Miss Information

I keep seeing little flaws in my boyfriend. Does that mean we shouldn't be together?

by Cait Robinson

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

Dear Miss Info,

A couple of years ago, I fell hard for a guy I met at a bar. We pseudo-dated for a year, until he met another girl at that same bar and left me.

Five months ago I moved to a different city and have been dating an absolutely wonderful guy. He's sweet, intelligent, and funny, and my friends have told me how much he obviously adores me. I do, however, have some doubts. Here they are, in order from most-to-least perceived superficiality: 1. He's three inches shorter than I am (and I'm not tall). 2. When we met, he hadn't had sex in eight years. 3. He went into quite a bit of debt to get a graduate degree, but nine months after graduation, is still basically unemployed and lives with his parents. 4. He doesn't seem to have many friends.

I'll range from being completely convinced that I'm prepared to spend the rest of my life with him, to being worried about the aforementioned problems, to fantasizing about getting back with guy #1. I can't tell if these doubts are legitimate, or if they are products of my own unhealthy obsession with guy #1. It's been two years. Why can't I move on?

 Brokenhearted, I Think

Dear Brokenhearted, I Think,

Are you ready for some rapid-fire judgments? Put on the nearest bike helmet, 'cause here they come!

1a. If you were totally head-over-heels for your current boyfriend, I suspect you wouldn't be turning these quirks into speed bumps.

1b. The good news: 1a. is hardly a death knell. If you're enjoying things now, let that grow. Don't think in terms of "the rest of your life" — it puts way too much pressure on everything and does not help.

2. Don't bother with Guy #1. He lives in a different city, and the best you guys had was "pseudo-dating" — i.e. neither you nor he would commit while you had the chance. Why would it be any different now?

There! Look at how economical that was.

You talk about your "unhealthy obsession" with Guy #1, which makes sense; he has always been a little out of reach. At a distance of two years, he is extra-unattainable — he has morphed more into "Legend" than "Man." You get to remember the nice things about him and make up all sorts of great fictions ("He's always loved volunteering at no-kill animal shelters on weekends!"), without having to handle the gritty day-to-day of "pseudo-dating." At this point, though, you're not fantasizing about a person, you're fantasizing about an idea. And no matter what great hair that idea has, it's still unattainable. Stick with the tangible, flawed, and complex people who are currently in your life. They're better, and more challenging, company.

At the end of the day, Brokenhearted, Guy #1 and Current BF aren't the only two men in the world. You don't have to force a square peg of a dude into the star-shaped hole that is your ideal partner. You'll find a good fit eventually — if not with your current boyfriend, with someone else. In the meantime, leave the history behind and enjoy the people around you — tics, quirks, height disparity and all.

Dear Miss Information,

Last year, a close friend of mine and I drunkenly confessed to having feelings for each other, and we hooked up. Then, kind of to my surprise, we kept in contact over the summer. We talked for hours over Skype and on the phone about pretty personal subjects, and my feelings for him got even stronger. I assumed when I returned to school after my semester abroad that we'd start dating.

When I got home, I immediately took a trip to our university to see friends, and especially him. We had sex for the first time during my visit, and afterwards he told me that he'd had a one-night stand while I was gone. I wasn't angry, since we'd never been exclusive, but it was out of character for him. I mean, he was a virgin when we first got together.

The weirdness continued after my visit. He didn't contact me for four days, at which point I broke down and called him to find out what was up. He told me he didn't know what he wanted, but that if worst came to worst he hoped we could be friends. I didn't let on, but I was really hurt. I did some serious thinking and it occurred to me that I'd assumed a lot more about "us" than what he'd actually said, and decided to not contact him during break and take the time to see other people.

But then about five days later, he called me, and we started having long, deep conversations again every few days. It sounds like we're going to try and keep seeing each other when we get back to school, but I don't really know how to handle myself — somewhere along the line, the balance between us shifted. I used to feel like he was pursuing me, but now I feel like I'm trying to get more from him than he really wants to give me. How do I shift it back?

Oh, and of course there's one other pretty major problem: remember that girl he had the one-night stand with? Well, she apparently saw it as more than that, and now feels really hurt and used by the whole experience, as evidenced by some pretty transparent passive-aggressive Facebook posts. I've only met her once before, but thanks to a quirk in the housing system, she's going to be my new roommate in a few weeks. How do I deal with that?

— So What Are We, Anyway?

Dear So What Are We, Anyway?

Ah, right: "The One Easy Thing You Can Do to Shift Power Back to Yourself in a Relationship" has sold many a women's magazine. (Right, like that tuna casserole recipe is doing anything for you, Better Homes and Gardens.)

