Partner may be limited emotionally or just not interested


I've been dating a man intermittently for several months. When we are together, we fit, we laugh, have great sex. Afterward, he is attentive, sends cute messages, misses me, etc. Then he backs away a little, communication takes on a different tone for several weeks, and then he's back again. If I thought it were as simple as "he has commitment issues," I would not be writing. There is something so deeply painful about the way he speaks of women he has loved. It's almost as if he sees himself as the tragic romantic hero of ill-fated love affairs. I'm becoming increasingly aware that he is resistant to looking at himself too deeply, as is required for deepening our level of commitment. My heart alternately aches for him and because of him. Please do not speak to me of setting boundaries or walking away. It is not that simple. I'm invested. I simply cannot find the words to begin this conversation with him. The consequence of having no amenable choices has left me tired and frustrated.

If I have read him correctly, and he truly believes loving a woman is only real when she does not reciprocate, then nothing is likely to change that fact. Possibly, that level of intimacy is beyond his capability. My desire is to deepen our relationship. I am naturally resistant to sharing an observation that would only hurt him. I would and will walk away before ever saying something that forever damages our association. At this point, you must be waiting for a question. I guess there really isn't one. -- B.H., Las Vegas

Two responses: the first, a broader philosophical view, and then a specific response to your concern.

In the movie "Grand Canyon" (1991), Dee is a woman who has a brief affair with a married man. He breaks her heart. Toward the end of the film, Dee makes a simple, tearful observation. It is brilliantly understated, so as to be all the more powerful. The line is near surgical, cutting cleanly, swiftly, deeply into a truth so complete. So breathtaking, brutal, immutable. At once merciless and merciful.

"When you love someone, and they don't choose you, it hurts," Dee says.

Indeed.

I like to notice what I'm noticing. To pay attention to things that cross the radar of my awareness in clumps and themes. And these days, one of the things I notice is how hard we work to psychoanalyze the people we love when those relationships falter: The person we love isn't ready. Is afraid of intimacy. Has commitment issues. Lacks sufficient personal development. Is unwilling to look at himself/herself. Doesn't believe in marriage. Lacks self-esteem. Is controlling.

Now, any and all of these things might be true in point of fact. But here's what's also true:

When someone is really into you, when someone is choosing you, he/she gets ready. Faces the fear of intimacy. Makes commitments. Makes sacrifices. Bears discomfort. Throws himself/herself headlong into the journey of personal development. Waves the wand of love over the "deal breakers," and, poof, those deal breakers become mere problems to solve. Because all great love affairs have problems to solve.

When people say, "I don't think I ever want to marry again," it's possible they are saying something authentic, that they have made a philosophical commitment to the idea that marriage is unnecessary. But they also might have found a polite way of saying, "I won't be marrying you."

Now, to the specifics of your letter ...

You say, "If I have read him correctly ...." Read him? I assume you mean assessed and evaluated him. You've discerned his worldview, and something of his psychological development, or lack thereof. Your conclusions? You're dating a man who believes only unreciprocated love is real (which is a crazy belief, right?). A man whose capability for intimacy is maxed out. You've seen all he has to give.

Yet, your desire is to deepen your relationship.

Yikes, B.H. If your assessment is correct by half, you can't deepen this relationship. Because he can't. And I'm not sure why you'd want to.

If your assessment is inaccurate, then you're dating a man who is simply not that into you. Not choosing you. And you're attempting to assuage yourself with theories that only serve to further your torment.

You're right about there not being a question here, B.H. You've asked, and answered, all of them.

Originally published in View News, Nov. 18, 2008.