He doesn’t seem to be offering you much, so don’t just ‘make do’, says Mariella Frostrup
The dilemma I have been dating my boyfriend for three months. He is intelligent and thoughtful, sensitive and funny. We are in our 30s and have the same long-term goals – to travel, see where life takes us and not add children to a relationship.
I wasn’t physically attracted to him, but the way he treats me convinced me to give it a go. I’m not convinced there’s enough “spark” and find myself inwardly picking apart his appearance and his unwavering devotion to me, which I find soppy and cloying. Some things actively turn me off, for example chewing food loudly with his mouth open and getting food all over his face, or the way he dresses. Then I feel guilty as he would not judge me in the same way.
I have dated some very attractive men in the past and valued physical attractiveness probably too highly. Most of these boyfriends were narcissistic and made me feel insecure about my own attractiveness, something I am usually confident about. I am agonising about throwing away a relationship with a man who really adores me.
Should I let him go or stick with it?
Mariella replies Life can, in some ways, be very short. You’ve written to me at a point in the year when I tend to feel reckless and impatient – “out with the old” becoming my increasingly frenzied mantra! It’s perhaps not the best state of mind to be delivering advice, but happily, in your case, it might be. Normally I’m all about compromise. As I regularly reiterate, few relationships survive the course without epic levels of endurance and tolerance from both parties so, in principle, you’re right to be trying to square the positives with the negatives in this new liaison. Your boyfriend’s assets look impressive on paper, if a little generic. A man who’s thoughtful, intelligent, sensitive and funny isn’t to be sniffed at, but listed thus they sound like a stereotype rather than a personal engagement. Sure, he sounds like a nice guy but, despite the propaganda suggesting otherwise, there are plenty of them about – it’s finding one that’s tuned to your wavelength that counts.
What does he have to offer apart from the fact that he’s not a bastard? I appreciate you have to kiss a lot of frogs, but it doesn’t follow that you need to jump at the first man blessed with less cold-blooded characteristics. My sense is that you’re in retreat and making do. I have to restrain my impulse to shout: “Just dump him!”
It’s not only you I’m worried about. You say you’ve had your fair share of narcissists who’ve made you feel unattractive. So you’ll be well aware how painful it is to be judged and found wanting. You’ve said you find this guy a bit soppy which suggests he’s eager for your approval and will bruise easily. Why inflict unnecessary pain on a man whose only crime is to have fallen for you with too much enthusiasm? Issues with table manners and dress sense might appear superficial now, but their ability to irritate is likely to increase over the years. In my experience there’s no such thing as a small turn off.
We are none of us perfect, which is why falling in love is so seductive because, for a brief time in our lover’s eyes, we feel flawless. Right now you are both still shrouded in mystery to each other, but eventually you’ll be naked, your real selves fully exposed and those early imperfections will join a slew of more onerous ones. Starting with a clean slate and pure worshipful passion is extremely helpful down the line. Those sense memories of perfect union are sometimes all we have to keep going through more challenging times. You need to bank blissful days for future retrieval, like stashing an energy bar in your pocket for a long trek.
Passion, as we know, dwindles over time, so the elements that are off-putting now certainly won’t feel less so when repeated a thousand times over. You do need to sweat the small stuff when it comes to enduring companionship. As much as your petty quibbles can become homicide-inducing annoyances, so your judgmental disdain will fester in his heart over months and years. Sure you can change the way he dresses and maybe even retrain him when it comes to his table manners, but refashioning him into an image you desire is hardly likely to make him more appealing to you. A partner whose habits revolt you within the very earliest months of courtship does not bode well.
I’m interested in why you’re so keen to settle. You say you want an adventurous life, unshackled by children and commitment. So where’s the upside for you in 1950s-style coupledom? If you feel like taking time out from robust dating to inhabit a calmer more nurturing partnership, there’s no harm in hanging in the doldrums for a while. But don’t dissect him like a laboratory animal. He is what you see before you and if he doesn’t match your standards move on. Finding a fleeting lover can be a treated like a beauty contest, but when it comes to long-term relationships, pretty goddam perfect is the baseline to start the courtship dance on.