There is no "secret language of guys" (I'm glowering at youCosmo) — what he said is what he meant. He doesn't know what he wants right now, which probably translates to something like "I want to keep you close with no obligation." I take it this is not cool with you. The first step in shifting power back to yourself: recognize that you hold 50% stake in this relationship and you're allowed to tell him that you're hurt, or surprised, or disappointed. Maybe the outcome won't change, but at least you'll be honest with yourself and him.

If you discuss it and his stance holds firm, think about what kind of relationship you do want from him. Can you still be friends with him without feeling sexual tension? Is it easier to limit your time together? Cut him off completely? You get to set the parameters for your new relationship, so put your emotional health first. Maintaining this kind of even keel is the best way to escape a break-up, or even a nebulous break-up-like situation, with your dignity intact.

And as for your new roommate, the icing on the Problem Cake: ooof, college. To sidestep the awkwardness, broaden your view. This girl has a life and a personality and hopefully a sweet TV, and none of those things have anything to do with this guy. He might be something you have in common, but he should not be a factor in your relationship. Put forth a concerted effort to get to know the 99% of her that isn't affected by their fling. If he comes up in conversation, he comes up in conversation, but neither of you should define yourselves off of your relationship to this guy. In short: don't go into this with a chip on your shoulder.

Hopefully, your friend will notice a pattern here: "don't sleep with girls who are into you and then send them mixed signals." It's possible something might spark between you two, but it's possible something might not. The important thing is to stand up for yourself and what you want, and not to spend time chasing a "maybe."

Want to talk about personal subjects with people who actually are capable of commitment? Check out Nerve Dating.

Commentarium (33 Comments)

Feb 12 12 - 1:40am

Both of these letters speak to the situation I'm in right now, a psuedo-relationship. I cut off contact with him (temporarily) so I could get my head on straight, and I'm so glad I did. This confirms that I made the right choices. Thank you Miss Info!!

Feb 12 12 - 12:06pm

So glad to hear it!

Feb 12 12 - 4:48am

LW1: Obviously he adores you. Your life represents every thing he wishes he had. A grad degree and no job? Speaks to poor planning, and an unrealistic outlook on life. Tolerates living with his parents? (I don't care how wonderful they are) Is not only selfish, but also lacks ambition.
Is that who you want to be with?
LW2: Your life is a soap opera. Realize that in a year or so this will all seem like some incredibly weird time in your life, but nothing more. And maybe being roommates with this other chick will illuminate some things about the confused boy.

Feb 12 12 - 12:09pm

Yes. LW2 will someday use this experience as a trump card when telling horrible ex and/or college stories. Funny how draining experiences turn golden with a few years' distance.

Feb 12 12 - 2:44pm

Hmm. I'm 25 now and all 3 relationships I've had have been similar to LW2's. A boy sending dramatic and mixed signals, then hooking up with another girl in front of me and wanting to continue some kind of friendship with me. They were all different ages, and all seemed like really nice guys at first. I hope this period of my life will pass, but I have no faith right now :/

Feb 17 12 - 3:04pm

@nn It's a phase, I think--and I think a lot of it is generational. I think non-commitment is fairly epidemic in the 20s and 30s set. The good news is, you'll get better at recognizing the signals of incompatibility earlier and earlier, and/or selecting partners more carefully. Or you'll write one hell of a memoir.

Feb 12 12 - 5:04am

And by the way, we're ROOMMATES! Noooooooooooooooooo! And she's an ALIEN! Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!

Feb 12 12 - 6:14am

Dear LW1 - having been in what I believe to be a very similar situation to yours - here is some food for thought:
1. As Miss Info said, give this relationship time, and put no pressure on it. You might find out you'll fall hard for this guy, and all the superficial stuff won't matter. Having said that,
2. Have a cut-off time, something like several months, by which you should have made up your mind about him. And, as to how to make up your mind:
3. Sometimes it's hard to know if your feelings are strong enough to stay with a guy, especially if you've been comparing him to an ideal, unreachable man. Here are some signs you have strong feelings: 1, the sex is good, 2, you are interested in what he has to say, 3, you are very perceptive/ sensitive to the way he acts around you, 4, Commitment doesn't sound scary, when it's with him.
4. If your interest for him + the chemistry is dwindling rather than building up, leave him, and leave him sooner rather than later, in spite of what your family or friends think about him.
5. We all have that one person it takes us ages to get over. Cut off contact, focus on the present, and don't let fantasies mean more than reality.
Hope I'm not way off target with this advice, based on years of misguided experience.

