what in the hell do I actually want?
August 9, 2010 9:26 AM   Subscribe

Fizzled romance filter: Am I the shallowest person in America?

Three days ago, I broke up with my girlfriend of 10 months. And while my reasons were neither justified nor noble, I believed they were at least responsible. Basically, I thought I had simply lost interest. The relationship had fizzled physically. For a good two months, our sex routine had dwindled from vigorous, near-daily romps to doing it only once a week. It became only her who initiated, and I often found myself making excuses for not being in the mood. When I did start something, sometimes it was in an effort to simply please, to give her something in exchange for all she had given me.

Because, she had given me a lot. In non-sexual terms, the relationship was great. She was a righteous best-friend, had my back like no one else ever has—even let me live at her place for a few months while I was having roommate trouble—and we got along famously. Never a fight. Never an argument. Never any jealousy. No clinginess. And we always had a blast together. (Actually, the sex was always good, too. I just had trouble motivating.)

But after 10 months, I was still on the fence. I was waffling—my eye wandering to other beautiful girls, my mind fantasizing about more sexual variety—while she seemed solidly committed to me. It was the worst kind of grass-is-always-greener syndrome.

I’m 27. Still stuck in an immature college mode, with no great job, little money, and not a ton of direction. She’s 27, too. But she’s got herself figured out and is on a solid career path. This is the first serious relationship either of us has ever had.

So we talked about it. Maturely and honestly. I’ve read enough of these relationship threads to know that this not-being-on-the-same-page-emotionally (and not being honest about it) situation is what leads to a ton of catastrophic heartbreak. And she was fairly cool about it. I think, intellectually, that I did the right thing.

But I’m miserable. And drowning in regret. I have lost my one-woman support system and my hardcore best friend. And because….why? Because I couldn’t commit? Because I don’t know what I actually want in a relationship? Because I thought maybe I could find someone hotter?

She seems crushed, too. We haven’t spoken for 3 days. But tonight, we have plans to meet and discuss our future in person. I am nervous like you wouldn’t believe. I don’t want to string this girl along, or wound her with my indecisiveness. But I am dreading letting her go for good.

So my question: how do I approach this? Do I really suggest we “take a break and date other people” and leave the door open to resume our relationship? Or do I suggest we do a clean break? Or do I beg for forgiveness and try to win her back?

And if this is over for good, how do I fix these shallow tendencies?
posted by sureshot to Human Relations (30 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Honestly it sounds like you are doing her the favor by breaking up. It's fine if you are unwilling or unable to commit and the right move is to tell her that.

Now of course you agree to a clean break.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:33 AM on August 9, 2010 [7 favorites]

If you aren't attracted to her, you are doing her a favor by not being in a relationship with her. Clean break, move on.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:36 AM on August 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

It seems like you pretty much wish you hadn't broken up with her. If I'm right about that, why not just admit you made a rash decision and now regret it? You actually seem fairly happy with the relationship overall, but (if you're going to stay together) you need to work on chemistry and variety in the bedroom.

It isn't inherently immoral to end a relationship over that. That could be a good reason to end a relationship. But it's a problem that can be worked on; you sound pretty happy with other aspects of the relationship; and it seems like you'd both like to work things out.

If I'm wrong and it is over for good, I don't buy your premise that you have to "fix these shallow tendencies." Most people care about attraction and sex in a relationship. That's not necessarily a problem to be solved.
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:40 AM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

sureshot: Do I really suggest we “take a break and date other people” and leave the door open to resume our relationship?

You haven't been an asshole yet, it seems. Suggesting this, in my opinion, would make you one.

I get that that's what you want. But you don't get to ask for it, especially if she cares about you.

Don't beat yourself up about some ideal of how deep you should be and how shallow you may feel compared to what that ideal is. You are what you are. Trying to be something that you're not is what leads to the heartbreak you mention in other relationship threads. Go with your feelings -- just realize that being honest with your feelings is sometimes going to make you feel like crap.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:40 AM on August 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

Breaking up with someone because you know you can't give them what they need is the opposite of shallow. It is putting someone else ahead of yourself, knowing full well it will hurt the hell out of you. Which it does.Regret is par for the course when you break up with someone you were so tightly connected with regardless of whether or not it was a viable relationship. And if you're young, and like sex, and the sex is good and you still don't want to initiate it, it isn't viable.

