You’ve been hurt, dumped and duped and you’ve bounced back. You’re still in the game. Then you meet him. He’s a keeper, at least that’s your dream.
Ah, yes, close your eyes and let the fantasy play out on the movie screen in your head. Soft Sunday mornings with fresh squeezed orange juice. Romantic walks among colorful foliage in the fall, blossoms in the spring. Intimate dinners and nights lying in each other’s arms.
There will be no need to speak; you’ll know each other’s thoughts and be comforted by them. He’ll be your strength, your joy and your safety net. You’ll be his lover, his best friend, and his anchor in life. You’ll even get each other’s jokes.
Sigh. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
Let’s say his name is Bennett, but his friend’s call him Benny. He’s single, straight and interested; he invited you to call him Benny within minutes after you met. He makes you laugh, and he actually listens to what you have to say. He’s stressed about the ad campaign he’s working on, but he still makes time for you.
No more dark, lonely nights, right?
Fast-forward a few months. Now things are changing. He seems too tired for everything except sex. You posed a question that made him wince: “Benny, where is this relationship going?” You ignored the warning of the wince, tried not to notice that he appeared weak-kneed, and held onto to his stammered reply, “I don’t want to lose you” like a life preserver in a stormy sea.
“Are we it forever?” you asked with too much plea in your tone.
“Of course we’re ‘it,’ forever,” he said.
The words were balm for your soul. Another few months go by. Secretly you are beginning to doubt that you and Benny are really ‘it’ forever. “It” seems to be only sex–and sometimes he’s losing interest in that. He doesn’t call when he knows you’re having your period. And he avoids making plans more than three or four days in advance.
Who knows? Maybe he’s just suffering from settling-down fever. Or maybe he’s going through a rough spot in his life—but if that’s so, why didn’t he talk that out with you? Maybe he just needs more time. But it’s approaching a year! Maybe, maybe, maybe…
Do you make excuses for the men in your life? Remember Mark, you stuck with him through five rehabs. You gave great advice to Jeremy who confessed to “intimacy issues.” Your advice was so good he left you for your (former!) friend Janice.
Sound even a little familiar? Consider that you may be one of the many women who suffer from what I call pathological empathy. Pathological empathy is about taking “poor baby, he needs understanding” over the top. It’s about making excuses for him: “He’ll come around, he’s just shy. He wants to commit, it’s just that he needs time. He doesn’t call because he’s on the phone for work all day. He’ll go to meetings and get over his drinking issue and then he’ll settle down.”
In its more severe form, a guy doesn’t even have to offer an excuse or explanation for his stall; you’ll come up with explanations that he never even considered. Pathological empathy is about being understanding to the point of ridiculous, but you don’t see it—your heart’s too big and your hope’s too rose-colored.
Get this: It’s not about what he says; it’s about what he does. Consider commitment a verb and look at his actions, not his words. Effective actions/results demonstrate commitment; words rarely do.
In other words, too often when a guy says, “I’m really committed…” he may have a hidden agenda—and it probably involves taking off your clothes to do some horizontal dancing. If he were truly committed, he wouldn’t need to talk about it, he would demonstrate it. Do what most men do, adapt to this part of male psychology—be a behaviorist. Men are less interested in words, and more interested in Show Me! In short, if his actions don’t match his words on the important things and you stay with him, it is at your own peril, you’re gonna crash. Wise up, behavior that is consistent with his words is where it’s at!
Joel Block, Ph.D. (DrBlock.com) is the author, most recently, of The 15-Minute Relationship Fix: A Clinically-Proven Strategy to Repair and Strengthen Your Love Life