This week Amy Alkon, the Advice Goddess, revisits a common problem: staying with someone you don’t really love/like/want/mesh with, because you recognize that they’re a good person and you don’t want to hurt them. Perhaps they’re “perfect on paper,” or you’ve been together awhile so you think you “should” stick it out and make it work, because that’s what people in relationships do, or worst of all, you feel bad for them. As in this letter:
Dude writes: You helped me exit a bad relationship with an extremely sexy but not-so-nice woman. I’ve started dating a very nice woman, but she’s about 40 pounds overweight, and I’m not getting aroused. We’ve tried sleeping together several times, but I cannot stay…well, you know, serviceable. Where do I go from here? — Limp
Advice Goddess replies: Your body is trying to tell you something: “I don’t care how sweet she is compared to the last girl, we’re not going in there.” And don’t think you’re doing her any favors, either. There are those men who are hot for the meatier ladies. She might be in the company of one of them if she wasn’t waiting around for your limp biscuit to rise. What is this, penance for dating a woman you actually found attractive, at least on the outside? We all have minimum standards for looks, personality, and character, and it’s kindest to refrain from getting involved with anyone who doesn’t meet yours. As much as you might want to want fat and sassy, if you’re hot for “welcome to the dark side” with a figure like a paper cut, all you’re ever going to be screaming in bed is “I swear this never happens.”
This is a more, erm, primal version of the tale than we usually see in Amy, Abby, or Carolyn. Nevertheless, the issue is the same: the answer is always that they’re “just not that into” (hate the phrase, but it works here…) their partner, but they can’t or don’t want to admit it.
The interesting thing about this is that the people inevitably think they’re being nice or good or dutiful, sticking with someone through hell, highwater, cool feelings, resentment, and repulsion (recall the SATC movie: “Did you just compare your relationship to cancer?”). Instead, though (as Carolyn always points out and Amy echoes here), to stay with someone because you feel bad about breaking up with them is both cruel and incredibly narcissistic:
It both denies that person the opportunity to be with someone who loves, likes, and is attracted and committed to them (“this, that, and the other,” as in Seinfeld), and worse, suggests that you think you’re the best they’ll ever have–that if you don’t love them, no one else could, so your pity and tolerance are the best they should expect out of life. Yuck!
“It’s not you, it’s me,” and “I don’t deserve you” both sound like empty excuses, and there’s probably no way around that–but better a pathetic line than a pathetic life. Get it over with and move on!