"Ask Dr. Tracy"

11/14/99 Advice Column

He "Needs Space"
No Longer Lonely in Texas
To the Bigot in Disguise

Dear Dr. Tracy,

I am a freshman in college and have been seeing this guy for a few months now. He's a senior in high school. We're both intelligent, sensitive kids who have grown up in a culture pretty damaging to our sense of trust, sense of self, etc. After a number of relationships and experiences I finally met him and all of a sudden everything just clicked. Dare I say I fell in love? Maybe not right away, but the more I learned about him, the more I wanted to. We are so alike, and can talk about so many things. It is like we both found our match.

Unfortunately, this is just about the worst timing possible. I'm 8 hours away, doing my thing at school, and he's a senior about to embark on the whole college process. We just had a talk tonight and he basically told me he was scared out of his mind and couldn't handle a relationship with me right now. The thing is I wasn't even pushing for one. All I want is to become close to this guy because I think we understand and could support each other. But he says he just needs space for himself.

Does this mean that it's over? Have I lost him? I know that we're young and have a lot of learning and growing to do before we really find that special someone. But I truly care about this guy as a person, and honestly want to be a part of his life. I just don't know what's best for everyone. I don't even know what's best for me.

Dear Young and In Love (maybe?)

I get so many letters from young people who don't have the slightest idea "what's best" to do about a problem or question in their love lives. You put your finger on the reason: you're young and have a lot of learning to do. Since you're inexperienced and not yet sure of what you really want, how can you be sure you want to be "part of his life?"

You may be intelligent, sensitive and even on your way to becoming a graduate of the relationship school of hard knocks, but you're not ready to choose a life partner. What you are ready to do is fall in love, over and over, each time thinking or hoping that this is the love of your life. You will probably have many "loves of your life," each one special in its own way. This is the learning process. Here are some tips for making the process easier.

First, face the reality that most relationships don't work out. Since you only need one good one to last the rest of your life, be prepared to cut your losses and move on if one starts to get worse instead of getting better.

What tells you when to move on? Well, if your own feelings about a man change, that makes the decision easy. But many women - including women twice your age - keep making two cardinal mistakes: they don't listen to what a man tells them, and they think they can change him.

A woman will meet a man who says "I'm just not the marrying kind," and she either won't listen or will immediately decide she can change him. Or a man will blurt out that he's scared out of his mind and can't handle a relationship right now, and will a woman hear this kiss of death? No, she'll go right into denial. Or a man will say those three little words: "I need space," and a woman just won't face up to the translation: "I don't want a relationship with you. Not now, and maybe not ever. But I'm saying this in a mealymouth way because I don't want to hurt you and I don't want a scene, okay?"

When a man tries to tells you his psyche isn't ready, listen. Don't shut down and pretend you really didn't hear, or he didn't really mean it, just because it wasn't what you wanted to hear.

Be smart and learn right now the lesson that many women never learn -- that when a man says he's not ready, you should back off. A man has a calendar in his head that tells him when he's ready and when he's not. It's almost as if he has a date picked out, like, "Hmm, in 2005, I should be ready. But before then? Ah, so many women…" And if you try to get any kind of relationship from him before he's ready, you'll get hurt. Sadly, the only way to make a man get ready faster is to leave him so he can see what life is like without you.

So what's the best thing you could do for both of you? Let your boyfriend be free to enjoy his senior year in high school without having a girlfriend in absentia. And leave yourself free to enjoy your freshman year at college without having to look back toward high school.

Save yourself some pain. Find someone else. (Or you could always just study :)

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy

Dear Dr. Tracy,

I just checked in on your site, as I do every few months, and saw that you published my letter to you in your 10/31/99 column (Lonely in Texas).

I wanted to let you know that indeed I did begin making preparations to leave, figuring that this was probably the best thing to do even though I hadn't seen your answer yet -- I'd read enough of your advice to know that :). I immediately began looking for an apartment and a roommate and stopped sleeping in the same bed with my partner. Sleeping on the couch was very uncomfortable for me but he was ready to take it all back and reconsider after a few nights.

