My boyfriend is wonderful but it's just not working

We're living together, but I think the relationship has died.

By Cary Tennis
Published February 9, 2005 8:00PM (EST)

Hi, Cary:

A longtime reader here -- I've always liked your advice and your perspective as a fellow city dweller, and I feel I could use some now.

I've been dating this man for two years, living with him for one. He's a big sweetie, loves his family, loves me, loves my dog. His main issue is he's depressed about his job, which seems to be going nowhere. A lot of his friends have either moved away recently or are busy with their own lives and loves, or he's not interested in doing much outside the house.

My issues are, of course, multifaceted. I always felt by 27 I'd be ready to settle down and get married, maybe start a family. I don't want to get married to the man I'm living with for a multitude of reasons: He doesn't believe anything happens to you when you die. He is mostly hobby free. He's either sitting at home in front of the computer playing video games or talking to someone online. I'm a pretty social gal, so I feel like I'm always coming home, scooping up the dog, inviting him out, and when he says no, leaving without him to go do something more fun than sitting in our tiny apartment.

The boy is constantly on my nerves. It comes and goes, but he'll say something and I'll just snap. It's not like me to snap. I'm a pretty happy-go-lucky gal. But I do, at him, and then he's hurt, of course, and then I have to make it up to him.

Another problem is something I've never experienced before: I'm just not interested in sex with him. I'm not cheating on him, far from it, but I just feel ... blah. I don't want to kiss him because it brings me little pleasure. I don't want to sleep with him because it's just the same routine over and over. Again -- then he is hurt, as he should be, because WTF, who doesn't want to kiss their man? I keep trying to change things (and I live across the street from Good Vibrations, so I know from spicing things up), but I know sometimes it's very obvious that I'm uninterested.

Cary, really, he's one of the sweetest men I've ever dated, and I have this enormous guilt that I have hurt his feelings, because he knows I'm just not into him like I used to be. I feel a lot of guilt that I can't seem to make myself love him the way he deserves to be loved. I adore him. He's a wonderful person. He's got a beautiful heart. He is so much better than so many other men I've been with, so why can't I realize what a good thing I've got?


Dear G,

If you want to settle down and get married but you don't want to marry the man you're living with, you have to move out. Or he has to move out. Or you both have to move out. You can't start looking for a man to marry while you're living with somebody across the street from Good Vibrations. You know this. I know this. It is inescapable, but it is also only the barest beginning. It is a matter of conduct only. It is where Dr. Laura finishes and I begin. Because I assume, since you live across from Good Vibrations (in, I assume, the Mission District of our fair city of St. Francis), that what you're really asking is what all residents of the Mission District ask themselves every day: Why does it have to be this way?

What is that mysterious force that makes us be attracted to people we don't think we ought to be attracted to, and what is it about the people we ought to be attracted to that often leaves us cold? Why does the heart defy the head?

No one knows why. Well, maybe the geneticists know -- maybe all those geneticists moving their coffee cups and genomes into cubicles in South Beach and Mission Bay know why. Maybe we're mute carriers of seed, naturally selecting for certain eyebrows because we have no choice, because it's preordained, because in the year 3749 a Danish filmmaker flopping in a punkish bunker under what used to be Pompeii will need just that exact eyebrow for a character in a film that, up until now, he hadn't been able to fund. Who knows why we select whom we select and are selected by who selects us, why the blood begins to flow at the drop of only certain hats. It's a mystery if there ever was one.

But there's no getting around it. You have to honor it, no matter how wrong it seems.

And I know it's terribly sad. When love dies it's sad. Make some sad music here. Put in a rain-slick street and a cafe at closing time, a woman sitting alone in a booth without a man, tearing a napkin into unconscious confetti -- unconscious because, even as she acknowledges the death, she begins to celebrate as they do in New Orleans with a brass band all dressed up in the beer-stinky street, marching, sometimes dancing, carrying the long, heavy box of bones to its hole in the ground.

If it helps at all to think of this, the current boyfriend has probably also felt a diminishment of spark; he probably feels much the same way you do. So sit down together and regard what has happened between you; neither of you is completely responsible for it; it happened for reasons beyond your control.

(There is, incidentally, a good chapter in the book "Soul Mates," by Thomas Moore, that talks about how such separations occur and suggests how to go through the process with your eyes open so that you gain insight and understanding and strength from what has happened, rather than simply feeling terrible about it and then getting drunk and trying to forget.)

There's a chance, of course, that much of your trouble is environmental, that living together in a tiny apartment in the post-boom Mission District has nearly, but not completely, killed the relationship. If you really, really love this man, and you're willing to take an outrageous chance, you might move to a ranch in Montana and see if the sex improves.

But I have a feeling, sad as it is, that you're going to have to start over with someone new. I say, soothsayer that I am, that there is a man out there who is all the things your boyfriend is, but also motivated, vital, sexy, adventurous, outgoing and not depressed. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find him.

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