What is love, anyway?
January 31, 2014 5:52 AM   Subscribe

I am in love with a man who claims that he cannot feel love, that he does not know what it is and I want to figure out whether to stay with him in the casual/open/this-will-one-day-end romantic relationship we are in now, to cut that off entirely and just try to be friends, or to go all in and try to forge a long term bond and hope that he will one day feel love.

Some background:

He is a special character-- he is in his mid twenties and was a virgin when I met him. He's incredibly shy and has terrible self esteem (which has gotten a bit better in the few months we've been together-- I have been telling him over and over again how amazing he is AND helped encourage him to get into therapy). His friends and family love him to bits and he is pretty much the sweetest and most thoughtful person I know, perhaps the sweetest I have ever known.

That said, he has a remarkably flat emotional affect. He spent a very long time of his life completely depressed, but not in a "sad" way, more in an "unmotivated, doesn't see the point to doing anything way". He broke out of that to some degree before I met him and is now somewhat engaged in life-- he creates amazing art, he is in phenomenally good shape, he started engaging in a hospitality network, he and I have tried lots of new things together (I encourage him but don't force or push him too hard), etc. He is ultra sensitive in many ways-- he can't stand to be at rock concerts because they are too loud, his skin is extremely sensitive to the touch, etc. He also has had bad anxiety in the past and still does sometimes. He can't stand crowds, he is nervous around new people he doesn't know well, etc.

None of that is a huge issue to me, it's just to give you some background into his psychology to help you theorize more clearly.

Also, early on in our relationship (about a month and a half in) I changed the relationship from boyfriend/girlfriend into the casual form it is in now due to my discovering that my suspicions were correct and he was probably into a type of porn (violent hentai) that I can't be ok with a partner being into (for more background on that, refer to this thread, or feel free to memail me).

He was hurt by that but reported that he didn't miss me at all when we were separated and he said that it was up to me if we should continue any sort of relationship or not. I missed him like crazy and decided to try to resume the relationship in an open, undefined form at a reduced capacity to see what happened.

What happened after that was that I got over my other problems with the relationship that originated in my own issues AND I got over that one as it doesn't seem so important at the end of the day. I was able to let my defenses down and be myself with him and really come to love and trust him, to feel safe with him. I love this man. He is beyond wonderful and I am so lucky to have known him. Whatever happens between us romantically, I hope to know him in some capacity for this lifetime as I value him incredibly highly. My friends and family think he is very good for me-- I am a bit wild and he is incredibly stable and he grounds me while I bring excitement and adventure to his otherwise somewhat by the book existence. He and I get along incredibly well, save for the hentai incident we never have Big Conflicts and are well able to resolve disputes rationally and to the satisfaction of both parties.

Lately he has been initiating "so, what are we to each other these days?" conversations. During which I have trouble landing on a good definition. He lets me off the hook, usually, but the time is coming when it won't be fair to him to remain so flaky. He wants a girlfriend, not a nebulous friend with benefits/lover/who-knows-what-to-call-this-situation who is basically a girlfriend in all but title/concept anyway-- we spend lots of time together and the relationship is pretty traditional (even though it has been "open" for some time, neither nor I have taken advantage of that). I want a boyfriend, too, and in many ways this man is "rocking chair material".

I think what's stopping me from taking the relationship further now is that he has confessed that he doesn't think that he loves anyone. He says he doesn't "love" me, his parents, his grandma, his best friend, etc. He says he doesn't feel it in the way you're "supposed" to feel it, in the way others describe it or they ways it's depicted in media. It's not a deep feeling for him. He says he's scared that he might never feel it and when he says this my heart breaks for him.

Despite his professed lack of feeling, his actions are all entirely loving. Further, he will often say that he would feel terribly if he ever hurt me or if he ever let harm come to me. He always wants to spend time with me, even when I am down. He's great at cheering me up in those periods and even better at sharing my joy in the up periods. He's ultra considerate he often puts my needs/wants before his (but he never does this to an unhealthy degree that I can see-- he CAN set boundaries and keep them). When he holds me it feels like love (I have been with men who were saying they loved me and I could feel it in their embrace that they weren't actually there, this feels like the opposite of that). This seems like love to me. It feels like it. To me, anyway. But not to him. And that worries me.

Should I just encourage him to accept that his way of feeling love is unique, that the experience of it is probably just going to be more subdued than it is for most people, just like the rest of his emotions? That he shouldn't worry and that he does love his parents and his best friend and me?

Or is he right and it is in fact the case that he simply can't feel love? If so, could it also be that his low self esteem is causing this? It is true that you can't really love someone else until you love yourself, after all... Any other theories?
posted by telomere to Human Relations (57 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, you are setting yourself up for a world of unrequited love.

I wouldn't overthink this. If he says he can't feel love, then at some point, he will probably do something that will hurt you, and he will tell you, Well, I told you I don't feel love.

It is not your responsibility to fix him, or draw him out of his shell. It won't happen. If he asks, I think you have to be honest: look, buddy, you said you don't love me. No one in the world is going to commit to you if you don't love them.

I think people get in a world of trouble when they don't take at face value the warning signs their partners are giving them. Or, in this case, the EXPLICIT WARNING he has given you.
posted by musofire at 7:18 AM on January 31, 2014 [37 favorites]

Best answer: Oooof. This is a can of worms INSIDE of a Gordian knot, I think.

