I’m a great admirer of your insight. I’ve read Believe in Love and Why He Disappeared, which helped me get through a tough period after my last relationship ended. We rushed because of passion and got engaged too soon, one of the red flags I ignored because I was so happy to meet a guy who was madly in love with me. I’ve tried to move more cautiously since then. I just turned 30 and I’m very confident early in a relationship, but I have a borderline anxious attachment style and tend to fall into the “last man on earth” trap once I’m in love.
Which brings me to my current dilemma. I’m in love with my boyfriend of a year and 4 months, and he’s not in love with me. He says he cares for me deeply. He says I’m extremely important to him and his feelings are growing over time — but he doesn’t know if they’ll turn into love or not.
If he weren’t such a great partner in other ways, I would walk away. He calls every day, makes time to see me three or four times a week and we spend every weekend together. The sex is amazing. We’ve talked about marriage and kids and we want the same things out of life. We have a strong foundation of trust, respect and communication, and he’s integrated me into his tight-knit group of friends and their wives. But he doesn’t love me yet, a fact he openly tells me when pressed.
His stance: People say they’re in love too early and the word gets thrown around. His definition of love seems to be closer to wanting to spend your life with someone than mine is, and he isn’t there with me. He’s only been in love once, and it took him well over a year to realize it. He moves slowly and deliberately in general. He admits there’s a gap in our level of feelings for each other, but doesn’t think that’s a reason to end the relationship yet, and says he wants to see where it goes. But he’s also torn that this is hurting me.
Because I have some time before fertility becomes a more imminent issue, I’d like to relax and wait to see if he does fall in love. But I’m finding it tough to keep my cool and my anxious tendencies are coming out. Recently I keep wondering, what if he never falls in love? When do I cut my losses? And if I do stay, how do I keep my insecurities from eating the relationship alive?
Can people catch up to each other like this when there’s a gap in feelings? Or does this situation inevitably spell doom and pain?
VM, a long-time reader
Great question. Sorry this is taking a toll on you. I’m sympathetic to you, of course, but because I’m a bit like your boyfriend, I’m going to try to help you understand where he’s coming from as well.
For most of my life, I dove into relationships head-first. Start with sex, commit within a week or two, declare love within a month. From ages 25-34, that got me into a series of short-term relationships with intense chemistry and no long-term compatibility. When I got dumped by a beloved girlfriend after only three months during the summer of 2004, I realized my methodology (or lack thereof) wasn’t working.
The reason you shouldn’t give up on him is because he’s already shown a sensitivity to your feelings…
The next time I had a girlfriend was two years later and I was EXTREMELY cautious. We dated for 2 ½ months before I agreed to have sex, not wanting to hurt her or lead her on. When we finally did sleep together, I committed to her as a boyfriend and we had a wonderful eight-month relationship. Yet I never told her I loved her because it seemed like a promise — an unspoken prelude to engagement — and I wasn’t willing to go on record with such a verbal commitment.
Was my standard for saying “I love you” too high? Probably. All I knew was that I was trying to avoid the same mistakes I’d made for the previous 34 years.
Before I ended the relationship, I realized she was ALMOST exactly what I was looking for in a partner. Warm, kind, silly, curious, family-oriented. What she wasn’t? Older and sexier. She was 25. I was 35. I needed a woman, not someone in her first job and her first relationship. Six months later, I met a 37-year old divorcee who, temperamentally, reminded me a lot of my ex. Ten years later, she is the mother of our two children. Still, I didn’t say “I love you” until we were together for six months — which was the very first time I brought up having Jewish children.
My thought process: I didn’t want to say I love you OR break things off until I knew I was ready to consider marriage.
That’s just my story, but I’m sure I’m not alone for not wanting to make promises (or even offer hint at commitments) I wasn’t sure I would be willing to keep.
It’s not that you’re wrong for wanting clarity; it’s that you can’t force clarity upon another person based on your own insecurities and arbitrary timetable.
The reason you shouldn’t give up on him is because he’s already shown a sensitivity to your feelings:
“He admits there’s a gap in our level of feelings for each other, but doesn’t think that’s a reason to end the relationship yet, and says he wants to see where it goes. But he’s also torn that this is hurting me.”
To me, that’s a sign of integrity. It’s not “this is a dead-end, you’re wasting your time,” but rather, an honest assessment that he’s unsure. It’s the same thing I was feeling after 16 months with my now-wife when I proposed to her — two weeks after having a “I don’t know where this is going” conversation.
My point is that if you have a good man on your hands, he already knows what’s at stake.
The next time this comes up, let him know that if he ever knows definitively that he’ll never propose to you, he should break up with you right then and there. And then zip it and become the kind of confident partner that he can’t live without. It’s not that you’re wrong for wanting clarity; it’s that you can’t force clarity upon another person based on your own insecurities and arbitrary timetable.
Give him the space to choose you and trust that he will — and you’re far more likely to get what you want. Good luck.