Off-and-on boyfriend raises gnaw­ing is­sues

The Buffalo News - - LIFE & ARTS - – Should I Stay or Go?

Dear Carolyn: I’ve been dat­ing “Z” off and on for 2½ years. He’s 39 and never had a se­ri­ous re­la­tion­ship be­fore; I’m 33 and have been in love once and had one other long-term re­la­tion­ship that ended in a healthy way.

Z and I love each other, but he has a hard time com­mu­ni­cat­ing with me about his feel­ings for me, or mak­ing tan­gi­ble plans for our fu­ture. He does give me a hard time most of the time and has bro­ken up with me mul­ti­ple times for no clear rea­son, which has been dif­fi­cult for me.

We re­cently spent six months apart due to his say­ing he was “sorry” that he was “not the one for me.”

We came back to­gether a few months ago and were thrilled to re­al­ize our mu­tual love. But a re­cent snag has brought up this gnaw­ing ques­tion: If I love him, shouldn’t I ac­cept him for who he is and love him un­con­di­tion­ally? Or should I keep try­ing to get him to com­mu­ni­cate with me in a way I need, since we’re still learn­ing how the other wants and needs to be loved?

Carolyn Hax

This ac­tu­ally poses sev­eral gnaw­ing ques­tions.

The first part alone is two: (1) Shouldn’t I ac­cept him? and (2) Shouldn’t I love him un­con­di­tion­ally?

The an­swer to the first is an easy, solid, un­qual­i­fied yes. Ac­cept him. If tak­ing what you see as what you get from peo­ple isn’t the key to happiness unto it­self, then it’s at least a mas­sive step to­ward elim­i­nat­ing need­less frus­tra­tion and/or elim­i­nat­ing mul­ti­year off-and-on re­la­tion­ships with peo­ple who give you “a hard time most of the time.”

The sec­ond ques­tion is very dif­fer­ent from the first. Once you ac­cept some­one as is, it is not au­to­matic that you then love this per­son un­con­di­tion­ally. Au con­traire. You ac­cept, then you see if there’s love. Ac­cept­ing that some­one is who he is and isn’t go­ing to change could be just the truth dosage you need to re­al­ize you don’t, in fact, love him. Or like him much.

So to re­cap: (1) See Z for who he is in­stead of who you keep want­ing him to be, then (2) Ask your­self whether you love this real ver­sion of Z enough to stay with him as is.

Then we get to the third gnaw­ing ques­tion, which is: Should you keep try­ing to ar­tic­u­late your un­met needs in hopes of get­ting them met, or get off the ham­ster wheel?

The an­swer to that is, you tell me – or bet­ter, let the ev­i­dence tell you. In re­sponse to your spelling out your needs, has Z made any last­ing ad­just­ments to meet them?

For­get what you think you de­serve, what cou­ples “should” do for each other, what Z has done for a few weeks to hu­mor you then grad­u­ally stopped do­ing, what is or isn’t a lot to ask of some­one. Just look at what this 39-year-old (i.e., fully re­al­ized) per­son has demon­strated in th­ese 2½ (i.e., plenty in­for­ma­tive) years, with spe­cial con­sid­er­a­tion for what he has done con­sis­tently and re­cently.

Is this how you want to live, or not?

By the way – I won’t say “un­con­di­tion­ally” and “per­son” are mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive, but they aren’t the like­li­est mix.


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