I am not a psychologist, nor a doctor, nor ANYTHING useful, but here's my take: you're gonna get a LOT of people yelling at you, "You deserve to be loved back, telomere! Don't put up with this crap! DTMFA!" And I can see their point... you DO deserve love, and it SHOULD come with a minimum of drama, especially early in the relationship. So... that opinion is not without merit.

HOWEVER. Regarding your Guy-Friend. I read what you wrote about his personality a number of times, and what jumped RIGHT the hell out at me was that this guy is... how the hell do I even put this? Not... neurologically... average. I am not going to diagnose him, because I CAN'T (it's unwise AND against the law!), but he seems to have traits I'd associate with being on the spectrum, OR powerful social anxiety, OR just being a shy introvert, OR hell, just being an INTJ.

Everyone I know who has a few of those characteristics has gone through at least part of their life feeling like they weren't experiencing emotions "the right way" (myself included!). So while it's possible something else is going on, it's ALSO possible that Guy-Friend just hasn't reached the point that many of us reach, where we realize "there IS no right and wrong way to feel things! The way I feel things is FINE!"

He may get to that point. He may not. Whether you stay with him depends on how painful existing along his personal learning curve will be for you.
posted by julthumbscrew at 7:23 AM on January 31, 2014 [28 favorites]

Yeah, why is this even a question? He has told him he can't love you. You can either take him at his word, or assume he is unaware of his own self. I don't see why you'd choose the latter.
posted by kindall at 7:24 AM on January 31, 2014 [8 favorites]

the few months we've been together

I don't know what your definition of "few" is, but here's what I have come to learn about relationships: if things are this complicated and there's this much strife and angst after only a few months, it is not a relationship worth staying in.

Another thing I have learned about people in general is that when they tell you something about themselves, believe them. He has told you he can't love you. So there it is.
posted by phunniemee at 7:25 AM on January 31, 2014 [23 favorites]

Best answer: Here's a pretty great Ask Polly about a man who claims to be unable to feel love.

I think he sounds sweet, I think you'll probably help each other grow in some ways. I would not put all your eggs in this basket. It's ok, you're allowed to date people you don't end up in a rocking chair with, and lord knows he's got to have a messy break up at least once in his life.

I think your instincts to keep this casual are extremely well-founded.
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:28 AM on January 31, 2014 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I'd recommend that both of you read The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck. This is a wonderful book about the nature of love: what it is, what it is not.

Spoiler alert: he specifically says that love is not a feeling.
posted by Amy NM at 7:29 AM on January 31, 2014

Honestly, I wouldn't date him, I would keep him at a moderate distance (even in friendship), and the "not feeling love" thing is only a small part of why. His terrible self esteem, his being emotionally flat, his being extremely sensitive... It sounds like he isn't in much of a space to be dating anyone. I get that you feel he's been doing "somewhat" better on some of these issues since dating you, but you can't fix him and you can't bank on the hope that some of these issues could get better in the future. And maybe I'm wrong or being unfair, but it really sounds to me like you're hoping to be the one to fix him, make his life better, bring him out of his shell, etc. You may not consciously be doing that, but to me it sure read that way. That almost never works out. It happens in books and in movies, but so so rarely in real life. I feel like you are really setting yourself up for a huge hurt and disappointment down the road.

The fact that he said that he didn't miss you at all while you were broken up... I think that is a pretty callous, hurtful thing for someone to say when you are reconciling. I think that is a pretty callous, hurtful thing to say EVER. I doubt he meant to hurt you, but it does sound like he isn't aware of the impact of his words on other people. Maybe he's on the autism spectrum, who knows, but that is sort of beside the point...

And then he says he can never love you. You are taking comfort from his saying that he can't love ANYONE, but that won't make it any easier on you down the road when he does something that demonstrates that he doesn't love you and you are crushed. Your hurt feelings will not be eased by the fact that he doesn't feel love for his father either. You aren't getting what you need emotionally from this relationship, and the imbalance and risk (for you) is only going to grow with time. You sound like a very feeling person, so I can't imagine you'd ever be happy with a person who outright says he doesn't feel those emotions and will never love you.

It has only been a few months, like you said. This is a metric ton of complications and stress for a relationship so early on. End the romance side of your relationship, date other people, keep him at an emotional arm's length.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:35 AM on January 31, 2014 [20 favorites]

Love is an action, not a feeling, yadda yadda. That said, even if you don't "feel" love you aren't supposed to say that to your girlfriend if you want her to remain your girlfriend.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 7:35 AM on January 31, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Before I committed further to this person I would want to know from him why he wants a girlfriend. What he thinks a girlfriend/boyfriend relationship looks like and what each person can contribute to it. Then I would think long and hard if that was acceptable and if I would feel fulfilled by what he could contribute, and in turn if I thought I could give him what he was asking for. Only you and he can answer these questions.

