Dear Neil: It seems the differences between men and women have been shattering my hopes and dreams as of late. My boyfriend (well, no longer) and I are both 33, we have been together for almost two years, having mounds of fun together. But all talks about the future have always stemmed from me, and have always led to a “I’m just not sure” response. Recently, we’d decided to move in together. But we fought so much, we decided to break up.
I have been the cheerleader in the relationship throughout, and my partner has been a foot dragger. I have tried to talk about it with him and have initiated conversations and ideas about our future. But we both came to realize that until it came from him, there was no future together. Unfortunately, somehow committing to a future with me feels like losing freedoms for him—instead of embarking on the next wonderful part of life.
Sadly, this is not the first I have heard about a man not willing to take emotional chances on a relationship, which has eventually led to a break up. Interestingly, these men seem to always say they truly love the woman. Is this cheerleading woman, foot dragging man a part of the differences of the sexes? What can be done to break this cycle? Unfortunately, my boyfriend has rejected my request to work things out—because he still “doesn’t know” and doesn’t want to hold me back any longer from my own life. I am still hoping he wants to get together again, but I am losing that hope daily.
Tired of This in Vail, Colorado
Dear Tired of This: I have two guesses about what you’ve described. The first is that perhaps something is in your boyfriend’s way. Maybe something is bugging him about you or about the way the two of you get along together. If this guess is right, you could invite him to talk about it—and you could be the perfect listener—curious, interested, non-defensive and non-reactive—so he could feel safe enough to verbalize what he feels is wrong and what he would need to make the problem right. You could ask him what it would take for him to make an honest commitment to a future with you. The hope would be that if you could uncover the problem (s), you might be able to co-create solutions together that would hopefully work for both of you.
My second guess isn’t so optimistic. It’s that your boyfriend is actually saying “no” to you, that you’re not the one, that he doesn’t want a closer, more committed relationship with you—regardless of what you offer and regardless of all the happy times you’ve shared together. As painful as it may be, he might be saying that he’s ready for something or someone else, and that he’s grown tired of being with you. Yes, he could have a commitment problem. Yes, he could be immature or foolish—but this is of little solace to you. In this scenario, there is absolutely nothing you can do—nor should you do—to win him back. If he is saying he doesn’t want you, it’s time for you to wake up and smell the (burnt) coffee. You don’t want someone who doesn’t want you.
This may be a timing issue, not a gender difference between men and women. At the right time in life, both genders want commitment. Your boyfriend simply may need to sow more wild oats before settling down.
If you’ve run into this before and it doesn’t work out with your boyfriend, next time make sure you find a man looking to commit and settle down with one woman before you give your heart to him.