Q. My boyfriend Peter is kind to me. He lets me do whatever I want. He is consistent, never gets angry, is supportive and proud of me. He loves me a lot. So if I stray, I always return to Peter. He talks like the man of my dreams. He says he will be as rich as I want him to be, but I hesitate. Is Peter the man for me?
Peter went to a good graduate school in architecture, but he doesn't seem to have any ambition. He says he will be successful someday, but in the meantime he doesn't have any ideas or look for a better job. He works for a small firm on small projects and doesn't appear to be in line for a promotion. He seems to just go along with whatever is presented to him. In fact, even in our relationship he is very passive. I am always the one organizing, making plans, suggesting trips, and encouraging friendships. I know he is creative and smart, but his gifts to me don't entail much thought or time. He usually gives me an expensive sweater when I would actually like a romantic evening topped off with something personal, like books or art.
In addition, my parents don't think much of him. They think I should be with a strong, successful businessman who will then give me the lifestyle they think I deserve. Trouble is, I also want that. I want a certain amount of financial security and I want a position within the community. I don't want to have an uncertain future where I will end up having to earn money. I want a man I can depend on to take care of me.
I have broken up with Peter twice. Both times I tried to meet more successful young men. I either didn't enjoy their company or just didn't connect. Recently, though, I bumped into an old boyfriend who, although not as nice as Peter, had become quite successful. We flirted and then had sex. It was so much fun. Then, the next time I saw Peter, I couldn't have sex with him. Is that a clue? Am I just not attracted enough to Peter?
A: Your question started with the general issue of relationships and then took a quick swerve to betrayal!
At first I thought your presentation was going to be a standard portrait of every relationship with its standard contradictions and dichotomies. If anyone describes a relationship as perfect, it's probably because they are focusing on the moment and some glorious aspect that fits them well and makes them happy. You can rest assured that with time other aspects will emerge. This is life. This is love.
So, an analysis of any relationship should include a cold and painfully honest awareness of oneself. What traits make you happy? What traits make you unhappy? What can you live with? What can't you live without?
I am sure I am not the first person to tell you that you will never find perfection or that you can't have everything. But I am here to tell you that your focus should be on yourself and what you have learned is the most essential trait in a relationship for you.
In your case you need to determine how important wealth and social position are to you. There is nothing wrong with admitting honestly to yourself what your priorities are. I think you are struggling with what you think are good values -the values you ought to have, not the ones you do have. In other words, do you believe you should value kindness over success? If you appreciated Peter's kindness and then found yourself struggling financially and with no position in the community, your relationship would probably suffer. You'd lose respect even for his kindness, and then your love would erode. As I said before, you need to accept yourself.
As for your current inability to have sex with Peter, this is not caused by what you think. Your apparent lack of sexual attraction for Peter is not an indication one way or another of what your ultimate decision about him should be. Of course, if you are truly not sexually attracted to him, then he is clearly not the person you should marry. But since this just occurred in tandem with another liaison, that's not what I think is what is happening here.
What plays a larger role is your betrayal of him. The old boyfriend is successful and the present boyfriend is kind. You want to have them both simultaneously. That way you don't have to make any decisions. That way you don't have to make any choice. So, how to keep the status quo?
It is possible that your passion for Peter has waned as your priorities have unconsciously become more defined. As you find yourself increasingly wanting financial security, your respect for Peter suffers. However, I also think you are attempting to keep Peter engaged in the relationship until you can make your decision.
Think about it! Let's go through the unconscious but logical steps. If Peter finds out about your affair, will he break up with you or think less of you? Not a chance you want to take. So, better that he not know. And since sex is the essence of intimacy, since you engage in it naked and utterly exposed -exposed physically but also psychologically - the only way to avoid the sort of exposure you truly fear is to avoid sex in the first place. If you don't want Peter to know your secrets, you don't want to be exposed to him. And intimacy is exposure. We can't hide anything when our clothes are off -- physically and metaphorically.
Your problem is not that you find Peter sexually unattractive, it's rather that you don't want him to find out you've had sex with someone else. You want to keep him attached to you until you decide who you are - a woman who cherishes money as much as she does other, more innate, qualities.
BETTER TO JUST BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF FIRST ...and then with Peter. Good luck!
Return here for more sage advice from Dr. Mona every Thursday.