If you're not ready, you're not ready. You can't just kick yourself in the ass past that "ready for commitment" barrier. You can't straighten your back and suddenly *BAM* you're in full adult-mode ready for commitment. It comes gradually, or if not gradually, at least it comes in its own time. You did the right thing, now you get to deal with the fact that doing the right thing tends to suck. And, uh, none of this suggesting "seeing other people" or meeting up to discuss your "future together." You have no future together. Get your stuff back, give her hers, and done. The longer you stay in touch, the longer it'll hurt.
posted by griphus at 9:41 AM on August 9, 2010 [16 favorites]

That's the downside of the grass-is-always greener syndrome: you may lose something great in your quest to find something better. But you can't have it both ways. You say that your relationship isn't working for you, so move on--but let her move on too.
posted by lucysparrow at 9:45 AM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Do I really suggest we “take a break and date other people” and leave the door open to resume our relationship?"

Come on. That's called breaking up.
Anytime, someone has told me that, I ended up with a new boyfriend.

Anyway, it sounds like you had a best friend and you miss the companionship.
In almost every relationship I've had in the past - I'm pretty much best friends with a boyfriend - then they stop wanting to have sex and then I get mad... and then they say, "you're my best friend and I don't want to lose you BUT...."
Looking back, I guess I felt the same way about them but at first it sucks losing a best pal.
I am friends with quite a few of my exes - and it took a little time (few months).

You guys could still remain friends. i would recommend staying away from each other a couple of months first.
posted by KogeLiz at 9:47 AM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

"I’m 27. Still stuck in an immature college mode, with no great job, little money, and not a ton of direction."

I wonder if this is the real issue. You're not "shallow," you just need a purpose in life. Even if you and your girlfriend successfully reunite, you'll run into the same problems again if you don't fix what is at the root of things - and it sounds like your drifting is the real issue. No relationship can give you a purpose in life. No gorgeous, smart, together, Angelina Jolie-look-alike will fill up the empty spaces in your life. YOU need to do that.

What are your skills? What are your strengths? What makes your heart sing? You don't have to go out and get a high-powered career and a six-figure income to be happy and successful; plenty of happy, content, well-loved folks have humdrum jobs, and focus on hobbies and interests outside of work. Having a purpose, doing something that you love, will enable you to meet and date terrific women on better terms, as an equal.

Therapy, career counseling, reading What Color is your Parachute, taking some time out to travel - just a few suggestions to help you find some kind of purpose in your life, without which "terrific" girlfriends are a temporary fix.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:47 AM on August 9, 2010 [6 favorites]

Be a gentleman. You had your chance with this girl. Don't waste her time because you're feeling lonely.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:52 AM on August 9, 2010 [12 favorites]

But I am dreading letting her go for good.

You don't get to have it both ways. You don't get to try to find someone hotter, and then fall back on your hardcore best friend. It sounds like you think she's a great girl, and it's possible that at some point you two will be able to be friends again. But it's unlikely that she'll want to settle for a guy that didn't want her enough the first time around.
posted by karminai at 9:52 AM on August 9, 2010 [15 favorites]

My position is that "taking a break and dating other people" is the same as any other breakup, because you can't predict the future. Maybe you will both find yourselves in different emotional places five years from now, or something, and you will magically get back together and it will work. Or five months from now. But you can't plan that. This version of your relationship sounds like it is over. If it is to be reborn like the phoenix, first you must let it die. This from someone who got back together with an exboyfriend (the same one) about five times.
posted by millipede at 9:54 AM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

my mind fantasizing about more sexual variety

I find this interesting because availability of good sex was not a problem at all in your recent relationship.

I have lost my one-woman support system and my hardcore best friend. And because….why? Because I couldn’t commit?

It doesn't sound like she was even pressuring you to commit, so I don't think that's it exactly. But I do think it's interesting that you would refer to her as your "one-woman support system," especially after only 10 months.

