How Do I Convince Him That I’m Not Like His Ex?

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Evan,
I’ve been dating this guy for the past four months. I am 26 and he is 38. We met on Match.com. Both of us are divorced with no kids. We were both in relationships with someone who treated us like we were worthless. Because of that we both have a hard time trusting that the other isn’t going to be like our ex. I have been divorced for over four years. He, on the other hand, has only been divorced for about nine months. I am his first serious relationship since his divorce. He is not my first serious — I’ve had a couple since my divorce. I am not in this to fall in love and get married right away — I am in this to have a companion. Someone to enjoy spending time with and get to know and see where it might go in a few years.

When our relationship started out, it was great! We enjoyed each other’s company, always laughed, had plenty to talk about. Due to the past couple of relationships I have been in, I took my time to get to know this one. It took me over two months to get comfortable enough with him to feel like he could be someone worth pursuing. But it seemed that as soon as I got on board, he stepped off the boat. He has been distant, doesn’t chat as much, doesn’t come around as much.

We’ve had a couple conversations about it. Each time he says he has hit a brick wall. He’s admitted to being afraid that I am going to turn out like his ex. He wants to go out and do things with his friends and things he enjoys, and he thinks I will be upset about it. I told him as long as he makes time for me too, I am fine with him wanting to have his own life. I told him the other night that if he just doesn’t want to be with me, he needs to tell me and let me go. He said that he wants to be with me, but also wants to be able to do his own thing. So how do I get this guy on board again? How do I prove to him that I am not going to turn out like his ex? And most importantly, how do I trust that he isn’t just dragging me along as just a spare time girl? —Jennifer

I have one overriding dating philosophy: Relationships are easy.

Dear Jennifer,

I have one overriding dating philosophy:

Relationships are easy.

All the people who tell you that relationships are “work” are people who married the wrong people and are justifying their bad decisions.

Sorry to say that, but I believe it to be true. Happy marriages are fun, not work!

That doesn’t mean that every second of the day is heavenly. But it does mean that you should get along with your partner 95% of the time, and the 5% you don’t should be resolved quickly and painlessly.

Sounds to me, 4 months in, that your relationship is a little too much “work” for my taste.

You are the CEO of Jennifer, Inc. and your boyfriend is an intern applying for a job with you.

Case in point: “As soon as I got on board, he stepped off the boat. He has been distant, doesn’t chat as much, doesn’t come around as much.”

Then what’s the point of him, Jennifer?

What’s the point of a boyfriend who is distant, doesn’t call, doesn’t make plans, doesn’t make you feel safe, heard or understood, and generally makes you feel like you’re one more thing he has to deal with?

That’s right. There IS no point.

I’m not sure if you’ve read my materials beyond this blog, but if you had, you would have heard me repeatedly reminding you that you are the CEO of Jennifer, Inc. and your boyfriend is an intern applying for a job with you.

He may have gotten in the door because he’s got a good resume and was a solid interview, but now that he’s been working with you for four months, how is his job performance?

“Each time he says he has hit a brick wall. He’s admitted to being afraid that I am going to turn out like his ex. He wants to go out and do things with his friends and things he enjoys, and he thinks I will be upset about it.”

He may be a good guy, my dear, but he’s a shitty employee.

You need a man who arrives at work early and stays late, all with a big smile on his face.

Unfortunately, you’re acting like the intern, who is just begging for her job: “How do I get this guy on board again? How do I prove to him that I am not going to turn out like his ex?”

You don’t. You’re the CEO. You bloodlessly evaluate his work, not based on his potential, but on his performance. Then you face the facts:

Your intern isn’t cutting it.

It’s time to downsize.

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Comments:

  1. 41
    Liz

    It just seems so odd that it is always happening in that time frame, and it follow the same pattern. Its like a switch. It hurts to think that I keep running into these fantastic people, that seek me out, pursue me, and then when things start creeping up towards sealing the deal so to speak, and I tell them I really like being with them, and I am having fun, but only feel safe being that close in a committed relationship, where we are both open to seeing where it goes, they withdraw. Luckily I am not getting like a total fade away, but then its we need to “talk” and they want to “still be friends.” This one I had just went on vacation with out-of-state. I am scared that it will effect my ability to be open, honest and loving at some point.  