Feb 12 12 - 9:19am

Let's call the friend in letter number 2 what he is, a grade A asshole. He is intentionally leading these women on with open ended emotional promises and then disappearing once he gets to fuck them. I'm betting that "I have too much going on in my life right now for a relationship, let's just be friends, I think it's best for both of us" is part of his spiel. That other girl that he slept with feels hurt because he did, and is probably still doing, the same thing to her that he's doing to the poster.

Feb 12 12 - 11:09am

Really. He sounds like a real schmuck. I don't know if I think he's an experienced playa the way you seem to, so much as just a slimy douche that is slowly realizing his abilities to pull ass and doesn't want to be tied down for college, but either way: shmuck.

Mar 04 12 - 2:47pm
not so fast

Ah, it's always easy to bash men, isn't it? I detect not a trace of empathy in most of the replies about this one. What would happen if you switched the genders in this story, would the reactions be so harsh and judgmental (based on a very small sample of information)? Isn't it possible that he is not "just a slimy douche...schmuck", but sincerley confused and inept? There's a lot of that going around in colleges. I propose that Relationship 101 be a required class for everyone. A high school version would be great too; think of all the angst and drama it would prevent!

Feb 12 12 - 1:13pm

LW1, he didn't have sex in eight years because it is much more difficult for guys to find partners. But the living at home without a job is a downer. Is he at least trying hard to find something? That would mitigate this factor. My guy is shorter than me but no big deal.

Feb 12 12 - 4:12pm

"he didn't have sex in eight years because it is much more difficult for guys to find partners"

hah! Who do you think these women are having sex with, then? This is false, it varies by individual more than by gender (it seems to take me, a woman, 1-2 yrs in-between finding sexual partners).

Feb 13 12 - 3:07am

This whole 8-years-of-celibacy stikes me as either untrue or indicative of some deep/difficult issues. I think he needs therapy.

Mar 04 12 - 2:52pm

MG, do you know any graduate students? I've seen more than a few casual sex ads that say, "I'm a grad student, I don't have time for a relationship, but I'd like to have an FWB."

Kneejerk assumptions are so easy. Glib; it's the new black!

Are women who "feel safer" with a man taller than they are the same ones who "feel safer" driving rollover-prone SUVs? I'm starting to see a pattern here, and it's very convoluted!

Feb 12 12 - 1:32pm

Brokenhearted, the odd signals could be OK for a guy who's just been in grad school for years and years. He could have just devoted himself to his studies and not placed a big priority on relationships, romantic or otherwise. The way to judge him is, what is he doing now? Is he actively (and I mean actively) looking for a job, or is it "the economy's tough, I'll just wait for it to pick up first"? Is he living with his parents out of necessity (no job), or does he need a mommy to cook for and pick up after him? (If he does, that mommy will eventually be you, and you want to avoid that at all costs.) If he's so isolated, how did he meet you? Think about it and don't make any deep commitments until you see where he's going with his life.

Feb 12 12 - 4:53pm

Excellent advice.

Feb 12 12 - 7:00pm

Cait, you are - hands down - the best relationship advice columnist I've ever read. You really have a gift for this! How do people submit their questions here?

Feb 13 12 - 1:15pm

Hey Jinna--email missinfo@nerve.com.

Feb 17 12 - 3:07pm

Jinna- Not only did your compliment make my day, but you also posted it on my birthday. Thank you! I think you are now contractually obligated to be my best friend. Ever.

Feb 12 12 - 7:42pm

LW1. You are ridiculous. His height? Really? Its like you are looking for things to complain about. As a guy, when I see that, I run like hell. Your description of the guy reminds me of myself. Just got my graduate degree. That means lots of debt. I was celibate for a bit because I was too busy to do anything. That included "friends." The only thing that is different is the lack of job. So take it from me, the only complain you should have is the job/living with folks. Do you have a graduate degree? What kind of job do you have?
LW2- You are his best friend. you had sex with your best friend. your best friend had sex with someone else cause he wanted more. he told you because he's your best friend. Someone has to define the relationship. Don't expect him to do it. Because obviously if you do(like you did) then he's going to define it on his terms. You can define it in your own.
Become friends with the girl. Otherwise, it will be way harder to enjoy college

Feb 12 12 - 10:35pm
Felipe Arcano

@LW1... What´s up with women and unrequited love? http://www.whatsupwithwomen.com/fun-relationships-women-unrequited-love/

Feb 12 12 - 11:53pm

In my view, it's not that complicated. A lot of men appear to be emotionally available, and it is not until you know them well enough to have gotten a bit attached that you realize they are not.

