Better Than Nothing Relationships

Dear Neil: Since my divorce three years ago, I have been involved in several relationships that have never gotten off the ground. One of these relationships was with a women I didn’t find very attractive, and I never developed much interest in being with her. We broke up after four months, and I never really got into the relationship with her at all.

The second time I was in a five month long-distance relationship with a woman going through her own divorce. I knew she wasn’t ready to be in a serious relationship, and maybe I wasn’t ready to be in one either. We had fun together, but it never developed much depth or emotional intensity.

The third relationship was a two month fling with an old girlfriend. Both of us were hurt and lonely, but for a whole lot of reasons we both knew it wouldn’t last.

I got really hurt in my divorce, and I’m wondering whether I’m intentionally choosing women I can’t get close to, in order to make sure I don’t get hurt again. What do you think?

Halfhearted in Buffalo, New York

Dear Halfhearted: Yes, I do think you’re being self-protective by choosing superficial relationships. Such relationships permit you to lick your wounds, and they don’t ask a lot of you.

But I also think you’ve been involved in several  “better-than-nothing” relationships. A better-than-nothing relationship—otherwise known as a port in the storm—gives you a feeling of normalcy while you’re grieving, healing, unattached or temporarily drifting. You get a brief dosage of intimacy, romance and sex, and it permits you to still be out there looking for someone else.

Better-than-nothing relationships can be good short term solutions to being alone and lonely, but they are not very deep or satisfying. If you find yourself in a pattern of being in one after another, it may be time for you to examine what is preventing you from becoming more committed to one person.

Dear Neil: My husband and I were married in the spring of 1994. When we were on our honeymoon, I noticed his obsession (of) flirting with younger women. He would follow them around, talk loudly when near them and laugh a lot. Before you knew it he was flirting with them, gazing into their eyes, spending a lot of time talking to them, and ignoring me. On his honeymoon!

When I mentioned this to him, he said, “Sweetheart, I don’t know what you are talking about.” I feel that my husband is being dishonest. I would like to have a good marriage. What do you think I should do?”

Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Dear Cedar Rapids: Let your husband know what is and what is not acceptable to you, and do not waiver. To be friendly with other people is one thing. To actively flirt with others is stretching the comfort and safety zone most people need—and want—in order to be happily married. What will he do when he finds another woman who flirts back?

Do the two of you have an agreement of monogamy? Does he wear his wedding band? Does he tell others that he is married? Let him know that you’re getting hurt and threatened, and ask him to stop flirting with others.

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