It's not a deep feeling for him. He says he's scared that he might never feel it

He sounds a lot like this guy I know, and therapy and just growing up and getting more life experiences helped a lot with resolving what the concept of "love" meant to him and how he could square away the fact that he didn't think he ever felt it with the fact that he was very caring and considerate towards his friends, family, and girlfriend. He's happily married now although obviously everyone's mileage varies. It was a very rocky road between he and his girlfriend for quite awhile and it took a lot of work on both sides.
posted by muddgirl at 7:38 AM on January 31, 2014 [7 favorites]

The sensory problems plus the emotional issues can be indicative of being somewhere on the autism spectrum, but that gets you absolutely nowhere, because he is the person he is no matter what. People on the autism spectrum can have perfectly healthy romantic relationships; people who aren't can have similar problems. Diagnosis of his psychological state does not actually help you. You know who he is. Is the person he is right now the person you want to be involved with in a decade? If not, move on. He could change, but you can't plan your life around that.

He does not sound that into you. You sound really, really into him, despite all this "casual" talk. Don't make this more complicated than that. If you want someone who is into you, go find them, this is not that person.
posted by Sequence at 7:42 AM on January 31, 2014 [9 favorites]

It depends on what you want, right? If you don't want love from the person you love romantically, this type of thing is fine.

But we cannot make ourselves want things we just do not want, nor can we not want what we do. Your question reads like you want love - or the possibility of love - from the person you love romantically. This is a perfectly natural thing to want and it is ok to feel this way! I just don't think you'd be asking this question if you were just ok with him not loving you. Or with him not saying he loves you, and occasionally behaving as if he does not love you, too.

Now, he might behave lovingly very often, but the actual facts are what matters. If you want him to say he loves you and to feel a particular type of love emotion when he thinks of you - well, he is who he is. He does not "do" love. Assume he will not change. How do you feel about that? Be honest with yourself.

Also taking a bit of a detached approach might help. That is, wanting to know him for the rest of your life - as you mention in your post - that is fine, but it is also an outcome that has little weight right now. Detach from specific outcomes and assess whether or not you enjoy the present.
posted by sockermom at 7:43 AM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

He needs to become comfortable with his own manner of feeling. This requires some self exploration and -- as muddgirl says -- life experience. Unfortunately I doubt this is compatible with a direct path to a rocking chair with you.

He may now be feeling what he will later come to realize is his manner of feeling love right now -- or he may not be. If you are comfortable with dating someone who is likely not your forever mate, you could share part of this ride with him. Or you can kindly send him on his way.
posted by rocketpup at 7:43 AM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Let's review.

He has said he doesn't love you. You love him but he does not love you. When you were broken up, he was hurt but did not miss you. He has explained that what he does feel for you is not a deep feeling. In every action he takes and in everything he says, he has sent you the clear message that you are mostly disposable to him - he will be nice to you while you're around, but if you leave, it's not really any skin off his ass. Is that the relationship you want?

Or is he right and it is in fact the case that he simply can't feel love? If so, could it also be that his low self esteem is causing this? It is true that you can't really love someone else until you love yourself, after all... Any other theories?

If a friend of yours came to you and said, "I've been dating a guy for a few months and I love him but he doesn't love me and he didn't miss me when we were broken up, and he's specifically said that he does not have deep feelings for me and does not believe he's capable of them but do you think I can fix him?," what would you say to that friend?

When he holds you, it feels like love because you want it to feel like love. You're seeing what you want to see here, despite all evidence being to the contrary.

I think this mostly works for you (I actually don't think this is really working so hot, but that's another can of worms) because it's been relatively casual. But the problem is, you can't just sort of decide to not feel what you feel. You can't wall off your feelings. You're going to keep feeling more attached to this guy over time, regardless of what he does.

What I'm seeing is that the general tenor of your question is, "A guy told me something about himself. What are ways for what he said to not be true? Failing that, what are some ways I can help bring about fundamental emotional change in this guy I've known for a couple months?"

I mean, the guy has told you what's up. You have the right to ask for what you want in a relationship and to leave if you're not getting it. It seems clear that the version of love he has to offer you is not the version of love you want.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:51 AM on January 31, 2014 [27 favorites]

You have his message
" reported that he didn't miss me at all"
Walk away, and don't look back. He's got nothing that will benefit you. Ever.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:57 AM on January 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

It is not your responsibility to fix him...

This, one hundred times over. In a world full of people who want love, why go for the guy who says he doesn't? Leave. Now.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 8:00 AM on January 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

You can't love him enough to fix him. He has so many issues and problems to be in a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship would be profoundly unfair.

Believe what people tell you about themselves. He doesn't feel love. If you want to be in a love relationship with him, it won't be reciprocal.

He may get into therapy, and work out his issues, or he may just be wired the way he is and he may NEVER change, but as a person yourself, it's not your place, your job or your vocation to help him through this.

Walk away now, while you are both undamaged by this relationship. It's not going anywhere.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:03 AM on January 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

He sounds like a good guy and like he wants to be your partner, but you can't build the foundation of a relationship on who you hope someone will become, only on who they are now. Are you happy with being with him as he is now?

Also what porn someone watches, and what they fantasize about on their own, has nothing to do with what they are interested in IRL. It's probably best to give your partners the benefit of the doubt in terms of their ability to distinguish fiction from reality.
posted by capricorn at 8:03 AM on January 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

Much, much bigger question: Why have you decided to attach yourself to someone who won't reciprocate your love?

Seriously, it's fairly unlikely that this has happened by complete coincidence. For some reason, you have chosen to chase something unattainable. Maybe it protects you from being rejected ("Oh well, he never loved me in the first place."). Maybe it means you won't have to share as much of your vulnerable self, which can get hurt easily. Maybe it is just like Mom & Dad's relationship at some level - we learn our mating rituals from our closest and earliest teachers, after all.

