Q: My boyfriend never had any hesitations about being together: He wanted to be with me, live with me, marry me. For years. One day, I come home to find that all his stuff is gone. He says he's "confused" and isn't sure if he loves me anymore. He says he met someone else. He takes all our pics off Facebook, and puts her up instead. Then, he starts blowing up my phone, wants to hang out, so I say OK, and then he's distant again. He tells me I'm his safety net. I know I'm a better fit for him—better looking, his age, with a good job and my own apartment. What gives? -Alice*
I've done this before and thought this before, as have millions of others. This is the rock we beat ourselves against, over and over: We think that we know what's "better" for the person we love and want, and decide our life should be dedicated to proving this fact, or at the very least, suffer endless indignation over it.
Let's get this out of the way right now: It's not about looks. Or income. Or your apartment. And what he thought or felt back then has little to do with what he does now, because we live in the present, which has been known to change. You say he never questioned his commitment to you...until he did. We don't know that what he felt then was real and now is a mistake. He might have just bulldozed his way in because he wanted to. And is backing out now because he feels like it.
It's not fair. It's not nice. It may not even be logical. But none of that matters.
Because here's the thing: Relationships are not a kind of logical puzzle that you solve by being the answer or getting it "right." And the idea that being the rational choice assumes that relationships are rational, intellectual decisions. Hardly.
They are emotional and based on how we feel, or think we feel, right now, rather than what looks good on paper (and those who go that route aren't any happier). Do people deny or repress feelings, especially when they change? Yes. Sometimes not. Does it suck when you're already married, or have kids, or your kids have kids? Yup.
It can be frustrating, maddening even, when someone you love willingly chooses whom you think is "all wrong" for him (or her, bear with me with pronouns here; it goes both ways). Ask any first wife. Any! How many beautiful, smart, capable women have watched partners cheat or leave altogether with women who are younger, dumber, broke, 20 pounds heavier, a hardened criminal, a smoker?
Good looks, a sense of humor, a string of accomplishments, and a killer bank account are not a vaccine for loss (ask anyone with even one of those things). And the sooner you realize that, the better.
Men leave women who love them for women who don't, or women who treat them badly, or women who just suck. Even when it seems wrong or hurts people. (Do I have to take you back to Hugh Grant and Divine Brown?)
And that's why to assume that it's you, or something you could have done differently, is not the answer, and it's certainly not helpful -- except that, more often than not, it helps YOU because it allows you to decide he's stupid, wrong, making a mistake. He may be! But he's making it anyway. It's not that it's never not your fault, but sometimes it has nothing to do with you at all.
Stop worrying or wondering why he so clearly isn't choosing the "right" fit for him. Because you're missing the most important part of this picture: Since when was this all about how you fit his life? Don't you also want someone who fits into yours? And, by the way, chooses you first? Did we forget about that? Because he doesn't fit. I can't read his mind and I don't know you, Alice. But I know that if you have to build a case for why he should be with you, no case will ever be enough.
I once had a boyfriend who was 100 percent not a fit for me. At the time, he was earning his MBA from Harvard, and fancied himself a bit of a brainiac. And he was smart. The day I went over to end it, because the whole thing was making me nutty and not in a good way, he talked me out of it. He said, and I quote, I didn't have a good enough "argument" for breaking up with him.
I was dumbfounded. I needed an argument? And I didn't have one. I just started to cry. He attempted to intellectually bully his way out of a breakup! I'd never seen anything like it, before or since. It was done wholly without emotion, and I, being a lot younger and weaker than I am today, caved. We went out for sushi and I felt weird the whole time.
Yeah, that didn't last long. And no, the argument didn't work, and doesn't work. So do yourself a favor and stop trying to rationalize why he should choose you, or how he's treating you badly...because quite frankly, you're letting him! If someone can't make you feel inferior without your consent, then no one can make you into their safety blanket or back-up plan unless you continue to act like one.
(Read also: How to Cope With Jealousy)
*Alice is not her real name, and I paraphrased her very long letter and disguised the details a bit, because she really does not want him to know. Obviously.
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