To be honest, I think you should talk to a therapist. Not because you're all messed up per se, but because you need to talk out your personal issues with someone who doesn't know you and is not involved in this. And I think if you try and continue the relationship, it will be reassuring for her to hear that you're taking the situation seriously and getting outside counsel (that isn't from anonymous internet people).
posted by hermitosis at 9:57 AM on August 9, 2010 [6 favorites]

A couple quick addenda to my comment, pretty much echoing things other people have said:

* Beating yourself up with the word "shallow" is not productive. So you're shallow -- so are most people. Get over it.

* "Take a break and date other people" -- when there's no particular reason for this such as being physically apart, and it's just based on dwindling interest in the relationship -- is a cop-out synonym for breaking up. Either break up or get back together. You're the one who started this -- the burden is now on you to make a clear decision one way or the other.

However, I think the idea that your decision should be to break up in order to "be a gentlemen" or "do her a favor" is pretty silly. The two of you should stay together if and only if you're both motivated to make the relationship work. It's up to you two, not us, to decide whether that's the case.
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:57 AM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

The relationship had fizzled physically ... Actually, the sex was always good, too. I just had trouble motivating.

Good relationships generally don't fizzle physically right out of the blue at age 27. Are you depressed? Did you gain weight? Exercise? Did something change on her side?

I don't think you should try to jump right back in. I think you need to closely evaluate your own self a lot more than you have.

There could be something going on. That said, it is possible that you're being an ass (joining a loooong line of asses, so don't feel bad). But you don't cure either in just three days of moping and a "please take me back" speech.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:11 AM on August 9, 2010

This is exactly what dating is. You get with someone, commit to them for whatever period of time to see if you're right for each other. Eventually, you know where it's leading. In your case 10 months was long enough for you to know that this isn't right. What's shallow about that?

This is just reality. This is how it works.
posted by fso at 10:21 AM on August 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

I think you absolutely did the right thing and you should not recant at this point. It sounds like you don't feel the sort of spirit and verve that every 27 year-old guy wants to feel for his girl. And, on the inverse, the way a 27 year-old girl wants her guy to feel about her. A woman knows when her boyfriend is not crazy about her and it takes a toll -- kind of a creeping, insidious toll. If this one is as loving and supportive as you say, she's unlikely to end it with you on the grounds that she intuits that you don't find her electric. So, yes, way to go, way to know yourself and do a responsible thing. Please don't pull her back into it. She needs to find someone who really wants her.
posted by turtlewithoutashell at 10:24 AM on August 9, 2010 [5 favorites]

Dont kill yourself man....it is tough. Here are some tips:

* Do not get back with her thinking things will improve, they will not and you will be right back to where you are now.

* Stop thinking about your age as a limiting factor, somebody said it is better to be alone than with bad company.....start learning how to make that happen....

* You are not the most shallow man in America these things happen...and your reason to break up with her is better than most other dudes who cheat or treat their gfs in a pretty bad manner.

* Finally, do go to therapy, it doesnt seem like you are comfortable with the decision you are making even though it is the right one based on your set of values. It seems that you want to commit for some reason or another but you also require to be in love and feel bad now that that is the case.
posted by The1andonly at 10:53 AM on August 9, 2010

I would try to not be jerky about this in any way because as you've stated she sounds like a good friend for you. If she's ok with it maybe the friendship can continue after a hiatus or somesuch. In some, but mos def not all, cases exes can be friends... That's another thing you just learn with experience. Good luck. Be kind.
posted by ShadePlant at 11:02 AM on August 9, 2010

Nthing what those above have said, with an addendum for optimism: following the clean break, allow some time to decompress. Don't talk about your relationship, don't negotiate new roles, don't even see each other. After a few weeks (or months), when the emotions have settled, you and she will likely be ready to refound the friendship.

It seems this would suit both of you, as she (from what you've said) seems to be taking this reasonably.

Which is not to say it's at all healthy to depend on one person wholly. Not even a little bit.
posted by Galen at 11:04 AM on August 9, 2010

Ah! ShadePlant beat me to it :)
posted by Galen at 11:04 AM on August 9, 2010

I just wanted to reiterate what (I think) I read above: you are NOT "shallow." Your actions are those of a man who cares. You sound like just about every 27 year old male I've ever known (or BEEN, for that matter...). This is how it happens, and you're experiencing the kind of event that seems often to motivate men your age to gain some more direction in their lives.