  2. 42
    Lia

    John (# 40),
      
    Thanks for the encouragement and advice.   My workout routine includes both cardio and weights, your right you do need both.    I am very tenacious that trait is a bit of a double edge sword, but in this case I believe it will serve me.   I have no doubt that I will meet my goal, and no intention of going on line until I do.
      
    Now I understand why I stopped working out.   I use to get up at 4:30 six mornings a week to work out – when there was no chance I could have a relationship.   Now that I am excited about having a relationship I don’t need to sabotage myself.   
      
    Oh and the before pictures… Never. Going. To. Happen... LOL.. I’m just sayin’… Yikes!!!  

  3. 43
    starthrower68

    Let him go. You are Ms. Right Now. This has dead end written all over it.

  4. 44
    Lia

    Amelia2.0
      
    Nice analogy!   I really love a good analogy!   
      
    Julia #39
      
    Yeah!!!   So happy for you.   
      
    Tom10 #41
      
    WOW!   I liked your response to Liz.  
      
    Liz # 42
      
    I wish I had something to offer that would make you feel better.   You are in the right place if you are wanting to understand men, dating, relationships, and love… and who knows maybe you will even get a better understanding of yourself. 🙂
      

  5. 45
    JoeK

    @Liz #42
      
    First – it may have nothing at all to do with you – they may just not be the right guys for you.
      
    That being said – if they’re made it to the 8-week mark I’d say they must be pretty interested in you, and interested in finding out how much they really do like you (remember – us guys don’t know how we feel about you until we know how we feel about it – for many of us it just “comes to us” one day – and asking us for it sooner simply doesn’t work).
      
    I may be misreading your posts but it sounds like your approach may come across like an ultimatum…and that never works because (as Evan has noted elsewhere here) it’s asking him to commit to something he doesn’t know how he feels about yet. And if he’s a “good guy”, he doesn’t want to mislead you…while a “not good guy” probably wouldn’t have made it that far, or would just tell you what you want to hear.
      
    Because of this, I suspect these are decent guys who are just a bit thrown at that point. Note I’m not saying you’re doing anything “wrong”, or that what I’m about to say is contradictory with everything else here.
      
    “…I tell them I really like being with them, and I am having fun, but only feel safe being that close in a committed relationship, where we are both open to seeing where it goes, they withdraw.”
      
    If I heard this after a couple months of dating it would be kind of jarring – it would make me think “where the heck did this come from…does she not trust me?” I’m not saying you’re wrong to communicate this, I just wonder if perhaps your timing is off a little.
      
    One approach that I think may work better is to ask your dates for their perspectives on things…rather than to just present your requirements. So then you’re not presenting a set of hurdles/challenges to overcome, but exploring who he is.
      
    Since dating is a process of discovering each other’s nature/values, then asking questions as you go along should help you discover if he’s the right guy for you, rather than if you’re the right girl for him. Whether you’re the right girl for him is his concern – and his job to determine.
      
    Naturally these questions will start out with more mundane things in the beginning (do you prefer italian or mexican food?) and progress along with the dating. Being naturally curious about their life /perspective is key – it should be a fun discovery process and not a “50 questions interrogation”. (All this applies to men on dates too).
      
    At some point you’ll discover his perspectives on life, relationships and marriage – then YOU can choose whether to continue dating him or to move on…rather than wait until he decides to leave. And you’ll have an opportunity to express your needs in a natural way that isn’t presenting them as a set of requirements.
      
    And maybe I completely misread what you were saying! 🙂
      
      
      
      

  6. 46
    Peter

    Relationships change.   Work s needed to restore them, by both parties.   The original conditione cannot last forever.   The repair mechanism is what counts.   Not everyone has one.  
    I never lost weight in 20 years of running.   3 months resistance der use and a whole new set of hormones started work. However, what happens when the new spouse demands attention instead of exercise time?   The real fat you emerges. Can they deal with It?

  7. 47
    Liz

    It always comes to head after dinner and a few glasses of wine, and lots of kissing, (that is the context) around that time period (6-8 dates). Not really a prude, I am completely into moving around the bases, but for my heart, I kinda of want to make sure that we are both on the same page when we get there.
      
