Dear Neil: My boyfriend is very kind, but I don’t find him terribly exciting or interesting. My ex-husband was very critical of me, and my boyfriend has been supportive of me and has bolstered my confidence. But I don’t think of staying with him long-term. He can be moody and overly serious, and I don’t feel challenged or transformed by him. I keep thinking that he’s not enough for me, and I wonder if there’s someone more intellectually attractive out there for me.
And yet, I would also miss him. He’s easy to be with, I can be myself around him and we do have good times together. Am I expecting too much?
Unsure of What To Do in New Plymouth, New Zealand
Dear Unsure: In the end, your question is an inquiry about what you can reasonably expect from a relationship. Is it enough that a potential long-term intimate partner is fun, supportive, kind and easy to be around? Or is it wiser to hold out for someone better, someone who is (choose all that apply): sexier, more affluent, more educated, more accomplished, more entertaining, funnier, more worldly, more ambitious, more sensitive, more romantic—you get the idea.
It is unlikely that you’re going to find someone who will “transform” you. That is work better left for you to do with yourself, so you don’t expect another person to do it to you (or for you). Which ways are you wishing to be transformed, and how could you go about creating this personal transformation for yourself?
There is a real risk of setting your sights so high that you never feel fully satisfied with anyone, because everyone you meet will have something lacking or irritating. And I am reluctant to counsel you to give up a man that you describe as kind, supportive, fun and easy to be with, because as you no doubt know, you could do considerably worse than that. So look at how easy or difficult it will be for you to find a “better” man within a reasonable amount of time.
But before you consider leaving your boyfriend, see if you can encourage him to be more intellectually curious. Perhaps you could challenge him to come up with a topic of conversation that the two of you could discuss together or explore in depth. The two of you could even switch—first week your topic, next week his topic, and so on—or audit a college class, learn a new language or join a book club together. You could attempt to introduce more excitement into the relationship in the same way, telling him what activities you would consider to be interesting and exciting. Maybe in this way you could help him be more of the qualities you seek.
Could you get challenges and intellectual stimulation from other people in your life, or is it essential to you that your relationship provide you with that? For my money, someone you feel compatible with and is easy to be around is quite important. But only you can decide if that’s going to be enough for you.