Dear Neil: My boyfriend is reluctant to commit to a relationship with me. He would rather both of us date others and keep our options open. But I am now 25, and feel the desire to settle down and start a family. I am sure he loves me. So I tried harder by seducing him a lot and being extra sweet, hoping that would help him make up his mind. But to no avail. So I tried even harder, cooking for him and helping him with his work. Still to no avail. So I tried even harder, telling him I was losing my patience with him and was thinking of ending our relationship. But again to no avail. What can I do to get him to commit to me?
Trying Harder in Connecticut
Dear Trying Harder: Price Pritchett once wrote about this dilemma. “I’m sitting in quiet room at the Milcroft Inn, a peaceful little place hidden back among the pine trees about an hour out of Toronto. It’s just past noon, late July, and I’m listening to the desperate sounds of a life-or-death struggle going on a few feet away. There’s a small fly burning out the last of its short life’s energy in a futile attempt to slide through the glass of the windowpane. The whining wings tell me the poignant story of the fly’s strategy: try harder.
But it’s not working. It is impossible for the fly to try hard enough to succeed in breaking through the glass. This fly is doomed. It will die there on the windowsill.
Across the room, ten steps away, the door is open. Ten seconds of flying time and this small creature could reach the outside world it seeks. With only a fraction of the effort being wasted, it could be free of this self-imposed trap. It would be so easy.
Why doesn’t the fly try another approach? Something dramatically different. How did it get so locked in that this particular route and determined effort offered the most promise for success?
Trying harder isn’t necessarily the solution to achieving more. It may not offer any real promise for getting what you want out of life. Sometimes, in fact, it’s a big part of the problem. If you stake your hopes for a breakthrough on trying harder to ever, you may kill your chances for success.”
Could I suggest that you quit trying harder—and instead try something different with your boyfriend? Ask him to talk about his fears about settling down and committing to you. Invite him to explore with you what’s in his way. Is he unsure of you? Why? Is he unsure of himself? Of his ability to be faithful? Does he feel threatened by your desire to have a family? Does he himself want a family also? What needs to happen in order for him to be more “ready?”
Look carefully at your goals, at what you want here. If your boyfriend can’t or won’t commit to a future with you, you have more choices out there than just him.