Q. I am a busy, career-oriented person who doesn't have a lot of time to date (I am a newly-minted medical doctor). Last spring, after ending an intense relationship with a colleague, I attempted online dating. I have been seeing a man I met this way since summer.
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When we met, sparks didn't fly, exactly. I found myself dominating the conversation, planning all of our outings and wearing the proverbial pants. But I couldn't bring myself to break it off. I figured that I just needed to give him a chance.
As our relationship developed (mostly on weekends, as he lives an hour away), our personality differences became even more evident. I value integrity, motivation, success, modesty and responsibility. Although he is responsible, he isn't as driven to succeed. Furthermore, at the risk of sounding arrogant, he doesn't challenge me intellectually the way my last boyfriend did. I find it difficult, and sometimes even painful, to have intelligent discourse with him. He isn't very articulate, nor is he interested in the same kind of intellectual pursuits as myself. He likes to sit at home with movies and computer games. I feel we are in a rut after only nine months.
The problem I am having in breaking it off, however, is that he treats me very well. I have had past boyfriends who were lacking in the chivalry department. This guy has all the right moves.
Still, I can't get over our lack of intellectual and social compatibility, and I find myself feeling increasingly resentful. I'm extremely involved when it comes to my career and community (I volunteer, sit on committees and teach in my limited spare time), and I'm a social person by nature. I can't help feeling like a bad person, and that I am looking a gift horse in the mouth. My single female colleagues complain about being unable to find a man who is old-fashioned and chivalrous, and this guy definitely is.
But I'm reaching a breaking point. I have already met his family and he is pushing to meet mine. We both made it clear at the outset that we were looking for a serious relationship, not a casual one. Despite my intentions at the beginning of our relationship, I simply can't see myself spending my life with this man.
He thinks everything is perfect — he has even said he loves me — but I simply don't reciprocate his feelings. I'm afraid that my job performance is suffering from all of my worry. Deep down, I'd really like to break it off. Sometimes I dread having to be intimate with him — but, at the same time, I fear being alone again. I feel like I'm staying with him out of convenience, comfort and indecisiveness. What should I do?
A. It’s clear to me that you should do both of you a favor and break up.
I find it strange that someone with such extreme negative feelings is so torn. From what you say, you don’t even like this man very much, let alone love him.
Medicine is a healing profession. It’s fine in terms of your career to be the healer and the saver — but it’s not fine to let this kind of altruistic impulse so influence your life that you are overcome with the need to rescue everything in your path.
This man sounds like a perfectly nice guy, but that doesn’t mean he is right for you. If, after nine months, you feel no attraction or affection toward him, then you probably never will. You already find it “painful” to converse with him, and you “dread” being intimate. Your resentment of him will only grow over time.
It’s also surprising that you let the relationship get this far. You didn’t especially like this man from the beginning. He lives an hour away. You didn’t meet him in a typical social context, like through friends or school. It should have been very easy for this relationship to be a nonstarter. I wonder why you didn’t simply end things after one or two dates.
It’s possible that you feel so guilty and uncomfortable saying no that you couldn’t force yourself to initiate a breakup in the early stages, and you still can’t.
But it isn’t necessary to act like such a “good girl” that you end up sacrificing your own happiness in order to please others.
Staying together in the service of being kind actually ends up being hurtful. Plenty of couples try to stick things out with a mate they aren’t very compatible with. That’s unnecessary for two people who are not married and don’t have children together. Too many couples who are “just dating” exhibit a misplaced sense of loyalty. They end up wasting valuable time in substandard relationships for fear of hurting somebody’s feelings.
I also wonder whether you are hard to please, though you don’t sound it. In the past, you weren’t pleased with guys who were unchivalrous. But you also weren’t pleased with your former boyfriend, who was your intellectual equal. It’s crazy to hold out for perfection. But you do need a starting point of some compatibility and attraction. You don’t have either with this man.
Certainly, some characteristics are more important than others. But I’m not sure that chivalry, which you haven’t clearly defined, should be at the top of anyone’s list. Shared interests, similar values and goals, intellectual compatibility, attraction and ability to communicate are far more important.
It’s certainly warranted that people be polite to others. But “chivalry” implies holding the door and rescuing a damsel in distress. While women like to be treated like women, it’s curious that this is your man’s primary strong point, and that you hold it above things that really matter.
It’s not unusual to be worried about being alone, but it’s unfortunate to remain with somebody whose company you find unpleasant, to refrain from activities you like and partake of those you don’t, solely to avoid being on your own. If this is the case with you, it is imperative to work on your own mindset, lest you keep attaching yourself to any man who comes your way.
Until you break up, you are trapped. The longer you stagnate within this unsatisfactory relationship, the lower are the chances that each of you will find a partner who’s a better fit.
Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: Remaining in a ho-hum relationship, in the guise of being kind, ends up being hurtful to both of you.
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie.” She is also the author of “Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts,” which helps parents deal with preschoolers’ questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.
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