You have no reason to feel bad. Be honest with your girlfriend, and take some time to just get your own shit in order. There are plenty of potential partners, women and men, who'd welcome a relationship eventually with a man who's capable of your kind of emotional honesty.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 11:05 AM on August 9, 2010

Every time a question like this pops up on AskMefi (which, given the nature of 27 year old males [myself included], is fairly frequently) one of the first responses is always something to the extent of "you are doing her a favor" by breaking up with her if you aren't into it. I'm guessing that many of these sorts of comments are coming from someone on the opposite end of this situation. I think they're coming from the point of view that it isn't hard to tell when your partner isn't feeling you and that it sucks to be in that situation.

That said, I'm much more familiar with your side of this situation. I've known a lot of guys who stopped being into relationships not because of any problem in the relationship, but because the passion just faded and suddenly there was less passion than there was for, say, that attractive stranger that just walked past. This is a situation that sucks for everyone involved.

You can either:

A: Get back together and try hard to be a happy together. This might work but has a good chance of the two of you falling into a cycle of being happy and being miserable.

B: Some sort of open relationship. This could maybe work if it was negotiated just right but is more likely to just be awkward and cause some pain.

C: Clean break. You might meet someone who you are happier with next, or might have to struggle for awhile to find a good match.

In short, if you just aren't ready for monogamy then maybe you should do the clean break. Eventually you'll be ready and find someone to be happy with.
posted by cirrostratus at 11:55 AM on August 9, 2010

In short, if you just aren't ready for monogamy

I dont think his problem is monogamy. He is doing just fine in that sense.....His problem is monogamy with this particular person. In any case OP, I am in a very similar position, just a year younger so once again it is nothing new and she'll be fine eventually.
posted by The1andonly at 11:59 AM on August 9, 2010

I went through a very similar experience. I wasn't happy and broke up with her and instantly regretted it. Lots and lots of irrelevant to this discussion details later I realized it was for the best.

I am a social, but private person. Independent. I don't do it on purpose, but very few people know the "real" me. Not my family, not most of my friends. She did though. It was the biggest hurdle to overcome after the breakup. I had gotten so used to be myself around her and having somebody that truly got me. Which can be very easily confused with missing your partner.

I don't know if you're the same way, but for me, I missed having the support, but not my former partner.

Good luck.
posted by damionbroadaway at 12:00 PM on August 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

I think you are being shallow, but you aren't going to change that by beating yourself up about it and persuading yourself to care about something you don't really care about. The way to fix your shallow tendencies is to lose something valuable because of it, and never be able to get it back. You are in the most tragic of situations - you know you are a making a mistake, but there's nothing else you can do, you're completely powerless. This is exactly the kind of experience that could change you from knowing abstractly and intellectually that shallowness could be bad, to knowing it in a more immediate way so that it actually affects your desires and actions.
posted by AlsoMike at 12:26 PM on August 9, 2010

Response by poster: Original poster here. Just chiming in to say the last two posts have been the most profound for me.

@Damionbroadway: Yes, exactly. She was the only person I could be myself around. The loss of that is terrifying—and yes probably more than this particular girl.

@AlsoMike: Yup, cruising knowingly toward a mistake. I hope you’re right about this goading to make some serious changes.
posted by sureshot at 12:31 PM on August 9, 2010

Yikes, eerily familiar stuff here. Obligatory disclaimer: this has been my experience. Take what I have to say with a grain of salt, I'm working through this myself.

You're not shallow, you just don't know what you're doing. She probably doesn't either. That's fine. You're 27 and fumbling through your first serious relationship, you're not supposed to know what you're doing.

No one likes to be the be the dumpee, but dumpers have their own problems. Breaking up with someone means that the responsibility is on you if it's a mistake. If you stay friends with her make sure it's not because you want a hedge against that mistake - that you want an opt-in clause if you wake up one day and think "Oh shit, what have I done?" You broke up with her, it's up to you to live with the decision. Leaving the door open will only prolong the heartbreak for you both.

