DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: My boyfriend and I have been together for over six years. We’ve lived together for most of that time with my three children from a prior marriage. Our goal had always been marriage, as we had discussed it many times early on in our relationship, however over the years, it seems his fears grow and/or change.
He hates talking about feelings (his or mine) so we don’t get far in understanding his fears or addressing my insecurities. He has stated that he has trust issues from prior relationships, fears of divorce since he’s seen it all around him, that since I have been married before he doesn’t know if he can trust my stated feelings because I’ve felt that way previously. Plus, it just makes him uncomfortable to think about marriage and he doesn’t know why.
Now, other than his trust issues from a prior relationship, these reasons have just been added over time. Each year it’s something different on top of the prior trust issue. I find his reasons to be cop outs, honestly, but I’m trying to give him the time he needs to work his crap out. In the interim, as time passes, I can’t help but feel incredibly insecure that we have been together for 6+ years and he’s still not ready to fully commit to me. I have been clear on our goal from the beginning and haven’t veered off course. I want to be with this man and I want to spend the rest of my life with him.
I let him know consistently how I feel, and I reassure him in every possible way when he exhibits any insecurities about my feelings or my past. I ask if there is anything he wants or needs from me or the relationship and he states he has no issues and is happy with our life and wants to keep growing and moving forward. That all sounds great, but we aren’t moving in any direction. Our relationship is no closer to marriage then it was in year two. He states there isn’t anything I need to do or can do to help with his lingering trust issues, that it has nothing to do with me, but he also isn’t facing them on his own either.
I’ve considered that he just doesn’t want to marry me. He swears that’s not the case – that it’s not me, it’s just marriage. That’s hard to believe, because he was one that asked if I was jaded about marriage on our first date, because that’s something he wanted for his life. He gets angry when I call him out and say things like, “Just be honest and say you don’t want marriage so at least I can make the decision on my own whether or not that is okay with me.” He says he does want to marry me, he’s just not ready yet. I don’t want to pressure him into marriage, because I’m already insecure enough and don’t want to feel like he married me out of obligation. I want him to actually want to marry me.
I don’t know how to stay true to my feelings and on the path to the goal, while battling the insecurities that come along with this and not really knowing if my partner in this actually has the same goal. His messages are mixed and unfair. I don’t know the proper way to handle it. Any advice?
Always The Bridesmaid
DEAR ALWAYS THE BRIDESMAID: I have a lot of questions ATB, but most of them are for your boyfriend. Most of them come down to “dude, who are you trying to fool here?”
Literally none of his reasons make sense; the difference between being married and just shacking up isn’t so profound that it alters the very nature of your relationship. The excuses he gives you are almost transparently bulls
t, to the point that I wonder what’s going through his head. I mean “I can’t trust your feelings because you’ve been married before and it means you might divorce me”? I can’t decide if that’s absurdly naive or just profoundly insulting that he thinks you buy that as a legitimate excuse. Let’s be real: the fact that you two haven’t signed papers or had an expensive party isn’t going to act like a spell of Protection From Break-Up, 10′ Radius. He has trust issues, but they don’t seem to carry over into being willing to be in a long-term, exclusive relationship with you… just so long as nobody drops the “m” word.
Look, I’m not gonna lie here, ATB. This dude’s behavior is so squirrely that I’m wondering if he’s been storing nuts for winter in your attic. The fact that he keeps adding new layers to his “well I have trust issues” is something of a tell. The fact that he hates talking about feelings is another. So, for that matter, is the way that he keeps kicking the can down the road. “I’m not ready yet” is mightily convenient because it keeps you on the hook without actually committing to anything. It’s a way of placating you – we’ll get married someday – while he just makes sure that “someday” never actually comes. Now maybe this is because he’s just happy with the status quo of the relationship and he’s threatened by change. Maybe it’s because he actually wants to break up but can’t bring himself to pull the trigger and he’s trying to get you to do it instead.
But the only way you’re going to know is if you ask him. You don’t need to be talking to some loudmouth with an advice column, you need to be talking to your boyfriend – and possibly a relationship counselor. If you want to get to the bottom of this, the two of you are going to have to sit down and have the extended dance remix version of The Awkward Conversation and figure out exactly where the lines are. He clearly doesn’t have a problem with having an LTR or even being a co-parent to your kids. Is it the word “married” that bothers him? Would he be ok if you referred to it as a “civil partnership”? Would he be cool if you two just nipped off to city hall, signed a couple pieces of paper that give you the legal rights of a married couple without making a big fuss about it?
But to be honest, I suspect that the conversation is going to go like this:
You: “Aren’t you happy to be in a relationship with me?”
You: “And you like living with me and being part of my family.”
You: “You don’t want to break up or be with somebody else.”
