how can I put aside my childish romantic dreams and appreciate what I have?
December 17, 2008 8:58 PM   Subscribe

Apart from some dating in college I never had a serious relationship until age 33 because of my social anxiety, and all those single years felt really lonely. Yet even now I am in one with some who loves me, and wants to get married to me, I cannot help escape ambivalent feelings. I look at random women in coffee shops and wish I could be with one of them instead purely because I feel more physical attraction to them. I find myself bored because my partner and I are with each other 24/7 and look forward to being with my friends more than I appreciate being with her. Our relationship seems so-so and I feel uninspired to make the effort to change it. But I feel this is my best chance BY FAR of happiness since if we broke up it could literally be years before either of us could attract someone else (both of us are significantly overweight and have mental health problems). How can I fully commit to making a real go of this when my mind is filled with daydreams of suddenly someone who is more of a catch wanting to be with me?

I don't want to feel I am settling but instead want to learn how to appreciate my partner more. The biggest problem on my side is not feeling much physical attraction for my partner, yet I would be a total hypocrite to expect some "hottie" to fall for me since I weight 240 myself and make no effort to exercise and get that down. I know that couples get past this feeling of reduced physical attraction - for example when both get much older they may not find their partners ageing bodies as appealing as they once were, but they don't love them any less (I hope). So how do people (well myself in particular!) learn to better love someone who is right for them in so many ways, and loves them dearly, when the chemistry spark seems to be missing? Is it even possible to raise one's level of attraction to someone a lot, or is "our type" just some random set of imprinting that makes us respond to some people and not fancy others?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I look at random women in coffee shops and wish I could be with one of them instead purely because I feel more physical attraction to them.

Yeah, welcome to being a male.

As for your specific problem, this is all easier said than done, but...

You say you are both overweight. So, one possible solution would be for the two of you, as a couple, to start a diet and exercise regime together. That way you will be able to support one another through it, and, provided you do it properly, after you get through the initial hump, you will find the exercise addictive and the associated weight loss equally so. Pulling on your pants one day and finding you have an extra notch in your belt is a tremendous feeling and an amazing confidence booster.

You will find that, after exercising for as little as a few days, but give it a couple of weeks, your energy levels will go up, and so will your sexual desire and bedroom stamina. You'll likely be having more sex simply because it is no longer a chore, and you are both more confident with your bodies. Sex is great exercise in and of itself so you've got that too.

As you're getting fitter and getting filthier, you might like to go clothes shopping together. Get yourself a beautiful white shirt, a nice tie, some good dark jeans, new shoes. Get her whatever she likes, but don't fall into the trap of buying what is comfortable, buy something that genuinely looks good (I know these things aren't mutually exclusive, but people fall into familiar patterns of clothes-buying, and while they may enjoy wearing it, they look like slobs). Maybe get her to try on some saucy underwear while you are at it.

What you're going for is a complete and mutual image overhaul. You want to help one another to look good, which will help you both feel good, which will lead to increased desire, which will ideally create a positive feedback loop, because, hey, who's that? Oh wow, it's my partner! I remember when she used to wear an old Paddington Bear shirt with gravy stains down the front and now check it out! Hot!

The problem, however, is that while nobody should "settle", people in relationships tend to get quite offended and therefore defensive if they feel that their partner is trying to "change" them. Which is why you're not going to say "I think you should do this", you're actually going to say "Why don't we try doing this together?"
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:19 PM on December 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

This reads like you're looking at your relationship as if it were something yet to occur, after marriage, in the future. A serious relationship isn't a chance of happiness—it's either a worthwhile arrangement already existent, or it is not. You have someone in your life who you care about who cares for you back: this beats the hell out of any romantic café daydream I can think of.
You can fully commit to making a real go of your relationship by focusing on what you have, right now. Of course it's possible to be more and less attracted to someone; just as it's possible to be yourself more and less attractive to other people. Relationships take work, and energy, and hope.
On preview: turgid dahlia is half correct—welcome to being an adult.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 9:24 PM on December 17, 2008 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: It is a good thing to stay and work on a relationship that is going stale if, deep down, you genuinely love the other person and see the possibility of rekindling that love.

Trying to save a relationship because you don't think you're able to get another one and you're afraid of being alone is not.

What happens if, in the future, you do lose the weight and get your mental health issues under control (provided they're not already)? Are you going to dump her like a sack of potatoes? Or are you going to remain in the relationship and become bitter at life as you turn down women who you find more attractive? Neither option is fair to either of you.

