Miss Information: Should I Settle Or Crush My Girlfriend? 

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

By Cait Robinson

Have a question? Email missinfo@nerve.com. 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?” 

 

Commentarium (63 Comments)

Aug 13 11 - 12:22am
ibg

Cait, you are really good at this. Enjoy your column.

Aug 14 11 - 6:17am
yeah

I totally agree. I think you give great, sound and balanced advice.

Aug 14 11 - 1:29pm
CaitRobinson

@ibg, yeah, ricochet: thanks, guys. I am very literally blushing right now. What a delicate flower.

Aug 13 11 - 12:34am
David

I want that Godzilla shirt the dude's wearing.

Aug 13 11 - 12:35am
slumberdolls

Hmm .. Mr. Ninth Wheel should come and find me ..

Aug 13 11 - 12:46am
Jfs$2)

These 2 letters are absolutely hilarious together. Thanks

Aug 13 11 - 3:17pm
BrosephofArimathea

Aren't they? Damned if you don't, damned if you do.

Aug 13 11 - 1:32am
Ricochet

I think L2 should go ahead and dump the girl. He's doing her no favor by staying with her. And he needs to find out sooner rather than later that "someone hotter" is no guarantee. In fact, since he hasn't been approached by someone "hotter", my guess is nature is at work, and equilibrium has been met. At least on the physical level.

And again Cait, my thanks for providing us not only with a classic juxtaposition, but also your excellent counsel to these tortured souls.

Aug 14 11 - 4:37pm
am

"...nature is at work, and equilibrium has been met." ha! awesome :)

Aug 13 11 - 2:00am
BFF

Aw, Li'l Scrappy, I love you so much! Every week you make me belly laugh. And also, you're very good at advicing.

Aug 14 11 - 1:28pm
CaitRobinson

@BFF You know I'm both little AND scrappy? Are you watching me right now?

Aug 13 11 - 4:35am
Dee

MAAAAAAAAAAAAAn. I feel bad for the ladyfriend of letter two. Five years?! Wow.

Aug 14 11 - 8:40pm
urg

seriously.

Aug 13 11 - 8:38am
jockstrap

as someone who was in the same boat as writer #1 (being alone and thinking i needed someone cause every1 else had sum1) i can say the advice is totally correct. my problem back then was i wasn't doing anything with my life. Now i'm halfway through a degree course that i love and learning all the time. I'm still single, but it doesn't seem to matter anymore, because i'm a fuckin artist dude ;)

Aug 14 11 - 1:26pm
CaitRobinson

@jockstrap. Word! Singleness, when properly embraced, can be a fantastic tool. I'm glad to hear you're successfully rocking it.

Aug 14 11 - 7:32pm
jockstrap

well, it's not the singleness I embraced as such rather than a single-minded dedication to my craft. Every potential relationship now is measured against my need to advance creatively and my dog's obscure prejudices (she seems to dislike the middle-classes, it's the only way I can describe it). I overanalyze things a little, but I still suspect this isn't healthy in the long run.

Aug 14 11 - 9:00pm
jaycee

F, I was still holding my V-card at 25. Live your life and enjoy it, and the rest will come naturally. Pun only partially intended.

Aug 17 11 - 7:59pm
J.

Hear hear, being single has been the bomb. I've only realized that now, after a year and a half of bitching.
@jockstrap, your dog sounds delightful.

Aug 13 11 - 9:14am
Kelly

Lucky but Shallow should have never been in that relationship in the first place. That girl will be hurt and lose trust in men for what he did.

Aug 14 11 - 8:03pm
ts

Yup, 'specially when she finds out how much hotter he thinks he is. Selfish idiot.

Aug 13 11 - 10:01am
nan

Sometimes when someone is as thoroughly shallow as letter writer number two... it's almost like depth.

Aug 14 11 - 1:24pm
stuck

why do i agree with you. the reason he is still with her, could be because he doesn't want to hurt? oh well.

Aug 13 11 - 10:52am
cs

Letter #2 reminds me of my ex... he had a *very* inflated opinion of himself. And speaking as that girl, yes, that WILL damage her trust in men for quite awhile.

