Dear Neil: I am in a four year relationship with a woman I live with, but have been unwilling to commit to. She isn’t the kind of person I thought I’d permanently wind up with. She isn’t a college educated professional. She doesn’t communicate well, and she is extremely emotional. But she is caring, sensitive and likeable, and she has a great sense of humor. So I don’t know what to do. I have been sitting on the fence a long time, perfectly positioned between staying with her and leaving. How do get off the fence and decide?
On The Fence in Kansas City, Kansas
Dear Fence: Relationships often work out not because you find the “right” person, but because you’re ready and willing to settle down and commit to someone.
In intimate relationships, if you sit on the fence for very long, you’ll find yourself continuously evaluating the other person. You’ll look at her faults and undesirable traits, and weigh them against your ideal mate (which is a person who may or may not actually exist). Thus, you don’t get to relax your guard and feel normal and natural with your girlfriend, and you don’t allow yourself to ever feel fully content.
This is a profoundly unsatisfying place to be for any period of time, for it requires you to keep your emotional armor up. It propels you to actually look for shortcomings in the person you’re involved with, and to be emotionally tentative and guarded with her.
Also, can you imagine how it would feel to be in your girlfriend’s position? It would be inhibiting to feel as if you had to continuously prove yourself worthy, and it would make you feel insecure. It would likely force you act in a phony, ingratiating way, and you would come across as overly pleasing—as if you were trying too hard.
The best way to get off the fence is to temporary drop all your hesitations and critical judgements about your girlfriend, and jump into the relationship whole-heartedly—with everything you’ve got. Give your girlfriend the complete benefit of doubt, and act loving, giving and open to her. I’m suggesting that you give the relationship with her everything you have, and try your very hardest to make it work without all of your normal reservations.
This is easier to do than it sounds. It involves giving the relationship an honest chance, which it sounds like you have never done before. It permits you to see her with a set of completely fresh eyes, If you do this for 3 months—really do it—you’ll know if your girlfriend is the right one. Either way, you’ll finally be able to get off the fence.