"Ask Dr. Tracy"

5/5/96 Advice Column

A Toothless Deadline,
Too Perfect for his own Good,
Wanna-be Mom

Dear Dr. Tracy,

My boyfriend and I have known each other for three years. We dated exclusively for two years. We became serious and decided to get engaged. He wanted the proposal to be a surprise, and so we set a time period during which we would get engaged. The last day of the time period we had mutually agreed on (my birthday) came and went and he never proposed or even mentioned it. It was very strange because he planned an elaborate weekend for my birthday. After two months of confusion and hurt, I finally asked him about it and he said that he had changed his mind. We broke up. During the breakup, we maintained a platonic friendship. Neither of us dated anyone else.

Recently, he indicated that he wanted to get back together. I told him that if we did, it must be with the understanding that we would have a committed relationship with the intention of getting married. He agreed. We began talking about getting married. We had several good discussions, in which we ironed out such things as wedding sizes, children etc. About two weeks later, I mentioned the subject again in passing and he was very unenthusiatic, suddenly appearing annoyed. I was confused and hurt. After asking him what was going on, he finally said that he wanted to be sure that we got along and still had doubts. He insists that he loves me, but doesn't tell me so. He does not want to break up, but won't talk about the future.

He is from a divorced family--it was a bitter divorce in which three of the kids stayed with the dad and he went with his mom to another state. He is an anxious person in general, but he is also very family- oriented and desirous of a family. I asked him to think things through and let me know whether he was ready to make the committment since it would do neither of us any good to marry if he doubts our relationship in any way. I have not heard from him in three days. I am thirty two and he is thirty. When we first met we agreed that we were looking for a committment. I feel as if he has been stringing me along with his indecision. I love him, and don't know what to do. I don't want to invest more time with him if the relationship is not going anywhere. He keeps insisting it will, but won't say when. What do I do?

Dear Waiting,

This guy sounds like a commitment phobic. After three years, he should know whether you get along or not. What's he like in other areas of his life? If he's decisive about other things, there may be hope; if he isn't, you may have a hopeless "Waffler." (See "Men To Avoid" in my Library.)

You did the right thing by setting a time period during which you would get engaged. The problem is, you didn't set a penalty for not getting engaged, like you'd stop seeing each other, completely -- no contact, no platonic friendship, no nothing. Instead, you took him back, made the same agreement with no teeth (no repercussions for not carrying it out). Now he's pulling the same thing again.

You have to take the bull by the horns. Stop insisting that he be absolutely sure. That may never happen. Nobody's ever absolutely, 100% positively sure. Instead, tell him "I'm sure, I'm ready to do it, and I'm not waiting any longer."

If he doesn't agree to get engaged immediately, break up with him entirely. Tell him that's it. Goodbye. You're moving on with your life. Be firm. No contact. Nothing. It'll be hard, but it's your only hope. Give him a chance to really miss you. Really date other men this time. Let him agonize over who you're with for a while. Nothing brings a man to his senses faster than fear of loss, but even that may not sway a true commitment phobic. If he doesn't come around, read "The Broken Popcorn Machine Parable" in my Library; it will make you feel better.

Dear Dr. Tracy,

I'm 24 year old male and have had enough relationships to understand what I want in a partner and what I don't want in a partner. I think I have most of the qualities that should appeal to women (financilly secure, fit, well muscled, healthy, good looking, affectionate, sensitive and caring while remaining confident and outgoing, adventurous yet romantic and understanding, etc.).

However, I also have one or two major faults that just seem to keep ruining every otherwise wonderful relationship. My main fault is that I have this "fit and healthy" state of mind and find it difficult to respect a lover who doesn't also think the same. Worse still, I find myself imposing this belief onto her and trying to change her. For example I had a girlfriend who was into getting drunk on Saturday nights. Her choice. Nothing wrong with that. She really enjoys drinking. I don't. I ruined a prefectly good relationship by basically demanding she change for me.

This seems to be a pattern for me. I get into a relationship, things go well at first, and then I see faults. I try to change her. She, naturally resents my manipulation and the relationship turns sour. I've tried looking for someone who meets my criteria, because then, I hope, I would not try to change them. But I just can't find this special person. My criteria is probably unrealistic. I'm looking for someone who doesn't smoke or drink, who is thin and reasonably pretty, fit and active, happy but needy, romantic and playfull, looking to committ, homeloving yet adventurous, etc. The list goes on.

