Miss Information: Should I Settle Or Crush My Girlfriend?

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I’m not very attracted to my girlfriend of five years. Can I dump her to sleep with hotter people? 

Have a question? Email Letters may be edited for length, content, and clarity.

Dear Miss Info,

I am going to be twenty-five in November, and I’ve never had a serious relationship. I'm tired of being the only guy in my circle of friends who doesn't have anyone. I'm trying to get into therapy, trying to get my academic life going, trying to find a good job… just trying to get better. I'm scared to even try to talk to someone, since I feel like I can not take another rejection. There have been too many, and it destroys all the confidence and positivity I bring up in myself. 

The last person I thought I’d get with is my friend. I’ve known her for years, she’s been through some bad relationships, and I wanted to show her that there are good men out there. We went out a few times and I never felt that we really made a connection, even though I was really into her. I made a move; she rejected it and broke things off. I was heartbroken, but we decided to remain friends. She’s now dating someone else. 

Thing is, besides the hurt ego and pride, I’m upset for a few reasons. One: I’m always the "guy before," the guy who girls talk to and contemplate dating before they actually find the guy they get into relationships with. Whether it be a few weeks or a few months, it always happens. The second is that yet another person has joined the ranks of all of the couples I know. I still don’t have anyone. 

After all that rambling, my question is: will I ever find someone? Someone who sees my problems and doesn’t care because they have feelings for me? I’ve seen it happen a million times to other people, why not me?

— Ninth Wheel

Dear Ninth Wheel,

There is a line in Steve Martin’s novella Shopgirl that’s stayed lodged in my memory for years: 

“What Mirabelle needs is some omniscient voice to illuminate and spotlight her, and to inform everyone that this one has value, this one over here, the one sitting in the bar by herself, and then to find her counterpart and bring him to her.”

I found this to be terrifically romantic when I read it years ago, tender soul that I was. “Yes! That’s what will fix everything. Someone recognizing how great I am. I just need to hold out for external validation." Spoiler alert: that really doesn’t work at all. Also, Mirabelle is a really heavy-handed name for a protagonist who wants someone to recognize her beauty. But I digress.

That’s the feeling I get from your letter: if only someone would swoop down from the heavens, you’d be happier. It’s a common assumption, and I understand it entirely… it just happens to be fiction.

Ask yourself what you really want from a relationship. In your letter, you spend a lot of time discussing social pressure (“everybody else has somebody; I feel like a jerk”) and your desire for unconditional support. Expecting a girlfriend to be the solution is unrealistic. Any girl brings her own issues to the relationship, and you have to support her as much as she supports you. Having a partner doesn’t mark the beginning of security; it just changes the work you have to do.

You’re already on a great path with the introspection, therapy, academic work, etc. Remember, as you’re trying to work on yourself, being single is a blessing in disguise. You can consolidate all of your energy on yourself, without having to take anyone else into consideration. Now just take the next step: build up yourself enough that you can lead with “I’m great and you should get to know me,” rather than “I’m feeling left out and want somebody to fix it."

Dear Miss Info,

I’ve been with my girlfriend for about five years and in most ways things are great. I’ve met very few people I feel so comfortable with and whom I enjoy spending time with more. There’s just one problem:  I’ve never been very attracted to her physically. I should probably mention that she’s not someone who most would consider to be beautiful in a traditional sense and, while I would never be mistaken for a movie star, I’m a fairly good-looking guy. 

We were close friends for about a year before starting a relationship and, despite her obvious signals, I only made a move when it was clear that she wanted to either start something more or go our separate ways. Overall, I think I made the right decision since we’ve had a great time together, even though I’ve never really been entirely satisfied. She sees us spending the rest of our lives together, but I’ve always been a little ambivalent. Now I feel like it’s time to either fully commit to this relationship or end it.

Part of the problem is that I’ve always been quite shy and, even though I was in my early-to-mid twenties when the relationship started, I had never so much as held hands with a girl before her. I have no other relationship to compare this to, but I’ve been far happier with her than I was before we met. It may be that this relationship is the best I can hope for, but, at the same time, I feel like I’ve missed out on something by never having had sex with someone who I think is hot. 

 So, should I stay and settle or crush her just so I can try to sleep with someone hotter?

— Lucky but Shallow

Dear Lucky but Shallow,

I think the answer is in your language: “stay and settle” is a pretty bleak picture, and one that — no matter how much she loves you — your girlfriend wouldn’t want to be a part of. 

Attraction and physical beauty often overlap, but they are not one and the same. Attraction is a spark comprised of many factors, while physical beauty if a fluke of genetics. It’s like in Miss America: physical appearance is only part of the judging criteria; you have to also factor in evening wear, swimsuit, baton-twirling, and inane-speech-giving. I find it curious that you pointed out that you’re hotter than she is. It’s totally legitimate to cite waning attraction, but appealing to some sense of aesthetic justice — “she isn’t as cute as I am” — is where it gets dicey. If the whole package isn’t doing it for you, that’s fine. But you’re not doing her any favors by pretending you are.

If she is using terms like “the rest of our lives together,” and you’re “ambivalent,” those are feelings to listen to. And, ultimately, I think this is less an issue about this one girl, and more an issue of you wanting to date around before you settle in to “forever.” Which is your right. But, again, half-assing a commitment isn’t the answer here. Your girlfriend deserves someone who thinks she’s bangin’, and you deserve not to wonder “what if?”