Seek yourself. Discuss this with a therapist. Come to understand why you would ever consider settling for such a poor deal. Find out why you haven't been demanding more for yourself already.

Best of luck. You deserve a loving partner.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:06 AM on January 31, 2014 [15 favorites]

bell hooks' All About Love is another book about discovering what love is for oneself.
posted by waraw at 8:28 AM on January 31, 2014

IANAD, etc. But like the others, I immediately thought of the autism spectrum, or Aspergers, when you described him. Have either of you looked into this, or gotten any kind of diagnosis?

Not feeling love ever is... not really very typical.

It could be that he doesn't 'understand' love, because he takes what he sees of love in the media very literal. It could be that he thinks love is supposed to feel a certain way and he can't relate to it because it doesn't. It could be that because of some underlying way in which he relates to the world, his version of 'love' is not the average version of love-- that he very easily forgets people when they're out of his life, etc.

But not missing you is telling.

Are you okay with being 'loved' like that? I don't think you are.

You want him to love you. I think you're kind of asking, 'can a guy who professes not to love, be taught to love?'

Short answer: no.

Long answer: Possibly, but, it depends on a lot of factors. If he can love, I don't think he will love like you or I. What do you want? To be loved like that? That may never happen. Yet he wants you to be his girlfriend.

If you're happy with his brand of affection, then sure, go for it. If you need more-- if you need someone who misses you, and who makes you feel special and desired, then walk. Because he may never be able to give you that. Whatever you do-- don't go into it hoping he will change. This will only result in heartbreak.

I personally think you are setting yourself up to fail-- you already turned a blind eye to the porn thing. Fwiw, I don't think violent hentai is problematic at all -- but I do think that you reneging on something you consider a total dealbreaker means you're too far gone to be objective about this.

It will only hurt you more. You should move on. I'm sorry. It's going to really hurt. Hang in there.
posted by Dimes at 8:29 AM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Relationships are as-is. If you go into a relationship hoping that the other person will change, or if you stick around in a casual relationship when your heart wants something more, you will end up disappointed and heartbroken every time. So you really have only one choice here.

He sounds good and kind, but he can't give you a crucial thing that you need. There may be a point down the line where he's confident in his ability to experience and express love. However, that's his journey alone, and it will probably take years if it happens at all, and waiting around for that breakthrough is very likely to hurt.

I wish each of you the best, but I don't think this relationship is right for either of you.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:12 AM on January 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have been there. I told myself over and over again that, even though he said he didn't love me (on bad days) or that he loved me "with an asterisk" (on good days), he was showing something different with his actions and he just couldn't admit it. I was really, really wrong in the end.

He's telling you something hugely important. It's up to you to believe him.
posted by karbonokapi at 9:16 AM on January 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

Your specific love-related questions are unanswerable, but he's a huge mess. Nobody in their right mind has any emotional involvement with someone who's a huge mess.
posted by ambient2 at 9:28 AM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Young guys in their first real relationships who don't really have a framework for how or when or why to break up with someone will sometimes show the card they're going to play when they eventually decide they have to move on. I think this guy just showed you his card. He's not thinking rocking chairs.
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:46 AM on January 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

Oh honey.

Setting aside all the other stuff, is what he's giving you and asking from you enough for you?

Can you live with not being missed and not being loved in a verbal way? He's told you "here I am, take me or leave me. It's up to you." And it kind of sounds like you're here trying to learn how you can get around his warning.

This doesn't end well for you.
posted by Blisterlips at 9:57 AM on January 31, 2014

For the life of me I can't figure out what you are supposed to getting out of this relationship. Stop wasting your time - he's a friend, at best.

Get interested in somebody else. Somebody available. He isn't.
posted by Miko at 9:58 AM on January 31, 2014

I don't love you/I cannot love/I love you but I'm not in love with you are all things people say when they don't want to be with you.

It sucks, and it's hard. Every time I have been broken up with and those types of things came up, I always spent a long time analyzing that meme and trying to get to the bottom of what that's even about.

I'm left with the idea that it's just what people say when they like you well enough, enjoy spending time with you, think you're an OK person, are happy to have access to regular sex, but don't want to be with you long term.

I'm really sorry you're going through this.
posted by Sara C. at 10:04 AM on January 31, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Hey, I'm also an INTJ who suffers from anxiety and depression, so I get the whole, "Wait, what am I feeling now? Is it enough??? Oh God, is this what I'm supposed to feel?????" In my younger years this is something I would bring to my partners, totally freaked out, hoping that they would tell me somehow how to feel that deep emotion that everyone else seemed to do so easily. What usually happened was that THEY would freak out, and begin to have serious doubts about the relationship.

As I've gotten older and more mature, I've realized that what I feel is what I feel, and how I feel things is ok. I've become way more in touch with my feelings in general, and recognized when I am having emotions and how to distinguish them from my anxiety, depression, etc. (Geez, this makes me sound like a robot. I have human feelings, I promise!). I also empathize with the no-loud-rock-concerts and all that, because I am the same way.

