Should I Stay With My Wimpy Boyfriend?

wimpy man wearing black suit

I am dating a university professor who is working to make tenure. All his life he has been focused on studies, work and research to the detriment of developing other parts of his life. He has a fear of water, doesn’t swim or play sports and gets stressed out driving. He used to have a license but hasn’t driven in years and I had to wait two years to go on our first holiday that involved driving because he had been postponing refresher classes (due to work). He has recently moved from the UK to the US for work and I have been making plans to visit. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when I suggested going on a solo trip during the week while he worked and he was very hesitant to drive up and meet me for the weekend because he was worried about driving on the right alone. All of a sudden, the strong attraction I had for him came crashing down – having a 33-year old afraid of driving alone, or getting easily stressed out just made me lose respect for him.

I’ve had a guy friend refer to him as a wimp and me as the male in the relationship. I have been very patient about his risk aversion and subordinating time to learn activities that will enrich our lives. We are at the cusp of marriage but I just fear I will lose respect for him in our marriage, and secretly resent his wimpiness. Other than this and his workaholic nature, he is extremely kind, responsible and a good person at heart. I am 32 and ready to settle down and build a family. I am kinda at a loss.

Thank you.

Thank you for asking this question, Olivia. It’s always useful to get a question that allows me to make a greater point about relationships.

You can’t compromise on kindness, consistency, compromise, communication and values.

One of the things I’ve realized after seven years of blogging is that it’s really hard to take the time to be fully understood. The hubbub about why (some) women should not sleep with a man without commitment is only the latest example. In other words, everything I write makes perfect, unassailable sense in my head — and it’s not until I see my words twisted in the comments that I realize I needed to explain myself better the first time.

The reason that I’m giving you this long lead-in is because I’ve been a bit pigeonholed by cultivating an effective (if unpopular) worldview. Namely, that people tend to compromise on the wrong things. Men tend to chase pretty women, and then are shocked when those women are sometimes shallow, selfish, critical or uninterested. Women tend to chase tall, smart, rich, and charismatic, and then are shocked to discover the same. My response to this has always been that you can compromise on all of those qualities to some degree, but you can’t compromise on kindness, consistency, compromise, communication and values.

The blowback to this somewhat obvious and helpful statement is that I’m telling people that they must “settle.” That they CAN’T date someone they’re attracted to. That I’m relegating you to a life of boredom and suffering. This is, of course, not true, but that doesn’t stop your feelings. If YOU’VE ever settled on a man who is boring, stupid, poor, and unattractive, of course your advice would be not to do that again.

Except I’ve never asked you to settle on a man that you can’t accept. I’ve asked you to compromise on a man you CAN accept. This is what EVERY happily married person understands, and what my most virulent dissenters don’t. If you can’t accept him, don’t marry him. And if you discover that you can NEVER find a man who lives up to your lofty standards, then maybe, just maybe, your standards are impossibly high. Any disagreement here? No? Great. Let’s move on.

If you discover that you can NEVER find a man who lives up to your lofty standards, then maybe, just maybe, your standards are impossibly high.

I don’t think your standards are impossibly high at all, Olivia. Because it’s not just that your boyfriend is a little soft — hell, I’M a little soft in the way that many well-read Jewish guys are. The problem is that he’s extremely soft, like a fearful 5-year-old whose mom just wants him to go outside and run around. I’m all for reading a good book — and would rather do it than hike Mt. Kilimanjaro — but to be afraid of water, driving, and sports? That’s not only somewhat unusual, but rather paralyzing. Not only can you not mask your loss of respect for him, but you can’t even do anything with him (like drive) because of how his fears run his life.

This is why I think you’re well within your rights to cut your losses and get back out there. It’s not like you’re dumping him because he can’t surf or because he can’t put up drywall. You’re dumping him because his fears are actually impacting your life in a negative way. And anyone — man or woman — who has a partner who is on the extremes of anything (too many dogs, too much travel, too little money, etc.) has the right to find a partner who is somewhere in the bell curve of normal. It may be sad to see him go, but I’m confident it won’t take long to find a man whom you actually respect.

Join our conversation (24 Comments).
Click Here To Leave Your Comment Below.


  1. 1

    What’s ironic for me is, despite all his rather “small” fears, this man managed to move halfway around the world (without his girlfriend) to another country to further his career. Same guy is afraid to learn to drive on the other side of the road, or drive, period. Therefore, something comes across as a little selfish about this man. He’s willing to undertake something scary if there’s a direct benefit to him, but not if it benefits Olivia, or even the two of them as a couple. That is the most troubling aspect of this scenario to my mind.

