I have been struggling with the fact I have a wonderful man in my life who loves me more than I’ve ever felt loved, but I’m just not satisfied somehow. We have known one another for about ten years dating on and off, taking a four-year break at one point. He is VERY persistent and continues to take me back into his life if I let him. We are compatible on many levels, but there is one thing that continues to turn me off (from ten years ago to now), and that is his lack of ambition to be successful professionally. I wouldn’t be picky about his career field of choice, but at the rate, it’s going, I’ll never see him in a 6 o’clock loosened tie… which is a huge turn-on for me.
I’m very much that young professional go-getter with a high-stress job, always moving to the next promotion. I’m busy all the time professionally and personally because I thrive on feeling accomplished. He, on the other hand, is satisfied with bringing home an okay paycheck to put food on his table, not that concerned with finishing college (he’s 31), and rarely has anything interesting to talk about outside of “us,” movies, and other media outlet driven conversation. A full day of freedom in my life does not revolve around TV, 90% of his would.
I can’t let go of wishing he were a stronger, more creative, more successful man who I could look to for experienced life advice. I’m very independent, but I’d also like to get some reassurance and empathy from a reliable source from time to time. I know that’s harsh. I would never say those things to him, but it’s how I feel. I find the sexiest thing about a man is his intelligence, and no matter if a person is well-read or not, a great deal of intelligence comes from professional life experience. Please tell me I’m being too hard on him and myself. I should be happy to have a man who loves me and whom I can trust.
Thank you, CJ, for writing one of the most self-aware letters I’ve run. I think everyone here can feel your pain. Love is only easy when we’re so whipped that we can’t even think clearly. In such circumstances, there are no decisions to be made even if your boyfriend has no ambition. But it sounds like you’re seeing things quite clearly. Which means the world is grey, not black and white.
Love is only easy when we’re so whipped that we can’t even think clearly.
So before I get into talking about your boyfriend, let’s talk about you.
You’re not a gold-digger for wanting a guy who is more ambitious in life.
You’re not snobby for finding an intelligent, sexy boyfriend.
You’re not shallow for craving conversation that doesn’t revolve around pop culture.
And you’re not wrong for wishing your boyfriend were stronger, more creative, and more experienced professionally.
The questions that linger for me are these….
1) Are compatibility and kindness more important in your relationship than worldliness and ambition?
2) Is it realistic to think that you can find a worldly, professional man who is as kind and compatible as your current boyfriend?
This is the calculus of dating. And the same answers don’t apply to everyone. This is why giving advice on such individual matters is somewhere between impossible and pointless.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t try.
Someone told me recently that women expect men to fulfill ALL of their needs in a relationship, which sets them up for failure. They want men to fulfill the role of their best girlfriend and their rock-solid Marlboro Man simultaneously. As I said in the “Men Don’t Go Both Ways” chapter of “Why You’re Still Single,” these are different men, and you’ll always be disappointed if you expect a man to cover all bases in your relationship. Strangely, this is one area in which I think men “get it” more. We can compartmentalize, which is why we’d rather watch football with only the guys, while you’d like us to come shoe shopping with you.
The point is, it’s a failing proposition to expect one man to be all things to you. Thus, you have to make hard choices with each other. What’s most important to you — does lack of ambition really matter in your relationship? And what things can you NOT get from anyone BUT your boyfriend?
I’ve wrestled with that myself because, like you, I get a rise out of ambition, philosophy, and creativity. Who doesn’t? But I can talk to my business coach about my business, I can talk to my best guy friend about philosophy, and I can experience my own creativity and others’ creativity in 1000 other forms. But I can’t make love to my business coach. I can’t wake up next to my best guy friend. And with all the art and culture out in the world, I don’t need my spouse to be a creator as much as an appreciator.
I get the joy of sophistication. It’s fun to feel like the witty, urbane couple that can break bread with the prime minister if need be. Just know that apart from the spark you feel around a sophisticate, it doesn’t have much inherent value. The ability to quote Proust pales in comparison with the person who will drive you to your chemo treatments in thirty years.
The ability to quote Proust pales in comparison with the person who will drive you to your chemo treatments in thirty years.
So, back to the original question: are compatibility and kindness more important than worldliness and ambition? Well, if it were either kindness OR worldliness, I’d say yes. But there are ambitious people who are kind as well. And it would be easy to tell you to dump your boyfriend and seek one of these guys out. The thing is that most good qualities often come with bad qualities as well. The ambitious guy may work 70 hours a week. The sophisticated guy may be a know-it-all and a snob. You just don’t know until you put yourself out there. There’s a pretty big risk in doing so.
Even if your boyfriend has no ambition, I will encourage you to look long and hard at what really matters in your relationship, CJ, and how hard it is to find it. For years, I said that I wasn’t jealous of any of my married friends because it’s not like they married MY wife. And I meant it — I never really met anyone with whom I was super-compatible. But now that I have someone with whom I’m super-compatible, my mind succumbs to the temptation — what if there’s someone else? Someone younger. Someone more accomplished with life goals. And someone more well-read.
Is there someone like that out there? Maybe. But she wouldn’t have the number one quality that my wife has: she accepts me as I am and loves me unconditionally. No other girlfriend I’ve ever had has done that, which is why I’m keeping her and never letting her go.
I can’t say what’s right for you, my friend. Intellectual stimulation matters. Money definitely matters. But if you can get stimulation from other people and you can make money yourself, why not land the one thing you can’t get anywhere else — a partner for life?