(And really, if the weight issue is affecting you so much that you see yourself as incapable of attracting anyone else, than it is something you need to deal with whether you stay with her or not. Turgid dahlia gives good advice.)
posted by Anonymous at 9:27 PM on December 17, 2008

(I guess strictly speaking I should have said "heterosexual male", but I think you know what I mean. Although, Fiasco is even correcter.)
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:27 PM on December 17, 2008

you can't just wave a magic wand and be in love. talk with her about it. maybe that will bring the two of you closer. and as for other women in coffee shops, the grass is always greener...

if you aren't happy then you aren't happy...get out. you don't have to be with someone. i'm often on my own, and always thought there was something wrong with me, but to be honest, i'm happier when i'm alone. until i find someone who i would rather be with than be alone, i'll be content.

meanwhile, try focusing on someone other than yourself (i SO don't mean that rudely, i have to remind myself of this often). if you can step away from your own issues and help other people have better lives, i think you will find that your life will be impacted quite positively.
posted by junipero at 9:32 PM on December 17, 2008

Okay, shoot me if I am wrong people, but unless your a shortie, 240 pounds on a guy is not grossly gross overweight, it is chunky, yes, it is fat even, or obese...but not OMG look at that tub-o-lard go. There is this guy at work, I know he weighs at least 240, and he is no taller than 5'8 but he carries it with confidence and guess what, he is HOT, as in, please crawl under my desk and service me you hunk-a-hunk-of-burning-man.

In my opinion, sexual chemistry is huge in a relationship, if its not there, you might as well be roommates...take it from me, I was miserably married to my roommate for 9 years.

If your not happy, dont stay because you dont think you can do better...because you know what, thats doing her a disservice, because somewhere out there there is a person that will love her for her, and not just because she is good-old-better-than-nothing.

Being better-than-nothing sucks ass, better now than 9 years down the road she posts here and we are all like DTMFA.
posted by Jenny is Crafty at 9:44 PM on December 17, 2008 [6 favorites]

I've been mulling over very similar thoughts myself recently. I haven't come to any firm conclusions, though I can tell you what I've been thinking.

For a moment, humor me by being cold and heartless and pretend that you aren't thinking about a potential partner -- and instead are looking for a job. You were unemployed for over 15 years and then got the job you have today. It's not exciting, but it pays the bills. You dream of one day becoming an astronaut. At this moment in time, you have a few options:
  1. Quit your current job and go back to school Your heart's not into it and you can't do the job well because of it. You aren't desperate for "cash" (affection) because you have other sources of "income" (great friends). With some training, you could learn to be a better "job candidate".
  2. Stay at your current job and try to learn to love it.Jobs seem scarce and you really need the cash (affection). The sure thing is the best way.
  3. Quit your current job and apply to become an astronaut Maybe they'll wave the 10,000 hours of jet piloting requirement?
Only you can decide which option fits you best.

I chose option 1. I'm still not sure it was the right choice.
posted by specialfriend at 9:58 PM on December 17, 2008 [5 favorites]

Turgid D's workout idea is fantastic. The exercise will be good for your physique, health, and confidence, and just might be the ticket to rekindling your romance. A couple other thoughts:

1) Expanding on Junipero's point about greener grass: if you could select the cafe hottie of your choice, have her fall madly in love with you, and get hitched, do you really think you wouldn't be back in a cafe with her in a couple years checking out the cafe hotties? I think your behavior indicates a healthy libido, not some warning sign. As a lady friend once told me when I was trying to make myself feel guilty for doing the same thing, just because you're driving a Ferrari doesn't mean you don't watch the Lamborghini going the other way, right? (erm, just don't let the Ferrari catch you looking, eh? That's in poor taste)

2) I don't mean to come across as an insensitive jerk (if I haven't already), but you talk about having social anxiety, being overweight, being bored, having no chance of appearing physically attractive -- its as though you're embracing all of these things. Owning them. To abuse a colleague's favorite expression, "Pronounce your limitations, and sure enough, they're yours." You seem supremely conscious of your feelings about your present self and situation, but why not shift that focus to how you would like to be and the situation you would like to be in, and what it takes to get there. Which very nicely takes me back to:

What Turgid D said. Best of luck!
posted by Bixby23 at 10:30 PM on December 17, 2008

I look at random women in coffee shops and wish I could be with one of them instead...Our relationship seems so-so and I feel uninspired to make the effort to change it...not feeling much physical attraction for my partner

Wow. Leave her. Please, leave this relationship now. There's nothing wrong with checking out lovely looking people in coffee shops, nor is there anything wrong with wanting to get with them; the alarms are going off because you don't feel this way for your partner, yet you are clearly capable of feeling it for somebody.

