I’ve read almost your entire blog and it’s helped soothe some of my worries about my current relationship. In one way, I’m like many of your readers; I’m attractive, educated, well-traveled, thirty-three years old and in a relationship with a wonderful thirty-nine-year-old man who I don’t quite feel "great" about. I’m also the daughter of two lesbians and I have mild but pervasive General Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
You’ve written about anxiety before, Evan, saying it’s the main indicator you are with someone who isn’t right for you, but for the
24% of American women who struggle with anxiety every year
24% of American women who struggle with anxiety every year, it can be difficult to tell if our anxious feelings are valid, or if it’s just our brain firing "flight or fight" chemicals for no damn reason. I was raised by lesbians and the men who did feature in my childhood were not good guys.
I mention this because my boyfriend tells me I seem to have a somewhat inaccurate idea of what "most" men are like. I have to accept that’s possible. I also mention it because I have a pattern of pushing men away. In the past, my anxiety has always spiked at about the 3 to 6-month mark, leading me to freak out and sabotage the relationship. When I finally recognized this pattern, I stopped. I started to take responsibility for my emotions and stopped projecting things on to my partner that weren’t there.
My boyfriend is a solid, strong and dependable guy. He is bright but never went to college, never traveled, doesn’t read books, etc. I do find him impressive for different reasons (he is disciplined, kind, generous, handsome, curious, capable, and manages conflicts maturely). He’s supportive of my goals and I of his, sex is…fine (not awesome but not terrible), his family is lovely and he gets along great with mine, and we have pretty similar wants from life. We talk about our future but have not committed to each other yet. We both want to but feel conflicted. We speak openly about this and we work to try and grow together. Our relationship up to now has consisted of some intense, semi-regular arguments (politics), but with work, we’ve learned to argue productively and kindly. We respect each other. I’d say we have a nicely developing partnership.
The problem is, I don’t feel the easy CONNECTION I wish I felt. Our conversations feel like we’re standing on separate platforms, shooting arrows and missing each other 90% of the time. Seriously, I feel like we not only come from different planets, but we speak entirely different languages! I talk to him but don’t think he truly understands what I’m saying. Not the personal stuff - the stuff that forms bonds. He’s a pretty simple guy and I’m starting to wonder if he’s even capable of the kind of emotional depth I keep trying to get from him.
Is that important in a relationship? Can connection grow over time? Am I being "such a girl" about this? Am I somehow comparing what we have to what my parents have? (female-female dynamics are different, I’m told). Am I over-romanticizing what "connection" should feel like? I can’t get my brain to shut up about it, Evan. My anxiety brain loves to obsess about stuff, so I’m not sure I can trust my own feelings. Despite what my boyfriend says, I don’t believe there are a ton of kind, handsome, dependable men out there. I’m terrified of losing the most healthy relationship I’ve ever had, but also afraid of committing to someone when I feel attached, but not CONNECTED.
Thanks for listening, Evan.
Thanks for writing, JJ. Apart from talking, listening is what I do best. :)
I chose not to edit your letter because it provides a lot of context for your feelings and asks a number of nuanced questions that don’t have clear-cut answers.
To boil your 600 words down to 50, you’re at a fork in the road.
Either stay in your relationship with your solid, kind, capable man with whom you don’t feel a real connection or break up with him and take your chances that you can find another man with all of those qualities with whom you DO feel a connection.
Your ability to make an empowered choice is impacted by three things: your history of anxiety, your history of self-sabotaging relationships, and your inexperience at knowing what a great relationship DOES feel like.
The good news is that your situation is quite normal and common. Lots of people experience anxiety. Lots of people push away good partners out of fear. And pretty much everyone who has ever written to me is struggling with the same existential question: how do you know when a relationship is “good enough?”
Lots of people push away good partners out of fear.
When I interviewed Eli Finkel, about his book, “The All Or Nothing Marriage,” for the Love U Podcast, he discussed what he calls “Mount Maslow” – how marriage has evolved from seeking stability to seeking much rarer qualities like inspiration. No wonder it’s harder now to find a suitable partner; our collective list of demands has never been longer.
He suggests that “the good enough” marriage may be the smartest thing to strive for because it provides everything you already have but is grounded in reality. Aim higher, like Icarus trying to fly to the sun, and you may end up permanently single or dissatisfied that you’re with a great guy who doesn’t “inspire” you. It may sound a lot like what I talk about on in my materials, BUT…
As much as I’m sometimes pilloried for telling women to compromise – on height, weight, age, education, income, and religion (not kindness, consistency, communication or commitment), there is one trait I don't think you can skimp on: CONNECTION
There is one trait I don’t think you can skimp on: CONNECTION.
See, connection isn’t “we both like hiking,” or “we are both Catholic,” or “we both want an upper-middle-class lifestyle.” Connection is akin to personal chemistry.
And when you’re planning on spending every day with the same person for the rest of your life, you’d BETTER have personal chemistry. Think of going on a 40-year road trip in a single car. You gotta have more than great playlists and podcasts to enjoy that ride.
On a more personal note, I’ve been in your shoes before: I dated a really incredible woman who, on paper, couldn’t be more perfect. Beautiful, kind, sexy, smart, sane, independent, interesting – she was totally the full package. Yet after 6 weeks together, I realized that I wasn’t “clicking” with her. We were spending time. We were having sex. We were enjoying each other’s company, but, in my mind, not as much as I’d enjoyed dating in the past. So while she may have been next to flawless, my dissatisfaction with “us” was considerable and I cut things off as soon as I realized it.
You can read that as too picky if you like. I feel like it’s confident – confident that there are good women out there and confident in my ability to attract one with a greater connection. It sounds, JJ, like you lack this confidence, which is why you’re tempted to stay in a relationship with a guy who doesn’t really get you.
That’s a one-way ticket to feeling trapped in a lonely marriage. I wouldn’t recommend it.
I know it’s confusing to try to parse these subtle messages that sound so similar, but I think these nuances matter a LOT. I compromised on age and intellectual curiosity. My wife compromised on religion and my temperament (anxious, critical). But in the grand scheme of things, we are best friends, we have no secrets, and even though I work from home and she’s a stay-at-home mom, we never get sick of each other.
We have PERSONAL chemistry, which is more important than physical chemistry and intellectual chemistry. Sure, you need physical chemistry to have a good sex life. We’ve got that. Sure, you need intellectual chemistry to have a decent conversation. We’ve got that. But I’m sure there are plenty of couples who have more intense physical chemistry AND more intense intellectual chemistry but aren’t nearly as happy and connected as we are.
THAT’s personal chemistry: liking each other, trusting each other, laughing with each other, feeling like you’re 100% accepted by each other, always having each other’s backs.
If you’re going to hold out for one quality in a partner, let it be that he’s your best friend.
Sure you CAN enter into a more old-school marriage where spouses serve different roles but don’t feel a connection, but if you have a choice, why would you?