I don't think there's anything wrong with this guy, and he may even love you, but he doesn't know what's going on with himself at all. He needs to mature and accept himself - he's not really in a place to be in a relationship.
posted by chainsofreedom at 10:09 AM on January 31, 2014 [8 favorites]

I recently had a conversation with my boyfriend, who also struggles with mental illness (I do too, for the record) where I told him that his spells of depression were hard on me because "I try to pretend like nothing's wrong, and be affectionate and supportive, but it's hard for me when I'm not getting that affection and support back."

It's sweet and noble to give affection and support and encouragement to someone who needs it. But they need to be giving you affection and support and encouragement back. You're not Florence Nightingale, a pure selfless martyr that can devote themselves to a cause. You don't need a cause; you need a boyfriend. And if you aren't getting what you need from your boyfriend, it's time to find a new one.
posted by Juliet Banana at 11:01 AM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hi guys! Thanks for all of the responses so far, it's definitely interesting reading and lots of food for thought.

I think that julthumbscrew, muddgirl and chainsofreedom are on the right track. From what I have read from some of you though, I feel like I may not have communicated his behavior and attitude toward me properly as some of you seem to be thinking that he's not that into me and that isn't the case. I should clarify:

He's super into me, he just "doesn't love me". I feel like I should emphasize more just how affectionate, caring, loving and devoted he is and how hard he tries to avoid hurting me. In fact, the whole "I could never hurt you" thing is a huge deal for him-- he says this WAY more often than normal people do.

In fact, there is part of me that wonders if he didn't say that he "didn't miss me" for the two to three days were apart to spare my feelings-- he knows I was scared of damaging him because I know he is fragile so he may have been trying to demonstrate that I didn't hurt him in order to not hurt me. Convoluted I know, but possible. I will ask him about it. I have never asked for clarification.

He has gone very far out of his way to help me manymanyMANY times and he was extremely happy when we got back together. I work crazy hours and he cooks for me and cleans up afterwards. He insists on this. He takes good care of me when I am sick. He helps me with both practical and emotional problems-- I know I can lean on him when I am down, which is huge and not something I have had in a partner maybe ever. He loves nothing more than to lay on the couch with me and hold me for hours when we have the time. If it were up to him, we would spend every day together. I do have the sense that I could ask him for the moon and he would give it to me if he could.

He is the one who is pushing for girlfriend/boyfriend, not me. He's pretty much said that he wants to be with me going forward and that it's up to me. He often mourns that we are not a real couple saying that he wishes he was "good enough" for me (I then reassure him that it is not a question of "good enough" and rather one of perhaps not fitting together properly or it not being the right time because he is too inexperienced and needs to sort himself out first.)

I guess I didn't want to seed the conversation but I suspect very much that he is high functioning Asperger's and hope that some diagnosis comes from this new therapist he's started seeing. I have not discussed this suspicion of mine with him.

He is extremely "into" his parents as well, talking to them a few times a week, having them over for dinner, etc. Same with his best friend.

His actions towards all of us scream "love" but it's just his self-reporting that says he doesn't "feel" it. I wouldn't be questioning this so much if his lack of feeling love was just for me and didn't extend to everyone else he cares for as well. I definitely do want to be loved, I know I deserve it. It's just weird because I feel loved by a man who says he cannot do that and yet shows (almost) every sign and symptom for it for me and those close to him.

I know he's not perfect and I worry about his stage of development. This is why I originally thought it would be unethical to date him and PART of why I decided to keep it casual and why I encouraged him to find a psychologist. I have also encouraged him to try to date other women but he steadfastly says that he doesn't want to do that.

Back in the first post I made about this, mefi laughed at the notion of letting him go due to his inexperience as did my friends and family. The point was that no one is perfect and this guy is way more "together" than many I know who are a decade older in many ways. He treats me well, he wants to be with me, he has taken steps to know himself better. He just doesn't feel something he understands as "love".
posted by telomere at 11:03 AM on January 31, 2014

Oh, so you've figured it out and you've decided what you want to do then?

I'm sort of curious as to why you came here to ask the question.

Be very careful. I'm afraid that for now, it's all fine and dandy, but you're having to tip-toe on eggshells and you're oh-so-solicitous of his fragile little feelings and it's still doesn't sound like a lot of fun to me.

I suspect that in the end, he'll be unable to give you what you want, and you'll grow weary of having to dance to his tune all the time.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:15 AM on January 31, 2014 [16 favorites]

i don't need to read your whole story to give you this simple piece of advice...run....run now...don't look back or you will turn to a pillar of salt (no further platitudes about the future needed)
posted by lostinspace at 11:15 AM on January 31, 2014

"In fact, the whole "I could never hurt you" thing is a huge deal for him-- he says this WAY more often than normal people do."

People don't say things that haven't occurred to them.

People who don't lie, never tell you that they won't lie to you, because it doesn't occur to them that people would lie in their position.

When people say they could never hurt you, its because they have thought about it and realized that they could very well do just that.

Be. Careful.
posted by misspony at 11:17 AM on January 31, 2014 [21 favorites]

A lot of people act like they are really into you, and then when you're ready to get more serious, or the relationship progresses past a certain point, suddenly they're "not in love with you".

It really sucks that people do this, but it happens all the time.