Aug 13 11 - 11:47am
Yeah,

I've been on both sides of L2's problem. Not fun. End it, otherwise it'll only get worse.

Aug 13 11 - 11:53am
Jesse

To the first: oh honey at 25 you're not "always" anything. I was divorced by the time I was 25 and my early adult years would have been much better spent following my interests and working on myself instead of putting all my emotional energy into a relationship that did more harm than good. Follow your passions, do the work your therapist recomends and love will happen when you least expect it. (Everyone says that because it's true.) Good luck and Namaste!

Aug 14 11 - 7:17pm
xyz

Seriously, if only ppl would stop saying that (''love will happen when you least expect it''). Love will happen, if you expect it or not, if you're ready for it or not. It just does... there's no science to it. So please don't try to not expect it bc you figure THEN it will happen.
But yeah, wanting someone just to fit in and have a shoulder to cry on isn't going to get you very far. Not as much bc no one will take you, although that is definitely a possibility; but even if you get this ''relationship'', you'll soon realize that it isn't really what you are looking for. Connection is what you're looking for.

Aug 13 11 - 12:20pm
Laura

#2

Lazy and selfish. I feel truly sad for that girl. How casually soul crushing.

Aug 13 11 - 2:10pm
mp

"I wanted to show her that there are good men out there"

I wish more people would call this bullshit out for what it is: "timid and boring"

Aug 13 11 - 3:19pm
BrosephofArimathea

Your bubble is as bad as the first letter writers'.

Aug 13 11 - 4:49pm
sunday

LW2 is going to hurt that girl. If you dump her, I hope LW2 realizes that maybe he's not all kinds of hot stuff. There's probably a reason, LW2, that you haven't had another girlfriend.

Aug 13 11 - 8:01pm
ER

So true about attraction and physical beauty not being the same thing.

Aug 13 11 - 9:05pm
pf

No one mentions L2 could take a non-monogamous break (hopefully with permission), and check out what else is out there. His GF might appreciate some honesty: This may be "it" or it might not. More likely than not it is "it", and he (they) can check it out in reality--and then come back to being monogamous if they want. Such "variety breaks" can really amp up the passion between the primaries after a bunch of years. Honesty and openness anyone?

Aug 14 11 - 8:55pm
urg

That would be ideal, but it probably would be kinder (in the long, long run) to just break up. LW2 said, "I’ve never been very attracted to her physically." I just don;t understand how he managed to stay in a 5 year relationship in spite of that.

Aug 15 11 - 2:57pm
greebo

" I just don;t understand how he managed to stay in a 5 year relationship in spite of that."

Because you hate the idea of being shallow and you try to force yourself to be something you're not. Some people are shallow, he just needs to accept it...

Aug 14 11 - 1:21am
Delia

Last line of L2 was the perfect "in a nutshell". I absolutely love this column, you hit that note between helpful, constructive advice and dose of reality that's always a little off-kilter in other places.

Aug 14 11 - 6:43pm
Miss

A whisper to letter writer #1: you don't sound like a very interesting person. Maybe you just didn't bring them up in your letter but do you have hobbies, interests? If not, how about you learn a musical instrument, join a social sport you're keen on, take lessons on something you've wondered about. Interesting people enjoy things . What do you enjoy?

Aug 14 11 - 9:06pm
urg

Not sure if learning a musical instrument or playing a sport will make anyone more interesting. I met a "nice guy" once - he was polite and seemed kind, but I couldn't quite put my finger on why I felt a bit uncomfortable around him. When I said I couldn't go out with him, he got really annoyed. It was weird...

Aug 15 11 - 12:10am
Miss

Interests/sports/hobbies make people a bit less self-obsessed, I reckon. People think they're much more interesting than they really are. When you can focus on something other than yourself and someone else I think you have a bit more going for you.

Aug 15 11 - 10:57am
thinkywritey

I agree with @Miss here. A person doesn't take up guitar and suddenly become interesting... he becomes interesting because he's looking at things outside of himself, has things to talk about, things that brighten his eyes, etc. If his main hobby is trying to "Find Someone," I'd say that's pretty tedious (and sometimes downright terrifying) for a potential date.

