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Parallax - Advice

August 6, 2001

More than three strikes?

Dear Conversely,

Ask us a Question!I'm in a bind. Six months ago my boyfriend of three years abruptly broke up with me - for the fourth time. Every time we break up we both become emotional wrecks. So this time (after a couple weeks of emotional back-and-forth) I said it was best that we no longer communicate. He works overseas, so the last two years of our relationship were long-distance via phone and email and periodic weeks together (I spent last summer with him). Our break-ups are about commitment, which he is reluctant to make (his parents went through an awful divorce nineteen years ago and the family has yet to heal). He comes up with flimsy reasons as to why he feels we 'aren't right for each other.' Then, once the furor has calmed down and I've started to move on with my life, he comes back, asking to try again. The last time we got back together (after a separation period of six months) he implied a proposal would be forthcoming. He even took time from work to fly over to see me (without a proposal). A few weeks later he returned, I met his ailing mother for the first time, and all seemed well. Two days later he broke up with me, and we hadn't spoken since. Now he is reaching out again, saying he wants to marry me. Since our last breakup, he has been seeing a therapist, and he seems very sincere. He says he has a new understanding of what drove him away from me and he is committed to staying in therapy to sort through his issues. I've just moved to a new city where I'm meeting new people and starting fresh. I still love this man dearly, but I doubt that he can make such a radical change, and I'm worried he'll pull the rug out from under me again. He has a good heart and enormous integrity, but he's done this before. Should I trust him? Email to a Friend

Her view:

Dear Dumped,

Here you are, getting your life sorted out and back together - new city, new people, new boys... Do you really want your old life back? I think not. It doesn't sound very good. The therapy is the zinger (isn't it?), in what should be a perfectly clear decision. Sans therapy (and recognition of the issues), this question doesn't even require discussion.

The therapy allows a little leeway and some sympathy, but not enough for you to have your life run amuck again, especially when you are likely to be dumped within a year.

Go on with the life you've set up for yourself. It sounds as though you're finally getting over him. Keep in mind that he has a lot of work to do in therapy - he sounds like a very misguided sort. You haven't been able to fix him over several years and you won't be able to now. He needs to work on this himself, and it could take another ten years before he is a member of the 'happily-committed relationship club.'

Tell your dabbler that he needs to sort out all of his issues, and you need to move on. If you should get back together in the future, he'll need to propose and become your true partner in everything. At that future point, if you're both available and interested, great. If not, well, that's simply a chance you'll both have to take. Don't torture yourself with another potential dumping. Enough is enough.

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His view:

Dear Dumped,

Let's stop kidding around here. There's the man you and he and his therapist would all like him to be, and then there's the man he really is - the one who keeps going 'back and forth.' He's also the man who will most likely always have issues and be emotionally reluctant.

Your question is less a matter of trust than a matter of capability. Do you think this man can give you want you want and need? Is it even possible for him to permanently change?

The more important question is, 'Are you willing to accept him as he is?' This man is flawed, slightly off-balance, tainted by a nineteen-year-old betrayal, always waffling, and unable to commit. Do you love him enough to stay with him through a lifetime of what you have seen so far? Or does he absolutely need to change?

You sound like you expect him to become healthy, and this makes me think you can't imagine accepting him as he is. So we go back to the first question, 'Can he really change?' If you can't figure it out for yourself, talk to his therapist. It's not a matter of trust.

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