I really want that "true love forever" relationship and I am quite prepared to give my all to one lover forever, but the women I keep finding never meet my dreamy expectations. I know nobodys perfect, especially myself. Once in the past I was a real jerk and left a really nice girl for the most superficial reason - she wasn't slim enough for me! On the other hand I have been dumped myself for reasons just as superficial - Michael your not wild enough, Michael you're too giving I need space, and even one girl I'm sure left me because my car wasn't flash enough for her. Do I wait in the hopes that this magical person will walk into my life or should I be more realistic? Every time this happens I say to myself, "Look past the faults. Concentrate on the good points.", but my brain just keeps seeing little things I dislike. I see the Vodka bottles or the lack of romance or some physical characteristic I dislike, or some behaviour like flirting with other guys or being racist. Little things that I make into big things in my mind and before I know what's happening I'm trying to change her, she resents me for it and then it's over. Do I want the impossible? I live in a small town (60,000 people) and the vast majority of women I see I discount immediately based on appearence. The ones that pass this test I usually discount again when I found out they smoke or drink to the point of being drunk. This leaves a very small number of available women.

I'd really appriecate your advice. And your library was very interesting and helpfull. I know I probably sound like a superficial jerk, but deep down I am the most romantic of souls. In fact that is probably part of my problem - I'm too romantic, too much the dreamer.

Dear Perfectionist,

I am always amused by people who say things like "my worst quality is that I have too high standards." I can understand why a non-drinker would find fault with someone who got drunk every Saturday night, but I suspect the problem here runs deeper.

You, my dear, sound like the typical perfectionist, and that's the road to unhappiness. Nobody can ever be good enough, no situation ever perfect enough and no woman ever wonderful enough. And the bad news is that if there's something you can't stand about someone in the beginning, it probably won't get better. It'll get worse.

At least you recognize that you're not too perfect to have a problem.

Here are some suggestions. First, go back in in my Library and read "Unrealistic Expectations". Give yourself some time, and start searching beyond your small town. Use the internet. Try a newspaper ad. Then, when you meet a promising woman, compare her to other real women you've known, instead of some fantasy woman you've conjured up.

Don't look for the impossible, like "happy plus needy" for instance, and remember, even if you find your physically perfect woman, she could lose her looks and then what? Make sure there are enough other qualities, ones that really matter, like kind, loving and caring. Somewhere out there, perhaps, you'll find a woman you can love enough to happily overlook her imperfections. .

At your age, 24, you haven't yet learned the hard lessons of life -- that nothing's ever perfect, at least not for very long. If you have moments of perfection in life, be happy and cherish them.

Dear Dr. Tracy,

I've been involved with a very sweet former co-worker for four months. We're both 35 years old. He's never been married, I'm divorced with no children. We have grown very serious about each other and we're both interested in continuing to explore our relationship together. We seem very compatible, our value systems are similar and we share a number of interests.

I have only one concern. Ten years ago, "Rick" decided he was sure he never wanted to have any children and got a vasectomy. I've never had much of a maternal instinct, but over the last three years or so, I have become interested in having just one child. I now feel it would be very disappointing if I never have that opportunity. It would be my greatest regret.

Rick and I have talked about this and he has indicated that he is far more interested in devoting the rest of his life to me, but that having a family isn't totally out of the question. Barring a change of heart, which is always possible, it wouldn't be his first choice, though.

I feel we are still in the beginning of our relationship and I don't know how much weight I should put on this. I used to feel exactly as he did, so I believe it's certainly possible for him to be interested in having a child (given the phyisical realities, I know this won't be easy, but it is possible). It's far too late to walk away from him. I love Rick very much and I am extremely happy with him as a partner. Except for that one thing (vasectomy). I was so disappointed when he told me about it.

How can I determine if this will be an issue we can't overcome? I love Rick dearly, but would like to know (if possible) if this will be a problem for us. I can't ignore my age. If I wait too long I may miss my chance altogether. Yet I adore this man, he's everything I could want except for his vasectomy.

What should I do?

Dear Wanna-be Mom,

The beginning of your relationship is the time to make your feelings clear. Let him know you absolutely positively want to be a mother. Explain to him why. Let him know you yearn to fulfill your biological urge. Don't deny yourself motherhood.

If you want a child now, take my word for it: the feeling won't go away. It will only get more intense. Your clock is ticking and it'll get louder and louder. If you're going to have a child, you can't waste time on a relationship with a man who's absolutely against it.

Talk to him about his feelings. Find out if he would consider getting his vasectomy reversed. Talk about a sperm donor or adoption. Those are other options.

Let him know you won't be happy without a child, and get his pre-agreement that if you two decide to marry, he'll agree to your having at least one child. The time to negotiate is now. Don't wait. After you're married is too late.

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(Featured art from cover of Letting Go, by Zev Wanderer and Tracy Cabot, published by "Bitan" Publishers, Tel-Aviv, Israel)
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