I have been dating the same woman for two years. We’re both about to turn 30 and it seems that everyone expects me to propose to her in the New Year. I do care about her. I even love many of the qualities she has. But I’m not sexually attracted to her at all. I know how horrible that sounds, but it’s true. She’s just not my type. Before we dated I had many failed relationships with women I found more beautiful. When we started dating I knew I didn’t find her physically attractive. I just knew that she was kind and generous, and that I wanted to see if the other stuff was less important as long as we had a deeper emotional connection. Now we’re two years in and, though I feel strongly for her as a best friend, I’m still not interested in being with her physically. I feel like telling her the truth is the best answer, but I also don’t want to be labeled a jerk. I just don’t know if I can stick it out for a lifetime.
-Label-Resistant in DC
Your sentiment is admirable – you don’t want to saddle her with the memory that your relationship ended because of something she really cannot control. But at the same time, you are letting this drag out in a way that will inevitably cause her to think it was her hair/eyes/dress-size that led you to break it off, regardless of the reason you give for ending the relationship.
This is not to say that you should stay in a relationship when you don’t feel sexually attracted to the person. That essential piece of couple-hood is hard to overlook. Yes, the fierce magnetism found during those early relationship stages does fade over time, but visual stimuli is central to our biological method of connecting with others. That doesn’t change as we age, and you would be doing her a disservice by forcing yourself to just “stick it out for a lifetime.” To go for the sexist cliché, women are intuitive, and it’s quite likely she already knows you aren’t super-excited by her. There is someone out there, I swear, who does find her attractive. She has the right to find her match, and so do you.
So if you are hemming and hawing about the “right” thing to say when you are breaking up, my advice is to say as little as possible, unless she asks. Then offer her as much information as she requests (NOTE: This is different from telling her “as much as you think she should know…” Please let her regulate the amount of detail), steering clear of anything crass, reactive or outright hurtful. Then give her the space to process it, and don’t expect her to be your movie buddy or part of your emotional support network anytime soon. Distance is painful but necessary, and much kinder than prolonging a false relationship.
It’s the time of year to be thinking about New Year’s resolutions, something I’ve never been successful at maintaining. All my coworkers want us to post our resolutions on the kitchen bulletin board and then help each other along – a pretty good idea, but is it worth it for me to say “I’m going to finally find a boyfriend this year,” and then fail in front of everyone? I don’t get the point.
I agree with you that New Year’s resolutions often launch with a lot of promise, only to fizzle before the snow melts in March. For some it can be a motivating push to do something healthier, but for others it becomes an annual tradition of punishing, self-fulfilling prophesy.
Which is why I suggest you be gentler to yourself and choose something you’ve already started doing (just resolve to do more of it) in the New Year. Big-ticket items like massive weight loss, cold-turkey smoking cessation, and boyfriend-collection are tough to achieve when you’re being watched (or monitored, competitively, via the lunchroom bulletin board).
Why swear off sugar entirely, when you have a niece who sells you Girl Scout cookies every February? Why throw out your cigarettes January 1 if you tried doing it that way last March 3, August 21 and September 20, only to relapse the next week? Or why promise your officemates that you will find a boyfriend, if you have been trolling eHarmony and Match.com for the last year without luck?
There is definitely something to be said for public accountability when making big life changes – if that’s your reason for joining the office pastime, then go forth. But inviting all eyes on you as you put yourself out there in one of the most vulnerable ways possible – dating in Washington, DC – is a sure-fire way to tank your self-esteem and start 2011 with a whimper. Be better to yourself than that. Maybe make self-care your resolution. I promise you will feel better about this New Year come next December if you do.
Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor and certified Imago Relationship therapist practicing at the Imago Center of DC in Georgetown. Her website is www.therapygeorgetown.com. This column is meant for entertainment only, and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. Please send your relationship questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.