    1. 1.1

      I mostly agree with you. The man is not a “wimp” per se. As you suggest he’s likely a bit selfish but that likely makes him “Alpha” in her eyes. The narcissism makes him attractive to her in the first place. If he were an outright wimp or the bad sort of off the bell curve she wouldn’t be with him at all.
      He’s likely very good at his pursuits and has some level of “status” because of it. His competence at it makes him confident. His career is his life not her so he likely comes off as ambitious. Standard marks of the “alpha male.” Now that she’s looking to be married she’s looking for the “beta provider” stuff– how will he drive the kids to soccer practice? She wants to tame the “bad boy” and settle down and quite predictably he’s not having any of it.

      1. 1.1.1

        Other than this and his workaholic nature, he is extremely kind, responsible and a good person at heart.”
        This doesn’t sound like the description of a “bad boy” to   me.   I think the problem is that he’s more devoted to his career and and his own interests. Also, highly intellectual men like him tend to live in their own heads – after all, they get paid to do that – but he only seems willing to push himself to do things out of his comfort zone when he has to for his own benefit. Plus, if she is thinking about having kids, she doesn’t want to be with a fearful man who needs that much hand-holding.

    2. 1.2

      @Ruby #1:
      What is scary to one person might not be for another one. Most people are scared of the idea of an international relocation and most are not afraid of driving, but as someone who has done two international/intercontinental relocations by myself with no fear but who is scared of driving, I would say that this man might simply have less common fears.
      As Evan wrote, the problem is not what fears he’s got but how they paralyze him and prevent him from doing pretty regular, normal stuff such as taking his woman on a road trip. After all, as much as I dislike driving and also get nervous when I drive, as soon as I got married I started practising and made myself more comfortable so that I can share long drives with my husband and offer to pick him up at the airport. He did not pressure me but I can see that he appreciates not having to do 100% of the driving.
      So yeah, if this gentleman does not want to evolve it’s not going to work out, not because he is a wimp per se, but because he lacks the desire to evolve and grow for the sake of the relationship.

      1. 1.2.1

        True, Fusee. International relocation would be far scarier to me than driving!

  2. 2

    You know what? It’s not just that men like this turn me off. PEOPLE like this turn me off. If you’re an adventurous go-getter you’re not going to want to be friends with, let alone married to, such a wimpy person.

  3. 3

    I’m a softie and feel that anxiety disorders are some of the easiest mental health disorders to treat.   If she likes him, but his fears are holding him back, she could always ask him to get help and then see if he changes.   If he is an intellectual, maybe he can harness his mental capacity to get past his phobias and find happiness.

    1. 3.1

      Hi, Sarah,
      I don’t know what the treatment rate is on anxiety disorders, but having lived several years with a man who has panic and anxiety disorder, it’s not easily treated.
      It’s a tough road to go down with a person who’s afraid of everything, actually jumps when you approach etc.   I start panicking as well.
      He needs to find someone who’s equally afraid or seek treatment.

  4. 4
    Karmic Equation

    Interesting take, Frimmel. But I think you’re giving this guy too much “alpha” credit. I would agree that his accomplishments make him alpha to her and that your alpha take MIGHT be applicable to the driving and the flying and his personal pursuits. But being afraid to swim? That’s not really an alpha sticking to his guns. I suppose even alphas can have phobias 🙂
    Regardless of his alphaness or lack thereof, the more important aspect is that she doesn’t respect him for his lacks. Better to dump him now than regret marrying him when she’s already questioning their compatibility in the long run. If she marries him the way he is, she has no one to blame when she’s the one who has to drive their kids all over creation because HE never renewed his license due to his “fear” or “alphaness”…whichever it is, it won’t matter when she resents it.

    1. 4.1

      In general what really attracts women aside from good looks is confidence and dominance and “not clingy.” Don’t make your “alpha” box so small. You probably don’t think Sheldon is the alpha male on “Big Bang Theory.” This guy probably has a good portion of the things that are really important to women despite his phobias. (I don’t put a lot of stock in the “guy friend” (beta orbiter?) calling him a wimp.) People lacking in confidence don’t get overseas jobs and move to them.

      Look I agree that Olivia needs to move on. Putting an ocean between them without an engagement screams, “He’s just not that into her.”