If nothing in you or her as appreciably changed since you broke up, don't get back together. You will most likely recycle the same ambivalence.

It's easier to be friends than it is to be in a relationship. You get all of the companionship, support and emotional attachment but none of the risk. Friends typically don't tread too close to the edges of our most vulnerable selves. Neither does having sex with someone that you're not particularly close to - you get all of the physical gratification and none of the risk, hence the fantasies of other women. I suspect that it is in the synapses between friends and lovers that chemistry can fizzle. Disengaging sexually is a good, albeit not entirely conscious, way to keep yourself at an emotionally safe distance. We all have places in ourselves that we feel we must protect, but that protection carries a price. I think it's very difficult, to maintain a loving, close and sexually vibrant relationship with someone while at the same time keeping the shields up. You can have friends+shields, great sex+shields, but not great sex+friends+shields. One of them has to give.

Maybe I'm way off here. Maybe I'm not. It might be a good thought experiment to try to trace yourself back to the place where you went from frequent, vigorous sex to infrequent, half-hearted sex. What happened with you? What changed? Was it something about how much you perceived she gave? Maybe she was she a bit mom-like in her giving and that turned you off. Maybe your perception of how together she is compared to your untogetherness intimidated you, so you backed away.

These are all just theories because I like mucking around with relationship theories. You don't have to buy any of it. If you want to grow from this experience and go into your next relationship a little more maturity and insight give yourself plenty of room to figure out the meta workings of what happened to you with this one.
posted by space_cookie at 4:22 PM on August 9, 2010 [5 favorites]

"But I’m miserable. And drowning in regret."

Sometimes you don't realize that you found the one you can't live without until you try living without him/her for a while.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:56 PM on August 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

You know, it seems to me that, when used in the context of relationships like this, the word "shallow" just means being honest enough about the transactional, mercenary nature of social/sexual relationships that it makes uncomfortable the people who refuse to acknowledge the unglamorous nature of the raw human emotions that we gussy up and call romance -- insecurity, vulnerability, and an infantile neediness for validation.

When you're honest about it, it's not pretty, and that's threatening to people who unquestionably accept the bullshit-infused language of "what we talk about when we talk about love."

For example, take the phrase "she's the only person I can really be myself around." It sounds pretty and meaningful, but it really just means that you're confident enough in how much she wants to be with you that you no longer have to worry about impressing her. You're no more or less yourself around anyone, you're just less constrained in how much of yourself you show around someone you know wants and/or needs you maybe a little more than you want or need them.

I say don't be ashamed, but rather embrace your shallowness, because when it comes down to it, it signifies a tendency to call yourself on your own bullshit. Good for you -- let other people sell themselves pretty stories to make themselves feel better about why they do or don't want to be with someone.

So you've been dating this girl, and you kind of feel like you're settling. You're not ready to commit to her, because you suspect you might be able to find someone a little hotter, someone whose sexual reciprocation would therefore be that much more validating of your sense of self worth -- but you worry about not having access to the reassuring acceptance of the girl you've just broken it off with.

In the end, you've probably made the right decision -- being with a girl you think you could do better than is an insidiously double-edged sword. On the one hand, being wanted bolsters your self esteem, but at the same time, it's also capping it, because can't help but wonder if you really couldn't do better, and this is as good as you can get.

I say, at 27, you might as well keep trying to shoot the moon. See if you can't find yourself a girl who feels a bit out of your league, whom you can't really "be yourself" around initially. Is that shallow? Maybe, but it's also more honest.
posted by patnasty at 11:55 PM on August 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

As a gal who met her now husband when he was about your age and I was a little older, AND as a very private person who tends to only let my closest people in... I say be yourself more.

Just be you. I don't mean at work or whatever, where we have to put on our game face, but when you're on your own time, just be yourself. You might be surprised at who appreciates you as you. I know I sure have been, and I'm over 40 now and just tired of drama. Your real friends like YOU. I found it hard to believe, but there it is.

Make a clean break, just to get your own mind right, if nothing else.
posted by lilywing13 at 12:19 AM on August 10, 2010

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