    It   comes out that way, I try to let them know how my heart feels and that I am scared. But your right, they are all good guys, in it for a few months, maybe no one really asks them these things. I have never heard that it comes off untrusting, but it is putting them in a position where they know if we sleep together and they aren’t looking for something in the future I will be hurt. I wouldn’t feel right sleeping with someone if it was a casual, or a lets do this and if its good hey we are on our way. Trying to tell myself that the right person getting that close won’t scare them, won’t be work, and we will both want to make each other happy. Hard right now.  

  8. 48
    Paula

    I’ve had this conversation before with someone who was insistent that all relationships require work. At the time I was dealing with a post-LDR and that didn’t work out and I felt I worked to make it work and it didn’t. My point was that you shouldn’t have to work at your relationship. The key distinction I was trying to make with this person was that relationships require effort and not work.
    Effort in the sense that you put time into the relationship and go on dates and manage your own emotional state instead of looking outside of yourself for happiness. Work involved too much struggle and relationships should flow more and feel at ease.
    Even the title of this post is off. I just want to say to the letter writer, if you have to convince your man how good you are, he is not worth it. We as women need to give men more credit that they are smart enough to recognize a good woman (for them) when they see one. Trying to convince someone why you are a catch is work. I am not a sales person!

  9. 49
    marymary

    Liz, 48
    We’ve all been hurt, men included. Anyone who hasn’t been  has had limited experience, been very sheltered, or lacks emotion/is in denial, or is the one doing  all the hurting.   It’s nothing to be ashamed of but you don’t want to come off as being extremely vulnerable or needing to be handled with kid gloves.  
    If a man said to me “marymary I really like you but before I can progress this relationship I need to know  that you won’t cheat on me and run off  with my best friend like my ex wife did”, I’d be thinking a) he’s not over the ex b) he doesn’t trust me and c) I can’t handle this!
    I do know how you feel. I was in an abusive relationship   and toyed with the idea of telling the boyfriend quite early in my relationship. But then I figured it was in the past, I’m over it and my motivation was off. I wasn’t telling him as part of getting to know each other, but more to get special treatment.   I don’t need special treatment because a) I  am a confident happy person and b) he’s a good person, He doesn’t need to be told to treat  me well.   It’s just what he does.
    If he’s a good guy, you don’t need to warn him off. If he’s not, you shouldn’t be with him. If you’re  not sure, give him the benefit of the doubt, ie more time, more getting to know him, more fun.   Giving someone the benefit doesn’t meen sleeping with them if you’re not sure, you’re never obliged to do that – but go for a more positive rendering than “don’t hurt me!”   Evan sets it out in Why he Disappeared and I’m sure in previous posts.

  10. 50
    AS

    I just loved the way that you put that! I think women (and I know that once upon a time this was also me) more often than men forget that they are the ‘CEO’ and the intern needs to meet the job description. If he doesn’t after the probationary period then you just need to cut your loses and find another intern who can!

  11. 51
    Lia

    marymary # 50
      
    Wow!   So insightful!  
      
    If he’s a good guy, you don’t need to warn him off.   If he’s not, you shouldn’t be with him.   If you’re not sure, give him the benefit of the doubt, ie more time, getting to know him, more fun.   Giving someone the benefit doesn’t mean sleeping with with them if you’re not sure, you’re never obliged to do that – but go for a more positive rendering than ‘don’t hurt me!’”
      
    Can I say again Wow!   Yes!!!

  12. 52
    Julia

    Liz #48
      
    It always comes to head after dinner and a few glasses of wine, and lots of kissing, (that is the context) around that time period (6-8 dates). Not really a prude, I am completely into moving around the bases, but for my heart, I kinda of want to make sure that we are both on the same page when we get there
      
    Well, it seems like you move very slow physically. At 6-8 dates and only kissing? This isn’t bad but its like your body and heart aren’t moving in sync. If you are moving very slow physically with a guy you should kinda expect he will be moving slow emotionally. If you are on date 8 and are finally making out but also asking for exclusivity, it seems like kind of a hard demand. You are totally in the right for asking for sexclusivity but maybe bring it up before date #8?
      
    I dunno, I think the guys should weigh in here. I’m also the kind of woman who will make out at the end of a decent first date, so my body moves faster than my emotions at times.
      

  13. 53
    JoeK

    @Liz #48
    “It always comes to head after dinner and a few glasses of wine, and lots of kissing, (that is the context) around that time period (6-8 dates).”
      