Aug 14 11 - 10:01pm
RN

LBS: imagine your girlfriend reading your letter. Imagine how awful she'd feel. Then do her a favour and break up with the poor woman. I married a guy I wasn't physically attracted to. Sucked for me; sucked for him. Eventually I left him for someone who "most would not consider to be beautiful in a traditional sense" but who happened to drive me insane with desire. Whereupon he met a woman who wanted to have his babies. Good things ensued all around. There is life after being "crushed."

Aug 15 11 - 10:48am
oohla

LbS- what a douche. Seriously. You've wasted 5 years of this girl's life, on ambivalent feelings, no attraction, and all the while thinking you're hotter than she is, and most likely that she's lucky to be with you because of it? And you end your letter with asking if you should dump her to sleep with someone hotter? Sounds like you don't want a relationship, and this probably hasn't been much of one for this poor girl. FIVE YEARS? And you think NOW is the time to decide if you want to stick around? I feel sorry for that girl, and I'm willing to bet that it is SHE who is too good for YOU.

Aug 15 11 - 12:38pm
Irish

To Letter #2 - OK fair enough he does say some douchey things in his letter, but on the other hand he has at least the wherewithall to ask for advice........ it's clear that he should move on.....but how he does it is what counts...... I've been in that situation myself and my advice is to take a deep breath and don't rush to your singledom, don't humiliate her....show her up, bad mouth her to your friends and have it get back to her...... see this as a test of your maturity and compassion and do it right.....

Aug 18 11 - 1:30am
el

he just seems really young, despite his age.

Aug 15 11 - 3:01pm
LZB

#2, don't ever tell her what you think of her physically - your problem not hers. Don't make her shoulder that to soften the blow on yourself.

Aug 15 11 - 3:11pm
@LbS

Cait's answer is worthy, but some of the comments had me chuckling ruefully. It'd be kinda funny to see how people would've reacted to your letter if you'd been a woman writing about a guy -- I don't think you'd have seen the same venom and resentment. Instead people would find ways to rationalize it, and I'm willing to wager that at least one person would've used the words "journey" and "validate".

Anyway, I suspect this may be a classic case of right relationship, wrong time. With a few superficial relationships with vapid hotties under your belt, you'd be better able to appreciate what your girlfriend has to offer, and how rare it is to genuinely enjoy spending time with someone. You deserve that experience -- everyone does, at some point in their lives -- but you don't want to hurt your girlfriend. Sadly, you can't have both.

Also, how much of this is about your attraction to her vs. your perception of her as a "trophy"? Is it that you're not that attracted to her, or that you perceive that other guys don't envy you? Do you have any lingering middle-school issues that make you want to show up your former persecutors by sporting a supermodel on your arm?

Are you ever able to see your girlfriend as beautiful, or does her physical self always seem like a collection of imperfections to you? If the latter, it's probably a lost cause...

Aug 16 11 - 6:53pm
kmt

I think it's crucial to add to LW2: If you're going to break up with her, and you should, before you waste any more of her time, DO IT KINDLY. Obey the campfire rule, respect her, support her and treat her with love. AND DO NOT LET HER KNOW IT'S BECAUSE YOU FIND HER UNATTRACTIVE OR UNWORTHY OF YOU. Once upon a time you wanted to show her good guys existed; show her how a good guy ends a relationship.

Aug 16 11 - 8:17pm
Robby

Ninth Wheel - I would suggest that you stop looking for your next girlfriend among your immediate circle of friends. I know women SAY they want to be with someone they are already friends with, but in practice hooking up with somebody is way more complicated when you have a bunch of friends in common.

Learn to approach acquaintances or strangers. The emotional risk of rejection is lower, & the chance that it will actually lead to a hookup are higher. Keep it light at the beginning - it's just a hookup. Once you hookup with the same person 4 - 5 times, you can maybe start to think about turning it into a real relationship, where you start meeting each others circle of friends. If it doesn't get to that stage, there's no social loss as there might be if you two were running in the same circles to begin with.