How can I fully commit to making a real go of this when my mind is filled with daydreams of suddenly someone who is more of a catch wanting to be with me?

You have to give these feelings credit, otherwise you will likely wind up with your aspirations shoved down a wormhole, festering with resentment and misery in an unhappy marriage 10 years down the road. Don't waste your life, and your girlfriend's life, trying to make the shoe fit when it clearly doesn't. It is going to hurt her (and you) far, far more in the long run to think you were both in a crappy, uninspired, and possibly codependent marriage for X years.

You have to fess up that this is totally unfair to your partner, and she really deserves to be with someone who appreciates her and doesn't feel lukewarm, "so-so", and like they are settling for her. Get out of the way and let that someone else come into her life. For the love of jesus: Don't marry her. She is not the only woman on earth who is going to be attracted to you.

At the very least, you owe it to her to tell her you are really not sure about your own capability to be in a LTR with her. Go talk with a therapist and deal with your issues of low self-opinion and the negation of your own desires - you are clearly bringing you down. Either you are not ready to be in a long term relationship (with anyone nor right now), or else 'she' is clearly not the one. Or both.

But, er, good luck.
posted by tamarack at 10:33 PM on December 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

If my boyfriend, husband, partner, etc. felt this way about me I would cry. There's someone out there who will love your girlfriend regardless of her size.... Let her go if you really feel your relationship is so so.
posted by bananafish at 10:36 PM on December 17, 2008 [8 favorites]

I can say from my own personal experience that, they better you feel about yourself, the better you feel about the people around you. Try to work on your inner happiness. Once you feel better about you, I think the answer to whether you want to be with this woman will be much clearer.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:08 PM on December 17, 2008 [4 favorites]

You can either give up (marry your current girlfriend) or not give up (exercise, lose weight and, more importantly, gain confidence and go date someone else you're into). I personally think you'd both be miserable if you chose to give up, but the choice is up to you. If you choose not to give up, do the kind thing and break up with your girlfriend as a first step.
posted by hazyjane at 11:09 PM on December 17, 2008

It's not fair to you or to her to settle -- but it's not fair to you to give up on the relationship if you don't have a plan on how to actually attract the kind of person you do want.
posted by davejay at 11:24 PM on December 17, 2008

Is this you, anonymous? If not, there's some good advice there. If it is, you know what madness is - doing the same thing over and expecting different results.

You have companionship, but you want deep and lusty love. You're afraid to lose the companionship if you chase the dream of love but you hate your life the way it is.

Try something different. Try solitude (again, I know) but with the goal to becoming the person you've always wanted to be. Make your health a priority. Look into interesting activities that might increase your social circle (all genders) because these people may eventually hook you up with a friend of a friend. Why the hell is this your best chance at happiness? Why does it have to be? Do something, change! As far as I can tell, you have this one life to experience things, and you're sitting around deciding not to.

Get up, right now and go for a walk, and smell the air, and observe things you've never seen before. Look at the cracks in the footpath and decide what politicians they resemble. Go windowshopping and be happy that you don't have to have that crap in your home. Ring up a political organisation and ask if you can help out one weekend. Do something, anything!
posted by b33j at 11:25 PM on December 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I hate to see people calling out out the OP as doing something terribly wrong by staying in this relationship.

Not everyone falls madly in love. Even fewer stay madly in love. Companionship is nothing to sneeze at and something that the majority of humans do better when they have. Opportunity is often limited by circumstance. Time is limited by physics. It's a judgement call only the OP can make.
posted by specialfriend at 11:46 PM on December 17, 2008 [5 favorites]

But I feel this is my best chance BY FAR of happiness since if we broke up it could literally be years before either of us could attract someone else

This is really distressing to m.

How do you see this situation leading to happiness? You do not seem happy with yourself or with her now, do you think serious commitment will change that? What do you see as the point of getting married? What happens after? How does you SO feel about your relationship, is she aware of your ambivalence?

Please think about those questions some more. If you feel like this post is really representative of your feelings towards your SO, please do her a favor and end the relationship.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:11 AM on December 18, 2008

How long have you been together? And why are you with each other 24/7?

Maybe you just need some fresh air. You might just be longing for some time without your girl. If you didn't date for quite a while, any relationship is going to feel a little strange. Possibly even a little claustrophobic - especially at this time of year, with endless rounds of "meet the relatives" going on.