    Do the guys you’re dating really just stop calling you after such a night? If they do, I’m still wondering if it isn’t so much that you’re not on the same page as it is the delivery of the message. Since a “player” isn’t likely to work that hard I think it’s fair to assume these guys are truly interested (and decent guys) – if they weren’t there wouldn’t have been more dates. Since most guys will have sex as soon as you say “yes”, these guys are most likely willing to wait until you’re ready.
      
    I’m not sure Evan’s take on this (I believe he’s covered it, but can’t remember where), but waiting to bring up your limits at that point (everything that night’s been leading up “fun times”) can come across as “flakey”….leaving a guy to wonder “if this was an issue why didn’t she bring it up sooner?”. I know I’ve walked away from every woman who’s acted like this because it’s not worth the effort to figure out whether she’s a game player or just flakey – since neither one is any fun to deal with. I’m not saying you’re flakey – but that’s just how men usually interpret it.
      
    To me this goes back to the approach of exploring each other’s perspectives/values through the dating process. These limits need to be addressed well before you’re “in the moment”.
      
    For a far-flung, silly analogy, what would you think of this person:
    Joe’s company decides to reward the staff by taking them to a well-known steak house. Since it’s a company event, eveything’s been pre-ordered – everyone gets surf-n-turf courtesy of the boss!
      
    So they all go to the event, and when the waiter delivers Joe’s steak and lobster to the table, Joe says “just so you know, I’m a vegetarian, so all I want is the potato”.
      
    Wouldn’t it seem a little late for Joe to let them know he doesn’t eat steak or lobster? Would it have been smarter of Joe to approach his boss before the event and let him know his personal limitations, so the boss could decide what to do about it? Perhaps the boss would’ve said “well then don’t go” or “hey, that’s ok, let’s figure out what you can have instead of steak”. What do you suppose the boss would think of Joe’s behavior at the steak house?
      
    Of course dating isn’t exactly the same, and figuring out how to explore our values together isn’t always easy. But I’d say that presenting the “I only have sex within a committed relationship” comes across with a lot more integrity in a conversation over coffee or lunch (even if it’s a bit uncomfortable) than it does in the middle of kissy-time. You may even broach it as a question to him (within context of a relevant conversation of course) – “How do you feel about sex before marriage”. Yes, before marriage is the wording I chose – because it’s a very different than “causual sex” or “sex without a relationship”. It’s a fair question that won’t offend any decent guy, and it opens the door for the conversation to lead to your values. At the same time it infers that you have a value system and don’t just have sex at the drop of a hat.
      
    Good luck!

  14. 54
    Frimmel

    JoeK in #54 referencing Liz’s comments:
      
    “Since most guys will have sex as soon as you say “yes”, these guys are most likely willing to wait until you’re ready.
      
    I’m not sure Evan’s take on this (I believe he’s covered it, but can’t remember where), but waiting to bring up your limits at that point (everything that night’s been leading up “fun times”) can come across as “flakey”….leaving a guy to wonder “if this was an issue why didn’t she bring it up sooner?”. I know I’ve walked away from every woman who’s acted like this because it’s not worth the effort to figure out whether she’s a game player or just flakey — since neither one is any fun to deal with. I’m not saying you’re flakey — but that’s just how men usually interpret it.”
      
    That’s exactly how I’d interpret it. And that’s rather a charitable interpretation. If he’s been out with you seven times it isn’t ‘casual’ even if he’s not that into you. What’s the line from “Music Man?” “I’ve come up through the ranks on this skirmish and I’m not retiring without my commission.”
      
    What you’re describing Liz is exactly how men end up devastated, bitter, angry, frustrated, and confused about women. It is how men end up taking “Seduce and Destroy” classes from Frank T.J. Mackey.