I think that, if he is saying he wants to be with you, but that he doesn't love you, while that's not the same thing as being dumped with that as the "reason", well, he doesn't love you. It doesn't matter how nice to you he is. You should take him at his word that he doesn't love you.
posted by Sara C. at 11:21 AM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

An old serious partner of mine used to say "but what is love anyway?" and I would chalk it up to his Spock-like logical tendencies right up until he told me he fell in love with another woman.

In fact, there is part of me that wonders if he didn't say that he "didn't miss me" for the two to three days were apart to spare my feelings

You've decided to ignore what he actually said in favor of pretending he said meant something totally different because it fits what you want to hear. I mean, you clearly have already set a course of action to the point where you're ignoring what everyone else and this guy himself have to say about it!

If you stick with this, you need to be prepared for a relationship where you never feel entirely emotionally secure.
posted by jess at 11:26 AM on January 31, 2014 [14 favorites]

In fact, the whole "I could never hurt you" thing is a huge deal for him-- he says this WAY more often than normal people do.

He often mourns that we are not a real couple saying that he wishes he was "good enough" for me

Sorry, these just strike me as being huge red flags and depressingly classic indicators of a guy who's foreshadowing the fact that he's going to jump ship when he feels the time is right, and is trying to lay some groundwork to soften the blow when it happens.
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:31 AM on January 31, 2014 [14 favorites]

until he told me he fell in love with another woman

Yeah, it's amazing how every single person I dated who ever "didn't know if they could ever be in love" suddenly discovered that they could after we broke up and they met someone else.

Look, I'm not saying your boyfriend is a bad person who wants to hurt you. But you should listen to what he's telling you, because it's the truth.
posted by Sara C. at 11:35 AM on January 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

Even with your follow-up novel listing all the reasons why he is great and why he surely DOES love you, even if he doesnt describe it that way... yeah, nope. I am still calling this a bad idea. I really do not think that breaking up with him or keeping it casual with him is really on your radar, despite the fact that you asked this question. I really cant figure out what you were hoping to get out of this question, because I dont see you really taking in what the vast majority of us are warning you of. I do not think you are really listening to what he is telling you (He doesnt love you, he isnt good enough for you, he didnt miss you, etc), and I do not think you are listening to what we are telling you. I am really worried you arent going in to this with your eyes fully open.

Also, small thing about him acting in to you and in to his parents... some people do a damn fine job of ACTING the way they think they are supposed to. The know what people expect them to do, they know what other people do, they know what others say, they know that they are viewed as weird or broken (or worse) when they dont act that way.... so they fake it. And they are very convincing. I actually was a close friend with a guy who did this, who got so much guff as a kid and a teen for not reacting and feeling the way he was supposed to, so he just started acting like everyone else to avoid the arguments. I asked him (after he told me all this) why he dated, and his answer was something along the lines of that is what people expected him to do and that it was what normal people did, and by dating he did a better job of seeming normal. Sometimes it really is just faking it, and there is none of the emotion or meaning behind it that there would be if it was not an act. I am worried he is doing a killer job of faking it, and it is when he says stuff like he doesnt love you and he doesnt miss you he is actually being the most sincere and honest. Again, I dont think this guy is being intentionally malicious or manipulating. I think he is being crystal clear with you, but you are going out of your way to understand everything a different way.

(ps - sorry for the lack of apostrophes. My keyboard is in french right now and I forget where the apostrophe key is.)
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:36 AM on January 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

He's super into me, he just "doesn't love me".

I saw about 2500 words after that and I know that none of them matter. You're doing a lot of emotional work and wrapping yourself in circles to try to make this make sense, to the point of trying to read his mind, and think you know him better than he knows himself. You don't; you can't. Believe what he says. Let it go, move on. Raise your bar next time.
posted by Miko at 11:41 AM on January 31, 2014 [8 favorites]

When I said that this would take communication and hard work, I did not mean that you should brush off what he says about himself. If he says that he doesn't love you and isn't capable of feeling what he calls "love;" if he said that he doesn't miss you when you were separated; then you need to believe him and figure out what that means for your future happiness. Making excuse for him doesn't help you and it doesn't help him.
posted by muddgirl at 11:46 AM on January 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, read up on Confirmation Bias and then come back to this question... You are going so far out of your way to read something else in to his actions and words, you yourself described them as convoluted. And you are ignoring everything that goes against what you are hoping for, even though they are what I (and most here) consider to be very clear indicators of what is actually going on.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:50 AM on January 31, 2014 [7 favorites]

Putting this another way - you don't need anyone's permission to be in a happy relationship. You don't need anyone's permission to be in a miserable relationship. If you want to date this guy, then do it!
posted by muddgirl at 11:50 AM on January 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

I guess it all depends on how old you are and what you want. If you are 35 and want kids in a stable home- then run run run!

If you don't want kids, don't want to get married, and just want to live in awe of some (possibly) on the spectrum and maybe INTJ man... with no needs of your own... well then cool, enjoy being the object of non-neurotypical NOT "love"...

But if you have any desires beyond that, then you should start making tracks.

I strongly suspect that my so is in the spectrum. But he has said that a lot of the time he LOVES me A LOT and other times he can't feel it. But he is loyal, so so so loyal, and affectionate, and loyal- and since he constantly does feel love for me- then I can stay here...

It all boils down to who you would like to hold your hand when you are dying of cancer.