How would you feel if she'd written about you the way you've written about her? What would you do?

You didn't say how overweight your girlfriend is. 10 lbs? 40? 200? Was she always overweight, or has she had a recent and significant weight gain? In other words, did you take her on as a fixer upper with prospects, or did you just take her as she came and are now just feeling like you aren't as interested in her?

If you don't fancy someone, you just don't. If you're with someone that you didn't really fancy from the start, I'm not sure why you'd get with her in the first place. why you don't fancy her. I think you need to make a list of what you find appealing in a woman and get yourself straight on that. Take an honest look at your girlfriend and see which boxes she ticks. If your list describes Grace Jones but you're with her opposite, you have some thinking to do. Your girlfriend will pick up on this over time, by the way.

By the way, as a woman, I'd say nix on the "lets diet together, how fun, how mutually supportive we are!" thing. First off, on average, guys lose weight more quickly than women. Which will leave her demoralised. Secondly, women aren't stupid. We might appreciate that you're trying to say that you also need to lose some weight, but we also are picking up on the "you need to lose weight" part of the message. It's also a little paternalistic. But maybe that's just me being a little prickly... your girl might be different.

If you want to lose weight, lose weight. She'll join you in that diet or at the gym on her own steam - or she won't.
posted by Grrlscout at 12:14 AM on December 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

Don't mean to be the sad sack here, but I cannot think of a worse idea than "settling for marriage." If you're not happy now, marriage will only serve to make a difficult situation worse.

Some of the ideas posted are definitely on the right track as far as building a connection with one another is concerned. For many people, weight loss is a very personal thing. Turning it into a relationship building activity may wind up becoming a competition. This may work on the "Biggest Loser" but may have an opposite effect in practice by creating a division.

I think the best thing to do is stay with her as a boyfriend. You need to work on you first, and the journey to rediscovering yourself/reinventing yourself is much better with a trusted ally. With your girlfriend as your confidant through your journey, that would definitely help to build a solid foundation on which to build a life with her.

When you felt you've discovered yourself, using tools along the way like therapy, self-help books, joining a club, and having your girlfriend by your side, then perhaps you can revisit the marriage situation.

If you have gone this long without being in a fully commited relationship, what's a another year or two gonna hurt while you try to find yourself? No need to rush it.
posted by FireStyle at 4:25 AM on December 18, 2008

I'm of 2 or perhaps 3 minds on this. On the one hand, I agree with posters above that you need to get your own house in order first. If you feel like you are out of shape or unhappy with yourself in other ways you need to sort these things before you can really see another person accurately. If you are constantly wrapped up in your own issues how can you really see someone else? Related to this, if you don't believe in what you're selling, why should she? Maybe you feel lukewarm about everything because you are projecting that you feel like you should be treated that way and she is reacting to that.

I think exercise is a great idea btw- I lost 35 pounds earlier this year and it felt great. I slept better, I looked better and I felt better. Maybe this sort of change might help shift perspectives for you.

Secondly, I also agree that relationships take work. I would say its exceedingly rare to find someone who is literally 100% perfect in every conceivable way for you. I don't think I have ever met a single couple who has zero issues and is aligned in thought and action on all things. If your relationship is more good than bad I would look at whats bad and try to understand why its bad. Some things you might find can be fixed and others cant.

Lastly, I think if you really honestly assess your partner's value to you as such and you still come up feeling eh I would walk away from the relationship. Nobody wants to be somebodies eh. If you don't do it for you at the very least do it for her because she deserves to be with someone who values her and wants to be with her. You also equally deserve the same thing.

As a final note looking at other women and saying "what if" is natural and human. It doesn't mean that what you have isn't worthwhile just because you daydream. Consider also that when you play this game you are only focusing on what you like and what you want- its rose tinted glasses. What happens when you walk down that road only to find that its a real person that you might not get along with and not the dream you chased?
posted by zennoshinjou at 5:38 AM on December 18, 2008

It definitely sounds like you are settling for something you're not happy with, and frankly, I think your lady friend deserves better than what you are offering her. You know she wants to marry you, and you know you only feel "so-so" and you "don't want to make the effort to change it". You should be ashamed of yourself for treating her this way. Even if it does take her years to find someone else, those years would be better spent by her alone than with you dragging down her self-esteem thinking she's not good enough for you, and the happiness she eventually finds will be greater than you are offering her.

I think you need to stop thinking about your own happiness and think about what you're doing to her.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:55 AM on December 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hmmm...I feel kind of mixed about this. One the one hand I feel like others upthread that you should cut out for both yours and her sake but, to not be willing to work on yourself and the relationship seems kind of lame.