  15. 55
    Liz

    Oh there is usually some clothes off and hands flying everywhere with the kissing by that time in the dating sequence. Like I said, not a prude, and love to have fun and be wrapped up in a man’s arms. I have just learned that a number of guys, for whatever reason, aren’t looking for long term situations, as I am sure some women aren’t. If you jump into bed before that is established and you know 99 percent of relationships aren’t gonna work, that is so much heart ache, and for me, really destroys my self esteem because then I am vested. Nothing feels worse then hey we had a great 3 months, wonderful sex and broke up and your on Match.com the next day. Dagger to the heart.  
    I think they see me and think for her, I either up my game (commit) or its better to end it now because she is the kinda of girl I want to be with when I am ready, but right I’m not (thats the vibe I give off I feel). They are all decent guys doing everything right as far as dating, communicating with me, spending time with me. Timing I guess. It will all work itself out, just gonna take a little down time then return to finding my prince. 🙂  

  16. 56
    Alexandra

    I was reminded of Evan’s sound advice when I read an interview with Nicholas Sparks in People magazine recently. When asked about what is the “secret” to his marriage of 24 years, Sparks answered “Choose well. That’s it.”

  17. 57
    nathan

    I agree with Joe’s comments that it’s better to address sensitive issues like sex earlier on, and before you’re in the middle of heated action. Of course, sometimes it doesn’t work out the way we’d want it to. Or you think you’re ready, and then realize you aren’t in the middle of an escalated sexual situation. That’s just how it goes sometimes, but anything you can do to initiate the conversation beforehand in a way that expresses curiosity and interest rather than judgment is worth doing.
      
    With that said, Liz, I don’t think what you’ve experienced is just about sex and commitment. There are numerous reasons why people don’t make it past a few months most of the time. And sometimes the answer isn’t anything concrete at all, just a feeling that it’s not right. I’ve been on both sides of the equation plenty of times, and eventually realized that for the most part, what happened really wasn’t about who I am. Certainly, there were things I learned and did differently because of some dating situations, but for the most part it just wasn’t a good match, and that’s that.  
      
    I actually believe that no matter how good things are between a couple early on, there’s going to be some level of uncertainty because you don’t know each other very well. People seem to forget this all the time, expecting that rom-com “We just knew from the beginning” kind of experience to happen. Evan’s take on Jennifer’s guy seems accurate though, especially given the recentness of his divorce and his near total disappearance.
      
    Still, it’s important to get a handle on what base level commitment means, and how it will not eliminate risk. You can make the decision to be exclusive, and have sex, and still get hurt in the end. There’s always risk involved. It’s definitely better than leaving everything casual and hoping for the best. But I think too much weight gets put on “getting the commitment,” as if that’s the thing that will make everything ok and safe.

  18. 58
    Ruby

    I’m on OKCupid, which has lots of profile questions. The answers I’ve seen from men to these questions have surprised me. One is, “How long would you like your next relationship to last?”, and the other is,” Which is more important to you right now, sex or true love?” I’ve been surprised by the number of men who have answered “A few months to a year” to the first question (rather than “Several years” or “The rest of my life”) and answered “Sex” to the second question. Plus, they let it be known on a public dating site, where it might not be in their best interests to do so. Not that everyone reads through all the Q & A.
      
    So I think this idea that if a man finds someone he is really into, he will commit to her, isn’t always the case. There are also quite a few men who aren’t players in the sense of looking for a quick fling, but neither are they looking for a serious commitment. A relationship that lasts a few months is fine with them. I suspect that many of these men (often divorced) are not ready to embark on another serious relationship. Some may just be commitmentphobes. And we are not even talking about the men who think they are ready after a divorce, even when it turns out later on that they aren’t.
      
    I’ve gotten to the point where I take any hesitation from a man that he isn’t ready seriously, even if he might claim otherwise when asked.

  19. 59
    Julia

    @Ruby unless a guy says he never wants to get married, its a bad strategy to filter out guys who haven’t answered “the rest of their lives” on these questions. Be the woman he would never want to leave. Remember how men look for sex and find love?

  20. 60
    JoeK

    @Liz # 56
    “Oh there is usually some clothes off and hands flying everywhere with the kissing by that time in the dating sequence.”
      
    Yes, if you bring it up at this point, you’re acting flakey, and the guy is thinking “what the hell?”. Yep – I’ve been there, done that, too many times to count. After the first time I learned to walk away and never look back.
      
    DEFINITELY bring it up sooner – otherwise it comes across like you’re bartering a relationship for sex.
      
    Think about it…if at the point where clothes are coming off the guy looked at you and said “I only have sex within a polyamorous relationship – and I currently have 3 ‘wives’, and you’ll be #4″…how would you react?

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