Aug 17 11 - 4:37pm
question

re: letter writer #2, when people talk about how attractive they are, do they want to date themselves? "I don't like her, but I find myself sexy." This guy sounds a bit too much like an old boyfriend of mine, who was crushed to find out that I immediately moved onto a new relationship while he, "the prize", didn't have girls lining up to take my place the way he thought he would. And no, it didn't crush me forever or make me think all men were jerks - I just thought HE was a jerk and apparently other girls did too.

Aug 17 11 - 7:39pm
@question

Maybe it was a mistake on his part to mention it; it's the kind of thing that's hard to say without sounding like a dick, even if it's true. But for most people, the guy's attractiveness would influence the advice they give...and on the Internet, without a picture, it's an avenue of attack for people who don't like what he has to say. Commenters offended by this guy's attitude and behavior would paint him as a homely, schlubby loser who's lucky to be dating anyone at all. Instead, they're portraying him as a smug douche who's not as attractive as he thinks he is.

Personally I think it's partly a status thing. He's actually into this girl, but he knows he's not pretty (or thin?) enough to impress his friends and enemies. Plus he wants to know how it feels to be with someone who he's super-attracted to, and who wouldn't?

Everyone's riding him for being an asshole for staying with her this long, but if he were really an asshole he'd have dumped her for someone hotter a long time ago. I bet he actually loves her...but knows he should leave...but feels too guilty and has gotten too attached to do it, and doesn't want to be the "bad guy" who gets vilified.

It's the same dilemma almost everyone has, sooner or later: you love the person you're with, but things get stale and you miss the novelty and energy of other people. But you don't want to be a cheater and risk opprobrium, so you just quietly resent your partner for forcing you into monogamy, and begin to see them as nothing but a collection of shortcomings and disappointments. And maybe they feel the same way about you. Ain't life grand?

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Feb 25 12 - 1:11pm
LW #2

While the timing of this response means that very few people are likely to read it, I nevertheless felt it worthwhile to write it. To be honest, I have only now worked up the courage to read the responses to my letter (bravery isn’t one of my strengths as may be evident from the content of my letter). To start with, I do not regret bringing up both my assertion of a disparity in attractiveness between my girlfriend and myself and my desire to sleep with someone who I find very attractive physically. Nor do I regret portraying these desires in the way that I did. These are crass and ‘douchey’ emotions and deserve to be framed as such. While I do undoubtedly love my girlfriend, I nonetheless continue to struggle with the fact that I have never been with someone with whom I have an intense physical connection with. This desire is undoubtedly shallow but unfortunately one that I can’t seem to get past.

I do not think that women will flock to me if we break up (it was not until my early twenties when we started this, my first relationship, which provides some quite clear evidence that they will not). Nor do I think I am or could find someone ‘better’ than my girlfriend. She has many wonderful qualities and is in many ways a fantastic catch. However, I do think that if I tried hard enough, I could find someone more physically attractive to sleep with and I am struggling with the fact that although this plan is extremely unlikely to be worth it in retrospect, it nonetheless seems to be something I want. Many people have brought up whether this could be about wanting to impress others with my ability to attract someone good looking. This is something I have wondered myself quite often and perhaps it is part of this. Clearly, this is a deeply undesirable trait to possess and I will try to get passed it although I will need to determine how to go about this.

In no circumstance would I ever consider bringing up this issue with my girlfriend as I am aware of the distress that this would cause. That is one of the reasons I have struggled with this for so long. With nearly any other issue, the best approach would be to address it with open communication but clearly this is an exception. Until I wrote my letter, I haven’t felt able to discuss this with anyone.

Our relationship has been a huge source of joy and fulfillment to me and, I hope, to her as well. I understand that delaying this decision has been selfish in many ways but I hope that she has found our years together as rewarding as I have and that she does not come to resent our time together. It seems that the best way forward is to end things and, if I am honest with myself, this is the answer that I expected and wanted to hear. She deserves someone who can give her everything that I cannot. I thank everyone for their input – it has been a great help in pushing me to do what I need to.

Apr 02 12 - 5:02pm
a late reader

Thanks lw2. You seem like a stand -up guy. I wish you and your girl all the best.