can be, both in a relationship and outside of it?
Well stated, and slightly different than previous questions I’ve answered about commitment:
(As you can see, these questions are universal and have usually been tackled before – see the “search” button below Ask Evan on the left side).
Where to begin? Let’s start from the end and work backwards.
No, commitment isn’t just a lie we tell ourselves. There are people who truly understand the meaning of it and do their best to embody and honor it every day. There are more people who never thought too deeply about what it meant. Take Tiger Woods, for example.
I can assure you that if you laid out a chart of what Tiger would lose (money, respect, endorsements, marriage) vs. what he gained (sex in a car with a skanky Vegas cocktail waitress), he’d make a different decision.
It seems clear that however much he loved – or lusted for – his wife, he was a guy who, as a 30-year-old, attractive, travelling billionaire celebrity superstar, wasn’t ready for everything that commitment entailed. His iron will on the golf course didn’t extend to his marriage. And, make no mistake, when you’re in Tiger Woods’ position, you need an iron will to stay committed. I’m not letting him off the hook, but he has FAR more temptation and opportunity than the rest of us.
I’m not going to spend any more on Tiger, except to say that I’ve debated friends about this and don’t think he’s a sex addict or an evil person. I just think he’s a powerful narcissist who was able to detach himself from his actions for as long as he could. I can assure you that if you laid out a chart of what Tiger would lose (money, respect, endorsements, marriage) vs. what he gained (sex in a car with a skanky Vegas cocktail waitress), he’d make a different decision.
To bring this back to you, Emily, I share my thought on Tiger to illustrate how people are irrational decision makers and don’t always do what’s best or most logical. Which leaves us grasping at straws when trying to assess HOW and WHY he could ruin everything that’s great between you.
In your boyfriend’s eyes, if you push for marriage or kids, you’ll be ruining the amazing thing you have together. In your eyes, if your boyfriend doesn’t cement your two-year relationship by stepping up to the plate, he’ll be ruining the amazing thing you have together. He believes he’s right. You believe you’re right. And, at the end of the day, one of you is going to have to make a compromise you don’t want to make.
I’m not going to tell you who it’s going to be. I am, however, going to lay our your options for you in a logical, almost clinical, way, using cost-benefit analysis. Your boyfriend would probably appreciate this.
First off, I agree with you wholeheartedly that you SHOULD get some “I love you”, and some talk about the future or moving in together or marriage if that’s what YOU want. If you’re not getting this, and will never get it, and will never feel good unless you get it, then guess what? You’re dating the wrong guy.
Certain guys inspire confidence and attraction, but have all the sensitivity of a brick fireplace. If that doesn’t work for you, that’s cool… find another guy who’s a better communicator.
This is the essence of the concept from “Why You’re Still Single” called “Men Don’t Go Both Ways”. Certain guys inspire confidence and attraction, but have all the sensitivity of a brick fireplace. If that doesn’t work for you, that’s cool… find another guy who’s a better communicator. Just don’t expect your Marlboro Man to suddenly become the man you want him to be. That’s not how he’s built.
Your guy has a few added wrinkles – he’s bipolar, stoic and long distance. Not to mention uncompromising. It’s very clear that you have to accept him on his terms if you’re going to be with him. Which is not “wrong”…if you can get yourself to agree with his terms – no marriage, no kids, no sweet nothings to let you know he cares.
Frankly, I think you can drive yourself crazy spending a life with a man like that. Waking up every morning, not knowing where you stand because he’s unwilling to give you the security of a commitment.
So here’s my two cents on how to proceed. You should discuss with him the possibility of moving in with him and see if he’s open to it. Your relationship will never go to the next level if you stay long-distance. If he resists because he’s too stressed or busy or indifferent, that tells you everything you need to know about where he prioritizes you. If he is receptive to it, see if living together brings you closer together or drives you farther apart. It’s a big risk, but one that you seem to need to take.
…since you don’t have a ring, share a home, or discuss a future, you need to find the man who is going to give that to you.
But my guess is that your situation is like most situations of women with non-committal men: he wants you on his terms only, and your needs don’t matter nearly as much. It’s dime-store selfishness, not inherent to men, but it sure is common. And the only way to fix a situation with a selfish man is to walk away.
Tell him that you love him and wish him well, but you do not get your emotional needs met as a once every two weeks girlfriend. And since you don’t have a ring, share a home, or discuss a future, you need to find the man who is going to give that to you.
You’ll be surprised at how easily he lets you go – which should validate the very reason you’re leaving.