      She doesn’t need to dump this guy. She’s already been dumped.
      This whole thing with the phobias is just trying to make sense/rationalize/get over the fact that she’s been pumped and dumped by an alpha. She thought she was with a “nice guy” and probably because of the phobias thought she was “settling.” But she probably missed all of this guy’s commonalities with the other guys she was with because of chemistry. The kindness let her rational brain override the “wimpy” red flags and give in to the “tingles” caused by his confidence.  

  5. 5

    Red flags don’t generally just appear out of nowhere.   And, as a general rule (we all know there are exceptions to most everything), they are there for anyone to see.   It seems that she’s asking the “will he change when I marry him” question in a round about sort of way.   If she’s worried she’s going to lose respect for him, she probably already has.

  6. 6

    How is “wimpy” still a productive term to use in 2014? It sounds to me like he has anxiety, possibly generalized anxiety disorder. What he needs is help not insults.  
    Has the OP tried discussing this with him? Does he feel that his anxieties are impacting his life in negative ways? Can he see that his anxieties are impacting her life in negative ways? Is he willing to get help, i.e. therapy, medication, meditation, etc?  
    If the answers to these questions is no, then it is time to move on. Alternately, if the OP doesn’t feel enough love and compassion to motivate her to be with him while he works through this, then she should do him a favor and move on.  

  7. 7

    Sounds like major anxiety disorder.   Like Rajeesh Koothrapali (Raj) on the Big Bang Theory… rocks!   Highly intelligent individual, astrophysicist, but can’t talk to women unless he’s plastered!   Whatever!   I’m sure he is a nice guy, but what kind of life would you have with him?   No thank you….   

  8. 8

    I find it interesting how gender stereotypes continue to play out in society as reflected by some letter writers and responses on this blog.   I am a university professor and doctor.   People consider me an alpha female.   Everyone would characterize me as a risk-taking go-getter both in my personal and professional life.   Yet I have a fear of swimming, hate playing sports, and have a fear of driving.   I don’t drive long distances unless there are no other options.   My husband does all the driving.   He doesn’t mind.  When he’s not here, I take a taxi.   No one calls me wimpy or loses respect for me.   Yet here is a man with the same fears whose own girlfriend and society judge him quite harshly for almost the exact same thing.   Society is still sending a message that men can’t have fears and their alpha-ness is reflected by their masculine abilities such as sports, physical pursuits, and being in the driver’s seat – literally and figuratively.   I find it kind of sad that his intellectual abilities and kindness (as the OP says) doesn’t seem to count for much.   Agree with Frimmel — why do his fears equate to not being alpha or a go-getter? He can be alpha or a go-getter in other ways.     Does gender bias have to drown everything else out?
    In any case, Evan makes a good point — all happily married people manage to get there by getting deep enough into their relationship to either accept someone’s flaws or reject them and move onto the next person whom they can accept.   If you think this is “settling” then we all settle eventually or remain alone.   No one is without some kind of flaw.   That is the whole point of getting to the 3 month mark.   Months 1-3 are courting, 3-6 are for reconciling idealism with flaws, and 6-9 and beyond is deciding whether this warrants deeper commitment. Clearly Olivia cannot reconcile his flaws and should bail now because this guy is not going to change his habits for her or anyone.

    1. 8.1

      I find your post interesting, and agree with you, except there are flaws which I don’t think anyone should have to reconcile because they make a relationship close to impossible – chiefly, selfishness and lack of desire to communicate.   A relationship with someone who has those flaws would be an uphill battle for anyone who has any needs at all.
      This for me is the loophole in the whole “find someone you can accept” theory of finding a mate, in other words that no one should ever have to change themselves for someone else.   If your flaws are fundamentally at odds with the essence of relating to another human being, almost no one is going to be able to happily accept them because, by their nature, they put distance between the two of you.
      Otherwise, I think the theory is great.   I just think there are certain flaws which are completely incompatible with the idea of relationship.   I know someone who is waiting for a woman to accept him “just exactly as he is” – except that how he is is distant, uncommunicative, withdrawn, selfish, very set in his ways and obstinate to the point of controlling.   I cannot picture the woman whom this would work for, unless she is willing to happily sublimate most of her needs and desires to his.
      I know this is a bit off-topic, but surely the “accept me as I am” theory has limits.   Surely there are some people who cannot be allowed to go on thinking that they are perfectly fine just the way they are and someone somewhere is going to come along and accept the unacceptable. There’s a part of me which even thinks it’s unkind to them to let them think that.
      Sigh 🙂

      1. 8.1.1

        That’s right, you cannot change people. It is up to them. What is unacceptable for you, is acceptable for someone else. What you think someone should is irrelevant as it has no bearing in “real life.” Eat it or beat it, that’s the essence for a relationship which fruitfull.