In support of earlier, what about simply walking together? Spending that time walking as a time to be talking? One, you both get exercise; second, you spend time, outside of the sheets time, with someone; third, you can access her as a person and not on a purely sexual plane and can determine if this is the person you want to be with for the long haul, and having a chance to talk and even better, be silent with each other, gives a good indicator of life to come. Spend more time with her, alone, without the sex as conversation filler, to determine if she and you truly mesh.

It is an unfair burden to stay with someone because you feel poorly about yourself. Make the decision to stay or go with a real assessment of them and you. Would of, Could of and Should of are killers on a relationship.
posted by jadepearl at 7:39 AM on December 18, 2008

Um, "anonymous" did not actually identify his/her gender in the question. When I saw the word "partner," I assumed both the OP and the partner were women, and I've known several lesbian couples in this position over the years.

Also, looking at Grrlscout's questions, I think we need some more information before answering this.
posted by Robert Angelo at 7:59 AM on December 18, 2008

On the one hand, if you're not happy and don't feel excited about the relationship, get out of it! There's no NEED to settle down with someone just because you're finally dating someone.

On the other hand, if you're not happy because of the typical guy mentality of always wanting someone new just because you like the excitement and you just don't like the idea of settling for someone, then you'll never be happy with anyone, and I don't know what to suggest then. Don't settle just because you realize you won't be happy with anyone, but don't leave someone who's good to you and who you care about just to see if there's a chance you can find that with someone else.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 8:24 AM on December 18, 2008

Why did you fall for her in the first place? Did she make you laugh? Did you like the attention? Were you lonely and she was the first person to show interest?

Whatever the reason, think about that. Did you fall for her for herself or for some need she was fulfilling? Two people don't get to the point of spending that much time together unless there was a reason that they enjoyed spending time together in the first place.

If it was something about her in particular, try to find out why your feelings have changed. Maybe you'll be surprised and find that it's something you are doing that has changed. If she was just fulfilling a need you had, think of how it could be fulfilled in other ways. You shouldn't be reliant on anyone to not feel lonely. Dogs make great companions :D

I guess what I'm saying is really assess the situation from multiple perspectives before you wreck (or continue) a relationship you don't find satisfying. If you are trying to find a cure for your feelings outside yourself, you may be saddened to find that no woman (no matter how hot) can make you feel the way you want.
posted by CoralAmber at 9:18 AM on December 18, 2008

You need to love yourself first before you can really know what you need to love someone else and have them love you in return. This trite and sometimes painful cliche is absolutely true.

Sounds like you're both settling instead of solving. One or both of you needs to get up and move around and start changing what feels unhealthy or un-you in yourselves. Make it an adventure for one or both of you, to make your lives better and enjoy the rest of your time on the planet as much as possible instead of being trapped in bodies and mindsets that make you feel unhappy and unconnected.

Before the two of you take that marriage idea any further, heading to a relationship counselor might be a good idea. Maybe some individual counseling is in order, too. Just to get an idea of what you really want out of life and clear out some of the cobwebs of expectation and worry.
posted by batmonkey at 10:17 AM on December 18, 2008

Please, please don't settle for anything less than love. This is one of the few chances you have in life to do the EXACTLY RIGHT THING and you're talking about settling for less than bliss. She's not pregnant. You're not marrying for money, right? She's not armed, is she? Then why the hell would you do this????
Marriage is great, but it is the toughest thing you'll ever do. I LOVED my ex-wife, we tried 100 percent...and it still blew up and died. need to get right with you. Give the relationship another year. Date. Go to the gym- I weigh 290- IN LOS ANGELES!- and I have choices (although I'm really, really in love). Lose some weight, date some hotties- you might learn that it's really not that great, or that different, even.
posted by flowerofhighrank at 10:31 AM on December 18, 2008

It seems like the only thing swaying your decisionmaking is how much you weigh. If that's all it is, then you should try to do something about that, that is, if you can.
posted by anniecat at 10:32 AM on December 18, 2008

How can I fully commit to making a real go of this when my mind is filled with daydreams of suddenly someone who is more of a catch wanting to be with me?

This really stuck out to me. If my partner didn't think I was "a catch", I would hope and pray he'd let me go so I could find someone who would. It seems very cruel to keep someone hanging on who you'd say this about.

I don't know if one can change their attitude toward their relationship if they don't think their partner is "a catch".
posted by tristeza at 1:19 PM on December 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

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