I'm in love with a man of inaction!

My boyfriend is dissatisfied with circumstances in his life he stubbornly refuses to change.

By Cary Tennis

Published October 3, 2006 10:38AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

My boyfriend of two years thinks he's "methodical." I think he's painfully, agonizingly, troublingly slow.

When we met, both of us were bored and unhappy in our workplaces. Since then I've left jobs and even gotten a promotion in my new, fulfilling career. He hasn't even applied anywhere else. He has also been talking for 18 months about how miserable his apartment makes him (his building has rats and there have been shootings on the block), but though he could well afford a new place -- he makes six figures -- and is currently on a month-to-month lease, he has yet to make any effort to move.

After his car was stolen last year, he took no action to replace it, though he complains on a weekly basis how much he detests the train and misses driving to work. This list could go on indefinitely. It's as if he is unable to make any changes, even when they would clearly result in his greater happiness. I would worry that he is depressed, but when I brought it up to him, he said that this is how he has always been ... "methodical and thoughtful." And though he has obviously had to make some changes at some point in his life (choosing a law school, moving to a new city), I've never personally witnessed any.

Naturally, I'm afraid of how this will affect my life. His last two relationships eventually ended because his girlfriends wanted to get married and he wanted things to just stay as they were. He assures me that he feels stronger about me and is sure we will marry someday -- but I'm afraid that "someday" will be the day that he switches apartments and gets a new job. He claims that two years of dating is nothing and we shouldn't worry about marriage yet, but I feel I have to worry about it when his track record for moving forward with everything in his life is so abysmally bad. I never thought I believed in ultimatums, but I frankly can't see how we would ever move in together, get married, etc. without them. And what if I did drag him to the altar? Then what? Then would I have to be the instigator for every change that happened in our lives, from moving to new cities to painting the house?

I love this man more than anything. But I don't know if I'm crazy for trusting that he/we will make changes, and if I'm setting myself up for frustration after frustration. Is there anything I can do or say to him or to myself to make this easier?

How Slow Is Too Slow?

Dear How Slow,

This man is very slow. He wants to see what happens.

Granted, it is frustrating for others -- like sitting behind someone at a stoplight who fails to act on the fact that it has turned green. Is the driver meditating? Is he praying? We do not know. If we did not fear that the driver who does not go on green was a daydreaming, homicidal maniac, we would go up to the window and say, "I noticed back there that when the light turned green you failed to go. In fact, you failed to take any action at all. I admire you greatly! Your inaction so runs counter to the prevailing notion of green! I salute your protest!" But such a driver might think we had a blackjack and were coming to administer frontier justice. So we sit mute, or blow our horn.

It's unfortunate that you are so close to the situation that you cannot appreciate how interesting it is. I would like to put this man in a story. He belongs in a foreign movie, an inaction epic! I wonder what he is thinking about in his slow and methodical way as he rides the train to work. Is the theft of his car a sign he is trying to decode? And what of the riding the train? Even though he hates it, he probably recognizes how morally superior train riders are in their self-abnegation, how they pack themselves in like medieval flagellants, punishing themselves for their sins of opulent consumption.

Perhaps he wants to demonstrate that response is not the only response, as a metaphor for Christ-like acceptance. Perhaps he is trying to offer us an alternative to violence, as if to say, "Here is what America could have done after 9/11: Nothing."

The man of no action reigns Christ-like and supreme. He stands tall in the twilight, mute and terrifying. He is a very interesting person.

Concerning the gunshots in his neighborhood, for instance: Does he lie awake at night and think about the body on the street corner bleeding, waiting for the ambulance or the police car to arrive with its steel horsepower of mercy? Does he imagine the rescuers' flashlights dancing in the slum light, booted men stanching the wounds?

You indicate that he studied law. Perhaps he also studied philosophy. Perhaps he is more interested in contemplating what happens than in responding to it or fixing it. In that way, he is self-contained: a man to whom nothing can really happen. By inaction he denies misfortune the satisfaction. He denies the car thief the satisfaction. He denies the neighborhood the satisfaction. He rises above circumstance.

Perhaps he is a philosopher attempting to dwell in a land of pure idea.

It is not without its attractions, such a land.

But if you require a man who will take action, I suggest, for his sake and yours, that you come to an amiable split. Otherwise you might marry him and every year expect that this year he is going to become the man of practical action, while every year he sinks deeper into meditation and you sink deeper into despair and resentment. Put aside your feelings for a moment and consider this practical fact: Men of practical action abound in your neighborhood, excelling in their careers during the week and fixing the plumbing on weekends.

Why take the chance of sinking into despair and resentment by living with a man who will never become who you want him to be? Why not instead celebrate who he is -- by leaving him?

I imagine him sitting in the twilight by his kitchen window, contemplating the diminishing sound of your footsteps as you walk slowly through the courtyard and out to the sidewalk and get in your Fiat and drive to the sea to have a quiet drink in an empty cafe.

That is the way to leave such a man: wordlessly, like an Italian woman leaving a Russian man in a French movie -- or a French woman leaving an Italian man in a Russian movie.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

What? You want more?

  • Read more Cary Tennis in the Since You Asked directory.
  • See what others are saying and/or join the conversation in the Table Talk forum.
  • Ask for advice or make a comment to Cary Tennis.
  • Send a letter to Salon's editors not for publication.

  • Cary Tennis

    MORE FROM Cary TennisFOLLOW carytennisLIKE Cary Tennis

    Related Topics ------------------------------------------

    Since You Asked