Is it the weirdo that you were obsessed with who never really "got" you (because if he "got" you, then he would be in love with you, at least sometimes)

Or is it the guy that actually "got" you and loved you. And who never asked you to be someone that you weren't... the.guy.that.loved.you. Someone you have good memories with.

I know who I would choose.

The mere memory of writing this question, on my deathbed (if I were you), would feel like a total sad waste of my time and love.
posted by misspony at 11:54 AM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry to pile on here, but I really agree with everyone else about these points:
1. He's telling you who he is - listen to him.

2. Never stay in a relationship that is dependent on the other person changing in order for it to work out. Always assume the person they are today is the person they will be forever.

3. A person who can articulate that they definitely know they are not in love with you is not someone you want to be with if you want a relationship with mutual love. Yes, his actions are great, but the fact that he is explicitly telling you that he does not and possibly cannot love you is more important -- it means he is setting you up to know that he can't give you, personally, something he knows you need. In order for him to know that he can't love you, he kinda DOES have an inkling of what love is and what it will feel like to him - which means he probably will experience it with someone else at some point. Do you want to stick around for that revelation?
posted by joan_holloway at 12:00 PM on January 31, 2014 [7 favorites]

After reading your previous post and your follow up, it's pretty clear that you are the problem, not him. Referring to someone you are ostensibly dating's "stage of development" is very weird and is an indicator of a deeply broken relationship. He's just saying he doesn't love anyone as a defensive mechanism. What he really means is that he likes you on some level (likely sexual) but also wishes you would choose to go away because he doesn't have a good reason to dump you.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 12:08 PM on January 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've copied and pasted all the red flags here, for easy reference:

remarkably flat emotional affect

into a type of porn (violent hentai) that I can't be ok with a partner being into

didn't miss me at all when we were separated

doesn't think that he loves anyone

wishes he was "good enough" for me

Would you tell a friend to continue a relationship with these red flags present? Be as kind to yourself as you are to your friends, and respect your own worth the way you would encourage them to respect theirs.

This seems like love to me. It feels like it. To me, anyway. But not to him.

Please read this. Then read it again. Then make yourself available for a relationship that feels like love to both of you. You deserve it.
posted by jesourie at 12:22 PM on January 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Dimes: "IANAD, etc. But like the others, I immediately thought of the autism spectrum, or Aspergers, when you described him. Have either of you looked into this, or gotten any kind of diagnosis?"

I'd like to say very strongly: I think this is a harmful and wrong stereotyping of autistic people. I've known many, from mild to moderate levels, and every single one of them is capable of giving love, and needs love in their life.

Autistic people love. Let's stop this stereotyping right damn now.

This guy may or may not be autistic, but that's irrelevant to his claims. Period.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:49 PM on January 31, 2014 [12 favorites]

Hey, as long as we're diagnosing people over the internet, consider alexithymia instead of Asperger's. Your descriptions don't sound anything like the weird (but loving) aspies I have known.

It's possible that he doesn't recognize love inside himself, even though it's there. That would be nice, kind of. But the qualities he consciously ascribes or does not ascribe to the relationship will affect the relationship. So I wouldn't go around expecting this relationship to be loving in every way but name.
posted by a snickering nuthatch at 12:57 PM on January 31, 2014

He sounds really unusual to me, personally. I'd disagree with those who have said he's likely to change his mind about love when he meets someone else, or that he's looking for a way to break up you later on. I don't know why he says he doesn't love anyone, and I would be really curious to know what a professional would say. As you say, he acts lovingly. But I think the ability to feel love is pretty crucial as well. This seems like it will become even more painful for you over time than it is now.
posted by three_red_balloons at 12:57 PM on January 31, 2014

In fact, there is part of me that wonders if he didn't say that he "didn't miss me" for the two to three days were apart to spare my feelings-- he knows I was scared of damaging him because I know he is fragile so he may have been trying to demonstrate that I didn't hurt him in order to not hurt me. Convoluted I know, but possible. I will ask him about it. I have never asked for clarification.

If you get clarification, please add it here. To me, this passage sounds, again, like he has told you something very simple and true, and you are spinning it into what you want to hear. Look at how many nebulous layers you added. If he really didn't want to hurt you, as you say he says all the time for some reason, wouldn't he have added qualifiers to "I didn't miss you," to soften that blow?

I'm sorry, but I think he just didn't miss you. Everyone deserves someone who would.
posted by jessicapierce at 12:59 PM on January 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You should break up this relationship. Not because he doesn't love you (he does I believe) but because you need a boyfriend who is more open with his emotions and does not overthink his feelings. Or put it bluntly -- you need a boyfriend without issues.

If 10 years ago (when I was 26) I would be asked if I love my siblings I'd answer -- I don't know. There is no clear definition of love (and I read them all). 5 years ago I'd answer: if the love you are talking about is love as defined in this dictionary -- then yes I do love my siblings. Now I'd answer simply yes (but I'd still do the "love definition check" in my head). There weren't many displays of affection during my childhood, you see. And I am (also) a very sensitive person. As a defence technique I tried never to feel any emotions and when asked I denied having them. And of course I failed miserably.

So I believe that your boyfriend do love you, but does not give himself permission to experience love (or experience the feeling of missing you). Moreover I believe that he does not experience feelings like most of people, by knowing what they feel. Some people when asked about feelings must do a checklist before answering. Don't ask him did he missed you. Ask him if he thought about you when you were away. Ask him if he wanted to talk with you. Ask him if he thought about what you'll do together in the future.