Since then we've worked on the money issues, his tendency to roll other issues into the money issue and what that's about. He has never been "poor" and is afraid of what this might be like, whereas I have and know that most of his fears are unfounded. We've shared a lot about this topic. Most of all we've affirmed what our relationship is really about: loving and being loved, as you said. We're still together, still in the house and planning to marry next year. The marriage issue is no longer a question -- he himself has lately begun saying, quite on his own initiative, 'when we are married', not 'if we get married', and seems actually quite relaxed and happy about it. Amazing! In fact I'm the one that's starting to get nervous now!

[I might add that after we established that I was in fact serious about leaving if marriage were not to be, I dropped the subject and didn't harp on it any more, and this may have helped him make the adjustment in his own time. It probably wouldn't have advanced things to be a nag about it.]

Thank you Dr. Tracy for your sterling advice -- and all you ladies out there who find yourselves in a similar situation -- take heart -- be brave -- and listen to Dr. Tracy!

Yours, No longer lonely in Texas

Dear No Longer Lonely,

Congratulations! You were smart enough to ask for my advice and then to follow it.

I always advise women who aren't getting a commitment they should have, to prepare to leave, and actually to leave if need be. Often it's not until a man is about to lose you that he realizes how much he wants you. Many men don't commit readily. They often need a push, and you gave your guy the only push that works.

Now you're getting nervous! Well, keep your nerves under control and enjoy this wonderful time in your life. Stay on track and get everything you want - including marriage and children - from the man you want.

You're right too, that nagging won't do it. Only the fear of absolute consequences, like leaving, will. If nagging would work, no woman would have trouble getting a man to marry her. Nagging is easy. Actually taking action and leaving is hard.

In order to be a good negotiator when you're trying to get a man to marry you, you have to be willing to walk away from the relationship. You showed that you weren't going to simply wait around without marriage. That's what it takes.

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy

Dear Dr. Tracy,

(This is a followup to your "Dear Bigot in Disguise" in the 10/10/99 Advice Column.)

I hope this girl doesn't stick around for this guy to check out Korean-American couples. I hope she ditches him fast. I too was in a similar situation, only I'm African-Americanand he's caucasion. After one year, he tells me, "I can't imagine myself married to a black woman." Well, talk about a dose of cold water. I wondered why I kept trying to hang onto this bigoted commitmentphobic asshole.

I dumped him and he's back. I agreed to be friends. Despite his narrow frame of reference I still have feelings for him. Guess they don't disappear overnight. He's 45 and never been married. Wants me back now but I don't know how to move beyond all he's said and done. I'm trying to figure out why I was attracted to such a man. I'm 40.

For the past year I would find him online in chat rooms. He'd tell me that he's going to date other women. I'm 5'6" and 40 lbs. overweight. On vacation, he'd actually try to "fool" me out of having dinner. He'd promise dinner at a later time to keep me from eating, then we'd never stop for dinner. He actually took my candy from me to hide it. After dating for a year he said, "no man is going to want you this way. Not even a fat man, and if anyone should like you it should be fat men, but they won't." Anger management problem and drinking problem too I suspect.

I finally said, "I need a man who wants me despite my weight or at least one who understands the issues behind weight gain. I need a man who doesn''t think that dating others will help our relationship." Then I told him I'd placed a personal ad and the messages are streaming in. That's how I met him by the way. He's suddenly very interested in me.

What's up with that?

Dear Bigot Lover,

Thanks for your supporting letter for the Korean woman in love with the Caucasion bigot. What puzzles me though, is why you take your bigot back over and over again. The last thing you need in your life is a man who can't imagine himself married to a black woman. Perhaps the reason you keep coming back to him is that you don't really want to get married yourself.

He's not only a racial bigot, he's a weight bigot. As someone who has battled weight my whole life, I can tell you that living with this kind of diet cop will drive you to eat and eat and eat. Your self-esteem will go into the toilet and you'll find yourself having to sneak eat from him. And at 40, you're not going to start burning fat faster than you did at 20. Chances are you won't be getting a lot thinner, so find someone who can love you just the way you are.

Tell the men you meet on the internet exactly what you weigh, and if they don't like it, move on. There are so many men out there who think a woman with a little meat on her bones is sexy and wonderful. You don't have to settle for a bigot.

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy

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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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