    2. 8.2
      Shatoyia Jones

      Hello Marie! As someone going through the same situation as Olivia, which is how I ended up on this post in my quest to find some solution, I believe that my only problem with the way you view the way she responds is that–in YOUR relationship– your fears do not hinder your relationship from thriving, growing or living a life that fills full. It is not more so about him living up to standards of being an alpha but rather living up to the ability to do what is necessary to make the relationship work. I am a very patient person, but one of the things I fear, besides being subject to an impoverished life, is being subject to an impoverished life (financially, physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally) because I have committed to a man who is good natured but shows no desire to grow, unless whatever he does benefits only HIS growth, not the growth of the relationship as a whole. When in a relationship, it is not about just him, but us. And so, if his flaws are hindering the relationship from thriving, growing and being full, then that is an issue worth taking up. If his flaws are not having an effect on the growth and thriving on the relationship and Olivia simply does not like that he is not “alpha” enough, that’s a different story. In this case, it seems his flaws are having a toll on the health of the relationship, and from primary experience, I would say it is a concern worth having, especially if you are trying to determine whether to stay because he is good natured but seemingly has no interest in doing what is necessary for the wellbeing of the relationship.

  9. 9

    Marriage is forever.   A beautiful life commitment to a partner with whom you want to share experiences and excitement and….life!   If you think you are losing respect for this man now, that cannot be a good sign.   Intellect is only part of a person, especially if you like to do physical activities. Hmm…who wants to “talk” about camping and playing paddle ball on the beach? Also, think about other tasks that may magnify his “wimpy-ness”: child-related tasks like diaper changing, vomit clean-up, wet beds…..don’t even get me started on child-birth….run and don’t walk from this man.   Chances are you are in better shape than he is and you can out run him to a better, more exciting mate!!! 🙂

  10. 10

    Well, I dated a man who was very athletic and “manly” but underneath had a plethora of inordinate fears.   It didn’t work out.   He hadn’t addressed his deeper issues, couldn’t communicate about important things — and I, too, had lost respect for him because he allowed his life to be run by fear.     He seemed to think that because he was so “attractive” women would do all the work for a relationship and take care of his huge fear of rejection.   This kind of situation is unworkable in the long run.   I understand what one poster above is saying about the unfairness of gender stereotypes; but women have a need to feel safe around a man that I don’t think men experience around women.   In fact a man might see some fears as lovable in a woman because they give him a chance to take care of her; whereas a woman who’s with a frightened man feels very insecure knowing that he probably won’t be able to stand up for or defend her if needed.   And yes, even in this day and age that is sometimes necessary.

  11. 11
    Peter 51

    Aspies need love too.   They are usually very loyal and hard working but relationships are really hard stressful work for them.

  12. 12

    I laughed when I read the headline. I play women’s rugby and a few dings and bruises don’t bother me. I was telling my famous: “I’ve played for 6 years and all I got was a concussion and a broken finger,” story once at a bar in front of my BF, and he looked at me with fear in his eyes!!! He fell off a bike once and was in ALL this pain…wah wah…for days. I figured I’ll have to baby him a little if we’re in this for the long haul. But yeah he’s not a “whimp,” I bet the guy in this question will find someone who will coddle him during his whimpy moments.  

  13. 13

    I know it may not work, but I think you should try to persuade him not to be so afraid. He should be able to drive places and meet you. Maybe if you drive with him first to show him it isn’t so bad. Try to teach him he can conquer his fears.

  14. 14

    Dear, I am a psychiatrist and what you described so beautifully is not only dysfunction but this is an anxiety disorder that requires serious treatment. Evan was right hat if you are looking for a serious relationship, you should look for someone who is somewhat on the normal curve of development. You already unhappy and this is going to get worse after marriage. Trust yourself.

    @ Evan, I love your posts!!.  

  15. 15

    Yeah, definitely agree with Evan on this. It’s simply about having life skills… the basics for what we need to navigate every day life. The person who is in a relationship with someone who can’t or won’t develop the capability to manage these basic life skills will ultimately become a parent to their partner.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *