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Two weeks after I get physical with guys, they always dump me.

Published December 19, 2003 8:38PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

Professionally, I spend half my time as a criminal defense lawyer and half my time teaching in my little Southern town's oldest aerobics studio, which I founded five years ago.

I have never been married, I have a reasonable number of friends and a parent with a serious handicap for whom I am partially responsible. I'm a normal-weight Irish redhead with an impish smile, a 26-inch waist and a fair amount of people smarts. I'm not particularly sure I want a husband, and not too sure about kids, and I'm open about that when I go on dates.

I have an unendingly busy and fairly average life. I also have The Problem -- in one sentence or less, within two weeks of my getting physically involved with any man, he dumps me.

Kiss under a full moon? Before the moon waxes again, he's a memory.

Get a little friendly at a drive-in movie? There will be skid marks left in the parking space when I come back from getting popcorn.

God forbid I actually have sex with the guy -- last time I did that I was served with a restraining order and a note that said, "I have a really big Doberman now."

My thoughts about this have ranged from being too needy after getting physical to the fact that I have a venereal disease that I picked up from an older lover several years ago. I always tell people first, but I wonder if after they're out of the heat of the moment and they've had time to think about it, what they're thinking is, "Icky disease, don't think I'll go back again."

I would love to know why, or what I might do to prevent The Problem from happening again. Your thoughts are much appreciated.

Loveless, Esq.

Dear Loveless,

Please imagine if, in your law practice, somebody came to you and said every time he walks out the door he gets arrested, it happens all the time, and it's starting to get on his nerves but he doesn't really know what he's doing to get arrested or why this should keep happening to him. You might wonder about the details; you might wonder if he had asked the police why they were arresting him, if he'd looked for any kind of pattern. And you'd want specifics: How many times has this happened? What were the facts in each case? What did he get charged with? What was he doing at the time he was arrested? Are the police just arresting him because they're insane, or is there some pattern of behavior that keeps leading to his arrest?

If he refused to give you any facts, you wouldn't be able to help him. But even his reticence would be a clue: You'd know that either he's hiding something, or he's not really cognizant of his own behavior, he's not trained to examine his actions in detail, or he's not trained to examine them in a particular way. Maybe he's speeding because the speedometer is broken but he refuses to get it fixed because he thinks he can tell how fast he's going by the way the telephone poles go by, and anyway that costs money, and anyway he's just decided that he doesn't need to get it fixed. And maybe you'd say to him, Well, it looks to me like the reason you keep getting arrested is that your speedometer doesn't work.

Similarly, in your case, my first instinct is to want the details. And since you didn't lay out the details, I have to treat that as a clue. I have to assume that maybe in a certain psychosexual or emotional realm things are happening and you're not really noticing. Maybe you are not noticing because you are trained as a lawyer to notice certain things but not these other things. But, just as a lawyer lives and works in a world where this happens then this happens then this happens, so, what I do, as a sort of amateur sleuth in the world of human relations, is use the specifics of certain interactions to try to suggest a pattern of meaning.

I don't know what kind of stuff is going on between you and men, but maybe it's stuff that you didn't mention because you don't think it's important. I get a feeling, for instance, just from your letter and the occupations you have chosen, that people might find you a little brusque. There might be vague emotional things that you don't think are important that are coming into play. You're probably way smarter than most of the people around you and maybe you reach conclusions about what's going to happen next before other people do. Maybe you're not really interested in that dumb, nurselike, empathic way, in just how they feel and whether they're happy or sad, and maybe they sense that. Maybe since you tell them right off that you don't particularly want a husband, they might not really get a feeling for what you do want. So I wonder about all the richness of your emotional life that has been left out of this discussion. I wonder what you are really looking for. Are you interested in men? Do you find them attractive and fun? What's going on?

See what I'm getting at? There's a whole area of interaction that isn't intellectual and it isn't physical; it's not exercise and it's not cognition. It's not entrepreneurship, it's not leadership, it's not analytical at all. It's just being with somebody else and enjoying them for who they are. Maybe something like that is missing from your encounters with men. It's even possible that you are not oriented toward men in any meaningful way. It's not for me to say, of course, or even bring up if we were in your living room down South, but maybe men are not what you're looking for. If you are in some sense disconnected from men in an intimate way, then it's not that the physical intimacy is causing men to flee, but somewhat the opposite: that the physical intimacy is physical but it isn't intimate, and that's why they flee. Maybe what men are experiencing with you is the kind of objectification that women used to experience with men, that the men wanted to screw but wanted no depth, no icky stuff, no messy collateral emotional involvement.

As it is, I can only say that you have told me much in telling me nothing, so perhaps in telling you nothing I can tell you much.

Then again, perhaps not. Like a good lawyer, if I were you, I'd go over the details with a fine-toothed comb.

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