Is it true love or is she a gold digger?

He's crazy about her, he's paying her tuition, she's moving in with him ... but I don't think she loves him

Published June 21, 2011 12:20AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

A friend and near colleague of mine has been dating a girl for almost two years now, and in a few months she'll be moving in with him. The problem is, I seriously doubt her motives.

First, she's struggling with her finances. My friend isn't rich, but he's a hard worker and owns his own place. She's been studying languages for four years now, but she recently decided she has little interest in teaching. So she's going back to school next semester, for four or more years, something she couldn't possibly do if she had to live on her own. She also relies heavily on his financial support already, and what money she makes, she tends to spend on herself, while he has to pay for everything else, often working overtime to make ends meet. She's also an immigrant and she would have problems renewing her visa if she didn't move in with him.

Second, she shows little romantic interest in my friend. She has on several occasions berated his looks (he's overweight). One time I even overheard her saying to him that "everything would be so much easier for her if he was better looking." And they haven't ventured past third base yet, after two years of dating (she's 27, he's 34, and abstinence isn't the norm for their friends). And to top it off, I know she's been seeing other men. My friend knows too, but he wholeheartedly believes that she's just making new friends. Of course, I can't prove otherwise but I can't seem to find any good reasons for why a girl should be making five-plus (always male) friends in less than two years. Especially since these new friendships always fade away after a few months.

I know that he's madly in love with her. And he's happy nowadays, something he surely wasn't before he met her. As mentioned, she's a fitness nut, so he's lost weight since he met her. He eats better, he's more social, he's been renovating his flat, he's managed to get a raise, etc. So his life has improved in many ways and I feel as if I should be happy for him. But I can't make myself just ignore the whole financial situation and her lack of romantic interest. I also feel that she has a rather pragmatic view on life, while my friend is a hopeless dreamer.

I've tried talking to my friend about this, several times, taking great care not to offend him (he's easily offended). But it always ends with him just shaking his head at me and stating that, as I don't believe in love, how could I possibly understand? Yeah, I'm more of a cynic, but still ... For a long time I used to think it would blow over and he would come to his senses, but today I found out that he just borrowed $9,000 so he can pay her college tuition. And that she's moving in with him. I'm at the point where I feel I should either "speak up or forever hold my peace."

What should I do?

Concerned for my Friend

Dear Concerned,

He loves her. She is good for him. He eats better and socializes more. He is losing weight. He is happy.

And yet it may all fall apart.

Isn't that true of love? Do we not make extravagant gestures, spend more than we should, love more than is warranted, lose our heads, ignore what we do not wish to confront, fool ourselves in a million ways large and small just to prolong the sacred and priceless feeling of being in love? What is he supposed to do, throw this all away out of an excess of caution?

She may be using him. She may leave once her education is completed. She may be caught betraying him with another man. If so, he will be inconsolable for months or even years afterward, and he may never find another woman so attractive as she is. It may all come to ruin and his life may never be better than it is right now. But he is willing to take that chance. He is willing to delude himself about her motives and her allegiance to him. He would do anything for her. That is love. That is the power and the danger of love.

You ask if you should hold your peace. I think on the whole that our posture in such situations should be one of hope and kindness and optimism. But of course you can talk to him. You can say something if you like. He will hear what he wants to hear.

You can ask him if he is taking precautions to protect himself if something should go wrong in the relationship. You can ask him if they are planning to marry.

Maybe there are ways he can protect himself. Maybe you can talk to him and impress upon him the importance of locking down his assets and setting boundaries. This borrowing he has done to pay her tuition does raise a red flag. Perhaps it was imprudent. It may be something he regrets later. But even this may be seen as a generous and positive move. Even if she betrays him and does not repay it, it will have been an education that improves someone's life. Maybe she will betray him and we will all be able to call her a terrible person. Yet an education was completed. Someone's prospects were improved. The society as a whole benefits from such things. It may be that his investment was not just in an individual but in his society as a whole; that is what happens when we educate a person; that education pays off many times as the person goes into society more enlightened, more capable and less likely to become a burden.

I mentioned fraud and theft. If you are concerned that she is defrauding him or stealing from him then there are steps you can take.

But making romantic mistakes is how we learn about ourselves. We cannot protect our friends from their own emotional learning, from romantic entanglements they freely enter into for reasons obscure to us. This is not simply to be lamented. This is to be heralded. This is how we learn where we fit in the world. This is how we acquire the wounds that grant us entry into the sober fellowship of humanity.

So where you can advise caution, feel free to do so. But know that you are merely an observer. Love is the great stage on which life is played; this is one of its performances. Let them add to the happiness or misery of the world as they will.

Citizens of the Dream

What? You want more advice?


By Cary Tennis

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