Am I selfish?

She loves me and wants to marry me, but I want out because she lacks the ability to intrigue me.

By Cary Tennis
Published July 25, 2003 7:45PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I am in a relationship with a woman who adores me. She is the most considerate, loyal, affectionate and passionate person who ever fell for me. She appreciates everything about me -- my musicianship, my cooking, my views on politics, life and religion. She loves me very much, and told me she wants to marry me.

I desperately want out of this relationship because she lacks the ability to intrigue me. She wants to be interested in the things that interest me, such as history, politics and international events, and she constantly asks me questions and tries to engage me in conversation. But at the end of the day, she does not have thoughts of her own. I find myself explaining everything to her -- usually multiple times before she understands -- but she forgets everything we talked about in a few days' time. I don't find her observations interesting or insightful. She is very sweet and sentimental, and if the topic of conversation were left to her, she would fondly recall things about her childhood, her parents, her friends, and some "crazy" nights in her mid-20's (which weren't actually very interesting at all). I guess I can't understand how someone could live to be in her mid-30s and have learned absolutely nothing about the world outside of the mundane events that happened to her friends and family.

I can't seem to break it off with her. I tried on three occasions, but the sight of her lips trembling while she cried and hearing her begging me not to leave made me give her a bear hug and a promise to try to work things out. I can't break it off because I feel guilty I put her in a position to feel so sad. I can't break it off because I care about her and worry about her going through life without me to take care of her (she makes far less money than I do and has a 4-year-old girl). But most of all, I can't break it off with her because I feel that breaking it off with her would be an act of pure selfishness on my part. How could I do this to her? I know that she would do anything in the world for me. I know that she would unwaveringly tend to me if I came down with an illness. She would be honest and faithful to me until the day she died, and these are all values that I thought I treasured above all else in this world. If any human being in the world morally deserves happiness, it is her.

I am disappointed in myself that the qualities of a truly great human being aren't enough to sustain my interest. Yet I know I am not happy with her. Am I entitled to be so selfish?


Dear Selfish,

You could ditch this woman and meet the kind of woman you think you deserve, and she might be the very kind of woman you do deserve, and she might dazzle you with her knowledge of the world, dazzle you in bed, dazzle you into marriage, kids and family, dazzle you and dazzle you while secretly loathing your narrowness, your coldness, your insufferably self-centered worldview and secretly seeking warmth and fire in a man twice your size in every respect, secretly giving him the money you earn and the affection you used to get from her, giving him even the children that you think are yours even though they look more like your wife, actually, perhaps representing the activation of some recessive gene that she probably wouldn't understand because she is not, after all -- dazzling as she is -- your intellectual equal, though she's certainly closer to your ideal than that poor, mewling sentimentalist you left crying on the side of the road that rainy November Sunday when you just couldn't suffer her insipid tales of real life, real friends and real family any longer.

You could live with the woman of your dreams in initial happiness but growing discomfort until one day you return home from work at the prestigious chemical laboratory where you're developing a new compound of mental Viagra to find all the furniture, cars, money and children have disappeared, and the note she left says she's living on the other side of town with a bigger, harder, sweeter, better-looking and smarter man, the kids were never yours, goodbye sucker, sweet dreams.

I can imagine this with a relish that is sickening in its sweet vengeance, aesthetic in its symmetry, deeply just but also frightening, like watching the devil suffer a bout of food poisoning. I'm sorry, but something about your arrogance brings out the worst in me.

So look, just break it off with the girl. What she's giving you is priceless, but it's going to take you a while to understand what you lost. You'll eventually find out that there's probably not another woman in the universe who will love you as she does. But you have to find that out on your own. Meanwhile, you'll be doing her a favor by getting out of her life.

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Cary Tennis

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