You: “And maybe you’d like having benefits like ‘next of kin’, being on my insurance and joint filing of taxes?”
Him: “That makes sense.”
You: “So would you like to get married?”
Him: “I don’t want to get married.”
So here’s what I suggest you do, ATB: you have to push your chips into the center of the table and make going to a relationship counselor a requirement of staying in a relationship with you. If he’s got trust issues and can’t communicate about his feelings with you, specifically, then it’s time to pull in a trained third party to help facilitate things. Hopefully then you can drill down to exactly where the hang-up is. If he can’t – or, more likely, won’t – then… well, I hate to say it, but you probably have your answer about where this relationship is going.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m not really sure how to be attractive to women.
You’ve said before that a recurring problem you’ve seen in guys is that they refuse to change something that could be a tipping point for them and your stock response is ‘well, how is what you’re doing now working for ya’? I might be one of those guys.
I’m a college sophomore who has had zilch luck with the ladies, in college or otherwise. Recently, I think I’ve discovered part of my problem: that I’ve gotten so used to being below romantic notice that I have no clue how to be romantically noticeable.
I had a twinge of realization when I got back to school, having grown a beard over the summer, and got positive comments from both genders. But the realization fully hit me when I wore a yellow polo (I prefer wearing darker colors) and this really cute girl said I looked good in bright colors.
It got me thinking: maybe I should change things up. Put some more care into the beard, maybe change up my wardrobe some. I’ve made initiatives in the past to eliminate some creepy behavior, but I’ve come to the conclusion that while not being a creep is a good goal, thinking ‘alright, just don’t act like you’re a serial killer looking for his next victim, and you’re all good!’ is pretty low-hanging fruit.
Am I right? Am I a mile off the mark? Do you have any tips for beard maintenance? Am I going overboard because one girl gave me a compliment? Does this have some undertones on my psyche that I should know about?
I have many questions and not a lot of answers.
To Change or Not To Change
DEAR TO CHANGE OR NOT TO CHANGE: You are really overthink this, TCNTC. You’re right: “cool, you didn’t tell her that her skin would make an amazing lampshade” is pretty much the bottom rung of acceptable public behavior. The problem is that many, many dudes seem to think that this is all they need to do to and aren’t sure why they aren’t getting panties thrown at them left right and center. But like I’m always saying: you don’t get cookies for meeting minimum standards. That’s why we have things like The Grimes Test. (https://www.doctornerdlove.com/pass-grimes-test/)
But it’s literally everything else after that where you’re shooting yourself in the foot. I get that you’re worried about overdoing things or overreacting to one person’s opinion. But that’s not what you’re doing. It’s one thing if, say, somebody cute mentions that she likes the smell of one of the new Old Spice fragrances and you immediately go out and douse yourself to the point of being a walking mustard gas cloud. It’s another thing entirely when you’re accept some compliments about recent changes as positive reinforcement or signs that you’re on the right path.
Because that’s what happened here: you made some changes, got out of your comfort zone, fashion-wise, and lo and behold: people are sitting up and taking notice.
That is is what we in the relationship coaching business call “a good thing”.
Now I get it: change can be scary, especially when it comes to clothes. Our clothes are an outward expression of who we are – or who we want to be. When you’re used to dressing a particular way, changing it up can feel weird and unnatural. You can feel like you’re betraying your identity or trying to conform to somebody else’s ideas of who you’re supposed to be. But if it’s an organic choice, your exploring options that maybe you didn’t feel you had a right to try… well, there’s nothing wrong with that. You’re not giving up your individuality in exchange for shallow popularity or to appeal to the crowd, you’re just trying out some other ideas to see how they work.
And hey, it’s me saying this. If you watch my YouTube channel, you’d be forgiven for thinking I wear any colors other than black.
(And I do: there’s charcoal, midnight blue, dark navy…)
So take those compliments in the spirit that they’re intended, TCNTC. You’ve changed up your look and hey, you’re looking pretty good! I wouldn’t advise you to toss out your entire closet and start over with your new sartorial discoveries, but throwing some color into the mix is clearly a winner for you. Explore that a little more, find what works for you and what doesn’t and you’ll find the whole process to be organic and painless… with the added benefit that hey, folks are going to recognize that you’re actually pretty damn cute!
Oh and one more thing: if you’re going to rock a beard, then you need to take care of it. That means that you need to clean, comb and condition that sucker. I can’t tell you how many dudes lose attraction points because their beard looks like they stapled a badger pelt to their face. Keep it trimmed and neat – if you aren’t going to trim it yourself, then go to a barber and have them clean it up for you every other week or so. Use a beard oil to keep it soft and caress-able – personally, I like BeardBrand and a beard-specific wash to keep it looking and smelling nice. Trust me: bearddruf is a thing and it isn’t pleasant.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com)