Choosing a “Challenge” for a Relationship

Dear Neil: Men who are sensitive to today’s issues do not come on boldly. These men—and they do exist—tend to wait in the background. Unfortunately, these are the same men that women claim that they are interested in.

“Sally” left me for her old boyfriend. A man she twice arrested for assaulting her. He was currently up on rape charges against another woman. How could anyone live in that atmosphere? Why would anyone choose to go back to it? Why would you expose your child to that?

Sometimes I get the feeling that I missed a crucial piece of information when I was growing up, something that would help me explain the inconsistencies. I use to think I knew what most women wanted. Today, I have to say that I just don’t have a clue.

Clueless in Littleton, Colorado

Dear Clueless: Some women say they want sensitive gentlemen, but in fact find such guys boring. They find “challenges” far more interesting and exciting.

A “challenge” is an emotionally remote, insensitive, self-absorbed or otherwise unavailable man, who more often than not is ambivalent and undecided about whether he really wants a committed relationship with a woman at all.

If you grew up not feeling loved, you may choose intimate partners who can’t or won’t love you, because your self-image says that you’re not loveable. And that therefore you don’t deserve any better. You may then choose an emotionally unavailable partner—someone remote or untrustworthy, someone who is married or who lives far away, or someone who is otherwise unavailable—and then spin your wheels trying to make that person love you.

This creates enormous intensity, which is frequently mistaken for love. An emotionally distant man offers quite a lot of intensity if you’re trying to make him love you, and some women get hooked on the intensity such a relationship offers.

The perfect nightmare for a woman wanting a “challenge,” is to get involved with a loving, caring, nurturing, emotionally engaged man who really tries. She is likely to reject such a man, even though she will like all of his special attention, because she will also feel profoundly uncomfortable and mistrusting of him and his motives, which she is likely to label as needy, dependent or weak.

She will not know what to do with a man who is emotionally present, and she will fear that he will reject her as soon as he really gets to know her well.

The stance she has unwittingly taken is: “I can’t allow a man to get too close to me, because I don’t want to get hurt. Therefore, I have to regulate how emotionally invested I permit myself to get, or I’ll have to choose someone who is emotionally removed, which is safe.”

You may be erring, incidentally, by being too passive with women. You can be a sensitive man without being obnoxious, intrusive or pushy. Most women don’t want shy men who wait in the background. They want bold men who will romance and charm them, and sweep them off of their feet. Perhaps you need to re-evaluate your technique with women.

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