Feb 13 12 - 4:42pm

So true.

Feb 13 12 - 7:38pm

nn nailed it.

Feb 13 12 - 12:57am

"The first step in shifting power back to yourself: recognize that you hold 50% stake in this relationship and you're allowed to tell him that you're hurt, or surprised, or disappointed."--This is the best relationship advice I've heard, and it took me years to figure this out. So often I've felt pressured to conceal my emotions about any given number of romantic situations, and just "be cool" with the situation around the party involved.

Feb 13 12 - 7:35pm

I hear you on this. It took me a while too to figure out that I'm not only "allowed" to speak up when I'm not cool with some behavior or situation of a person I'm dating, but if I don't, the situation usually only gets worse, at least for the party who stays silent in an attempt to be "cool with it". I still struggle with this occasionally. I think the same goes for not downplaying or hiding the full extent of positive feelings in an effort to not come across as too needy or whatever.

I'm a private person who doesn't take the sharing of emotions lightly so I think that contributes to the problem in my personal case, but I think a lot of girls in their 20s and 30s struggle with this for other reasons too -- just look at the prevalence of "pseudo-relationships" here. This is speculation, but I think some of the advice and messages we've been fed by women's magazines, TV, and movies play a role in this -- all of the "don't seem too needy, be cool, have your own life and don't worry about him" stuff. Obviously some of that has merit or is at least well-intentioned, but it's possible to have your own awesomeness going on while still having and "enforcing" standards for how a potential partner acts and behaves toward you. It's not being crazy or dependent to insist on what's important to you in men, just as we are encouraged to do in our friendships, careers, and other areas of our lives.

Personal cautionary tale: It took getting my heart broken by someone I loved very much to see this error... it was a complicated situation, but basically I held back on letting him know how much I cared and that I wasn't so cool with us seeing other people, because I feared that my feelings were unreasonable due to some tricky circumstances. It ended up that he had cared too, but thought I didn't because I didn't express it, and by the time we both came clean, it was too little, too late -- he had moved on emotionally and was involved with someone else. After some time apart, lots of heartache, and him realizing that he "made a mistake", we're cautiously seeing each other again, this time with much more open communication. *fingers crossed*

Anyway, I guess my point is that if you want to avoid painful "pseudo-relationships", communication is very important.

Feb 13 12 - 6:08pm

For LW2, I think the best course of action is to become good friends with the soon-to-be roommate. Boy(friend)s don't last, and as you get older you'll blow your own mind when you think how much energy and time you wasted on them. But solid female relationships will be with you 25 years later or more. Let me say that again, in a different way: if you're like a lot of women, you will end up with only one guy; but the quality, diversity, and strength of your female friendships will contribute as much or more to your happiness. Basically, don't worry about the guy, or take his crap too personally; he's either a genuine douchebag or someone young and clueless who will later evolve into an awesome guy. But he's still being a dick now, and you aren't obliged to put up with him.

Mar 04 12 - 3:00pm
whoa andrea

It looks like you've entirely discounted the possibility of this woman (or any other) having lasting friendships with men. Ouch. It's no fun being treated as disposable. Too bad so many women support each other in (secretly?) feeling this way about men.

Are you encouraging LW2 to be dismissive and intolerant? Sounds like it to me. This is the kind of behavior that encourages men to be jaded and emotionally unavailable; not to mention confused about what women want.

Feb 14 12 - 2:46pm

all the advice to befriend the roommate is correct. If the guy is halfway worth this angst than the other girl is probably a decent person who shares good qualities with you. If you lucky, in 3 weeks you'll be taking the same gender studies 101 class with roomie and giggling late into the night about what a silly angsty or jerky guy your "friend" is.

whatever you do, dont declare war with her the first day or be icy or aloof. making your roomate situation hellish will only destroy your sanity and your grades and it probably wont get you the guy either.

Feb 17 12 - 3:02pm

Jinna- Not only did this compliment give me stars in my eyes, you also posted on my birthday. You are now my best friend in the whole world. Thank you.

Feb 17 12 - 3:06pm

@wiscogirl I'm glad it resonates. It was hard-won knowledge for me, too.

Feb 20 12 - 2:25am

LW2 - you most likely have the option of calling your college housing office and determining whether you can change roommates. "I am dating my roommate's ex" or "we have the same ex-boyfriend" both sound like decent reasons to at least contemplate a swap. I can guarantee the housing folks have heard stories similar to yours and much worse in their time...