Advice From the Trenches

It’s Not You, It’s Me: What’s to be done with Mr. Almost-Right?

Dear C and Dr. B;

I’m dissatisfied with my relationship and something has to change, but I keep putting it off because I feel guilty. I am still trying to figure out if this is the right thing.

I’m 26 and have been with my boyfriend, Steve, since I was 16. He is a great guy, nice, fun … but the same things that attracted me so much in high school are wearing thin. Then, he was a sports hero. Now he just seems like a typical jock whose idea of a good time is beer and sports. I can’t have a conversation anymore with him. We both graduated together, but he has developed no other ambitions. I definitely have – I want to return to school some day. He’s content with working construction, and I have to admit, he really stays in shape. But I want … more.

I owe him a lot — he helped me get away from my crazy family. But instead of feeling grateful, I find myself being mean to him. I get so frustrated that I pick at him and criticize him; then I don’t like myself. My girlfriends think I’m nuts because, well, he is really cute. They say they would die to have someone like that who is as devoted as he is to me. They think I’m being selfish and self-centered and I’ll really regret it later if I break things off. I can’t help but wonder – are they right?

Fickle Felicity

Dr. B says: Things change. What you needed at 16 is clearly not what you need at 26. You certainly need to return to school. Your entire life might need reevaluation. 

Of course you have a right to pursue your dreams. If you haven’t talked to Steve about your plans for school, I would. For all you know he might very supportive. I know many professionals who are married to laborers.  But I also know people who married for the wrong reason and they are always after their spouses to change. If you can’t accept Steve for who he is then you should not be with him. But this isn’t really about him, it is about you. I suspect that you do not like yourself at this point. You aren’t where you think you should be and it is embittering you.  

Do what you have to in order to like and respect yourself. Education, therapy and an intellectually challenging group of friends would all help. It is okay to be a little selfish in life. One cannot have a balanced life without some healthy selfishness. Good luck on your journey of self discovery.

C says: Oh, please, Felicity, don’t be so hard on yourself! You’re not being selfish. Do you actually imagine that you’d be doing Steve a favor by staying on and playing out this “I’ve grown past the oaf in the bedroom” scenario? It is just an avoidance tactic. The real problem here is you, not Steve.

We all think that we can change our lives by changing our circumstances, but the truth is that wherever we go, there we are. Your coping mechanisms and your ability to apply yourself won’t be any different if you get a new exciting boyfriend. That’ll probably be just another distraction.  

What you really need is a sense of personal identity, and no man can give you that. You’re just going to have to work for it. Going back to school should be the first step, and you do not need to get rid of Steve in order to further your own education. Instead of criticizing him, put that energy to better use by applying to colleges. Gaining knowledge and new resources is no easy job. Who knows? You may feel a newfound appreciation of Steve’s devotion and support.

In the meantime, don’t worry about Steve. He’s cute, he’s in good shape … he can take care of himself. If you really can’t ever see him as your equal, then just don’t be with him. He could have a much better life with someone who actually appreciates him for what he is. Don’t flip out if your girlfriends are the first ones in line.

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