It's like this:
She: Did you missed me?
Myself in my thoughts: Thought about her -- yes; messaged her -- yes; checked phone many times unless she answered -- checked; couldn't sleep -- checked.
Aloud: I missed you very much.

But it took me many years to develop this prosthesis of understanding emotions.
posted by przepla at 1:00 PM on January 31, 2014 [11 favorites]

Here's the thing - it seems he wants a girlfriend so he's not alone and you seem to want a boyfriend so you're not alone, and the people around you think he's good for you because you're wild and need to be tamed.

Flash to the future - he starts to annoy you because he's boring and can't/won't be more demonstrative and you start to annoy him because you want someone more demonstrative.

I don't think that he's necessarily a horrible person (or has the potential to be); he just sounds young and inexperienced. I don't think you have enough to have a serious relationship together and I think you'll both make each other miserable if you try. He does sound like someone you could be friends with though. Friends can love one another too. Romantic love is a different thing though.
posted by heyjude at 1:19 PM on January 31, 2014

There is a certain type of girl who gravitates toward guys who need to be saved. I know, I used to be one. Then I finally wised up to the fact that the only person who can saves these guys is themself and if you want to wait around for that to happen, you'll probably be waiting forever.

Don't. Waste. Your. Time. Seriously.
posted by Jess the Mess at 1:38 PM on January 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

Don't want to add to the pileup, but MANY people upthread have said, "When someone tells you something about themselves, believe them."

This man is telling you that he will never love you.


Whether or not you feel okay with that is completely your call, but he has told you that he will never love you.

He won't.

Consider yourself warned.

(And based on the wall of text justifying everything he does and favoriting almost every answer that suggested staying with him, it's clear you're seeing what you want to see.)

I'm sorry if this sounds like tough love or harshness; it's really compassion.

Sister, RUN.
posted by kinetic at 1:44 PM on January 31, 2014 [4 favorites]

I work crazy hours and he cooks for me and cleans up afterwards. He insists on this. He takes good care of me when I am sick. He helps me with both practical and emotional problems-- I know I can lean on him when I am down, which is huge and not something I have had in a partner maybe ever. He loves nothing more than to lay on the couch with me and hold me for hours when we have the time. If it were up to him, we would spend every day together. I do have the sense that I could ask him for the moon and he would give it to me if he could.

I've done every single one of these things for people I did not love. It isn't hard! Because I didn't hate them, and I did in fact care about them. But I didn't love them, not at all.

I didn't know that I didn't love them. Well, I sort of knew, the way your boyfriend sort of knows. But I had never had that "love" feeling people talked about. And so my conclusion was, "well, I don't know how, I'm not able, I'm too messed up, but this is BASICALLY love, it's close enough. Love isn't a feeling! Blah blah blah." Sound familiar?

Yeah. Well. I was depressed, clinically, and messed up in other ways, and when I got treated? I fell way the fuck in love.

But not with my boyfriend.

Don't be my ex-boyfriend. I sure as hell never meant to hurt him but I sure as hell did. He is a wonderful guy who I really really hope found someone wonderful to love him, but I'll never know about it because I treated him badly and don't get to have him in my life.

Your fella might be in a bad way psychologically and he might not. But you gotta believe him, he doesn't love you. He cares about you. He likes you and wants to treat you well. But he does. Not. Love. You. And maybe he'll never love anyone, and will treat you well forever. But most likely, he'll heal, fall in love, and not with you.

Be gone before that happens.
posted by like_a_friend at 1:47 PM on January 31, 2014 [10 favorites]

I'm just gonna be blunt here-

I get the sense that you see a lot of potential in him. You're probably thinking, "No one but me realizes how good this guy is! I should snap him up! In a few years I will be so glad I did and I will be safe from other women poaching him."

I get the sense he sees a lot of random luck in you. He's probably thinking, "Wow, this nice lady descended from the heavens and decided to give me sex and snuggles! I am so lucky! I better not mess it up because I did nothing to achieve this."

What will happen is, in a few years, he will most likely use you and the relationship as a springboard and decide he can do better. He may or may not be right about this, but he will need to try, to fail, to actually go out there in the world and try some game. He does not have emotions because everything comes to him. Do you understand what I mean? He does not have to risk. He does not have ambition, burning desire, he does not go out and pursue, he does not calculate, "I want this, it will hurt if I do not get it, but I should try anyway. I will do a cost/benefit analysis mentally, make my choice in life, and accept responsibility for the results."

That is precisely what makes someone a man. (grown-up)

You're more like his mom or big sister, except you teach him in the ways of sex and emotions. You're just...a big, magic fairy sky lady to him, basically. Of course he "loves" that about you. Of course he wants to keep you around. But he is not deciding anything, risking anything here. He is not being a man.

I don't think he is one yet.
posted by quincunx at 4:03 PM on January 31, 2014 [18 favorites]

Please leave this man. Do not do this to yourself. A man just like this said this very thing to me two years ago before he very nearly destroyed me. He turned out to be a clinical narcissist.

Caveat emptor. There are very bad people in this world who are very good at emulating emotions.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 9:39 PM on February 3, 2014

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